Many people who support the current social justice movement are drawn to it for deeply moral reasons, including a sense of compassion and a desire for fairness and justice. They are concerned with real racial problems such as police brutality, racial profiling, disparities in incarceration rates, and related issues. They feel horror and grief, as we all should, over our nation’s history of slavery, racial violence, and discrimination. They see other troubling forms of discrimination in addition to racism, such as sexism in the workplace, bullying due to sexual and gender identity, and so on.
Critical social justice ideology is the worldview presented as the one true way to interpret these concerns. Informed by critical theory and postmodernism—ideas that developed in academia and then spilled out into society at large—this ideology is in opposition to traditional theory, which uses reason and logic to interpret the world, build on past progress, and address problems. Certainly, the movement fueled by this ideology has led to some positive developments. For example, awareness of certain societal problems has increased. Policies are being examined and new ones implemented.
But is critical social justice ideology actually the one true way? The best way? A small but vocal number of scholars contend that the critical social justice movement is the wrong response and the wrong lens. One might assume that most of the objections are coming from conservative Christians. Interestingly, however, while some influential evangelical Christians are voicing concerns, it seems that the most prominent figures speaking out right now are left-leaning atheists or agnostics—scholars and writers such as James Lindsay, John McWhorter, Coleman Hughes, Helen Pluckrose, Douglas Murray, Bret Weinstein, and others.
I believe that critical social justice ideology—which often operates more like a religious theology—is contrary to Latter-day Saint beliefs in profound ways and therefore should be of particular concern to Latter-day Saints. Some reasons include the following:
It views immutable characteristics such as whiteness as shameful—a type of original sin. In her best-selling book White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo exhorts her white readers to follow her example in striving “to be less white.” She stated in a 2015 radio interview, “Racism comes out of our pores as white people. It’s the way that we are.” In addition to whiteness, characteristics such as being male, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, and so on may render one an oppressor, regardless of his or her actions. By contrast, Latter-day Saint theology explicitly disavows the concept of original sin. As the 2nd Article of Faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” Similarly, Ezekiel 18:20 declares, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”
It promotes group identity over any other identity. Individualism is viewed as part of “white supremacy culture.” Someone with a viewpoint that differs from her or his identity group is viewed as a traitor to her race, gender, class, or other group. Such a person is viewed as having “false consciousness,” or having internalized and identified “with attitudes and ideology of the controlling class,” in the words of critical race theory scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic.
While one’s heritage, culture, and other group identities may rightly be deeply valued and a source of pride, Latter-day Saint theology asserts that one’s identity as a beloved child of heavenly parents is far more important than any other identity. From an early age, Latter-day Saints sing the beloved Primary song “I Am a Child of God.” Latter-day Saint scripture proclaims that “the worth of souls [not groups] is great in the sight of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10). Further, one’s place in God’s kingdom transcends group identity: “He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Ne. 26:33).
The book of 4th Nephi in the Book of Mormon describes a harmonious time when the Nephites and Lamanites lived together in peace because they focused on their common cause as brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than focusing on what divided them: “Neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God” (4 Ne. 1:17).
It asserts that one’s primary focus in life should be to strive for equity. Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, has written about this life purpose: “We can only strive to be ‘antiracist’ on a daily basis, to continually rededicate ourselves to the lifelong task of overcoming our country’s racist heritage.” While Latter-day Saints value equality (see Alma 16:16), they view it and many other important efforts as part of the larger grand purpose of coming unto Christ and being perfected in Him (see Moro. 10:32).
It opposes agency. As stated above, critical social justice ideology is viewed as the only way to interpret and respond to racial problems. Often there are severe consequences for questioning its tenets. Those who critique it are often assumed to be dismissive of racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination. They may be labeled haters and bigots. In our cancel culture environment, friends and loved ones may choose to end relationships with them. They may be deplatformed on social media, fired from their jobs, or lose their social status.
By contrast, Latter-day Saints believe that agency and self-determination are foundational principles and that no one should be forced to think or act in a particular way. As the Prophet Joseph Smith was reported to have said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” In fact, according to Latter-day Saint doctrine, a fundamental reason we are on this earth is to have the opportunity to exercise our agency and learn from our choices. “Ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves” (Hel. 14:30).
It rejects the concept of objective truth. As Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo write, “An approach based on critical theory calls into question the idea that ‘objectivity’ is desirable or even possible.” Evolutionary biologist Shay-Akil McLean said it this way: “To think there are universal truths perpetuates a particular kind of able bodied white cisgender male logic, a world where everything is measured in comparison to them as the ideal type of human that everyone else aberrates from.”
By contrast, Latter-day Saints recognize absolute truth and the value of rationality. “Truth is reason,” proclaimed Eliza R. Snow in her hymn “O My Father.” Elder David A. Bednar declared, “Absolute truth exists in a world that increasingly disdains and dismisses absolutes” (“Come and See,” Ensign, Oct. 2014). Latter-day Saints believe that God is the author of all truth and that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
It rejects authority. “Lived experience” is viewed as the most authoritative source of information, particularly when one is from a group considered to be oppressed due to race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and so on. As philosophy professor José Medina has written, “There is a cognitive asymmetry between the standpoint of the oppressed and the standpoint of the privileged that gives an advantage to the former over the latter. … The perspectives from the lives of the less powerful can offer a more objective view of the social world.”
Certainly, lived experience is important, and we gain insight, compassion, and valuable information as we listen to others’ experiences. Critical social justice ideology, however, asserts that lived experience trumps both objectivity and authority. Therefore, the prophet, apostles, and even scripture may easily be rejected in favor of one’s personal experience, particularly when one is from a group considered to be oppressed.
It emphasizes themes of power and dominance. Sensoy and DiAngelo write: “In any relationship between groups that define one another (men/women, able-bodied/disabled, young/old, White/Black), the dominant group is the group that is valued more highly. Dominant groups set the norms by which the minoritized group is judged.”
Through this lens, life is viewed as a long struggle between groups seeking power and dominance. By contrast, the essence of the gospel is utterly unconcerned with power in a worldly sense. Jesus Christ, the greatest mortal to walk the earth—in fact, the very Creator of the earth—humbly washed the feet of His disciples, exemplifying the principle of servant-leadership. He declared, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23:11).
It promotes division rather than unity. Critical social justice ideology categorizes people into one of two groups: oppressors or the oppressed; victims or the victimized. Proponents of intersectional theory take it a step further by classifying people according to various categories of oppression, including race, gender, age, size, and ability. White people are encouraged to examine every interaction with black people for inevitable signs of racism. As expressed by Carole Schroeder and Robin DiAngelo, “The question is not ‘Did racism take place?’ but rather, ‘In which ways did racism manifest in this specific context?’ ”
This focus on differences inevitably prevents us from finding common ground in our relationships with others.Seeking to unite rather than divide, God commands His people to be one: “If ye are not one ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27). We are to unite in a common cause as the “body of Christ,” in which our differences enable us to strengthen and support one another (see 1 Cor. 12:25-27). We are told that while mortals may focus on the outward appearance, the Lord, whom we are to emulate, “looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
It opposes the principle of self-reliance. Critical social justice ideology encourages people to blame problems on oppressive systems rather than building resilience and recognizing one’s own capability and worth. Yes, systems may need to be corrected and improved and justice sought. And the Church recognizes the role of community institutions in providing assistance to those who are struggling with various challenges. But in doing so, the Church encourages people to rely first on their own efforts, then on family, then on Church and community institutions, all while relying on God’s grace and guidance.
It allows little space for charity, growth, repentance, or forgiveness. This ideology imposes current moral standards and understandings on historical figures, defining people primarily by their worst traits and actions as related to prejudice and injustice. The ideology takes a similar approach with our contemporaries, not allowing people to change and grow. Believing that intentions are unimportant, it encourages people to adopt the most uncharitable, negative interpretations of others’ actions. Latter-day Saint theology, on the other hand, recognizes the need for repentance, mercy, and forgiveness. “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). It recognizes that knowledge and understanding are gained “line upon line, precept on precept” (2 Ne. 28:30).
It minimizes the need for children to be raised by their married biological parents. Queer theorists challenge “heteronormativity” in parenting, which entails support for assisted reproduction that excludes one or both biological parents. The national Black Lives Matter organization seeks to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement” and mentions the important role of mothers several times while not acknowledging fathers—when fathers are so desperately needed in the home. By contrast, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” states: “The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.”
It leads to confusion, chaos, and destruction. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16-17). What are the fruits of this movement? While it has accomplished some good, as mentioned above, it has also resulted in confusion, violence, destruction, even death. For example, it has created confusion by redefining common terms such as racism, white supremacy, fascist, biological sex, and even woman, sometimes to the point of meaninglessness.
Violence has been widespread, with rioters even destroying minority-owned businesses in poor neighborhoods. Statues of historical figures including abolitionists have been toppled and churches vandalized. Worst of all, many lives have been lost. As of July 5, at least 29 people have been killed in riots. Murder and other violent crime rates have spiked in large cities such as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In contrast with such confusion and destruction, the gospel is about order and creation. “Mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8). The gospel enables all who seek God to come closer to Him, the Creator and Giver of Life, the ultimate source of hope and peace.
With all of that said, I believe that the worst feature of critical social justice ideology is that it exploits people’s goodness—even their most Christlike traits, their love and compassion for others. For Latter-day Saints specifically, knowing we have our own painful history to sort through regarding racial issues, this ideology targets our covenantal desire to “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9).
Critical social justice expert James Lindsay said this about this ideology: “I actually think it’s evil. And the reason is … it plays on people’s best nature. It takes good people and twists them to its purpose. And that’s horrible. The whole game is to try to make you a nicer, more caring person. So, it takes your care and turns it into something literally totalitarian. You’re not allowed to disagree with it; anything you say, you get branded with these horrible stigmas. They try to cancel people. It’s literally trying to use people’s best, fairest, most just and caring instincts to make them program into this way of thinking.”
So, what can we do instead of aligning with this bleak worldview, which proposes no long-term solutions other than revolution? We can seek out the perspectives of thoughtful people who have proposed solutions that are not informed by this ideology. We can listen to our sisters and brothers with various experiences and histories. We can pursue objective truth, using data and facts, for it is only when we accurately understand problems that we can effectively address them. And we can recognize that any secular belief system that appears to substitute for religion can only lead us away from Christ.
The gospel helps us to understand that no one need be ashamed of the color of their skin. That each of us is a beloved child of God, known and loved individually, invited without compulsion to come unto Him. That we can be blessed by each other’s differences while focusing on what unites us. That we can learn from the mistakes and sins of those who went before us while celebrating and building upon the progress they made.
The critical social justice movement is not the way to address problems. Any truly effective program or practice will be congruent with the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the author of healing, justice, and mercy. He, in the end, is the Way.