The Bott Affair: Winners and Losers

March 6, 2012 | 93 comments
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It has been only one week since the initial Washington Post article quoting BYU Professor Randy Bott’s controversial statements was published. [See Kent's very helpful ongoing chronology of events and published stories.] But a week is a lifetime online. While official and unofficial reactions will continue to play out over coming weeks and months, we can already see who the winners and losers are among the main players. Briefly, the winners are the LDS Church, LDS Public Affairs, LDS bloggers and columnists, the mainstream media, and the rank and file members of the Church. The losers are BYU and the BYU College of Religious Education. Professor Bott gets a category of his own.

The LDS Church: Winner. Amazingly, almost no published commentary on the affair has portrayed Bott’s statements as evidence of current or ongoing LDS racism. Instead, stories have framed this as an opportunity for the LDS Church to more forcefully denounce residual racism among the membership. References in published stories indicate this is due in no small part to quick and highly critical responses published in the first 24 hours by BYU students (largely on Twitter) and by LDS bloggers and online columnists (at blogs and online media sites). In crisis management mode, the Church itself quickly published two statements at the LDS Newsroom site expressly rejecting the statements attributed to Prof. Bott (tactfully wording that pointed rejection) and reaffirming the post-1978 inclusive LDS position on race and priesthood.

It is clear, however, that it will take more than just these two statements for the Church to permanently disavow the opinions expressed by Professor Bott, which are also found scattered among the general membership and even within some dated LDS curriculum materials. Note that both LDS statements speak of racist attitudes as a problem of individuals, not as an institutional problem or as a legacy of prior LDS doctrinal positions. While the Church has not yet publicly addressed the root of the problem, it’s still early in the game. The upcoming April General Conference is a prime opportunity to do so.

LDS Public Affairs: Winner. The two LDS statements issued in response to the Washington Post article were posted at the LDS Newsroom, the Public Affairs site. While its activities and statements are no doubt subject to close supervision and approval by senior LDS leaders, Public Affairs now plays a key institutional role in formulating and publicizing the LDS response to these sorts of events.

The LDS Newsroom site, however, is aimed at the media and the general public. There is, at this point, nothing at the LDS.org site reporting on or even linking to the statements at the the LDS Newsroom. The two statements thus appear to be a response aimed at the media, not at the membership of the Church. This is a little disturbing, almost suggesting that the leadership sees this episode as someone else’s problem (Professor Bott’s problem or BYU’s problem or the media’s problem) rather than as an institutional problem of the LDS Church that must be clearly and directly confronted. Clearly, if the general membership of the Church (including BYU religion teachers, it seems) is to understand that justifications for the priesthood ban that were once commonly cited are no longer valid, some sort of direct and unequivocal statement by the First Presidency or an apostle speaking in General Conference needs to be made. I am confident this will occur in coming weeks and months.

BYU Religious Education: Loser. I know there are talented teachers and capable scholars in BYU’s College of Religious Education. It’s too bad some of their work has now been compromised. The problem isn’t just that Professor Bott offered disfavored doctrine or personal speculation to a journalist or to BYU students in class. It’s that he has apparently been offering similar material to his classes from time to time for decades and, worse, that repeated student complaints to various faculty members and officials at BYU have been ignored. As McKay Coppins noted, “students and faculty alike have long complained that he has a tendency to mingle official Mormon doctrines and his own personal opinions — without distinguishing between the two.” To put it bluntly, the problem is that the people running Religious Education apparently don’t care what students are being taught in religion class. The only response BYU or Religious Education has offered so far is a one-sentence press release being issued to the media by the office of the Assistant to the President for University Communications. It reads, in its entirety:

“The comments attributed to Professor Bott do not reflect the teachings in the classroom at Brigham Young University.”–Terry Ball, dean of Religious Education at BYU

That response seems inadequate to address the concerns noted above, not to mention that the response does not appear to be factually accurate (student comments circulating online and in the media suggest that Professor Bott’s comments do indeed reflect what he sometimes teaches in the classroom). So a lot more work needs to be done to clean up the tarnished reputation of Religious Education.

BYU as a University: Loser. Why do students go to BYU? Why do parents support their kids attending BYU? Because it offers a good undergraduate education at reasonable fees in a gospel-friendly environment. The religion classes are part of that gospel-friendliness and are viewed by most students and parents as a positive feature of attending BYU. But would you want your kid in Professor Bott’s class? How many Professor Botts (faculty offering personal opinions or pet theories rather than accurate history and doctrine) are presently teaching religion at BYU? Better, perhaps, to have a student attend a secular university with a helpful and supportive but largely peripheral Institute teacher across the street than to have a student attending BYU religion classes taught by faculty who are allowed to freelance their own doctrine in class. So if BYU wants to protect its uniquely successful brand, it better get Religious Education to clean up its act.

LDS Bloggers and Columnists: Winners. As noted above, the quick and critical online response on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and media sites contributed to a general perception of this as an opportunity to tie up loose ends from the 1978 revelation rather than as evidence of pervasive racism within the LDS Church. Good work, team. It should also be noted that Daniel Peterson, a BYU faculty member, publicly posted sharp criticism of the comment attributed to Professor Bott just 13 hours after the Washington Post story broke. If other faculty members feel likewise, they had better let their voice be heard, either individually or through a more detailed official statement. [Update: BYU faculty member Ralph Hancock has posted his criticism of Bott's remarks here.]

The Mainstream Media: Winner. While the media doesn’t always give the LDS Church and its views a fair shake, it did this time. The original story was, on the whole, fairly balanced. There’s no objective evidence that Professor Bott was misquoted in the article. As noted in the prior paragraph, media sites and newspapers have not jumped on this story as evidence of Mormon racism. They seem to view the two LDS statements posted at the LDS Newsroom as more or less adequate responses. The attitude seems to be that this is a problem for Mormons and Mormon leaders to deal with, and now it the time to deal with it. I think we’re fortunate this story has not been sensationalized by the press, although that could still happen.

Rank and File Mormons: Winners. Assuming, of course, that further actions and statements are forthcoming from senior LDS leaders that make it unmistakably clear that similar opinions are now entirely unwelcome at BYU, in CES, in LDS classrooms in our wards and stakes, and in LDS curriculum materials.

Professor Bott: Not a Winner, But Not a Loser. Let’s be honest: He’s not going to be terminated or have his pension threatened. His bishop isn’t going to get a packet in the mail with quotes in the Washington Post article highlighted in yellow. He’ll probably spend his retirement accepting paid speaking engagements at Especially For Youth events and headlining LDS cruises (I hear the food is pretty good). So you don’t have to feel bad for Professor Bott. He’ll be sipping non-alcoholic drinks at poolside on the upper deck while you and I and everyone else are still dealing with the unfinished business of the 1978 revelation.

Any other winners or losers come to mind? Are there any public statements I missed, particularly from BYU or the College of Religious Education?

93 Responses to The Bott Affair: Winners and Losers

  1. Dean on March 6, 2012 at 4:40 am

    All this public whipping of Bott reminds me the ironic quote, “If there is one thing I can’t stand it’s intolerance.”

    I really can’t agree with your post. Especially the comments on Bott himself. Do you think Bott’s blunder should be met with firing, excommunication, and revoking of his pension? Are you lamenting that these things won’t happen?

    I feel more like this: “I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. … It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:340).

    I hope neither you or I ever make such a public mistake in doctrine. I feel sorry for Bott. He should have known better. I hope the Lord will forgive him and that he might taste of that healing power.

  2. Mark B. on March 6, 2012 at 7:28 am

    I don’t think BYU has a defined benefit pension plan, so nobody’s going to take away Bott’s pension. Let’s quit worrying about that. The problem with Bott’s unspeakably stupid and insensitive remarks is that there are people whose faith will be bruised by them. There are people of African descent who will wonder, again, if there’s a place in the church for them. And my good friend will continue to be told by concerned sisters as she reads the Book of Mormon on the subway that “You know they hate us, don’t you?” And Bott’s statements will be Exhibit 1.

    If it was better that Laban die rather than that an entire nation dwindle and perish in unbelief, then why isn’t it better that Randy Bott lose his job and be subjected to church discipline than that thousands be turned away from the truth?

    Of course, if the man had any decency he would have resigned already.

  3. Dave on March 6, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Dean (#1), you’re obviously reacting to something someone else said elsewhere. By terming reasonable discussion of these events a “public whipping,” you seem to be the one hyping the emotional pitch of the discussion.

    Mark B. (#2), I don’t think anything that was said or done raises questions about his decency. If anything, it speaks to Utah Valley’s insularity and possibly BYU’s.

  4. Brad on March 6, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Dean, “All this public whipping of Bott reminds me the ironic quote, “If there is one thing I can’t stand it’s intolerance.””

    Intolerance towards Bott’s tolerance of the LDS church’s historical intolerance? Even more ironic.

  5. john f. on March 6, 2012 at 8:59 am

    whoa, that’s meta.

  6. BYU Alum on March 6, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Another problem for Religious Education is that it highlights the fact that many of its instructors are actually “the Mormon equivalent of a youth minister teaching as a professor in BYU’s religion department,” as Sam Brown put it in his Huffington Post piece. It is worth considering whether we as a church ought to be employing professional youth ministers. Bott is in no way equivalent to the historians, theologians, or religious studies scholars that one would expect to find at any other major university in the country, secular or religious, and it is not surprising that the media was confused by his title and position.

  7. Mark B. on March 6, 2012 at 9:33 am

    My dictionary gives “propriety” as a synonym of “decency.” I used the term in that sense, and I haven’t changed my mind–if Randy Bott had any decency, any sense of propriety, he would have resigned already.

    His continued employment is inconsistent with the statements issued by the Church, and it would be well to resolve that inconsistency by showing him the door–if he hasn’t the decency to leave on his own.

  8. unknown on March 6, 2012 at 9:36 am

    I don’t think anyone can or should agree with what Br. Bott said in the Washington Post.

    But to act like Br. Bott has been some sort of snake in the grass at BYU leading away unsuspecting students with pernicious false doctrine does not accurately reflect the situation. I have personal experience with Br. Bott teaching career and his work as a mission president. I found him to be a devoted, faithful man, whose chief objective was to benefit the lives of his students/missionaries. He has helped many. And, his unfortuante and incorrect comments do not erase the years of service that he has rendered.

    To suggest that he should now be run out of town on a rail is to do a diservice to the years of sacrifice and effort that he has put into trying to build the kingdom. I think that it is also to buy into the culture of personal destruction that is contrary to the gospel.

    Br. Bott made a mistake. He was wrong. The Church has made that clear. A nation is not dwindling in unbelief.

    To the extent that our forgiveness is required, let’s give it and let the man move forward. It is not necessary for him to “perish” to save anyone. Such hyperbole is unnecessary and contrary to the Christian beliefs that most of us purport to espouse.

  9. unknown on March 6, 2012 at 9:40 am

    # 7 – So Mark B. should you resign from your employment every time that you do not do your job perfectly? Does your sense of decency allow you to continue your work despite the fact that you make mistakes? Or are you claiming that you are perfect?

  10. Mark B. on March 6, 2012 at 10:01 am

    If I were in a position where I was viewed as a spokesman for my employer, and made statements that were directly contrary to the employer’s position and interests, and if my employer made a public statement denouncing my statements as categorically as the statement the church made about Bott, I would resign.

    And you blithely say that a nation is not perishing in unbelief. But how do you know? How many people with new and tender faith, or how many who might come to have faith, will be turned away by what Bott said? Despite the church’s rapid and clear response, there will still be those nagging doubts in dark hours. Nobody knows how many will be affected, but why should it be higher than zero? And, if Bott’s resignation would help even one person to take that step of faith, it would be worth it.

    And don’t even start on “years of sacrifice to build the kingdom” when CES and the Religion Department at BYU are as close to a paid clergy as there is in the church. It was his job.

  11. Tim on March 6, 2012 at 10:03 am

    I feel bad for the BYU Religion Department. For the most part, it’s made up of real scholars who are smart enough to know the difference between doctrine and their own opinions. A handful of “professors” who can’t tell the difference–and who remind me of the only professional CES teacher I’ve met–give the whole department a bad name. That’s unfortunate.

    As a side issue, I wrote down somewhere that the Church Newsroom recently stated, “We do not tolerate racism in any form.” Now all I can find is “We condemn racism.” Did any one else catch that? Did the church newsroom change the language of their articles, or am I just imagining things? Because the “We do not tolerate racism in any form” would seem to necessitate the firing of Bott, while “We condemn racism” doesn’t.

  12. Researcher on March 6, 2012 at 10:10 am

    You might be looking at the other statement, Tim; there were two and just one of them uses the language, “We do not tolerate racism in any form.” See here:

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/racial-remarks-in-washington-post-article

  13. Tim on March 6, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Oops–apparently it’s still in there:

    “We do not tolerate racism in any form.”

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/racial-remarks-in-washington-post-article

    So why does Bott still have a job?

  14. Researcher on March 6, 2012 at 10:10 am

    …as you just discovered… : )

  15. Tim on March 6, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Thanks, Researcher.

  16. Seldom on March 6, 2012 at 10:15 am

    The Church got a gift with this incident. They were able to speak out against racist doctrine with some hurt feelings at BYU as the only casulty. They weren’t forced to directly address racist teachings and statements by past prophets and apostles. They didn’t have to answer the question – When is a prophet a prophet? As members, we’ve already begun to call our racist past a “folk doctrine” and attribute it to 19th century culture and few poorly informed old dinosaurs. We’ve already forgotten that this “folk doctrine” was a mainstream belief of the church just a few short decades ago. Until this incident, official denouciations of past racism have been limited admonitions to forget past teachings and a two sentence statement by President Hinckley in the Priesthood Session of Conference. Maybe it’s time for the Church to take ownership of it’s history and begin to repent.

  17. unknown on March 6, 2012 at 10:22 am

    # 10 –

    BYU has a paid spokesman, and it has never been Randy Bott.

    Accordingly to your definition, anyone who has ever taught a gospel class, served a mission or served as a Priesthood or Auxiliary leader would be considered a “spokesman” for the Church. Yet, these positions are often filled with those whose doctrinal understanding is incomplete or just plain incorrect on a number of points. Are you suggesting that everytime someone in the role of a teacher has a mistaken or incorrect idea they need to “perish”?

    Are you claiming to have never had an idea that was contrary to established doctrine? Or never to have held a viewpoint that is different or goes beyond what the Prophets have taught? Are you claiming that 100% of what you have taught in church settings has been 100% correct 100% of the time? If not, have you voluntarily removed yourself from your responsibilities.

    What you are advocating for has never been the standard. It would be different if Br. Bott had been personally counseled regarding his ideas and then kept espousing them. But, there is no evidence that this is the case.

    You also offer no evidence that a nation “is perishing in unbelief”. Who are these people? Where are they? Beyond the internet chattering classes, how many of those most affected by the Priesthod ban are even aware of Br. Bott’s comments. These people may exist, but you have offered no proof that they do.

    In short, you are trying to tear down and destroy, when what is required here is a sense of foregiveness and healing.

  18. Gary on March 6, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Normally, I would agree with Mark B. However, in this case Bott’s superiors have known full well what he has been teaching for years, and they have done nothing. It is hard to single out an employee where his superiors have implicitly approved, or at least tolerated his nonsense. Furthermore, the problem extends all the way up the line to the highest levels of the church. General authorities probably did not know of Bott’s teachings personally, but they do know that the church’s effort’s to stamp out the racist folklore have been tepid at best. They have also been much too tolerant of Bott’s general ideas and so they are also complicit.

  19. unknown on March 6, 2012 at 10:27 am

    One last thought:

    How many of those strongly advocating for Bott’s firing agree with the firing of the BYU english faculty in in the 1990′s due to their teaching things that were not in-line with the Brethren regarding Heavenly Mother?

    There seems to be very little difference between the two situations, except those involved in the 1990′s were told to stop and kept doing it.

    Do those calling for Bott’s firing now agree that the September 6 needed to go as well?

  20. Michael on March 6, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Dave,

    I think your confidence in expecting an institutional response from a member of the First Presidency or one of the Apostles is wishful thinking. I am not expecting any significant change in the previous approach employed by the Church in making it an individual character flaw instead of addressing the root problem of Brigham Young’s cultural prejudices being turned into doctrine. There continues to be too much to lose in terms of institutional credibility on many other issues.

    I have no evidence to support this but it is my feeling that the Brethren are not united on many current doctrinal issues facing our day. However, due to the commandment given them in the Doctrine & Covenants to be of one mind they instead postpone the full search for truth to accommodate the cultural dispositions and fixed world views of the Quorum members. I find it ironic that there can be disunity since so many of the Apostles are of the same ethnic, cultural and geographic background. How is it going to work when the remnants of the Lamanites start taking their rightful place in the Church hierarchy?

    Have we reached a point where protection of the Church as an institution has overtaken the unobstructed pursuit of restored truth in all its forms?

  21. Meldrum the Less on March 6, 2012 at 10:32 am

    I don’t think the LDS church came out the winner on this. If you think we did, does anybody want to stage another similar episode as some sort of twisted missionary stunt? Granted we didn’t come out smelling quite like a skunk which is what I expected. But there is still some element of guilt by association we all (especially BYU alumni) share with Professor Bott. Definitely not a winner, not a loser either, perhaps optimistically a draw for the church at large.

    Most black people I associate with are not in the least aware of the details of our unique LDS struggle with racism. 1978 is off their radar. But there circulates this lingering vague aroma that we Mormons were not exactly on the front lines of the civil rights movement, whereas many other churches were. It is still not clear to most that we welcome with open arms people of every race.

    When some old crank at BYU gets called on the rug for cooking up some vintage racist Mormon gumbo it only reaffirms these lingering negative odors. We don’t smell like a skunk exactly, maybe just a little bit like a wet rat.

  22. Ben S. on March 6, 2012 at 10:40 am

    I’m writing a post focused on some of the issues of the RelEd department and CES, since I have (minor) insider/outsider status. Since I’m several weeks behind on my Institute posts, it will probably appear once the blogs have moved on.
    Bott is a perfect example of many things that are wrong with CES/BYU, and this affair may turn out to be a long-term blessing if it brings about institutional change, however minor.

  23. john f. on March 6, 2012 at 10:43 am

    I mentioned in some of the discussion at BCC last week that I think it is actually unfair to scapegoat Randy Bott for this.* It is of course fair to denounce and disagree substantively with his actual statements, his use of his position to propagate them, his methods of using Correlation for a shield against criticism, etc. But to call for professional consequences because these racist teachings of his (which he is, after all, repeating from speculative teachings of General Authorities before 1978) were suddenly exposed to such a broad audience in a very embarassing way strikes me as unfair.

    He taught these things at BYU for a long time** and he didn’t make them up. He was repeating the speculative theories that earlier General Authorities had created in order to try to fill what they apparently perceived as a narrative vacuum, i.e. those General Authorities saw that there was a ban in place, did not dispute the policy itself (because that’s not the Mormon way, for good or ill), and therefore sought to create justifications that they thought sounded rational to explain it or put it into narrative context. The pseudo-scientific nature of turn-of-the-twentieth-century phrenology and other related fields of what was then considered to be scientific knowledge (e.g. eugenics, which at that time was heavily understood in overtly racist terms) contributed as well to make such speculations sound like rational, almost scientific sounding explanations.

    So, before last week’s Newsroom releases, there was not much by way of official refutation of the speculative reasons that had been put forward by General Authorities in their talks and communications with the membership of the Church (including books and articles) for over 100 years to justify the existence of the ban. The main examples of such statements implying refutation of those speculations include (1) Elder McKonkie’s statement to “forget everything that’s been said” about the ban and that such things were said “with limited understanding”, (2) President Hinckley’s forceful rebuke of racism in General Conference (by stating that no holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood should believe that race makes anyone inferior) and (3) Elder Holland’s PBS interview in which he said such speculations should never be promulgated. There might be some others but if so they are few in number and not well known. So it is anyone’s guess as to why Bott did not view these statements as precluding him from teaching the earlier speculations — but my view is that actual career consequences for Bott would be ex post facto in nature and unfair. He likely never had any specific indication that past General Authorities’ views (which we now see as having been speculative in nature and regrettable) on the reasons for the ban were off limits to repeat in response to students’ questions about the ban.

    ——–
    * I feel now as I did in my BCC comment that I should provide a disclaimer here: I am in no way defending Bott’s actual statements, with which I strongly disagree and which I denounce — specifically his statements repeating speculative justifications for the ban that were widely accepted and taught by General Authorities such as Mark Petersen, Delbert Stapley, Alvin Dyer and others before 1978 in a way that makes it seem like he still gives deference to such statements as if they might have been valid then and now. I interpret the Newsroom statements to mean not only that those speculations are not valid now but that they never were valid, despite what people might have believed at the time.

    ** Based on statements that have been made in the wake of Bottgate, it sounds likely that literally thousands of BYU students have heard Botts express his opinions on this topic before during class time. It appears that on occasion (perhaps not as frequently as one would hope given the content of the teachings) students raised complaints about this to the Department of Religious Education and were ignored. Presumably this was also precisely because Botts was merely repeating what earlier General Authorities had speculated must be the reason for the ban.

  24. unknown on March 6, 2012 at 10:50 am

    # 23 – Well said. Bott was wrong. Many, many members have been wrong with him over the years. We need to change that.

    There is no need to make Bott a scapegoat, however. Despite his error, he has helped many over the years, and that should not be ignored in this discussion.

  25. Manuel on March 6, 2012 at 10:51 am

    This post is infuriating, yet most likely correct.

  26. Mark B. on March 6, 2012 at 10:54 am

    I know that Randy Bott is not a spokesman for the church or for the university. But the world who reads about a “professor of religion” at the church university, or about a “BYU theologian” (don’t make me laugh), doesn’t know whether he speaks for the church or not. And, if he’s a theologian, he may know more about the doctrines of the church than the ecclesiastical leaders who may not be scholars–they might be called to serve as pastors rather than scholars. So there’s a serious “apparent authority” problem.

    And that sets Bott apart from the guy teaching your high priests group–he’s got a national audience, and apparently speaks with authority.

    As to those negatively affected by this–you’ll never know them, because they won’t be showing up in church.

    If Bott was never counseled to quit teaching false doctrine, then as others have said the people over in the Religion department are complicit. If he needs a personal talk to get him to stop teaching for doctrine the things that Elder McConkie taught 30 years ago should “be forgotten,” then why should we simply forgive and forget?

    Besides, his resignation would be a clear indication that he recognizes the wrong that he has done–a helpful and healing step on the road to repentance and forgiveness and healing.

  27. Question on March 6, 2012 at 10:55 am

    John F. – Do you view the Church’s statements as a “refutation” of the speculation and opinions of the past OR as simply a “labeling” of the speculation and opinions as such. I do not read the Newroom releases to say all prior spectulation was wrong, only that we don’t know whether it was right or wrong, and therefore cannot be Church doctrine. Either way, it is clear that people should not repeat it or teach it.

  28. Orwell on March 6, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Loser: NDBF R. Gary — peddling very predictable aplogetics of the ban being instituted by God based on narrow parsings of past statements “which have never been repudiated!” by those “15 men” (while completely ignoring the big picture and obvious cultural and institutional shifts).

    Whenever anyone perpetuates things like this the whole Church loses — so thanks R. Gary for proving that ideas like Randy Bott’s are more common than we would like to believe.

  29. Michael on March 6, 2012 at 11:00 am

    While I agree that there is no need to make Brother Bott a scapegoat, it is maddening that if the “folklore” or “speculation” was of a more liberal nature, the professor in question would have most likely been out the door immediately. It seems we can always speculate doctrinally with a conservative non-inclusionary manner but never in a liberal, inclusionary way. Orthodoxy in our church very rarely seems to allow for the opening of new horizons of Restored Truth but often is comfortable limiting the boundaries of tolerance.

  30. Unknown on March 6, 2012 at 11:01 am

    # 26 – Outsiders or novices could draw the same conclusions regarding authority as to individuals with the title “High Priest” or “Elder” or “Bishop” or “Stake President.” All of these roles have an apparent authority problem, which is we cannot fire everyone everytime they make a doctrinal mistake.

    If we’ll never know of those negatively affected, then we won’t know whether they exist or not, will we? Thus, at this point, we are both simply speculating, with arguments that can be rendered in support of both sets of speculation. I don’t think that is a good basis on which to destroy a man’s career.

    Again, I’m not defending Bott’s remarks, but am only asking for a little perspective.

  31. john f. on March 6, 2012 at 11:08 am

    I interpret the Newsroom statements as disregarding prior speculations justifying the ban to the extent they were racist in nature — and I can’t think of any that weren’t. But I do not interpret the Newsroom statements as refuting the ban itself. So, in sum, I had read them as saying “We don’t know why the ban existed but all past racist speculative justifications that were given for the ban must be disregarded.”

    In fact, I think that the Newsroom statements merely give focus to Elder McKonkie’s statement that was made nearly contemporaneously with the lifting of the ban. This was his statement in which he instructed Mormons to “forget everything that’s been said” by everyone (I think he specifically referred to Brigham Young and George Q. Cannon in that quote) about the ban and that such things were said “with limited understanding”. This has always stood in the record and could always have been interpreted to mean literally that ALL speculative theories that had been put forward to justify the ban should be disregarded. But as this experience with Bott has shown (and as anyone knows from hearing comments from a certain cadre of high priests in virtually every ward) that is not the effect that Elder McKonkie’s statement had at the time. Read now through the lense of these Newsroom statements, to the extent that these anonymous Newsroom statements can actually carry weight as the Church’s official statements on this topic (I think this is a problematic assertion, actually), it seems nearly impossible not to read Elder McKonkie’s original statement in its strongest possible connotation, which I feel is actually likely what he meant from the very beginning.

  32. john f. on March 6, 2012 at 11:09 am

    My # 31 was specifically in response to # 27.

  33. Mark B. on March 6, 2012 at 11:18 am

    One faithful sister in my congregation said that Bott’s ugly statements didn’t bother her–she’d heard it all before and there’s nothing he could do to shake her faith. But then there are her parents, whom she’s tried for years to bring to the point that they will consider seriously this new faith of hers. What should I counsel her to do? Keep her parents away from all news sources for the indefinite future? If Romney is the Republican nominee, do you think that Mormons’ attitudes about Blacks won’t somehow make it into the national conversation? And if that discussion comes up, that Bott’s statements (made in 2012!!) won’t somehow make it into the mix–even if they’re followed by a reference to the refutation from the Newsroom?

    I don’t agree, John F. Between the statements by Elder McConkie and Elder Holland, Bott should have known to simply not talk about those old speculations. (What part of “forget everything” does he not understand?) After all, Bott doesn’t think and talk and write about religion in the breaks between practicing law–it’s his job, and it’s hard to believe that he was ignorant of those statements.

  34. Christian J on March 6, 2012 at 11:23 am

    I’m glad Mark B. showed up – to knock some sense into us. What if Bott claimed that the BoM is not historical? Or that homosexuality will one day be accepted as a Mormon norm? Are those not much less volatile and inappropriate(esp. when you consider the thorny history?) Yet, oh how quick he would be on the curb… Agreed The BYU religion department is a short term loser – and they should feel it keenly. As per Ben’s comment, maybe this will enact some change that will a long term good.

  35. john f. on March 6, 2012 at 11:26 am

    I agree that it’s unclear why Bott thought that those statements did not preclude him from not only repeating such General Authorities’ speculations as a factual matter but also apparently holding to them as plausible reasons for the ban.

  36. Dave on March 6, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Michael (#20), I am hopeful we will hear something clear and direct at General Conference next month. I’ll bet I’m not the only one who will be listening with more attention than usual in April.

    Ben S. (#22), I look forward to your post. If there is one group we haven’t heard from yet, it is Rel Ed faculty and CES types.

    John R. (#23), thank you for the guest post.

    Orwell (#28), while NDBF Gary has posted a time or two on this issue (here, here, and most recently here), it’s not really his issue. If this episode allows LDS leaders to reaffirm the present policy and officially distance the Church from prior justifications that are no longer accepted, I think NDBF Gary is a winner as much as any other Latter-day Saint.

    Michael (#29), I agree there is hypersensitivity about left-leaning heterodoxy but unlimited tolerance for right-leaning heterodoxy. Which suggests that heretics on the right are a much bigger threat to the Church (because they are tolerated, even welcomed) than heretics on the left. But that’s a topic for another post.

  37. Christian J on March 6, 2012 at 11:34 am

    I don’t think that is a good basis on which to destroy a man’s career.

    Unknown, at the very least, the man appears to be really bad at his job right? Regardless of the subject. What about the reputation of the Department and field of study he represents?

  38. Adam on March 6, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Bott’s principal sin seems to have been speculating about stuff that Mormons like to speculate about in front of an outsider. He could have made a speech about his idea at BYU in front of a large audience of students and faculty and probably even general authorities, without any problems. The problem here seems to be talking about it to the press.

    That’s not to say that his explanation carries any weight or isn’t racist. I’m just saying it’s not as racist as previous explanations, made by actual apostles and prophets.

  39. Christian J on March 6, 2012 at 11:55 am

    True Adam, Bott did not conjure this stuff out of thin air – but should have realized the trend far away from it. Anyone who reads the Ensign and attends regular Sunday meetings can pick up on that. Yet – he was a religion prof. and boasted a blog – “Know Your Religion”. And absolutely there would be outrage if he preached this stuff, say, in front of a Marriott Center devotional.

  40. john f. on March 6, 2012 at 11:56 am

    re # 38, are you suggesting that Bott’s speculative explanations were his own and not simply repeating or amalgamating theories previously taught by General Authorities during the tenure of the ban?

  41. Robert G. on March 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    I think we will definitely hear something on race and priesthood in general conference as a result of this. The timing was probably perfect, because people are preparing their talks now and several will now be motivated to address this.

  42. Jeremiah on March 6, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    I have enjoyed reading the responses to this post.

    I think everyone comes out a loser on this one. And I suspect that if Romney becomes the Republican candidate this whole thing is going to get dragged in front of the American people for weeks.

    I agree that this kind of “gaffe” can severely hurt missionary work and retention. Conversion can be a very fragile process, and emotionally charged issues can cause good investigators to turn away from the restored gospel. Perhaps Br. Bott acted in good faith, simply giving breath to ideas that have deep cultural currency in certain generations of the church membership. He should not be fired or made a scapegoat, but he certainly shouldn’t be teaching missionary prep classes any more, if not for simply the way it looks to others.

  43. clark on March 6, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    I agree with most of your winners and losers. I’d just say that I think in the long haul BYU is a winner. People aren’t going to stop sending their kids to BYU. There are far more people trying to get in than they can accommodate. However what this does is finally give them the justification to fix up the religion department. As you’ve said it’s been in need of reform for a long, long time. (Although lots of people have told me it’s vastly superior now to what was around when I was at BYU)

  44. Robert Ricks on March 6, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Thanks for this post, Dave. I have to agree with others, though, that I can’t see the church as a winner in the short term. The issue is certainly bound to come up again as Romney trudges on, and Bott’s quote will get airtime. Even if the church’s repudiation is also mentioned, damage will still be done.

    I think one could argue, though, that in the long term the church is a winner if the episode forces us to have a more honest reckoning with the history of the ban and, as much as possible, to finally and definitively put that history behind us.

  45. Paul on March 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I’m with Mark B.

    Bott ought to resign.

    I acknowledge his years of faithful service to the church and to missionaries. I acknowledge his popularity as an instructor.

    But I also acknowledge that the tuition money I paid to BYU this semester for my daughter also covered his teaching her this stuff in her class. When people complain, they’re told to be more humble. When they complain to the department, they’re told the department does not control what he says in his class.

    I don’t teach Mission Prep at BYU (for money), yet I know about Elder McConkie’s statement, Elder Holland’s statement, President Hinckley’s statements. And I knew about them before Brother Bott spoke to a newspaper. And so should he.

    The notion that he’s just teaching what has always been taught is silly. The same statements any of us could find with twenty key strokes were available to him.

    Yes, the religion departmenet is also culpable (not for his comments to the WaPo, but for his comments in his classroom). But he is, first and foremost, culpable.

    He may claim that he was misunderstood by the WaPo reporter (though he seems to have been quoted, not paraphrased). But he can also apologize for the embarrassmeent his inappropriate behavior has caused BYU, its alumni and the church, and he could leave.

    (In my letter to BYU President Samuelson, I said as much.)

  46. Michael on March 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Do you think a strong refutation of the 14 Fundamentals will be forthcoming along with the refutation to be given on speculative racist theology at conference?

  47. WillF on March 6, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I realize the facts of the cases are worlds apart, and the scale of the BYU situation is nothing like that of Penn State, but it is interesting how the cases of Professor Bott and Coach Paterno share similar reactions. Both are flawed, but both are also seen as heroic by those who knew them well. Both have been wildly popular, but both are now disgraced by a flashpoint incident. There are those calling for forgiveness in both cases, and there are those saying neither is redeemable (although I’d say that forgiving someone for spreading false ideas is nothing in comparison to forgiving someone for covering up child sexual abuse). Disclaimer: I only make this comparison because things that compare are interesting to me… http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FallenHero

  48. WillF on March 6, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Oops, sorry that was the wrong trope. It should have been this one: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TragicHero

  49. Mark D. on March 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    My general impression of the state of epistemology at CES is the following (for better or worse): Nothing relevant to a matter of faith is true until it is spoken by a general authority. Once a general authority so speaks, it is eternally true. Historical, rational, and logical considerations do not apply. Theology is the enemy. If engaged in at all, it must be engaged in the the privacy of one’s own mind, and never spoken of, let alone committed to writing.

    The only legitimate form of religious scholarship is apologetics. All other works on religion (with the possible exception of sufficiently ancient history) are per se illegitimate except to the degree that they consist of nothing other than quotes of present and past general authorities and passages from the scriptures.

    As a consequence, CES values and promotes a theological vacuum, for fear that some theological conception might affect the church, or even the minds of future general authorities, other than direct revelation to those whose minds have not been tarnished in any way by ideas about God other than their own personal pondering and prayer, the scriptures, and the statements of previous general authorities.

  50. john f. on March 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Re # 49, wow — well said.

  51. Mark Brown on March 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Very well said, Mark D.

    I think you have identified the problem exactly.

  52. Manuel on March 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Re:49

    Oh, your are describing CES? For a moment I thought you were describing Lucifer’s plan to Heavenly Father in the pre-existance. You know, none will be lost…

  53. kevinf on March 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    BYU ends up being a loser for a couple of reasons. Someone else over at BCC brought up the issue of academic freedom, which to some extent this is (Please do not misunderstand me, I thoroughly repudiate every ridiculous racist justification and characterization he made). If Bott is not fired, the message could be interpreted that conservative ideas, no matter if right or wrong, will be tolerated if the offender has a long history of faithful church service. That, however, does not seem to compare to others who have lost positions for espousing progressive ideas, no matter how right or wrong, in spite of the long history of faithful church service. The best course would be for Bott to resign as quickly as possible. He is, after all, 67.

    BYU also ends up being a loser for all of the other good folks who teach in the religion department at BYU, who unfortunately will get painted with a broad brush. That is not justified. I have had my own issues with things that seminary and institute teachers taught some of my children, but it is not fair to castigate all for the failures of a few. Again, a quick resignation by Prof. Bott would help with this immensely.

    I already know personally a number of folks who have left church activity over what they perceive as “mistakes” by church leaders, whether it be Prophets, Bishops, patriarchs, scoutmasters, what have you. I don’t know of anyone yet who has departed specifically because of this last incident with Prof. Bott, but as they say, the night is still young.

    Again, the best course is for Professor Bott to resign. Next best, of course, would be to fire him. Granting him emeritus status, or reducing his classload to non-history classes or something else fails to adequately address the issue here. No matter how it turns out, BYU will take some heat. We can all hope that they don’t add additional fuel to the fire.

  54. Michael on March 6, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    #49 – I vote that we canonize Mark D’s summary as true doctrine. All in favor.

  55. CraigC on March 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    As near as I can tell, Prof Bott has been totally silent during the ruckus following the Washington Post article. I’d sure like to hear from him with some context for the portion of his remarks that were quoted.

    It seems possible that he made some disclaimer about lack of definite doctrine on the why of the priesthood ban, or said that what he was saying was merely his speculation as to the why of the ban, but these were not included in the Post article.

    Meanwhile it’s sure fun for all of us who have been exposed to popular speakers in the church with a cult of personality, and who have rolled our eyes, to see one get his comeuppance. Bro. Bott appears to have been guilty of poor judgement; and none of us have ever been guilty of that.

  56. Michael on March 6, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    CraigC,

    Brother Bott has been commanded to remain silent by the Church authorities and the newsroom. He wanted to issue a clarification but has been told not to do so.

  57. Dave on March 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    Craig C. (#55), take a look at the notes in Kent’s chronology post under March 29, where it is reported that Professor Bott is now answering inquiries by simply endorsing the two LDS statements released that afternoon. See also this Universe article which published reports from students in Bott’s missionary prep class that he told students he had been misquoted and misrepresented in the Washington Post story.

  58. john f. on March 6, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    Bott’s statements about having been misrepresented or misquoted in the Washington Post story are impeached by his blog posts which say essentially the same thing as what the WaPo reporter quoted him as saying and in the same context.

  59. Adam on March 6, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    That Universe article makes it clear that Bott did not follow BYU’s media policy when speaking with the Washington Post. In all the hoopla regarding whether or not Bott should be fired or not this aspect seems to have been overlooked.

    At my company (or any other large, media-sensitive insitution), if the Washington Post calls you to discuss a controversial subject and you decide to ramble for 2 hours, just fire yourself and save your higher-ups the trouble.

  60. Ray on March 6, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    He wasn’t misquoted. As john f says in #58, it all was on his blog, ironically titled, for sure.

    While I don’t condemn Prof. Bott (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2012/03/atonement-of-jesus-christ-powerful.html), I absolutely condemn what he said and the fact that someone in his position, of all people, said it. I don’t want his blood, but he should lose his job. Keeping him on until the end of the year isn’t being kind or nice or charitable or Christ-like; it’s being morally and politically wrong.

  61. Ben S. on March 6, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    If the Church decided to pay Grant Palmer’s retirement, I don’t see why they’d fire Bott.

  62. first post ever on March 6, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    So why is Prof. Bott to blame? The church is very disingenuous with its response if not short of lying and that’s scary! It wasn’t smart of of him to say those things, but what he said does have its origins in our living prophets. He is being treated like the kid who told the family secrets. Blame the kid not the parents! Nothing he said is false about what has been taught -as much as we would like it to be. I copied the following from an article by -Mormon Heretic. http://www.wheatandtares.org/2012/03/05/priesthood-ban-myths/

    August 17, 1949

    The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment of the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”
    President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.” The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.
    George Albert Smith

    J. Reuben Clark
    David. O. McKay
    First Presidency of the church .

    These are not Botts Skeletons but the churches!

  63. Ben S. on March 6, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    First post, we know Bott didn’t make it up. But he either ignored or missed the memo. Church teachings change, and Bott failed to change with them.

    He represented the old as if it were the current. That’s what the issue is.

  64. Ray on March 6, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    #62 – To add to #63, that 1949 statement has been repudiated multiple times by multiple people since 1978. It should be dead to us now, especially to someone like Prof. Bott – who absolutely should have known about the explicit repudiations.

    It’s not that he USED to believe that crap; it’s that he STILL is teaching it as fact.

  65. NG on March 7, 2012 at 1:18 am

    The more I learn about Bott, the more furious I get.

    First, there is of course the blatant racism, which he consciously clings to despite repeated counsel from the brethren to abandon it. The refusal to abandon false doctrine has widespread consequences. I live in Utah county, and I’ve heard the “n” word in my ward’s building on more than one occasion. My children hear overtly racist comments (often directed toward the President of the United States) in the hallways at school. I had to have a child transferred out of one instructor’s class because that teacher had told a wildly offensive racist joke in class.

    Second, this has shined a light on a whole pandora’s box of false and speculative doctrine and offensive personal opinion that he has been sharing in class and on his blog. If you think what he says about blacks and the priesthood is nutty, you should see what he says about which sex acts are appropriate in marriage and which aren’t, his thoughts about premenstrual syndrome, and the connection between facial hair and homosexual tendencies.

    Third, and most importantly to me, this incident has made it clear that professors in Religious Education are not only free to preach absolute nonsense for decades on end, they are rewarded for it! He was one of the most popular teachers on campus–teaching classes where people shared their mission calls for the first ten minutes of each lecture, and where all tests (or “celebrations” as he calls them) are open-book and open note, and any kind of rigorous engagement with the world of ideas is completely absent. He has been featured in Church media stories in the Deseret News and between General Conference sessions. How could Religious Education allow this to go on for so long? This is no fluke. This is a major, deep-seated and far-reaching systemic problem. I don’t think Bott alone should be fired; I think there should be a major house-cleaning.

    I am a professor at BYU. I cringe with humiliation at the thought that Bott’s business cards look like mine, and that I might have to clean up his (and Religious Education’s) horrible, horrible mess when someone asks me at a conference what in the world made it possible for him to be gainfully employed at the same institution where I work, in a department with a rather highly-regarded national reputation. Randy Bott, and the Religious Education department, have created a shameful situation that not only perpetuates false ideas among students, but also diminishes the value and esteem of their degrees once they graduate.

    I have recently served on a couple of faculty search committees in my college. We had faithful LDS applicants with astonishing accomplishments on their CVs and degrees from the most prestigious Ivy League institutions competing for positions at BYU. Dozens of such highly qualified applications have been turned away–their professional accolades considered not quite good enough for BYU. Meanwhile a few buildings away, Randy Bott (and who knows who else) putters away in front of a classroom of impressionable young minds, taking sacred tithing money and hard-earned tuition as payment for the task of telling prospective missionaries that blacks bear the curse of Cain, and that the reason BYU prohibits beards is because growing a beard can turn you gay.

    This is unacceptable. This isn’t a matter of an otherwise qualified person making a public mistake or error in judgment. This is a matter of a broad, systemic negligence of a sacred stewardship over truth and intellect, brought to light by a friendly, clueless, blithely racist charlatan.

    Being a nice man does not make someone a moral man. I know lots of very friendly, but morally questionable, people. If we’re quick to forgive Bott’s racism as mere datedness and generational obliviousness, what we’re saying is that racism is not a moral issue. Because we would NEVER abide someone treating chastity, tithing, the word of wisdom with such casual eye-rolling and quick forgiveness.

    Racism is amoral. The consequences for racism should be commensurate with a moral failing.

  66. NG on March 7, 2012 at 1:38 am

    I meant immoral, not amoral. Sorry.

  67. KerBearRN on March 7, 2012 at 1:44 am

    What NG said. Amen and amen.

  68. peo on March 7, 2012 at 3:07 am

    Let’s be honest, BYU mainly cares about the “degrees from the most prestigious Ivy League institutions” and very little about “astonishing accomplishments on their CVs”.

  69. Mark D. on March 7, 2012 at 3:21 am

    fpe (#62), although it would be nice if the church formally disavowed that statement, Elder Bruce R. McConkie did as much more than thirty years ago, in an address to the CES Religious Educators Symposium, in August 1978.

    Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

    We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.

    It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them.

    http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=11017

  70. Mark B. on March 7, 2012 at 11:01 am

    You can’t quote that McConkie statement without [sic]-ing that “whomsoever.” Unless, of course, you spell his name “McKonkie.”

  71. Ben S on March 7, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Mark B on apostolic hypercorrection FTW!

  72. ji on March 7, 2012 at 11:32 am

    no. 49 — from Mark D. — VERY profound!

    I once made a statement in a high priests group meeting about the Abrahamic Covenant — what I said was truth — the teacher said he hadn’t heard it said that way before, but no doubt someone had said it because it was true. I thought to myself, Wow! The only way this good brother could agree that what I had offered was truth was to say the someone with a title must have already said it.

  73. Jared T. on March 7, 2012 at 11:46 am

    John F. #31, Mark B. #33, and Mark D. #69.

    I don’t think that the McConkie statement you all allude to is really saying what you think it’s saying. He does not disavow the “folklore” in that talk. What he is saying that we should forget are the teachings that blacks would not hold the priesthood in mortality and the general idea that blacks should not now hold the priesthood. He’s responding to those who resist the very idea of extending the priesthood to blacks. If he did mean to disavow the folklore (which he did *not*), then he sure missed a golden opportunity to change it in thousands and thousands of subsequent copies of his Mormon Doctrine. See here.

  74. Ray on March 7, 2012 at 11:57 am

    #73 – Jared T, that works only if you choose to read it that way.

    The actual quote includes the following line:

    “It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978.”

    There are no qualifiers in that statement, and “the Negro matter” is all-inclusive. If he didn’t put limitations and descriptives and qualifiers in it, I’m not going to read them into it.

    I agree he should have updated Mormon Doctrine, but he should have updated other things he wrote, once new scholarship was written, and, to my knowledge, he never did that, either. Therefore, I take his more recent statement over his previous statements and parse what he actually said to mean what it actually says.

  75. Jared T. on March 7, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    Ray, sorry, but you’re also making choices about how to read his words. First, you don’t address that I show very clearly that the “Forget everything” language is referring specifically to certain aspects of it–only the idea that blacks would not receive the priesthood in mortality or objections that they should then receive it.

    And “the Negro matter” is hardly “all-inclusive.” How? It’s ambiguous at best, and given that, as I already demonstrated, his talk is focused on a narrow aspect of ideas about blacks and the priesthood, a much less fanciful reading is that by “the negro matter” he meant only the question of whether blacks would receive the priesthood in mortality or whether they should be ordained now. I understand you all’s desire to make this out to be something more, but I’m afraid there’s little basis for that. Plus, the folklore is not mentioned or referred to in the slightest in this talk and that he continued to propagate it in his books is a pretty big deal (which you basically just brush aside. Really?) and is part of why people like Bott have continued to operate with the quiet assurance of Apostolic and doctrinal approval (I’m not saying they’re right to think that way, just that it should come as no surprise).

  76. Ray on March 7, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    I understand what you’re saying, Jared, and I’m not arguing that Elder McConkie would have classified the justifications as racist. I’m not even arguing that he personally believed the ban itself was “racist”, wrong and not of God. I’m just saying that he also used statements in that talk that are comprehensive – and that it was a launching pad for other even more explicit statements over the next 30 years that form a foundation that condemns Prof. Bott’s **current** views.

    Thus, I think his talk “can” be read in multiple ways – which is what I meant when I said “only if you choose to read it that way”. I probably should have left out the “only” in order to make my point more clearly (or said “if you choose to read it only that way”), as the position of the “only” sounds like I totally disagree with you.

    “(I’m not saying they’re right to think that way, just that it should come as no surprise).”

    Yes, it should come as a surprise, given everything else that apostles have said about those justifications since Elder McConkie’s statement back in 1978. It takes willful ignoring of those multiple statements to keep repeating the previous justifications, assuming someone knows of the multiple statements – and a man in Prof. Bott’s position should know of them. Period.

  77. Jared T. on March 7, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    Ray, thanks for the clarification. On your last paragraph–kindly point me in the direction of “multiple statements” that disavow the folklore specifically. I can think of the new statement and Holland’s interview. Hinckley’s talk does not to my recollection reference the folklore directly, and as you point out, McConkie and others may not have and likely still do make the connection between the folklore and racism. I wish the newest statement could have done that more clearly. Have you posted on that elsewhere where I can see your list?

  78. Manuel on March 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    I have to agree with Jared. McConkie’s words are a good platform only when one ignores the true context of them. Most people today seem to throw them as a banner implying some things have been repudiated I am going to assume people who do this do not fully understand the context surrounding his statement.

    Once the true context of the words is known, the meaning of the statement is unfortunately diminished significantly, and the banner no longer stands as we would like it to.

    Thus, once one knows the full context of the words, I do not think they “can be read in multiple ways.” The only way they can be read in multiple ways is by remaining in a state of ignorance regarding their full context. An implying Bott should have known better simply because of McConkie’s statement, is probably not as valid if Bott understood the specifics of McConkie’s refutal.

  79. Mark B. on March 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    “that he continued to propagate it in his books is a pretty big deal”

    It’s only a big deal if he propagated it in books published after June 1, 1978.

    Otherwise, I can give a lot of simple explanations for why he didn’t revise Mormon Doctrine, to take one example:

    Busy with other projects
    Publisher not willing to take the financial risk
    A lot of other crap in Mormon Doctrine to fix–no reason to print new edition unless it all gets fixed
    He already refuted all the crap about Blacks in his August speech to CES–so, what part of “forget everything I have said on the Negro matter” do you not understand?
    Busy trying to figure out whether “forget everything ______ said” takes the nominative or objective case, and, sadly, failing

  80. Jared T. on March 7, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    Yeah, I’m pretty confident in my reading of McConkie, but I’m intrigued by these “multiple statements” and would like to get more details. I kind of suspect that these are things that can be read overly optimistically (as with McConkie) as refutations of the folklore, but I would be happy to find that I’m merely ignorant of this corpus of “even more explicit” material.

  81. Jared T. on March 7, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    “It’s only a big deal if he propagated it in books published after June 1, 1978.”

    Well, yeah, that’s kind of the point. Go back and read my comment at the JI. The printing I took that stuff from was the 39th printing from 1997.

    “He already refuted all the crap about Blacks in his August speech to CES”

    Uh, no he didn’t. Go back and read a bit. Nothing to do with nominative or objective case–he tells us specifically what we should forget and it’s not the folklore.

  82. Jared T. on March 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    I’m sympathetic with you folks who just wish so hard that McConkie said what you say he’s saying, but how did you put it? Sadly failing?

  83. Seldom on March 7, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Re: #62 – Exactly! We need to put the blame where it belongs.

    I keep hearing over and over that the Church has never given an official reason for the priesthood ban. Why shouldn’t that First Presidency statement from 1949 be considered an official explanation? What there has never been is an official repudiation of past racist teachings.

  84. Ray on March 7, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Jared, here is a link to a post I wrote on my personal blog – a quick compilation of quotes I put together back in 2009. Ironically, I totally forgot to include Pres. Hinckley’s General Conference address where he condemned racist statements by church members. It wasn’t meant to be comprehensive; it was a quick response to a racist statement I read in the Bloggernacle at the time. (Obviously, you can ignore the McConkie quote, if you want. *grin*)

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2009/04/repudiating-racist-justifications-once.html

  85. Jared T. on March 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Ray, thanks, I’ll take a look. And my #82 was not meant to refer to you, BTW.

  86. Jared T. on March 7, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Ray, thanks. There are a couple of things there that I had missed from Oaks.

  87. Ray on March 7, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    BTW, Jared, thanks for making me realize I hadn’t included Pres. Hinckley’s General Conference excerpt. I added it to my post, along with a 2012 postscript quoting the latest press release.

    I compiled it originally as a handy source for anyone who needs to address this particular issue, so I decided to keep updating it as other things are said.

  88. Manuel on March 7, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Mark B,

    Maybe you need to get all the facts before asking so bluntly “what part of “forget everything I have said on the Negro matter” do you not understand?

    This is the part I don’t understand:

    He kept publishing new editions of the book after his speech without bothering to edit the false doctrines about blacks. The only thing he edited out was the now inconvenient inconsistency that he stated in previous editions blacks would never receive the priesthood in this life. That’s about all he changed about the issue. He continued to call other races “a system of casts” placed by God.

    Therefore, I join Jared in feeling sympathetic about wishing McConkie had actually refuted his garbage, except he simply did not.

    I find it ridiculous that the man who possibly did the most to perpetuate false and uninspired LDS racist propaganda in the history of the Church is also being credited with a refutal he never really did.

    It is silly to read his words in any way other than Jared is suggesting.

  89. Mark B. on March 8, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Why, Manuel, do I need to “get the facts” before speculating based on a condition (which I stated in my comment and which, it turns out, isn’t true)?

    I have no interest in carrying water for Elder McConkie. And maybe Randy Bott and people like him did read that 1978 talk as narrowly as Jared suggests it should be read (although I wonder whether he reads anything that closely), and maybe they kept purchasing new copies of Mormon Doctrine, even those printed 12 years after McConkie’s death, to see whether he had returned from the grave to fix those sections that should have been changed if he really intended to refute the folklore in his 1978 talk.

    But that’s all a distraction from the real issue–whether Randy Bott had any justification is spouting the nonsense that he did? And there are enough post-McConkie statements by apostles and prophets about racism and the folklore that Bott should have known to keep his mouth shut. And, he could have borrowed the concept from McConkie–that they spoke based upon lesser light–to realize that he was even deeper into the darkness and shouldn’t have ventured any opinion on the subject.

  90. Manuel on March 8, 2012 at 10:54 am

    “…and maybe they kept purchasing new copies of Mormon Doctrine, even those printed 12 years after McConkie’s death, to see whether he had returned from the grave to fix those sections that should have been changed if he really intended to refute the folklore in his 1978 talk.”

    Oh please, enough of your sanctimonious garbage. He had plenty of time to work on his disgraceful piece of literature, he simply didn’t do it. The Church has had plenty of opportunities to address their members through proper venues about this issue, instead, all that we have is ONE— ONE statement by Hinkley properly addressing the members through the proper venue. Not to mention the Church kept selling Mormon Doctrine through their equally sanctimonious book store Deseret Book at the same time. Blah.

    Sorry, these are the facts you need: McConkie did not refute his garbage and the Church has done little to effectively do so. Period.

  91. Manuel on March 8, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Oh and one more thing:

    “But that’s all a distraction from the real issue–whether Randy Bott had any justification is spouting the nonsense that he did?”

    No, it isn’t distraction and it is not called “justification” it is called cause and effect and a systematic FAILURE by the Church and by BYU. And a root cause that will continue to yield Botts, whether as stupidly public as he did or as quitely and deceitful as it may.

  92. Zack on March 8, 2012 at 11:50 am

    It’s really unfair that the Public Affairs office gets to come out of this smelling like roses. They are the ones who create a media environment in which the Washington Post even bothers to call a Professor Bott.

    Of course they threw him under the bus in their statement (as they should have). But they really threw him under the bus before he even opened his mouth.

    The only reason that the Washington Post even bothers to interview someone like Randy Bott is because he’ll actually give them an answer. I guarantee you that the WP reporter would have much rather called up the Church PR office and gotten a response. But he knows from experience that you just can’t get an interview, an answer or even a relevant timely answer from the Church Public Affairs Office. So he has to go talk to someone like Bott who will give him what he needs. The Church has effectively outsourced most of its (non-reactionary) PR to the untrained yucks whose phone number or email address a reporter happens to find.

    Had the WP reporter asked the Church for an interview like the one he had with Bott, they would have denied the request. If the reporter asked for a statement or a response to his question about the Church’s doctrinal reasons for excluding blacks from full membership, they wouldn’t have answered his question. If they gave him a statement at all, it probably would have been two sentences about how we don’t do that anymore with no reference whatsoever to the question he asked.

  93. Dave Banack on March 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. I’m going to close comments at this point.

WELCOME

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