Wednesday, February 29, 2012

LDS Church Rigorously Condemns Statements On Race Made By BYU Professor Randy Bott, Reiterate Their Absolute Opposition To Racism

On February 29th, 2012, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints found it necessary to publicly reiterate their absolute opposition to racism. This was manifested in the form of two official statements. The first one, undated and entitled "The Church and Race: All Are Alike Unto God", sets forth the Church's current doctrine on race. The second one, entitled "Church Statement Regarding 'Washington Post' Article on Race and the Church", was issued as a rebuttal to remarks about race attributed to BYU Professor Randy Bott in a Washington Post article entitled "The Genesis of a church’s stand on race". Utah media stories published by the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, and KSL Channel 5.

In the Post article, Bott made remarks about race that are no longer considered doctrinal and are relegated to the historical folklore category. Based upon his interpretation of scripture, Bott believes that Cain is the common ancestor of all Black people because he interprets the mark of Cain as black pigmentation. He also believes that Ham's wife Egyptus brought the seed of Cain through the Great Flood. He cites the Book of Abraham as suggesting that all of the descendants of Ham and Egyptus were thus black and barred from the priesthood.

Professor Bott also pointed out that God has always been discriminatory when it comes to whom he grants the authority of the priesthood; the fact that the Old Testament Israelites only allowed members of the tribe of Levi to hold the priesthood is proof. But then Bott makes a comparison which does sound a bit insulting, comparing Blacks who wanted the priesthood before the 1978 revelation ending the ban with a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car. One can understand why adult Blacks would resent being compared with children.

Professor Bott then concluded by saying that the denial of the priesthood to blacks on Earth — although not in the afterlife — protected them from the lowest rungs of hell reserved for people who abuse their priesthood powers. This statement is a bit misleading -- only sons of perdition go to the "lowest rungs of hell", and one must commit the unpardonable sin of denying the Holy Ghost once one has had a personal manifestation of it and entering into full-blown apostasy to be adjudged a son of perdition. Professor Bott suggests that, in reality, the Blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.

Since the Washington Post failed to ask for comment from the LDS Church before publishing the story, the Church hastened to make the following statement:

The positions attributed to BYU professor Randy Bott in a recent Washington Post article absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU faculty members do not speak for the Church. It is unfortunate that the Church was not given a chance to respond to what others said.

The Church’s position is clear — we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form.

For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.

We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.

The tone of the statement indicates that the LDS Church considers Professor Bott's remarks an honest mistake, and so it is unlikely that he will face any ecclesiastical sanctions upon his Church membership. It is hoped that his job at BYU is not jeopardized, either; he doesn't deserve to be witch-hunted. While malevolence is a sin, honest ignorance should never be considered a sin. One sign of fallout: Bott's personal blog has now been removed (Joanna Brooks identified the link as going to Bott's personal blog).

Unfortunately, none of the parties bothered to address the question as to why our Heavenly Father waited for around 130 years before issuing the revelation ending the priesthood ban. In fact, when President David O. McKay repeatedly importuned the Lord for permission to end it during the 1960s, the Lord basically told him to shut up and quit troubling Him on the matter. This does not mean that our Heavenly Father agreed with the ban, but it indicates that for reasons unknown to us, He chose to allow it to continue. It is not given to us to know all the mysteries of the kingdom in this life; if it were, we could not remain in the flesh thereafter.

Reaction from within the LDS community:

-- The Deseret News published a special editorial condemning Professor Bott's remarks and supporting the LDS Church.

-- FAIR Blog: Provides background on the evolution of the priesthood ban. Writes "This theory was adopted by early Latter-day Saints from similar beliefs in early American Protestantism that were used to justify slavery. The Saints used it to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent, a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever given".

-- Religion Dispatches: Joanna Brooks gives more background on Professor Botts, saying that other professors at BYU routinely find themselves having to address allegedly racist and sexist content taught in Bott’s classes, and many are outraged and embarrassed by his remarks to the Washington Post. Brooks places the greater responsibility at the feet of the Church, claiming that the Church has never authoritatively addressed racist theologies developed in defense of the ban, and calling for a virtual apology for the ban from the Church.

However, a commenter to the blog, kop338, writes "I'm happy to say that this article is a complete lie. I have Randy Bott as a professor now, and i know that this is false. This writer has changed what Professor Bott said. There are lots of African American people who are in his class right now who said that professor Bott has said nothing like this and what Joanna Brooks has written is a lie and she should be ashamed of trying to smear a good man because she wants her 15 minutes of fame. The only reason she did this is because there is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints running for President of the United States". I've taken a screenshot of the comment in case Joanna Brooks deletes it.

-- The Exponent: Said it’s long past time for a public, clear repudiation of such folk doctrine from the Church. However, their post preceded the LDS Church's statement today, so the Church's statement should satisfactorily address their concern. Nevertheless, most of their commenters seem self-righteous, judgmental and unforgiving of Professor Bott.

-- The Juvenile Instructor: Featured a guest post from another BYU professor, Rachel Cope, who says that before addressing the priesthood ban in her class, she requires her students to read Official Declaration 2, then begins doctrinal discussion by citing 2 Nephi 26:33, which basically states that God is no respecter of persons. She then shifts the focus of the discussion into the dangers of speculation, and identifies the differences between doctrine and folklore. Comments are sort of a mixed bag.

-- By Common Consent: Kristine characterized Professor Bott's remarks as a "stinking pile of worn-out racist speculations". Wow......if she got a college degree, she ought to get her money back from the university. Profundity conspicuous by its absence.

-- Expert Textperts: Casey notes that Professor Bott teaches Missionary Prep, and is beloved for being very entertaining, very spiritual, and a very easy grader. Says his books seem harmless enough, but did characterize Bott's remarks as paternalistic racism.

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