The LDS Church has recently released certain resources for the 2017 Mutual Theme. Overall, the theme seems to emphasize prayer (“Ask”), but the church has gathered (or perhaps commissioned?) a collection of songs around the theme. Janan Graham-Russell pointed out one particular song up, where it has caused a minor bit of drama in certain progressive Mormon circles.
This is a link to the PDF sheet music for the 2017 LDS Mutual album piece, “White”, but I’ll also share some of the lyrics
This life gets a little bit messy
It starts on the day we’re born
We fall down and our hands get dirty
And we try to clean it up alone
We think a little soap and water
Is really all it takes
But he gave us something stronger
To wash our sins away
They can be white [x2]
Bright as the day
After the night
He’ll take all the stains away
We could let go
We could move on
Pick ourselves up
Dust ourselves off
Though our sins be red
They can be white
If you’ve been paying attention to your scripture reading, then the lines “Though our sins be red/ They can be white” should look familiar to you, since these are straight out of Isaiah 1:18 (and indeed, the song lyrics from the LDS.org website point this out)…so what could possibly be wrong with basing a song in scripture? Clearly, that’s not about race, isn’t it?
Let’s look back at the metaphor that’s in Isaiah 1:18:
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
Here, there doesn’t appear to be anything racially motivated about this scripture, but just for fun, I decided to check out a few other translations, such as the Expanded Bible, which offers alternative translations parenthetically:
The Lord says, “Come, let us ·talk about these things [reason together; or settle this matter; or consider your options]. Though your sins are like scarlet [C stained with blood; vv. 15, 21], they can be as white as snow. Though your sins are ·deep red [L red as crimson/purple], they can be white like wool.
or the Good News Translation, which was an attempt to translate things in a more common language sort of way:
The Lord says, “Now, let’s settle the matter. You are stained red with sin, but I will wash you as clean as snow. Although your stains are deep red, you will be as white as wool.
Or even The Message, which attempt to capture the vitality, rhythm, and conversationality of the original languages:
Come. Sit down. Let’s argue this out.” This is God’s Message: “If your sins are blood-red, they’ll be snow-white. If they’re red like crimson, they’ll be like wool.
Commonalities and Departures
What most intrigued me about the various translations was what stayed the same in each, but also, what differed. In all of the translations, there are direct references to color at least for some part of the metaphors. However, the translations differ in which components get an object relation — for example, In King James, sins are as scarlet (a color), but in the Message, this is meant to imply blood, and in Good News Translation and Expanded Bible, there is language to speak of sins being stained with blood.
And on the other side, the translations also differ slightly on where color is described and where objects are described — the color alternative to red is white, but some translations directly say “white as snow” while others may say “clean as snow” but will say “white as wool.”
So, let’s ask another question: what does the color apply too, metaphorically?
In each translation, there is some ambiguity. From the King James Version, we can only conclude that the color describes our sins (and, quite frankly, from the King James Version alone, the reference to wool doesn’t make a lot of sense.) This (at least to me), is underwhelming to me, in terms of sense data. Sin as a concept isn’t tangible. It isn’t visible. So, a metaphor in which the amorphous concept of sin has this color or that color doesn’t grip me.
With the other versions, other ideas come about that are more sensible: the talk of staining paints a picture of wearing a white wool clothing that was stained with blood. God is the best bleaching detergent there is. (But watch out — God’s omnipotence might leave your clothing a bit…holy.)
…but pay attention to the Good News Translation. It skips the talk about garments and goes directly to you. You are stained red with sin, but you will be cleaned. And when you are clean, you will be white.
Racial connotations of scriptures
What is interesting about comparing these different translations is that these represent four different groups (not to mention the several other translations I didn’t feature!) doing their best to figure out what ancient authors were implying. What at first seems like a completely racially neutral scripture turns out to possibly have racial interpretations, depending on who’s reading and who’s translating.
I’m not saying that The Good News Translation is racist. But, since it implies that if its audience is cleaned up after being bloodied up, that audience will be white when clean, then at best, that suggests that scripture simply isn’t written for people with darker skin tones (and, to the extent the Old Testament was composed by Israelites for Israelites, that’s probably the case.) So much for likening the scriptures to ourselves (at least, if you’re not white and reading this.)
The problem isn’t even that this metaphor exists, or even that some people interpret this metaphor in ways that implicate race…the problem is when this metaphor or any other is taken to have a literal basis, and thus becomes used to determine that colored skin is theologically different from white skin.
It would be nice just to say, “Well, let’s agree not to do that,” but unfortunately — and I don’t want to understate this point — Mormonism’s theology and scriptures have already failed at this historically.
It’s difficult to rehabilitate scriptures talking about becoming “white and delightsome” or “pure and delightsome” as just being metaphorical when those same scriptures talk about people becoming darker as a way to differentiate and distinguish them. We must in our modern times be wary knowing that we come from a tradition that until the late 20th century — denied core ordinances to people because of some…thing (whether you call it doctrine, theology, or simply a “policy”) that said that people of certain racial heritage were cursed.
I have no doubt that the writer of this song likely didn’t have any racial connotations when composing. But one thing that strikes me is that although there are obvious similarities to Isaiah, there are telling differences. Snow is never mentioned, and neither is wool. The King James minimalism on talking about “sins” being red or white is preserved (as should probably be expected from a Mormon), but pay attention to the verses outside the chorus. Whereas Isaiah can be red in a manner that where the analogy is about stained clothes, this musical piece seems closer to The Good News — we fall down and our hands get dirty.
One of Mormonism’s theological distinctions from traditional Christianity is an embodied God — and with that embodiment, Mormonism expand the scope of what it means to be “made in God’s image” to those physical components — the theology takes gender roles and patriarchy to refer to the sort of lives that Heavenly Father and Mother live. But let’s not ever forget the potential for this physicalism to alienate — if God is embodied, has a skin color and sex, what does that imply for anyone who does not look like Him?
It’s important to look at the context. This comes at the end of God chastising Israel for unethical behavior. Like several other places in the OT, God declares that the blood sacrifices in the temple are worthless if the people are not accompanying it with moral behavior (the moral behavior God’s looking for is stated in verse 17: “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”). This whole section of chastisement begins in verse 10, where God compares Israel to Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah first mentions blood in verse 11 in talking about the blood of animal sacrifices being worthless. Blood is then mentioned in verse 15, where God states that Israel’s hands are full of blood (think Lady MacBeth, or the phrase “caught red-handed”). The Jewish Study Bible translates verse 15 as their hands are “stained” with blood. Either way, that blood or their being stained with blood is a clear representation of the evils the people had done. By the time you get to verse 18, it’s clear that removing the stain of that blood is talking about removing the consequences of that misbehavior via repentance (and the consequence are specified in verses 19-20: “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”)
As for a modern interpretation of whiteness as purity, I do think we run a risk in this church of associating skin color with righteousness (hello, BoM). A traditional view of whiteness is the absence of any color, which is why I think Isaiah used it to emphasize how the stain of red blood would be removed so as to look as if it was never there in the first place. Interestingly, when you look at the science of it, white light is when all colors of the spectrum are present. Darkness is the absence of *any* color. I think there’s a lot of neat symbolism there, but we are still running into the problem of (white) light being preferred over darkness (black). Because of our history of using colors to designate racial features, it’s difficult to avoid racial overtones whenever we use a metaphor involving colors.
Isn’t a red stain (blood, ketchup, wine) the hardest to remove from clothing in washing? And if a stain is an illustration for sin, can’t repentance wash away even the hardest stain (sin)? I think the scriptural reference in Isaiah (red to white, sinful to forgiven) is beautiful and appropriate. I am not offended by it.
Thanks for sharing that context. I think that that’s actually a very big point – it’s so easy to read a scripture out of its context and think you have a reasonable understanding (Isaiah 1:18 is scripture mastery, so there are going to be a lot of people who think that just by knowing this one verse, they know the full story)
The context of consistent with what I have picked up over the years though.
Precisely because red stains even today are the most difficult to clean (if you watch any crime dramas, you’ll know blood is very difficult to clean), that the analogy makes a lot of sense, even today, for clothing.
The question is whether everyone interprets that way. The new song distinctly has no reference to clothing, implying that the song writer didn’t have that in mind (or, for that matter, the rest of the rich historical connection to Israel as Mary Ann discussed) when they read Isaiah.
Great comment Mary Ann! This has nothing at all to do with skin color or racism (BoM white and delightful and blatant clueless Q15 history aside). The color white can be (and in this case should be) viewed totally independent of the variety of mortal skin colors after all only albinos actually approach white (or do they?). Surrender your progresive butthurts to Christ and continue your Bible study without them.
Howard, how do you explain the fact that the LDS Church as an official position interpreted whiteness racially to be tied with worthiness until 1978?
How do you explain the fact that whoever was writing on behalf of the nephites apparently believed that God would separate the righteous from the wicked by giving the wicked among them a darker skin color?
It’s all well and good that you’re personally color blind, but it’s just a fact that Mormonism’s history is in consistently racializing even when that need not be the case.
How do I explain it? Racial prejudice.
Please tie racial prejudice clearly and directly directly to this topic without conflating.
the summary is: racial prejudice is often unconscious and institutional, and this is something Mormons should especially be wary of since we *know* it has been front and center in Mormonism.
This new song is not very careful.
What specifically makes you believe that this new song has anything at all to do with racial prejudice? Should the church completely avoid the word white? If so why?
I actually do think that the word “white” is probably no good for Mormons, because we KNOW Mormons have a heritage of associating whiteness (meaning purity) with whiteness (skin color). The church needs to focus on other analogies to restoration from sin, because it’s not a hypothetical to note that the church has believed that dark skin itself was a sin one needed to be cleaned from.
Since the song speaks in terms of bodies, hands, etc., for those things to be cleaned and remain white either mean that the Gospel was not written for or about dark-skinned people, or it speaks back to Mormon heritage of believing that righteousness can change skin color.
White is a color with meaning independent of skin pigment or pigment’s historical implications. Get over it, you’re being to sensitive and victimhood reenforcing here. Holding language hostage won’t help past Q15s become more aware or current people of color get over their genetic butthurt!
(I probably should’ve realized that someone who uses an adjective describing [and trivializing] anal rape probably wasn’t going to care)
Adjective. (comparative more butthurt, superlative most butthurt) (slang) Overly annoyed, bothered or bugged because of a perceived insult; needlessly offended. Don’t get so butthurt; it was just a joke.
Don’t get so butthurt Andrew; it was just a word.
I think that that word almost perfectly incapsulates how problematic it is.
The word “butthurt” gets its power by describing something quite traumatic (anal rape) and trivializing it. Most people don’t think about it because anal rape is already thoroughly trivialized in society (e.g., every prison rape “don’t drop the soap” “joke”).
And then you reinforce that trivialization by saying “it was just a word” as if the entire point isn’t that that word relies on the trivialization.
See pain in the butt can be something other than anal rape just as the word white can refer to something other than race. When we assign anal rape to butthurt or racist to the word white out of context we are (psychologically) projecting. We are assigning our butthurt to it and insisting others respect our own butthurt interpretation instead of Webster’s definition.
But we *know* that Mormonism has had history of conflating “white” with its racial definition and we *know* that butthurt always has had a history of dismissing, trivializing, and belittling. The word is always already a form of gaslighting.
Gaslighting is way too strong., belittling is more like it.. Yes Mormonism has a racist past but you have completely failed to make the case that this song is racist. The best you have offered is some hazy out of context implication that their past incriminates this present song without reasonably considering alternate explanations.
I’m not saying, “this song is racist.” I’m saying, “this song is careless of LDS history.”
I’m saying that “alternate explanations” are suspect for Mormons because of the theology and history. That might have worked for someone else, but it doesn’t work for Mormons. You don’t care about this, so there’s not really anything more to say about this — you are OK with carelessness because you think that Mormonism can’t really help the fact that “butthurt” people will be “butthurt”. I think that is the fundamental disagreement.
I’m not ok with carelessness, I one of the larger critics of the church commenting on this blog, I’m saying you’re tooo race and gender butthurt to be able to see that you are wrong here. There is no race implication to this song and there is no anal rape implication to my use of the (relatively new) word butthurt. Talk about gaslighting.
I would kindly suggest that there are two ways of looking at things: 1) you can blame aggrieved parties for overreacting or 2) you can listen with empathy to what they are saying, even if you personally don’t understand why they are reacting that way.
By definition, the “butthurt” approach is careless, because it rejects the feelings of the other as an overreaction. I understand that many people will respond that way, and so seeing you do it is not really unexpected, regardless of your self-proclaimed status as critic. (I mean, I get it: being critical of the church in some ways doesn’t make one familiar with every issue.)
I would also kindly suggest that if you don’t see any anal rape implication to the use of the term butthurt (and I would venture to say that I probably have more experience around the “relatively new” internet forums and communities where terms like that and others spring up), then it might be worth it to at least consider deferring to someone else who apparently is “butthurt” enough to feel more confident about that implication.
In other words, when you see someone you think is “butthurt,” perhaps consider trying to understand their perspective, rather than rejecting it, dismissing it, or declaring it wrong.
Personally, I think few people truly understand LDS doctrine or history, and because of this ignorance they lay false accusations based on false information.
However, anyone who reads the Bible knows that it is full of designations based on race. The Israelites were chosen by God, as a race. Others were rejected, as a race. Where the real problem is today is that people have a tendency of conflating race with skin color.
The truth of all scripture is that God has favored some races over others in regards to this mortal experience. The reasons for this are not really understood, but it is a fact. If you believe any of the scriptures used by the LDS church (including the Bible) you can’t escape this.
So, let us stop dwelling on the past and simply let the present be what it is. The song is fine and only the overly sensitive would be bothered by it.
I think one important thing about your comment is that it points out that when you say “let the present be what it is,” that might just be a way of saying, “Let the present be what it is: God will absolutely come out as racist, sexist, or homophobic if you try to judge him by modern standards, but that your problem, not God’s.”
But we can counter that the supposed particularity of God — whether it is for the Israelites or for whites in Mormonism or for men or whatever else — might instead reflect God working with limited, prejudiced humans, rather than God’s ideal.
In Mormonism, since God can and does change, this isn’t so much a problem. But for traditional Christianity with a notion of a changeless God, there has to be some way of accounting for all these changes in who is accepted or rejected.
This is where a republican hegemony in the upper echelons of the church could very well bring the church down. We may have a “world wide church” but we have a rural Utah leadership. Diversity in the leadership would have made the church strong and wise. The interbreeding of the organization with its generations from the same few families has created a weak and malformed church. What is needed is the new blood of diversity.
This is such a fraught conversation, especially given how clueless some are and how painful things are to others.
I’ve become convinced that we need new metaphors in order to have the right conversation — at least if we are going to get outside of the bubble.
“the supposed particularity of God — whether it is for the Israelites or for whites in Mormonism or for men or whatever else — might instead reflect God working with limited, prejudiced humans, rather than God’s ideal.”
Which is reflected in core parts of our doctrine — that there are serious flaws caused by the flaws in us that color our perceptions of God.
I think Shem could well do with reading the Book of Mormon where it discusses that God did not favor the forefathers because of their race or inherent characteristics, but because of their comparative obedience, and that the failures of the people could result in the loss of the favor of God — without them changing their actual bloodlines or heritage at all.
“you can listen with empathy” — after all, if they were not in pain they would not be in pain. The existence of pain is a wake-up call.
Finally, while the term “BH’ has an OED entry, I think this essay is better for a discussion of it: http://persephonemagazine.com/2013/01/can-we-please-stop-using-the-term-butthurt/
For what it’s worth, I think you are raising an important point about carelessness, especially carelessness that results from failure to account for the perspectives and experiences of historically marginalized groups. Your words speak powerfully to the need for diversity and representation. Thank you for sharing.
Stephen, “the failures of the people could result in the loss of the favor of God — without them changing their actual bloodlines or heritage at all.” The scriptures (and Mormon theology) are not consistent about this. It was a notable feature of the NT that Christ said biological lineage didn’t ultimately matter, but that is contradicted by elements in both the OT and BoM (even in the NT, gospel writers were quite clear about Jesus’ adopted/biological lineage to King David and John the Baptist’s lineage to Aaron). In the 19th century church, bloodlines tying people back to specific tribes was part of considering God’s favor and expectations. Prejudice against people of other races blossomed in an environment where lineage determined your mission in the latter days. Pacific Islanders, American Indians, and indigenous peoples of North and South America were all classified at various times as Lamanites, giving them the advantage of belonging to the House of Israel, but still considered inferior in that they needed to be brought back to the truth of the gospel via the Book of Mormon. Spencer W. Kimball’s 1960 remarks about children in the Lamanite placement programs becoming lighter skinned than family members back on reservations shows a cultural belief that lighter skin would ultimately result from acceptance of the gospel (probably with 3 Nephi 2:14-15 in mind). In my normal nightly scripture reading last night, I even came across 1 Nephi 13:15, which says “And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.” How could early churchmembers of predominantly Northern European descent not feel a kinship with the supposedly lighter-skinned Nephites? Even in modern times there is confusion about lineage versus righteousness – some church leaders have encouraged parents to believe that wayward children would ultimately be brought back to the church as a result of the righteousness of the parents due to the sealing ordinances. Even though the church has disavowed beliefs of race reflecting choices in the premortal existence, folk beliefs remain that people are placed in better family situations based on righteousness in the preexistence (I can point to my 1993 patriarchal blessing as evidence). We have a fraught relationship in dealing with biological lineages and relationship to spiritual and covenantal lineages in this church.
The song, however, reflects not just Isaiah 1:18, but also much wider cultural affiliation of heaven/spirituality with the color white. In the movie Bruce Almighty, a black actor (Morgan Freeman) has one of the best depictions of God, ever, yet he is dressed completely in white and appears in a room where all the furnishings are white. Any cartoon depiction of heaven depicts people dressed in white among cloud-like environments (and, interestingly, cartoon depictions of hell put everything in red). Our temples reflect this cultural affiliation of whiteness with heaven – every individual, no matter race or gender, is dressed all in white, and rooms associated with the terrestrial and celestial sphere are decorated in creams and whites (some of the older temples buck the trend with celestial rooms decked in rococo pastels). Heavenly visitations or visions often note figures dressed in white. It is a hard sell to suggest that the writers of the song had any idea their song could have racial connotations.
The songwriters mention our hands getting dirty in the first verse, so the “they can be white” line in the chorus refers to our hands becoming white. If you know the context of Isaiah 1 where God states in verse 15 the hands of the Israelites are full of blood or stained with blood, it totally makes sense. If you take the idea that our hands become white in an age of black lives matter, blue lives matter, and white lives matter, you can understandably raise some eyebrows.
One of the most interesting things about the word butthurt is watching people become butthurt over it’s use! The pendulum has swung way too far in the direction of it’s your fault for hurting my feelings and we need safe spaces where words like white and butthurt won’t be used so our feelings won’t be hurt!
Really, grow up! The song isn’t racist. It does not create a hostile environment except in the minds of the butthurt! You are attempting to sooth your overly tender feelings by controlling the environment around you rather than taking responsibility for your own hurts and exaggerated feelings. This isn’t healthy. Non physical suffering is optional, give it try.
“You are attempting to sooth your overly tender feelings by controlling the environment around you rather than taking responsibility for your own hurts and exaggerated feelings”
Howard wins the daily Internet award for his willigness to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.
Okay well, what exactly are these butthurt people mourning? How does enabling offer anyone comfort?
Howard, regardless of whether you are personally offended, Andrew’s argument has merit. Our church has taught from the pulpit and canonized scripture that says dark skin is the result of ancestors’ sins, and people’s skin will literally become lighter if they accept the gospel. A relatively short 3-minute song saying *13* times that “they can be white” given to church youth worldwide at a time when racial tensions are high can definitely be seen, as Andrew said, at least somewhat careless of LDS history. I don’t think the songwriter had this on his radar, and I certainly don’t think the young woman who sang this (Kalaya Arne) would have done it if she felt uncomfortable with it.
Should Native Americans be upset that sins are referred to in this song as red?
LDS scripture openly asserts that Native Americans are the descendants of the Lamanites – the same folks whose skin was cursed with blackness. The LDS narrative canonically asserts precisely that “red skin” is evidence of ancestral sin.
This has certainly affected LDS treatment of Native Americans. See for example the Mormon Indian student placement program, which encouraged Native Americans to live and go to school in predominantly white communities and schools, and discouraged the use and education of Native languages. We know other colonial programs have existed to try to “civilize” natives, but the Indian student placement program was in place up through *1996*.
LDS scripture also talks about garments washed white through the (red) blood of the Lamb.
“What exactly are these people mourning”
Yes, those are the types of questions to ask with the intent to understand.
“How does enabling offer anyone comfort?”
So what you saying is you can’t ask the question without dropping your own judgment on, even before anyone has tried to explain. I would imagine this makes you an unsafe person to approach for someone truly struggling with these issues.
Try your first question again (I removed your profanity to be charitable to you), but this time with your listening ears on. 🙂
Empathy extended to self generated victimhood is misapplied because it enables.
That is QUITE my point. The song very easily could have chosen to use the analogy of garments — but instead, it doesn’t speak about washing *clothing* at all. What it does speak about making white are ourselves, our bodies, our hands. At best, that’s just careless (assuming that the audience member’s skin would look white when clean). At worst, that speaks to SEVERAL LDS scriptures and historical points where race is said to physically transform based on one’s righteousness or lack thereof.
Like, if Mormonism had *no history of getting racial issues horrifically wrong*, I’d be more amenable to what you’re trying to say. But the problem is that Mormonism precisely has very recent history of getting racial issues horrifically wrong.
Perhaps a subtle lack of awareness but there’s no malintent or racist doctrine involved here Andrew. Everything LDS is fraught with Utah-centric, Old Man centric, Wasatch Front thinking. Let’s not make a mountain out of a mole hill.
The way you say “Everything LDS is fraught with Utah-centric, Old Man-centric, Wasatch Front thinking” (and thus, there need not be malintent — it’s just, that’s what’s in the background. That is the ocean everyone is swimming in when talking about the church), I say it is just as true that everything LDS is fraught with the church’s racist heritage, scriptural exegesis, and theological speculations. It seems you have a much more vested interest in making a mountain out of denying this.
“Empathy extended to self generated victimhood is misapplied because it enables.”
As someone endlessly dealing with mental illness, assault recovery, and homelessness in my extended family, that’s just dumb.
And here is why.:
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. “
Well I’ve seen a lot of improvement in the church’s racism…haven’t you? I haven’t seen improvement in those other attitudes so I’m saying that racism is now way down in the equal opportunity noise of unenlightened LDS thought. I’d rather see some color in Q15 than a slap on the hand of some largely innocent songwriter and I think you’re too invested in applying the racial sins of the past to the current equal opportunity naiveté of LDS-ism.
Motes have no reasonable place in a discussion of empathy vs. enabling. Motes amounts to name calling. If you have something intelligent to say on the subject please say it.
I don’t think those issues are in ANY way disconnected. I think that songs like this get through precisely because there is no color in Q15, and there is no color in Q15 because there is a lingering impact of racialized theology.
How did we get the Utah-centric, Old Man-centric, Wasatch Front? It didn’t just develop out of nowhere. It developed specifically out of the church’s racialized theology.
You think that the racial sins are in the past and that the current is all fine and dandy. I think that the current demographics of leadership speaks to the fact that those racial sins still are with us today.
Well enjoy plucking the plankton out of the seawater then, it’s far to tedious for me.
“But we can counter that the supposed particularity of God — whether it is for the Israelites or for whites in Mormonism or for men or whatever else — might instead reflect God working with limited, prejudiced humans, rather than God’s ideal.”
You can, but you have absolutely no scriptural or doctrinal basis for this. Thus your argument is trying to imprint the philosophies of men on the truth of God. This is the common problem of the modern day; people thinking they know more than God’s anointed prophets.
My point is that if you accept that these men are prophets it is far better to simply accept what they teach and leave it alone. Otherwise you risk opposing God, and that is never good.
“I will give you one of the Keys of the mysteries of the Kingdom. It is an eternal principle, that has existed with God from all eternity: That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church, saying that they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly, that that man is in the high road to apostasy; and if he does not repent, will apostatize, as God lives. The principle is as correct as the one that Jesus put forth in saying that he who seeketh a sign is an adulterous person…” Joseph Smith (Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 156)
Oh I earned a personal insult. Yeah! Since you descended to fallacies first, do I automatically win the argument? Who gets to decide these things anyway?
Give the scriptures I posted a second look. The first especially is very related to why choosing to judge the life experiences and beleif systems of others is useless. Empathy, however can both help clear your own eyes and offer a tissue to the one whose vision is blurred by tears.
Andrew – thanks for a thoughtful post pointing out a clear problem. The verses are problematic because they assume skin is white and that white skin is “clean.” But given the racial composition of our church today, it’s easy to see how this was missed in the review process. That doesn’t make it right.
Wouldn’t it be fairly easy to fix? Just change hands to clothes/garments/etc, and it’s then pretty clearly talking about the same thing as Isaiah? Seems weird to mention hands at all when you’re spending the rest of the song talking about clothes.
Yeah, looking that song over again, it is a bag of mixed metaphors, nebulous pronouns and tense disagreement. It’s a hot mess:
This life gets a little bit messy
It starts on the day we’re born [what starts? life? it = noun, so should be referencing “life”]
We fall down and our hands get dirty [We fall on our hands? Nothing else gets dirty? As Frank says, why not reference dirty clothes like the scriptures do?}
And we try to clean it up alone [clean what up? “Hands” is plural, but “it” is singular]
We think a little soap and water
Is really all it takes [all what takes?]
But he gave us something stronger [he who? what did he give us?]
To wash our sins away [so now the accidentally dirty hands are sins?]
They can be white [x2] [they = hands or sins? But how can our sins be white, so it must be hands]
Bright as the day
After the night [Sins or hands?]
He’ll take all the stains away [Stains were the “they”? Hands were stained? not just dusty from falling? what were they stained with? We don’t usually refer to hands as stained.]
We could let go [of what exactly?]
We could move on [from a fall? from washing hands?]
Pick ourselves up [are we washing our hands while still laying on the ground?}
Dust ourselves off [didn’t we already do this?}
Though our sins be red [Why would hands be red? Are we Lady Macbeth with bloody hands?]
They can be white
OK, so I no longer object to this song on the grounds of racism. I now object to it as an English major.
Exactly. That being said, per Mary Ann’s analysis, it may be that the Isaiah metaphor really is about cleaning blood off hands
Indeed, hawkgrrrl. I often lament about the state of Church music til I sit down and try to write some myself. 😉
Don’t care for the lyric. I don’t think my kids will care for it either. Just the one phrase “They can be white”, will wake up someone from the congregation who missed the messy verse and what will be heard is They (those people) can be white. It’s not what is written, but it is what will be heard. Congregants who are not musicians generally don’t pay attention to the lyric close enough to catch the full meaning–especially hearing it the first time. But the on line that will be heard is “They (those people) can be white.”
Hawk, the lyrics make more sense than you give them credit for.
Life is messy/day we’re born (mortality sucks and we will inevitably screw something up)
Fall down/hands get dirty (we just screwed up)
Clean it up alone/soap and water (try to fix it ourselves)
The rest is talking Atonement/repentance.
Relevant parts of Isaiah 1:15-18…
Jewish Study Bible – “Your hands are stained with crime–wash yourselves clean;… ‘Come, let us reach an understanding,’ says the Lord. ‘Be your sins like crimson, they can turn snow-white; be they red as dyed wool, they can become like fleece.'”
LDS KJV – “your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean…; Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
Even Isaiah switches back and forth between hands being stained versus the sins themselves being colored red/white. Having my sins changed from red to white doesn’t make as much sense to me as my hands having the stain of sin/crime/blood being removed (Lady MacBeth “blood on your hands” metaphor).
After listening to that song several times, “they can be white” is definitely the catchiest part (13 times, people. She says it 13 times.). Luckily it’s a pop song, so you won’t hear it in sacrament meeting.
Mary Ann: I didn’t say I didn’t understand the mixed metaphors (except in a few cases where they are off), just that the lyrics use “it” when the referent appears to be plural. This is how your papers come back in an English class when you use the wrong pronouns. Using words like “it” and “thing” too often in an essay gets you this kind of response. Isaiah appears to like mixed metaphors, too, but I already objected to him on the grounds of him being the Alfred Lord Tennyson of Mormon scripture.
I was going to post the same link. Looks like you were on to something there Andrew.
I was very surprised to first be linked to that article, because I did not anticipate that the church would actually remove the song. So, that’s somewhat heartening.
I was also very surprised that I got a quotation 🙂
Makes me wonder just how much monitoring of the bloggernacle the offices in SLC do… It’s a weird thing when we seem to have more influence on the church from internet discussion/blog posts than we do by letter writing and visits to our leaders. Either way, yeah for Andrew speaking up!
Well, the Trib writers read the blogs at least!
Lehcarjt, I know some people submitted complaints to the church directly via the website. I assume if they are suddenly getting a bunch of negative feedback about a specific song, they will start looking around at public forums to see what the commotion is about. I’d love to view it as the church listening to concerns of members, but the cynic in me says eliminating something that causes public discussion about the church’s history of race relations will be in the church’s best interest (especially with the recent outreach to the African-American community via the donation of the Freedman’s Bureau index to the Smithsonian last week).
So, Mary Ann, in the future my posts should have a call to action with a link to the church’s complaints link? 😉
Color me oblivious, but it never occurred to me to use the church website to complain about something. People really do that? (err… in hindsight, of course they do.) I’d hate to be the poor person to filter through all the trash to get to genuine concerns. I imagine its about like rifling through the Trib’s comment section.
I’m choosing to be impressed that the church has been sensitive to the concerns expressed, and of course by the post that prompted it. It’s time to respect our brothers and sisters concerns about how we portray ourselves on a regular and acceptable basis in our teaching. Time to do better.
I can’t believe Peggy quoted me. I’m going to have to be more careful about what I say on this blog!
I always thought the feedback button on the church web pages was in connection with the tech function of the pages. I’ve certainly used it for that, and seen my issues fixed, although without any personal feedback.
It would never have occurred to me to use it about content…. not sure why.
Why demonize whites again?
Whites are some of the most racist vile people on earth.
Whites are some of the most welcoming, colorblind people that I know. When there is a tragedy anywhere on earth, who is usually on the front lines helping? Whites!
This point of view comes from a non-white.
I sent an email to you a while back. Could you respond to it? Thanks in advance!
With respect to your comment, I would just helpfully note that colorblindness is often not the goal, because it can mean being blind to issues relating to color.
Ronkonkoma, the issue is that a church-sponsored song’s lyrics easily call to mind the now disavowed doctrine that white skin is a sign of God’s favor. The songwriters never intended to call to mind that doctrine, but their intent doesn’t change the impact. One of the two songwriters was Asian (according to the Trib), so if you accuse us of demonizing the songwriters, you are accusing us of demonizing whites and Asians.
Various posters …
What is the Q15 that needs to be coloured? I did a quick google search (which didn’t help me) – I am sure it is a standard thing but I am new to Mormondom I believe someone referred to it as (hope that is not an offensive or frivolous term – not intended that way here)?
Q15 is an abbreviation for the combined top-most leadership of the LDS church — the combination of the First Presidency (Prophet, 1st Counselor, 2nd Counselor) and the Quorum of the 12 Apostles.
*looks char grinned* so the Q is for Quorum not for Question! I was thinking it was a question which needed to be answered differently rather than the makeup of the Board (so to speak).
Quickly checking the general authority pics under church organisation in gospel topics on the LDS site I see that there are two non-white or asian gentleman (not sure if I am allowed to say black here) when you get down to the General Authority Seventies. Is it far from there to being in the Q15 and is that ratio in any way reflective of general LDS racial percentages?
Very hypothetically and just as an aide to understanding the organisational dynamics … if Christ or Moroni or Gabriel etc rocked up to Messers Monson, Eyering, and Utchdorf and told them that Andrew S was Heavenly Father’s pick for Prophet, Seer, and Revelator (guessing you would have to get a visit too of course) … would they be able to put you in the spot or would the procedures in place mean you would have to have all but one resign, you get appointed first (thus being the longest serving apostle) and then he stands down making you president and one of the previous Q15 no longer on the Board as they are full up or …?
The church doesn’t officially keep member statistics by race, so it’s pretty tough to say, but in 2008, Elder Sheldon Child estimated that there were 1 million black members of the church (this would not just based on the US, but worldwide estimates).
In 2008, church membership was announced to be around 13.5 million members, so 1 million of of 13.5 million suggests that at the very least you’d probably expect to see more than “two non-white or asian gentlemen” thorugh the General Authority Seventies, and it’s nearly enough to say that you should probably have at least 1 of the Quorum of the 12 or First Presidency also be “non-white or asian” if the leadership were representative of the membership diversity.
in terms of who becomes the Prophet, I think that’s pretty set in stone based on seniority among the Apostles. So, given the church’s history of systematically denying black people the priesthood combined with a seniority-based system, it makes sense that the demographics of leadership lag behind overall demographics.
Thanks for the replies!
Sounds like Moroni would have to show up live during the worldwide apostle broadcast and announce it there and it *might* work!
hehe, I doubt that would work. The church is too bureaucratized or systematized.