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How Critical Race Theory Helps us Follow Jesus

Amidst all the push-back on CRT of late, I fear disciples of Christ may be missing some of the ways this framework for analysis might help us follow the Savior in healing the world.
This article continues our series of responses to “Honest Questions about Race for Fellow Disciples” (June 4, 2021)

“Jesus loves the little children

All the children of the world

Red and yellow, black and white

They are precious in His sight

Jesus loves the little children of the world”

Personal Background

My earliest memories of race go back to kindergarten, in my Baptist primary school. There I received a fundamentalist Christian education and learned to be color-blind, singing cute children’s songs such as the one above, extolling Jesus’s love for all people regardless of race. In the second grade, I had an African-American teacher, which did not strike me as unusual at all. In fact, I thought nothing of it, nor did I particularly think about the race of the handful of African-American classmates I had as a young lad. We weren’t a particularly religious family though, and my father often remarked later that I had been brainwashed by attending a Christian school, where I was taught the same moral code every modern member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would recognize as their own, right down to the proscriptions on drinking and smoking. [Footnote: I later appreciated that foundational education, especially as it grew clear as I got older that I would not be receiving much of a proper education from my father as it came to matters of morality.]

Starting from this foundation of color blindness, I really didn’t become aware of race until I was an adolescent, and became more cognizant of my now-late father’s rants about other races, which he engaged in not infrequently. I would eventually get to hear him use every single racial epithet I know of, as he disparaged everyone from Blacks to Jews to Asians. He lamented how immigrants were stealing “our jobs,” though he remained employed at the same factory for most of his adult life. 

I never got much into shooting or hunting, though it seemed that all the other boys I knew growing up in rural Ohio were avid shooters. I attribute this partly to a number of uncomfortable shooting outings with my father, during which he insisted we shoot at targets showing a caricature of a running black man, disturbingly labeled “Running N—-r”. (I protested meekly and he begrudgingly allowed me to shoot at bullseyes instead. Surprisingly, an internet search today shows that these targets are still readily available for sale at gun shows). In 1992, when I was 16 and quite involved in conservative Christian politics, my father embarrassed our family by planting a large blue “David Duke for President” sign in our front yard, all whilst assuring us he wasn’t actually a racist—he just believed in “whites’ rights.” That same year I thought I’d like to buy a Mazda as my first car. That idea was shot down with amazing rapidity: I wasn’t permitted to buy the Japanese-made car I wanted because I was told in no uncertain terms we only were allowed American makes in our driveway. I should’ve known better, after hearing Japanese motorcycles and their riders derided in the most offensive terms for years by this Harley owner.

All through my formative years, I rebelled against my father’s racism. I immersed myself in my dedication to learning and growing in my personal beliefs in Jesus Christ. This journey took me from my early Baptist background, to evangelical Pentecostal, to a Messianic Jewish fellowship where I became friends with several African-American men with whom I would gather for scripture study every week. (An interesting aside: one individual who sometimes attended this home fellowship happened to at one point give me a pamphlet he had written, which happened to cite the Book of Mormon—my first introduction to this scripture. I would later join the Church at age 20). 

Throughout my high school history and social studies, my conservative rural Ohio school district completely glossed over or failed to mention anything at all about matters like how slavery formed much of the basis of the early American economy, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation, or the Civil Rights movement. I did not even know that Black Nationalism was a thing (because I of course assumed Civil Rights had fixed everything!) until I happened to become friends with a Black Nationalist activist by way of his involvement in broadcasting, a love of mine at the time.

At age 15, I improbably talked my way into an on-air job with a local radio station owned by a then-prominent evangelical ministry. This launched a broadcasting career that would last a decade. Our station aired programs from various conservative Christian figures, was heavily involved in the National Day of Prayer each year, and programming from the Christian broadcasters frequently reinforced the idea that GOP stands for “God’s Own Party.” Eventually, I had a weekly show wherein I interviewed all manner of conservative figures, including authors, conservative activists, future governors, U.S. senators, and Presidential candidates including my then-favorite, conservative columnist and firebrand Patrick Buchanan. His 1992 GOP convention speech had really touched my soul and inspired me to commit to being a culture warrior, preaching the gospel of right-wing politics mingled with Christianity for years to come. 

This wasn’t strange, though. In the world of evangelical Christianity, it is a given that if you are a Christian you are expected to be extremely conservative

All this background about me and my path through adolescence and young adulthood is important because I must establish where I have been in order to show how I got to where I am. I brushed off the occasional racist rhetoric I heard as being not typical of a real conservative (after all, aside from some unabashed southern racists, almost no one in the GOP supported Mr. Duke’s quixotic bid in 1992). Whilst simultaneously believing that being color blind was the way to deal with racism, I happily adopted and promoted the reactionary rhetoric common to conservatives of the late 1990’s—and even more common in the 2020s—of promoting “western civilization” and “American culture.” I considered myself a Christian nationalist. The Klan was racist. I was just a very conservative Christian Republican. 

I thought all along that I couldn’t be racist if I never called anyone the “n” word. I thought that promoting “western civilization” was a valid expression of my own cultural identity. 

I happily continued to be color blind and fervently nationalistic through most of my BYU undergraduate education. By then in my 20’s, whilst taking the mandatory American Heritage class, I wrote essays decrying “activist justices” on the Supreme Court, advocating for a strict constructionist interpretation of the Constitution. I had by this time accepted the Republican article of faith that “reverse racism” and “white guilt” must be opposed. I had bought into the fear that quotas would elevate undeserving minorities above whites. I laughed at the idea that I, who grew up with modest means, had somehow inherited “white privilege.” Most if not all of the student body, faculty, and church members I knew shared my conservative views, which reinforced the idea that obviously God must be a conservative and expect the same of all His true believers.

Law School Changes Everything

My watershed moment actually was more of a trickle over the course of my first year at the BYU J. Reuben Clark Law School, probably the most conservative law school in America and the world. In those hallowed lecture halls, I was introduced to a legal history of which I had known nothing previously—namely, the cold, hard truth that systemic racism had been fostered over the course of hundreds of years in the U.S. 

Seeing racist Supreme Court decisions in case after case eventually led me to weep for the generations who have been hurt by systemic racism. A handful of these were cases I had heard of in high school history or university history classes: Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856), ruling the Bill of Rights did not apply to Blacks, because if it did, they would have “the full liberty of speech in public and in private,” the right “to hold public meetings upon political affairs,” and perhaps especially threatening to the White supremacist establishment, Blacks would be able “to keep and carry arms wherever they went.” Also, there was Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), from which seventy years of the doctrine of “separate but equal” sprang. Segregation was permitted as long as Blacks had “equal” facilities available to them. (This low bar was seldom met, as Black schools, Black train carriages, Black bus seats, and pretty much everything else designated “coloreds only” was decidedly subpar to the accommodations labeled “whites only.”) But just a few years later the Supreme Court would rule in a case I hadn’t heard of, and in violation of its own doctrine that if Virginia didn’t want to provide schooling to Blacks, rather than Blacks being allowed to attend White schools, Blacks would just have to make do with no schooling).

Aside from these famous cases, in law school, I learned about the Civil Rights cases of 1883, in which the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was mercilessly struck down (yes, during reconstruction a Civil Rights Act had passed, nearly a century before the modern one!). Then there were the early 20th century cases of persons seeking naturalization such as Japanese immigrants or persons from the Indian subcontinent, who were denied citizenship on the grounds of not being White. (See, e.g., Ozawa v. U.S. (1922), U.S. v Thind (1923), Lum v. Rice (1927).) Then there were the cases surrounding the internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. I had heard about this incident, but it had been largely glossed over in high school American History, so I had no idea of the actual realities, or that in two separate rulings the U.S. Supreme Court upheld as constitutional this treatment of American citizens of Japanese heritage—a treatment which led to the financial ruin and impoverishment of many thousands of citizens based on nothing other than their race. (See Hirabayashi v. U.S. (1943) and Korematsu v. U.S. (1944)). 

This was a struggle for me at first. I always thought I was not a racist person, and I considered the idea of systemic racism to be just an enforced guilt trip for white people. But as I studied law at BYU, and saw the course that this country’s legal history ran over the centuries, it became apparent to me that we got started off on the wrong foot, and built on that bad foundation, and wove very racist ideas into the very fabric of the United States: line upon racist line, precept upon white supremacist precept. It was all there in black and white, so to speak: and to a surprising extent, it remained the law, despite the civil rights movement. 

For instance, Korematsu still stands as the law of the land, and Donald Trump’s administration relied to some extent on this precedent for its race- and religion-based travel bans of 2017. Let that sink in: a twenty-first-century U.S. president drew on the legal precedent associated with the internment of Japanese-Americans behind barbed wire and sniper towers within inhumane desert prison camps for inspiration and support. 

The case that underlies the entire theory of private property in this country, Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823), held that all private land in the United States is based on the government’s right to take the land by force from its indigenous inhabitants. That’s what’s meant by systemic.

I had thought that maybe Plessy and Dred Scott were occasional one-off misfires of a Court otherwise dedicated to upholding all those ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence about all men being created equal, or the desire of the founders to form a more perfect union. Instead, case after case, I discovered that this court of last resort, the arbiter of all things to do with the Constitution, had been firmly White supremacist for at least its first two-hundred years. It was painful to deal with the fact that this country of which I was so proud could have been so fundamentally broken. In the law, it’s easy to recognize how past decisions by racist Supreme Court justices can continue to affect today through the power of precedent. But many businesses and institutions continue to be affected by the decisions and policies made by previous generations even if (or perhaps especially because) there is not a clear precedent/overturning opposite policy.

I finally confronted these realities and decided I had to do something. I worked with a law outreach that helped connect mostly minority members of the public with pro-bono legal services. I got involved in the community lawyering class, where we worked to bring hope to the students of an alternative high school, many of whom were there (between frequent stints in juvenile detention) because of their involvement in minority street gangs. I wasn’t going to save the country from racism, but I could at least show compassion and a desire to help. Years later, President Russel M. Nelson would ask us to do just that, “invit[ing] people of goodwill everywhere to look for ways to reach out and serve someone of a different background or race. Everyone can do something.”

CRT and Current Events

Now, less than a decade after my graduation from law school, we find ourselves in the midst of a heated national debate over whether systemic racism exists, largely brought to the fore by recent egregious cases of police violence against African-Americans. Among the Republicans, “critical race theory” and “systemic racism” have become bywords used to rally the troops and raise funds to further their political campaigns, much as pleas about “western civilization” and “family values” were used to rally those same troops from the 1990s to the early 2000s. In recent weeks, Utah politicians acted with amazing rapidity in responding to the emergency of needing to ban “critical race theory” from being taught to Utah school children. 

The prominent conservative pundit, filmmaker, think-tank fellow, and self-professed “rabble-rouser” Christopher Rufo is leading the public charge against CRT in 2021. He proudly proclaimed on Twitter that he has “successfully frozen their brand—’critical race theory’—into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions,” with the goal to “eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under [CRT].” He goes on to gloat that he and others of like mind will “recodify” the term CRT to “annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans,” and that his end “goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.'”

What exactly is this emergency? In the words of an Atlantic columnist, “Conservatives [have] boil[ed] it down. ..: Critical race theory [teaches] Americans to hate America.” 

But do the majority of people really fear that their children’s teachers are going to be indoctrinating their students into hating America? “In a recent Atlantic/Leger poll, 52 percent of respondents who identified as Republicans said that states should pass laws banning schools from teaching critical race theory, but just 30 percent of self-identified independents were willing to say the same. Meanwhile, a strong majority of Americans, 78 percent, either had not heard of critical race theory or were unsure whether they had.” 

In other words, most Republicans on their own didn’t think this was an emergency until they heard fear-inducing bywords just as Rufo had planned.

It is undeniable that in this modern era, we have been reminded again and again that racism among disciples of Jesus Christ is untenable.

So Latter-day Saints whose own scriptures reference the inspiration at this country’s founding have naturally approached the topic with some skepticism. Surely critical race theory cannot possibly be in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ, right? Well, can it?

What do Church Leaders Say?

Whatever positions have been taught by leaders or widely accepted by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in years or decades past, it is undeniable that in this modern era, we have been reminded again and again that racism among disciples of Jesus Christ is untenable. Speaking to members of the priesthood in 2006, President Gordon B. Hinckley lamented the ongoing “racial strife” acknowledging that “even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be.  … Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us.” He then went on to remind the men of the Church that “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.”  In his very succinct, hyper-focused message to that gathering of the priesthood, Pres. Hinckley went on to say, “We must make an effort to accommodate … diversity. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children. Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.” 

It is easy to see how this would apply to individuals in their own daily lives as private persons, but what about when those individuals are acting as political leaders, business leaders, educators, and all manner of other positions of leadership (in other words influencing and playing a part of our many legal, governmental and educational systems around us)? It is hard to imagine President Hinckley would have been okay with the people who wrote racism into the laws, court decisions, educational curricula, business plans, and other institutions that make up the system systemic racism refers to.

Most recently, President Russell M. Nelson and President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency have gone to great lengths and specificity in their remarks to address specific concerns of the day.

We need look no further than last October’s seminal General Conference address from Pres. Nelson for very pointed, plain language addressing race. It is clear that he thinks we can no longer sit on the sidelines and hope for better days ahead in the realm of race relations:

Today, I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children.” And to underscore this request he was about to make, the President of the Church requested that we all “listen carefully to what I am about to say. God does not love one race more than another. His doctrine on this matter is clear. He invites all to come unto Him, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33). I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. I grieve that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice.

The prophet then asks, point-blank: “Are you willing to let God prevail in your life? Are you willing to let God be the most important influence in your life? Will you allow His words, His commandments, and His covenants to influence what you do each day? Will you allow His voice to take priority over any other? Are you willing to let whatever He needs you to do take precedence over every other ambition? Are you willing to have your will swallowed up in His?” What is this will of God, these commandments and covenants to which he is referring? Certainly loving our neighbors (meaning all of humankind) and mourning with those who mourn are among them.

“Knowing that we are all children of God gives us a divine vision of the worth of all others and the will and ability to rise above prejudice and racism.” Pres. Oaks

Earlier in the same conference, President Oaks touched on this teaching during his talk about the seemingly impassable gulf that separates Americans on matters of politics today (“love your enemies,” he pled, adding that this is indeed “a revolutionary teaching for personal and political relationships!”), a portion of which he used to decry both personal attitudes of racism and racist behaviors on the part of public institutions:

In public actions and in our personal attitudes, we have had racism and related grievances. In a persuasive personal essay, the Reverend Theresa A. Dear of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has reminded us that ‘racism thrives on hatred, oppression, collusion, passivity, indifference, and silence.’ As citizens and as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we must do better to help root out racism.

After addressing the sometimes violent protests of the previous summer, Pres. Oaks continued: “This country should be better in eliminating racism not only against Black Americans, who were most visible in the recent protests, but also against Latinos, Asians, and other groups. This nation’s history of racism is not a happy one, and we must do better.  … Knowing that we are all children of God gives us a divine vision of the worth of all others and the will and ability to rise above prejudice and racism.” 

“This nation’s history of racism … We must do better to root out racism.”

As faithful followers of Jesus Christ, we must look inward and ask ourselves what would the Lord have us do in trying to put into practice this counsel. We must address “this nation’s history of racism” and do better, according to a prophet of God. 

We have been asked to address not merely personal racism, but our “not … happy” national history of racism. We know that repentance is the process to help us identify and root out our personal racism. Is there a process to help us identify how the racism that existed for so long in our nation’s institutions continues to harm our brothers and sisters today, and then root that out? 

We cannot ignore this systemic racism and allow it to be perpetuated for countless future generations. President Oaks stated several weeks later in a BYU Devotional, that “Ours is the duty to unite and improve the future we will share” in this country.

So how do we lead out on combating not just personal, but systemic racism as well? 

I see nothing in any of these teachings that suggest acknowledging systemic racism and using the framework of Critical Race Theory to address and understand it is counter to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It may be the best tool we currently have.

Trying to Be Like Jesus

When we consider whether CRT is compatible with the restored gospel (or its merits generally) we must look at an actual definition of CRT as promulgated by its leading scholars, and not just how some popular contemporary figures are using CRT. Otherwise, we can decry various policy prescriptions by CRT adherents and throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. 

As an example, prominent author, anti-racism activist, and CRT proponent Ibrim X. Kendi posits that in order to truly undermine the racism inherent in our national systems, the United States needs a department of anti-racism, led by unelected bureaucrats, an arrangement that presumes little to no oversight or accountability. To my libertarian mind, this sounds like an unwise expansion of the power of government, and I don’t see it as necessary to the propagation of the tenets of CRT. So let us instead go one by one through the four main points of CRT, as defined by two of its earliest scholars, Richard Delgado and Jean Stenfancic, in their seminal work “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” (Third Edition).

Delgado and Stefancic state that whilst there is a diversity of thought on what CRT is, many of its proponents would agree with these four basic tenets: 

1) “[R]acism is ordinary, not aberrational.” They argue that this “means that racism is difficult to address or cure because it is not acknowledged.” They then call out the idea of  “color blindness,” stating that “color-blind, or formal, conceptions of equality, expressed in rules that insist only on treatment that is the same across the board, can thus remedy only the most blatant forms of discrimination, such as mortgage redlining or an immigration dragnet in a food processing plant that targets Latino workers or the refusal to hire a black Ph.D. rather than a white college dropout” (pp. 8–9).

The Church’s essay on race released in 2012, acknowledges this reality: “The Church was established in 1830, during an era of great racial division in the United States. At the time, many people of African descent lived in slavery, and racial distinctions and prejudice were not just common but customary among white Americans. Those realities, though unfamiliar and disturbing today, influenced all aspects of people’s lives, including their religion.” Thus begins an essay that essentially declares this pervasive racism to have found its way naturally into the Church, into the Utah territory, and thus into the hearts and minds of even some Utahns today. 

Even for those who seek to not hold racist attitudes, like many Latter-day Saints, it’s clear that there is little incentive to eradicate racism.

2) “[O]ur system of white-over-color ascendency serves important purposes, both psychic and material, for the dominant group. … Because racism advances the interests of both white elites (materially) and working-class whites (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it.” 

Even for those who seek to not hold racist attitudes, like many Latter-day Saints, it’s clear that there is little incentive to eradicate racism.  This goes back to racism being ordinary, not aberrational. When you’re the vast majority and may not even know anyone of another race, it’s hard to see how it could advance your interests to do anything about racism.  Unfortunately, this subtle “ordinary” racism is taught almost automatically from one generation to the next (thinking back to my own experiences as a youth in my family), even among people who don’t consider themselves racist. 

3) “[T]he ‘social construction’ thesis [] holds that race and races are products of social thought and relations. Not objective, inherent, or fixed, they correspond to no biological or genetic reality.” In other words, there is no “black” or “white” gene. No one is biologically assignable to any race. “Rather, races are categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient. People with common origins share certain physical traits, of course, such as skin color, physique, and hair texture. But these constitute only an extremely small portion of their genetic endowment, are dwarfed by what we have in common, and have little or nothing to do with distinctively human, higher-order traits, such as personality, intelligence, and moral behavior. That society frequently chooses to ignore these scientific truths, creates races, and endows them with pseudo-permanent characteristics is of great interest to critical race theory” (p. 9). Delgado and Stefancic point out that the dominant society has racialized different minority groups at different times, in response to their own concerns of the day, such as labor markets and military needs. Additionally, as Paul W. Reeve argues in “Religion of a Different Color,” the dominant Protestant American culture of the late 19th century declared “Mormons” as “non-white” as another means of marginalizing this religious minority, based in part on their adoption of the “barbarism” of polygamy. (Even members of our own church had to fight charges of “racism” against them, despite nearly all of them being white. )

There shouldn’t even be any controversy over this specific point of CRT, as our own scriptures explicitly uphold this point: “black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). As spirit children of Heavenly Parents, our doctrine uniquely proclaims that our “spiritual DNA,” if you will, is one-hundred percent divine in origin, no matter what one’s hair or skin tone may be. If there isn’t a black or white gene in our mortal makeup, there certainly isn’t one that we inherited from our Heavenly Parents. As President Dallin H. Oaks quoted Joseph Smith in an October 2020 BYU devotional: “While one portion of the human race [is] judging and condemning the other without mercy, the great parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; he views them as his offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men.” 

4) “There is the notion of a unique voice of color. … [B]ecause of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, American Indian, Asian, and Latino writers and thinkers may be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that the white are unlikely to know. The ‘legal storytelling’ movement urges black and brown writers to recount their experiences with racism and the legal system and to apply their own unique perspectives to assess law’s master narratives” (p. 11)

In recent years, African-American writers and directors have been sharing Black experiences with the legal and justice systems in abundance. The indictments they make are sobering. Through documentaries such as “13th” (2016), “When They See Us” (2019), and “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” (2017) and books and films such as 2019’s “Just Mercy” and 2018’s “The Hate U Give,” mountains of evidence have been made readily available to the general public about the unequal treatment occurring in the criminal justice system based on race. The 2017 documentary “The Uncomfortable Truth” explores how one white filmmaker dealt with his discovery of his own family’s deep involvement in institutional racism over the centuries. Many white Americans no doubt have such a legacy lurking, awaiting painful discovery. Were it not for the “unique voice of color” we could not possibly fully explore the meaning of this history with any but an outsiders’ perspective. There is, simply stated, no better way to learn history than from those who lived it. Anything else gives, of necessity, a less than complete picture.

No longer confined to specific university courses on race relations or scholarly legal journals, the details of how Black Americans are subjected to a not separate but entirely unequal legal system are only as far away as Netflix or Amazon. There can be no excuse for any American who thinks him- or herself informed to be uninformed on these matters. Let us listen to the unique voices of those who’ve experienced oppression. We cannot begin to “mourn with those who mourn” (Mosiah 18:9) as we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints covenant upon our baptism—and re-covenant every week—unless we know who is mourning and why. And then whilst continuing this mourning, we must bear their burdens, and comfort those in need of comfort. 

As much as I’d like to say this is not some radical teaching, the reality is that it is extremely radical, and it comes from the biggest radical of them all, the Savior of humankind, Who gave compassion and advocated for the downtrodden consistently during His earthly ministry, and who has now left those duties to His followers. Will we be His hands in this world? 

As President Nelson wrote, along with three leaders of the NAACP, in 2020: “The wheels of justice should move fairly for all. Jesus of Nazareth came that we might have life, and have it ‘more abundantly.’ We should follow His example and seek for an abundant life for all God’s children. This includes protecting our brothers and sisters who have been wronged and bringing to justice those who have taken life or broken the law, thus robbing others of an abundant life.”

That same statement, written in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic murder last year states: “Unitedly we declare that the answers to racism, prejudice, discrimination, and hate will not come from government or law enforcement alone. Solutions will come as we open our hearts to those whose lives are different than our own, as we work to build bonds of genuine friendship, and as we see each other as the brothers and sisters we are —for we are all children of a loving God. … Oneness is not sameness in America. We must all learn to value the differences.” 

I would suggest that recognizing those whose lives are different than our own requires that we lay aside “colorblindness” as a solution. We must recognize our diversity in order to heal the wounds that were inflicted upon it. 

Differences are okay, in other words. We can and must value them! We mustn’t declare them non-existent, acting like everyone is the same. Colorblindness on the part of individuals is part of the problem. But so is colorblindness on the part of institutions. And the person Latter-day Saints sustain as a prophet to all the inhabitants of the world says, “We likewise call on government, business, and educational leaders at every level to review processes, laws, and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all.” Yes, a prophetic acknowledgment of systemic racism, and a call to deal with it. How can systemic racism be best addressed by these institutions? Many of us believe the best solution we have available today is to recognize the core components of critical race theory and use them to analyze carefully the institutions we are a part of.


Critical Race Theory is a blueprint, a system by which we can attempt to understand the problem in order to find the solutions our future demands. If members of the Church are threatened by CRT, it is not because it teaches us to “hate America” as some suppose, but because it exposes uncomfortable truths about our nation, our society, and yes, even about our individual selves. CRT doesn’t mean you have to feel bad about yourself. It doesn’t mean you are a racist. It doesn’t mean Caucasians must all feel “white guilt.” It is a way of rethinking about the past so we can move into the future, pledged to do better by all of God’s children. We know that God needs a people who approach him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, in meekness, in humility. We need not be afraid to confront the reality that surrounds us. As Latter-day Saints striving to make the world better, we know Christ’s gospel is not just about the afterlife, but also about the here and now: our everyday living, our relations to our neighbors, our seeking after the Kingdom of God. Through our lives, Jesus Christ promises us peace and comfort when we follow Him: in his Sermon on the Mount (which we as saints would do well to study often, ponder upon, and seriously contemplate) he taught:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:3–9).

Should we fear that these incredible reassurances do not apply as we seek to do the hard work of righting the wrongs in our society?

Though centuries of laws and Supreme Court cases have reinforced the pervasiveness of racism and White supremacy in our society, and these matters must be dealt with in the legislatures and courts soon, my argument today has little to do with politics or the courts, or exactly the means by which systemic racism must be dealt with by these institutions. My fear is that the conversation among Latter-day Saints often gets stifled because of our inability to see our nation’s “not … happy” history of racism as Pres. Oaks referred to it. Paraphrasing the prophet Jeremiah, we have eyes and see not, we have ears and hear not (Jer. 5:12).

My concern is simply that of Pres. Nelson and other leaders of our faith—that racism continues to be perpetuated by disciples of Jesus Christ, and that we can and must do better. If we are to “lead out” in fighting racism, we cannot pretend that racism has already been mostly conquered. We also need not fear “CRT,” as we have seen that it demands nothing of us that is opposed to our religious principles. Accepting CRT as a legitimate framework doesn’t commit us to particular policy prescriptions. Even proponents of CRT don’t all see eye to eye on policy prescriptions. Debate is robust about how exactly to tackle the problems, but for debate to happen, there must be a framework to define the problem. Within this framework, it does behoove us as Christians seeking to follow the Lord’s prophets that we would work toward advancing public policy that eliminates racism and helps put all of God’s children on an equal footing, just as God intended from the beginning. 

As Pres. Nelson pleaded in a Facebook post last year: “We need to foster our faith in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. We need to foster fundamental respect for the human dignity of every human soul, regardless of their color, creed, or cause. And we need to work tirelessly to build bridges of understanding rather than creating walls of segregation. I plead with us to work together for peace, for mutual respect, and for an outpouring of love for all of God’s children.”

About the author

Ronald Schoedel

Ronald Schoedel is an attorney serving the Utah Valley. He specializes in estate planning. He is an adjunct professor at BYU. He received his J.D. and Bachelors's degree from BYU.
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