Posts Tagged ‘black Mormons’

Update Aug 30, 2012: This HuffPo article by Samuel Brown “Mormonism’s Abandoned Race Policy: Context Matters” is very good. It shows the complicated position for Church leaders to repudiate racial views of the past while not disrespecting Church leaders believed to be modern prophets.

This is my second to last post for a while. Here I’m sharing the discussion on my Facebook page regarding the New York Times recent op ed by John Turner “Racism in the Mormon Church.”  You see it here for several reasons. One, it’s good content that I didn’t have to create; shameless, I know. But more so, it’s worth a glimpse into the varied perspectives from bright faithful Mormons on the topic.

I realized by the end of the discussion that I didn’t communicate well exactly what my grievances are. Of course, they all should have read my mind, but whatever.:)

As a historical background on race in the LDS Church, read this post that summarizes Lester Bush’s work on the topic.  I highly recommend it.

My main grievance is that for many in the Church, especially in the South where I grew up, the 18th, 19th and 20th century racial views that became intertwined with Mormon doctrine during the time of the ban still carry on. This is because when the ban was lifted by what I believe was revelation from God, there was no denouncement of the racial views that accompanied its time. Maybe it was too soon for that to happen. But, now it’s 2012. Though I personally believe that the priesthood ban came by human error and was lifted by God, I don’t expect that there’s going to be an apology for that human error as the op ed recommends.

But I do want a denouncement of the erroneous racial views. From the end of the conversation below you can see that Joseph F. Smith (early 20th century)denounced the false idea that Black people were not as valiant in the war in heaven, which Mormons believe preceded mortal life. This idea was usually framed as they were fence sitters in the premortal world. The survey discussed below found that many Mormons today hardly heard of this idea, let alone believed it. That’s exactly my point. When a prophet denounces a false idea, it begins its slow death.

If I were in a discussion with the Brethren addressing current needs that they should ask God about for the Church’s welfare, I would ask them to consider the following:

1. The idea that Black people are the seed of Cain was a view of 18th and 19th century Southern American Protestants to justify human bondage based on race (Genesis 4:15). As people joined the Church early on and went west, this idea became intertwined with how 19th century Mormons interpreted their scripture and we still have it today. Is it really true? If it’s not, please get rid of it.

2. Many in the Church believe interracial marriage to be inappropriate. This likely came from Brigham Young’s fear of interracial marriage, which he often spoke about. Also, many Mormons living the South hold these views as a carry over from the days of slavery and segregation. If a prophet of God denounced this view, faithful Mormons would change their attitudes. When President Hinckley denounced racism, many in the Church wouldn’t think to consider this to be a racist idea that should change.

3. Lastly, some try to explain the ban and its delay in bestowing gospel blessings in terms of the spiritual unpreparedness of Black people. This was an idea that developed in 20th century Mormonism to try to make sense of Black people’s exclusion. BYU professor Randy Bott embarrassingly represented this view in a Washington Post interview this year. Many people in the Church dismiss this as his own personal opinion that shouldn’t be given any attention. But, his views represents many that are still alive and well based on prophet’s words from the 19th and 20th century.This Slate article explains the Randy Bott debacle.  Because Church leaders have been silent on racial topics, pointing to the lifting of the ban as the answer to all racial questions, these ideas still carry on among some faithful Mormons who would change if a prophet or apostle directly addressed it.

The seed of Cain point would be the most difficult to overturn, if my opinion of it is correct. We also have in our cannon that the Lamanites, a people in the Book of Mormon, received a mark and a curse because of their disobedience (2 Nephi 5:21). I’ve heard this explained that there is a separation between the mark and the curse. Eventually, a people can overcome the curse by obedience, but the mark persists because it becomes part of their heritage.

It would stir controversy to say the ban came by human error. It wouldn’t stir controversy to denounce archaic racial views that came out of the period of the ban that still linger. It’s one thing to say racism is bad, as President Hinckley did in his “The Need for Greater Kindness” talk, and that every American Mormon already knows. It’s another to denounce past racial views that persist because faithful Mormons believe in living prophets.

The Facebook Share

When I shared the article, I said the following:

“I’m hankering for the day when Church leaders officially denounce these previously erroneous racial views. One of the steps of repentance is humbly admitting wrong doing.”

I shared the following quotes from the article with the initial share:

“Of course, while perhaps unusual in its fervor and particular in its theories, the rhetoric of Mormon leaders was lamentably within the mainstream of white American opinion. White Christians of many denominational stripes used repugnant language to justify slavery and the inferiority of black people. Most accepted theories that the sins of Cain and Ham had cursed an entire race. Indeed, those white Americans who today express outrage over Mormon racism should remind themselves of their own forebears’ sins before casting stones at the Latter-day Saints.

Most Protestant denominations, however, gradually apologized for their past racism. In contrast, while Mormon leaders generically criticize past and present racism, they carefully avoid any specific criticism of past presidents and apostles, careful not to disrupt traditional reverence for the church’s prophets.”

‎”The church could begin leaving those problems behind if its leaders explained that their predecessors had confused their own racist views with God’s will and that the priesthood ban resulted from human error and limitations rather than a divine curse.”

The Discussion Begins

August 18 at 7:08pm · Like · 2

[PP]: Elder Holland has said as much. Also the church released an official statement along those lines in response to the Randy Bott debacle.

August 18 at 7:17pm · Like · 1

John Paul: Great post. Thanks for shareing.

August 18 at 7:41pm · Like

[Rayleen]: [PP], do you mean this PBS interview with Elder Holland?

I pair that with Elder Christofferson’s most recent general conference talk “The Doctrine of Christ” where he says, “At the same time it should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.”

Right now, that stands as Elder Holland’s well considered opinion. Nothing more.

And do you mean this Mormonnewsroom article:

That Mormonnewsroom article is a great example demonstrating this line from the above NYTimes article “Most Protestant denominations, however, gradually apologized for their past racism. In contrast, while Mormon leaders generically criticize past and present racism, they carefully avoid any specific criticism of past presidents and apostles, careful not to disrupt traditional reverence for the church’s prophets”

I believe Randy Bott didn’t know he was being racist as he explained the priesthood ban to the Post reporter. If the Church more directly declares the seed of Cain and fence sitters in the premortal world beliefs as folklore and directly said this was a case where the Brethren confused their own views with God’s will, then faithful members like Randy Bott would change their perspective and their voice (Bott taught thousands of BYU students over his career and according to some of my friends in DC who took his class, he told the reporter what he typically tells his class; this continues the issue). Instead, the Church makes statements about the inappropriateness of racism while much of the Church population doesn’t connect those with the inappropriate racial views of their pioneer predecessors.

August 18 at 8:16pm · Like · 1

Janae: They have at least addressed Brigham Young’s mistakes, which involve a lot of the racist opinions of his time. He frequently shared his own opinion while he was a prophet – not everything that comes out of their mouths are prophetic :) I think that is the main problem with people criticizing the church – they quote anything and everything…which I think is a bit unfair.

August 18 at 8:19pm · Like

[PP]: That’s interesting, because when I when I was listening to Elder Christofferson’s talk that you just quoted I was actually thinking that he was alluding to Brigham Young’s quotes on race and the seed of Cain. But I guess you’re right that knife cuts both ways.

In any case, I think that a hesitancy to call out specific folklore “doctrines” or specific people is more about trying to stay positive and look forward. You’re right that this strategy makes it possible for people to harbor racist views, but eventually, I would assume, they would die out.

August 18 at 8:22pm · Like

[Rayleen] Janae, I’m not familiar with that. Will you tell me more?

[PP], You grew up a Mormon in the West, I grew up a Mormon in the South. I was taught at least the seed of Cain bit and other racial views as a youth. Perhaps if I hadn’t learned differently as I’ve learned living away from the South, I would have passed it on to the next generation of my family. It will take a direct denouncement to overcome it. Plus, people talking about the historical evolution of the policy and understanding Janae’s point that sometimes prophets are speaking their opinion. It’s our responsibility to seek revelation to confirm by the Spirit if what they’re teaching is true.

August 18 at 8:38pm · Like · 2

[PP]: I see your point. I guess I’m just struggling personally right now with the necessity of confronting evil (whether inside or outside of the church) or being a light rather than a judge. I also see it playing out big time on the national stage with Romney’s campaign. I don’t think it is bad to confront evil, but it does give it more energy.

August 18 at 8:48pm · Like · 2

Paul: An apology would be great. More important to me, though, is the mental shift that has to occur at the top leadership so that they can honestly and candidly criticize present and past leaders for genuine errors and bad judgment, and allow others to do so as well. That is super, super important. No, I don’t want a throw-a-tomato-at-a-General-Authority-party, and criticism can definitely devolve into negativity, and cynicism when it is offered uncharitably. But guess what? Because of the lack of honesty and transparency on many issues, there are already legions of disillusioned people out there who have legitimate reasons to be cynical about the openness and honesty of church leaders on topics such as this. There is too much of a well-crafted patina and carefully-protected aura around church leaders, and too much of a reluctance to put faith-promotion before integrity. Yes, I said integrity. There is a lack of integrity in the way the church leadership has dealt with past racial prejudices and many other issues in which they have erred or misled.

It’s ok to be human. Fully, completely, totally, forgivably ok. I don’t condemn past church leaders for making mistakes. I certainly make plenty of them myself. I won’t think less of them for admitting their mistakes. On the contrary. My respect will grow immensely.

And the truthfulness or falseness of the church does not hang in the balance here. The only thing that hangs in the balance is integrity.

August 19 at 1:54am · Like · 6

[PP]: Paul, I completely agree that openness and honesty have sometimes taken a back seat to faith promotion. And you’re right that it is an integrity issue. I’m just not so sure that encouraging a culture of criticism is the solution. If the only people qualified to cast stones are those without sins, perhaps we would all do better to focus on being 100% open and honest in our own lives.

August 19 at 8:53pm · Like

Paul: Without a doubt, there is plenty in my life for me to improve. Even so, institutional shortcomings are still important to deal with because of the magnitude of the negative effects. I don’t really want a culture of criticism. I want a culture of dialogue. In the current hierarchal imbalance, though, in which church leaders direct the membership and continually stress the idea that contradicting leadership is essentially an act of spiritual treason, public dialogue doesn’t really occur. And that’s a shame. In many ways it’s harmful, for leaders and lowly members alike.

August 19 at 9:13pm via mobile · Like · 1

Sylvia: What Paul said–especially the implication that dialogue/openness ≠ criticism, contrary to what seems to be popular opinion.

August 19 at 10:07pm · Like

John: I don’t understand why you think the church should officially denounce a view that it never officially endorsed.

August 20 at 8:53am · Like · 2

Nelson: Surprised to see [Rayleen]  more progressive than [PP]  on this one.

August 20 at 10:49am · Like

[PP]: For the record, I am all for dialogue and openness–100%. My comments on criticism are a response to Paul’s assertion that it is “super, super important” to encourage a “mental shift” where top leadership can “honestly and candidly criticize present and past leaders…” In my view, criticism is antithetical to dialogue and openness because it causes defensiveness. We could all do without the judgment and accusations.

August 20 at 1:44pm · Like

Paul: I understand where you’re coming from, [PP]. In the context that you quoted above, I used “criticism” in its fundamental meaning, as in critical thinking (in contrast to uncritical thinking, or non-thinking). I did not mean in the sense of tearing people down.

August 20 at 1:47pm · Like

John: I don’t think we gain anything by publicly criticizing (whichever way you want to use the word) past church leadership. I think it makes more sense to move forward, just like the church has.

August 20 at 2:27pm · Like · 1

Paul: Actually, we gain a lot by repudiating past egregious errors of church leaders. Brigham Young (and many others) said some awful and hateful things about blacks, and couched it in the language of revelation and God’s will. Nearly all whites were equally racist back then. That’s not Young’s unique error. His unique error is in proclaiming it as the word and will of God, as someone who claimed the title of prophet and spokesperson for God within a church that claimed to be the one and only true church.

Was Brigham Young wrong in saying the things in the quotes below? I’d say so, and the legacy of his teachings about race affected church policy until at 1978, and they continue to affect attitudes within the church, as evidenced by the controversy about BYU Professor Bott’s unfortunate statements about race earlier this year (look it up if you don’t know about it).

Brother Brigham’s teachings on race mirrored the prejudices and misinformation of his time:

“You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind….Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 290).

“In our first settlement in Missouri, it was said by our enemies that we intended to tamper with the slaves, not that we had any idea of the kind, for such a thing never entered our minds. We knew that the children of Ham were to be the “servant of servants,” and no power under heaven could hinder it, so long as the Lord would permit them to welter under the curse and those were known to be our religious views concerning them.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 172).

“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 110).

And to top it all off, he claims all his sermons are as good as scripture, presumably including the ones above:

“I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture. Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve. The people have the oracles of God continually.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, p. 95).

And he taught these things even after some blacks had been ordained to the priesthood in Joseph Smith’s day, and despite the fact that Joseph Smith’s presidential candidacy platform included abolitionist language, speaking out against slavery. In other words, Brigham Young’s interpretation was his own, informed by the attitudes around him, even to the point that he contradicted earlier church practices.

Now, Brigham Young deserves a lot of credit for all of the good things he did. Likewise, we owe it to ourselves to call him out for this mistake in particular, because of its harmful consequences.

The church would do well to *not* sweep such errors under the rug and just quietly move on, because, as I stated earlier, that kind of approach privileges appearance over integrity, and it fails to take ownership and accountability for some serious errors. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and say “We were very wrong, and we’re very sorry.”

The church’s PR statement about race in the wake of the Bott controversy ( denounced racism, which is great, but it made the origins of the priesthood ban sound mysterious. Early church leaders were pretty clear that there was no mystery in their minds, though. To them, it was clearly God’s will, and they were enacting it.

Newsroom – Church Statement Regarding ‘Washington Post’ Article on Race and the Church

The Church issued the following statement today in response to news media requests:

August 20 at 3:06pm · Like · 1 ·

LaDell: I did read in Journal of Discourses, I believe, where Joseph was teaching the brethren that “the negro” could rise to and above white men if taught correct principles. I don’t believe Joseph was racist. As I recall from Sunday School class, well before 1976, Joseph was in the process of ordaining a black brother to the priesthood, when he was constrained by the spirit. I don’t remember a reason being given at the time. My personal thoughts come from the story of Christ and the Syro-Phonecian woman who asked a blessing of Christ. He originally refused her, but then because of her faith gave her the blessing she requested. Then after his ascension, he directed Peter to take the gospel to the world. Just like the creation, the Lord builds in stages. I try to keep most of my speculation private, but I think this line of reasoning isn’t too far afield.

August 20 at 3:19pm via mobile · Like

Paul: Elijah Abel: a black Mormon who was ordained an elder in 1836, and later made a member of the quorum of seventy:

Elijah Abel – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Elijah Abel (July 25, 1808 – December 25, 1884)[1] was the first black elder and…See More

August 20 at 3:21pm · Like ·

[PP]: This reminds me of the time when Brigham Young, as prophet, preached hell-fire and brimstone all morning and then came back in the afternoon and said something to the effect of, “Well now you’ve heard Brother Brigham’s opinion on the subject, and now it is time for you to hear the Lord’s point of view” and he preached something the exact opposite of what he had said that morning. I really need to find that reference.

Elijah Abel was an amazing pioneer as well as Jane Manning James. A friend of mine is writing his dissertation at Harvard mostly about them. They knew the truth and eventually it did prevail.

I’m going to move on myself now, because I prefer not to contribute my own energy to the negative aspects, but I do want to encourage anyone who is interested in this topic to read Edward Kimball’s recounting of his father’s story when he received the revelation. It is literally the single most moving thing I have ever read–I actually sobbed tears of joy.

Edward L. Kimball presents a marvelous account of the 1978 revelation granting t…See More

August 20 at 3:29pm · Like · 2 ·

John: I don’t think we properly approach this topic until we separate the fact of historical instances of racial commentary from the circumstances of the priesthood ban. It’s not appropriate to assume that the ban was an error just because some reasons given were reproachable.

August 20 at 4:18pm · Like · 1

John: By the way Paul, not to defend his remarks, but you are holding Brigham’s words to a different standard that the one he set. Regarding sermons being Scripture he requested “the privilege of correcting a sermon” before “sen[ding] it out to the children of men” as scripture.

August 20 at 4:33pm · Like · 1

Paul: There’s a lot to love about Brigham Young. Really and truly, and he is worthy of tremendous respect for the great many good things he accomplished. I’ll let those be my last words on this thread.

August 20 at 4:36pm · Like

[Rayleen] Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I appreciate it very much.

Ha, Nellie, in terms of politics, I’m usually closer to the progressive side than [PP].:) Politically, I view myself as a moderate conservative and when it comes to the Church I try to be open to seeking truth and ministering in a way that I believe pleases God. Some may interpret some views as progressive or some views as conservative. I just view them all as my pursuit of conscience and self honesty.

Julie, why denounce a view that it never officially endorsed? Because many in the Church still believe that Black people were the descendants of Cain and therefore interracial marriage is a sin or that Black people weren’t spiritually mature enough to have the priesthood until later. The unfortunate part of Randy Bott being thrown under the bus and forced into early retirement is that his views are consistent with the most up to date prophet’s words on the priesthood limitation. (I call it “ban,” but I’ll go with limitation since you see it differently.) When I first read the Mormonnewsroom in response to Bott’s interview, I was surprised. It gave the impression that his views were way out in left field when in fact they were consistent with views based on the most up to date prophet’s words on the it. Since then, there’s only been some denouncement of racism, like Pres. Hinckley’s talk, but never a direct address of the inappropriateness of the racial views during the time of the priesthood ban which many in the Church still inherit because it’s never been denounced. It’s still a specter that hangs over us. Other Churches, like many Protestant churches, long ago denounced typical racial views of their predecessors. Ours endure because we believe in modern revelation and it’s difficult for us palate that not 100% of what a prophet teaches is “the mind and will of the Lord.”

[PP], Elder Christofferson included that anecdote of BYoung preaching his own sermon in the morning and the Lord’s in the afternoon in his last conference talk.

To the point about negativity and criticism. Think about it as a relationship between a couple. Sometimes you have to bring up issues and address them, but once resolved you feel closer to each other. If you just carry baggage without ever addressing because it’s uncomfortable, you’ll always be carrying baggage. Directly addressing issues in a self honest way doesn’t have to be negativity or criticism. I’m constantly seeking repentance and changing .I see it as empowering, not negative as I’m a work in progress. That is my sentiment here. I see the Church having similar human qualities because we’re comprised of humans.

LaDell, thanks for sharing that. I’m well familiar with Elijah Abel, but never heard that version. I’ve never read or heard where Joseph expressed his own thoughts on the matter. The only accounts I know of about Abel’s ordination were by people later in the Great Basin remembering the occasion. I’d be interested in learning more about that. That’d be really interesting.

Paul, thanks for sharing your thoughts. You’ve very articulate and you’ve been fair. I share many of your views here.

August 20 at 8:09pm · Like · 1

Doug: Hmm. Never pegged you as the sort.

I don’t entirely disagree with the sentiment, but it won’t happen, primarily because leadership will not see the need to do it– and even if they did, the need would not outweigh the perceived costs.

I don’t pretend to fully know the minds of the general authorities, but try to imagine what their thoughts on the issue are. One way to look at it is to say that a prophet of God instituted the policy, and a prophet of God, acting through inspiration, undid the policy. If that’s the case, then there would seemingly be no need for an apology; “our ways are not his ways,” etc. It would be enough to shrug and say that we don’t understand why God wanted it this way, or why he let it happen anyway.

Another way of looking at it is to believe that the adoption of the policy was the result of human error, and that the 1978 revelation undid the error rather than revoke a prior instruction. If this is the correct way of understanding the priesthood ban (and I tend to subscribe to this ideology, myself), then there’s no reason an apology would of necessity be inappropriate or harmful to the church’s tenents.

No apology is forthcoming, however, for several reasons. First, I suspect that there are church leaders who still give credence to the first ideology, and see nothing for which they should have to apologize. God commanded; God revoked. We don’t know why; we just obey.

But even those who don’t buy into this line of thought are unlikely to throw their support behind a public apology. It’s not as though church policy on the matter is somehow unclear, as President Hinckley’s address condemning racism in the ranks of the church should demonstrate. It has also been almost 35 years since the practice was abandoned. Revisiting the priesthood ban runs the risk of reopening a very old wound (though episodes like that of Brother Bott show that the wounds never completely healed, and that the harm was not totally undone). There is also the issue of sensitivity to members and leaders of the church who believe in some degree of prophetic infallability. They may be wrong to think so, but in a sense, we’d rather have members with incorrect expectations about the church’s leaders than former members with correct expectations.

Then there’s Mitt Romney. Like it or not, anything extraordinary that the Church does in this election cycle, or (if we should be so lucky) the next four to eight years, immediately becomes fodder for politics. Not only does this cast a negative light on other Mormons, but it also undermines the credibility of the church. After 35 years of silence, one could ask, why is it that the church felt the need to act NOW, in the fall of 2012?

I’m not saying that an apology would be inappropriate, or that I disagree with those who eagerly wait for one. I am saying they will be waiting for a very long time. As Elder Bruce R. McKonkie would say, they may be left waiting until the millennium.

August 21 at 8:46am · Edited · Like

John: [Rayleen], a few items:

The posts were from me (John not Julie).

I am comfortable with using the word “ban”. In fact, I used it in an earlier post on this thread. But, I am interested (sincerely) to know what you perceive about my view that causes you to offer the word “limitation” in place of “ban”.

Your claim that Randy Bott’s views were “consistent with the most up to date prophet’s words on the priesthood limitation” is dubious. The fact of the revelation made all previous statements on the topic suspect. McConkie said as much when he recanted “Forget everything I have said, or what…Brigham Young…or whomsoever has said…that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.”

As to “many in the Church still believe…that Black people weren’t spiritually mature enough to have the priesthood until later” consider which in detailing a timely survey result concludes “Mormons who accept this folk doctrine about their church’s past history with race are rare and dwindling…Rather than a cause for concern, Mormon racial attitudes provide reason for optimism.”

All that said, given a chance to direct the Brethren, what would you have them say?

What others say: Survey clarifies Mormons’ beliefs about race | Deseret News

Religious controversies continue to rile the 2012 presidential campaign. One of…See More

August 21 at 9:14am · Like ·

John: Doug’s post illustrates why we have to treat past racial commentary and the priesthood ban separately. Denouncing as error the racial views is one thing (which I think we have done sufficiently), denouncing the ban is wholly another, precisely because “it is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began” ( and Doug’s first way of looking at the issue (that the ban was prophetic) may possibly be the truth.

Newsroom – Church Statement Regarding ‘Washington Post’ Article on Race and the Church

The Church issued the following statement today in response to news media requests:

August 21 at 10:01am  Like ·

[Rayleen]: Doug! I’m so glad you dropped in! Thanks!

John, sorry I called you Julie. I just read J. [last name] wrong.

Ah, I see where there may be a misunderstanding. I would like a denouncement of the inappropriate views on race that came out of the period under the ban. Seed of Cain, sin of interracial marriage, inferiority of spirituality of Black people–that is what I want an official denouncement for. Though I subscribe to the ideology that Doug mentioned where it came by human error and was undone by divine intervention, I don’t really expect that to happen. Though it’d be really nice!

August 21 at 5:21pm · Like

[Rayleen]: John! (I have more time to reply now) thanks for sharing the Deseret News article because that is EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

The survey asked: “In the past, some Mormons have said that blacks had to wait to hold the priesthood because they were less valiant in the war in heaven, or the pre-mortal existence. Have you ever heard this?” It reports that few Mormons heard this let alone believed it. I left off “fence sitters in the premortal existence” on my list of grievances that need to be denounced because Joseph F. Smith already denounced it (even before the ban was lifted). Mormons stopped teaching it and passing it on. I never heard it until Romney’s 2008 run. That survey shows that when a prophet denounced it, it essentially began the slow death of that teaching. It’s interesting the survey didn’t ask about others. If it had asked if Mormons believed Black people were the seed of Cain, that Mormons should marry their own race and that Black people weren’t spiritually ready for the priesthood blessings, those survey results would have been much different. I want a prophet to denounce those 19th century racial views that became intertwined with Mormon doctrine.

And to your question about ban vs. limitation. If I believed that God implemented the ban, I wouldn’t call it a ban. I would see it God being inclusive to His chosen group of people, not banning a particular group. When I use the word ban, it implies judgement. That’s why I tried to adjust it for you, to remove that judgment.

August 21 at 8:49pm · Like

Jared: ha ha well put

August 21 at 9:04pm · Like

Geoff: You are all good people.

August 21 at 9:23pm · Like

Doug: I’m not.


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I was going to write a full post tonight on BYU professor Randy Bott’s recent Washington Post comments in the article The Genesis of a church’s stand on race. However, I’ve spent most of my time reading rather than writing and now I’m really sleepy. Since I have a one-on-one leadership meeting with the Bishop tomorrow evening, it won’t be until the weekend that I can finish up.

These words ignited the fallout:

“God has always been discriminatory” when it comes to whom he grants the authority of the priesthood, says Bott, the BYU theologian. He quotes Mormon scripture that states that the Lord gives to people “all that he seeth fit.” Bott compares blacks with a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car, and explains that similarly until 1978, the Lord determined that blacks were not yet ready for the priesthood.

“What is discrimination?” Bott asks. “I think that is keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them, right? But what if it wouldn’t have been a benefit to them?” Bott says that the denial of the priesthood to blacks on Earth — although not in the afterlife — protected them from the lowest rungs of hell reserved for people who abuse their priesthood powers. “You couldn’t fall off the top of the ladder, because you weren’t on the top of the ladder. So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.”

Holy cow. Did he really just compare those of African descent who desired the priesthood prior to 1978 to an out of line child?  Did he really explain the priesthood ban in terms of lack of spiritual ability? Wow. Sweeping generalizations about the inferiority of a race is, well, racist. Is it not 2012?

Though Prof. Bott’s ideas are unique to him, it is common for Latter-day Saints to try to explain why those of African descent were at one time excluded from the blessings of the priesthood. There is mostly consensus among Mormon history scholars that the priesthood ban did not originate with Joseph Smith. Joseph ordained Elijah Abel, a Black man, as a Seventy. It started with Brigham Young. Connell O’Donavan makes the case that Young’s fears of interracial marriage factored in to its development.Further, at no point is there a claim of a single revelatory event directing for its implementation.  Many Mormons informed of the topic through scholarly channels consider the priesthood ban a “practice” as President David O. McKay called it or a “policy,” rather than a doctrine. Now, the Church is plagued with speculative explanations for why a ban ever existed in the first place. Three Mormon Myths About Blacks and the Priesthood  explains the leading myths. With the exception of the fence-sitters relic, I learned them on multiple occasions in my home ward in Florida and at BYU, mostly in conversational settings.

Where is the Church today? The ban was lifted in 1978 by what members of the quorum of the 12 Apostles who received the revelation compare to the Day of Pentecost. In a 2006 PBS interview The Mormons Interview Jeffrey Holland, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the quorum of the 12 Apostles who was not a co-recipient of the 1978 revelation, called previous attempts to explain why as “wrong” and “folklore.” Too bad it wasn’t in the official forum of the biannual general conference. Elder Holland’s “folklore” statements on PBS and references back to the 1978 revelation are about as good as it gets in debunking these teachings that continue to linger. Myths continue to circulate. I experienced them, so do others. But, we do have President Hinckley’s 2006 conference address condemning racism, The Need for Greater Kindness. 


The Mormon history blog, Juvenile Instructor, has an excellent historical overview summarizing scholarly works addressing race in the Church, Revisiting: “Mormonism Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview”. Check it out, it’s worth your time.

I thought I’d best add value tonight by passing along a historical summary of the seminal Lester Bush article mentioned in the WaPo article. Matt, a friend of mine in a monthly Mormon study group I attend, composed it as a preface for our discussion on race in the Church. He does an excellent job. It’s also worth your time, too.

Early Mormons, including Joseph Smith, generally accepted the very old notion that Africans were the descendants of Ham, the cursed son of Noah.  This gave them their black skin and for some Americans meant they were doomed to be slaves.  Joseph, however, seemed skeptical of the last, though he believed in the curse; he endorsed gradual emancipation, became increasingly vocal against slavery while living in Nauvoo, and did not seem to make a connection between the curse and the priesthood; he ordained at least one black man, a Marylander named Elijah Abel, as a seventy in 1833.

Several slaves were taken on the Mormon trail to Utah, and Southern converts brought more.  Brigham Young was personally skeptical of slavery, but as a pragmatic leader did not want to put the Mormons at the center of a national fight over the issue.  In 1852 the Utah legislature passed a law legalizing slavery and Young signed it. There are even records of slaves used as currency to pay tithing.  Additionally, Young believed in the curse of Ham.   In 1849 he made the first statement to the effect that this curse meant that Africans could not hold the priesthood; in 1852 he reaffirmed this stance, declaring he spoke as a prophet and in the name of Jesus Christ; he would continue to repeat this position over the course of his life.   Bush identified 20 African American Mormons in 1849; seven were men, four of those were free, and two of those, including Abel, held the priesthood.

Now, this theology seemed to present difficulties for the Mormon doctrine of free agency, and the repudiation of original sin: how could it be just for these people to be punished simply because they were born under a curse?   The apostles Orson Pratt and Orson Hyde explained why; they taught in General Conference that the cursed state of Africans was due to their failures to fight vigorously on the side of Christ in the war in heaven.  Though they did not initially connect this idea to the priesthood ban, it soon was repeated hand in hand with Young’s teachings.   Nobody, however, stated that the teaching came from Joseph Smith.  And nobody really questioned it, because there were simply very few black Mormons.

By the 1880s, however, the problem was brought to the First Presidency in a very real way.   In that decade, Elijah Abel, who had spent most of his life on missions, and Jane James, a free black convert who had walked across the plains, requested the right to receive their endowments.  This sparked a furious debate within the first presidency and the quorum of the twelve, which eventually orbited around the claim of a seventy, a man named Zebedee Coltrin, that he had heard Joseph Smith express regret that Abel was ordained – though Coltrin acknowledged that Abel had been, and even admitted having washed and anointed him in the Kirtland temple.  Though Joseph F. Smith insisted that his uncle had never expressed such regret, other members of the Quorum seemed to believe that Joseph Smith had taught that the curse of Ham denied black men the priesthood.  Further, in 1881 the Pearl of Great Price was canonized, and many apostles pointed to its depiction of a pharaoh denied the priesthood for further support. Abel and James were rejected.  However, when Joseph F. became president of the church he announced that African American members should be allowed to be baptized for the dead, and publicly rejected the preexistence theology of the two Orsons, though at that point he was shouting into the wind.

Thus, by the end of the nineteenth century, it was widely accepted as doctrine within the church that Africans were the descendants of Cain through the line of Noah’s son Ham; their spirits were born into this state because they had failed to vigorously support Christ in the preexistence, and that therefore they were denied the priesthood and the endowment.   This was reaffirmed as doctrine by official declarations; for instance, in 1949 the first presidency issued a statement which ascribed the ban to a commandment from God and offered a Wilford Woodruff speculation that one day the ban might be lifted.

This did not really become problematic until the middle of the twentieth century, when the Church began to have success proselytizing in Brazil.  For centuries European, African, and Native American Brazilians had freely intermarried, and Church authorities began to worry how to tell whether any given convert might have African blood or not.   By the early 1960s, the Church was receiving requests for missionaries from a veritable grassroots movement among Nigerians who had found Church material and had organized themselves into de facto congregations.   David O. McKay, who sent these missionaries, had struggled with the notion of the ban for a long while; he never felt he had God’s confirmation to remove it, though he authorized several alterations – personally authorizing the sealing of two black children to white parents who had adopted them, and directing that Brazilian converts should be assumed not to have African blood unless proof otherwise was clear.  Famously, he told his friend Sterling McMurrin that the ban was a practice, not a doctrine.  And Hugh Brown, his first counselor, had been pushing for revocation for years.

By the mid-1970s, the church was flourishing in Brazil, enough so Spencer Kimball, then president of the church, announced that a temple would be built there.  Kimball struggled with the ban as had McKay; he initiated discussions among the quorum on the issue soon after the temple was announced.  After months of discussion, the First Presidency and the Quorum prayed together, and reported confirmation from God that the ban should be removed.

Church Statement Regarding the ‘Washington Post’ Article on Race and the Church–Official response to Prof. Bott’s WaPo remarks

Can We Stop With the ‘Folklore’ Doctrine Already? –Links extensively to reactions to Bott’s comments

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This week, I saw the recently created video of my friend, Sheryl. She’s a BYU alum and a Teach for America rock star working to save students’ futures in the otherwise abysmal  D.C. public school system.  You can read her profile here.

Sheryl is so great. I almost always feel like a million bucks when I’m in her presence. Some people just carry a contagious radiance and optimism. She’s one of them.

The opening part of the video caused me to pause.

Sheryl speaking:

“When people find out that I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they say, “What’s that?”

“I say, I’m a Mormon.”

“They’re like, no, no way, I’ve never met a black Mormon.”

“Then I’m like, yeah, we exist.”

At first it made me laugh. I relish in the moment when stereotypes of any kind shift, especially about people of my faith.

But then it caused me reflection.

In American history public high school classes, we learn about the Civil Rights movement. We learn of Martin Luther King’s civil disobedience method and his mobilization of thousands of Americans to fight for the security of their inherent rights.

It’s an amazing and moving story, but for my generation and younger, it’s history. At least for me as a white kid, it was only a history lesson; a thing of the past.

Apart from being a religious minority growing up in Florida, I don’t know what it feels like to be a minority.

This reminds me of my middle and high school friend, Tiffany ,whose sister used to tease her by calling her “Dot.” Why?  Because she chose extracurricular activities that only white kids chose.  I mean, you couldn’t really get whiter than FFA.  (I come from a  line of Florida landholders, farmers and ranchers.)  She and I both competed in the organizations’ parliamentary procedure forums. I didn’t think of her as my “black friend.” I just thought of her as my friend.

I remember when I was a volleyball player at Florida State College of Jacksonville our setter, an extremely talented Brazilian named Lucy, was being recruited by leading Mississippi Division I schools.  Our African American teammate told her that she personally wouldn’t go to Mississippi because of its racism. When Lucy told me this, I told her I wouldn’t worry about that.  I’ll never forget her response, “That’s easy for you to say, you’re white!

(I use the term African American to denote a relationship to a community.  My friends who I call “black” at different times have explained to me that they are separate from this subculture.)

I also remember being surprised more recently when my dear Nigerian friend talked about his cognizance of the lack of color among his colleagues at his prominent investment banking company.  He said the only other black person he’s seen with the company is the janitor.

That’s not something I would have noticed, but then again, I’m white.

I’m not color blind as Justice John Marshall Harlan in his famous Plessy v. Ferguson dissent argued the Constitution to be. It’s not like I can’t tell that my Nigerian friend is black. Claiming I’m blind to this would be like me saying I’m blind to the fact he’s attractive. I’m definitely not blind.

Believe me with this one.


I think for many white people of my generation, awareness of race is more equivalent to hair color or identification with a certain cultural heritage and less similar to the views of the racially segregated generations preceding us who ranked people’s worth according to the color of their skin.

This is success!  It’s a step in a direction that pleases God.  However, though we’ve moved in this good direction, it doesn’t mean we should dismiss matters of race as inconsequential.

It still matters, but now it matters for different reasons.

In my mind, matters of race now have more to do with access to educational opportunities that enable upward movement in society than it does with people ranking others into social classes by color.  My Nigerian friend is brilliant and has a brilliant mother who brought him to the States when he was 6 to create a better life for him. She pushed him in his school accomplishments .  Well educated herself, she was able to help him with his homework. Because of this, he went  to a good college and then to a prestigious law school, which opened the door to his now company.  The janitor at his work likely didn’t have such educational support. Sheryl mentioned in her video that it matters her students are minorities because the statistics show they are more likely to drop out of school than to go to college. Let’s not pretend like the racial segregation of preceding generations and with it the economic suppression and sub par education doesn’t now affect minorities.

Though educational inequalities definitely concern me, my previously provided examples show me that even if social mobility isn’t a barrier,  it’s not easy being a minority in social settings when you’re the only member of the minority group present.

I shouldn’t be blind to this challenge, especially when I care about about my friends.

Blacks Exist in the Church

All this was lead up to describe a bit of the historical landscape of race in the Church and its current state, but I have got to go to sleep.  I will continue this soon.


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