In news that will shock no one, a 90-year old white, wealthy, conservative, able-bodied, heterosexual man who has not been employed outside of a hierarchical, patriarchal, predominantly white, male-led religious organization in 40 years recently gave a Chicago fireside in which he criticized efforts at celebrating diversity.  (During this same visit, he also went out of his way to confirm that the Church still hates gay marriage, and only supported the Respect for Marriage Act because the Act advanced the Church’s objective to continue discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, and should not be interpreted as an olive branch to queer folks.)   

In that fireside, Dallin Oaks asserted that “Jesus did not pray that His followers would be diverse.  He prayed that they would be one.”  He encouraged attendees to “concentrate their efforts to strengthen our unity–not to glorify our diversity.”  He used the metaphor of the Body of Christ from the New Testament to suggest that we need to all be united as one body, not worried about our differences.  

None of this is new.  Russell Nelson has been telling people to put their identity as children of God and children of the covenant (whatever that means) as primary over any other identity.  David Bednar (in)famously claimed that “there are no homosexual members of the Church.”  BYU’s newly-created Office of Belonging & Inclusion is based on the proposition that we are all Children of God and don’t need to worry about differences.  

Oh, and it’s especially not new because Oaks gave nearly-identical remarks in 1999:  “Jesus did not pray that his followers would be ‘diverse.’ He prayed that they would be ‘one’ (John 17:21–22). Modern revelation does not say, ‘Be diverse; and if ye are not diverse, ye are not mine.’ It says, ‘Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine’ (D&C 38:27).” 

In case you’re counting, that’s 24 years ago.  Have you changed your views on diversity (or really anything) in the last 24 years?  If so, you’re in good company.  If not … well, I guess they say that ignorance is bliss.    

Oaks’ remarks are frustrating because he misrepresents what “diversity” means and what people–at least the people I know–supporting diversity & inclusion initiatives, in the Church or otherwise, are doing.  I don’t know if he is being intentionally obtuse or deliberately ignorant to make a point or if he really doesn’t get it.  But here are the some ways in which he’s missed the boat with the way he has characterized diversity and inclusion efforts (the dictionary definition of which is simply, “the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, etc.”).

First, AFAIK, no one is “praying for more diversity.”  Diversity is already here.  God created diversity.  When we look for ways to “celebrate” diversity, we are trying to respond to the diversity that already exists.  We are not trying to sow division.  Quite the opposite:  we are trying to connect and include.  We are, in particular, trying to help underrepresented folks (whether women, or BIPOC, or neurodiverse, or disabled, or queer, or whatever) have the same opportunity show up as themselves in the workplace, at Church, in public, even in our homes that white men have had for a long time.  If we don’t allow people to be who they are and share their experiences, how are we taking advantage of their unique gifts and perspectives in the Body of Christ?  We’re not including them.  We’ve cutting them off.  

In fact, and this is the second major problem with Oaks’ argument, when we try to celebrate, connect, and include people who are different from us, we are doing precisely what Jesus asked us when he said to “be one.”  Jesus was not saying that we should stop talking about difference and tighten the circle.  Jesus was telling us to draw a bigger circle.  We can’t draw a circle big enough to fit everyone if we can’t see them for who they are.  

As Michael Austin put it, “It would be hard to read the New Testament worse than [Oaks]. The diverse nature of Jesus’s followers is perhaps the major point of the New Testament. The text makes it enormously clear that they come from classes of people (prostitutes, tax collectors, Roman centurions, lepers, Samaritans) who were unacceptable to the religious leaders of his time. Most of the plot of Acts is driven by a conflict in the early Church leadership about how much diversity to include–a question that is answered, quite decisively, as ‘all of it.’ So, when Jesus prays for his followers to be one, he has already factored their diversity into the equation”.

It’s unsurprising that Oaks so seriously misconstrues the teachings of the one he claims represent.  I’ve already written about how badly he mutilates Jesus’s teaching on the first and second great commandments.  Another example of Oaks’ distortion of the message of Jesus Christ is his repeated refrain that we “be civil” with one another.  To that, I say:  Jesus didn’t say be civil to one another.  He said to love one another.  (I suppose that’s a post for another day.)

Third, Oaks’ comments are particularly problematic given the ways that the LDS Church has, past and present, insisted on the existence of real, meaningful, inherent differences between different groups and treated (and continues to treat) people differently because of their membership in one of those groups.  

  • Church leaders, including Oaks specifically, teaches as doctrine the inherent differences between men and women, and the Church uses those differences to exclude women from priesthood offices and Church leadership positions.  Oaks also has made it his life’s mission to exclude queer folks who want to actually be queer from Church.  (If they shape up and conform their behavior to his standards, he’ll take them … but only if they amputate the queer part of their identity.)
  • I was raised on a steady diet of how different Mormons (back when we used that word) were different from, and better than, other religions–Oaks himself has taught these things.  I think leaders are trying to tone down that rhetoric … but then again, we did have Wilcoxgate talking about other people just playing “pretend Church.” 
  • And, of course, for many years the Church denied black folks priesthood and temple blessings based on their racial identity, which the Church taught was eternally linked to their behavior in the pre-existence. Even after the ban was lifted, Church leadership discouraged interracial marriage.  Because races are so … different from each other.  The Church still can’t get away from its race-based categorizations and discriminatory teachings–including in a 2020 Come Follow Me manual that taught that “[d]ark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing.”

It is in fact largely because of the Church’s insistence on these differences, which has marginalized women, queer folks, people of other faiths, and people of color, that the Church so badly needs to improve its approach to diversity and inclusion.  

Now, I actually think that if Oaks and I sat down to talk this out, we wouldn’t disagree for the most part on what kind of diversity and inclusion efforts are good to pursue.  I am guessing that Oaks would agree that it’s good to help white people, for example, understand the experiences of BIPOC folks so that they can develop empathy for and better minister to them.  I’m not really sure how we could consider ourselves Christlike whatsoever if we refused to do that.  Unfortunately, the language he uses is so broad and sloppy that his attempt to recycle a cute, memorable “scripture” has just given new cannon fodder for the far right. He should know better.

So then, what’s he at?  Is he deliberately exaggerating his diversity-loving foes’ position to make a point?  Does he actually truly have no clue what diversity & inclusion means?  I don’t know, because he doesn’t clarify what kinds of “diversity” efforts are problematic and what are OK.  My best guess is that he doesn’t want us to use “diversity” to condone “bad behavior” (like getting gay married).  But I don’t see where he makes the leap from that concern to “don’t celebrate diversity.”  Oaks’ single-minded, lifelong, unyielding, take-no-prisoners battle against queer folks and gay marriage (which is itself problematic) is making collateral damage of every other member of the Church that doesn’t look, talk, act, or think like him.


  • Have your views on diversity & inclusion, or homophobia, or sexism, or racism, or ableism (etc.) changed in the last 25 years?  If so, how?  If not, why not? 
  • Have you seen genuine evolution in the beliefs and teachings of Church leaders in the last 40 years?  Or just wordsmithing to make things sound nicer? 
  • Is Oaks really talking about “diversity”?  What do you think he means by “diversity”?  Why is he so alarmed about it? 
  • Do you see ways in which the Church has created divisions between groups or emphasized diversity through its own teachings and practices?  In what ways have you seen the Church positively impact diversity and inclusion?