Episode 8 // From Division to Unity: The Journey to Anti-Racism with Michalyn Steele

May 07, 2024
Proclaim Peace S1E8


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In this episode of the Proclaim Peace Podcast, Jennifer and Patrick delve into the crucial topic of racism and its impact on peace. Joined by professor Michalyn Steele, they emphasize how racism hinders personal and societal peace and discuss the importance of eradicating it to progress towards positive peace. Drawing from the Book of Mormon, they make a compelling case that racism is incompatible with building Zion and highlight the necessity of eliminating it for a harmonious society. Tune in to explore how addressing racism is fundamental to becoming better peacemakers.


[00:01:41] Racism impacts building of Zion.

[00:04:02] Race and reconciliation in scripture.

[00:09:11] Defining peace and repose.

[00:14:33] Identity complexities and cohesion.

[00:16:54] The Tree of Peace.

[00:20:35] Racial identity in religious texts.

[00:25:34] Generational sins and racism.

[00:29:33] Forgiveness and peace through music.

[00:36:33] Positive impact of rooting out racism.

[00:40:24] Racialized view of the world.

[00:45:31] Bearing witness with humility.

[00:48:19] Engaging beyond social media bubbles.

[00:52:07] Wrestling with paradoxes.

[00:55:27] Spiritual gift from the Savior.


(00:03-00:06) Jennifer Thomas: Welcome to the Proclaim Peace Podcast. I'm Jennifer Thomas.
(00:06-00:16) Patrick Mason: And I'm Patrick Mason. And this is the podcast where we apply principles of the gospel and read the Book of Mormon to become better peacemakers. Welcome, Jen.

(00:16-00:17) Jennifer Thomas: Thanks, Patrick.

(00:17-00:47) Patrick Mason: So today, we are going to dive into a really difficult topic. Not that the other ones we've talked about are easy, but we're going to be talking about the harm that comes to God's children because of the sin of racism. Now, some people might say, well, that's all anybody ever wants to talk about these days. We hear lots about race and racism. And to a certain degree, that's true. So why, Jen, are we going to talk about race and racism in a podcast dedicated to peace?

(00:47-01:40) Jennifer Thomas: It's a really good question. But right at the outset of this discussion, we want to answer it pretty forcefully. I think Patrick and I would propose that racism is basically inimical to peace at both the personal and the societal level. If God's people aren't willing to work to eradicate it, we will always face really significant limitations in our own personal ability to be peacemakers. It's one of the first steps to moving beyond accepting a world where we're content with negative peace to moving to a world where we really want to make positive peace. And I think we'd also propose that we and our children and our descendants are going to continue to suffer in a society where civic peace is fractured to the degree that we let racism continued. But beyond that, I think it really deeply relates to the dialogue we're having here about the Book of Mormon, specifically about peace, because I think it's clear that this is a sin that is simply incompatible with the building of Zion. And if we want Zion, the racism has to go.

(01:41-02:36) Patrick Mason: Yeah, I couldn't agree more. And I think as we watch this story play out throughout the history of the Book of Mormon later on, we see that the way that these conflicts between people, which is so often coded along lines of what we would call race and skin color, leads to really horrific effects for their society. So we'll have more to talk about along those lines, but today I think we want to focus about what it does, the negative impact of racism on the individual, on people's personal souls. I think there's a kind of obvious way that being on the recipient, or the receiving end of racism has a negative effect on people. But we also want to think about what does it mean when you see the world through a racialized worldview or a set of lenses? What does that do to you and to your soul?

(02:37-04:01) Jennifer Thomas: So this enters pretty early, right? In 2 Nephi chapter 5, an event happens, and there's an introduction of a physical differentiation amongst Lehi's children. And there have been lots of people discussing about what that means, and we're not going to do that today. Unfortunately, in that moment, Nephi doesn't mince words when he describes the state of the relations with his brothers. We know that things are not going well between them. They've sought to end his life. And ultimately the portion of the family that was loyal to him, um, they've all had to flee from a homeland that they've worked too hard to construct. And, um, I think it's important to remember that this is Nephi's frame of mind when he talks about this change. The language that he uses to describe the, uh, the change around his brothers and their family is not ambiguous. And it's really quite harsh. He uses words like curse and loathsome. words that we are very uncomfortable with today and seem to not leave room for a gentler interpretation about what happens. And then Nephi even goes further. He doubles down, right? He's very angry and frustrated and he declares that this curse is going to follow any people who dare to intermingle with the Lamanites going forward. And he talks about them being specifically cut off from the presence of the Lord. He talks about the curse being the cause of some of their worst habits. Nephi was clearly upset. And I think we can agree, understandably so. But the question is, do we let that personal upset be the way we view race going forward?

(04:02-05:07) Patrick Mason: Yeah, and you know what's long troubled me about these passages? I mean, as you've mentioned, there's so much to talk about here, and we can defer to other scholars maybe to parse out every last word and phrase there. But what's long troubled me about these passages is the way that they seem So, to work so clearly against what the rest of the Book of Mormon teaches about God and God's engagement with His children. You know, even by the end of Nephi's writings, so by 2 Nephi chapter 26, Nephi himself is going to tell us a totally different story. about this. I mean, the very famous passage in chapter 26, verse 33, where he says that God inviteth all to come unto him and partake of his goodness. He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female. He remembereth the heathen, all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile. So there's none of this language of cursings and loathsome and all this kind of stuff. And this is from the same Nephi. This is the same prophet in the same book sharing this message.

(05:07-06:02) Jennifer Thomas: And I think it's important to note at this point, he has a little bit of distance from his brothers. And so maybe he's able to kind of have more clarity of vision. But I think you're absolutely right that we've got to figure out as readers of this book, how we reconcile these two opposing statements. Right. And how are we going to which which of the messages are we going to take forward now in our time now? to be more productive of creating societies of peace. I think one of the things that's helpful to me as I was reading along in these small plates, it's like you said, it's clear that not only Nephi, but later Nephite prophets are also wrestling with these contradictions. Just 30 years later, Jacob, and let's remember these were also his brothers, right, is dealing with the negative spiritual outcomes that have resulted from the narrative around his brothers and the people who were once part of his closest family. And those narratives have not been great for the spiritual development and welfare of the Nephites.

(06:03-07:34) Patrick Mason: Yeah, and so as we approach this topic, maybe, you know, there's different ways to read these texts, and I think it's important to grapple with them in different ways. But I think maybe the way that we can productively approach it today is not by asking, what was Nephi thinking? Or like, how is it the Nephi got this wrong? Or something like that. But rather asking the question, Lord, is it I? Right? I mean, what is my relationship? to this text? What is my relationship to these ideas? And when there are these kind of competing ideas in the text, when they seem to be going in different directions, why is it that I might tend to follow one direction? Why might I read it in one way? What is it about my culture, about the things that I've inherited, the way that I see the world, that makes me focus on certain readings of the text and maybe not other things. And so I think that's really what we want to focus today is not so much on why did Nephi say this, but actually recognizing that the real implications, the real words words matter, and texts matter, and they have meaning in the world because of the way we read them, we interpret them, we apply them. And so what are ways that I can personally do better as a disciple of Jesus Christ in dealing with these really difficult topics, but doing so in a way that makes me change for the better?

(07:35-09:10) Jennifer Thomas: I love that. And I just want to say at the start of this podcast that actually Patrick and I are both very hopeful about this. We think there actually is a way for us as a people and us as individuals to do better. And we are convinced that at the individual level is where some of the most important change happens. If we change as individuals, that changes our families, that changes our societies. And we know that is true from the first books of the Book of Mormon, right? Nothing is more clear than the message that the individual choices that we make matter. We're hopeful that there's a way forward for us as individuals. And we're convinced that this is where the most important changes are going to happen. So today we want to offer perspectives on how that might be possible. We're joined in our discussion today by Michalyn Steele. She is the Associate Dean for Faculty and Curriculum and the Marion G. Romney Professor of Law at the BYU Law School. She's had a distinguished career that has included work with a prestigious D.C. law firm and six years working as a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, where she won multiple division awards. She also served as a counselor to the Assistant Secretary of Interior for Indian Affairs, Larry Echo Hawk. Michalyn is an incredibly accomplished person by every worldly measure. But perhaps most importantly, she is extraordinarily generous and wise and puts these gifts to good work as she acts as a mentor, disciple, and friend. We're thrilled to have her here with us today to share her experiences and perspective. Welcome. Thank you so much. It's a delight. We are so excited to have you here. And we are wondering if maybe we could start this conversation with one simple question, which is, how do you personally define peace? 

(09:11-09:40) Michalyn Steele: Well, I think that for me, peace is repose. It is comfort of the soul. It is, to define it by its lack, is like the lack of agitation. And so it's calm. It is a fruit of the spirit. So I think I would say repose.

(09:41-10:10) Patrick Mason: I like that. That's a great word that we probably don't use enough or reflect on. So Michael, we're thrilled to have you. And you come to this conversation really with a distinct perspective that flows from your own background, your own experiences. And so can you share with our listeners a little bit about your background, your heritage, and what that's taught you in terms of eliminating racism, confronting it, and working towards personal peace?

(10:12-12:08) Michalyn Steele: Sure, so I grew up on the Cataraugus Indian Reservation of the Seneca Nation. It's in western New York. It's about 30 minutes south of Niagara Falls in Buffalo, New York. It's just east of Erie, Pennsylvania, so it really is on the sort of the western tip of New York, and lived there till I was 12. with some stints at BYU with my parents in graduate school. And that was foundational to my identity, of course. That's on my mom's side. And on my dad's side, I have the history of the pioneers and their faith and steadfastness. But I also have on my two great grandmothers joined the church in the 1940s when the missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to the reservation. Two of the converts that they founded, who kind of stuck, were my two great-grandmothers, who were already grandmothers at the time. My mom was a young girl at the time. And that has been really, for me, I have multiple identities coexisting, and education was very important to my family especially, the Native American family. I would dare say it was more important to them than it was to the Idaho farmer portion of the family. But my grandparents worked exceptionally hard to have a happy marriage and to provide a foundation for their children to grow. And I am one of the beneficiaries of their goodness. and the legacy that they left.

(12:08-12:43) Patrick Mason: That's so fascinating. Can I just ask a follow-up question to that? Because some of our listeners maybe have similar things in terms of their families, come from different backgrounds and so forth, or maybe just sort of understanding another human being's experience. How do you reconcile that in terms of these two different peoples, these two different, whatever you want to say, races or different things that kind of flow in your veins and literally these different ancestries. How do you reconcile these different things that you literally embody?

(12:43-14:59) Michalyn Steele: Well, they can't be at war in me. You know, they are just part and parcel of who I am. literally my mother's and father's DNA strands are double helix. They're all bound up. And I think that's true of identity more broadly, that identity is really complex and people are complex and parts of ourselves are given expression just like genes at different times. And so that's been me. I have always felt both identities, all identities. I've heard people say in the Native American community, I'm not Christian, I'm Indian. And as though those two things are incompatible. And as though they could sort of unconquer themselves by rejecting Christianity and rejecting the doctrine of discovery and all those kinds of things. To me, that's one of the beauties of the Book of Mormon is that it teaches that God is God of all people and that the Book of Mormon is in many ways an indigenous text and for indigenous people and that Christianity is part of my inheritance as a Seneca and part of my inheritance as a member of the House of Israel. Whatever complexities go into that particular identity, And so I just say identity is complex, and it has never felt upsetting to me. It just is who I am that I have these different parts, and they are cohesive for me. As President Nelson says, our most important identity is as children of God, and that I'm fortunate to have had goodly parents who helped me understand that We're all many identities, including, you know, I'm a woman, I'm, you know, a lawyer, all these things, but my most important identity is as a daughter of God.

(14:59-15:28) Jennifer Thomas: One of the things that I have always loved about you, Michalyn, is the way that you draw on that heritage and make it live for other people. You have done an extraordinary job, I think, at various points for me, whether I've heard you speak or in private conversation, where you've talked about lessons that you've learned or things that you have drawn on from the Seneca Nation, from your people, and made those kind of visible to me in ways that allowed me to kind of change my life and change my thinking.

(15:28-19:00) Michalyn Steele: So I think that one of the messages to me of the Book of Mormon and one of the messages of my heritage is that for me, the preservation of Native peoples is a miracle, that there is still such a thing as a Seneca Indian in the 21st century and many other tribes that have survived. And I think it's part of the fulfillment of promises that Enos obtained and others obtained that in part that we would get the record and that we would be preserved as peoples, And I think part of what happened in that preservation is that Native peoples are custodians of sacred truths, of eternal truths. And so I have felt like standing at the crossroads in some ways, I'm able to translate or amplify some of the things that I learned from the Seneca heritage. One example is that recently I was at the reservation with my parents and it was the eclipse and it was the zone of totality. Although it was cloudy, we didn't actually see the eclipse, but it did get dark. But the congregation there commemorated the founding of the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee Confederacy that day, which I learned was founded under an eclipse. I didn't know that before. And part of what happened was they, this will sound a little bit familiar to readers of the Book of Mormon, but in founding the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, they dug a big hole and everyone threw their weapons of war into the hole and buried them, set aside those things that were causing them to contend, that were their instruments of contention. And then they planted a white pine tree that was called the Tree of Peace that was a symbol of the Confederacy and of their cultural, spiritual, political, military alliance that would follow. This after a leader called the Peacemaker came among the people to teach the simple message that peace was better than war. And it was sort of a radical idea at the time, but that peace is better than war and that peace is a choice. So the commemoration with the small congregation that is on the reservation, they dug a big hole and we were invited to write down the things that are our weapons of war, that are our things that keep us from drawing near to the Savior, that keep us from peace, and throw those into the hole. And then they planted a white pine tree. And so we planted a new tree of peace and left behind, hopefully, I'm finding it can be difficult to leave those things behind. But I thought about it in the weeks leading up to that. What is disturbing my peace? How can I have greater peace, greater harmony with the Savior and with those around me? And wrote that down and threw it in the hole and hoped to leave it behind. What I find is that those habits can be hard to break, but it is worth the effort to choose peace over and over again. Peace is better than war. Peace is better than contention with my brothers and sisters.

(19:01-20:35) Patrick Mason: That is so moving to me, actually, to not only your personal experience and what that congregation did, but the origins of the Confederation, right? We trace so many national histories to some great battle or some great general or king or somebody like that who established something with a battle. But how much more meaningful to say our peoplehood, like who we are, begins with a decision that the peace is better than war? That's a story that needs to be told a lot more. So thanks for sharing that. In my experience, mostly among other white members of the church, most Book of Mormon readers, I think, tend to identify with the Nephites. Partly, it's a Nephite record, you know, it's told mostly from a Nephite perspective, and we have these Nephite prophets and so forth. But I also think that some of that identification, whether it's consciously or not, may happen because of the way that the narrative plays out, this bifurcation earlier in the text between the Nephites who have light skin, the Lamanites who have darker skin, and so I think for a lot of, you know, lighter-skinned people like myself, it's natural to identify with the Nephites. Are there any unintended consequences of doing that, of people identifying with the Nephites and maybe sort of racializing the text in that way?

(20:35-21:40) Michalyn Steele: Yeah, I might call it reducing the text because the narrative, although Nephi has the pen and he's telling the story and it's I guess in some ways natural to identify with the narrator. I don't know how light-skinned the Nephites were. They were Semites. And also, I think we do a lot of, we can't help it, I suppose, but our cultural lens colors the way we see the text. And our cultural lens in, I'll say, 21st century United States is very racialized. And so we bring a lot to the text that may or may not be there. And I do think I've sat in many a Sunday school class looking around thinking, you know, from the comments, you know, you're not Nephites. It's not we. Because the Nephite story does not have a happy ending.

(21:40-21:42) Patrick Mason: Yeah, you don't want to be a Nephite. You wouldn't be here.

(21:42-24:00) Michalyn Steele: No, you want to have been preserved. You want to have been faithful. And those labels slide around between sort of, I guess, political and ethnic and other kinds of identities, where people just take the label on themselves of Lamanites when they are dissenters in some ways, but it's a little bit, it reminds me of, I feel like when we read the parable of the prodigal son, I feel in my Sunday school classes, many of us identifying with the faithful son who stayed right there when really we're the prodigal. We don't like to think of ourselves as the prodigal, but in many ways we have, like the Lamanites, separated ourselves from God in different individual ways. And so, you know, as I understand the curse, I mean, I think there's some difficult text to grapple with, but As I understand the curse, it is primarily that you are separated from the people of God, separated from the priesthood, and that's the curse that follows when you separate yourselves from the prophets and those who have authority to administer the ordinances and to teach you about the Savior. and that is not a place of peace. So I do think there's a lot of identification with the Nephites and I think it's kind of simplistic to do so and to just remember that there is no such thing as a Nephite anymore. Unfortunately, And their society devolved to the ultimate levels of degradation. And it wasn't a great outcome for the Lamanites, but they were preserved. They had obtained promises to Lehi and Enos and others that they would be preserved. And we see the fulfillment of those promises.

(24:01-25:34) Jennifer Thomas: So one thing I'd love to have you talk about a little bit is kind of related to what you were just saying, that in chapter two of Jacob, verse three, Jacob actually flips this script that's set up early in Nephi, right? He uses the words cursed and filthy specifically to describe the Nephites, right? And he denounces the fact that they've sort of arrived at this point of perceiving themselves as superior in the eye of the creator. And in verse nine, he couldn't be clearer where he says the following, wherefore a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins, neither shall you revile against them because of their filthiness, but that ye remember your own filthiness." And as I read that, that just struck me so much because God was saying, like, clearly, couldn't have been more clear about the fact that he's saying, you're not allowed to revile people because of their skins, right? And that's only 30 years about after Nephi has kind of made this original proclamation. And one of the things that strikes me is that we sometimes as a people get stuck in those early writings of Nephi, and yet we won't actually be willing to pick up that commandment that comes straight from Jacob that says, hey, this is a sin. this thing you're doing. Jacob has provided us a clear framing and a pathway out of it, and he commands us to put it down. So I'm just curious about your thoughts about how we could do better about that. As we approach the Book of Mormon with love and respect, what is a way that we can pick up the good things in it? It seems like sometimes we refuse to pick up the good things, and we want to keep some of the worst, right?

(25:34-27:23) Michalyn Steele: Well, it's interesting as you're talking, that commandment from Jacob when he's willing to see the good. in those who are his literal enemies, they were at war often, and he says they love their families, they love their wives, they've got only one wife, and you're trying to justify by resting the scriptures to commit sin in that way. But it makes me think about a question I've had for a long time, which is, what are the sins of a generation? When you think about being cleansed from the sins of a generation? What are generational sins? And I do think racism in our modern day is one of the generational sins. And how do we cleanse ourselves from that or be cleansed or be healed from it? I do think it's an ailment from which we need to be healed. And it It goes beyond not reviling. It goes into, I think, the counsel from the modern prophets to root out racism in our own hearts. And then we're in a position to help root it out in the broader society and among our generation. There are things that we're sort of vulnerable to because of the generation in which we live. And we want to be cleansed from those. And I think one of those in our society is racism. We just have inherited attitudes of prejudice, conscious and unconscious, and it takes work and it takes the healing power of the atonement to help us overcome those.

(27:24-28:06) Patrick Mason: Yeah, I mean, there have been a number of authors, I think it was W.E.B. Du Bois who talked about racism as the original sin of America, right? And I think he means that in the kind of theologically rich sense of it, that it runs so deep, that it's so pervasive that we're all born into it. Right? It's not even necessarily that somebody chose it all the time, but you're born into a society that simply has these kinds of assumptions and has for a very long time. And so it takes proactive work to get out of it, because the easy thing to do is just to kind of rest within it.

(28:06-31:02) Michalyn Steele: It's inculcated in our language and in a million different I'll say nonverbal messages. And when it gets, that's what causes us, I say, to misread the Book of Mormon, to amplify the language and not be humble about the language of the Book of Mormon, that we don't know what it means when it says skin of blackness. And we're bringing those lenses of our own biases to that language. And so, I have to start with the foundational principle that God is not racist. God, all are alike unto God. Now, that is not true for the rest of us. And it doesn't mean we're irredeemable as a nation or that we're, you know, that we have to go to the other extreme and revile against racists, right? But I think part of Jacob's point was don't revile, right? That's not the path of peace, but that we forgive. I was especially moved by the sacrament hymn yesterday, and I'd like to pull it up really quick because it, I think, has relevance for what we're talking about here. I can find it, yeah. It's Reverently and Meekly now, and it's an unusual hymn in that it is, we're singing the voice of the Savior who's making a plea to us, And the third verse, he says, bid thine heart all strife to cease. With thy brethren be at peace. O forgive as thou wouldst be even forgiven now by me. In the solemn faith of prayer, cast upon me all thy care, and my spirit's grace shall be like a fountain unto thee. There's no reviling in that whatever the combination of our individual and generational sins, it's all, be humble and you'll drink from the fountain of grace. And part of that is, I've been thinking about that since yesterday, bid thine heart to all strife to cease. And daily life throws us a lot of strife, a lot we can strive about with others, but with thy brethren be at peace. And that's part of the fruit that I want to take from the Tree of Peace that was recently planted in my presence. Although it's a pine tree, so it doesn't really bear fruit. I don't know.

(31:02-33:30) Patrick Mason: Pine cones. Pine cones at least. We can go with that. I love that you brought up music. I had a powerful experience with music yesterday too. I was at a devotional here on campus at Utah State University where Elder Cook was speaking. The Institute Choir closed by singing, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, which is just one of the all-time great hymns. But I'm moved to tears every time I hear the lyric, prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love," right? It's just what you were talking about. I mean, that's the human condition. But then what do we do is we turn over our heart, right? Take my heart and seal it in the courts above. And you briefly mentioned this phrase, to root out racism, in terms of counsel from modern church leaders. And I just wanted to kind of underscore that maybe by reading a couple of quotes that we have from current members of the First Presidency, and then maybe hear you kind of reflect on that a little bit. In the October 2020 General Conference, President Dallin Oaks said, and this is where that phrase comes from, he says, as citizens and as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we must do better to help root out racism. And then President Nelson, the prophet, went even further. And this is a little bit longer, but I think it's just such a fantastic teaching. He said, Each of us has a divine potential because each is a child of God. Each is equal in His eyes. The implications of this truth are profound. Brothers and sisters, please listen carefully to what I am about to say. God does not love one race more than another. His doctrine on this matter is clear. He invites all to come unto Him, black and white, bond and free, male and female. I grieve that our black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice. He's spoken other times about other races as well, not just African Americans. But today I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God's children. So for you, what does it look like in concrete terms to respond to this prophetic teaching, to root out racism, to lead out in abandoning attitudes of action and actions of prejudice?

(33:30-36:21) Michalyn Steele: I mean, I think it is a call to repentance. And the first step in repentance, I mean, you exercise faith in the Lord unto repentance. And part of that is humility to say, I've done wrong, or there's something I can do better. And you look to the enabling power of the atonement to help heal from that. And where I find that the backlash on things like, I mean, I hear a lot of people talk about sort of wokeism or talk about dismissing the concerns of of, I'll say, our black brothers and sisters or other people of color by saying, well, it wasn't me and that was a long time ago and get over it. And, and, you know, basically you don't have to throw it in our face all the time. Right. Kind of a thing. And what I've found is there's a little saying I sometimes when I teach civil rights is that for the privileged equality can feel like oppression. And so It feels like in order for others to be equal, you have to come down. And that's what I feel like they're fighting sometimes. We are fighting sometimes. We should want good things for others. Otherwise it's enmity, right? It's ill will. And to be prepared to repent as individuals, as families, as a culture, as a church, to repent for those kinds of things. I once was, I was on the committee on race, equity, and belonging for BYU, and I was in a meeting with leaders of the university, and I was talking about changes that I thought needed to be made, and President Worthen was in the meeting, and I said, I hesitate to use the word repentance, and he corrected me and taught me a profound lesson. If we understand what repentance is, we joyfully embrace that opportunity. And true repentance is not that you have to feel punished and beaten down and ashamed. That true repentance is moving toward that peaceful repose that we're looking for. It is rooting out of our hearts and minds those attitudes and actions of prejudice so that peace can dwell there because those things can't coexist. And that's the beauty of repentance. When we ask people to repent, when we ask ourselves to repent, it's a joyful invitation and not something we should fight.

(36:22-37:20) Jennifer Thomas: So I love this because I think at least early days as I thought about this, I think we can think about this job of rooting out racism as something negative, like we are trying to eradicate something horrible, which we are. But I also think that at least as I have tried to do this work personally, it is very much been a positive and soul expanding process. It has changed some of the worst things about me. It has opened my heart to having really rich relationships with people that I otherwise wouldn't have been prepared to have a relationship with. I would just ask you, how would you frame for our listeners, reframe this work, and I think you just started to touch on this, in a way that invites people to move towards something truly joyful? If we really are willing to root racism out of our hearts individually and out of our communities, how does that prepare us to live just more productive, healthy, happy, rich lives?

(37:20-40:23) Michalyn Steele: You know, I think one of Satan's tools who, if his mission statement is essentially to make us miserable, the opposite of peace, he would destroy the peace of our souls if he could. It's what he tries to do all day, every day. And one of his effective tools is division. and enmity, something that makes us feel ill will or in competition in some way with others as individuals and as a group. And there is something about our hard wiring that we tend to sort of seek groups that are like us and things like that. But that's the natural man. And so it's putting off, I would say, the influence of Satan, putting off the adversary of our souls and the adversary of our peace, putting off the natural human tendency to do those kinds of things and being open, opening ourselves to love one another more truly. It's interesting that at the end of his life, after Jesus had been questioned by the lawyer, and we see in the Book of Mormon a lot of lawyers who like to sow division No comment on your profession. And that's how they got money, was to stir up contention and divisions. And that's, I guess, what Satan considers his payday, too, is when he can stir up those divisions with us. But he had been questioned about what are the great commandments. And of course, he said, love God and love your neighbor as yourself. And at the end of his ministry, He tweaked it a little bit to his disciples and he said, love one another, a new commandment I give, love one another as I have loved you, which is even more profound than loving our neighbor as ourself and sort of making sure we're balancing that esteem. There is a love that is more profound than even self-love and it is the love that the Savior has for others. If that's what we're striving for, if that's the gift of charity that's given to the true disciples of seeketh not her own and is not puffed up and all those kinds of things, I see it of a piece that whatever is dividing us or filling us with enmity or tempting us to enmity toward one another, that's the opposite of charity and that's the opposite of true discipleship. we should course correct on that. And not, well, we should course correct because it's not the path of peace. And the Lord knows that. And that's why he wants us to have peace and joy. And that's why he gives us the end goal of living in harmony. But it's challenging.

(40:24-41:35) Patrick Mason: Can you talk a little bit about what having a kind of racialized view of the world and other people does to somebody's soul and to their mindset? I think, you know, Martin Luther King used to talk about this a lot. Obviously, we can point to the effects the racism has on racialized minorities, right? Or people, you know, who are on the receiving end of some of those things. But he also talked about the kind of moral corrosiveness that it had on the souls of the people who were perpetrating that. And Jacob does too. You know, this is at the heart of Jacob's message as well. And I think, you know, on the one hand, I think especially in 21st century America, not a lot of people wake up in the morning and say, today I want to be a racist. But as you said, because this pervades so much of our language, so much of our culture, there are ways that we can participate either consciously or unconsciously in seeing the world through this lens. So can you talk a little bit about what does it do to us when we see the world that way? And maybe how do we start to take off those lenses and see it differently?

(41:35-45:30) Michalyn Steele: I mean, I think in sort of legal policy, it frames up a competition and that it's almost zero sum for resources and opportunities. And if I get a resource or if you get a resource, it means I'm deprived of that resource. And that that competition, I think, is unhealthy for a society that strives to be cohesive. And on Friday, we're taking a group of students from BYU to the South to ask them to bear witness to the work that was done to to help the United States more fully live out its stated ideals, its constitutional values during the Civil Rights Movement. We'll go to Birmingham and Montgomery. Montgomery is where the bus boycott was. There was Freedom Riders came through there. And Birmingham where the Children's Marches and the 16th Street bombing of the chapel. And there we'll meet with people who participated, people from the children's marches. There's a woman named Myrna Jackson who was one of the children's marchers and she will tell the students about how if you couldn't take being spit on and called horrific names because it was a nonviolent movement, you couldn't be in the march. You had to go, you could make signs or make sandwiches, but you couldn't be in the march. And she was very pleased that she could take it and Although she still harbors a terrible fear of dogs because of the dogs that Bull Connor and the Birmingham police there, I guess he was a sheriff there, had trained their dogs to attack black people. And she's still, when we met with her, she was very afraid of dogs. But I asked her how she keeps going and her whole life has been one of service. And she said, I wake up in the morning and I say, Lord, use me today, and he does. And I'm very inspired that the students will be able to meet her and others who participated in the marches. And we'll go to Bryan Stevenson has the Legacy Museum and the Monument to Peace and Justice, which commemorates the observes the history of racial lynching. And then there's a new sculpture park on the legacy of slavery. And It's interesting as I think about what I would like the students to gain from this experience. And I really want them to bear witness to what happened. It's not that I want them to feel, and most of the students who are going are white, it's not that, hey, you should feel really guilty about what happened here. I want them to feel grateful and joyful the capacity of our nation to make progress and repent, the capacity of individuals to insist on their own dignity and insist their dignity in law and society be respected. But it will be painful. When you go in the Legacy Museum, he starts with the history of, I say he, Bryan Stevenson, the museum that he leads, starts with the transatlantic slave trade and the absolute horrific experiences of those people who were stripped from their lands and families and turned into chattel slaves, the enslaved. But anyway, it will be a painful day. It's been a painful day when we've taken these students before. And this is a new group of students. We'll have two groups come through. And some of it is just asking them to bear witness with humility.

(45:31-48:19) Jennifer Thomas: So I have to say, we did a very similar tour for my family with my kids just a few years ago. And it remains one of the core experiences of my life. And I hope it will for my children. And I think that it's for the same reason that you're talking about here, that I didn't actually feel leaving. I mean, there's some horrible stuff to be faced there. And I still am processing some of that. But I think if I were to say the overarching message that I left from that really was the power of human beings who are driven by love and a desire to change the world, not only for themselves, but for others. Because so much of that movement was nonviolent, it really did come out of the exact things that you've just been talking about in this conversation. I think sometimes if we have listeners who are perhaps uncomfortable with some of the very political framing of anti-racism work and they feel like it doesn't align with maybe the way they view the world politically, I would just encourage them to kind of latch on to the messages that we've shared from prophets, the messages that we've shared from the Book of Mormon, and say, depoliticize this in your mind and figure out ways to attach this work to sort of the parts of your soul that resonate with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and attach this work to that framing. Because for me, that has been such an empowering thing to think about this through, just like you said, these three incredible commandments. First, to love the Lord our God, which I believe like if we do, it changes our whole, it disconnects us from the world in meaningful ways. to then take this next step where you're willing to start to look at your neighbor and love them like yourself, which is hard work. But then to take that third step, which you can only do after you've done the first two, to start to say, hey, am I really willing to love people who are different than I am the way the Savior loves them? And at least for me, that has been such an enormously positive journey. And I think all three of us on this call can attest to that. And that it has been, for more than anything else, I don't know that I've done anything to change the nature of peace around me, but it has been so much, so productive for the peace of my own soul, right? It allows me to sort of act in a way that is removed from some of the more toxic things that happen around us. I just kind of ask you to expand on that and talk about how can we as disciples of Christ sort of really, what do you think are some of the best ways to dig deep and find that motivation of love? Like, how can we really tap into that as we desire to be anti-racist peacemakers?

(48:19-52:06) Michalyn Steele: Well, I think the work of M. Wake has been really powerful in this, in asking people to engage beyond their cloister, right? That social media algorithms and maybe even wards tend to compact our world, right? And so that we're just talking with people we agree with mostly, and we're just hearing from people we agree with. We're just reading news that we agree with or things like that. And that has a certain comfort, but it's also isolating. It's a false comfort. And I think being willing to change out the lenses of sort of our cultural inheritance of where we have some racism embedded in the way we've grown up, to change that out to the lens of love that is only from the Lord, that gift of charity. And I speak as one who aspires to have those glasses of charity, those lenses of love, not as one who has found those glasses. I search for them, I pray for them, that I can see others as the Lord would have me see them, as He sees them. And I think that's the first part for yourself. I also think getting out of your comfort zone. This is part of what, when Bryan Stevenson came to BYU a few years ago, he talked about this reckoning with history. And that's why he's set up those experiences in Montgomery, so that when we understand history, we don't have to be afraid of history. We don't have to be afraid of other points of view. Our faith, as I understand it, encompasses all truth, wherever it comes from. The Lord has communicated himself and his truth to every people and every nation, kindred tongue in ways that they understand. We have some of it. I think, I hope we'll get more of it, but as much as people would receive in their own cultures. And so I think starting from a place of humility about what other people have to teach us and not from a place of sort of defensiveness, I don't want to hear anything that critiques something I believe or it's just like, I guess, in my world, understanding that the constitutional principles, President Oaks talked about certain constitutional principles that were inspired and are sort of divine, popular sovereignty and separation of powers and etc. I think there were five or six of them that he said He didn't say that, you know, counting human beings is three fifths of a person and that, you know, the institution of slavery was inspired. You don't, you can love the constitution and its principles without having to defend the institution of slavery or defend the founding fathers from having, um, there were certainly people who knew that the institution of slavery was wrong. Um, and the founding fathers certainly had access to that information. And, and so, There's some kind of paradox that we'll have to find sometimes and have to wrestle with paradox that the Constitution has many inspired principles. It doesn't mean we have to throw the whole thing out because it included this, the institution of slavery, which was not inspired and not of God.

(52:07-53:31) Patrick Mason: As you were speaking, the image for me came to mind of going to the eye doctor, going to the ophthalmologist. Remember, you know, they put that thing in front of you and they start with the vision that you have, the prescription, and then they slowly go through each lens. Like, is this better, one or two, three or four? And in a lot of ways, that's what this is. And for all of our moral and spiritual development, but particularly in this area, it's oftentimes gradual, it's step-by-step, you know, we're striving towards that perfect prescription. We're not there yet, but I think to recognize the ways that the gospel, that the Book of Mormon helps us get a better prescription. It's, you know, reading the Book of Mormon and learning these lessons, reading it in the way that you've talked about is kind of like going to the eye doctor and getting fitted with a better set of lenses. So, Michael, as we wrap up, I'm so grateful for everything you've brought here in terms of helping us think about reading the Book of Mormon differently, about reading it maybe in the way that God intends us to read it in terms of its overall message and thinking about this commandment to love like Jesus loves. But we want to leave by asking you the same question we ask all of our guests, of how and where do you find peace in your life?

(53:32-55:27) Michalyn Steele: I'm tremendously grateful for the ordinance of the sacrament and for the opportunity to be renewed and in covenant with the Lord each Sabbath, to leave there the things that have disturbed my peace, I guess, and hope to, I guess, bear a song away. And I find I find peace in the scriptures and in prayer. And it's peace that often passes understanding, not as the world gives. The world is not that capable of giving peace. In the world, you'll have trouble, right? There is war and contention and ugliness and despair on every side, but I find peace in the power of an eternal perspective, I guess, and knowing that the Lord loves all people, that he has a plan for me and for each person, and that even though there is so much that is distressing, that I guess like the principle of joy, you can find it even in the midst of trouble and turmoil. And that's miraculous to me. So that's where I find the piece is a gift. I think it's a spiritual gift from the Savior, which we can seek and He will give.

(55:27-55:51) Jennifer Thomas: Well, thank you, Michael. And it has been such a delight to have you with us today. And I am so particularly grateful for the way you close that out by reminding us of Christ as both the architect of the process that we can all go through to get to a better place and the goal that we're reaching towards in terms of arriving with Him to be with Him in peace. So thank you, thank you for joining us.

(55:52-56:01) Michalyn Steele: Thank you for inviting me. I have appreciated the opportunity to have this important conversation.

(56:01-56:20) Patrick Mason: Thanks, everybody, for listening today. We really appreciate it. We just want to invite you to subscribe to the podcast and also to rate and review it. We love hearing feedback from listeners, so please email us at podcast at mweg.org. We also want to invite you to think about ways that you can make peace in your life this week. Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time.

(56:25-56:40) Jennifer Thomas: Thank you for listening to Proclaim Peace, a proud member of the Faith Matters Podcast Network. Faith Matters holds expansive conversations about the restored gospel to accompany individuals on their journey of faith. You can learn more about Faith Matters and check out our other shows at faithmatters.org.

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