I’ve been largely ignoring the fuss over the racial comments made by Professor Bott at BYU in a recent Washington Post piece, in part because there have been a lot of good things said by lots of others (whom I applaud and with whom I’d rather not compete) and also because I generally consider the statements made by Bott to be outdated, vestigial, and of only archeological significance. They demonstrate that everyone is not on the same page yet, but they surely don’t represent the mainstream of thought on such issues among the majority of the members of the Church.
Well, silly me. I was proved wrong today at church in a most forceful and, to my mind, embarassing manner. A man who I regard as bright, educated (he’s a retired attorney), learned in the gospel (he was teaching gospel doctrine class today) and a lifelong, active church member (he’s a former bishop of my ward) was reading from 1 Nephi 12:
20 And it came to pass that I beheld, and saw the people of the seed of my brethren that they had overcome my seed; and they went forth in multitudes upon the face of the land.
21 And I saw them gathered together in multitudes; and I saw wars and rumors of wars among them; and in wars and rumors of wars I saw many generations pass away.
22 And the angel said unto me: Behold these shall dwindle in unbelief.
23 And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.
After reading this passage, he said “This is where we learn about the curse of the brown or red skin, whereas in the bible we learn about the curse of the black skin.”
I couldn’t believe it. I look up to and respect this man. He’s elderly, but intelligent and well-read. I didn’t expect this from him. I didn’t know what to say because I was so shocked. I considered raising my hand and asking him to clarify, but the last thing in the world I wanted was for him to repeat it. I considered walking out, but I thought that would be rude and cowardly. He moved on quickly after making this statement, so there was no opportunity for discussion. I want to do something to try to make the point that this is not my belief, it isn’t part of my Church or my scriptures. It doesn’t come from the God I worship. But the moment was past so quickly that I had no opportunity for this.
I don’t know what to do at this point. This man lives across the street from me. He’s a friend and neighbor. I don’t want to be rude to him but I want to repudiate his statement. I don’t know if that’s possible at this point, but I feel like I can’t just let this pass. I have considered writing a letter to him or going across the street to talk to him about it. I don’t know if he would welcome the discussion, or if he would be offended. I don’t want to make an enemy of him, but I really want to find a way to address this issue in some reasonably effective, yet hopefully Christlike way.