Last week I posted about the controversy surrounding CRT, arguing that the politicized hysteria of legislators and school board members over the theory, and the resulting mandates from their conservative, white majorities, are making the very case for Critical Race theorists. They are perpetuating the view that embedded, structural racism exists within government systems that purposefully work to the advantage of those who make the rules – white conservative lawmakers – and to the disadvantage of the historically marginalized who continue to have little or no role in that process.
See BY VILIFYING THE HISTORY OF AFRICANS AND BLACKS IN AMERICA AS RACIST IDEOLOGY, POLICY MAKERS SNARE THEMSELVES IN A TRAP OF THEIR OWN MAKING*
Oil on Panel, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
What I did not address in last week’s post was Utah’s elephant in the room.
Structural racism, integral to god’s plan, was a central theme of Mormonism from its inception in the 1830s to 1978. The 1978 revelation in which god notified Mormon leaders it was time to allow Black men to receive the priesthood was no retreat from god’s structural racism, but simply a fulfillment of prophesy as revealed by god to church leaders. “The long-promised day has come,” church President Spencer Kimball pronounced. Without the priesthood, Blacks of all genders were prohibited from receiving the ordinances of Mormon temples. Those religious endowments are, according to Mormon doctrine, a necessary precondition to receiving god’s most favored status and richest blessings after death.
God’s premise behind his structural racism, according to Mormon leaders and canonized Mormon scripture, was that people of African descent were subject to a curse for not being sufficiently valiant in their pre-earth spiritual existence.
Watercolor, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
My close friend David Isom published an article I had the pleasure of editing, Mormon Religion, Revelation and Racism. The article, linked below, may be the definitive exegesis on the church’s evolving explanation of its racist past, its contradictions, denials, minimization, and blame-shifting, and its refusal honestly to confront and repent of that past. As my friend notes, it’s somewhat difficult to reconcile current Mormon President Nelson’s claim that Mormon prophets and apostles “always teach the truth” with “the church’s [most recent] race statement admit[ting] that Mormon prophets and apostles got race wrong in the name of god for most of the church’s history.” The racist statements, policies, and practices of the church’s “prophets, seers and revelators,” according to an official church essay from 2013, are no longer “accepted today as the official doctrine of the church.”
As my friend’s essay explains in well-resourced detail, however, the church continues to have “a racism problem”:
“Mormon racism was and remains firmly grounded in [Joseph] Smith’s claim that god directly revealed that black skin was the sign of the curse god had inflicted upon Cain and Canaan as punishment for sin. Those racist revelations are still in the Mormon canon today, more than 40 years after the 1978 revelation.”
“In the Book of Moses, god also revealed to Smith that god had cursed the descendants of Noah’s grandson and Ham’s son Canaan: ‘a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.’ In another part of the Pearl of Great Price known as the Book of Abraham, Smith recorded god’s revelation that ‘all Egyptians’ were descended from Noah, Ham and Canaan, and that they were ‘cursed … as pertaining to the Priesthood,’ meaning the descendants of Canaan were ‘of that lineage by which [they] could not have the right of Priesthood.’ As with the revelations about Cain that became Mormon cannon in the Pearl of Great Price’s Book of Moses, these revelations canonized as the Book of Abraham remain in Mormon scripture as the revealed mind and will of god."
My friend poses the following question and rhetorical comment:
“Does the Mormon church still claim that god ‘cursed’ some of his children with black skin, or does it renounce these canonized revelations?”
The church’s more recent position that “its teachings on race, including which are god’s revelations and which are ‘disturbing’ ‘theories’ of ‘church leaders,’” “also leave the Mormon believer in the awkward position of not knowing who is the racist, god or the unrepentant Mormon prophets and apostles.”
Oil on Panel, Richard J Van Wagoner, Couresy of Helen Bero and Richard A. Van Wagoner**
Nearly 62% of Utah’s 3.1 million residents are Mormon, so just under two-thirds. Yet, almost nine-tenths of its legislature is made up of Mormons. Three of every four is male and 93% are white. In May this year, Utah's house and senate passed a resolution that purports to identify risks of Critical Race Theory in public education and “makes recommendations to the Utah State Board of Education regarding the prohibition of certain concepts.” Democrats walked out of the vote in protest. The resolution’s “strong” recommendations, if implemented as advised, will put teachers of accurate history at serious risk, chill teaching of and whitewash the past, and comfort and reassure non-minority students that racism is dead, while minority students continued to suffer its structural consequences.
In search of solutions to problems that did not exist, as expected Utah’s all white 15-member, conservative-leaning State Board of Education (no race-based gerrymandering necessary here) (https://www.schools.utah.gov/board/utah/members) largely mirrored the legislature’s party-line “strong” recommendations, telling teachers what they are prohibited from teaching, and discussions and debates they cannot entertain in class. The term “marginalized,” one board member argued, is too politically charged for (sensitive white?) students, and the loaded term “diverse” should be replaced with the softer and easier on the ears “varying.” School board member Scott Hansen explained:
“We have [white?] parents [of white students?] worried about [white?] kids being indoctrinated by controversial concepts.”
We wouldn’t want those sensitive [white?] students or their worried [white?] parents to be made to feel uncomfortable, would we.
I wonder how many uncomfortable classes minority students have endured and will have to endure.
Watercolor, Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
Speaking of “kids being indoctrinated by controversial concepts,” god sanctioned my racism: if it was good enough for god and his plan, it was good enough for me. I have written about the Mormon church’s structural racism which had, and frankly continues to have, the imprimatur of god under Mormon canon. See
TRACES OF BLACKFACE IN THE MIRROR (UPDATED)*
NO ONE’S BORN A RACIST? That’s Not What I Was Taught. That Die Was Cast Long Before I Was Born*
“AIN’T NO RACISTS HERE,” A MINSTREL SHOW IN TWO ACTS*
I find it difficult to reconcile the position espoused by the vast majority of white, conservative Utah lawmakers about CRT with the canonized scripture to which the vast majority raise their arms to the square on a regular basis. I cannot think of more embedded, structural racism than that ordained of god as part of his plan or, frankly, a more controversial concept to indoctrinate in children.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com. Rob’s second novel, a beautifully written suspense drama that takes place in Utah, Wyoming, and Norway, dropped on November 17, 2020. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Bookstore and your favorite local bookshop, this novel, The Contortionists, which Rob himself narrates for the audio version, is a psychological page-turner about a missing child in a predominantly Mormon community. I have read the novel and listened to the audio version twice. It is a literary masterpiece. The Contortionists is not, however, for the faint of heart.
**Richard J Van Wagoner is my father. His list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in many traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his artwork. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers.