Hanna Seariac: University should still be named for Brigham Young

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) A statue of Brigham Young on the BYU campus in Provo, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.

Tasi Young wrote a commentary, published in the June 14 Salt Lake Tribune, calling for Brigham Young University to change its name. I wish to respond to this piece and argue in favor of keeping the name of my beloved university the same.

Let’s start with the facts: Brigham Young made objectively racist statements and, although his rhetoric was not out of place at the time, we recognize that some of his teachings and statements were harmful and incorrect. I sustain Brigham Young’s prophetic calling and authority, but also believe that God allowed him to teach things contrary to His divine will in the same way that God proffers us agency.

When looking at history, we need to balance presentism with morality. We can indeed look back on the past and see how our values have expanded to become better. Since the time of Brigham Young, I believe we have listened to Paul of the New Testament more in his calling for oneness regardless of race.

As The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have embraced more of Jesus’ teachings about loving every person widely, but at the same time, removing historical figures from their contexts and evaluating against our standards is unfair to them.

We celebrate Brigham Young for what he did well, but perhaps the change we need to make is not erasing him and his contributions. Perhaps we need to openly confront what he did well and what he did not do well and reconcile the two.

If we adopt the standard of erasing historical figures when we discover that they did something less than palatable, we will soon be left with practically no one because, whether it is the adultery of Martin Luther King or the purported pedophilia of Gandhi or the racism of Brigham Young, even those who we prize as the best and brightest in the world have sins and stains that history remembers.

Brigham Young emerged as the second prophet of the church and had the massive responsibility of figuring out how to run this newly found institution after the assassination of Joseph Smith. As prophet, Young founded an educational institution, programs for young women and men, offered many beautiful sermons, oversaw temple construction and, for these things along other endeavors, we praise him.

For what he did wrong, we should evaluate with grace and truth. We should remember that he caused real hurt, pain, grief and anguish. We should point out what he did wrong, but we should at the same time remember the valuable contributions that he had.

I, like Tasi Young, will have two BYU degrees when I finish my education and I am immensely grateful for my university experience. I call upon the university to be transparent about Brigham Young the prophet, apostle and person and to acknowledge both the good and the bad that he did.

However, I find it blasphemous to suggest the Brother Brigham is the greatest white supremacist when people such as John Lester and Richard Reed advocated for the murder of black people — a far worse sin than Brother Brigham’s teachings.

Instead of erasing Brother Brigham from history, let us instead condemn what is wrong, praise what is good, and remember above all else that God called him to serve as a prophet of the Lord. I will purposefully not comment on the priesthood ban because I do not speak as the mouthpiece of the Lord, so I cannot provide commentary on that.

What I can do is remember the words of Brigham Young: “I do not know of any, excepting the unpardonable sin, that is greater than the sin of ingratitude.” I am grateful for what Brigham Young did well, and condemn what he did not do well. But above all, I am grateful that the Lord calls prophets like him, Joseph Smith, and all other prophets.

And I think a prophet of God is worthy of both our praise and our scrutiny.

Hanna Seariac

Hanna Seariac is a master of art student in comparative studies in Brigham Young University and apologist for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.