Latter-day Saint Young Men leader apologizes for ‘wrong’ statement about Black people and priesthood
Second counselor in general presidency and BYU religion professor Brad Wilcox said he made ‘a serious mistake’ during a fireside in Utah on Sunday.
An international Young Men leader for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints apologized late Monday for statements about Black people he made Sunday night during a regional fireside in Alpine, Utah.
Brother Brad Wilcox, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency and a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, posted the apology on his official church leadership Facebook page on Monday evening.
“My dear friends, I made a serious mistake last night, and I am truly sorry,” Brother Wilcox wrote. “The illustration I attempted to use about the timing of the revelation on the priesthood for Black members was wrong. I’ve reviewed what I said and I recognize that what I hoped to express about trusting God’s timing did NOT come through as I intended. To those I offended, especially my dear Black friends, I offer my sincere apologies, and ask for your forgiveness. I am committed to do better.”
Members of the Young Men general presidency carry the title of brother.
Brother Wilcox spoke Sunday night to a fireside for three stakes in Alpine. A fireside is an evening devotional. A stake is a regional grouping of usually between five and 16 congregations.
Known for his talks to youth, and for widely viewed addresses on the atonement, grace, and his recent church general conference address, “Worthiness is not Flawlessness,” Brother Wilcox spent part of the fireside addressing questions he gets from young people about the priesthood. He spoke specifically about the questions regarding the history of the church’s past ban (1852-1978) on Black men holding the priesthood and receiving temple blessings that were available to others. He challenged the framework of the questions.
“Now sadly you live in a time where a lot of people get uptight about priesthood issues. One of the most glorious things we have in the church, and yet people want to sit and fight about it and get uptight about it,” he said during the fireside.
Then he continued:
“I don’t mean to oversimplify a complex issue. I sure think we make it a little harder than it needs to be,” he said, referencing the questions he receives on the issue.
“Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. Maybe instead of saying why did the Blacks have to wait until 1978, maybe what we should be asking is, “Why did the whites and other races have to wait until 1829? One thousand, eight hundred, twenty-nine years they waited. Why did the Gentiles have to wait until after the Jews? And why did everybody in the house of Israel except the tribe of Levi have to wait until ...”
BYU issued a statement Tuesday afternoon on its official Twitter account.
“We are deeply concerned with the words recently used by Dr. Brad Wilcox,” BYU leaders said. “We appreciate his sincere apology and believe he is committed to learn from this experience. BYU remains committed to upholding President Nelson’s charge to root out racism in our institutions.
“We are carrying out the guiding principles outlined by President Worthen in evaluating and implementing the recommendations provided by the Committee on Race, Equity and Belonging, including the creation of a new Office of Belonging.”
Video clips of the fireside appeared on social media Monday, accompanied by anger, frustration and calls for an apology and consequences for Brother Wilcox.
Some were disappointed that Brother Wilcox failed to note that Black church members did hold the priesthood during the first two decades of church history. Official church records show that in 1836, for example, founder Joseph Smith declared that a Black man named Elijah Abel (or Able) was “entitled to the priesthood and all the blessings.”
In 2013, the church released an official essay titled “Race and the Priesthood” on lds.org. The essay states that “there is no reliable evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.”
After Joseph Smith’s death in 1847, his successor, President Brigham Young, praised a Black priesthood holder.
Then in 1852, President Young announced to the Utah Territorial Legislature as it legalized slavery that, as the church essay puts it, “men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood.” Neither black men nor women would be allowed to receive temple blessings again until June 1978, when the church announced that President Spencer W. Kimball had received a revelation opening the priesthood to all worthy males and temple blessings to all worthy people.
“Today,” the essay said, “the church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that Blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
Over the past four years, President Russell M. Nelson has opened new relationships with the NAACP and the UNCF (United Negro College Fund), with the church donating more than $9 million to those organizations. He also has called frankly in the church’s general conferences and elsewhere for Latter-day Saints to lead out in rooting out and abandoning racist attitudes, prejudices and systems.
Those positive steps made Brother Wilcox’s statements Sunday more hurtful for some.
“‘I don’t know’ would have been a better answer,” one Twitter user said.
Imma be real, saying "I don't know" would have been a better answer.— UteFanIvan 🇺🇲 🇺🇦 (@UteFanIvan) February 7, 2022
Another wrote, “That is not the brilliant comparison he thinks it is. Yikes. Also it is dehumanizing to use ‘Blacks’ as a collective noun. No one should defend, gloss over, brush past, or ignore past or present racism. As the church essay says we should DISAVOW IT. PERIOD.”
That is not the brilliant comparison he thinks it is. Yikes 😬 Also it is dehumanizing to use “Blacks” as a collective noun. No one should defend, gloss over, brush past, or ignore past or present racism. As the church essay says we should DISAVOW IT. PERIODT.— Julia Goolia 🌈☀️ (@JuliaGoolia9) February 8, 2022