069: Redeeming Mormon Racism

The most urgent call in today’s time of pandemic and highly energized demonstrations against racial injustice is for each of us to take stock of ourselves and approach with humility and a repentant heart not only the tragedy and outrage permeating the safety of our internal worlds, but also the beautiful visions for paths to ahead that are being offered. If we are to rise to this moment, we must not stick our heads in the sand or retreat via shallow excuses into a false type of peace, but instead we must lean in. We must read, study, listen and turn to trustworthy voices and educators and allow deep into our hearts their piercing insights and critiques, especially the ones that are painful for us to face). Theirs are the voices of the prophets, not only those who write “on subway walls and tenement halls,” but who are also placed among us in every walk of life, from educators to clergy to economists to activists and community organizers, and, occasionally, politicians. Bless you John Lewis. What love animates all of you and allows you to stay the course of speaking truth to power while refusing to demonize even your harshest persecutors and detractors?

This episode features a conversation between Latter-day Faith host Dan Wotherspoon and Joanna Brooks. Joanna’s recent book, Mormonism and White Supremacy: American Religion and the Problem of Racial Innocence (Oxford University Press, 2020), is at the same time scholarly, substantive, unblinking, courageous, and graceful. Full of grace. In Joanna’s hands, we come to understand the history of Mormon attitudes and the choices its leaders have and continue to make that fail to recognize fully the equality of all persons. We learn as well as are given the chance to grieve these things while also learning not to demonize these ancestors and leaders and the failures of faith and courage that have brought us here, nor, we learn, must we demonize ourselves for our own blindness and the refuge we caucasion Latter-day Saints have taken within carefully constructed systems of “white innocence.”  As Joanna shares herein: just because we are guilty of so much, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t still lovable, that we aren’t irredeemable, nor that God isn’t actively loving and encouraging us to continue our own path Godward.

We cannot continue to see salvation as something solely personal. Christ took upon himself “the sins of the world.” We have too long imagined that as limited to our personal sins, those we commit in our hearts and immediate interactions. This must come to an end. We must continue Christ’s work to redeem the sins of the entire world, including its systems that harm so many—not only externally but also inwardly. We are now being drawn more and more toward greater solidarity with the unfairness of those systems that have favored white persons over black, indigenous, and other persons of color. We must look inward rather than retreating to our bubbles that keep us from having to see how harmful our systems of law, commerce, criminal justice, education, health care, and much else can be to the not only to the bodies but also the souls of others, and ourselves. We must be able to see how these systems favor the wealthy over the poor, those with good health and access to health care over those who do not, those who enjoy food security over those who struggle to provide even basic sustenance for themselves and their children are showing themselves to be. Our own processes toward redemption cannot be successful without soul-work that learns to witnesses, stand in solidarity with, and work toward relieving all forms of suffering.

Listen in! Read Joanna’s new book, along with others of hers and those folks she recommends.

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Links:

Joanna Brooks, Mormonism and White Supremacy: American Religion and the Problem of Racial Innocence (Oxford, 2020).

“Racism, Consciousness, Grief, Hope,” Latter-day Faith podcast, June 2020. Guests: LaShawn Williams, Kimberly Applewhite, Jameson Holman.

Becoming Aware of our Own Biases,” Latter-day Faith podcast, June 2019. Guest: LaShawn Williams.

The Power, Meaning, and Relevance Today of the Spirituals,” Latter-day Faith podcast, August 2020. Guest: Arthur C. Jones.

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