In this episode, we speak with two amazing guests, Kimberly and Matt Teitter.
Matt and Kimberly have been married for ten years. Kimberly is a clinical psychologist at the Utah Center for Evidence Based Treatment, and Matt is an assistant principal, and Bishop of their ward in Salt Lake City.
In this episode, they discuss their experience as an interracial couple in the Church, their experience of privilege in the different roles they have, what it’s been like navigating local leadership right now, and how we can make our spaces safer for minorities of any kind.
Even with their extremely busy schedule, Kimberly and Matt were kind enough to join us for a late night conversation. We just wanted to preface that they have two adorable kids, and in the podcast, you’ll hear some family sounds in the background as we talk.
We’re so grateful that Matt and Kimberly came on the podcast, and hope you enjoy the conversation.
Tim Chaves: Okay. Kimberly and Matt Teitter. Thank you guys so much for coming on the podcast.
Kimberly Teitter: Thanks for having us.
Matt Teitter: Our pleasure.
Tim Chaves: Yeah. No, it’s our pleasure. I thought that maybe, if it’s okay, we’d love to start out just hearing a little bit more about your stories. Go back as far as you want and if you wouldn’t mind sharing how you both found the Church, found each other, and feel free to take us up, and we would love to hear even once you get up to the last few weeks, what that’s been like for you as well, if that’s okay.
Matt Teitter: Sure.
Kimberly Teitter: You want to start?
Matt Teitter: I guess I’ll start.
Kimberly Teitter: You’re older.
Matt Teitter: I’m the older… I just turned 38, so I’ll start.
Aubrey Chaves: Chronological, okay.
Matt Teitter: Yeah, we’ll go chronological. So the Church found my mom in the late 1970s, and two missionaries were knocking doors in upstate New York in the snow, and she took pity on them and let them in, and she heard the discussions. My father did too, and she ended up converting my dad, remained Catholic, and then eventually… there’s a whole lot of backstory to it, but eventually the tensions between the two came to a head and they ended up getting divorced. I don’t remember any of this, because by the time that happened, I was only two or three at the time when they separated, and four or five when the divorce was finalized.
So then my mom, she had a second spouse who was a member of the Church, and he was a fully active member, so I was raised in the Church in that way, but I still saw my father on the weekends and I would go with him sometimes to Catholic Mass, especially during the big holidays and stuff, like Easter or Christmas, like all good Catholics. And then both my parents actually ended up getting divorced again from their second spouses. So my dad remarried and my mom remarried, and they both ended up getting divorced.
So I wasn’t actually too keen on the idea of marriage, which is ironic, I know, being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but I knew it was my duty to do that eventually someday. So flash forward to when I was 27 and I meet Kimberly in New York City. She’s an NYU undergrad, and I’m going to Columbia to get a master’s. And we hit it off, and we ended up courting for about a year and a half, I guess, and then we ended up getting sealed in the Washington, D.C. temple, which was temple for both of us growing up, even though I was in my and she was in North Carolina. It’s kind of equidistant between our two geographic areas.
Kimberly Teitter: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Exactly. By the minute from his house to the temple and my house to the temple.
Aubrey Chaves: No way.
Kimberly Teitter: Same amount of minutes.
Matt Teitter: So yeah. I think in a nutshell, that’s my trajectory in the Church.
Tim Chaves: Great.
Kimberly Teitter: So I grew up in the Church, basically. I think for both of us, the Church is our predominant religious tradition that we’ve grown up in, even if our parents had other things that seeped in through sometimes. So for me, my mom and my oldest half brother… yeah, I said that right. My mom and my oldest half brother got baptized in 1990, when I was two years old, and then my dad got baptized a couple years later. We had a string of sister missionaries that were in and out of our home. So I don’t remember my mom and brother being baptized, but I remember my dad taking the discussions pretty well, and the sisters coming.
And I was thinking about how I got some of these opinions about various things that I have in the Church. But I feel like it was helpful for me to see sisters be the main missionaries that were teaching my family, because some of the stuff about women in the Church, I didn’t grow up thinking about the same way, in part because my mom was so strong, and she was the first one to get baptized, and then in part because of all of these wonderful women that we had in our lives.
And they did everything for us. They made a little FAT chart. We had all these pictures of them, so they’re really fun. And one of them still lives in Utah, and she brought me out to BYU when I was thinking about going there but didn’t go.
Matt Teitter: Which is good, because I wouldn’t have met her if she had gone to BYU. It was fate, she needed to go to NYU and [crosstalk 00:05:07].
Aubrey Chaves: There you go.
Matt Teitter: Stars align.
Kimberly Teitter: Which when you look at it, it seems very unlikely. But anyway, my family got sealed in the D.C. temple when I was about five, and then we were just living a pretty good Mormon life. I grew up in North Carolina, and so it was interesting to be a Mormon there, because pretty regularly, we would have our Christian cousins would come up with all kinds of ideas about [inaudible 00:05:41]. And so I kind of grew up as a little apologetic before I knew what it meant. I was like, “Well, let’s sit down and talk with people and…”
Tim Chaves: Interesting.
Kimberly Teitter: Back in that day, the missionary paradigm that they were on was built on common beliefs, and so that was very much my thing growing up. Let’s just build on common beliefs and then we’ll all be friends. And sometimes it worked, sometimes it wasn’t as effective.
So that is pretty much my family. And then I went to boarding school, which was pretty influential in giving me the courage to dream and go to New York for school even though I’m from a pretty small town. And that’s where I met Matt. I guess the part that I’m supposed to tell about how we got together is that I told a lie of omission about my age. Because we’re about seven years apart, and so the first thing he said to me was, “I don’t date teenagers, but you must be what, 20, 21?”
And I said, “Well, I’m not 21.” And he said, “Okay, so 20 then.” And I just didn’t correct him. I skipped kindergarten, so I’m a year younger than you would think based on my grade in school. And so I let him think that for a couple of weeks and then I was like, “Just kidding, I’m 19 and my birthday’s in a couple of months.” And so by then, he was stuck.
And then at this point, we kind of go back and forth about our lives. I think that growing up, I expected to marry a white dude, because if you set your intention on marrying within the Church, you look around the Church and that’s what you see. And so I’m just like, “Okay, well, this is me.” But I was very aware that other people did not see it that way, and so it was really a point of tension growing up how I was going to navigate that. And it really worried me.
My baby’s really good at crawling in between spaces and not knowing how to get out them.
Aubrey Chaves: Getting stuck.
Kimberly Teitter: She’s super good. But yeah, it kind of hurt. When I was a teenager, I would go to these dances, get all dressed up, put on my makeup and then go. And nobody would dance with me. I didn’t have it as bad as my brother. Sometimes when he would like a white girl, the families would turn them away. They would do all these crazy things like cut off communication, or one girl’s dad basically paid her to come home so they wouldn’t talk anymore. So it wasn’t as bad as that for me, but it was something that I always worried about.
So it was nice meeting Matt for a lot of reasons, because he was aware, and he has a good heart. He has a lot of attention to people on the margins. His professional goals are really aligned to wanting to work in ethnic minority communities. Mostly Hispanic ones, but still. And so I felt safe with him, and he has the [inaudible 00:09:28] air about a lot of stuff, and so I think that that was helpful in building the relationship. But I don’t know what you would add to that part of things.
Matt Teitter: Yeah. Growing up in upstate New York in the Hudson Valley area, even historically, it’s like New Netherlands, so even back in the 1600s, it was a very diverse… New Amsterdam, New Netherlands, it’s a very diverse place. So my best friend was Jewish growing up. He actually still is, I still consider him my best friend. Evangelical Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses. My first girlfriend was an agnostic atheist. So in that milieu of diversity, religion and ethnicity and all those things was in the background. But the level of inclusivity and tolerance I think was much more pronounced I think than even encountering a lot of other localities in the country. I’m not pretending that we don’t have our problems, because we obviously do. But growing up in that kind of culture and that kind of climate was very important I think to being open to dating and eventually marrying Kimberly. This is actually the first time I’m articulating that out loud, but I think it was, when I think about it.
And she already gestured toward the alignment of our goals, both religious or spiritual and professional, and family goals and everything just seem to be in concert. And so it was nice, and you find your soul’s counterpoint, and you’re euphoric about it. I will say, my family, there were some members that were initially reluctant of the idea of marrying somebody of a different race and specifically black, which was interesting to me. I did not expect that. We started dating in late 2008, and I don’t know, it was an interesting time. Barack Obama was running for president.
And the other thing to note too, is that I’m not 100 percent white. I’m actually a quarter Chinese. I just don’t look it at all.
Kimberly Teitter: Yes, fun fact.
Aubrey Chaves: Wow.
Matt Teitter: So my mother is actually half Chinese, she’s half Asian. And so this one very dear family member in particular, I was struck by that, and I said, you know my mother is biracial. Because this person was saying, “Well, what are your kids going to do? They’re not going to fit in the white world, they’re not going to fit in the black community. It’s going to be problematic for your kids. Think of the children,” that pearl-clutching argument that really aggravates me. Think of the children!
And so I joked with this person, because it was, like I said, 2008 into 2009. So I said, “That’s a really good point. I guess when those kids come, and they will probably come, I’ll just have to tell them, if you work really hard and you keep your nose clean, maybe one day, you’ll be able to be President of the United States.” And that cracked the tension. The person chuckled at that and said, okay. So you really just got to use humor to break those barriers I think, if you can.
And that was kind of a pivot point for that person, and now they’re as enthusiastic as anybody, if not more so about our marriage, which is a decade strong now. [crosstalk 00:13:12]
Aubrey Chaves: Oh, go ahead, Kimberly.
Kimberly Teitter: Oh, I was just going to say, I think on my end, my parents, I forgot to include. We had met in person, knew each other in the flesh, but then I told my mom that I was dating Matt and she texted back or called back and said, “Does he know that you’re black?” I’m like, we’re in the same ward.
Matt Teitter: I forgot about that.
Kimberly Teitter: And I guess what she meant by that is, is he prepared for what might arise in this situation? And I think especially when you fast forward to today, which we don’t have to, but together we’ve been through a lot of strange at best. But ignorant at worst things. And my parents want what’s best for us.
There was one time too that my dad was like, “I’m not going to have any black grandkids, am I?” Because all of us married white people. Because again, we’re active in the Church.
Matt Teitter: It’s the Church. [crosstalk 00:14:27]
Kimberly Teitter: I didn’t know any… I probably can think of one person in my young adult life that was black in the single sport that I met. Two actually. One was already dating somebody, and then the other, I didn’t know. So it’s not that I didn’t want to, but I didn’t think very much about it.
Matt Teitter: It wasn’t a choice, it was a lack of options.
Kimberly Teitter: And yeah, there wasn’t a lot of choices. But my mom, she’s like, “I just want him to know that you’re black.” I’m like, “Great, well he knows.”
Aubrey Chaves: That’s funny. So Kimberly, I’m curious if you remember race explicitly ever being addressed at Church. As your family’s getting to know the Church and being introduced, do you remember hearing about the Church’s history with race, and did that affect how you saw the Church or yourself, or this future of marriage?
Kimberly Teitter: I think that we were mostly kept blissfully unaware. I think my parents knew. I haven’t ever talked to them about when they found out, but they didn’t know at some point. When my dad finally got baptized, so the missionaries were in our house in and out for three years, in essence, before he got baptized. I think they were just so happy that we were this family that they could tote out. Family of five, we can speak, and this and that. I remember us going on this victory tour. And so I suppose part of that is lower key. But they would put us in the little program.
Matt Teitter: Ticker tape parade.
Kimberly Teitter: So I think that that had to do with race probably, but I just didn’t realize it at the time.
Aubrey Chaves: Oh, interesting.
Kimberly Teitter: Otherwise, what is the big deal? In my mind, again, the Church was the only Church that I knew, so then it was kind of strange to us that people were making a big deal. But I loved my home ward, and I thought it was just because they loved us. They wanted us to talk, they wanted us to do this and that.
But in terms of race in the Church, I was vaguely aware that people thought that Mormons were racist people. And I didn’t know why, but I grew up in North Carolina. And many people are racist. So I didn’t really see it as too different from where I grew up. The way that my mom taught me was that encountering racist people is a possibility. And so I thought that that meant that there were racist people, but then when my grandma was taking the missionary discussions, somehow they got into a conversation about something. And my dad told her that blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood.
And I just happened to be there. So that was the first time I had heard it. And my first reaction was like, “Why did you mention that now? What is your problem? We’re on a mission here. We want grandma to join.”
Tim Chaves: How old were you there?
Kimberly Teitter: In my teens. Early teens, probably. And after that, I think I just blocked it out, to be honest. And tried not to think about it. I’m careful to make this parallel because I don’t want to assume that my journey is someone else’s, but this community does it for us, so I’m just going to do it.
My research was on LGB people in conservative religious communities, and many of them were LDS. And they talk about, once they know that they are gay, they do everything they can to deny it, and often that looks like just digging in to everything Church related to being the Molly Mormon or the Peter Priesthood of the ward. And I feel a kinship with that, because I think that’s what I did back then. So I was like the Scripture mastery queen. And I was the first one at dances, I would play those deep cuts. Like [inaudible 00:19:05] track from the ’70s, and I’d have my little quote box, and I was just, I don’t know, playing all these weird songs on the piano that nobody ever sings anymore. I was just really engaged in learning about my faith, because I think I was just trying to put off some of the pain that I felt.
Because I think I knew that I always felt out of pocket, or that I didn’t totally fit with what was happening. And it was disconcerting before that point, because it had nothing to do with my belief, or how people treated us, or anything, but I always felt out of place. And so, when I heard it, I guess it was part comforting, because I was like, this is [inaudible 00:19:55] part of why I can feel out of place.
But in terms of the details of how I wanted to think about it, I don’t think I worked it into my knowledge until later. And then my mom wanted to read, she got this book called A Soul So Rebellious, by Mary Frances Sturlaugson, and it is the story of a black female convert to the Church, and in that she talks about how she couldn’t go through the temple, and that was one of the effects of the priesthood ban, and by that point, I think I was still a teenager, but I was old enough to know that going through the temple was something that I would want to do. And I was like this.
I think that’s really when I started to get the injustice side of it. Like, that it affected me too. I don’t know really what to do with that.
So I think it’s been easier to take than you would think, because of just accepting that there are racist and prejudiced people in the world, and it is still hurtful, it was still hurtful to learn these things.
Tim Chaves: Would you guys maybe talk just a bit about what the last few weeks have been like for you? Obviously since in particular, the murder of George Floyd, there’s been, I think, a lot more consciousness around issues of race than perhaps there’s been in decades in our country. You guys are somewhat uniquely positioned to have people look to you for advice and guidance and just wanting to listen in a time like this. So I’m curious what these weeks have been like for you and what it’s been like internally, and what you’re seeing externally.
Matt Teitter: All right, since you’ve been speaking. So interesting enough, I actually did intentionally watch the video. I always try to watch, or get as much information as possible about whenever these things occur. It was definitely striking in the fact that it was so much more. It hits you in a different way viscerally because of the slow nature versus what normally happens with a firearm. It’s just so quick. But this was an intentional, slow murdering of somebody in broad daylight with several bystanders saying, this person is dying, or he can’t breathe, and nothing’s being done.
It made me think about, I don’t know if Kimberly mentioned this, but we were in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I got a second master’s at Harvard for my school administration degree. So that’s what I do now professionally. And my advisor, he actually started a course that year I was there that I participated in. And it led to a nonprofit that’s there now that’s Harvard affiliated that’s called RIDES, and it stands for Re-Imagining Integration, Diverse and Equitable Schools.
And the inspiration for that was this disgusting cadence of black lives being taken, typically involving law enforcement. Every few months, it seemed like something would hit the news where it was just this gross injustice. And so, that was back in 2015, and I was familiar with it before then, but that was a real launchpad for me, where I became much more steeped in the history of it, where it comes from, reading a lot of literature about it, and also stuff that’s very recent in terms of research.
And so when I saw it, I said, “Wow, this is very striking,” but to be fair, I did not expect it to be this groundswell. I didn’t expect it to be this bellwether of change that it has seemed to be for the culture of the country, which has been refreshing, and I hope it continues. But for those reasons, it didn’t surprise me when I saw the video, but the aftermath has been surprising in a good way, in a positive way.
Kimberly Teitter: For me, as I think about it, I’m grateful that for the most part, we can have a relationship that is pretty copacetic, and I don’t think too much about that fact that I’m black and he’s white, not because I don’t think about me being black. I think about that every day. But in terms of, I’m not having as many of these out of pocket moments between us, and that’s been great. With the exception of when there are uniquely black things, and it can be anything, good or bad, I just want to cope with it by myself.
So Matt wanted to see the James Baldwin documentary that came out a couple years ago, and I didn’t see it with him. I saw it with the few black friends that I had.
Matt Teitter: You didn’t see Black Panther with me.
Kimberly Teitter: Black Panther. I think that he saw it two or three times. Did you see it two or three times in theaters?
Matt Teitter: I saw it twice in theaters.
Kimberly Teitter: Twice in theaters. I saw it in theaters by myself like two weeks before it came out on DVD, so this is how I like to deal with black stuff. Sometimes it just becomes too much for me, and I think that that would normally be where I like a fellowship with other black people, but sometimes in Utah you don’t have that option, and so then I just want to spend time by myself.
As a psychologist, I have been very fortunate to continue working through the pandemic effect. My work has gone up, which is great. I think in this case, it’s been hard, because I feel the temptation to keep moving, keep moving. And that’s how I cope with it on my own, instead of reaching out for help when I feel like I’m struggling.
But these things hit me really hard. I have not watched the video because I don’t know how else to say it. I just don’t need it in my life. I feel it viscerally enough that I don’t have to see it. And so then I don’t watch. I can remember being in graduate school when Trayvon Martin was killed, and just feeling conspicuous and invisible all at the same time. It was super weird.
And then when my daughter was born, not this one, but the older one, I like to say that July 11th and July 12th were really great days, but then on July 13th, George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, got acquitted, and then it totally shifted how I felt about what it would be like to raise black children, or what would they look like? Would they even want to be black if they didn’t look black? All these things.
And then being a parent changes how comfortable I feel with going out to protests or doing things that would put any of us in danger. And so then a lot of times I am left alone with how I feel about stuff. And so that’s hard.
So I’ve been busy the last couple weeks. It’s been crazy. Normally when these things happen, one of my pastimes, which is probably not a helpful coping strategy, is to scroll Facebook and see who is reacting and who isn’t. And so many times in the past, it’s been nine, 10 years, the amount of people who can go on with their lives and not react to this stuff, it is many. Especially when most of the people I’m friends with at this point are members of the Church. I like to say that I’m not reading anything into it, but I am. And so I start to feel this conspicuous and invisible feeling again.
This time, it’s different though, because everybody’s off of work or whatever, working from home, we’ve got lots of time for social media, and so we don’t have as much time to scroll past these things. And so I do feel hopeful for this time of awakening that maybe will start to move the needle. I feel like it’s taking longer for people to come in with the arguments on the counter-side, like, “Oh, but what was he doing? And these things don’t exist.” And stuff like that.
So I feel hopeful. It has not taken away the pain, but I feel a lot of hope for what’s happening. Some Mormons are going to Morm, though. They’re just going to keep on keeping on, and I don’t really know how else to say that. Bless their kind hearts, some of the stuff I think will take a while for people to really feel convicted.
I think a lot of people talk about racism as something that hateful people do, and not as something that anyone could feel the effects of, or anybody could use as a means to gain over their brother or sister. And that’s the stuff that I spend my life working on, is how to get people to see and reach out for their brother in a more meaningful way.
So the gaps there are sometimes challenging and disappointing. But I still feel hope about what’s to come.
Aubrey Chaves: I love that.
Tim Chaves: Yeah. I think that’s something we’ve been learning is that racism doesn’t have to be an action that you take or something that you feel inside, necessarily. It’s more like, it’s the air that surrounds us. It’s this entire structure and system that we’re all kind of swimming in. And just for clarification purpose, Kimberly, you’re saying that when you scroll through Facebook, it is helpful, or you feel a sense of concern or solidarity from your white friends when you do see posts from them about issues of race.
Kimberly Teitter: Yes. And I feel like that’s key. Even when people say, I don’t know what to say but I see you. I feel seen by that. But when people are posting pictures, and I’m just like, I don’t know, something they did today. It’s not that I’m spending all of my time…
Aubrey Chaves: Memes.
Kimberly Teitter: Yeah, memes.
Tim Chaves: Look at this quiche I baked this morning for breakfast. It was delicious.
Kimberly Teitter: To be fair, my content is much of the same. Plenty of Penny and Eva picks on my social media. And I am looking for connection. At this point, I am a long way from home physically and emotionally. And sometimes I just need to see that someone is behind me. I think if I weren’t Matt’s wife, I suppose. I’m not saying this well.
So Matt wrote this thing. He wrote this email to our ward, and it was like, [inaudible 00:32:19] racism. No, it wasn’t like that. He wants to say that it was more thoughtful than that, and it was. And I know that there are a lot of people who didn’t get that from their wards and their communities, and it hurts. It feels like the people that you turn to, especially being faithful people. I think black people are pretty faithful people. Not just as a colloquialism or a stereotype, but I think the research bears this out. Right now in the country, there’s more black religious people than any other religious group, besides us maybe. Or they might beat us then.
But anyway, so we’re spiritual people, and when things happen, we want to turn to our faith community. So then when they’re not there to hold us, it’s sad. And so I think that there’s been a lot of people responding to the words that Matt said, which he put on social media, because it gives hope that people can see us. We’re all taught that Jesus left the 99 and went to the one, but it’s not every day that we see that in action from the membership. And so those things are meaningful when they do occur.
Aubrey Chaves: I love that. This is so interesting too, because I think a lot of our listeners live in places, geographically, or maybe it’s just their ward, that are predominantly white. So I think that there is a lot of discomfort around knowing what to do, because they don’t have black friends. They don’t have black neighbors. And so I think for a lot of people, they just don’t know what to do. They don’t want to speak when they shouldn’t speak, and they don’t want to say the wrong thing. And so they’re trying to be really careful.
And so that’s so good to hear that showing up and saying something, even if it’s, “I don’t know what to say, but I see what’s going on, and I’m working on my own stuff to be helpful here.” I think that’s so useful to know, because I think so much of the silence that we’re seeing is just, they’re trying not to do something wrong. It feels like that feels safer.
So I would love to hear if there’s anything else you feel like your friends and neighbors, especially in your ward, or somewhere where you were really a minority. What can they do to make this conversation feel safer and make you feel like you’re being held, on Sunday or just in your community?
Kimberly Teitter: I think about, one of the things that Matt mentioned, that he didn’t get scolded about, but had some of a curiosity from other people, was this idea of privilege.
Matt Teitter: Yeah, so maybe, should we elucidate a little bit what was in the message to [inaudible 00:35:44]?
Tim Chaves: That’d be great.
Aubrey Chaves: [crosstalk 00:35:45]
Matt Teitter: So in the message, I took this vignette that happened to us in real life, where we came back from a road trip from North Carolina, and our apartment was locked in New York City, [inaudible 00:36:00]. And we were sitting down on the floor, and we were trying to figure out, what do we do? Eva was one year old at the time. It was one in the morning, and the keys were in North Carolina. And we’re like, well, there’s a 50/50 chance that the window to our bedroom is unlocked, because we often [inaudible 00:36:18]. So I could try to scale up the fire escape and get into the apartment.
And so we sat down and did the tortured calculus in our head like, what’s the chances that the worst could happen where I get seriously injured or even killed trying to do this thing? And we finally determined, I’m a pasty white guy. Even at one in the morning, and Washington Heights was a predominantly Dominican, which is Afro-Caribbean neighborhood.
Kimberly Teitter: They look like me.
Matt Teitter: So yeah, they look like Kimberly. So we’re like, all right. Let’s roll the dice. Let’s go up. Because if we don’t do this, we’re going to be here for at least another hour or two, and we’re going to have to pay 100 bucks to get into our own apartment, it’s just really aggravating. And living in New York City on teacher’s salary. So we scale up, sure enough the window’s open, I’m able to get in and unlock the door and let her in. And we thought that little vignette just encapsulated white privilege so perfectly. I could do something that I would not have felt comfortable doing if I was a man of color, specifically a black man, because I thought the likelihood of somebody seeing me, the police thinking I was doing something untoward and shooting first and asking questions later, would just have been too high.
Even though it was still remote, still just too high. It would have doubled or tripled or whatever. An order of magnitude higher that that would have happened, and I wouldn’t have taken the chance. We would have paid the hundred bucks and waited two hours.
And so I started off with that in the message, and then I continued and I said, juxtaposing my wife’s experience being a black woman and my experience being a white man, I said, we’re living in almost two parallel realities. I have white privilege, and she experiences racism. Not the racism of cross burnings of generations past, but just the racism of not being able to break into your own home because you might get arrested or shot.
I go jogging every morning, sometimes at four or five in the morning when it’s dark out. And I warned Aubrey. I feel comfortable jogging at five in the morning. If I were a black man, I would not feel comfortable jogging in the morning. I’d wait until broad daylight. I would just not, in my own neighborhood. And stuff like that. And I said, white privilege, racism. The white privilege part, I think a lot of people, when they saw that, it just was very inflammatory. Overwhelmingly lots of responses from my ward, and from people outside the ward too. But the people that did push back on that, that term was something that got a rise out of them, because it felt like I was trying to be provocative. It was never used by the brethren in any of the conference talks. They’ve talked about racism in messages from the Church and condemning that, but they haven’t talked about privilege.
But it was something I felt comfortable with. And I also said, the denouement of the message was, asking, “Lord, is it I?” That’s a haunting Millennial question. “Lord, is it I?” Am I doing something that could be considered racist? And I said, I don’t have any excuses. And I’m not magically inoculated just because I’ve been married to a black woman and have black children and have black in-laws and all this stuff. It doesn’t make me magically unable to do something racist. Thinking, believing, saying, or doing. And I said, just the same way that being in close proximity and having intimacy with women prevents me from doing something sexist.
Look, this is the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage. 100 years ago, there were millions of men that loved their wives and would have laid their own lives down to save these women from injury or death, and yet these same men thought these women were incapable of voting responsibly. And they vehemently and fiercely tried to stop women’s suffrage. So that’s the close of the message, basically. I was like, you cannot think you’re magically inoculated just because you have a black friend or even a black relative. That’s not something you can say.
So I tried to be self-incriminating about it and say that, but it still…
Aubrey Chaves: Didn’t come across that way?
Matt Teitter: It still didn’t come across that way to some folks.
Kimberly Teitter: And I feel like for me, I really strive to be an ally to the LGBTQ community, and it’s something that I feel like the spirit has impressed me to do since I was little. Probably in this time that I was trying to forget about blacks not being able to have the priesthood.
But in that process, I have had to have the humility to be refined, because even with the challenges that I have faced being a black woman, I still don’t know what it’s like to be gay. I still don’t know what it’s like to have gender incongruence, and sometimes I think my, I call it at work, my therapy interfering behavior, and it’s probably my life interfering behavior, is that I tend to be really naïve and optimistic, and feel like things should just work out for everyone.
And so I truly believe that the Gospel is for everyone. And sometimes in that spirit, I don’t see people in their pain. I’m not as willing to sit with people’s pain as I could be. Or I try to frame it with my own experiences, when my experiences don’t fit theirs. And so I have had to be willing to be refined by people who love me and who see that I can do better. And that’s what privilege is. Whoa! The baby fooled me. Cut that out.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, no problem. We can edit.
Kimberly Teitter: Yeah. So that’s what privilege means to me. My privilege is my space from which I can give back. My privilege is the space that I can use to help all of our brothers and sisters be equal. And so I have to be willing in that circumstance to be prepared for the discomfort that might come from the equalizing.
So that’s how I feel about people who want to know what the right thing to say in this moment is. I’ve said quite a bit about what I feel like the Church could do better in the past few days. And it’s not because I hate the Church, it’s because I love the Church, and I want the Church to do better.
And so if somebody comes to me, especially if they have a relationship with me, or if they want a relationship with me, and they say something that I have a cringing moment to, I’m still willing to love that person, and if I give feedback, which is a very tough thing for something to tell people sometimes. If I give feedback, it’s out of love. It’s because I know that you can take this refining process that it takes to be an ally to my community, just like I’ve had to go through the refining process with my LGBTQ siblings.
Aubrey Chaves: I love that framing that your privilege is the space from which you can give. I just think that’s beautiful. And I think it makes sense that that’s where you feel the most discomfort. You want to say there’s no privilege when just because it feels better to just be innocent, and if we lean into the discomfort, I think it becomes obvious where we can grow and what we can give.
Kimberly Teitter: And I think to continue with that, because I don’t want to seem like I’m perfect. Around the time of the policy of exclusion, I actually stepped back from a lot of what I was doing to be an ally to that community, because Mormon’s going to Morm. The Church is not very intersectional, and some people were saying they were leaving the Church because, this is the worst thing that the Church has ever done.
And I’m like, “Oh, word? Really?” This is the ground you want to stand on? And so then I just had a hard time. But then I still had the privilege to step back and say, “I’m not going to engage in this.” When my queer siblings do not have that choice. And so I get that sometimes, to reframe, you hear something hard, people step back. And you have the privilege to do so, but then just be willing to step back in and see what you can do.
Aubrey Chaves: I love that. Thank you so much, you guys. This is a lot to think about, and you have such a unique life experience, both of you, and we’re just so grateful that you would share your perspectives, because I think that will help a lot of people. I think your perspectives are exactly what we need right now.
Kimberly Teitter: Thank you.
Aubrey Chaves: So thanks for being so willing to share.
Matt Teitter: Yeah, you’re welcome. Could I just add something?
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah, anything else? Either of you.
Matt Teitter: Yeah. So something that I try to do, and Kimberly helps me with this too. So my professional background’s in education, and I was a special education teacher. And there’s a really powerful idea, or concept of universal design. It started out in architecture with the idea of curb cuts and ramps to get into buildings. That way, people that are in wheelchairs can enter, and it doesn’t affect, people with two fully functioning feet can get into the building as well.
And so they kind of took that concept and they mapped it onto different domains, one of them being in education, and I just thought it was a really useful lens to apply to Church, to ward leadership. We always talk about Matthew 25 and “the least of these,” and trying to be inclusive and think about them as much as possible. And I’m a bishop, and there’s 25, 30,000 of us in the world. What can you do at the local level?
Well, there’s plenty that you can do at the local level to be inclusive, and Kimberly mentioned intersectionality. Often times I’ll try to think when I’m designing, or we’re trying to plan a ward activity, or even a ward mission plan, and think, what could the person that’s most marginalized in my ward or Church community, what would allow them to participate as fully as they possibly could?
And so you think about all the different things, including race. In our ward, our ward includes LDS business college, so we have a lot of international students. So we include nationality, we include class, the class divide, as it can be very stark sometimes in certain wards. I think I already mentioned race. Ethnicity, even education, ableism, are they able-bodied or not? So you think about all those things. English-speaking or not, and the level of English speaking. Consider all those different things and layer them on, and usually, there’s a handful of people you can think of that would be the most marginalized in your average Mormon ward. They’re not white, maybe they’re not from the United States. Maybe English is not their first language. Maybe they have a kid with a disability or something like that, and maybe they’re struggling economically as well.
And you think, what is it that we could do that would be really welcoming for that family, or that individual? And use that person or that household as a springboard for really thoughtful planning at the ward level. And if you do that consistently, you’ll have a better ward. You’ll be a better ward. It’ll be a more Christian, more Christ-like, more Zion-like ward.
And I try to have that in undercurrent to all of the planning, and all the execution that we do at the ward level. I think I do an okay job. Like I said, Kimberly does sometimes hold my feet to the fire like, “You didn’t think about this or that,” and I appreciate that. And I try to be as also open to feedback. It starts with leadership, and leadership that’s not willing to listen to critical feedback is bankrupt leadership. It’s never going to get any better.
And so that’s just a concept that I think is really powerful. I’m glad I had that in my professional life, but I think it aligns and dovetails so neatly with my ecclesiastical position, and I’m really grateful for it, and I think it’s a powerful concept that everybody should try to incorporate into their own wards.
Tim Chaves: Yeah, I love that.
Aubrey Chaves: And sphere of influence in general. Even if you’re not in a leadership position in your ward, how can you use that idea in your own small sphere of influence, wherever you have some power?
Tim Chaves: And it can be overwhelming when you see so much injustice in the world, and wanting to solve everything or else you feel like you can’t do anything. But just those little things you can do with your neighbors in your own wards in your own community, that’s where it can really happen.
Matt Teitter: Yeah, and it’s going to be prior thought. And you should crowdsource it too. Don’t think you have to lock yourself in a room. There’s a reason why we have councils and counselors and all the different organizations in the Church. I’m a relatively well-educated person, and I still am surprised at the blind spots that I have when I open it up in a ward council. I’m like, what have I missed, what didn’t we think of? Or actually, more often than not, I’ll go around the room and I’ll speak last, just to make sure I have everybody’s ideas and they don’t feel like I’m speaking for them.
Mormon culture, or the Church’s culture, can be very unhealthy, and like, “Oh, the leader spoke. I’m not going to say my two cents that might disagree with him or her.” So I feel like you just have to be very thoughtful if you are in a leadership position. But like you said, yeah. In a healthy organizational culture, people can be able to say anything and people would be open to it, but that doesn’t always exist, unfortunately.
Aubrey Chaves: Yeah. Thanks for sharing that. That’s a great to-do. Something we can do tomorrow. Something we can start working on right away. I love that idea.
Tim Chaves: Thank you both so much. Kimberly, anything else you wanted to add?
Kimberly Teitter: I think one thing that has helped me to keep my faith in trying times… To rewind, one of the big things that takes up my time here in Utah is being in the Debra Bonner Unity Gospel Choir. And I give them a shout-out whenever I can, because for one, it takes up so much of my time. And two, I love Debra. Debra has been a great mentor and spiritual leader, and she often talks about how Jesus is her best friend, and she walks with him daily. And he tells her what to do.
So that has turned into a lot of interesting moments in our life, where Debra will say, “The spirit said I should do this,” and then Matt and I are on the back end trying to figure out how to make it happen. But one of the things I admire about her is that if the spirit says something, and if Jesus says something, she does it. And she leaves the refining process until later.
And she’s open to feedback, but she’s not going to let much stop her from what the spirit says she should do. And Matt is making a face, because it has led her to some late nights and lots of work on projects that she has. But it’s fine, because I like watching her watch God, in essence, and I feel like the times that I’ve been most values consistent in my life is when I have acted on these impulses that come from my relationship with the defiant.
And sometimes it’s hard to do that, especially when everybody else is not doing the same things, is not feeling the same things. It’s really hard to maintain a narrative that’s your own when there’s a lot of pressure to fit in and conform. But the relationship that God has with each of us is individual, and we know this intellectually. And so in theory, that should lead to all kinds of exchanges like Matt was talking about, because the Lord is going to impress us in all kinds of ways.
And so I think it’s helpful to think about that as people are trying to figure out how to make a difference. The Lord knows the desires of our heart, and he can speak to that. And then we can do that. I was at a gospel music workshop thing with a black artist, not LDS, but he does gospel music. And he said, “We often say that God’s ways aren’t our ways, but then when we’re moved to do something that is totally unlike what we would do, we’re very quick to say, that’s not God.”
But then you just said that his ways aren’t our ways. And so I hope that we can all have the fear to go where he would have us go boldly.
Tim Chaves: Love that. Okay. Thank you guys so much. It really has been an honor and a pleasure to speak with you, and it’s so important to get your perspectives. So I can’t thank you enough.
Aubrey Chaves: Thank you.
Kimberly Teitter: Thank you.
Aubrey Chaves: It was so great.
Matt Teitter: Thank you.
Kimberly Teitter: Thanks.