The Bott Gaffe: A Chronology [Updated 6Mar12 9:45p]

Randy Bott

Randy Bott

Since Wednesday, when I read the Washington Post article that cited BYU Professor Randy Bott, I have been surprised at two elements of the news and commentary I’ve read about it. First, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the unanimity of the response—no one that I’ve seen has tried to defend the ideas that Bott expressed. Second, I’ve been surprised at the speed of the official response. If it is possible, the response makes the views expressed by Bott seem anachronistic to Mormonism today. And I hope this response will make clear to those who still maintain some version of these racist views that they are no longer tolerated among Mormons.

In order to gain some sense of how these events occurred, I’ve put together a chronology of the events, and in the process, I think I’ve learned a little about how the reaction to news items like this and who is reacting. I’ll let you make your own conclusions about this chronology, except for two observations that seem important:

First, I am very favorably impressed with FAIR and Mike Parker, who were apparently either first or very early in publishing their reactions to the publication of the article on Tuesday. In addition, the response was quite comprehensive. Best of all, my impression of FAIR was that they usually sought to correct non-Mormons or apostates, not those who would normally be considered orthodox, so the response to the ideas Bott expressed was a very pleasant and welcome surprise.

Second, the online reaction to the article seems to be confined to the bloggernacle and BYU students. I haven’t seen reactions on other blogs, or in many facebook posts or twitter feeds that weren’t somehow also connected to the bloggernacle. While I assume others at BYU and elsewhere noticed the issue and made complaints, they didn’t seem to talk about it online.

[FWIW, I’ve chosen to call this a “gaffe” because I think the term best fits the events. On twitter the hash tag has been “Bottgate,” but I think that term is unnecessarily harsh, giving a sense of intentional criminality that is certainly not here.]

Please feel free to add to the information below in the comments, and I’ll try to update the post as I can.


  • Bott has expressed these ideas before on his blog. (see on Blacks and the Priesthood – pdf of blog post from Bott’s “Know Your Religion” blog from 2008)
  • Bott will retire in 2 1/2 months
  • A 2008 Deseret News article reports that as many as 10% of all BYU students take his classes, especially his popular Mission Prep class.
  • The same article indicates that in 2008 he led the nation in ratings on the Rate My Professor service (link is to Bott’s page).


[Times are those stated on the item as I saw it, or on the comments or replies to that item when a time isn’t given. I have ignored time zones.]

  • BYU Religion Professor Randy Bott gives an interview (reportedly 2 hours long) to Jason Horowitz of the Washington Post.

28 February 2012

29 February 2012

1 March 2012

2 March 2012

[all added after 3 Mar 2012 00:30 am]


3 March 2012

[all added after 4 Mar 2012 11:10 am]


5 March 2012

[all added after 6 Mar 2012 9:30 pm]


6 March 2012

[all added after 6 Mar 2012 9:30 pm]

48 comments for “The Bott Gaffe: A Chronology [Updated 6Mar12 9:45p]

  1. Kent, thanks for putting this together. It’s amazing how fast this all has happened; I am curious, though, how widely (beyond the online world) this controversy has been noticed. But, because I’ve been immersed in the bloggernacle response, I don’t really have any sense of its absolute scope.

  2. I believe I saw Joanna Brooks tweets about the WaPo article early in the chronology on the 28th, even before any posts in the Bloggernacle. It was around noon Pacific time that I saw it.

  3. Sonny, I just looked and Joanna’s first tweet was abt the FAIR article–which would have been middle of the afternoon Tuesday in CA

  4. Thanks for putting this together. I might add that Rachel Cope’s post [], though not directly mentioning Bott was inspired by recent events, posted at 7:27 am the 29th, and Paul Reeve’s post last night, March 1, at 8:30 pm [] was in response.

  5. I’m not a regular at this blog, but I came here from a Twitter link where I’ve been following the Bott imbroglio avidly. Some of you wondered whether Bott’s comment and the reaction have been noticed outside of the usual Mormon blogs. Last night at stake bishopric meeting in my conservative, rural Colorado stake, our stake president passed around copies of the Salt Lake Tribune article and the church’s press release so that the bishops could be aware of the church’s position. It wasn’t quite like a letter read from the pulpit, but I was happy to see it.

  6. Here is the thing I’ve been reading by the few non-Mormons I have run into, and in a way I agree. There were these teachings and by prominent leaders of the LDS Church, Brigham Young or Joseph Smith (I don’t believe that it started with him. Those who cite the Book of Mormon are misinterpreting) were first, but it continued all the way up to and beyond Kimball. Do I believe what Bott said? No, but those few who have mentioned this outside of the bloggernacle see it as another cover up; this time by both the leadership of the LDS Church and its more liberal members (although they don’t make the distinction between liberal and conservative). Only a few voices sure, but it is out there.

  7. Kent,

    I finally have a few moments to actually look at Joanna’s tweets instead of going off of memory. Here first was at 12:40 (Pacific?) and reads:

    “Article from Wash Post on racism & mormonism reveals racist nonsense still being taught by BYU faculty. Shameful.”

  8. This is helpful…I have been out of the loop and thought catching up was hopeless, but thi is a concise guide.

  9. Another thank you for this chronological compilation.

    Digital media has definitely changed the pace and direction of things. I can’t help but to think about Mormon’s words: “…all things which are hid must be revealed upon the house-tops.”

    It is becoming more and more difficult to hide what is going on within LDS walls and the notorious discrepancy between that and how we want to be perceived by others.

    The key to being perceived in a certain way is to be that certain way.

    I am glad this happened, and I hope it continues to happen more and more, because I doubt Bott is a unique rarity. I have a feeling he may be the tip of an iceberg. I also hope the enablers around him will share some of the spot light too.

  10. Kent (OP) Best of all, my impression of FAIR was that they usually sought to correct non-Mormons or apostates, not those who would normally be considered orthodox

    I’ve not had time to be associated with FAIR in quite some time but it’s been my experience that they have always been equal opportunity. Back when I was answering questions with them I’d say correcting false doctrine from “orthodox” sources probably was more common than correcting anti-Mormon attacks. The old saying, “with friends like these who needs enemies” has long been true. Especially with regards to theories about the Book of Mormon. Mike’s speed and answers seem quite in keeping with what I’ve seen of FAIR since the beginning.

    Kent (OP) Second, the online reaction to the article seems to be confined to the bloggernacle and BYU students.

    I’m not sure that’s true either depending upon how broadly you define “bloggernacle.” I’m not a big Facebook person so I can’t comment there but I’ve seen lots of articles in major secular sites with Mormons chiming in heavily in the comments to such. Certainly on Twitter I’ve seen a lot, although most haven’t used the hashtag you mention. (I hate hashtags myself) Links to Nate’s story in the DN was passed along a lot.

    Interestingly the responses all seem pretty consistent. Most have a knee jerk assumption Bott would be fired for this. Then there’s a minority view which worries about what Bott will be going through for these ill considered conceptions. I think there are some parallels to Steve Jones’ 9/11 conspiracy theories. A lot depends upon how Bott himself responds. But I understand he was retiring anyway so the academic freedom issues probably won’t pop up the way they did with Jones.

  11. Very glad to see the consistent responses across the spectrum and it’s interesting to see the timeline.

    I note, incidentally, that though you say the term Bottgate is uncharitably harsh and accusatory, the “Notes From All Over” section here at T&S features the term prominently.

  12. FAIR has been addressing this for over a decade with articles, speakers and It remains a prime concern. Scott Gordon had sent out “Three Mormon Myths About Blacks and the Priesthood” through our FAIR Journal which has thousands of subscribers. It was posted on the FAIR blog the 25th. If anyone has anything to add or correct on it would be appreciated.

  13. FAIR is a pretty diverse group actually. So it’s best not to make assumptions.

  14. Keith, I used the term in a couple of links in the Notes From All Over list, and while I agree it’s not the best term, it might be what we end up with. Suggestions for a better term are welcome. “Bott Gaffe” as used in the title to this post isn’t going to work: this wasn’t a gaffe, he’s been teaching this stuff for decades.

  15. Ardis has a great post today at Keepa that puts a human face on the discussion of racism in our faith community. Full disclosure: Gabe is a good friend of mine and KerbearRN.

    In His Own Words

  16. I kinda like Bottulism (Mark Brown from BCC). Bc it is a poison… And seems to have created some lockjaw too…

  17. Thanks for your kind words, Kent. I’m glad to see that the response against the old folklore has been so swift.

    I have nothing but compassion for Professor Bott. I’m sure he’s a good man who just never moved past the old explanations and stepped into a minefield without realizing it. I’m curious to know how he ended up being contacted by the Post — the are dozens of people better qualified to speak on this subject.

  18. I realize you probably couldn’t pin this down to a minute unless you use your own FB feed as representative, but it might be nice to add a line about individual denunciations beginning to appear at FB almost as soon as the WaPo article went up. Otherwise, your timeline suggests that there really wasn’t any reaction at all for, what, eight hours? I’ve never seen such an immediate, massive, unanimous explosion of protest by individuals and it would be nice to acknowledge that.

    That quibble aside, I appreciate the timeline and agree with you that it reinforces how dramatically sudden everything was.

  19. While I certainly don’t condone Bott’s blunder on the one hand, or Bott-bashing on the other, these kind of stories bring to the surface the symptoms of a deeper societal malaise. In a culture obsessed with race, gender, sexuality and equality, not to mention competition, status and money, those that watch for iniquity and make a man an offender for a word will have their work cut out for them. Although their diagnoses may not be popular, living prophets prescribe lasting remedies (not theological bandaids) for the maladies of modernity as well as the diseases of deseret.

  20. Kent, I was surprised at the Church’s speedy response, too (not so much at the Bloggernacle’s unanimous outrage). But there’s a third thing that everyone seems to be missing. (I keep waiting for someone to pick up on it, but I haven’t seen anything yet.) The third thing that surprises me is that nobody has tried to figure out what else Prof. Bott said.

    When I read Prof. Bott’s comments in the article, my first thought was not, “omg-i-can’t-believe-he’s-such-an-evil-racist!!!” Rather, “Uh oh, I bet a lot of those comments were pieced together from a larger conversation.”

    Sure enough, Prof. Bott said he talked with the reporter for a couple hours. A COUPLE OF HOURS! As soon as I found that out, I knew we were missing some information — a whole lot of it.

    I have conducted journalistic interviews, and I have been interviewed (and misquoted) myself. I know how easy it is to take snippets of what was said, from different parts of a conversation, and construct a story that the source might not intend (or even believe). As an interviewer, it can be exhilarating to hear a sentence you know is going to make some fantastic copy. Journalists gain an ear for what’s good, and when you catch a glint of gold in an interview, it’s awesome. It’s very easy to make note of those sentences (there should be plenty in a two-hour conversation), and piece them back together afterwards to mean something different, whether intentional or not.

    Now I have no way of knowing that this DID happen. But I do know, from my own experience, that it easily CAN and DOES happen.

    (Point of clarification: I never took a class from Prof. Bott. I am not a fanboy. I might have met him once or twice in passing. I’m NOT defending his published words from the article. I am defending the other 1:59 hours’ worth of his unpublished words.)

    I feel bad for Prof. Bott. Based on what I know of him, I imagine he probably feels humiliated and horrible for any pain his printed words caused, or for any damage to the Church’s reputation. When he says “I wish I could explain what I really said,” I hear a sorrowful man, trapped on the one side by his own hand-picked lines that are now etched in newsprint, and on the other side by his love for the Church and his loyalty to the request to not say anything more. I bet we’d be a lot less judgmental if we could read the full two-hour transcript.

    And that brings me to the fourth thing, which surprised me most of all.

    There’s been plenty of finger-pointing and name-calling; bloggers and commenters seem to be stumbling over themselves to see who can be more bitterly clever, creating sharp and witty barbs like “Bottulism”. From anonymous bloggers you’d expect as much. But I was especially surprised to see respectable Mormon scholars come out of the woodwork to denounce a fellow teacher — some of the same academics who spend their lives trying to clarify things that have been erroneously reported or taken out of context. Oh, the irony!

    I thought we Mormons were more charitable and forgiving and understanding. I thought that because we have a long and inglorious history of being misrepresented, misunderstood, and misquoted, we might have had just a smidgen more generosity in this case. It seems the righteous indignation came out in full force instead.

    In everyone’s frantic efforts to distance ourselves from an awkward history, it seems we have carelessly tossed a good man under the bus, brushing aside the possibility that a handful of lines, plucked from a two-hour conversation might — just might! — hold a different meaning than was intended and might not even be what Prof. Bott actually said or even believes. (Hard to fathom, I know.) And so, full of presumption, yet void of information, judgments and condemnation are rained down on Prof. Bott’s head.

    Where are the advocates? Where are the defenders of an apparently misquoted man? Why such eagerness to bring down a fellow Saint? In the midst of all this outrage, I find myself wondering: if Mormons claim to be the most Christian of Christians, the very models of Christianity, the ones who strive to receive the image of Christ himself in their countenances, where are they now?

    Again, I don’t defend the words that were printed in the article; just the possibility that Prof. Bott didn’t mean what those words said. I believe all of us would benefit from increased understanding and generosity before we solidify our opinions, and more leniency and charity before we hand down our rulings to those we feel justified to judge.

  21. Have you seen the screen captures and other saved files from Prof. Bott’s now defunct blog, Jonovitch? No matter how many statements he made to the reporter that didn’t make it into the WaPo article, what did make it in is exactly in accord with his own statements on his own blog, which stood without disavowal or editing until after the WaPo article appeared. You’ll have to make a more definite case than “maybe” to explain how he could have written those things on his public blog, and yet have been misquoted by the journalist for saying exactly the same things.

  22. Amen, Ardis. There is no doubt that he wasn’t misquoted as to content or meaning, since he had said the exact same things previously.

  23. It has occurred to me that perhaps the WaPo writer cherry-picked Bott to interview as the rep for the church’s POV precisely because of his blog. It’s possible that he wanted the most inflammatory statements that he could find regarding the priesthood ban, and found his man in Bott. I’ve seen a lot of snark lobbed at Prof. Bott, mostly directed at his statements, but I’ve also seen sympathy for his predicament, and even some misguided defense of his position, which is, imo, indefensible. I think the most christian way is to include Bott as one of us, like we should all [us] sinners. I don’t think he’s been thrown under the bus by anyone with any real power over him. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t allowed to retire according to his plan, with full benefits and only a small PR blemish on his record, as long as he keeps quiet.

    When I think about what charitable sympathy and understanding is needed here, Bott isn’t who comes to mind, but rather the [far too few] black brothers and sisters that I know who honor their covenants in spite of this imperfect church we all share, which we could improve for them if we only would undergo a bit more self-examination. I hate to see their tolerance for this judgmental nonsense getting another painful exercise. Could we meet their needs first, and then see what can be done to ease the suffering of Mr. Bott?

  24. I’m quite sure that I could have spoken to a reporter from the Washington Post for a lot more than two hours without ever giving him a chance to steal from my words a single hint that Blacks were denied the priesthood because they (unlike me) were unready for it, that they were members of a race cursed by God, that they were really better off without the responsibility that comes with the priesthood. So, to add to Ardis’s point–that Bott’s ugly statements were of a piece with his blog (or did he misquote himself on his own blog?)–I ask: why on earth would Bott say anything at all on those subjects? The only possible context in which he might have been justified in saying them would be “this was the type of justification that was given, but such justifications are all wrong.” And then, just to make sure that the reporter didn’t understand, he should have added “and we don’t believe any of that. Do you understand?”

    And I coined “Bott-ulism” (don’t let Mark Brown steal the credit) because the words that Bott spoke are as deadly a poison as anything in a bad batch of canned peas. And just as the whole lot of bad peas must be recalled and destroyed, so too the horrible words and ideas that Bott spoke must be completely recalled and destroyed.

    If the man had any integrity, he wouldn’t need to be fired, or thrown under any bus. He’d resign. And let’s stop worrying about a “good man maligned.” He maligned a whole race–and probably thinks that he had their best interests in mind.

    And don’t bother us with nonsense about his being a man of a certain age. My father was two decades older than Bott, grew up in an even more isolated Mormon town, full of settlers from the south who had brought their slaves to Utah with them, and was a professor at BYU–but he was a real academic with a real graduate degree–and he taught me when I was a child, years before 1978, that the myths Bott spouted were not doctrine, and not to be believed. So, where has Bott been the past 50 years?

  25. “It has occurred to me that perhaps the WaPo writer cherry-picked Bott to interview as the rep for the church’s POV precisely because of his blog.”

    It could be. But Bott is a highly respected religion professor at BYU. Unfortunately his explanation does actually represent a commonly-held view by Mormons.

    “I’ve seen a lot of snark lobbed at Prof. Bott, mostly directed at his statements, but I’ve also seen sympathy for his predicament.”

    His statement is intolerable. I firmly believe that we as LDS in this day in age, especially when our religion is under increasing scrutiny because of Mitt Romney’s campaign, have a duty to shout down these types of racist justifications for denying blacks privileges in the church. Failure to do so tarnishes the church’s image, even the church’s PR branch knows this. Bott needs a wake-up call to reality, I have no sympathy for him.

  26. Now that I’m finally back home, I’ve updated the chronology extensively (all new items marked with when they were added). I think I’ve gotten everything I know of (although, I haven’t quite been able to fill the gap of Facebook posts about the Washington Post article as Ardis suggests that I should — apparently those posts weren’t public (so I can’t read them) and weren’t made by any of my friends. There is still a 3 hour gap before the first Facebook post, and a full 6 hours before the 2nd.

    I don’t think I will search for anything more myself, but I’m willing to add anything that others pass on either in the comments or in other messages to me personally.

    I’m glad so many found it useful and informative. I’ll try to do it again for future news stories that strike my fancy or seem particularly important.

    At least, this exercise may prove useful for some future academic or journalist looking for that “first draft of history” that was long claimed to exist in journalism.

  27. Brad, fwiw I wasn’t criticizing the snark directed at his statements, just remarking that I have seen a lot of it. I’m pleased to see those views shouted down. It’s been good for my own learning curve, and for LDS members who share his beliefs (I don’t), I hope they’ve had a few eye-opening moments. Him personally? He doesn’t need my sympathy. If he’s the popular professor and all-around nice guy some claim him to be, he’ll survive.

  28. Late-breaking addition: On February 29, at 9:38 pm, I squirmed when a woman in the checkout at Walmart said Bott was “racial.”

    Next on Times & Seasons: the minute by minute saga of students being called out for honor code violations and sexual indiscretions of Elder’s Quorum presidencies.

  29. At first, when I saw the WaPo article, I thought, “he’s been explaining the reporter how some members have excused the policy. I was exasperated, anyway, because we’re seeing quite enough false info, thank you. A BYU Prof!? I don’t know whether I was more upset or incredulous.

    Anyway, I was happy that so many, including the official Church newsroom came against the ideas presented there. Lately, it seems we’ve been going a bit strong on Prof. Bott instead of looking at the wider LDS community.

    I know I was sold the same load of crap by missionaries when I was on my mission 30 years ago. I also ran into a fair number of LDS people who had some sort of hang-up about this during that time (either that it used to be banned or that it wasn’t banned any longer).

    Anyhow, when I read Prof. Bott’s blog post that the OP linked to, it seems he didn’t really go into his belief in the matter, but rather defended the historical practise with sophism. He doesn’t go into the scriptures he brought up for the WaPo piece, so I’m not sure whether that’s the way he himself would interpret them. (I more or less quickly scanned through, so I may have missed it.)

    For the last ten years or so visiting LDS-related ‘net discussions, I’ve said that racism is alive and well in the Churhc, although I don’t know how big a portion of membership are racist. But it was a live-wired issue, which got me banned from a couple of boards. Those Mormons didn’t like to be reminded.

    And this brings me to the actual point I wished to make: This debacle could serve as something that would finally bring the issue to daylight, so that the racist portion would have to either own it up or then rethink the issue.

    Or then it creates another outbreak called “The real LDS Church” or something, as wedge issues have done before.

  30. Alison (34), perhaps you could explain why this post annoys you so much? Who knows, I may agree with you and never do it again!! [GRIN]

  31. Fwiw, my final take on the overall situation and Prof. Bott individually was influenced greatly by Sistas in Zion’s wonderful post (“What A-Bott Black Mormons”) and John C’s post at BCC about facing his own learned racism growing up in the South. I wrote it late last night:

    “The Atonement of Jesus Christ: Powerful Enough to Cover All, Including Those Who Believe(d) Racist Falsehoods” (

  32. It’s time for the Church to formally apologize for the spiritual apartheid that was the priesthood ban. Bott is just a product of the ban’s racist legacy. Enough is enough.

  33. Adam,

    Please don’t throw words like “apartheid” around indiscriminately. Bott’s views are just relics of the past. Most active LDS don’t buy into the racist claptrap.

  34. Apartheid is an appropriate word. I’m active LDS, and I know most of us don’t buy into racist claptrap – but that’s just what the ban was. It’s time to repudiate it fully, without the wishy washy PR speak.

  35. I am saddened by both (1) Prof. Bott’s statements–even if my fever-swamped reaction aligns with those who have suspect that this was, to some degree at least, a knowing set up for the Washington Post reporter (because that’s really no excuse) and (2) the smug reaction of many in the blogosphere and elsewhere who have jumped at the opportunity to re-hash and reiterate (many for the umpteenth time or more) their own moral superiority. Neither is becoming. Would that more who feel compelled to write something could be as charitable and as well avoid hysteria as Prof. Daniel C. Peterson managed to do early on. Unfortunately, at least from my benighted perspective, a lot of what’s been written is little more than piling on and chest-thumping (but I’ve stopped reading).

  36. @CarlH Since you’ve stopped reading, you may not see my comment, but I just want to say I wholeheartedly agree with your comment, especially part 2. Thank you. I think I am done reading, too.

  37. In case Ardis, Ray, or anyone else is still reading this thread, I just heard this bumper sticker quotation from Elder Uchtdorf: “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you do.”

    This statement (and the rest of his wonderful General Conference talk) is exactly what I was talking about. Just because Prof. Bott made a mistake doesn’t mean the rest of us have the right or responsibility to judge and condemn him.

    Kindness, gentleness, forgiveness. Those are the only ways to heal the wounds of the past.

Comments are closed.