*UPDATE* Charlottesville, Mormons, and the Call to Stand for Justice
Update: the Church issued the following revision to its original statement on Tuesday, August 15, 2017:
It has been called to our attention that there are some among the various pro-white and white supremacy communities who assert that the Church is neutral toward or in support of their views. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the New Testament, Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39). The Book of Mormon teaches “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).
White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a “white culture” or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.
Your move, Wife with a Purpose.
It’s been an ugly weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists gathered in a rally not dissimilar from Ku Klux Klan rallies of what was once thought to be a bygone era of America’s racist past.
With violence erupting—even death—at the hands of one Nazi sympathizer from allegedly running his vehicle into a crowd of detractors, the torch-burning gathering of virulent white-power terrorism has sparked a national outrage and conversation on what is happening in a country where this kind of overt and blatant racism hasn’t been seen in decades, at least not on such a prominent level. Naturally people are looking to their institutions, religious and civic, for moral leadership in these troubling times.
And more than individuals have spouted their various reactions. Politicians and organizations have scurried to condemn these acts of violence and displays of white power. As is typical of the institution, the Church did not rush to a reaction following the events in Charlottesville, releasing the following statement via the Mormon Newsroom on Sunday, August 13, 2017:
It is with great sadness and deep concern that we view the violence, conflict and tragedy of recent days in Charlottesville, Virginia. People of any faith, or of no faith at all, should be troubled by the increase of intolerance in both words and actions that we see everywhere.
More than a decade ago, the late Church President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) addressed the topic of racism when speaking to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He powerfully and clearly taught this principle: “No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.” For members of the Church, we reaffirm that teaching today and the Savior’s admonition to love our neighbor.
Our prayers are with those who are suffering because of this intolerance and hatred. We pray for peace and for understanding. Above all, we pray that we may treat one another with greater kindness, compassion and goodness.
While this statement was a welcome condemnation of both the violent acts and the dangerous philosophy showcased in Charlottesville, for others it wasn’t strong enough. A chorus of discontent seemed to erupt on social media with cries that the statement 1) wasn’t specific enough, and that it; 2) rings hollow considering the Church institution’s own history of racism and racial bias.
And yet, for many others, it was an unwelcome statement that should only have been made, had the Church also condemned Black Lives Matter and other groups/mentalities. Seriously, go read the comments on the Newsroom’s Facebook pos— Wait…don’t do that.
In that latter crowd is our very own faith community’s stain of disappointment. I hesitate to even mention the woman at risk of legitimizing her existence, but her declarations in the wake of this tragedy of violence and display can be illustrative. So, the white supremacist Mormon “mommy blogger” known on Twitter as ‘Wife With A Purpose’ (with a puzzlingly verified account) had this to say about the pitchfork and tiki torch mob in Virginia:
I should note that the tweet has since been deleted.
And if you thought that she shared this prior to the Church’s official statement and repudiation of the mob, you’d be correct. But she wasn’t silent after the Newsroom released its thoughts on Sunday.
— Wife With A Purpose (@apurposefulwife) August 14, 2017
Whoops. It appears she has successfully appropriated the Church’s message into her existing mental framework. It’s fine. It’s something we all do to a certain extent, which is why the calls for more forceful specificity in official statements find valid purchase.
Zandra Vanes, one half of the “Sistas in Zion” duo, posted on Facebook the following regarding the second “Wife With A Purpose” post:
“I literally don’t have the energy for this tonight, I just wanted at least a solid 24hrs to take in and ponder the church’s statement, but *sigh*. Look I get it, those who want to be deaf will be deaf, but this, like clock work response is why generic statements on racism are frustrating. She doesn’t think that the Church is talking to her or about her posts and tweets. No, she doesn’t speak for all Mormons, but she emboldens those in the church who think like her to come out of the woodworks. Instead of those folks reading the church’s statement and feeling that these views won’t be tolerated, they see folks publicly getting to do this and claim to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ.“
She went on to add an important point:
“I’m glad for the statement from the church, and I won’t let anyone tarnish an answered prayer, but I’m also oh so very weary.”
“I am grateful that the Church made a statement against race-based hatred, and I know that much thought went into it. Still, if a statement meant to “create unity” ends up just making the white supremacist feel better and the Sistas in Zion feel worse, then we’re not doing this right. I fear that we are too concerned with not offending the wrong people, and not enough concerned with ministering to the right ones.”
“A group headquartered in Charlottesville, Virg,– Vanguard America: Blood and Soil — put up posters across the U campus last week. Their slogans are the same as the posters. White nationalism is everywhere, folks, not just in the American South.”
Indeed, it would seem that because white nationalism is inherently a “threat to justice everywhere,” to invoke Martin Luther King, Jr., it would seem fitting that the Church, and that its members, speak up to stand for truth and righteousness, however influential their microphone and platform may be.
Arguably the most visible Mormon in politics since Sen. Harry Reid’s departure is Utah Senator, Orrin Hatch. He didn’t mince words one trifle when he took to Twitter to vocalize his anger at what has transpired in Virginia.
We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home. -OGH
— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) August 12, 2017
Another Mormon politician, Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, responded to one Tweeter who thought to remind people that the white nationalism march was still constitutionally protected speech, saying, basically, that the first amendment was a charge for others to condemn, and speak out against such displays of free speech. You can see the exchange below.
They’re still Americans, and their ideas and speech are still protected by the First Amendment.
— Sef (@sethrymcdurr) August 13, 2017
Yes. And my job (and yours) is to exercise my 1st Amendment rights to condemn their speech. And then to love & care for the targets of hate. https://t.co/x7r6yQr0ay
— Spencer Cox (@SpencerJCox) August 13, 2017
Despite the Church’s own turbulent history of prejudice and the racism of past prophets and policies, we can read (and reread, and read again) the words of Nephi, and we can remember that God, “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
It is in this spirit that we can find encouragement as well as fault or room for improvement within our own biases as well as that of the Church’s, institutionally. And it is in this spirit that we can find the courage and the voice to speak out against any action, philosophy, mentality and march that contradicts the invitation that all are alike unto God, and therefore should be for us also.