What Do You Do When Brad Wilcox and John Bytheway No Longer Have All the Answers?

Popular speakers and authors Brad Wilcox (left) and John Bytheway (right).

I had several favorite speakers and authors growing up as a teenager in the nineties. One of them was John Bytheway, and another was Brad Wilcox. I would save my money and go to Deseret Book to buy their talks (recorded on cassette tapes) and play them endlessly on repeat. I could probably recite whole sections of them from memory if I sat down and tried. I can hear every voice inflection, every pause for laughter, and every emotional testimony that they bore on these recordings. I thought they were brilliant men. 

I went to each John Bytheway fireside I could possibly drive to, and in college I was thrilled to sign up for his Book of Mormon class at BYU. One day I went up to him after class and tearfully told him how much he’d meant to me during my teenage years. He was kind but brushed it off with a self-effacing joke about how disappointing it must be to take his class now, since his teaching style was so different from the more entertaining way he tries to speak at firesides. I was mildly let down by the interaction because I actually loved his class, and just wanted him to say, “Aw, thanks. That’s such a kind thing for you to say.” Instead he looked uncomfortable and like he wanted to bolt, but it was okay. I thought he was just very humble and still loved his class and took copious notes on every word he said. 

I didn’t meet Brad Wilcox in person until I was a married adult, living in Lehi, Utah. I saw he was the keynote speaker at the kickoff to Lehi Family Week years ago, and I was excited to attend. Afterwards I went up to meet my other idol, and tell him about how he was the soundtrack to my life for years. He was very friendly and told me that he didn’t think anyone even remembered those old talks, and told me a secret that I could now download all of them for free on his website. It was a little better interaction than talking to John Bytheway, because he seemed genuinely happy to hear he’d been helpful to me, but he also made me feel a little out of date still referencing ancient talks that no one had mentioned to him in years. 

Overall my experience with both men was highly positive until around the year I turned thirty, at which point I stopped seeing them as heroes (just like John Bytheway had tried to encourage me to do as his student) and instead saw them more as ordinary men with a knack for public speaking.

This year I turned forty, and both of these men are still speaking and writing for youth. During my thirties I changed my mind about the acceptability of women and girls holding no positions of authority in the hierarchy of a church that impacts their lives so intensely, and it’s been very interesting to me to see what these heroes of my youth have to say about women and the priesthood.

I recently stopped into my local Deseret Book and picked up a new book by John Bytheway from a display stand. I flipped through it and found some pages where he addressed the issue (a topic that I never heard mentioned by him or Brad in my teens or twenties).  Right now a lot of people are viewing Brad Wilcox’s viral video from an Alpine, Utah fireside this past weekend and are shocked at his explicitly racist explanation of the priesthood ban – but I think it’s important to acknowledge that this isn’t the first time it’s been said by a popular youth speaker. Below is the link to what Brad Wilcox said about the priesthood, and I highly recommend you watch the whole segment (both about why Black men didn’t have the priesthood and why women still don’t).  His voice inflections and occasional mocking tone makes it sound very different than just reading it on a page.


At 10:55 he ends by asking, “…Girls, how many of you have ever entered the temple to perform ordinances? Okay, raise your hands. Raise your hands high. Do you realize that you’ve done something that no man on this earth can do? There’s not a male on this planet who can enter a temple to perform ordinances without being ordained. And yet, you just waltz right in! You walk right in. So what is it that sisters are bringing with them from the premortal life that men are trying to learn through ordination? Maybe that’s the question that ought to be keeping us up at night.”

In conjunction with this talk, here is what John Bytheway has already published about the priesthood in his current book for sale at Deseret Book, on page 49:


To those of you who have now watched Brad’s fireside in Alpine, John’s choice of words will sound extremely familiar. Who came up with this idea first? Was it John in his book, Brad in an earlier talk that wasn’t recorded, or was it a high ranking general authority (or even apostle or first presidency member) who gave this message to them and asked them to disseminate it to the public? It seems unlikely that they both spontaneously came up with the exact same response, with almost identical wording, independent of each other. The racism has been discussed widely online, and I will defer to others for that conversation. It’s worth mentioning that Brad Wilcox has already come out and apologized to Black members of the church for the racist remarks, but has yet said nothing in reference to the sexist comments that he made immediately after.

I’m a woman who was raised in the LDS church, and I have two daughters, one attending Young Women’s, and the other in primary. We’re being told that as females, we’re somehow luckier and more special than our male peers because we can just “waltz right in” to the temple whenever we feel like it. Except we can’t. (What is Brad even talking about?) We have to do everything else that a man does to go to the temple. I don’t get a free pass on paying tithing, drinking tea, or skipping my church meetings. I still have to answer temple recommend questions every two years and be interviewed by my male priesthood leaders where I tell them what kind of underwear I wear each day. I have to cross every single hurdle that men have to cross – except for the one that lets me bless my sick children in the middle of the night, preside in a meeting, or see women with authority, independence and final decision making ability. For most of the history of the temple, women (including myself) didn’t make covenants directly with God like the men did, and our entire destiny and eternal potential is a complete mystery because Heavenly Mother is a hidden secret – but because we don’t have to have priesthood ordination to go into the temple, somehow that’s supposed to make it all okay? Are men picked on and persecuted because they get to possess the actual power of the God of the entire universe while girls and women just have to do everything else exactly the same, only minus the power and authority? Oh, my. It must be so hard to be a man.

It was just over a hundred years ago that girls and women were told they were very lucky not to have to deal with politics and voting like the men did. Choosing who to vote for was described as a burden that men took on reluctantly, but heroically. Many women believed that was the case for a very long time, until they realized that it wasn’t true at all. Having power and being involved in decision making (not by just influencing the men in their lives, but by actually having a vote themselves) wasn’t a burden – it was a blessing! Priesthood ordination and true equality for women in the church will likewise not be a burden. It will be the greatest blessing they have ever experienced. If our only consolation prize for not being ordained is that we don’t have to be ordained to go to the temple – that’s a meaningless reward. The current status quo will not be good enough for the next generation of young women. The world has changed since the 1990s. I have changed since the 1990s. Brad Wilcox, John Bytheway, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints *has* to change if they want to stay relevant in the lives of girls and women like myself and my daughters. It’s simply not an option anymore.


  1. That video!! I suspect the people on the stand were glad to have masks on to hide their reactions, although it would have been better to see. So disappointing on every front, Very sad this is being sponsored by a stake. I hope they didn’t realize what he would say prior to the fireside, if they did this is very disturbing.

    • If you weren’t aware, Brad Wilcox is in the General Young Men’s presidency. He wasn’t just a random speaker picked by a member of the local stake- he’s representing the top leadership of the youth from Salt Lake City. It was a tri-stake fireside.

  2. Has this Brad Wilcox fellow changed from when he was younger, because he sounds like a lunatic. I have never heard him before this, but I wonder, how can anyone stand to listen to him for over one minute? Why are they still asking him to speak?

    • I agree. I’ve never read his work or listened to anything of his. But he certainly must be an embarrassment to whomever chose him to be the speaker.

      • Brad Wilcox is in the General Young Men’s Presidency and this was a tri-stake fireside. He’s representing the top leadership of the youth, sent from Salt Lake City. He outranked everybody at the meeting, and I suspect he was assigned to speak to them rather than those three stakes reaching out and inviting him there.

  3. wow, this is such a good explanation of how ridiculous his comments were. thank you!

    equally ridiculous were his comments that women have every bit as much influence and visibility in the Church as men do and don’t need priesthood ordination for that. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH. Like, does he listen to general conference, or only speak at it?

    • It’s like looking at the sky and calling it green. Obviously women and girls don’t have the same influence and visibility on the church as male leaders do. As he points out, most men in the church don’t hold priesthood keys – but that’s in comparison to ZERO PERCENT of any women anywhere who hold any. And all men are ordained and have the possibility of holding keys at some point or another, while all women have no chance of it ever happening to them at any point in their lives. It’s completely different but he acts like it’s basically the same for women as it is for men.

      • Right. It would be funny except it’s not? Like, are you seriously standing up there saying that women have equal influence and visibility in the Church? Turn around. It’s the actual worst attempt as gaslighting ever because it’s so stupid.

  4. His condescension toward other religions who are “just playing church” is so dismissive and sadly uninformed. Shame on him. He’s disgusting.

    • I was very bothered when he said his kids liked to play church, but he got nervous when his daughter pretended to bless the Sacrament (ha ha, chuckle chuckle).

      Why is the mere idea of a girl pretending to perform an ordinance so absurd to him that it’s a joke for everyone to laugh at? Why is female leadership literally the punchline to his jokes?

    • Indeed: his words don’t violate any institutional policy or doctrine, they reflect them quite accurately. And that’s the problem.

    • Brad Wilcox is merely a manifestation of the systemic pattern of white supremacy, misogynist heteropatriarchy, and Mormon exceptionalism that has pervaded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for well over a century. “Brad Wilcox did nothing wrong” is only true in the sense that he has followed the examples and teachings of those around him and those who have gone before him. If Mr. Wilcox’s comments in his recent fireside are doctrinally accurate representations of the faith, that is a glaring condemnation of a system that sacralizes white supremacy, misogyny, and Rameumptom-like religious exceptionalism. The same system that sponsors BYU Religious Education professors to travel the country as part of programmatic effort aimed at enculturating Mormon youth into bigotry.

    • /mod/: “Brad” it’s against the rules of this blog to demand anyone repent. Please direct yourself to our commenting policy, specially #4. Further violations will see you banned from being able to comment again.

  5. Great response, Abby. Wow, but the idea that women have as much influence as men, it seems like you could only believe that if you took it as axiomatic. Like this is God’s true church, so it *must* be true, because God wouldn’t stand for sexism. If you look at *any* evidence, like you said, of *course* it’s false. Blatantly, obviously, clearly.

    • There are so many instances where members of the church have to pick – are we the racists (sexists, bigots, etc) following racist teachings from our leaders… or is God actually racist?

      It’s easier to throw the blame onto God because it means that we’re just obedient, loving servants who do what God wants us to do even when it’s hard or confusing to us. It’s much harder and more embarrassing to accept that sometimes we (and our leaders) just get things wrong.

  6. The fact that Wilcox is in the General Young Men’s Presidency makes me so happy that my two sons were never ordained. I would be appalled if either one of my sons spewed this rhetoric.

    • The unfortunate part of living in Utah is that even without your children actively attending and believing, this does influence their friends and the culture all around them. It’s so important for adults to actively combat this and stop it at the source, and I’m so glad this is all coming to light.

  7. I have to smile at the pretzels people contort themselves into trying to justify policies that are not justifiable. Priesthood is like maliaris so we should not want it. Really? Pathetic.

      • Just about spit my drink out. Motherhood = malaria. Thank you for giving me something to laugh about it in this whole mess.

        This succinctly shows how messed up it is to defend awful policies. Thank you for the thoughtful post. I am horrified that he is not the only one saying what he said. One of the hardest parts about his talk is knowing that there will likely be zero accountability. Still speaking at youth firesides in Alberta and California the next two Sundays? Yes, as far as I know. Released from calling at conference? Unlikely. John Bytheway’s book pulled from Deseret Book? Probably not given that some editor approved its publication to begin with.

  8. So .. we are a mixed faith family and my sons have decided to not be ordained to the priesthood. At least one of them might have tried going to the temple to do baptisms for the dead but he couldn’t without being ordained. So boys can’t enter the temple at all without the priesthood(except as children to be sealed to parents).

    • That’s true, although I don’t think it’s that major of a hurdle for boys to jump through that we should be acting like the girls are getting off easy by not having to do it. Ordination itself can be done in less than ten minutes after church one day, and the boys could then literally choose to never participate in Priesthood activities ever again – but still be totally eligible for the temple.

      I think it’s a little strange for Brother Wilcox to act like the men and boys have so much more required of them for temple attendance when it’s really just a brief ceremony where they do nothing but sit in a chair to receive priesthood power.

  9. I’ve been engaging in a couple of other places on this talk so am mostly talked out but the whole thing is excruciatingly painful, embarrassing, juvenile, posturing, coming from a place of negativity and defensiveness. I’m sure Brad Wilcox is afraid to go out for the shame of it all. I’d actually feel a bit sorry for him except his rhetoric has no doubt caused damage to many young people from the numerous times he’s repeated these themes – and it’s hard to begin to calculate the extent of that damage.

    • It’s human to make mistakes and he’s repeating what he’s been taught his whole life. I appreciate his apology for the racist remarks, but want an apology for everything else, too! And more than anything, I want the church leadership above him to finally take responsibility for teaching him that saying that things is perfectly okay. He’s being thrown under the bus as if he was supposed to somehow know better, when his entire life he’s been surrounded with praise and church promotions for saying exactly these problematic things. (Or at least enough praise that it drowned out the other times that people told him it was in fact, very problematic. He didn’t think he needed to listen to those voices because his priesthood authorities were telling him that he was right, and they were wrong.)

    • It was Betty different looking at it from the perspective of an outsider rather than a believing member sitting in the pews. I think (for me, at least) the sick feelings come from knowing that as a younger person I would’ve eaten it right up without a second thought.

  10. It was very upsetting to me to listen to the things he said in that video. I had met him back when I was a teenager when he came to our youth conference. I’m shocked that he said all those awful things. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman in the church. I feel like he is brushing off people’s concerns instead of actually listening to people’s experiences.

    • I think being a Mormon celebrity for so many years can do that to you, no matter how nice of a person you are at your core. I hope his inherent goodness and this excruciating event will help him break down the years of conditioning that have made him insensitive to so many of these issues. He is a good person and could do so much good in the church if he harnesses his abilities to do so.

  11. It brought back really bad memories of my childhood in the 1960’s. My parents were very black and white in teaching us and had this type of mindset. I thought we had gotten passed this type of thinking.

    Shame on him for the Black comments..
    But also shame on him because he didn’t address all the damage he caused through his whole talk…the shame, guilt, value of girls/women, etc etc etc
    The whole talk was a damaging way of thinking and spreads poison through the Youth and members.
    I say this with much concern.

    He also forgot to follow the – 11th Article of Faith: We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
    There’s no shame in your process of spiritual growth in or out of the church walls.
    I’ve been in tears and great sadness over this. Not just for me but everyone that heard his teachings and all involved.
    I’m hoping that the Church Address this publicly.

    Thank you for the very well written and clarifying article.

  12. The Peter Principle seems to come into play here—people are promoted to the level of their incompetence. Brother Brad’s wacky talks may have worked fine in a captive seminary or institute class or fireside for those interested in his topics and brand of apologetics. The ideas are incorrect, but no one is listening the same way. It’s a bit of an echo chamber. He seems to so want to have all the answers.

    When he becomes a sort of general authority, the wackiness and incorrect ideas are publicized and challenged. As a general authority, he appears surprised to learn that some of his ideas are, well, wacky, hurtful and wrong. He learns that his calling is not an endorsement of all of his ideas and warped explanations.

  13. I find it shocking how much the author’s interaction with John Bytheway and mine were similar. Much like her, he was the hero of my teen years. When I took his class at BYU and thanked him much like the author, he was cold, uncomfortable and made me feel small for saying something. I thought the problem was me…but, maybe he was the problem all along!

    • That’s so interesting! I worried that maybe I’d come on too strong and then felt a little embarrassed when I’d see him later in class – like he thought I had been too forward or he thought I was trying to hit on him or something. Did he react the same way when male college students approached him to thank him, do you think?

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