United Brethren has retired.

Is Mormon "racism" real or imagined?

There's some discussion floating through the ether (see, for example, darronsmith.com) about whether the Church ought to clarify its doctrine towards blacks (or more strongly, apologise for it). The basic idea is that although it has been 25 years since the priesthood ban on blacks was lifted, the Church has done little to repudiate past teachings. The continued printing of McConkie's Mormon Doctrine is taken as evidence of the persistence of a racist Mormon folklore. Although McConkie's book is not officially sanctioned by the Church it still supplies guidance to many members who find within its pages ideas such as:

- the superiority of whites
- dark skin as a curse from God
- the value of caste systems and racial segregation
- the descent of all blacks from Cain and Ham
- the condemnation of interracial marriage

I do not wish to explore territory already well-trodden (both here at UB and at DMI, for example), nor discuss the wisdom of making requests for action to the Brethren. What interests me are people's experience with racial folklore. It is assumed by many that when asked "why was there a ban on blacks holding the Priesthood", most members (despite no official teaching on the matter) will reach for such notions as the curse of Cain/Ham and the alleged neutrality of blacks in the War on Heaven.

So my question is, how would the average Latter-day Saint explain the Priesthood ban?

From my experience growing up in the Church in England Britain, the consensus would be that a) there was a curse, and b) less than valiant spirits (blacks) inherited the curse. IF my experience is typical, then there may be a problem. If not, then Mormon racism is perhaps more imagined than real. Interestingly, although these were the ideas that were shared with me during my LDS upbringing, I don't think that the members of the Church in the UK are racist. Quite the contrary. There seems to be a disconnect there: on the one hand racist folklore was around, but no-one was (in practical terms) actually racist, which is why I resist suggestions that Mormons are (as a whole) racist. Compared with the overwhelmingly white community which was my home, Mormons were actually far more enlightened. But I'm not black, so I may not have noticed anything to the contrary.

Anyway, please consider my question: how would the average member explain the ban? (And you, dear reader, are not the average member!)

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Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 06, 2005 5:10 PM) 

It took me a minute to read "the Church in England" properly, rather than as "the Church of England." It makes much more sense now. I'll bet a senior LDS leader will make a lengthy apology-like statement as part of a talk at some regional conference, giving Mormons of color the reassurance they need to hear without making it a front-page "change of policy" issue again. At least that's how I'd do it if I were running the Church. ;-)

 

Posted by Dave

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 06, 2005 6:02 PM) 

Growing up I didn't think much about it. I just assumed that back when the priesthood was restored a subsequent revelation stated that blacks couldn't receive the priesthood. Maybe a little too much trust in our spotless Mormon history? Probably.

Dave, are you suggesting that you think a leader eventually will, or just saying that's what should happen?
 

Posted by Rusty

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 06, 2005 7:26 PM) 

Maybe it was the specific belief of the Sunday School teacher I learned it from, but I was taught that the ban was not a question of the worthiness of blacks to receive the priesthood, but of the readiness of whites to accept it. Thinking back to the start of the church, when slavery was still in practice, and the general prejudice of this time, up to the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s, giving the priesthood to blacks may have impeded the church's progress - after all, when the church was restored to the earth, the church was already preaching polygamy, temples, and Lamanites, and being heavily persecuted for it... 

Posted by Hanna

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 06, 2005 7:27 PM) 

Maybe it was the specific belief of the Sunday School teacher I learned it from, but I was taught that the ban was not a question of the worthiness of blacks to receive the priesthood, but of the readiness of whites to accept it. Thinking back to the start of the church, when slavery was still in practice, and the general prejudice of this time, up to the civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s, giving the priesthood to blacks may have impeded the church's progress - after all, when the church was restored to the earth, the church was already preaching polygamy, temples, and Lamanites, and being heavily persecuted for it... 

Posted by Hanna

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 06, 2005 7:28 PM) 

Sorry - Blogger was so slow I posted twice... (and this makes thrice.) 

Posted by Hanna

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 06, 2005 8:47 PM) 

My introduction to the topic was in seminary class when my seminary teacher said that while some people had taught that black people were fence-sitters in the war-in-heaven that wasn't true. When pressed for a source he couldn't produce one. People in the class could however point to Mormon Doctrine as evidence that it was true. It was amazing to me that there hadn't been clarification of this issue. It was pretty much the most memorable seminary class I experienced.

Eugene England did some surveys of his students at BYU to determine what students in the 1990s thought was the reason for the ban. I don't remember the results in detail, but the gist of it was that his students continued to hold racist views that the church no longer teaches.

I didn't get any good information on the subject until institute. I finally learned about topics such as Elijah Abel and the efforts by some of the twelve to change the policy during David O. McKay's presidency.

Interestingly Joseph Smith seems to have had it right from the start. It just took us a shamefully long while to get back to that point. 

Posted by a random John

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 06, 2005 10:27 PM) 

The explanation I've heard the most is the mark of Cain etc. But as a random John points out Joseph Smith ordained a black member to the Quorum of the Seventy. Brigham introduced the policy I believe of blacks not having the priesthood. I think as there seems to be no real doctrine attached to this, teachers need to stop speculating. Quasi (sp?) doctrine is of no help to anyone. 

Posted by Rebecca

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 07, 2005 9:55 AM) 

Although I had of course heard all of these theories, the one that I believed was the one that Hanna elucidated- that whites just weren't ready yet for blacks to hold the priesthood. Kinda like how for a while the gospel was only available to the Jews until Peter received a revelation otherwise. 

Posted by Jordan

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 07, 2005 10:30 AM) 

Jordan, I think that if there was an inspired reason, then that was it. In that case, technically the "curse" was on the white saints that wouldn't be able to handle the true principle. However that doesn't explain Elijah Abel. I think it is possible that there wasn't an inspired reason and that the ban instituted by Brigham Young was a mistake. We have been able to look back and see that some other things he said were wrong. Your example of Peter is telling. Who couldn't hold the priesthood after Peter was told that the gospel was for everyone? 

Posted by a random John

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 07, 2005 10:40 AM) 

I said in my post that my LDS peers in England weren't racist. That may have been overly optimisitc as I now remember a lesson as a Deacon where our advisor said he would never employ a black. But that attitude didn't stem from his Mormonness, he was simpy an English redneck (if such a person exists).

The comments so far about the ban being the result of white unreadiness seem typical, but it's kind of a strange reason, don't you think? (My ways are not your ways, saith the Lord) 

Posted by Ronan

 

Anonymous Anonymous said ... (January 25, 2005 3:04 PM) 

Should the jews apologize for the mistreatment of Gentiles, or what about all those jerks that thought the world was round... Should we apologize to the Japanese for Heroshima? It is history, and it is past. Of course, the Southern Baptists did come out in the 90's and apologize for the support of the KKK, but as far as I can tell, there were not too many Mormon Lynch Mobs going after our brothers of the darker persuasion. 

Posted by Jake

 

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