Statues in the Balance

One of my favorite episodes of the science fiction TV series Firefly is the “Jaynestown” episode.  In it, a self-serving mercenary of questionable moral character ends up visiting a planet he has been to before.  In the past, he’d attempted to rob the local aristocrat, but in the process of making a get-away, he had to jettison the money, dropping it over a village of oppressed laborers in the process.  The villagers didn’t know, however, that it was an accident or that Jayne had fully intended to keep the money for himself rather than sharing it with them, so by the time the Firefly crew visits the town, Jayne had become a local hero, a Robin Hood figure honored by a statue.  Distressed by this undeserved adulation, Jayne tries to convince the local folks that they shouldn’t look up to him, but they refuse to accept that he is not the legend they have made him out to be, with one of the villagers even sacrificing his life to save Jayne’s life.  At the end of the episode, once the crew has left the planet, Jayne discusses his distress with the captain, Mal, who tells him that: “It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sommbitch or another.”

These days aren’t particularly good times to be a statue.  With the recent renaissance of the civil rights movement working to root out racism that has been deeply embedded in the structures of western culture for centuries, statues depicting men who were connected to slavery or other forms of racism have been defaced and even torn down.  In the United States of America, politicians and military officers of the Confederacy as well as statues of Christopher Columbus and Juan de Oñate have been the main targets, being viewed as monuments of slavery and colonialism.  In the UK, statues of men involved in the slave trade (notably Edward Colston and Robert Milligan) and politicians who opposed abolition of slavery have been facing similar fates, as well as Winston Churchill—the controversial leader of the country during WWII who held racist views.  Meanwhile in Belgium, statues of King Leopold II (a nineteenth century monarch who claimed huge swaths of Central Africa and ruled there with a brutal regime) have also been defaced.  Attacking statues of controversial figures has become such a thing that Popular Mechanics even ran an article on how to properly topple statues using science.  As we face the facts that many of the men who have been honored by statues were “one kind of sommbitch or another,” those with particularly strong ties to racism are being removed, whether through the actions of activists and protesters or the decisions of politicians.

While I feel that many of the figures depicted in statues that are being targeted deserve little sympathy, the issue can be complicated at times, as some of the figures being targeted are also regarded as heroes who made important contributions to society.  For example, Winston Churchill held racist views, pursued imperialist agendas, and did some terrible things (such as the decisions that contributed to the 1943 Bengal famine in India or the 1945 bombing of Dresden).  Yet, he was also a unifying figure who rallied the British in WWII and helped gain the support of the United States of America in fighting the Axis Powers—becoming a victorious wartime leader who played an important role in defending liberal democracy against fascism.  As Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu (lawyer, political and women’s rights activist) put it in a news interview, “I grew up understanding Churchill as one of those leaders who stood up to Adolf Hitler.  It’s only when I grew older when I read some of the things he said and the decisions he made with his power, influence and platform that I understood he was a racist. He wasn’t either a great leader or a racist, he was both.”[1]  In a BBC news article, author Shrabani Basu stated that “we need to know his darkest hour as well as his finest hour,” noting that she did not want to see the statue removed from Parliament Square, but that people should be taught “the whole story” about the war-time figure.[2]  How do we balance and honor the legacy of heroes when they have a bad side along with their good side?

This is pertinent to us as Latter-day Saints, with the legacy of some of our high-profile Church leaders likewise being a mixed bag.  President Brigham Young is case A.  As a formidable leader who held together the majority of the Saints after the death of Joseph Smith and led them west to colonize the Great Basin region, Brigham Young is as a hero to many Latter-day Saints.  As the brief history of the Church, Our Heritage, summed the man up, he was “the dynamic prophet who led modern-day Israel to their promised land.  His sermons touched on all aspects of daily life, making clear that religion is part of everyday experience.  His understanding of the frontier and his sensible guidance inspired his people to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks as with the blessings of heaven they created a kingdom in the desert.”[3]  Church historian Leonard Arrington praised Young’s legacy of creating a “relatively self-sufficient and egalitarian commonwealth of Saints” and a “tradition of Mormon cooperative institutions,” for his “infusion into Mormon doctrine and practice of the necessity of ‘working out one’s salvation,’ by making the earth green and productive and by building better homes and communities” and an “attitude or mind-set that held Mormonism to be synonymous with truth, incorporating scientific and philosophical as well as doctrinal truth,” and for his impressive leadership abilities.[4]  While such praise may seem effusive, it cannot be denied that Brigham Young was an important leader of the Church who offered inspiration and direction throughout the difficult task of settling the arid lands of the western United States.

Yet, like Winston Churchill, Brigham Young was racist.  As is mildly stated in Saints, Volume 2: “Like other groups of Christians at this time … many white Saints wrongly viewed black people as inferior, believing that black skin was the result of God’s curse on the biblical figures Cain and Ham. … Brigham Young shared some of these views.”[5]  He openly talked about his belief that blacks should not be allowed to rule in political or priesthood affairs and was the driving force behind legalizing slavery in Utah Territory in 1852 (which remained the case until June 19, 1862 when slavery was prohibited in territories of the United States of America) and announcing the priesthood ban on men of black African heritage that same year (which remained in place until 1978).[6]  And, although his policies towards Native Americans were often more humane than many of his contemporaries, he still directed colonization efforts that robbed Utes, Shoshones, and other tribes of their land and economic base, led war efforts against them when they resisted, and encouraged Latter-day Saints to assimilate Native Americans into white culture.[7]  While ecclesiastical discrimination against blacks, arguments in favor of slavery, and the conquest of Native American lands by whites were very much the norm for the time, place, and culture in which Brigham Young lived, as a man regarded as a prophet of God, they are still aspects of his life that Latter-day Saints have to grapple with and disentangle from our religion.

Thus, how should we honor Brigham Young, knowing that, as Mos-Shogbamimu described Churchill, “he wasn’t either a great leader or a racist, he was both”?  Should we continue to keep statues of him at Church-owned sites or name our Church-sponsored universities after him?  Joanna Brooks, author of the recently-published Mormonism and White Supremacy, for example, has suggested that members of the Church should take a more critical look at the issue of statues and building names during this time that the Black Lives Matter protesters are toppling problematic statues around the world.[8]  My personal inclination is similar to the one Shrabani Basu advocated with the Churchill statue, to share the whole story about Brigham Young and other controversial Church leaders, knowing that they were wrong in their words and actions at times, but not to necessary erase their presence in statues because of their problematic side.

 

In any case, ultimately, I want to hear what everyone else thinks and feels about the subject.  How do you feel we should balance the good and bad of historical figures in the Church like President Brigham Young?  What do you feel we should do with monuments commemorating them?  Why do you feel that way?  Let’s discuss.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Quoted in Alex Hudson, “How Has Winston Churchill Become a Central Figure in the British Black Lives Matter Debate?,” Newsweek 6/17/2020, https://www.newsweek.com/churchill-statue-black-lives-matter-protest-1511361.  Accessed 17 June 2020.

[2] Quoted in “Church statues ‘may have to be put in museum’, says granddaughter,” BBC, 13 June 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-53033550.  Accessed 18 June 2020.

[3] Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1996, 2001, 2006), 95.

[4] See Leonard Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, paperback edition (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1968), 400-408.

[5] Saints, Volume 2: No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893 (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2020), 71, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/saints-v2/part-1/05-bowed-down-to-the-grave?lang=eng

[6] See John Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Cambridge and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 218-229. See also Brooks, Joanna. Mormonism and White Supremacy (pp. 29-40). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.  See also “Race and the Priesthood,” Gospel Topics Essay, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.

[7]   As example of the last, he expressed hope that white Latter-day Saints would “take their squaws & dress them up teach them our language & learn them to labour & learn them the gospel of there forefathers & raise up children by them” so that they would, in time, “become A white & delightsome people.” (Cited in John Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet [Cambridge and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012], 210.)  See pages 209-218 of the same for an overview of Brigham Young’s relationship with Native Americans.

[8] “White On Purpose,” from RadioWest, https://films.radiowest.org/film/white-on-purpose?fbclid=IwAR1dpeEZ2AyYW7plj4Um5zvPuvfSSbSdMsI6iPIMxj2ALR6X053gw9q4qtA.

41 comments for “Statues in the Balance

  1. Whether you’re willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater often comes down to how much you like the baby. (Solve for the equilibrium.)

  2. Ji, we have been overlooking the bad whenever possible. THAT is the problem. We as a society have been too willing to overlook the bad, thinking we are protecting something good. But what we actually do is allow the bad to continue unopposed. We over look the bad cops who kill when it is absolutely unnecessary thinking we are protecting the good cops who kill in self defense. But all we are doing is turning our back on murder. That is not charitable. Think about who you are being charitable to. Blacks? When the church refuses to come out and say that Brigham Young was racist and wrong, we protect Brigham Young, but what do we do to our black brothers and sisters?

  3. The defacing of Winston Churchill doesn’t make sense. In the balance of things he was a positive force.
    I know that Confederate lovers will say “After you take down Confederate statues, what’s to stop you from taking down statues of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson? They owned slaves.” The answer to which is “We can distinguish between those who built up the nation versus those who tore it apart.” No one is taking down statues because they owned slaves; people are taking down statues of those who fought for slavery, or fought to tear the United States apart.
    Slavers and White Supremacist won’t be forgotten in history (although if they were would that really be that bad?), they just shouldn’t be placed on a pedestal.
    I remember back around 2000 getting a copy of Microsoft Encarta. Bored one day I forget what I searched for (Mormon, Brigham Young, something church related) and was surprised by an entry. What was interesting was that it wasn’t a normal encyclopedia article about Brigham Young, it was a copy of an old newspaper interview that someone did with Brigham Young about slavery in Utah. I found it very informative how Brigham Young was trying to thread the needle with “indentured servants” by phasing out slavery. Basically, someone who is currently a slave will be a slave the rest of their lives, but their children won’t be.
    Since Brigham Youngs primary contributions are church related, and colonizing the great basin, I’m fine with his statue.

  4. There’s a great line in The Man Who shot Liberty Valance: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” I would modify it slightly: When the legend becomes essential to social cohesion, print the legend.

    As far as I’m concerned, those who insist on emphasizing the flaws of men most of us look up to are societal arsonists, burning our foundational myths and traditions without replacement.

  5. Statues don’t have to be looked at as honorific or as purporting that everything done by the represented person was somehow good and noble. They can be seen as historic, as assertions of power and authority (good or bad), or even as something else entirely. See, e.g., https://tokyocheapo.com/entertainment/tokyo-godzilla-statues/ One can even be amused at historically honorific statues, like the Brigham Young statute at Main and South Temple holding out his hand to Zion’s Bank.
    I wonder if eliminating historic statues can be like refusing to acknowledge history as much as it is making a current value statement. Maybe the meaning of the statue or its removal is in the eye of the beholder or remover.

  6. Question is whether we are taking down all statues of racists or specifically those general and leaders from the South in the Civil War? If the former, that’s seems like an exceptionally long list, if the latter, then I’m fully supportive of this effort — they were traitors to the “United” States, losers, fighting in defense of a morally bankrupt cause.

    With respect to Brigham Young, he was clearly a racist but he also kept Utah out of the civil war at Lincoln’s request, so I don’t think it’s accurate to include him in the list of Southern generals and military leaders being taken down.

  7. Judging historical figures by modern values will never reach a just conclusion. Also, FTR, statues of Washington and Jefferson are being toppled (e.g. Portland–or mobs there-took down statues of both men earlier this week.)

  8. Lots of interesting comments so far. To a certain extent, I agree with Anna that overlooking the bad results in a failure to fix problems. We need to recognize and understand how the human side of our prophets impacts their teachings so we can try to sort out what came from God and what came from their human worldviews. In fact, the Church has begun to come out and say that President Brigham Young was racist and wrong, such as in Saints and in the Gospel Topics, but it’s usually released or stated in relatively quiet and subtle ways. I suspect they are taking the approach of doing this fairly quietly because of some of the concerns that Bryan voiced–they don’t want to burn their foundations down until they have a good way to replace what is destroyed in the process. I think part of why I wanted to have a discussion on this is to see how people navigate those waters and strike a balance in a way that helps us to fix the problems rooted in our past by acknowledging them, but doing so in a constructive way that lays the foundation of a better, sturdier future for the Church. I don’t think removing statues will solve problems, but there is something to be said about open and honest discussion about the individuals being represented.

    To jader3rd’s comment, even though Brigham Young thought slavery should be a benign servitude and may have been doing things to phase it out, he still believed it was ordained of God and gave it legal status in the territory. The basic immorality of any version of claiming to own another human being or being overly accepting of the idea is still a big issue there for me. I’m torn because, as you say, jader3rd, Brigham Young’s primary contributions are church related and colonizing the Great Basin, but he made those contributions in a way that worked strongly to excluded blacks from both the Church and the Great Basin.

    As DSmith brings up, what parameters are we using to determine when a statue should be removed? I agree that those statues that celebrate individuals who are known for their efforts to preserve a slave-based economy (as well as those who gained their fortune through the slave trade) should be taken down. Others that have mixed legacies that did involve racism (but who also built positive legacies too) get more difficult to decide on (and again, I don’t think taking their statues downs resolves their legacy of both good and bad), but there are certainly some high-profile figures whose primarily legacy is perpetuating racism that should go.

  9. Well, this has certainly become one of the hot topics of the day, and thanks to Chad Nielsen for a well-written and thoughtful post on this subject. I have a jumble of somewhat disorganized and skeptical thoughts about the intentions of the statue-removal movement. I am frankly cynical.

    We live in an age of cancel culture, where we focus laser-like on the sins of those who went before. The problem is, our world has been through this, many times before. These movements do not turn out well, and those who are in the vanguard of cancel culture are, in my opinion, merely after power, themselves–just power held by different groups. Orwell made the famous crack that dictatorships are not instituted to safeguard the gains made in a revolution, but that revolutions are undertaken to establish a new dictatorship with different tyrants. Power corrupts, period, regardless of who holds it–and, hey, we all seek after it.

    12 U.S. Presidents owned slaves–including Ulysses Grant, who did more than any American to end slavery, by defeating the Confederacy.

    As pointed out by Chad Nielsen and the comments, Winston Churchill was both a racist and a saver of liberal democracy. But let’s look to our own country: Earl Warren led the famous Warren court, that outlawed segregated schools. Earl Warren also as Governor of California firmly supported the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during WWII. Sound racist? And when confronted later about his support for internment, Warren refused to apologize. When do people who ever hold power apologize? Do we honestly think that the leaders of our cancel culture will ever apologize for their own misdeeds, which they will inevitably commit? Do we cancel Earl Warren? Or do we choose to honor his Supreme Court tenure as a champion of individual liberties, who did not always get things right?

    All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of Christ. That is why we need Christ.

    We properly dislike Brigham Young’s attitudes on race, which were unfortunately typical of the time. But don’t stop with Brigham Young. If you read editorials in the Deseret News from the 1950s and 1960s, written by Mark E. Peterson of the Q12 about the Civil Rights Movement, they will make your toes curl with embarrassment. Likewise with statements by JFS, who remarked in the 1960s that “darkies” were very happy with their place in the Church. Do we ignore the good that these men did?

    Again, power corrupts. I do not like the statue of Roger Taney, who authored the Dred Scott decision, being in the Capitol Rotunda for the state of Maryland. I am also suspicious of those who want to remove the statue, and claim to be leading us to a more enlightened future. Color me as a suspicious libertarian.

    Why do we insist that people of the past subscribe to the virtues of today, and “cancel” them when they fall short? The correct, but cynical answer, is that those who lead the protests of today against real injustices, will themselves become abusers of power in the future.

    Standards of human decency fortunately evolve, especially on issues of race and sexual orientation, but they evolve gradually, and despite ourselves. And as we work to correct injustices, as we become aware of them, we would do well to show some Christian charity toward those who were not as “enlightened” as we supposedly now are.

  10. In some ways, statuary is history. Some of the people supporting removal of statues of persons who said or did something they disagree with are the same people who complain of the Church omitting to teach or acknowledge unsavory parts of its history or leaders. The irony seems lost on them.

  11. Nibley, in Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, in the essay “Brigham Young and the Enemy, provided a Brigham Young quote I love, “If there is one principle that I wish to urge upon the Saints in a way that it may remain with them–that is, to understand men and women as they are, and not as you are.” (Nibley, 223, citing JD 8:37). I wouldn’t like to be judged by the worst thing I said or did to the exclusion of everything else. And one of the most enlightening things I have ever read about Brigham’s cultural background (and therefore, the culture in which the LDS faith appeared) never mentions him at all. That is, Stirling Adam’s essential BYU Studies review of two books on Noah
    s Curse.
    https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3686&context=byusq

    It helps a lot.

  12. I’ve often thought the name of the Church university was never quite right for such a missionary-minded organization. If we were truly serious about bringing souls to Christ, BYU’s name does not help in that mission. My increasing knowledge of BY’s shortcomings over the years has strengthened my resolve that the Church should consider renaming the university, though to what I’m not sure. The Lord’s University seems too pretentious. President Nelson seems like just the guy to do it, given everything else he’s re-named. If Mormon, a prophet whose record shows him in a rather favorable light, is a victory for Satan, just imagine what BY’s name is!

    I’m not personally interested in going on a statue witch hunt. But, I can understand the rationale.

    And I absolutely agree with Anna. It seems to me right now the harmed are most deserving of our charity, not BY. He’s been given enough charity over the years.

  13. Chadwick: How about renaming BYU “The University of the Church of Jesus Christ of Very Successful Saints?” After all, BYU’s motto is humorously described as, “Enter to learn, go forth to earn.”

    Speaking seriously, I agree with you and Anna that the harmed are most deserving of our charity. But we can never receive–or give–too much charity. Russell M. Nelson needs Christ’s love and atonement and charity as much as you and I do, and those are fortunately infinite. Should anyone point out that Brigham Young often did abusive things, I will gladly concede the point, and simply say that charity does not require the tolerance of abuse, and is indeed much more than that.

    The more one has the ability to exercise power over other people, the more one will exercise unrighteous dominion–Brigham Young, you, and I. I have been blessed with mostly wonderful Bishops over the years, but each one of them blew it in major ways from time to time The Catholic Church, the home of so many distressing revelations of abuse, actually realizes this. When a Pope dies, a special Mass is said for his soul, to plead with God to forgive the wrong things he did while Pope.

    I would enjoy something like that in the Mormon Church.

  14. A lot of commenters here disagree with being charitable wherever possible, including to Brigham Young. Somehow, I still think it’s the right thing to do.
    I can’t live my life hating him for his alleged wrongs. Rather, I want to thank him for his service and celebrate where we are now and our continual progress.

  15. Taiwan and Chadwick, if you wanted to follow the Church’s current style of naming music groups, BYU could be called “The University West of the Provo, Utah Temple” (with corresponding versions for the other BYUs and their local temples). Or, to follow the formula even more strictly, “The University 45 Miles Away From Being at Temple Square.”

  16. ji, you do bring up a good point. It is important to acknowledge the force for good he was in many ways and to honor that, which is something I hoped to point out in the OP with some of the praise I quoted. Thank you for bringing that out more in your comments. It’s important as well as to understand the ways in which his racism was shaped by the context of his life, as Kevin pointed out. He saw through imperfect, mortal eyes shaped by his environment, as we all do, and that is important to keep in mind in exercising charity towards him.

    But to enable us to exercise charity to all our sisters and brothers, we also need to recognize and acknowledge when and how his words and policies were wrong, hurt people and have been causing harm since then before we can make all of the progress we need to, because so much of his life is viewed through the lens of being God’s prophet on earth. I feel like that’s what a lot of the other comments have been focused on, though of course I can’t speak for everyone.

    To me, doing both is not mutually exclusive, though it’s not easy to balance both at the same time.

  17. But to enable us to exercise charity to all our sisters and brothers, we also need to recognize and acknowledge when and how his words and policies were wrong, hurt people and have been causing harm…

    That step might be therapeutic for you, but it isn’t necessary for everyone. I’m mindful of the man in the New Testament who was aggrieved by his brother’s action, and asked the Savior to make judgment against his brother. He declined. I decline. I prefer to live today, with malice towards none and charity to all (that has a certain ring, doesn’t it?). Whatever our past has dealt us, we live with it and try to improve it. To whatever degree Brigham Young wronged me, I’ll forgive him.

  18. I really appreciate this topic and all the comments.

    While I am skeptical whether humanity will ever stamp out racism, there is one thing I am sure of:

    Firefly was awesome.

  19. The decision to erect a statue, or to remove or retain it, is never primarily about the individual’s personal qualities. Of course, the person’s individual qualities might have some bearing on their fame, but there are countless numbers of personally admirable people to whom we don’t erect monuments. Therefore, it’s a misdirection to make the debate about whether Brigham Young or other famous people were mostly good people, or about whether we should forgive them for their errors.

    A monument to a famous person is about the things that the person symbolizes in our culture. We build monuments to uphold certain values. The things we value most change over time. There should be nothing surprising about that. If we believe that we are capable of making progress, we should be glad to know that we can improve our values as a culture. Yes, change can be destabilizing, especially for those who have been most comfortable with the way things were. But we Christians, we Latter-day Saints, should rejoice in the search for a better way. That means not only embracing new and better ideals, but also taking deliberate steps to put discredited, disproven values behind us. One way to do that is to remove monuments that no longer exemplify the things we hold most dear.

    I’m glad to see some statues go, no question. As others have pointed out, good riddance to monuments to the Confederacy. However, I don’t find it so easy to vote up or down on statues of Brigham Young. I haven’t formed an opinion on that one. One thing I’m quite sure about, though, is that it’s not as easy as saying, “All is forgiven. Let’s just move along.”

    Statues of Brigham Young represent much more than just the facts of his own life. They also enshrine the rich, complicated legacy that we’ve received from both him and the people that he led. Those people are our people, and their legacy is our legacy. It is the legacy we will pass on to our children. It is unacceptable not to wrestle deeply with the most disturbing parts of that legacy, which includes the legacy of Mormon racism. What we do with the symbols of that legacy matters.

  20. Ji, since I started out by disagreeing with you and have made you defend your position, I would like to kind of agree with you. We should forgive Brigham Young for the things he did wrong and admire him for the good he did. He was a great man with many strengths and I don’t think a lesser man could have held the church together while settling Utah. And we should have charity and good will toward him as long as we do it honestly, with the same charity and good will toward all of God’s children, including ourselves.

    But this is where a lot of people miss something in forgiving. Forgiving must recognize the sin. Let me give an example. Brigham said some pretty horrible things, not only about blacks, but about women too. So I qualify as someone that Brigham Young wronged, as as such I can forgive him, OR I can think he was not wrong to say what he did and believe him. In believing him, well in one quote he outright said women were less spiritually than men, kind of subhuman. So, if I believe he was right, then I am not treating myself as a daughter of God. Not charity toward myself. So, before I can have charity toward all men, and women too, I have to realize he was dead wrong and forgive him. BEFORE I can forgive him, I have to recognize that he did wrong me. Otherwise it isn’t forgiveness at all, but something else. That is all I am saying. We have to recognize the wrong they did and stop pretending that it wasn’t wrong. Then and only then can we forgive. Then we can have charity toward all without continuing to hurt people by pretending that something was never wrong.

    Now for blacks, that same forgiveness may take me telling them that I think Brigham was dead wrong. If I don’t say it, they may think I believe that he was correct and they are less loved by God. So, I have a responsibility to not pretend that Brigham was always 100% speaking for God. He did some great things, but on some issues, he was not speaking for God. Once that is understood by everyone, then we can get back to admiring some of the great things he did.

    So, if you are all for admiring a great man, but making sure that people don’t think he was speaking for God when he said horrible things about them, then we totally agree. But if you want to pretend that he was always speaking for God and that when he said hateful things that God agreed with him, then I disagree.

  21. Anna:

    Although your latest comment was to ji, I found it very helpful. You are right, we cannot really forgive someone unless we recognize that what they did was wrong, and then forgive them, anyway. Very often hard to do; thank goodness for Christ leading the way. Good people do bad things and bad people do good things.

    I do not think that any person with any kind of brain would claim that Church leaders always speak for God (although in the Church, many people like to cherry-pick a given leader‘s many statements, to support their own views). If they did, they would soon find out that God had become a God of disagreeing contradictions. The way I have dealt with this is to cite chapter and verse of contradictory opinions on a given topic by different Church leaders (birth control, evolution, politics). Not very Christian behavior on my part, but it works. And this cannot be claimed for BY; try quoting from his JD entry on the Adam-God theory and see your Bishop and SP tackle you to the ground.

    BTW, and relative to this discussion, it has just been reported that the statue of BY in front of the Smoot Building in Provo was vandalized with red paint.

  22. Loursat and Anna, I think you’ve gotten at what I’ve been trying to say in a much better way than I managed to. Thank you.

    Mark, I’m glad you share my appreciation for Firefly.

    Sorry about that Geoff. I wish I knew how to fix the comment issue.

    Taiwan, I just noticed that report too and was going to share it (https://www.ksl.com/article/46767180/brigham-young-statue-vandalized-near-byus-smoot-building). I’m not a huge fan of vandalism, but it is relevant to the discussion.

  23. Anna, I appreciate your spirited responses to me, but…

    – I did not say anything about whether Brigham Young’s acts were right or wrong.

    – I did not say anything about admiring Brigham Young.

    – I did not say anything about Brigham Young speaking for God.

    Perhaps your responses to me really were not to me?

    Taiwan Missionary,

    “…we cannot really forgive someone unless we recognize that what they did was wrong…”

    Hmmm… I think it is possible to withhold judgment and to forgive without insisting on any details. You invoked our Savior as leading the way, but I am not persuaded that He insists on clearly establishing wrong before forgiving, and asks the same of us. Rather, I think He sometimes (often?) withheld judgment and forgave without clearly establishing wrong during his life, and still does, and would encourage us in that example. We may understand the Savior differently.

  24. Ji has it right, but those who want “justice” are never going to agree.

    Brigham was the Lord’s prophet, whether he wanted the title of that mantle or not. Do you think the Lord, in his mortal day, could have found fault with many past prophets? Yes. Did he? No.

    Let that be our guide. He spoke well of those historical prophets who formed the basis of spiritual unity for the people.

    He was much more harsh to his contemporary law seeking ruling class who either were in civil authority or conspired with it to preserve and grow their power.

    To those wanting justice, you’ll never find the truly righteousness, other than the Lord. If you think you have, you are merely celebrating what you presume to know of that individual over your ignorance.

    Celebrate Ghandi, and his nude sleeping with teenage girls and mutual enemas. Celebrate MLK Jr and his rampant immorality.

    No, I’m ok, holding these men in esteem for their best works, and not, “ya but…” tearing them down.

    The reality is, God has said no graven images, and maybe that principle is also for a reason. Not of us are worthy of being on that eternal pedestal by our own merits. Statue building itself might be the real problem here. Or maybe it’s our immaturity and ability to forgive.

  25. Sute, it isn’t about wanting justice as in punishing the offender. It is about wanting the hurt to stop. It is about living in an environment where people tell you you deserve to hurt because you wouldn’t be hurting if you didn’t somehow deserve it. It is called blaming the victim, and until you are really on that side of the justice/mercy debate, I guess you just don’t get it. But it is people just not getting it that drove me from the church.

    I don’t know if it is worth it to try to explain, but here goes, again and again.

    When you grow up being told you are worth less, for whatever reason, you believe it. You don’t have a choice not to believe it because it is all you have known.

    You have to be told, not just once but many times, that whoever is telling you you are worth less is wrong. It isn’t a matter of justice for the person, or whole group of people, who taught you that you were worth less. It is a matter of learning that God loves you.

    So, now how to we tell our black brothers and sisters that God loves them if we all keep pretending that the ban on the priesthood really came from God because Brigham was a great prophet and he said it? No, it is high time we admitted that the ban never came from God and apologize for ever saying it did. So that our black brothers and sister can start to FEEL that God loves them.

    Just forgetting about it works for white people, So, maybe it works for you. Lucky you. But some of us need to talk about this in order to start to feel God loves us too. Gays, women, American Natives, all of us need to start talking about how prophets are not perfect mouth pieces for God. They are not infallible. This is why I am out of your church. Too many people willing to sweep sin that didn’t hurt THEM under the rug and them blame those who cannot just sweep it under the rug for being “unforgiving”. It isn’t about forgiving, it is about whether or not God loves us.

  26. Chad L. Nielsen, you say you feel torn about Brigham Young statues. That’s probably an indication that the statues should stay up. The statues of those that should be torn down are those that are positively bad.
    I like the youtube video that Atun-Shei Films did titled “Were the Confederate Monuments of New Orleans Racist”. In it he has a meter with the levels of Innocent, Ignorant, Morally Ambiguous, Pretty Racist, and Hitler. In the video he goes over the historically notable things that the person themselves did, in addition he goes over the statues unveiling. He goes over what songs were sung, who was invited, who spoke, and the contents of some of the talks. It’s pretty apparent for some of them that 100% of the motivation behind the statues was to stick it to abolitionists and blacks. The statues which were put up entirely to keep old divisions going, need to come down.

  27. There are no statues of hitler in Germany, even though he built an impressive system of autobahns. (An aside Germany builds more and better cars than the next car manufacturer, perhaps the autobahns) 20 million people died as a result of his decisions, and succeding chancellors have been apologising and paying reparation since.

    Are statues still being put up? If so should tell both sides of the story.

    Rather than removing statues (unless they are intentionally offensive) I would label them with the body who put the statue up and why, and then the other qualities of the person.

    For the statue of Brigham young; put up by BYU to celebrate his religious and political leadership. He was also racist, white supremacist, had 57 wives, and did not hold women in high reguard. He believed his sperm were minature copies of himself who needed a woman to incubate them to birth.

  28. I forgot to add that Germany has preserved concentration camps, and built monuments, and museums to the victims. They are not whitewashing the period, but giving no glory to hitler.

  29. About statues from a racist past. It seems that just about every county seat in the South has a statue of a Confederate soldier in the town square, honoring the Glorious Cause. My wife grew up in Clinton, N.C, and her town has this. It is interesting how a defeated people set the historical narrative of the Civil War, since it is usually the victors who write the history. The theme basically ran, “well, we lost, but we failed in glory.” These, by the way, are the words of one of the stanzas in “God Speed the Right” that we sing in Church — if we fail, we fail in glory.

    Cancel culture is a very dangerous potion to drink, but I understand the desire to get rid of the statues—they honor a vision of the past in which all the slaves were supposedly happy in their place, before the North ruined everything.

    My wife’s southern genealogy (her father was Irish-American from the north) has many Robert E. Lee Butlers and Stonewall Jackson Chesnutts, all born between 1861 and the early 1900s. Hanging on to the past for a very long time.

    The thing is, slave-holding society successfully portrayed itself as the victim of Northern aggression, and nurtured this sense for many decades. Perhaps the desire to get rid of the statues is a perverse sign of progress: there was too much effort in the 60s and 70s to gain the franchise, a substantive issue, to deal with symbols.

  30. Germany may have no statues of Hitler, but they have other monuments of controversial individuals. Such as Bismarck.

    And they just erected a statue to Lenin.

    No country appears to be free of racism. It seems hate is woven throughout world history. I’m glad to see people are interested in addressing the issue…But pulling down statues is easy. Making actual changes to how we treat others will be the challenge.

  31. Dr Cocoa, Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that a minor political party in Germany erected a statue of Lenin on its own private property? And that the erection was opposed by some townsfolk, who lost in court because it was private property? That’s my understanding, rather than that Germany erected a statue to Lenin.

  32. This, as just about everything else, is addressed in the Book of Mormon.

    Mormon 9:31
    “Condemn me not because of mine imperfection, neither my father, because of his imperfection, neither them who have written before him; but rather give thanks unto God that he hath made manifest unto you our imperfections, that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been.”

    Take this to heart, and this problem fully goes away. We can be grateful to those who built what we benefit from and be grateful to God for teaching us the ways they were wrong.

  33. Chad, Anna, thank you for the OP and your comments. How to evaluate historical figures remains an open question for me. My current practice is to celebrate what is praiseworthy from the legacy of historical figures and *at the same time* condemn what is objectionable. If those objectionable views were widespread at the time, then that condemnation should be broadly focused. If less common, the condemnation is more narrowly focused. This is hardly an exact process and requires many judgment calls, so discussions like this help me refine my thinking.

    With regards to the curse of Cain/Ham doctrine, I think that shame should not be singularly focused on Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. It can be shared much more broadly across all white people in antebellum America who believed and promoted it. Smith and Young did have unique roles in deifying those beliefs, and for that they (or their legacies) must bear personal responsibility. By the 1970s, I can’t find much support for the curse of Cain outside of Mormon circles, so the shame on leaders like Harold B Lee and Mark E Petersen who continued to promote and defend racist LDS policies is much more focused.

    Loursat – I particularly appreciate your insight that “We build monuments to uphold certain values” rather than as a referendum on an individual. I am grateful the church is very clear that there is no room for racism in the present or future church. Based on the experiences Yoeli Childs recently shared online and the black history month student panel earlier this year, BYU still has work to do to build a culture commensurate with the Church’s commitment to racial equality. There are many Latter-day Saints that could be celebrated in statuary in addition to or in the place of Young in that effort.

    ji – “We should act as charitably, remembering the good and overlooking the bad wherever possible.” This is a generous worldview and one that I try to keep as my default, provided that in doing so I am not contributing to discrimination.

  34. Isn’t there a Marie Kondo saying that you can get rid of junk in your home if it doesn’t “spark joy”? Maybe these monuments no longer “spark joy” for the rest of the populace. I agree that we should teach our children the good and the bad about historical figures. These are statues though. Essentially, idols. I have no need to worship or revere a bit of concrete or bronze. Keep the history and learn from it, and throw out the junk.

  35. At their worst, statues commemorate discredited murderers and evil philosophies: Lenin, Stalin, Mao. I remember statues of Causescu, Hohxa, and Saddam Hussein being toppled by enraged mobs of people who had suffered under their murderous rule. And there are so-called Aryan statues from the Nazi era. Those are preserved by the postwar German government to help remind the German people of Germany’s most evil period. I grew up as a child in postwar Western Germany, and toured concentration camps that had been converted into shrines for the people murdered there. The concentration camps were not destroyed but kept as lessons of an evil past.

    But Statues also uplift and inspire and help us realize the beauty and noble events of the world that God gave us: historical remembrances of the handcart pioneers and the incredibly brave Army soldiers raising the US flag at Iwo Jima. Rodin’s statues, The Thinker, The Kiss. Michelangelo’s Pieta, David. All masterpieces. The Ancient Greek discus thrower.

    While I understand the desire to get rid of statues that celebrate an evil past, I believe the cancel culture of “get rid of it” betrays a totalitarian mindset that actually wants to wipe out imperfect pasts and history. There are many dangerous examples: the Reign of Terror, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Nazi burning of “decadent” books. And somehow, the cancel culture people never seem to realize what they are doing.

  36. He believed his sperm were minature copies of himself

    And the administrators at this blog think this is a charitable comment from Geoff Aus?

  37. It was borderline as far as comments go, but also not any more uncharitable than a general discussion of Brigham Young being racist. Also, much like his racism, it was not an uncommon belief for the time. DNA as the molecule of heredity and all the understanding we have of how it works has only really been figured out during the last century.

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