[NOTE: I want to express thanks before I get into this post itself for two posts that provided the inspiration for this post: "What A-Bott Black Mormons" (by Sistas in Zion) was the initial inspiration, and "Three apologies and a rule or 'How I learned to stop worrying and love Mormon racism'" (by John C.) inspired the self-reflection near the end.]
Over the past few days, the Bloggernacle and other social media that are frequented or run by Mormons and non-Mormons alike have been awash in posts, articles, Facebook updates, Tweets, etc. about a BYU Religion professor (Prof. Bott) who was quoted in a Washington Post article about the LDS Church and its past Priesthood ban. Unfortunately, Prof. Bott shared his own personal views as to why the ban had been instituted - and those views were nothing more than the most condescending justifications that had been given prior to the lifting of the ban in 1978. What was most distressing to me was that a popular BYU professor of religion would be stating such things even after numerous repudiations of those justifications had been given by modern apostles and prophets, including Pres. Hinckley's very forceful condemnation of any such beliefs since the receipt of OD2 and the lifting of the ban.
This situation inspired my first New Year's Resolution post this month, during which I will focus on the Atonement of Jesus Christ - but this post will not be what my "natural man" would write. I have commented extensively on the numerous posts at BCC about Prof. Bott's comments (which I abhor with a truly deep and profound loathing), and anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows how I feel about matters of race, racism and the Priesthood ban (and if you haven't, feel free to click on the "Race" label near the bottom of this blog), but the heart of this post came to me only a few minutes before beginning to write what I had intended to write (an overview of how I see the scope of the Atonement of Jesus Christ). I hope that sudden, dramatic change was inspired, since I had no intention to write what I am about to write until, literally, just as I sat down to write.
I believe in the universal power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to reach all who ever have lived and leave us "amazed at the love Jesus offers (us) - confused by the grace that so fully he profers (us)". I believe that the Atonement of Jesus Christ covers unconditionally our natural weaknesses, our ignorance, our transgressions, our disabilities, our unstoppable mistakes and every other manifestation of the effects of the Fall which we did not choose consciously. I believe the Atonement of Jesus Christ allows us to be judged (to receive or acquire judgment, if you will) according to our "best selves" - who we would be without the limitations imposed on us by forces outside our control and not of our choosing. I believe the Atonement of Jesus Christ doesn't make bad people good and good people better (and, importantly, great people infallible). Rather, I believe the Atonement of Jesus Christ allows ALL people everywhere, of all times, in all places, throughout history and into eternity, to reach their highest potential without artificial restrictions of any kind. I believe the Atonement of Jesus Christ is powerful enough to take deeply flawed "natural (wo)men" and raise them to the same eternal reward as barely flawed "natural (wo)men" - that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the great equalizer of individual worth and growth and potential.
I am saddened deeply by Prof. Bott's recent words, but I also am deeply saddened by my own words in many instances. I am outraged morally that he would believe the things he shared - that those things still haven't been eradicated completely from among us, but I also am outraged at myself on occasion - when I realize what things still haven't been eradicated completely from within me. I honestly would like to see him removed from his position at BYU, if for no other reason than to prove to the world AND to the LDS Church that the views he shared will not be tolerated in today's LDS Church - but I also know that I do not want to be judged and treated "fairly" and "justly" according to the worst things I have said and done. Most importantly, however, above and beyond everything else related to this appalling and sad situation, I do not want Prof. Bott condemned and rejected and shunned for what, in the end, might be (and I repeat, might be) nothing more than a manifestation of "the natural weakness, ignorance, transgression, disability, unstoppable mistakes and every other manifestation of the effects of the Fall which (Prof. Bott) did not choose consciously" - and, therefore, what, in the end, might be (and I repeat, might be) covered already by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
On a deeply personal note - to make this more personal for me:
I have worked in many inner-cities throughout the Eastern US and have helped house and raise two young black men. I have lots of friends who are black. I have lived in the Deep South, and I was allowed once to see what tremendous growth the Church would experience there if the people (black and white, inside and outside the Church) could let go of their racism. I write regularly about issues of race - trying the best I can to educate people about them.
and, yet . . .
I also must admit that I am not free totally from the "little" manifestations of seeing people differently as a result of race. For example, my initial reaction occasionally still is a bit different when I see a group of young black men congregated on a street corner than it is when the group is white. I have learned to recognize that initial reaction and change it immediately, but it is something I have had to learn. I have had to recognize it for what it is and immediately address it head-on. I am finding that it happens now much less often than it used to happen, but it still rears its ugly head occasionally - and it really is a necessary thing to admit and own up to that sad reality. It's the first step in my on-going repentance - since it wouldn't be changing if I hadn't recognized it in the first place.
I can and will condemn Prof. Bott's words and his inability to discard the ideas that have been repudiated forcefully by our leadership for over 30 years, but I cannot bring myself, tonight, after having reacted naturally to those words this evening, to condemn Prof. Bott himself - and that conclusion only is possible for me because of how I view the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I can and will condemn WHAT I should and must condemn, but I cannot allow myself to condemn another WHOM I am commanded not to judge.
God bless you, Bro. Bott - even as I condemn your words and beliefs regarding this particular issue.