In a highly unusual move, the Mormon Church issued a statement Wednesday strongly rejecting comments about race made by a popular religion professor at Brigham Young University.
In an article published in the Washington Post, Professor Randy Bott sought to explain the former policy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of denying the priesthood to black members.
From the Post:
“God has always been discriminatory” when it comes to whom he grants the authority of the priesthood, says Bott... Bott compares blacks with a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car, and explains that similarly until 1978, the Lord determined that blacks were not yet ready for the priesthood.
“What is discrimination?” Bott asks. “I think that is keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them, right? But what if it wouldn’t have been a benefit to them?” Bott says that the denial of the priesthood to blacks on Earth—although not in the afterlife—protected them from the lowest rungs of hell reserved for people who abuse their priesthood powers. “You couldn’t fall off the top of the ladder, because you weren’t on the top of the ladder. So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.”
At one time, Bott's comments may have been in the mainstream of Mormon opinion, but the church's attitudes toward race have largely matured with the rest of the country. Most Mormons these days squirm at the mention of this past policy, and many younger Latter-day Saints flatly reject it as racist, and not divinely inspired.
Already, BYU students are organizing a protest over Bott's comments.
In response to media queries, the official public affairs office of the LDS Church firmly distanced itself from Bott's comments:
The positions attributed to BYU professor Randy Bott in a recent Washington Post article absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU faculty members do not speak for the Church. It is unfortunate that the Church was not given a chance to respond to what others said.
The Church’s position is clear—we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form.
For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.
We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.
Many Mormons will read the statement as another step on the church's part toward an admission that the policy banning black men from the priesthood was a creation of man, not God—and it will surely factor into the ongoing Mormon debate over the subject.
Meanwhile, Bott is facing some intense criticism on campus. He is one of BYU's most well-liked religion professors, known for his compelling lectures. At one point, he was the most popular professor in the country on the website RateMyProfessor.com.
But students and faculty alike have long complained that he has a tendency to mingle official Mormon doctrines and his own personal opinions—without distinguishing between the two.