Apologies & DisavowalsBy: hawkgrrrl
A recent Huffington Post article discussed the difficulty the Mormon church has in making an official apology for the Priesthood Ban, and according to the article, the reason is not racism. This will come as no surprise to most Mormons who are not racist but hesitate to completely throw revered prophets and church leaders under the bus. While the author, Samuel Brown, makes many salient points (the article is certainly worth a read on its own), I’ll boil them down to some underlying themes:
- Prior generations, whether Mormon or not, were more prone to be racist, and the policy was set by prior generations.
- Even our current leaders are essentially from prior generations.
- Mormonism is a community, like an extended family.
- We revere our recent ancestors, read their journals, tell their stories, and celebrate their sacrifices.
- Mormons are divided on whether an official repudiation is necessary or will have reverberating effects that shake the foundation of prophetic leadership our church is based on.
There are two aspects of the desire to avoid an official apology that outside critics usually overlook:
Community Loyalty. Based on my own observations, it’s much easier to disavow aspects of Mormonism that our own families were never involved in. For example, as someone with no polygamist ancestry and whose family joined the church well after Declaration 1 repudiated the practice, I don’t feel very conflicted about polygamy. I don’t accept it, and I never did. Even when YW leaders would talk about it as an eventual theoretical requirement in the Celestial Kingdom, it just seemed so outlandish that I couldn’t imagine it (in fairness, I couldn’t imagine marriage at all at that age, let alone as a second or thirty-third wife). In a sense that means it’s not an issue for me. But I have to think that would be different if my own family members descended from polygamists.
The article pointed out the need to defend or at least contextualize views of our recent predecessors that we don’t personally share. Your parents may be sexist. Your grandparents may be racist. But they also have loved you, cared for you in your time of need, and in a very real way sacrificed everything for you. If it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t be here.
For many Mormons, an official apology would feel disloyal to their own family members.
Divine Revelation. Because there is no originating revelation instituting the Priesthood Ban, some members would not be troubled by a disavowal of the same. For others, it’s a slippery slope. If you begin to throw out things said by previous leaders, what’s next? There are other candidates for the chopping block identified in the article: gender roles and gay marriage. If leaders were wrong about the Priesthood Ban, what else are they wrong about?
Many LDS find great meaning in the confidence that their leaders are divinely inspired. Because of the theology and structure of their church, many non-racist Mormons have a difficult path ahead.
Personally, I question the value of official apologies. A few years ago, the Anglican church issued an official apology to Charles Darwin 126 years after his death. The apology was called “ludicrous” and “pointless.” After reading about the apology, I was surprised to encounter Darwin’s grave at Westminster Abbey among England’s greatest and most revered intellectual and political leaders. Wasn’t that a more timely form of reconciliation? This incident points out some of the reasons that institutional apologies are ineffective:
- Institutions are usually doing the apology for some political motive. In the case of the Anglican church, it was to demonstrate to increasingly secular Brits that the church is not anti-science or irrelevant in our rational age. Since the church was already not anti-evolution, did this really convince anyone?
- The floodgates are open. One critic asked what would be next, Italians apologizing for Pontius Pilate? Every institution has offended someone at some time. Where do the apologies end?
- The supposed beneficiary doesn’t get anything from it. In the case of Darwin, he’s dead and already revered, having been buried in a place of honour. Who would benefit from an official apology for the ban? Mostly the non-racist members who feel it would absolve them from an institutional sin. But would it really accomplish that?
Since institutional apologies are always an apology for the actions of others, the point is really to distance ourselves from our predecessors whose views we find repugnant and to align with our contemporaries, usually those outside of our tribe, since those inside our tribe already understand the context. Is it more important to build that bridge to the outside or to increase our loyalty to the group? And which effort is more likely to work?
What do you think?