One of my favorite episodes of the science fiction TV series Firefly is the “Jaynestown” episode. In it, a self-serving mercenary of questionable moral character ends up visiting a planet he has been to before. In the past, he’d attempted to rob the local aristocrat, but in the process of making a get-away, he had to jettison the money, dropping it over a village of oppressed laborers in the process. The villagers didn’t know, however, that it was an accident or that Jayne had fully intended to keep the money for himself rather than sharing it with them, so by the time the Firefly crew visits the town, Jayne had become a local hero, a Robin Hood figure honored by a statue. Distressed by this undeserved adulation, Jayne tries to convince the local folks that they shouldn’t look up to him, but they refuse to accept that he is not the legend they have made him out to be, with one of the villagers even sacrificing his life to save Jayne’s life. At the end of the episode, once the crew has left the planet, Jayne discusses his distress with the captain, Mal, who tells him that: “It’s my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sommbitch or another.”
These days aren’t particularly good times to be a statue. With the recent renaissance of the civil rights movement working to root out racism that has been deeply embedded in the structures of western culture for centuries, statues depicting men who were connected to slavery or other forms of racism have been defaced and even torn down. In the United States of America, politicians and military officers of the Confederacy as well as statues of Christopher Columbus and Juan de Oñate have been the main targets, being viewed as monuments of slavery and colonialism. In the UK, statues of men involved in the slave trade (notably Edward Colston and Robert Milligan) and politicians who opposed abolition of slavery have been facing similar fates, as well as Winston Churchill—the controversial leader of the country during WWII who held racist views. Meanwhile in Belgium, statues of King Leopold II (a nineteenth century monarch who claimed huge swaths of Central Africa and ruled there with a brutal regime) have also been defaced. Attacking statues of controversial figures has become such a thing that Popular Mechanics even ran an article on how to properly topple statues using science. As we face the facts that many of the men who have been honored by statues were “one kind of sommbitch or another,” those with particularly strong ties to racism are being removed, whether through the actions of activists and protesters or the decisions of politicians.
While I feel that many of the figures depicted in statues that are being targeted deserve little sympathy, the issue can be complicated at times, as some of the figures being targeted are also regarded as heroes who made important contributions to society. For example, Winston Churchill held racist views, pursued imperialist agendas, and did some terrible things (such as the decisions that contributed to the 1943 Bengal famine in India or the 1945 bombing of Dresden). Yet, he was also a unifying figure who rallied the British in WWII and helped gain the support of the United States of America in fighting the Axis Powers—becoming a victorious wartime leader who played an important role in defending liberal democracy against fascism. As Dr. Shola Mos-Shogbamimu (lawyer, political and women’s rights activist) put it in a news interview, “I grew up understanding Churchill as one of those leaders who stood up to Adolf Hitler. It’s only when I grew older when I read some of the things he said and the decisions he made with his power, influence and platform that I understood he was a racist. He wasn’t either a great leader or a racist, he was both.” In a BBC news article, author Shrabani Basu stated that “we need to know his darkest hour as well as his finest hour,” noting that she did not want to see the statue removed from Parliament Square, but that people should be taught “the whole story” about the war-time figure. How do we balance and honor the legacy of heroes when they have a bad side along with their good side?
This is pertinent to us as Latter-day Saints, with the legacy of some of our high-profile Church leaders likewise being a mixed bag. President Brigham Young is case A. As a formidable leader who held together the majority of the Saints after the death of Joseph Smith and led them west to colonize the Great Basin region, Brigham Young is as a hero to many Latter-day Saints. As the brief history of the Church, Our Heritage, summed the man up, he was “the dynamic prophet who led modern-day Israel to their promised land. His sermons touched on all aspects of daily life, making clear that religion is part of everyday experience. His understanding of the frontier and his sensible guidance inspired his people to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks as with the blessings of heaven they created a kingdom in the desert.” Church historian Leonard Arrington praised Young’s legacy of creating a “relatively self-sufficient and egalitarian commonwealth of Saints” and a “tradition of Mormon cooperative institutions,” for his “infusion into Mormon doctrine and practice of the necessity of ‘working out one’s salvation,’ by making the earth green and productive and by building better homes and communities” and an “attitude or mind-set that held Mormonism to be synonymous with truth, incorporating scientific and philosophical as well as doctrinal truth,” and for his impressive leadership abilities. While such praise may seem effusive, it cannot be denied that Brigham Young was an important leader of the Church who offered inspiration and direction throughout the difficult task of settling the arid lands of the western United States.
Yet, like Winston Churchill, Brigham Young was racist. As is mildly stated in Saints, Volume 2: “Like other groups of Christians at this time … many white Saints wrongly viewed black people as inferior, believing that black skin was the result of God’s curse on the biblical figures Cain and Ham. … Brigham Young shared some of these views.” He openly talked about his belief that blacks should not be allowed to rule in political or priesthood affairs and was the driving force behind legalizing slavery in Utah Territory in 1852 (which remained the case until June 19, 1862 when slavery was prohibited in territories of the United States of America) and announcing the priesthood ban on men of black African heritage that same year (which remained in place until 1978). And, although his policies towards Native Americans were often more humane than many of his contemporaries, he still directed colonization efforts that robbed Utes, Shoshones, and other tribes of their land and economic base, led war efforts against them when they resisted, and encouraged Latter-day Saints to assimilate Native Americans into white culture. While ecclesiastical discrimination against blacks, arguments in favor of slavery, and the conquest of Native American lands by whites were very much the norm for the time, place, and culture in which Brigham Young lived, as a man regarded as a prophet of God, they are still aspects of his life that Latter-day Saints have to grapple with and disentangle from our religion.
Thus, how should we honor Brigham Young, knowing that, as Mos-Shogbamimu described Churchill, “he wasn’t either a great leader or a racist, he was both”? Should we continue to keep statues of him at Church-owned sites or name our Church-sponsored universities after him? Joanna Brooks, author of the recently-published Mormonism and White Supremacy, for example, has suggested that members of the Church should take a more critical look at the issue of statues and building names during this time that the Black Lives Matter protesters are toppling problematic statues around the world. My personal inclination is similar to the one Shrabani Basu advocated with the Churchill statue, to share the whole story about Brigham Young and other controversial Church leaders, knowing that they were wrong in their words and actions at times, but not to necessary erase their presence in statues because of their problematic side.
In any case, ultimately, I want to hear what everyone else thinks and feels about the subject. How do you feel we should balance the good and bad of historical figures in the Church like President Brigham Young? What do you feel we should do with monuments commemorating them? Why do you feel that way? Let’s discuss.
 Quoted in Alex Hudson, “How Has Winston Churchill Become a Central Figure in the British Black Lives Matter Debate?,” Newsweek 6/17/2020, https://www.newsweek.com/churchill-statue-black-lives-matter-protest-1511361. Accessed 17 June 2020.
 Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1996, 2001, 2006), 95.
 See Leonard Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, paperback edition (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1968), 400-408.
 Saints, Volume 2: No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893 (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2020), 71, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/saints-v2/part-1/05-bowed-down-to-the-grave?lang=eng
 See John Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Cambridge and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 218-229. See also Brooks, Joanna. Mormonism and White Supremacy (pp. 29-40). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. See also “Race and the Priesthood,” Gospel Topics Essay, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.
 As example of the last, he expressed hope that white Latter-day Saints would “take their squaws & dress them up teach them our language & learn them to labour & learn them the gospel of there forefathers & raise up children by them” so that they would, in time, “become A white & delightsome people.” (Cited in John Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet [Cambridge and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012], 210.) See pages 209-218 of the same for an overview of Brigham Young’s relationship with Native Americans.
 “White On Purpose,” from RadioWest, https://films.radiowest.org/film/white-on-purpose?fbclid=IwAR1dpeEZ2AyYW7plj4Um5zvPuvfSSbSdMsI6iPIMxj2ALR6X053gw9q4qtA.