Brad Wilcox, a high-level leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a Brigham Young University religion professor, issued a second apology Sunday night regarding remarks he made last week about Black members and the faith’s former priesthood/temple ban.
“This has been a hard week for me,” he said, speaking at a virtual event for youths in the Edmonton, Alberta, region.
“Some of you may have heard about a talk I gave last Sunday night,” he continued. “Now, it wasn’t the first time I’d given that talk and it wasn’t the first time I’ve used the ideas I shared or the line of reasoning that I used to try and address some difficult topics.
“In the past, I failed to see how my comments could be seen as insensitive and hurtful, and I’m very grateful for friends — friends like Brother [Ahmad] Corbitt -– who have helped me, and corrected me, and taught me,” he said, referring to the man who serves alongside Wilcox as part of the church’s Young Men general presidency.
Corbitt, a Black Latter-day Saint, was present for Sunday’s event.
“Once again, I apologize,” Wilcox added, “and am grateful, more than ever, for the atonement of Jesus Christ, which allows us to trust in the Lord.”
Among his statements from his previous fireside — to members in Alpine, Utah — to receive the greatest scrutiny was his suggestion that those asking why “the Blacks” didn’t receive the priesthood until 1978 are asking the “wrong question.”
“Maybe instead of saying why did the Blacks have to wait until 1978,” he said, “maybe what we should be asking is, ‘Why did the whites and other races have to wait until 1829?’”
In the church’s early days, under founder Joseph Smith, a few Black men were ordained to the priesthood. Later, Smith’s immediate successor, Brigham Young, put in place a prohibition preventing Black members from holding the faith’s all-male priesthood and Black men and women from entering its temples. That policy lasted until 1978.
After Wilcox’s latest apology, Corbitt spoke, focusing his comments on his decision to serve a mission following his conversion to the faith while growing up in Philadelphia. The remainder of the fireside then consisted of a back-and-forth between Corbitt and Wilcox as the two discussed the theme of trusting God.
Troy Mills, a Black Latter-day Saint and scholar of Black religious history, was disappointed by Wilcox’s comments Sunday.
“Unfortunately, I fail to see how this apology advances the conversation,” he said. “He didn’t address the insensitive remarks or why they were insensitive.
Mills, a predoctoral fellow of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California, was not especially comforted by Corbitt’s presence or remarks, either.
“There are so many Black Latter-day Saints who understand the history of these issues, but those aren’t the voices that are elevated to address these issues or to leadership positions,” Mills said.
“Instead, you had Brother Corbitt there performing damage control,” he added, “parroting what a white leader would say, with the idea that if the same things are rehashed by a Black person, then it makes it more acceptable.”
Wilcox first issued an apology for his previous sermon on Facebook, writing, “To those I offended, especially my dear Black friends, I offer sincere apologies, and ask for your forgiveness. I am committed to do better.”
The next day, BYU issued a statement, stating the church-owned Provo school was “deeply concerned” with Wilcox’s speech and saying it welcomed “his sincere apology.”
Neither apology addressed additional concerns raised by many on social media regarding his statements on women, whom he referred to as “girls” and characterized as “loud.”
He also has yet to address criticism regarding his description of Christians of other faiths as merely “playing church,” much like a child plays house.