The most backhanded compliment-insult combos start out with a Big But. And in this talk called The Culture of Christ (delivered at Oct. 2020 General Conference), Elder Jackson sure likes Bug Buts.
“What a magnificent world we live in and share, home to a great diversity of peoples, languages, customs, and histories—spread out over hundreds of countries and thousands of groups, each rich in culture. Mankind has much to be proud of and to celebrate. But… [emphasis added]”
We can think Elder Jackson is promoting ethnic diversity and recognizing the strengths of the world’s highly interesting and varied cultures, but, everything after the “but” cancels out this otherwise beautiful paragraph.
The rest of his talk reads like a white supremacy how-to. His real message is that White, Western, Christian (specifically Mormon) culture is supreme over every other culture on earth. It is literally the definition of “white supremacy” and follows the white supremacy playbook to a T.
One classic square on the racism bingo card is, “I’m not a racist, but… (then says something racist).” Saying and believing you are not racist does not magically erase your racist beliefs. And anti-racists know this.
In short, Elder Jackson is saying, “Your non-White culture is pretty great, but… if your culture isn’t what I think it should be, it is wrong.” He can only do this from an assumed position of superiority.
Oxford Languages (via Google) defines white supremacy as: “the belief that white people constitute a superior race and should therefore dominate society, typically to the exclusion or detriment of other racial and ethnic groups, in particular Black or Jewish people.”
Oxford then defines race as: “each of the major groupings into which humankind is considered (in various theories or contexts) to be divided on the basis of physical characteristics or shared ancestry [emphasis added].” We can easily swap the words “race” and “culture” when it comes to supremacist attitudes. After all, supremacists do.
So what is Elder Jackson’s Big But?
“But though learned behavior—those things to which we are exposed by the cultures we grow up in—can serve as a great strength in our lives, it can also, at times, become a significant obstacle [emphasis added].”
That it is an obstacle is the excuse Elder Jackson is going to use to supplant his “superior” culture over yours, to make it seem ok. (It is not ok.) He is going to use the excuse that Christ’s culture is the superior culture, and it’s not his fault that “Christ’s culture” just happens to be the same culture as his own. (It is not. Christ’s culture was the Aramaic, Hebrew, and Hellenistic Greek that existed 2,000 years ago in Israel.)
And what are these cultures an obstacle to? To following a complex social system of traditions, beliefs, and practices (i.e. culture) that make up the largely White American religion of Mormonism. Let no other culture stand in the way of spreading the White American Mormon culture far and wide!
When one culture conquers another, their deity is often promoted as the only real and “good” god. Thus, their god’s will is used to justify the colonization (“the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area” – Oxford), and replacement of their culture with the invading culture’s own. Which is exactly what Elder Jackson is doing.
There is nothing Christlike in this whatsoever. Where in this are we turning the other cheek (Matt 5:38-40), loving both our neighbors and our enemies (Matt 22:36-40, Matt 5:43-48), or walking a mile in our another’s shoes (Matt 5:41)? Instead, Jackson wants to steal their shoes and be the person doing the slapping.
He goes on. “It may seem that culture is so heavily embedded in our thinking and behavior that it is impossible to change.”
Jackson skips over the assumption here: The other culture must change. It must be erased from their minds and replaced. Because it is implied to be inferior. Nowhere is the question explored of whether or not they should replace their culture with Elder Jackson’s.
“[Culture] is, after all, much of what we feel defines us and from which we feel a sense of identity.”
Jackson is right about this. What he isn’t saying is that in order for a high-demand group to take over an individual’s mind, they must convince the person to set aside their own identity and replace it with the group’s preferred identity. In this, there is no free agency nor much room for self-expression, only conformity to a totalistic regime. The mind control techniques at work in this process are Destabilization (causing a person’s identity and beliefs to become unstable) and Doctrine Over Self (causing a person to believe the group’s doctrines are more important than the self).
But why waste time supplanting each individual identity one by one, when he can target a whole group of people via their culture? And to do that, he needs to make people feel like their culture is inferior. This is right out of the colonizer’s playbook.
And in the next paragraph, he does just that:
“It can be such a strong influence that we can fail to see the man-made weaknesses or flaws in our own cultures, resulting in a reluctance to throw off some of the traditions of our fathers. An overfixation on one’s cultural identity may lead to the rejection of worthwhile—even godly—ideas, attributes, and behavior.”
According to Malachi, “the hearts of the children will turn to their fathers,” but only if your fathers are approved by the White male authorities who claim to speak for God. Everyone else’s hearts must turn to the traditions of White fathers.
Elder Jackson then tells a story of an East Indian he met who was a professor of Sanskrit and Tamil. But he would not convert to the Church because he loved his traditions and did not want to “…deny…everything he was, everything his family had taught him to be, his very Indian heritage.” These are good instincts, and many people from many cultures (including your own) would react this way.
To a Mormon who does not understand Indian culture, they may not see how Mormonism is directly in conflict with Eastern, and specifically Indian, philosophy. Elder Jackson insultingly leaves out the man’s religious background. I cannot tell whether he was Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh, or something else. He is merely “other.” But if he was from the southern regions, he was likely Hindu or possibly Buddhist.
Now, as a White American raised Mormon, I’m not going to understand either of these religious worldviews enough to explain them well here. But I know enough to know that it is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile those perspectives with Christian or Mormon theology. This goes beyond the mere name of God, but down to questions of the reason people exist, the conception of what God is like, moral questions, how to live life, how to find happiness, and the nature of the universe itself. Both Hinduism and Buddhism make very different assumptions in these areas than Christianity does.
As White Americans, our cultural religious outlook goes beyond our mere nitpickings over scriptural doctrines. Even when we no longer subscribe to the dominant religion of our culture, those philosophies still inform our thinking patterns. The idea of an authoritarian God who created everything and is pure goodness and light, but needed to torture and kill his son as a scapegoat to make up for the sins of all people–even the very idea of sin–is very different from Eastern and other cultures’ outlooks of how divine or revered beings work, what they want, the effects of wrongdoing, how we should treat each other and for what reasons.
(It would edify any reader to explore a few religious beliefs outside of their own, especially if you started with Western ideas of authoritarian, patriarchal, revealed religion. Other world views, including various forms of polytheism, animism, deism, and pantheism, can get you out of your own culture enough to see it from a more objective standpoint.)
Mere exposure to Mormonism is not going to hurt this Indian man’s identity and culture. There is no harm in individually-driven, equilateral cultural exchanges. But this isn’t mere exposure. In this situation, the rest of the man’s family was LDS, and Elder Jackson was presenting Mormonism as a superior belief system. The man was under tremendous pressure, from all sides, to ditch his own worldview in favor of a White American one. This is how colonization occurs, and how entire cultures have been wiped out or are on their way to extinction. In many cases, that has been the very goal of colonizers.
“In most man-made cultures, there is found both good and bad, constructive and destructive.” By this, and in other places, Elder Jackson is implying that his White Mormon culture isn’t man-made at all, but is made by someone else. By God, in fact.
Says who, though? Anyone can take on the weight of God’s authority by simply claiming to know God’s will. They don’t need any evidence or even sound reasoning, and can thereby justify any level of atrocity. If they (or their ancestors) have the might, they get to make up what’s right.
“Many of our world’s problems are a direct result of clashes between those of differing ideas and customs arising from their culture.” I can agree with this… Let’s hope Elder Jackson has stumbled upon the idea of mutual love and acceptance for all people. Hopefully he will suggest that we can end these conflicts by allowing everyone to follow the dictates of their own conscience and worship how, when, or what they–
No wait, that isn’t what he does.
“But [emphasis added] virtually all conflict and chaos would quickly fade if the world would only accept its original culture, the one we all possessed not so very long ago.”
Ah, ok so he is proposing that if only everyone would convert to his culture, then we could finally all get along. If you are insisting on holding on to your own culture, these global conflicts are your fault.
Through this, Elder Jackson perpetuates the problems of global religious conflicts. We could all get along if each dominant religion would stop trying to force itself on everyone else. That’s where religious wars come from. But no, he’s going to declare the supremacy of yet another religion with the mission to wipe out all others. He continues, just so we’re clear:
“This culture [the LDS Gospel] dates back to our premortal existence. It was the culture of Adam and Enoch. It was the culture founded on the Savior’s teachings in the meridian of time, and it is available to all women and men once again in our day. It is unique. It is the greatest of all cultures and comes from the great plan of happiness, authored by God and championed by Christ.”
Pope Urban II thought this too when he ordered armies to invade Jerusalem in 1095 at the cost of many lives over two centuries. The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition used similar reasoning when they tortured hundreds of thousands of people across Europe in an attempt to stamp out any heresy, including Paganism, Islam, and Judaism. Or when the Portuguese Christians in Goa in the 16th century outlawed Hindu practices, forced all Hindus into Christian indoctrination, burned Hindu temples, and tortured those who refused to convert (in ways that are too horrific to relay here). This latter example happened in central India, just north of where Elder Jackson’s Indian friend lives.
The history of Christianity is pockmarked by endless examples of forced conversion. Christianity wouldn’t be as widespread as it is today without its many atrocities. It owes its “success” to colonization, forced conversion, plunder, warfare, destruction, torture, and diabolical forms of execution.
How’s that for a “Culture of Christ”?
And here Elder Jackson is saying that we could all get along if those darned upstarts would just do whatever the Church says. This is a doctrine of dominance, not of peace and love, regardless of the words Elder Jackson uses to cover it up: “[The culture of Christ] unites rather than divides. It heals rather than harms.”
The next line is dismissive and disparaging to other cultures, like Eastern religions, indigenous groups, or even White American culturally-Christian atheists, misconstruing all of our beliefs to make us seem lesser: “The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that there is purpose in life. Our being here is not just some big cosmic accident or mistake! We are here for a reason.”
Every religion, except perhaps the philosophy of nihilism, teaches that there is a purpose. Even secular scientific atheism–which holds that we were created by natural laws operating in an unaware universe–even they (myself included) have found purpose in life. If any reader feels insulted by this mischaracterization, they ought to be. It is insulting. It strips non-Christians of our humanity in the minds of faithful Mormons, in a manipulation technique known as “dehumanization.” Any crimes can be justified against a group of people that, as he all but says, “has no purpose.”
“[LDS culture] espouses the concept of equal worth. There is no recognition of caste or class. We are, after all, brothers and sisters, spirit children of our heavenly parents—literally. There is no prejudice or ‘us versus them’ mentality in the greatest of all cultures [emphasis added].”
The self-contradiction here is clear. If you were in a schoolyard playing ball, and a group of kids walked up and took your ball, saying, “Hey, how about a friendly game? No worries who wins. We’re all equally valuable and it’s just for fun. But we’re the best and we’re going to prove it, suckers!” Doesn’t the latter phrase negate everything else this kid said? Especially if the kid then proceeded to dictate a set of unfair rules for the game without taking any input from anyone who doesn’t agree with him.
These are games of dominance. You can give that invading marauder a nice haircut, dress him in a suit and tie, and have him speak from a high polished pulpit about peace, love, and charity all he wants, but it’s all the same–a conquest. A colonization. An assertion of white supremacy.
“We enjoy a culture of revelation, centered on the word of God as received by the prophets…” Prophets who, in modern times at least, are all conveniently White and male. The Hebrew and Jewish males of scripture are conveniently interpreted by modern White males, often in ways that modern Jewish leaders say are both incorrect and harmful.
Top LDS leaders stand there being 100% White and male, claiming claiming we’re all equal in the sight of God and there is no caste system. I believe things when I see them, and when we have a diverse set of apostles and a female prophet from Cambodia, then I’ll believe it.
Next Elder Jackson tries to tell us that Mormon culture is one of agency, or free will. But apparently not if you choose otherwise. It is not a culture where, for instance, you are free to believe in other gods besides the LDS Godhead. If you’d like to add Vishnu to the list, as his Indian friend might have wanted, or Danu, as my Celtic ancestors might have done before they were likely forced to convert Christianity, it is not allowed. Those gods are inferior and believing in them makes you inferior, too.
Elder Jackson has a fairly long list of lies about what the Culture of Christ is all about, but then we get to a truth:
“It is a culture of faith and obedience. Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of our culture, and obedience to His teachings and commandments is the outcome.”
Ah, there it is. Obedience.
He’d like us to think he means obedience to God, but who speaks for God on earth? He’s already answered that: The prophets. He speaks for God. His mostly White, 100% male friends among the General Authorities speak for God. It is about dominance and supremacy, always. And Mormons accept this because it is couched in a false gentleness, backed by claims of ultimate authority.
These include the claim that the LDS culture is: “the oldest of all cultures.” Historical revisionism is another colonizer’s tool for erasing the traditions of entire peoples. As is missionary work, another favorite implement of colonizers throughout European history. “It is a culture of missionary work,” he adds. “The worth of souls is great.”
Souls are of worth no matter what, whether or not they convert to this or that religion. Yet this phrase is often used in the context of missionary work, implying that non-Mormons are only of worth when we can turn them LDS. This line references D&C 18:10&14-15:
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God… Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people. And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!”
The act of plucking up ripe souls from their existing religion, where they are already happy, and presenting them proudly to God with shimmers glinting off them like treasures plundered from far off lands, reminds me of looting. But they aren’t objects, they’re people. Maybe I’m going too far here, but it feels like a form of spiritual human trafficking. Those souls must be worth quite a lot on the open market.
If God really is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and truly sees no caste or class, then God will see the worth in all souls just as they are. It is difficult for me to imagine a Father with billions of spirit children who wants them all to be the same, and to worship him in the same way. What parent wants all of their children to be the same? To have the same talents, interests, and forms of self-expression? What parents wants their children to show their appreciation in exactly the same way at every birthday, Mother’s or Father’s Day? Or instead, don’t we loving parents celebrate and love their differences? For the clever surprises they bring us each day?
The God I now imagine delights in the diversity of this planet. How exciting it must be to see all the many complex cultures His children have created! All the many languages, traditions, art forms, and religious practices worldwide! How interesting it must be for him to watch the many creative ways in which he and other ideas of god are worshipped! I can’t imagine a God who does anything other than celebrate each and every one.
It’s not enough for Elder Jackson to be racist throughout this talk. Now he’s got to be sexist, too:
“In the culture of Christ, women are elevated to their proper and eternal status. They are not subservient to men, as in many cultures in today’s world, but full and equal partners here and in the world to come.”
I look to that wall of faces of people who lead the LDS Church. And what I see are men. All men.
The use of the word “proper status” here is disgusting. It is clear that the role of women in the Church is a subservient one. He claims there are no castes in Mormonism, but here is the caste right here. White men make all the decisions, and everyone else must follow their orders. Conveniently, God himself has backed up this plan, and conveniently, these are the only people allowed to speak for God.
And speak Elder Jackson does: “What a blessing it is to be part of this grand and noble way of life!” Funny choice of words for a culture that has no caste or class. Oxford lists the #1 definition of noble as, “belonging to a hereditary class with high social or political status; aristocratic.” Huh! Truth at last.
And then he reminds everyone of non-White, non-Western, non-American heritage that their culture is definitely inferior:
“To be part of this, the greatest of all cultures, will require change. The prophets have taught that it is necessary to leave behind anything in our old cultures that is inconsistent with the culture of Christ.” Your ethnic group is not of value unless you erase what doesn’t serve the purposes of the White male culture of Mormon Jesus. Erasure is the means to the goal of total dominance.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is hardly a Western society or an American cultural phenomenon. It is an international church, as it was always meant to be. More than that, it is supernal.”
Looking up “supernal” it means “relating to the sky or the heavens; celestial.” Yet it is a specifically Western God who lives in the sky, who will lift all approved persons up to the sky with him. Most non-Western gods are not supernal at all. Therefore, he is still establishing the dominance of a Western society. Double-speak, no matter how subtle he tries to make it.
Then, just in case you were thinking of holding firm to your cultural identity anyway, Elder Jackson gaslights every listener, especially those from a non-Western, Christian culture: “The culture of Christ helps us to see ourselves as we really are…”
Within Mormonism, we were never allowed to define the question of “Who am I?” ourselves. The Church defined who we were at each and every step, and whenever we made choices contrary to those dictated from the top, we were reminded, “Remember who you are,” waving hands to dismiss our own dawning conception that we might be someone else–that we might own our own identity. It invalidates who we believe ourselves to be, more especially if we have to uproot our very cultural identity to comply.
Elder Jackson follows up on the story of his friend in India, who (under a great deal of pressure I’m sure), finally converted.
“He discovered that he can still celebrate his history, still be proud of his ancestry, his music and dance and literature, his food, his land and its people.”
But what about his past religion or life philosophy? That I’m sure he had to drop entirely. And that is how white supremacy has crept its way into dominance around the world–not because it is objectively “true” or “better” (how would you even judge such a thing?)–but because it has used manipulative and often forceful means to rip out existing cultures by their roots to replace them with our own.
That doesn’t make it better at all. By my standards, that is a stain on our White Western cultural history. A stain that is still growing. “What a marvelous heritage we all share,” he concludes.
White supremacists would be proud.