As Dave B discussed earlier, President Nelson (and, [possibly?] by extension, the LDS church) released a statement on racism (sort of). Honestly, Dave B wrote a lot of what I wanted to say so I should end this post now 😉
Three years ago, I wrote about what seems to be the LDS church’s modus operandi of releasing statements with intentional ambiguity, especially with respect to its racism, but which also extends even to less pressing questions such as: does the Word of Wisdom ban caffeine? But, to summarize the thinking from my earlier post on race (which seems completely relevant today): it feels like the church crafts ambiguous statements to allow members with diametrically opposed viewpoints to read their own views as being supported by the church, while thinking that the other side is unambiguously being denounced by the church.
So, if this hypothesis works, then we might expect that even if the church writes a statement condemning racism, then the statement should be ambiguous enough to allow some people to interpret the statement as condemning racism against minorities while allowing other people to interpret the statement as condemning “reverse racist” actions and sentiments against white folks. And each side would think the alternative interpretation unthinkable.
For example, from 2017:
To be fair, I am aware that there were further clarifications. My understanding is that Wife with a Purpose is no longer a member of the LDS church. And yet…
With this in mind, let’s take a few lines from President Nelson’s most recent statement.
We join with many throughout this nation and around the world who are deeply saddened at recent evidences of racism and a blatant disregard for human life. We abhor the reality that some would deny others respect and the most basic of freedoms because of the color of his or her skin.
We are also saddened when these assaults on human dignity lead to escalating violence and unrest.
The Creator of us all calls on each of us to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children. Any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent!Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Russell M. Nelson, Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/russell.m.nelson/posts/3015443371856412 )
Ask yourself a few questions. No peeking at your neighbor’s answers!
- What are the recent evidences of racism?
- What is the blatant disregard for human life?
- What is respect? What are the most basic of freedoms being denied because of the color of one’s skin?
- What was the assault on human dignity?
- Who has escalated violence and unrest?
I have tried not to wade too far in social media because for me, these issues are personal, but voices on each side are ever present, and I certainly have seen people express very different answers to these sorts of questions.
Some of these questions allow more leeway. When the “evidences of racism” are not specified and are generalized as “respect” or “basic freedoms” being deprived, it is unclear what this means. If someone is murdered, would describing that as their respect being denied be a helpful euphemism?
In contrast, let’s look at a later part of President Nelson’s statements:
Illegal acts such as looting, defacing, or destroying public or private property cannot be tolerated. Never has one wrong been corrected by a second wrong. Evil has never been resolved by more evil.Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Russell M. Nelson, Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/russell.m.nelson/posts/3015443371856412 )
These statements seem more concrete. Before we had “respect denied,” “evidences of racism,” “disregard for human life.” Here we have looting, defacing, destruction of public or private property.
Charitably, I can recognize it as an attempt at balance (and I can withhold my thoughts about whether balance makes sense or even if I think it achieves such balance.) Yet, where the scales fall will ultimately depend on how individuals read this Rorschach test.
Why might the church be responding like this?
In my previous articles about “Rorschach Revelations”, “Intentional Ambiguity,” and “Plausible Deniability”, I suspected the church wanted time and flexibility. Time to make change without fallout. Flexibility to appeal to members across a wide spectrum of views. Bold, unambiguous statements will certainly alienate, whereas a carefully crafted ambiguity might leave both sides happy and unaware.
On Twitter, someone said they appreciated that although the church leans conservative, this statement was “wonderfully apolitical” and that its “centrism” would naturally “garner disappointment from both sides of the aisle.” The tweeter read the statement as addressing, among others, police brutality and looting.
So I asked them: but where does the statement ever say “police brutality”?
I imagine many people read this into the statement as well. But I also imagine many others wouldn’t. I do not think this was an accident.