Dave Winslow: LDS leaders are counterfeit peacemakers

Church and its institutions have a lot to learn about empathy and diversity.

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Elder Neil L. Andersen speaks during the afternoon session of the 184th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City Saturday October 4, 2014.

An 18-year-old, armor-clad white gunman attacked grocery store shoppers and employees in Buffalo, New York, recently. A majority of the 10 dead and three injured were Black people. Racism and white replacement theories fueled the shooter’s motivations. Our society must move away from violence toward peace.

At the recent Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints general conference, Elder Neil Andersen spoke about becoming a peacemaker, stating that “By the shield of our faith in Jesus Christ, we become peacemakers, quenching — meaning to calm, cool, or extinguish — all the fiery darts of the adversary.”

Andersen then cites an example, stating, “Recently, after seeing a strongly worded opinion piece that was critical of the Church, Rev. Amos C. Brown, a national civil rights leader, and pastor of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco, responded: ‘I respect the experience and perspective of the individual who wrote those words. Granted, I don’t see what he sees.’”

Brown’s response respectfully acknowledges differing experience and perspective. I don’t see how Andersen’s characterization – “strongly worded opinion piece that was critical of the Church” – embodies being a peacemaker, however.

His characterization references my Dec. 30 commentary in The Tribune. In it, I lamented the death of Isabella “Izzy” Tichenor and the current epidemic of hate, related my experience being taught racism in church as a youth and called for everyone to live better lives.

Days after Andersen’s talk, the independent team investigating Izzy’s treatment for the Davis School District released its report. It recommended training for school faculty and staff on recognizing and stopping bullying. The team advised lessons on empathy, poverty, trauma, disabilities, diversity and equity. With more knowledge about these topics, teacher’s attitudes might have been more empathetic toward Izzy.

Could the team’s advice also apply to church-owned Brigham Young University? The Black Student Union has long advocated for constructive changes to create a better learning experience for minority students. These changes remain unadopted by administration. Not one member of the BYU Board of Trustees is a person of color.

Additionally, the “Black Menaces” report feeling they are accomplishing more to address marginalized communities with their viral internet videos than BYU has ever done to support them. While white students may appear uncomfortable answering questions about institutionalized racism, LGBTQ+ rights, inclusivity, or the church’s history with Black members in the videos; Black, LGBTQ+ and other minority BYU students encounter these uncomfortable issues on campus daily.

Could the Davis School District team’s advice also apply to the LDS First Presidency and 12 apostles? Andersen speaks of these brethren in his peacemaker talk. However, peacemakers do not call on BYU staff to take up muskets, label members as “lazy learners and lax disciples” or “unruly children,” blame church sponsored racism on God, and malign the LGBTQ+. They preach of unity while fostering disharmony: us vs them, righteous vs. unrighteousness and faithful vs. apostate.

When the fiery darts come not from the adversary but from the brethren, are they merely counterfeit peacemakers who have weaponized the term? In 1874, a gun dealer marketed the Colt .45 pistol as the “The Peacemaker.” Peace is not established by a gun and a gun is not a peacemaker. For apostles to employ divisiveness and firearm imagery in their speeches is irresponsible when viewed from the lens of centuries of racially motivated killings in this country.

Could the team’s advice also apply to leaders and member openly and truthfully addressing troubling issues in the church: sanitized history, discriminatory doctrine, policies and practices? Not addressing this may minimize contention and criticism, but avoiding contention and being a peacemaker are not the same. The first runs from conflict or denies it exists. The second runs toward conflict to actively pursue peace.

True peacemakers attempt to bring contending parties together, disarm them of their weapons and work together to achieve reconciliation. They actively seek to understand all parties, why and what they think, feel, and believe. Peacemakers look for overlapping views or areas where compromise is possible.

We must reject harmful false theories and live truthful, authentic and compassionate lives striving to become true peacemakers. As a community, as a state, as a nation we must confront and reject hatred, false theories, and violence to prevent the continuation of mass shootings in future generations.

Dave Winslow

Dave Winslow, Centerville, is a father and grandfather who believes in the limitless potential of each child.