The Lesson I would give in Church for Confronting Racism

I've been thinking about the challenge of how to address racism with a primarily white audience in a church setting. How do you discuss inappropriate behavior with a group of people who either doesn't understand how, or disagrees that, their own behavior could be problematic or offensive. In discussing what racism looks like, sounds like, on either an individual or systemic level, it's bound to leave people feeling called out for language and behavior they may have used before.

When people talk about racism, there are barriers that can prevent meaningful conversation and mutual understanding from taking place. A few to consider: 

  • Abstraction: the refusal to call racist language, behaviors, and attitudes what they are, or to reinterpret them as something else. 
  • Projection: when folks who do engage in racism avoid confronting their own behaviors by focusing on the problematic behavior of others. 
  • Diversion: where people attempt to deflect sincere or earnest conversation through humor, distractions, or minimizing the importance or relevance of the subject.
  • Eruption: an emotional outburst, usually intended to usurp victims of racial violence by concocting a narrative in which they are the real victims.

The goal is to have people reexamine and reinterpret their own life experiences, identify their own biases, confront them, and replace them with truth. A lesson on racism is ultimately a lesson on repentance and reflection. It requires honest self-examination. It requires silence, in which the Spirit can testify and reach hearts.

I would begin by inviting the class to privately reflect on their thoughts, language, and behavior around people of color. What would Jesus ask you to change about those interactions? I would start with a pen and paper activity for 5-10 minutes, letting them know ahead of time that they won't have to share afterwards.

Then I would review the fundamentals of repentance: acknowledging the sin, resolve to change behavior and making restitution, asking God for forgiveness, and making the commitment not to repeat the sinful behavior. Supplement with scriptures. Some good ones to consider:

  • 2 Nephi 26:23-33
  • Matthew 12:36; 15:11
  • Acts 11:5-9
  • Ephesians 4:29-32
  • D&C 18:10-11
  • D&C 38:25-27

I love a good chalkboard list, so I would open the discussion to the group to brainstorm what resolving to change our behavior looks like in the context of dismantling racism? If the group can't come up with any, here are some to get them started:

  • When you hear other people making racist jokes or judgments, even when there's only white people around, do not passively accept it. Challenge it or walk away.
  • When you see someone being belittled because of their race or nationality, say something. Defend that person, or help to remove them from the situation.
  • Identifying news sources or media that demonize or devalue people of color, turning them off, and not engaging with them anymore. Connect with Lehi's vision. Mockery and dehumanization based on race is a voice from the great and spacious building, a form of apostasy.
  • Talk to your children about being sensitive to people of color and their cultures. Help them to understand what racism is, that it isn't acceptable. (Not using racial slurs, blackface, etc.)
  • Change the stories you tell yourself about people of color by seeking out their stories and histories.
  • Make space for people of color in whatever spaces you occupy, especially in hobbies.
  • If a person of color in the church tells you they've experienced racism in the church, believe them. Let them know you value them, want them there. Show them love.

Managing the discussion effectively to be respectful is essential. If there are people of color in the class, prioritize their voices and comments the highest. It doesn't matter when they raised their hand. Go to them first if they have something to share. Prevent others from interrupting them or correcting them when they speak.

Have a video to end the discussion if it becomes derailed. Suggestions here, here, here, and here.

Testimony. Closing Prayer. Done.

Having conversations and lessons about race in the Church doesn't need to be intimidating or hard. They just need to be happening. That's the only way they will ever get any easier.

Truth Eternal Tells Me I've a Mother There

Without further ado, let's do a scriptural deep-dive on Heavenly Mother. I've put a lot of thought into the best way to create a long form version of my thread on Twitter, and to add new material to it. I've decided the most coherent way to organize my thoughts is through the same series of questions I used to study out these topics on my own. Enjoy!

Who is Heavenly Mother?

To Latter-day Saints, we believe God to be our literal Father in Heaven. We lived with him as spirit children before we were born on earth. As we have a Father in Heaven, we believe we also have a Mother in Heaven. When Psalms speaks of us being "children of the Most High," she is included in that description. When Paul's epistle of the Romans calls us "children of God," "heirs of God, and joint heirs of Christ," we know we are literal children of divine parents. We receive our divine purpose and potential as their offspring, having been created in their image. We will become as they are, and inherit all they have, as we embrace the plan of happiness they have created for our lives. (See Psalms 82:6 and Romans 8:16-18)

What is her relationship to our salvation and exaltation? 

The Creation

Like many mothers here on earth who love and care for their children, our Heavenly Mother wanted to see us grow, develop, and succeed. She participated with our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ to make this possible for all of us. She participated in the creation of the earth, in all of its beauty and goodness. When God (which is a title, not a person) said "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness," this was the voice of our heavenly parents, speaking in unison. They decided together to create this world for us, and to bring each and every one of us into existence, beginning with Adam and Eve. On earth, creating human life is impossible without the male and the female. This eternal archetype reveals our divine heritage as children of both a Divine Father and Divine Mother. (See Genesis 1:26-27, 2:24 and Abraham 4:26-31, 5:7, 15-16)

Jesus Christ and His Atonement

We believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God. His birth was foretold by prophets for centuries, but his life also began long before he came to earth. He volunteered to come to earth and take upon himself all of the sins and suffering of the entire human family. He gives us the grace and power to overcome our sins and challenges in life. Without Jesus Christ, we would have no hope of ever seeing our Heavenly Parents again. We rely "wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save." (See 2 Nephi 31:19)

Where does Jesus receive the power to be the Messiah, the Savior of every soul who has ever lived? Book of Mormon prophets speak of the divine influence our Heavenly Father would have upon our Savior, to make him equal to his task. (See 2 Nephi 2:8 and Mosiah 14) Jesus himself testified of his total reliance upon our Father in Heaven for the power and authority to perform his mortal ministry. (See Matthew 19:17 and John 5:17-23, 30)

The scriptures also testify of the role our Mother in Heaven has had in preparing her Son to save and exalt the human family. Before Mary, who "was the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh," our Heavenly Mother was his mother after the manner of the spirit. As prophesied by both Isaiah and Nephi, "the Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name." She was present for, and instrumental to, his divine preparation for the role he would play. (See 1 Nephi 11:18, 21:1)

Jesus "received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him." (See D&C 93:17) This isn't possible without an equal influence of the Divine Feminine upon him. He could not take upon himself the experience and wisdom of women from anyone but a woman. In doing so, he becomes the perfect champion and advocate for their advancement. The enmity between Satan and "the woman," before it was ever with Eve, was first with our Mother in Heaven--between his seed and "her seed," who is Christ. But because Jesus has access to her power, he will destroy Satan and all evil upon the face of the earth. (See Genesis 3:15)

Without our Mother in Heaven, we wouldn't have a Savior. There would be no Messiah without her.


Heavenly Mother is an exalted woman, and she empowers others to also become exalted. Her soul has been redeemed, and she has been crowned with glory. (See D&C 88:17-20) She helped to author the plan by which all of us could become as she is, and have everything she has. In coming to mortality, we forgot all of our experiences with her. This is a necessarily part of the test we each are undertaking throughout our mortal lives: "we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them." (See Abraham 3:25) In addition to the Savior's words, these are also her words and her will. She has complete confidence in our ability to make our own choices and succeed valiantly in the cause of Christ.

To be saved from sin and death is a free gift from Jesus Christ, given to all of God's children regardless of how they live. But to receive an increase, to include all our Father and Mother have, we must meet the requirements they have established. The lesson at the heart of this test is to choose our Heavenly Parents and their plan, whenever an alternative is placed before us. To do this is to receive the joy and fullness we were born to experience. We cannot have a fullness of joy without our Heavenly Parents in our lives. Being separated from them is to be in an incomplete state, contrary to our nature. (See D&C 93:22-34)

To understand exaltation is to understand the life our Heavenly Mother lives, and the destiny of every woman in the Church:

They shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a [sic]fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.

D&C 132:19-20

What is she like?

Heavenly Mother is powerful, talented, intelligent, and has all of the same accomplishments of our Father in Heaven. She has been held to the same standards, abides by the same laws, and has received all of the same rewards for her faithfulness. (See D&C 76:50-70) Together, they have given no commandment to us that they do not also observe. (See D&C 88:11-13) There is no blessing or ability she does not possess and use in the work of salvation. (See D&C 88:40-41, 67)

Her role in this plan is not simply to bear children. She is in full possession of herself and her personhood. Her work takes many forms, and uses all of the talents in her possession. The woman who best typifies this in scripture is the woman from Proverbs 31:10-31. An inventory of the virtues possessed by this wisest of all women shows her using all of her faculties, inside and outside the home. She runs a household and owns a business. She creates using skills she has developed through work and practice. She is a leader and an employer, dealing with everyone around her in kindness and fairness. She abstains from evil and idleness. In everything she does, she exemplifies ability, intelligence, and wisdom. She balances many kinds of labor, because her life is full of responsibilities outside of caring for children. And among all of the activities she is balancing, all of it shows evidence that she still prioritizes herself.

Nothing makes me more excited to be exalted than to realize the Celestial Kingdom prioritizes everything women have to offer. My Heavenly Mother is not a one-dimensional woman whose sole eternal labor is having and taking care of children. I've never seen a place that empowers and embraces women without hesitation, but I can't wait to see what it's like. Realizing the Celestial Kingdom is that place motivates me more than anything else to make it there.

Is she equal to our Father in Heaven?

Heavenly Mother is equal to our Father in Heaven in every way. By virtue of living in his presence, this must be true. (See D&C 88:107) She is equal in power, influence, intellect, responsibility, and choice. (See D&C 76:92-95) Unlike us, she has already been exalted and does not require any power or virtue of his to complete her. Instead, they magnify each other in total harmony and perfect fairness. (See Ephesians 5:21-33)

Harmony and fairness might suggest to the imperfect mind that this would only be possible by sacrificing independent thought and action. This is false. Just as Heavenly Mother cannot be compelled, she is not absorbed into the being and will of our Father in Heaven. "All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence." (See D&C 93:30) As an intelligent being, this principle also applies to her. She maintains her distinct identity and capacity for independent thought.

How this is possible is beyond mortal comprehension, and is yet another experience of the Celestial Kingdom that likely must be experienced to be fully understood.

How do we develop a personal relationship with her?

To answer this, it's important to first emphasize that Mormons are not trinitarian Christians. We do not believe that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost make up a single being. They are each distinct beings who play different roles in our worship. We love, revere, honor, and obey each of them. But in the strictest sense, we worship only God the Father. This is why we pray only to him. We pray in the name of Christ without ever praying to him, as a reflection of that total loyalty to the Father. (See Exodus 20:2-3, Matthew 4:10, and Moses 1:15)

We do not pray to our Heavenly Mother, for the same reason we do not pray to Jesus Christ. But this doesn't mean we are separated from her, in the same way we are not separated from Jesus Christ in this arrangement. As Paul testified to the Romans that no earthly force "shall be able to separate us from the love of God," this also refers to her love and influence. (See Romans 8:38-39) Living in mortality has not removed or diminished her influence upon our lives in any way. In every gift and blessing we receive and associate with our Heavenly Father, she has also extended her loving hands to her children. (Genesis 49:25 and D&C 130:20-21)

As in all of these other relationships, the first step to strengthening our relationship with her is to have faith in her. Seeing her impact upon our lives is only possible when we believe in her. (See Ether 12:6-12) We study the scriptures in search of her. We confront the assumption that ignorance of her presence is the same thing as absence or silence. Instead of being content not to know her, we pray for experiences to help us to know her better, believing we will receive an answer. (See 3 Nephi 18:20) We listen for communication directly from her to us.

If I've learned anything in my spiritual life, it's that a lack of revelation on any subject stems primarily from a lack of curiosity and imagination. Nowhere in the church is this more true than on the subject of our Mother in Heaven. Somehow, she is both one of our most revolutionary principles, and the least explored. And the assertion that she speaks is probably the most radical thing I could say on the subject.

But how can we hear a voice if we never stop to listen for it? In a world where no one is listening for her, how can any of us say with certainty that she does not speak?

* * *

In my efforts to establish my relationship with my Mother in Heaven, I've learned so much about myself already. I didn't know my personal and spiritual development was incomplete without this knowledge of her. But how could it not be? I am a woman. She is the image of everything to which I aspire as a woman of God. And for most of my life, I knew absolutely nothing about her. It's like I've been trying to put a puzzle together, when I have no idea what it's supposed to look like. I cannot achieve my divine purpose, or understand my divine potential, without a better understand of who she is. And unbeknownst to me, I've had the tools and resources to obtain this knowledge all along.

I'm still learning how to listen when she speaks. The first thing I ever heard her say made me fall in love with her instantly. How many times have I called the Plan of Salvation my Heavenly Father's plan? But it's not just his plan. It's her plan, too. It's her work, and her glory "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (See Moses 1:39) She told me that herself. I know she is watching over me, and is reaching out to me in this season of my life. And based on many of the struggles and decisions I'm currently experiencing, her timing couldn't be more perfect.

I'm also becoming aware that I couldn't know her, or have any of these experiences with her, without Jesus Christ. He is the one who is bringing me closer to her. (See John 14:6-7) He is the one who makes it possible for me to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter. Without him, I would have no chance to hear her voice on earth. I couldn't have this experience without my Savior's grace and mercy. I can never say enough of all the good he does for me.

The greatest hope of my life is to be able to see him one day, and thank him myself.

I'm Burned Out on Service

I have a love-hate relationship with the service-oriented culture of my own faith. 

How can that be, you may ask? How can doing good things for others ever be a bad thing?

Because we go too far. We've given so much value to external actions in the lives of other people, we glorify how it erases and diminishes our personal needs.

I don't know if anyone else remembers the general conference talk with the story of the woman who was dying from cancer. She was experiencing fear, depression, and the heavy reality of her own death. She confided in her husband the heaviness of her load.

His response to her was "we need to find someone to serve."

I didn't find this at all valuable. It filled me with an anger that it has taken me some time to finally articulate.

He ignored her feelings, which were completely valid, and tried to replace them with the ever-present compulsion to do away with anything unpleasant or unsightly. It's an act of emotional dishonesty that exists to avoid confronting reality.

When you hold up a woman dying of cancer, in the throes of chemotherapy, and tell her to think of someone else? I don't think there's anything wrong with her. I think she was someone who was in need of service and was asking for it, and instead was told to go help someone else. I find myself looking at this and asking what is wrong with all of us. How did we get here? 

How did we give casseroles and everything else on the half dozen other sign-up sheets in Relief Society this kind of mythos? Not every person, in the deepest garbage pits of the human experience, will find their burdens magically lighter by making casseroles or tying quilts.

Serving others is important. It's what keeps us from only thinking of ourselves. But if we go too far with this, leaving balance and logic by the wayside, we put ourselves into a position where it's never okay to think of ourselves and our own needs. That's not a virtue. 

No one at church ever asks if there's is space in your mind or your life before they ask for your time. They just expect you to give it to them willingly, with no thought to yourself. And I've seen in my own life how irresponsible and dangerous this is. The number of times my mental health has been sent careening over the edge by something on a sign-up sheet is too high to count. I am not endless wishing well of time that leaders can draw from whenever and however they like. These are not joys to me, to be perfectly honest with you, and they never will be. They are items in the scenery of my own personal introvert hellscape.

The most meaningful service I have ever been given by someone at church was the time I confided someone close to me that I have severe and debilitating PTSD from being a sexual assault survivor, and that I wasn't okay. We were sitting on the stairs leading up to the stage, in the dark. I was crying. She said nothing. She let me cry and held me. That was all I wanted and needed.  

No sign up sheet in the Church could do for me what I needed most. And this is what frustrates me to no end. Because in all the ways we count and track service, this moment counts for nothing because it can't be measured. She wasn't my visiting teacher. She wasn't in a leadership position. My need wasn't on some ward council list. But I was suffering. I needed help. And because God is good, she was there.

Service can do a lot. It can even do miracles. But it is not some snake oil cure-all for every ailment. It's no substitute for medicine and mental health treatment. And I wish we didn't talk and teach about it as if it were.

Exploring Anti-Racism through my Patriarchal Blessing

Fast and testimony meeting hasn't been my jam for a long time. I usually try to find something else to do. Today, I studied my patriarchal blessing.

How does my patriarchal blessing equip me to confront racism in my life and in the Church? That was the question I set out to explore.

Let me tell you, it was like drinking from a fire hose. I could barely keep up with all the thoughts coming into my mind. And there are some of them I'd like to share, because I think they bear repeating.

I can't become the person my Heavenly Parents want me to be if I harbor any kind of racism in my heart. I cannot live with them if I'm unwilling to confront this within myself. Racism resists the Holy Spirit of God. It is the spirit of apostasy and enmity against God and his children. To overcome racism is a commandment. A failure to do so is a violation of every covenant I have made in the Church.
I've also come to understand that this is my only way forward in the Church. Staying for me means, out of my own personal necessity, to confront and teach against racism in my community. I cannot silently tolerate racism in my church. I cannot leave it alone, or let it be someone else's problem. I will lose respect for my community and myself if I do this. I cannot stay if I do what some of my brothers and sisters expect me to do.
That wasn't my conclusion. That was a warning directly from the Spirit to me. The only way forward for me to stay in the Church is to follow my Savior, to join him in what he is doing to bring anti-racism to the Church.
I need to more fully engage in the work of being a real advocate for people of color. I've had many invitations and experiences to prepare me for this, and I've never followed through on them to their logical conclusion. But many of the promises in my blessing depend on that advocacy. I will fall short of my divine potential if I fail. And this will directly affect many people outside of myself.
I saw new ways to interpret the promises and gifts I've been given, how they apply to this endeavor. I foresaw opportunities and experiences I've not yet had. I learned new things about myself and my future from asking these questions, and turning to my patriarchal blessing for answers.
I'm glad I did this with my patriarchal blessing. I never cease to be amazed at what the Lord can teach me when I ask in faith to be taught.

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