Keith Burns: Who has been one of the best advocates for marginalized groups in the LDS Church? Satan

(Rick Bowmer | AP photo) The Salt Lake Temple stands at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Oct. 5, 2019,

Because leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claim that they speak for God, they have often stated that church policies and teachings reflect God’s will, while ideologies that challenge church policies and teachings are Satanic.

In the decades following World War II and up to the present day, church leaders have frequently referred to Satan as the author of social justice movements and civil rights struggles. In doing so, they have grounded claims of white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity in appeals to God’s “unchanging” and “natural” order, while ironically shifting their positions on these issues over time.

The civil rights era was one of the first movements to attract Satanic labels. This was especially true of interracial marriage which, according to J. Reuben Clark, was “a wicked virus” and a Satanic perversion of marital purity. This view was justified by longstanding LDS teachings that people of African descent were morally, intellectually, and spiritually inferior, an idea rooted in theories of premortal existence and biblical scripture.

In his 1958 book “Mormon Doctrine, Bruce R. McConkie, a well-known opponent of Black members holding the priesthood, justified racist ideologies by appealing to a divine hierarchical order. He explained that “caste systems have their root and origin in the gospel itself” and “the resultant restrictions and segregation are right and proper and have the approval of the Lord.” Using Satan as a political and theological weapon, LDS leaders were able to weave white supremacy deep within the fabric of their theological tapestry.

Feminism was another movement claimed to be led by the devil. Harold B. Lee in his 1972 article titled, “Maintain Your Place as a Woman” maintained that the “secular lure” for women to pursue paid labor would deprive children of the crucial nurturing they needed. Further, it would confuse what he claimed to be divinely mandated gender differences, a crisis he felt would lead to a slew of immoralities – especially homosexuality.

N. Eldon Tanner similarly argued in 1974 “that Satan and his cohorts are using scientific arguments and nefarious propaganda to lure women away from their primary responsibilities as wives, mothers, and homemakers. We hear so much about emancipation, independence, sexual liberation, birth control, abortion … all of which is Satan’s way of destroying woman, the home, and the family — the basic unit of society.”

LGBTQ+ rights is another movement that leaders have framed (and continue to frame) as Satanic. For example, Boyd K. Packer asserted in 1978: “If an individual becomes trapped somewhere between masculinity and femininity, he can be captive of the adversary and under the threat of losing his potential godhood.” For Packer, Satan’s traps lay deceptively between the rigid boundaries of a Victorian gender binary.

Dallin H. Oaks recently echoed this sentiment when he asserted that “Satan seeks to confuse gender, to distort marriage, and to discourage childbearing.” Framing LGBTQ+ identities and relationships as inspired by Satan, LDS leaders like Oaks have demonized and delegitimized queer Latter-day Saints, fanning decades long flames of fear, marginalization and exclusion.

As we consider the ways in which the devil has been used as a political and theological figure in LDS discourse, it is important to note that Satan’s “desires” have shifted over the past half century. Once an advocate of interracial marriage and women’s employment opportunities, Satan no longer has interest in supporting these causes now that the Church has liberalized its stance on these issues. There are other issues, such as birth control and evolution, that Satan once championed, although the Church now fully supports the use of birth control and has a more ambiguous stance on evolution.

Given LDS assertions that good and evil are fixed and immutable, how could Satan’s political interests have changed so dramatically over time? Such an inconsistency reveals the fragility and instability of the figure Satan in LDS theology and exposes the complex political and cultural motives in which it has been invoked.

By critically examining this phenomena, Latter-day Saints can work to dismantle current power structures that privilege wealthy, white, cisgender, straight men. Only then can the Church effectively move toward its proclaimed aspirations of love, inclusion, and acceptance.

Keith Burns

Keith Burns is a recent Brigham Young University graduate who currently specializes in Mormonism and sexuality as a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College.