The Doctrine of Belonging
On October 1st, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints (BYU’s sponsoring institution) gave a talk titled “The Doctrine of Belonging,” addressing how unity in the church is possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ. As the talk went on, some people on Twitter suggested that the Church was “caving to the woke mob” or that it was finally getting with the times of diversity, equity, and inclusion narratives. The Daily Universe and the Salt Lake Tribune covered the talk in their summaries. However, these summaries and others quoting it online often neglected some key points of the talk.
Some of the more prominent quotes publicized were as follows:
“We cannot permit any racism, tribal prejudice, or other divisions to exist in the latter-day Church of Christ. The Lord commands us, ‘Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.’ We should be diligent in rooting prejudice and discrimination out of the Church, out of our homes, and, most of all, out of our hearts.”
“In discouraging moments, we may feel that we will never measure up to the Lord’s high standards or the expectations of others. We may unwittingly impose expectations on others — or even ourselves — that are not the Lord’s expectations.”
Here, Elder Christofferson teaches the beautiful truth that we are all created equal before God, no matter our race, sex or creed. However, within ourselves, we may feel we do not measure up because of external circumstances, expectations, or the evils of racism and prejudice.
All faithful members of the Church agree these principles are foundational. However, if these quotes are repeatedly taken out of context, they can be used to assume that the Church is now in favor of Wokeness. I will define “Woke” as any far-left wing ideology surrounding the ideas of equal outcome, intersectionality, and critical social justice. This is not liberalism, but something more extreme.
Lack of Wokeness
One example of the non-Woke context of Christofferson’s talk is his usage of a Rod Dreher article in the Deseret News titled, “A Christian Survival Guide for a Secular Age.” Quoting Dreher, Christofferson said, “University of Notre Dame sociologist of religion Christian Smith found in his study of adults 18 to 23 that most of them believe society is nothing more than ‘a collection of autonomous individuals out to enjoy life.’” He continued, “by this philosophy, anything that one finds difficult ‘is a form of oppression.’”
Many missed this, but some people commented on this departure from woke expectations:
Dreher has been interviewed by Jordan Peterson, writes for the American Conservative, and has also written a book called Live not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. This book echos the themes of the article, comparing modern times to the beginnings of tyranny in the USSR. His argument is that modern society is engaging in soft totalitarianism, such as the censorship of speech online, cancel culture and ,ESG.
This point from Christofferson was largely unnoticed by most audiences, but the article may show them what they missed. In it, Dreher states, “Now, in liberty and relative prosperity, [America’s] first post-communist generation have fallen to a more subtle, sophisticated tyranny: one that tells them that anything they find difficult is a form of oppression.” This tyranny echoes within the halls of Wokeness and identity politics, where oppression is a byword. Such oppressions can range from real, legitimate prejudice to the question “where are you from?” being framed as a microaggression.
Contrary to the assertion that Dreher and Christofferson “directly contradict” each other, the points are compatible. One can treat all with respect and without prejudice and not view the question “where are you from?” as oppressive. One can also reasonably argue that the antiracism of Ibram X. Kendi, which says that “the only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination” is not supportive of equal opportunity, but suggests forceful, equality of outcome.
The Nail in the Woke Coffin
Additionally, the talk goes over diversity in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Christofferson notes, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in its early beginnings was made up largely of white North American and northern European Saints with a relative handful of Native Americans, African Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Now, eight years away from the 200th anniversary of its founding, the Church has greatly increased in numbers and diversity in North America and even more so in the rest of the world.” However, he then continues by saying, “This is not a calculated or forced diversity, but a naturally occurring phenomenon that we would expect, recognizing that the gospel net gathers from every nation and every people.”
Here, Elder Christofferson explicitly rejects Woke, quota-based racial initiatives, including those which attempt in a “calculated or forced” fashion, to engineer diversity in universities with affirmative action, in the workplace with racial quotas, and even what Spotify artists we listen to by choosing “black creators” just because of their skin color.
The value one brings to the table in any respect – such as their value as a child of God in the Church, or their value as a skilled employee at a company – does not have to do with their skin color or other innate characteristics. That value comes from the soul and the merits which it encapsulates.
It is insulting to value someone or their business solely because they also happen to be black, white, or a certain sex. Doing so castigates the character of the individual and idolizes the innate portions of our identity.
BYU and Belonging
BYU has now initiated an Office of Belonging and has plans for classes in the subject related to it. The term “Belonging” has set the BYU apart from other school initiatives and classes as they use the terms; diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Though there are examples of these Woke ideologies entering BYU, we are yet to see what these newer initiatives will entail.
Taking into full account the context and content of Elder Christofferson’s talk, we can say, categorically, that the “Doctrine of Belonging” is not Woke. Let’s hope we listen.
Written by: Thomas Stevenson
Editor-in-Chief of the Cougar Chronicle
The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author.
The Cougar Chronicle is an independent student-run newspaper and is not affiliated with Brigham Young University or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints