BYU’s history department hosted a question and answer panel Feb. 4 to discuss a recent statement released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on race and the priesthood.
The panel’s purpose was to discuss student’s experiences at BYU who were personally affected by the statement. The panel consisted of two students, one graduate student and two faculty members. Matthew Mason, the history professor who organized the panel, gave an opening welcome statement.
“The reason we held the panel was because we want the statement to be better known and to get the word out, because it is kind of buried on the Church website,” Mason said.
Following Mason’s remarks, a brief history and description of the statement on the lds.org site was given by Dr. Rebecca de Schweinitz, another professor in the history department.
De Schweinitz said the Church isn’t trying to hide the history of African Americans and the priesthood; it is clarifying that the Church condemns racism and condemns the past history regarding this matter. The statement released by the Church is meant to help people understand the current views on black members and move on from the past.
One of the first questions came from Jonathan Sandberg, a professor of family life, who asked the panel to express their feelings when they read the Church’s new statement and the impact it has had on them.
Sean Fisher, a senior majoring in sociology and panel member, shared his story of when he first started investigating the Church. His research as he investigated the Church made him realize people research for different reasons. For him, it was to help develop a sense of identity.
“There’s a difference between researching Church history to strengthen your own testimony and researching Church history to validate your own identity,” Fisher said.
The doctrinal clarification statement helped him to strengthen his testimony and to find a personal identity as well.
Other panel members expressed excitement and gratitude towards the Church for the statement’s release. There wasn’t much discussion about this topic before on campus and it was a subject people who aren’t black didn’t have to think about.
Among the panel, there was a reoccurring theme that they would be more willing to talk about their own experiences and stop misconceptions because they felt more liberated since the new clarification statement was released.
“I thought it was about time,” said Dewayn Domino, a graduate student on the panel. “But I still feel something missing – an apology.”
Burgess Owens, a retired NFL football player who attended the panel, said it is all about faith. People get caught up on trying to take the sins of their race on their own shoulders when they really need to be the best they can be and embrace others’ differences.
“We should all feel blessed to live in these days,” Owens said. “I think it’s important to recognize that as whites, you don’t have anything to apologize for your race, and as blacks we don’t need to feel angry for our race.”
Anthony Bates, a faculty member and Black Student Union adviser, responded to a question about the best steps to take as white members to help move this topic forward without being offensive. He said the best way is to reach out one person at a time. People will respond better if they feel a connection with another person.
“This statement will hopefully help us figure out how we can become better people and leave this behind with more love,” said Bethany Cherry, panel participant majoring in elementary education. “We were made diverse for specific reasons, so we should embrace it.”