The latest Mormon controversy is here, scuttling everyone’s pre-written blog plans with something that is on the tip of every progressive and ex-Mo tongue: Brad Wilcox’s arrogant tirade that got filmed and re-shared to the chagrin / outrage / shock of every rational person who has ever been associated with the Church, followed by the anti-woke Twitter crowd thoughtlessly and instantaneously leaping to his defense while asking “How high? Is this high enough?” So, first, what was so wrong in this talk that he seems to have written to try to convince young people to quit leaving the Church for all the reasons so many young people are leaving the Church? Here’s a quick, but perhaps not comprehensive, starter list of those people his talk insulted and as Kristine A so eloquently put yesterday “sneered” at:
- Black people. This is the aspect of his talk that is getting the most public backlash, and the only aspect of his talk that he apologized for. He said that in asking why it took until 1978 for blacks to be allowed to be ordained or enter the temple, that we missed the bigger question, why did it take until 1830 for “whites and other races” to have these privileges. I audibly gasped, friends. It was as stunningly bad as people in the wake of George Floyd’s murder trying to turn the conversation to the persecution of early Church pioneers, in some bizarre tone-deaf oppression brinksmanship. It sounds just like “Why are these black people whining when we white people aren’t? We waiting even longer than they did!” (Uhm, no because you have to add their waiting time to ours, and also, not to put an obvious point on it, but what about women? But we’ll get to that in a minute.) Pivoting from the oppression of black people to the limits placed on white people is just breathtaking in its bad taste.
- Other Faiths. He says that non-LDS religions are “playing pretend” at Church, basically completely illegitimate, which is not only hurtful and dismissive; it’s not doctrinally sound, and there is plenty of precedent against this line of thought. It’s also designed to create divisiveness toward people of other faiths who are earnestly striving to follow Christ. What does this attitude say about him being elevated to a counselor in the Young Men’s General Presidency or a CES-chosen BYU professor of religion (despite having zero academic qualifications and seemingly no life experience with other religions)? You know, I have met a lot of religious people, some whom I like, others I don’t, but I don’t see them as “playing pretend” in their Church services. They are trying to follow Jesus, as are all other Christians. This one would make Bruce R. McConkie, who said the Catholic Church was the whore of Babylon, blush.
- Women. He is incredibly dismissive of women’s concerns at our second class status in the Church, instead pivoting to how women’s lack of ordination affects men (of all things!), that rather than wondering why women aren’t ordained, we should wonder why men need to be ordained to access the temple, but women don’t. Riiiight, buddy. Because that’s what women are concerned about, not the fact that every single decision made in the Church is made without women. He also shares a story chuckling condescendingly about a young girl for “pretend” administering the sacrament during play time with friends. What’s next, malpractice suits for playing doctor? Also, this is our second reference (oddly) to “playing pretend” at Church. In this case, it’s that girls are so silly. Frankly, though, the substance of his comments wasn’t too different from E. Oaks mocking women concerned about eternal polygamy, and that was done in General Conference with no apology afterward, for obvious reasons. He played women’s pain for laffs.
- Young People. His tone throughout the talk is mocking of those who have raised these concerns, including mimicking people’s voices and attempting to make their concerns sound ridiculous rather than thoughtful–a grave miscalculation on his part as it is has been proven time and time again that this is a huge turnoff with young people who can easily tell that these concerns are reasonable; some of them share these concerns, and others have friends or relatives with these concerns. Who goes to a devotional to hear people being mocked? Nobody who is a decent person, and I for one have more confidence in the youth and their desire to be good people than Bro. Wilcox does.
What’s different this time? The talk was very quickly taken down, and Brad Wilcox apologized publicly. Having said that, as with all apologies, this one’s far from perfect (but I will absolutely say, please, continue apologizing, everyone, even if you botch it because the alternative is much worse!)
My dear friends, I made a serious mistake last night, and I am truly sorry. The illustration I attempted to use about the timing of the revelation on the priesthood for Black members was wrong. I’ve reviewed what I said and I recognize that what I hoped to express about trusting God’s timing did NOT come through as I intended. To those I offended, especially my dear Black friends, I offer my sincere apologies, and ask for your forgiveness. I am committed to do better.Brad Wilcox’s apology on Facebook
In response to Bro. Wilcox’s apology:
“We are deeply concerned with the words recently used by Dr. Brad Wilcox,” BYU leaders said. “We appreciate his sincere apology and believe he is committed to learn from this experience. BYU remains committed to upholding President Nelson’s charge to root out racism in our institutions.”BYU on Twitter as reported in the Deseret News
I hope BYU is right, and that Bro. Wilcox learns from this mistake. I am skeptical that he will learn from this, though, because there are so many people senior to him who haven’t learned from it, and these attitudes exist–mostly unchecked–at all levels in the Church. Wilcox just made the mistake of shouting the quiet part out loud. When you defend your intentions and point out that others were offended, that’s always a bit of a red flag in Mormonism where we are told constantly that those who are offended are choosing to be offended (classic victim blaming).
I took a minute to brainstorm other apologies that would be consistent with this peek at the Church’s underlying racism:
- I’m sorry God’s so racist. He’s committed to doing better.
- I’m sorry we got caught being racist again.
- I’m sorry dead leaders were racist, but they baked this cake, and now we all have to eat it.
- I’m sorry black people are offended and overly sensitive which takes away from the Spirit.
- We don’t see color, and we wish marginalized minorities would also stop seeing it.
- We had the best intentions, specifically the intention of not examining our assumptions and biases.
How did we get here? The more we focus on “spiritual” (and more importantly charismatic) white men as the ones CES hires and promotes, the more we will get arrogant, ambitious Brad Wilcoxes with these same attitudes that anyone who has reasonable questions (particularly those barred from power: women, LGBTQ, and non-whites) is fair game to be mocked and dismissed. People from other faiths? Same. Their religion isn’t even real and doesn’t have to be treated with respect. The CES way is to elevate people who live in a bubble into jobs that they have zero academic qualifications for, then tell them how great they are with “the youths” and send them out on the circuit. Feed them with flattery and promises of further promotion in the patriarchy. Add an environment of unquestioned conservative assumptions regarding women, homosexuals, and non-whites–all of which are giant blind spots in our Church. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Wilcox simply got caught being what he’s been rewarded repeatedly for being: a racist, misogynist, arrogant Mormon white man. He must be baffled about why he’s the only one getting cancelled here. After all, isn’t everything he said “true,” even if he stated it inelegantly? Isn’t that what he’s supposed to aspire to be? He’s of course not apologizing for being racist (and has not acknowledged his misogyny either, naturally, or his uncalled-for swipes at other religions); he’s apologizing for the hurt his “black friends” felt. Anyone else get a “I’ve got a black friend” vibe from that word choice? Just me?
It didn’t take long, though, for Bro. Wilcox’s wife to chime in, defending her husband in usual Mormon women “stand by your man” fashion, which is clearly her solemn duty. I can just imagine them talking over this matter at home, her soothing his wounded ego (yes, no doubt she’s convinced him that he’s the victim here, nobody is giving him a fair shake, and he doesn’t need to do anything differently because he did nothing wrong, ad nauseum). If you doubt it, here’s what she says:
Reading these comments makes me realize how truly unchristian people have become. I KNOW Brad well. I have lived with him for almost 40 years and I KNOW his heart. He has nothing but love and respect for Blacks, whites, females, LGBTQ, and any other labels you want to throw in there. He has a great regard and tolerance and love for all people but that does not equate with condoning.Facebook comment from Bro. Wilcox’s wife, supporting him
Like Sis. Wilcox, I love some people who are racists and misogynists, too. Her specific statement mixing three incongruous things is rather telling: great regard, tolerance (and love), and “not condoning.” If you love someone, you don’t “tolerate” them. If you “don’t condone” someone, that means you judge who they are to be unacceptable, not that you hold them in “great regard.” It’s this kind of double-speak that reveals the true feelings toward these groups, along with her use of “any other labels you want to throw in there,” as if these groups aren’t marginalized and don’t have legitimate concerns, they’re just using “labels” to get sympathy, and we should quit noticing diversity and just pretend nobody has it harder than anyone else.
Just to clarify, part of this problem is one of definitions. What is a racist? For some, you have to be willing to commit hate crimes to qualify. What is a sexist? For some, you have to beat your wife to qualify. These bars are way too high. If we apply the Riddle Scale (which was created to understand levels of homophobia), we can see that while the Church as a whole is not the actual worst of the worst, it’s still very negative toward these marginalized groups, just like Sis. Wilcox’s statement reveals (and her husband’s insulting talk). The Riddle Scale, as applied here:
- Repulsion: Racists who don’t want a black person to touch them or share a space with them. Sexists who shudder at the thought of women being in a male space or having any authority over a man.
- Pity: Feeling sorry for black people that they have to be black. Feeling sorry for women for not being “real women,” or not being able to attract a man to take care of them.
- Tolerance: Viewing other races as needing white men’s protection because they aren’t as talented or capable. Likewise with women. They are great! They just aren’t ready to be leaders. That would be silly. What’s next? Children in charge? LOL!
- Acceptance: Wanting everyone to be seen as people, ignoring minority status such as race, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, which reinforces the status quo an keeps the privileged from having to examine their feelings and assumptions. People who claim that “labels” or races are “divisive” are in this group at best.
- Support: Finding personal discomfort and realizing that marginalized groups need some protection (e.g. affirmative action) within a racist / sexist / homophobic society.
- Admiration: Recognizing that those in marginalized groups have put up with a lot of crap and are stronger in many ways than those whose lives were privileged. Admiring those individuals as having greater capability as a result.
- Appreciation: Valuing diversity and specifically seeking to add diverse perspectives to every space to improve people and society. Willingness to combat the blind spots of others.
- Nurturance: Finding marginalized groups indispensible in society, being genuinely delighted by their company, their input. Having genuine affection for them, and treating them accordingly.
Comments like Bro. Wilcox’s reveal something around Tolerance or even Acceptance possibly, wanting to be “race blind” by drawing a comparison to the plight of white people (!), and his wife’s comments are similar. These are the same attitudes that were revealed in the recent BYU study on racism that showed that admissions employees believed that being “race-blind” was desirable (an attitude which actually resulted in a higher percentage of white students, as the study revealed). Will Bro. Wilcox be the one to lead BYU into a new era of anti-racism while he’s swimming in it? I will not hold my breath, but I wish him well as he tries to “do better.” I would also recommend a quick review of the rest of his horrible talk. Even the red chairs didn’t like this one, apparently. Hence, the apology and the take-down of the talk. Brad Wilcox exposed what many of them agree with but try to state more diplomatically so they don’t get called out. That’s the problem with charismatic preachers with bad beliefs: they blow everyone’s cover. Rookie mistake.
There’s just so much here to unbox, so I’ll leave you with a few quick questions:
- Do you think BYU / the Church / Bro. Wilcox will do better on race as a result of this incident?
- Does finding flaws with apologies cause retrenchment?
- Do you personally view these attitudes as unique to Bro. Wilcox or pretty standard Mormon fare?
- Where would you place the Church on the Riddle scale? What about Bro. Wilcox? BYU? Sis. Wilcox?