Margaret Young’s latest piece on Official Declaration #2 gives us a taste of the sheer complexity that (ought to) undergird any conversation on race in Mormonism. I have earlier noted that Young had ascribed change in Mormonism to the relationship activists had with church leadership. Yesterday, she (quite rightly) responded by pointing out that for every voice on the inside of the Church hierarchy (and there were plenty), there were two voices for change on the outside. For those who read my past work as critical of Margaret in any way, please allow me to put on the record that I found it compelling and nuanced. My essay sought only to fill a void: giving credit to the inside voices so often overlooked. I could have easily offered a companion essay discussing the “outside” actors: Ambrose Chukwu, the NAACP in Utah, and myriad others. We can rightly talk about systemic, institutional racism, but we can (and should) acknowledge that the Latter-day Saint leadership and society had begun to experience change from within.
We all like our heroes and our villains. Not only does that make for easier writing; it also makes for better public relations. Saul Alinsky taught us that. John Steinbeck put it a little more simply. When a man is faced with economic disenfranchisement, he doesn’t tend to care about the overwhelming economic forces of the day. He only has one question: “Who do I shoot?”
But as Young points out, it’s never been so simple–which is a disappointment for those of us who seek change through the staging of public spectacles and shaming. The reality is that if we want a new revelation from God on gender, race, or any other issue of importance, we shouldn’t depend on agitation or a cadre of well-connected people to receive it. The greatest of Mormonism’s revelations have come from a cacophony of voices both friend and foe, leader and lay. God is a resourceful being, willing to use critics to encourage his people to repent of their false traditions.