Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor, a 10-year-old autism spectrum, Black elementary school student, died by suicide recently. Izzy’s tragic death has been linked to bullying.
Weeks earlier, a Department of Justice report condemned pervasive, deep-rooted racism against Black students and systemic reporting failures in a local school district. Troubling incidents at Utah elementary and secondary schools and colleges and universities occur regularly. Bullying and abuse is directed at those deemed “others” — students of color, those with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ and anyone who is different.
Prejudice, bigotry and intolerance are not inborn. Our children learn this behavior in the home, at school or at church. Raised in Utah, I was not taught false racial theories at home or in school. I learned these falsehoods – seed of Cain, less valiant, etc. – from trusted leaders at church prior to 1978.
Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, cited no revelation in 1852 when he supported slavery in the Utah territory and instituted the doctrine banning all descendants of indigenous Africans from receiving the temple ordinances required for exaltation. Subsequent leaders upheld and falsely justified this doctrine.
Some members today continue to believe these false theories. Why? No church-wide racial reformation occurred following the 1978 ban reversal. The brethren never addressed innate church racism but only stopped preaching the false justifications. Scriptural passages were not updated, past doctrine and teachings were not repudiated and thus member’s hearts were not changed.
A real change of heart requires addressing the issues systematically and repeatedly. Sadly, church leaders have only infrequently condemned racism over the last 43 years.
Racism remains today in church doctrine, policy, teachings and in our congregations. In 2020, President Dallin H. Oaks stated, “Using current definitions, some might call such divine actions and prophet-taught principles racist, but God, who is the loving Father of all nations, tribes, and ethnicities, cannot be branded as racist for His dealings with His children.”
This statement assigns any fault to God while absolving the church of responsibility. If these actions and principles Oaks references are from God who loves all, why would God punish countless generations of Black people for the transgression of their parents?
The righteous vs. the wicked, us vs. them, white supremacist doctrine permeates the church. It manifests in members as a sense of superiority, of being favored and provides members a “license to discriminate.” Until the brethren actively identify and eradicate racism, it will remain the true heritage of this white-dominated church. Unfortunately, the brethren will not change the church without outside pressure.
If the brethren will not change, then we must. At the beginning of this new year, how can we foster change? First, resolve to change your own heart and mind. Prejudice and racism cannot coexist with inclusion and equity. Never exclude, bully, condemn, shun or blame others. Follow the golden rule.
Second, share your insights kindly and exert your influence. Stand for better with friends, family, coworkers and fellow members. Recognize that leaders work for us and communicate with those in authority, encouraging better behavior. Courageously speak for truth. Raise your voice on social or traditional media or add your voice to others.
Personally, the church’s stand on LGBTQ has adversely affected members of my family. I urge the church leaders to stop treating them as others and embrace them as beloved sons and daughters of God.
Jesus said, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Matthew 22:39)
Until we stop weaponizing the first great commandment to love God and humbly embrace the second, we will make no progress as a community. Others will continue to endure our “Christian love” which too often manifests as the vilest form of hate.
Our homes, schools and churches can no longer be incubators of hate. It is time for each of us to accept responsibility for the harm we cause and demand better. Better from ourselves, our churches, schools, community and leaders. Hate is an epidemic. We embraced and owned this epidemic. We must end this epidemic. We must become an inclusive, caring community to successfully raise our children. Otherwise, how many more children must die?
Dave Winslow, Centerville, is a father and grandfather who believes in the limitless potential of each child.