Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
007: Margaret Young – Race and Gender Dynamics in Modern Mormonism

007: Margaret Young – Race and Gender Dynamics in Modern Mormonism

We are grateful for Kylan Rice sharing this excellent interview with LDS author, filmmaker, and playwright Margaret Young. In this interview Margaret shares her story of how she became enthralled with Mormon Race Dynamics, and how she has spent her life as an advocate for Black Mormon issues in LDS culture. Margaret also discusses how gender dynamics present challenges to her and other LDS women, and how she reconciles these issues with her faith in the Gospel.

Guest host Kylan Rice is a producer for BYU Radio, a poet, and a student of English literature. He also contributes, as a guest writer, to the blog, which seeks to “provide a safe, fair, and balanced space to discuss the complexities, difficulties, and beauty of the Mormon tradition.”


  1. Pingback: Kylan Rice's interview of Margaret Young - Rational Faiths

  2. Kay Draper

    Great podcast, Margaret! I can relate to everything you say; I pretty much think just like you do, including on polygamy. Also, I can recite “Whose Woods These Are” by heart, too. How strange is that? Only–I think they should have had you and Bruce singing “Come Thou Font” at the beginning and end, I remember how Bruce used to sing it, and since you are singer, it would have been cool. Oh, Margaret, also, I did not know that we are exactly the same age. That was interesting also. Thanks for your work, your friend, Kay

  3. Scott

    Really love Margaret Young. When I was on my mission in Washington D.C., my companion and I took a struggling new convert to a fireside that Margaret spoke at with Darius Grey. They both did a wonderful job, and our new member was deeply touched.

    Margaret’s husband, Bruce, was also my Shakespeare professor at BYU. I was always impressed with the great love and deep respect that he had for his wife.

  4. Erik

    I very much appreciated this interview.

    One thing I would like to discuss a little more is inoculation for missionaries. Margaret mentioned that she refused to show the documentary that she produced to missionaries because they have more important things to do. I’ve seen the documentary and I can’t imagine a more beneficial use of a missionary’s time than to understand the nuances and history of the blacks and the priesthood.

    As someone who served in the South, I was often confronted with questions about the priesthood and temple ban. Because I had a very limited understating of the policy I was unable to adequately answer the many questions that I was asked. I discovered that merely saying “I don’t know” was usually unsatisfying. Even worse, because I was not inoculated to the history, I could not inoculate the blacks that I would teach. Many would find out just after or before their baptism from people unfriendly to the Church. This would often lead to the disaffection of recent black converts because they would feel as if they were withheld important information, especially in light of the unflinching obedience to the leaders (whom we are told will never lead us astray) that the Church asks of its members. They would feel lied too, swindled, and angry and they would often lose all trust in the Church. The feelings about the racist policy plus the feelings of betrayal were often enough to stamp out any sprouting seed of faith. At this point we can’t change what happened, but one thing we can do is be completely forth write and honest about some of the problematic parts of our past to the investigators. While the inoculation may be enough for some investigators to stop seeing the missionaries, at least that would help eliminate the feelings of being swindled and help those who do get baptized to have a more complete understanding of the Church that they are signing up for.

    Although, I understand that some people think that if we are completely upfront about past problems then no one would ever join the Church and many of those already in the Church would have a difficult time having much faith in the leaders. We are kind of in a difficult spot.

    1. Thank you so much, Scott. I remember that DC meeting vividly. That was under Pres. Price, right?
      I should say that the missionaries in my branch did get the BP’s permission for a meeting with me. We did it on a fast Sunday, so we had lots of time. I didn’t go deeply into the controversies, but focused a lot on Pres. Hinckley’s 2006 talk. The biggest thing in our way right now is the perpetuation of past teachings. As I said in the podcast, word has not gotten out of the church statements condemning racism, and many who hear the words fail to recognize how comprehensive racism is. I am pleased by the direction we’re going, and also appreciate the hesitancy to come out and say, “We were wrong.” But at some time, as I said in the podcast, we will have to have a “naming of parts” when it comes to racism.

  5. Kay–Bruce and I sing “Come Thou Font” frequently. We go to my parents’ place on Sunday and sing for my dad. That’s one of our favorites. And I love that you know “Whose woods these are.”
    And I always love hearing from my daughter’s mother-in-law, who we admire so much. Kylan Rice, who did the interview, is a former student of mine and one of the most gifted poets I have ever taught. It was so fun to have him be the one asking the questions! I thought he did a great job.

  6. Erin

    This was a great interview and I really look forward to seeing the documentary.

    I have a question. I remember listening to Terryl Givens interview on Mormon Stories and he said that Spencer W. Kimball said something like “If we have sinned in this policy, please forgive us” in a prayer, and that was the closest thing we had to a public apology for this policy. I am really curious if you know of any reference for this. I find the statement extremely comforting–that he may have been thinking that we had been wrong all along and our racism had been a sin. I yearn for an acknowledgment of this policy as not being from God and would love to have some reference to this prayer as it may be the only acknowledgement we get.

  7. Erin, is this the quote you’re thinking of? It’s from Edward Kimball’s biography of his father. Pres. Kimball said this in 1963: “The doctrine or policy has not varied in my memory. I know it could. I know the Lord could change his policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error which brought about the deprivation.”

    1. Erin

      I don’t think it was the one Terryl Givens was referring to but it has a similar message. He said the statement was in a prayer but didn’t give any reference or setting for it. Since we usually have no written record of prayers I am not sure where he got the statement or how to look it up. But I think the statement you quoted is helpful to me. Just that he is acknowledging that it could have possibly been an error.

  8. Kevin

    An excellent interview here. Great questions, Kylan, and one of the best technical recordings I can remember in the Mormon Stories archive.

    Thank you Margaret, for following your large, generous heart against the tide of racism masking as doctrine in the Church. The story of you and your seminary teacher was extraordinary. Your perspective is useful to me. I realize I can stop nurturing my disdain for Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie on this issue and simply let them take their places as public expressions of a much larger cultural tradition.

    As a long-time Mormon Stories listener your original interviews with Darius and John Dehlin were part of a sudden expansion of my perspective on the Church that included interviews about Masonry and the Church, gay members of the Church and modern day polygamists. What a delight to hear from you again. I loved your quoting Frost. My maternal grandmother had me spellbound once as a boy when she recited Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha for me.

    1. Thank you, Kevin! Coincidentally, I’ve just written a bit about “Hiawatha” for an upcoming review of _The Color of Christ_. I used to read it to my children. I think the version I had won the Caldecott. Gorgeous illustrations.
      We still have a long ways to go with the race issue in the church. So grateful to have devoted teammates!

  9. matt

    Nice interview. I particularly enjoyed learning in detail the history of the church’s former position of excluding black people. While I agree with you that clarifying statements made by more contemporary church leaders may feel comforting I have to say, it seems like you avoided the most important questions. Including…

    If the origin of the policy is unknown what is preventing the church from formally apologizing for uninspired and cruel statements made by the people you believe were prophets?

    If Adam and Eve were the first inhabitants of the earth and they were white, where did blacks come from?

    John Brown and a few others got slavery right, and they were contemporaries of JSJ and BY. Why didn’t god enlighted the folks that called themselves his prophets?

    Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that JSJ and BY and the rest even down to the current day were and are just men, operating with same (sometimes deep) character flaws like the rest of us and only to the light of their own understanding? They’re not prophets and we shouldn’t place them on a pedestal above ourselves. They don’t deserve it and maybe they don’t even want it.

  10. Matt, I have no way of knowing why the Church makes or does not make certain statements. I don’t think a formal apology is needed. I do think a repudiation of the myths which undergirded the policy is.
    Why do you think Adam and Eve were white?
    Yes, prophets are just men, but I believe they do have a mantel. I alluded to “revelations” I’ve had as a mother, which I have a right to. I do not have a right to revelation for the Church’s direction.
    You might want to do a bit more research about Joseph Smith Jr and his evolving attitudes towards race. Check out

    1. B Jensen

      How can you say that an apology is not needed? Does the church not teach that confession and restitution are required for forgiveness?

      How can a church led by God engage in institutional racism, have scriptures full of racism, have so-called prophets and leaders teaching racism? I do not know how you can continue to support the LDS church with the knowledge you have.

  11. CanuckAussie

    Was it really necessary to flippantly belitte the entire experience of those of us who have left the church, by saying “it’s always the same 10 issues”? Firstly, each of those issues is huge. Racism and a church that lied about it and continues to lie is a huge issue. Polygamy and a church that lied about it and continues to lie is a huge issue. Likewise with all the other eight issues. Most of us have studied these issues deeper and with a more open mind than 99.99% of members have ever considered. We know that it is our salvation that was at risk if we were wrong. We would be just slightly ahead of sons of perdition and would suffer for at least 1000 years under Mormon teachings. So we HAVE to be sure about the conclusions we have come to. And it isn’t just ten huge issues. It is thousands of issues. Upon study I found that not one single foundational element that I was taught was as it was taught. Everything I was taught requires bizarre twisted apologetic reasoning, or as you have done – just put it on the shelf. I’m sorry, but studying something out as if your soul is on the line returns more truth than putting things on a shelf and following the party line.

    1. Canuck Aussie–I apologize for sounding flippant. My topic was pretty well-focused, and I didn’t want to detour into the difficult issues anyone who investigates deeply will find. I don’t think our salvation is at risk if we’re wrong about a great many things. We will not be given a test to see how many things we got completely right, but will have become either loving and compassionate or something else. The truth is, there is no orthodox Mormon religion because each being interprets it through their own experience. Each imagines a different Christ. Each understands the atonement differently. If we can simply love each other in our imperfections and seek great understanding, we’ll do fine.

    1. BJensen

      Yes, I see your point – the church desperately needs members like you and Darius. I just think that neither you nor Darius need the church. But I am very thankful that there are outspoken people like you, Darius, and John that are speaking out and making a difference.

      1. matt

        Hi Margaret,
        There’s also the item where minutes after you declare “your mission thing” (I interpreted you to mean “your mission statement”) as DON’T NURTURE FEAR, you admit that you don’t want to name out the 10 items because you’re afraid listeners will go look them up. That confused me.
        As an apostate, I agree with Canuck Aussie. I thought your “predictable” statement was belittling and a confusing reversal that came in the final minute of a very informative, even empathetic hour-long interview. No rational person can believe that finding out that JSJ, in his thirties, pressured young teenage girls to marry him is equivalent to finding out your mother didn’t ever wipe down the bottom shelf. When the church correlates its educational material is that not nurturing fear?
        So you know, JSJ’s flaws didn’t drive me from the church, but black and gender inequality are among several philosophical problems that convince me I can’t participate. If you think the likes of you and Darius Gray can turn the ship, more power to you. In the meantime, I have decided to spend my resources, have defined my morality a little more along the lines of the sermon on the mount, something that the current church leadership has overlooked.

  12. Joseph McKnight

    Margaret and Mormon Stories Producers: Thank you very much for your time and efforts. I spend many of my lunch hours listening and/or watching and you, Margaret, did a superb job in this one of giving us a look at your expertise on the Mormon race issues. I was troubled, though, like some comments above suggest, about all the other issues and how you yourself deal with them. Perhaps studying to the depth that you have on the race issue is what is needed in coming to better understand all the other issues that exist. But, I still came away from listening to you talk thinking that Mormons are so very far away from knowing anything about any issue that is troublesome. I wish I were a better writer, but I mean the plain, old ward member I deal with on a daily basis as an active (though doubting) member myself is so unaware and so gullible as to believe everything that falls from the lips of the current general authorities (as well as the past ones), that it seems like such a huge gap exists in the Church. So very sad that even well-educated members are so “conservative” (and I don’t mean politically) in their way of thinking that they don’t even know there are any issues. It seems so many members have developed a closed mind that doesn’t even ask any questions. Perhaps I’m generalizing people too much, but I just feel such a huge gap between you and most members. I admire you, Margaret, for your work and your willingness to stay. I seem to be wavering between staying and going, and I suppose it is people like you who keep me wanting to stay. Thank you.

  13. David

    I really enjoyed the first part of the podcast. It was interesting to see how unsure people were about the policy and how then it came to be seen as an absolute doctrine of the church over time. I am actually kind of upset over the end of the podcast though. I think what bugs me is how patronizing even “liberal” Mormons can be about us apostates who have got caught up in unimportant issues. We are just soooo predictable. She won’t even list what some of the predictable issues are because she is afraid people will research them. Well I think it is every person’s right to research whatever issues they want and decide for themselves if the issue is important or not. So much for not being afraid. I also have to take issue with her comparison to her skills as a mother and perhaps not cleaning up as well as she should sometimes but her kids still love her for all the good things she does. I think the church does good things in service to others and by developing a community. But a more apt comparison for some of the things church leaders have done in the past and continue to do would be a mother who beats her children. Should the kids just say, “Oh yes my mother did beat me everyday but it isn’t all bad. She also bought me a chocolate bar sometimes when we went grocery shopping.” The blacks and the priesthood issue is probably the biggest evidence to me that priesthood leaders have no clue what they are doing and are not in communication with God in any meaningful way. I see absolutely no reason to continue to participate in the church as currently organized. There is no way I am going to donate 10% of my income with no public accounting and just trust the funds are all spent according to God’s will because these men claim to be prophets. Also as a gay person I am not going to live alone my whole life or get married to a woman just because prophets say that is what I should do. I am perfectly happy to let Ms. Young continue to participate in the church because she likes some of the doctrines and finds some sort of spiritual fulfillment there. I just wish she wouldn’t be so dismissive of people like me who choose to leave.

  14. Reading the wise words in EXII of so many of you who communicate with each other tohurgh blogs and other electronic methods, makes me sadly conscious of all that I am missing that goes back and forth between you. It makes me happily conscious, however, of how much wider this Mormon feminist network is that it was when we only communicated with one another by mail. Hurrah for the new EXII! Hurrah for the editors! I am rereading my new issue and savoring every moment. The color is so exciting.

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