Tiki torch

Fact check: Do LDS teachings support the alt-right?

Did the late Mormon apostle L. Tom Perry really endorse an alt-right agenda that is little more than nicely packaged racism? That’s certainly the impression you’d get from following social-media feeds of the mononymous Ayla, the most outspoken member of what might be called the Mormon alt-right. Writing on Twitter, Facebook and a blog and having tens of thousands of readers, Ayla uses LDS scriptures and quotes of church leaders to support her case that The Church of Jesus Christ is Latter-day Saints is accepting of — and maybe even supportive of — her radical political agenda.

Scattered throughout her writings you’ll find snippets of church teachings that seem to suggest that life would be better if the races were separate or if “white culture” had an exalted status. It’s almost as if the substantial racial advances made in the church since 1978 (when a ban on black men in the priesthood was lifted) never happened.

No doubt about it, the history of race and the LDS church can be problematic for those who accept the Book of Mormon teaching that “black and white … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). But the teaching of today’s church is incontrovertible: In the words of an authoritative 2013 essay, “Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

Unfortunately, there are those within the church who seek to limit the clear meaning of that message. One way Ayla does that is by quoting church leaders and scriptures out of context and/or by relying on teachings that have long since been discarded. Because these words come from the church, it may be easy for some members to be deceived about what the church really teaches. This essay is an effort at showing precisely the errors of interpretation that the Mormon alt-right, as exemplified by Ayla, is making.

One of the quotes used most often by Ayla — it recently was pinned to the top of her Twitter page — was this quote from Perry in a 2005 General Conference talk, “What Seek Ye?”:

What will happen in your country with the changes that are occurring? The declining population and the influx of an increasing number of immigrants will eventually make you a minority in your own land.

To those who are familiar with Ayla’s philosophy, it’s clear why she extracted this quote: It plays into the alt-right fears that the influx of immigration will destroy “white culture” by making whites a minority.

Yes, the quote is accurate. But to understand Perry’s intent it is essential to read his comments in context. He was recounting a conversation aboard a train in central Europe at some time before 2005. The man at the other end of the conversation had strong nationalistic feelings — but he also wasn’t concerned about the trends of the day because their impact would not occur until he was an old man or dead.

In other words, Perry wasn’t making a point about immigration. He was making a point about the man’s apathy and comparing that apathy with the apathy that many of Perry’s listeners have toward worldliness and selfishness. He was using his conversation as an example of a broader issue, neither endorsing nor disavowing any political position suggested.

(And even if Perry were trying to make a political point, it could be noted that in that European man’s country, immigration rates exceeded birth rates. That is far from the situation in the U.S., where birth rates approximately quadruple immigration rates. Whatever risk Perry may have been alluding to isn’t an issue for the U.S.)

Here are some other scriptures or LDS quotes that Ayla has abused:

  • On Aug. 13, she posted a photo of alt-right men carrying tiki torches with a shortened-for-Twitter quote of Matthew 5:14-16: “Let ur light so shine before men, that they may see ur good works & glorify ur Father which is in heaven.” This misuse of the Sermon on the Mount is so offensive it doesn’t need refutation.
  • Elder Bruce R. McConkie told a conference in 1972 that “[t]he place of gathering for the Mexican Saints is in Mexico; the place of gathering for the Guatemalan Saints is in Guatemala; … every nation is the gathering place for its own people.” Ayla uses this quote to suggest that Mexicans should stay in Mexico where they presumably belong, Muslims should stay in the Mideast, blacks should stay in Africa, and so on. But McConkie wasn’t talking about immigration policy — he was, in effect, expanding the concept of Zion well beyond Missouri, Utah or the United States. If anything, he was proclaiming that the Church had finally become fully international.
  • Ayla uses an excerpt from a 1976 devotional that church President Spencer W. Kimball gave at Brigham Young University, telling students that “we recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally.” But this is not current teaching, and even in context his emphasis was on marital compatibility in general, not race. This advice no longer appears in instruction manuals in current use, the 2013 essay mentioned earlier specifically says that interracial marriage is not sinful, and interracial marriages have regularly taken place in temples (the Church’s holiest sites) since the 1978 revelation.
  • Regarding the command to “[h]onor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12), she writes: “Our father, grandfather, great grandfathers worked incredibly hard to build the country and the civilization we now enjoy and they did it for us, for their posterity. At no point did they create this amazing country of America to simply hand over to hordes of third world immigrants and watch their own family lines and heritage go extinct.” Apparently it doesn’t count that much of our country was built on the backs of non-European immigrants, including slaves and others who weren’t immigrants by choice.
  • She uses the Book of Mormon imagery of the “title of liberty” to oppose immigration on the grounds that many immigrants don’t support liberty and other American values. The assertion is dubious at best — many immigrants, particularly refugees, come to the U.S. precisely because of its freedoms. Furthermore, in recent years the Church has made its position on immigrating clear by supporting immigration reforms that would allow those in the U.S. illegally to attain legal status. The Church also speaks in its actions, allowing no discrimination in church participation, including temple attendance, for those in the country illegally.

So, no, church teachings do not support the alt-right, particularly its calls for racially based homelands. While the church stays neutral in most political matters, it has made it clear in recent years that it is supports the rights of refugees and other immigrants, and it opposes all forms of racial prejudice and discrimination. Those who claim otherwise are acting in direct opposition to church teachings.

Update: Shortly after I posted this article, the Church issued a statement that says in part: “It has been called to our attention that there are some among the various pro-white and white supremacy communities who assert that the Church is neutral toward or in support of their views. Nothing could be further from the truth. … White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a ‘white culture’ or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.”

Image adapted from photo by Eric Kilby/CC BY-SA 2.0.

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