Blacks, Mormons, Priesthood, Racism, Answers

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February 12, 2009

First: Are there racist Mormons?

Answer: Yes. Sadly.

Second: Is the LDS Church a racist organization?

Answer: NO. From the Book of Mormon, “[The Lord] inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33).

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Racism in all its forms is disgusting. It is an evil wholly at odds with the gospel of Jesus Christ and has a pernicious effect on society. Those members of the LDS Church and other faiths that have race-superiority issues (which they often try to base on scripture or statements of church leaders) are in sin.

However, such people in the Church are few and far between. My personal experience in the Church has been a wholly positive one. I have attended church services in Brazil, China, Mongolia, Germany, and in various congregations in the United States and have witnessed firsthand the unity that the gospel of Jesus Christ brings as people of varying ethnicity worship together. Growing up I had a black foster sister. Admittedly, Mikayla was in the minority attending church with my family in the predominantly white state of Utah. Naturally, Mikayla would ask questions about it. But not once in the years I sat beside her in the chapel pews did I witness any form of racism against her. I love that. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a multicultural church (more members live outside the U.S. than within) welcoming sons and daughters of God of all ethnicities.

I am willing to admit there are problems. Racism is a resilient poison that people in the U.S. and elsewhere have had difficulty purging. Just because overt acts of racism don’t occur publicly often doesn’t mean it isn’t present beneath the surface. And yet I think the Church is doing well. Plus, we can hardly point a finger at others; are any of us truly free of hurtful prejudice of any sort? Let’s pray we all continue to do better. Do better together.

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Next topic: Why was priesthood denied to black male members of the church prior to 1978?

Our age of click-and-publish internet ramblings has brought with it a barrage of ill-supported commentaries which force the modern reader to be a skeptic of everything he or she reads. In light of this, I have tried hard to cut through the haze and get an accurate answer to this controversial and sensitive question. The answer I found: there is no satisfactory answer.

Some clamor that the priesthood ban was a product of traditional racism in early America; that it was a church policy based on unrighteous social norms. They have their evidences. Some insist that it was a divinely inspired command from God. They have their evidences. Still others claim it was a policy implemented by the Church based on correct doctrinal principles. Likewise, they have their evidences. The Church itself hasn’t said anything official and definitive on the subject. A paucity of facts invites a diversity of opinion. As far as I am concerned, it also makes any opinion on the subject mere speculation.

What I do know is that a prophet of God received a revelation on Thursday, June 1st, 1978 that enabled all worthy male members of the Church to receive the priesthood. History shows that it was a day of rejoicing. And it wasn’t the first of its kind. It was reminiscent of the New Testament scene where Peter told the new members of the Church that God had revealed to him that the gospel of Christ was now to be preached to the Gentiles. It was a policy change in the church: a policy change God gave (as He often does) without explanation. Acts 11:18 gives their reaction to Peter’s news, “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God.”

In closing I say to white members of the church: Be careful in how you explain the priesthood ban to yourself and others. Perhaps Alma Allred in his essay “The Traditions of Their Fathers: Myth versus Reality in LDS Scriptural Writings” (found in the book Black and Mormon cited below) was near the truth when he urged white members to, instead of looking for what blacks did to receive the ban, look at themselves to make sure they were not the cause.

And to all members of the Church and other curious truth seekers: if it really bothers you, do the research. Come to your own conclusions. But remember that there aren’t always definitive answers. God moves in mysterious ways. Our Old Testament friend Naaman was confused when he was commanded to go wash in Jordan seven times to be made clean (2 Kings 5:10). God didn’t explain but he had faith and did it anyway. There are plenty of things I don’t understand, yet I can get by with the limited light I have. I do try to learn all that I can-I am not satisfied with ignorance. But I recognize that the ignorance and incomplete understanding that remain with me are mine and not God’s.

This takes you to an official church site touching on the subject.

Suggested further reading:

Bringhurst, Newell G. and Smith, Darron T. Black and Mormon. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Bringhurst, Newell G. Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People within Mormonism. Westport Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981.

Embry, Jessie L. Black Saints in a White Church: Contemporary African American Mormons. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993.

Lund, John Lewis. The Church and the Negro: A Discussion of Mormons, Negroes and the Priesthood. Salt Lake City: Paramount Publishers, 1967.

Taggart, Stephen G. Mormonism’s Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origin. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1970.

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8 Responses to “Blacks, Mormons, Priesthood, Racism, Answers”

  1. Annette

    Thank you. Few things have calmed my troubled spirit regarding this issue as effectively as this post.

  2. Just some guy

    And more from the Book of Mormon:

    2 Nephi 5:21 For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

    2 Nephi 30:6 And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure white (1830 edition) and a delightsome people.

    Jacob 3:8 O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.

    Alma 3:6 And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.

    3 Nephi 2:15 And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites.

    Mormon 5:15 And also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel, which shall go forth unto them from the Gentiles; for this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us, yea, even that which hath been among the Lamanites, and this because of their unbelief and idolatry.

    And from brother Brigham:

    “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.109)

  3. Thaddeus

    Please don’t quote the Book of Mormon out of context. Many of those versus are not even talking about skin pigment, and none refer to black African skin (since the Book of Mormon takes place in ancient Mesoamerica).

    Here is one you missed:
    2 Nephi 26:33 “For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

    Please read more at the FAIR wiki.

  4. Just some other guy

    Why didn’t you address the quote from brigham? This seems to be absolute……

    And from brother Brigham:

    “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.109)

  5. Thaddeus

    This quote is taken out of its historical context. President Young was talking specifically about white male land-owners raping female slaves. See the article on FAIR’s wiki page that addresses it.

  6. Steve

    That is a great article you linked to Thaddeus. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. Kassie

    Boy this is a touchy issue. I know this, no one was more relieved than the average LDS person when President Spencer W. Kimball received the revelation that blacks could hold the priesthood in 1978. It was an embarrassing doctrine, one we do not understand. We cannot deny the history of the Church. We don’t know why President Young said the things he did. We don’t even know who he was referring to really. We have to place the doctrine in the context of the times also. Blacks were always welcome in the Church-the men just couldn’t hold the priesthood. Many black members did convert however before 1978 knowing full well they could not hold the priesthood. Why would they have done that? Because they were convicted of the Holy Ghost that they knew the Church was true. How sure must they have been to join a Church many considered racist and prejudiced then? Very sure I would say. Very sure. They waited and waited and waited praying all the time that God would answer their prayers so they could hold the priesthood. And their prayers were answered. The Prophet Spencer Kimball said there were “tears of joy” among the members of the First Presidency that day, and thankfulness. The leaders of the modern Church didn’t like it anymore than the rest of us. But it does not invalidate the truthfulness of the Gospel. Sometimes we just don’t get to know why Heavenly Father does the things he does. We have to trust in Him that all will be made right. My opinion anyway.

  8. Rich

    There are truths to what you are trying to dismiss in the quoted writings and they did cause confusion (most things by man do) but I’m not going to argue that with you.

    I believe that “I am the Lord, I change not”. The issue I have is that there always seem to be many excuses justifying why we don’t know the Lord’s heart is in the first place and then receive “revelation” to make the change to what we now accept as correct. Correct is correct whether it be now, later, before…..”I change not”.
    I wouldn’t join anything, nor would most people, that treats me as lesser than others in God’s eye’s. If we are all accepted by God as equals with each other then I would suggest that the original “revelation” would have been explicit enough to share God’s heart in that and African American men would not have been excluded. I contend that “man” chose that to be the way it was, as in slave days, and there was no “revelation” needed, just understanding of God and his purpose. I think this would lend itself to wanting to join for other reasons (pressure, fear, needing to belong, whatever). There were other organizations joined as well so maybe being part of something instead of being persecuted? Joining can’t be used as a validation for only your organization. People join gangs to feel part of something, even if they aren’t going to be the top dog so that’s not a great argument.

    As in the LDS church, the world in general including us “born-agains” (as my LDS friend calls us:) have come into “understanding” of certain things as we move along this life and press into God and learn more about him and his character, both collectively and individually. What is interesting is that it isn’t really “divine” revelation in many of these instances just common sense and understanding of God. I dislike the fact that it is sold as one man getting “divine revelation”. 

    We ALL are guilty of misunderstanding things (at different points in our life) or even purposely doing what we thought was right due to politics, selfishness or whatever (as in slavery or not allowing them to hold the priesthood) and it took us understanding (revelation of) God’s grace and forgiveness through the Savior that brought us the change (as it is in the Bible already on how to treat people), not one man’s “divine revelation” unless he/they needed it due to not “getting it” from the Word (Bible and that was here in flesh) and leading of the Holy Spirit.

    The whole thing is unfortunate but men have been failing miserably for centuries which is why we need a Savior. We, however, have the choice to accept, study and “press on toward the mark” as it says in Philippians.

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