What do Mormons believe about African-Americans? Election year update.

Dear readers:

I was tooling around behind the scenes at the Ask Mormon Girl site this week, and I learned something that surprised me.  What are the top five Google queries that lead people to this site?

what do mormons believe about black people

mormons and blacks           

mormon beliefs about black people

mormon beliefs on blacks

mormons beliefs about black people

Yes, that surprised me too.

But is it really surprising that as the polls tighten, millions of African-American voters who know very little about the LDS Church except its history of discrimination want to know what Mitt Romney really believes, where his heart is, and how he will govern. So from the security and privacy of their own computers, they’re doing what we do these days:  they’re asking Google.

They are not alone.  The fact is that most Americans still know very, very little about Mormonism, even after a protracted media “Mormon moment.”  Governor Romney has chosen to keep his religion generally out of the conversation, and aside from a few early season flubs Democrats have generally done the same.  Really.  Romney has faced nothing that even comes close to what Barack Obama has faced with the consistent misrepresentation of his religion (he is Protestant, not Muslim) or the Jeremiah Wright controversy of 2008, even though you really don’t have to dig that deep into the archives of Mormonism to find material that if spun the wrong way and sensationalized could incite a national reaction as well.  Given that LDS people generally feel misunderstood by and a bit defensive against the wider world, I think that’s important to remember.

Time and time again during the last year and a half, I’ve encountered questions about the LDS Church and racism from African-American people.  Always, always, the question has been posed very politely—that too is significant, given the general deterioration of tone in political and internet discourse.

Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending an hour on the air with Dr. Richard Cooper at AM 900 WURD in Philadelphia:  a historically Black radio station featuring programming for Philadelphia’s Black community.   Dr. Cooper opened the phone lines, and right away, there was the question:  “Word on the street is they didn’t even let Black people in their churches until 1978.  What do Mormons believe about Black people now.”

And again, this week, a query came by email:

“I was wanting to know about the different levels of heaven and if black people were included in the groups of people that are able to go to them when they die.”

Here’s what I wrote back:

“Yes.  According to Mormon theology, black people can go to heaven.  The Church did discriminate against men and women of African descent until 1978.   Men were not permitted to hold the priesthood, and men and women were not allowed to participate in Mormon temple ceremonies. That policy was racist.  And I don’t know a single Mormon who isn’t glad that it is over.”

For a more complete answer that gives a fuller historical account of the history of race and racism in Mormonism, please see my original post “What do Mormons believe about African-Americans” here.  I also talk about the priesthood ban in chapter two of The Book of Mormon Girl.

For a Black Mormon perspective, please visit my friends at Sistas in Zion.  Or check out the documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons.

And it’s worth knowing that earlier this year, after the Washington Post did a story on race and the LDS Church, citing a BYU religion professor who presented what sounded to him like good old common sense but what sounded to 99% of the rest of us (Mormons included) like Mormon-flavored racist malarkey, the LDS Church issued a statement disavowing racism—past, present, and future.

The LDS Church has never outright apologized for its racist past practice, as have other denominations.  But I know plenty of LDS people who regret that the faith we love ever excluded people of African descent from full fellowship. Speaking only as myself—just another rank-and-file Mormon–I’m not afraid to say I’m sorry.  And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow @askmormongirl on Twitter. 

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48 Comments

Filed under race

48 responses to “What do Mormons believe about African-Americans? Election year update.

  1. Jen

    Black people are no longer denied he priesthood, and I would definitely agree that most Mormons are not racist at all… But the Book of Mormon is a very racist book. Isn’t it? The wicked lamanites are “dark and loathsome”. They were cursed with dark skin so the “white and pure” wouldn’t be attracted to them. And that’s just the first two books What about the rest of it?
    How can the church say they are not racist and still have those ideas in their book?

    • Jen,

      I can easily pull out numerous passages of scripture where God commands slavery, supports slavery, and even provides particular laws regarding slave ownership and punishment of slaves. In addition, I can find numerous passages within the Biblical Text as to how there is racism, genocide, and the like. Does that mean the Bible becomes invalidated? Does that mean God is racist and a slave advocate?

      One thing that many critics do not realize is that there was a definite distinct race in Ancient America. There were dark skinned people and there were fair skinned people. One such evidence is the Cloud People. Another such evidence is recorded in Pedro de Cieza Leon’s fourth part work – The Second Chronicles of Peru where he describes fair skinned women being highly prized by the Inca’s because of their beauty.

      Another aspect to the passages in the Book of Mormon that you mention is the fact that what we have was edited by Mormon and then Moroni. A more critical analysis would provide an interesting understanding through genetics. The sons, Laman and Lemuel, did not turn “Dark and Loathsome” overnight. It was a gradual progress where they may have assimilated with an already existing people group that were dark skinned. Today, there are a variety of tribes in South America where there is a very distinct color of skin.

      Here is one article I found on this topic: http://www.ancientamerica.org/library/media/HTML/4gkvemkv/The%20Skin%20of%20Blackness.htm?n=0

      And another http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=15&num=2&id=508

    • David Gordon

      Jen, That is a great question. As a Mormon I used to ask the same thing about other religions. The truth is that we believe the Book of Mormon and the Bible to be the word of prophets and hence that they are inspired of God. Unfortunately though it isn’t totally black and white. Prophets in the Old and New Testaments were good men but they were flawed. Even the great apostle Peter was called on the carpet for hypocrisy by Paul for separating Jewish and Gentile converts in a worship service even after the Jerusalem council that denounced such separation and basically allowed full fellowship for Gentiles. Jonah when asked to preach to the people of Ninevah revealed his racism by running away and then moping after the people had repented. The point I am trying to make is that prophets and apostles in the bible were flawed and inserted these flawed ways of thinking into their interpretation of God’s law. I do not believe for a second that God endorsed such views. Why he allowed them to persist is a matter and be endorsed by his messengers in the Bible and the Book of Mormon is a matter that any serious Christian must take up with him. Mormonism does not claim that the authors of the Book of Mormon were perfect men. Nor does Mormonism claim that the Book of Mormon is a perfect book. Moroni acknowledges that there may be errors, but that they are the errors of men. While we as Christians hold that many of the ideas presented in the Bible about slavery, unequal treatment of women, and other such things are against the commandments of God as we understand them, I know of few Christian churches that actually censor the Bible. Similarly since we believe the Book of Mormon to be the writings of ancient prophets we denounce wrong ideas touted as truth in the Book of Mormon and the Bible, but we also choose not to censor either one. One more thought. Perhaps God allowed passages like those that offend modern Christians because of their racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive nature to remain because he wished us to learn from the mistakes and follies of those who go before us. Thus it is with the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis. We also see that in the Book of Mormon that the people are most prosperous when they choose to love the Lamanites, preach to them, unite as a group of Christians, trade with them, pray for them and intermarry. We see that while they fail to love their darker-skinned neighbors that the people become more wicked, they lose many of their lives in battle, the church has trouble, and the people are not as well off. Perhaps the preservation of Nephite racism in the Book of Mormon is supposed to give us a clear example of the consequences of not viewing all of God’s children as precious in his eyes. I for one am sorry that as a people it took us so long to learn this valuable lesson.

    • You mean this “racist” comment from the Book of Mormon? “For none of these iniquities come from the Lord… 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” (2 Nephi 26:33; emphasis mine).

      The Book of Mormon clearly teaches equality between races, genders and cultures. It teaches that God sees beyond those barriers.
      And let’s remember that the “cursed” Lamanites were seen as the more righteous group by the end of the book. I agree with those that say that this is just the editors’–Mormon and Moroni– interpretation of a “curse” was just inaccurate commentary of a phenomenon they didn’t understand (the Lamanites’ intermarriage with the pre-existing natives who already lived there).

      In the Book of Mormon you see “Lamanite” prophets like Samuel rise up and condemn the Nephites for their wickedness. You see a “Lamanite” group the anti-Nephi-Lehies shown as a brilliant example of peace and love and Christian discipleship when they lay down their weapons of war and allow themselves to be slaughtered as an example to both nations. Jacob extols the Lamanites family values, while condemning the Nephites immoral practices. It is evident in the Book of Mormon that it is the Lamanites who value the women in the culture (where women have a voice and their identities and names are mentioned), while it is the Nephites who are subtly portrayed as sexist (referring very little to their women). You see, after the coming of the resurrected Christ to America, both cultures dropping their hatred for each other and that there were no more “-ites,” showing true integration with one another, which is seen as one of the most virtuous periods in both their respective cultures. You see, in the tragic ending of the book, that it was ultimately the prejudice and racism of the Nephites, and their blind hatred of the Lamanites, that destroyed their whole people while the Lamanites triumphed. The story of the Book of Mormon is a tragedy, with racism and hate being their tragic flaw.

      Those who condemn the Book of Mormon for being racist have clearly not understood it (perhaps haven’t even read it). If you look at the book as a whole, instead of snippets and pieces taken out of context, one of its prevailing messages is that the pride of race, the pride of culture, the pride of separation is a sin and that it caused the whole down fall of the Nephites. The whole book is based on the premise that “all are alike unto God.”

    • Anita Massey-Kaelin

      The United States in the times that Joseph Smith lived, was a very racist place. To miss this point that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is very much an AMERICAN religion, is naive. What was not right, was that the policy of not allowing black men to hold the sacred Priesthood lasted much too far into the 20th Century. As a Mormon, I was very disappointed in my Church through the 60s and 70s. But I am happy that we are slowly becoming a more diverse religion. Racism is mostly ignorance.

  2. rb

    sadly I do know a couple of “older”, as in much older, men who accept but are unhappy with the change. Luckily they will soon be receiving further instruction in a different realm. I also know too many who are unhappy with interracial relationships, but only if between some african descent or ancestry (Black person) and someone from any other “race”. they have no problem with ‘mixing of races” in other combinations.

  3. rb

    church disavowed racism but did not disavow the policy pre-1978, I so wish they would rather than continue to sweep it under the rug. Something about letting light shine on a hill top means something to me.

  4. William

    It is not just the history of racism by the LDS Church that is a problem. The current Book of Mormon is still chocked full of racist comments! Is a person who believes in those kinds of Scripture fit to be President or even Governor?

  5. But, does the Church maintain that it was wrong to enact such a policy? To the contrary, the Church has always maintained that the ban was the will of God, and that is fundamentally racist.

    See this: http://moreperfect.org/site/?p=7

  6. utahcanadian

    I think it needs to be included in your reply that Joseph Smith was very much “pro-African American” at a time when blacks were still in slavery. While he was alive, free blacks were baptized and given the priesthood, and several blacks were part of the vanguard party into the Salt Lake valley. In fact, most of the anti-Mormonism of the mid-1800′s was based, even more than polygamy, on the Mormons being popularized in the press and editorial cartoons as being “n—er-lovers”! The Church was completely inclusive to blacks at its inception, to its detriment. The 1978 pronouncement was technically a return to original policy.

    • But the political philosophy of Mormonism is that recent prophets trump past prophets. So, Brigham Young trumps Joseph Smith.

      • Then, under that strained reasoning, that would mean that President Kimball (who received the revelation extending the priesthood to all races) and President Hinckley (who said, “I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ,”) would trump Brigham Young. Another Mormon Prophet, David O. McKay, stated that the old ban was a “policy, not a doctrine” (see Leonard Arrington’s “Adventures of a Church Historian” for that reference). Brigham Young was a product of his generation, who stated outright that he was not as apt to revelation as Joseph Smith was, so his policies can be seen in the context they were given– a good man who had been convinced of an evil idea.

  7. Conspicuously absent from any of your discussions on Mormon Racism are the scriptural references to race, still contained in Mormon Scriptures. Racism isn’t only a part of Mormon’s past, extremely racist and offensive 19th Century myths are still currently considered “The word of God” and “Divine Revelation” by Mormons,

    Such as the following:

    2 Nephi 5:21
    “And the Lord had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. 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.”

    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 2:14-15
    ” And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites; And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites.”

    Moses 7:22
    ” And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.”

    Abraham 1:21-24,27
    “Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.”

    “The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden; When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.”

    No other religion I’m aware of, besides Mormonism, has the misfortune of having mistaken for revelation, common 19th Century racist myths, used to justify enslaving blacks and exploiting Native Americans, which are now extremely offensive in the 21st Century, after two centuries of social progress,

    Mormon leaders hope everybody will just suffer from the same kind of amnesia they’re conveniently suffering from, but as long as these extremely racist myths remain canonized as “revelation” in Mormon Scriptures, nobody’s going to forget and you can’t just keep sweeping it under the rug, hoping we will.

    At least Obama had the integrity to resign his membership in his church when it became apparent how hateful Rev. Wright’s comments were, but Rev. Wright’s opinion was never canonized as ‘the Word of God” now was it?

    • “No other religion I’m aware of, besides Mormonism, has the misfortune of having mistaken for revelation, common 19th Century racist myths, used to justify enslaving blacks and exploiting Native Americans, which are now extremely offensive in the 21st Century, after two centuries of social progress.”

      Uhm, you really think so? Paul justifies slavery in the New Testament. Christ condemns compares a woman to a “dog” begging for a scraps at the table because she was a Gentile. The Old Testament has the Children of Israel committing cultural genocide (killing even the children!). The Old Testament also said that the priesthood could only belong to the Levites and made the Israelites God’s “chosen” people because of race.

      And where did the Ku Klux Klan come from? The religious traditions of the Southern States. I find it especially ironic that those who are clamoring to condemn Mormonism for its race issues are the very Churches who taught them the blasted mess (the curse of Cain idea did not come from Mormons, but infiltrated the Church when they started gaining coverts from the South, at which point Brigham Young introduced the policy).

      To think that Mormonism is the only religion with problematic race issues is incredibly naive and uninformed. I will be the first to say that we Mormons were wrong on this issue–but I will idly stand by and see those people who provided us with the stones try to make us solely responsible. Before adopting the ideas of other Churches regarding race, the Mormons were persecuted and driven from Missouri for being abolitionists and racial progressives.

  8. T. Lawrence

    Ya, Google is a great place to get all kinds of information, but so much of it it is incorrect and contributes to the bigotry that exists towards members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The appropriate place to learn about LDS blacks and the Priesthood is from the source, which would be LDS.org and from authorized LDS resources like LDS Church News and the LDS Youtube sites. In 2008 there was a wonderful gathering at Temple Square commemorating the restoration of the priesthood to all worthy men, it was absolutely amazing, and I’ve never had any concerns or worries about this issue since. The talks were life changing for me, and the music was divine. It stayed heavily in my mind for days. I wish I knew where I could see it again, it was so touching and faith inspiring — I watched it several times and wept most of the way through each time. Here is an article that gives a description of the event in case anyone is interested:

    Here also, is a Youtube video that the LDS Church has made concerning this issue:
    http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/52093/1978-revelation-commemorated.html

    I think it’s absolutely imperative that people have the correct information from the source so truth can prevail.

    • William

      What I did is download the Book of Mormon from the LDS Website and used the adobe reader search function to find all the racist thoughts in the Book.

      • If you had read the entire Book of Mormon you would have found instances where the Lamanites lead and the Nephites rebel. You would have found a Lamanite prophet preaching to apostate Nephites. You would have found that the biggest threat to the Book of Mormon society was Nephites who had turned against God and instigates genocide against their own people. If you do not understand the terminology I am using, you might consider digging a little deeper before making further assumptions. I believe the true measure of a people is how they treat others. I would advise you to visit and LDS congregations and see how you are received. I hope none of what I’ve posted offends you, that is not my intent. I only wish you well.

      • William Morton

        Hi Craig

        Statements in the Book of Mormon about people with Dark Skin and their vileness and filthiness stand alone. Practicing Mormons may care about the story-line containing Lamanites and Nephites, but I and many like me do not.

  9. T. Lawrence

    Here is the link for the attachment that was not included above -the article about the gathering at Temple Square, I guess I left it off

    http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/52093/1978-revelation-commemorated.html

  10. Matt

    It’s a fundamentally flawed argument to suggest the “source” has exclusive rights to accurate information. Have you ever heard of a defendant pleading not guilty and misrepresenting information to avoid judgment? The LDS Church has too much to lose (and very little to gain) by directly addressing this.

    • The flaw in your post is that the church is misrepresenting information. The issue has been directly addressed. I would guess you just don’t like the answers. I’m not trying to be rude, but I think you have to ask yourself why so many of African descent have flocked to the Church. These are largely bright people who know the issues.

  11. @ T. Lawrence said, “The appropriate place to learn about LDS blacks and the Priesthood is from the source, which would be LDS.org and from authorized LDS resources like LDS Church News and the LDS Youtube sites.”
    How about straight from the Mormon God’s mouthpiece, Joseph Smith himself? In canonized scriptures, like these…..

    2 Nephi 5:21
    “And the Lord had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. 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.”

    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 2:14-15
    ” And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites; And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites.”

    Moses 7:22
    ” And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.”

    Abraham 1:21-24,27
    “Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.”

    “The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden; When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.”
    No backing away from the FACT that Mormonism is still the most racist religion on the planet, since no other religion has scriptures as racist as those of the obviously racist God of Mormonism.

  12. skeptikel

    Racism is too essential to the Book of Mormon Story–to get rid of it would undermine the entire Book of Mormon and the entire Mormon faith. Plus, it’s the most correct book on earth so no changes can be made to it.

    Mr. Deity delivers…Mormonism=Racism

  13. NDM

    What do Mormons believe about the African peoples or anyone else? I can answer only for one of us: what the Church teaches now is what I have believed all of my fifty-five years as a Mormon: Racism is evil. All God’s children come pure from the presence of God and are answerable for their own actions and not for the color of their skin. At my stage in life, I don’t need anyone telling me what I “have” to believe if I’m Mormon – not the evangelical right, not the disaffected, not the curmudgeonly high councilman pounding the pulpit, all of them tossing out isolated scriptures and quotations like evidence cards in a high school debate. I don’t really give a rodential keister what Brigham Young thought, what “Mormon Doctrine” says, not even how the writer(s) of the Book of Mormon thought. I don’t care that virtually the entirety of European and American society accepted as fact well into the 20th century that sin made swarthy and virtue made fair (read your Conan Doyle). I just know what I believe.

    It is difficult for me to agree that the Book of Mormon, a veritable 500-plus-page model and exhortation for kindness to the poor and oppressed of all nationalities, is in the end a “deeply racist book” based on a handful of passages that don’t get airplay in any manual I’ve ever seen. Is the Book of Mormon condescending toward the “others” in its narrative? Most certainly. But then, I don’t know a book of scripture in the world that isn’t. Whatever the Book of Mormon or anyone else says, this Mormon believes and has always believed in judging people (to quote a lifelong personal hero) by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.

    • @NDM said, ” Is the Book of Mormon condescending toward the “others” in its narrative? Most certainly. But then, I don’t know a book of scripture in the world that isn’t.”
      It’s not just the Book of Mormon, it’s ALL Mormon Scriptures that are racist, far more racist and offensive to anybody with a conscience than any other scriptures I am aware of. But I’m open minded, please enlighten me as to what other scriptures are as racist as Mormon scriptures. Certainly not the Bible. It doesn’t come right out and say that the Curse of Cain is black skin. It only says that the Cainanites were cursed with a mark. It was slaveowners who decided that ‘mark of Cain’ which God put on the descendants of Cain had to be black skin, since that made it easier for them to sleep at night, knowing they were enslaving their fellow men, rather than loving them as themselves, as Christ commanded us to do.
      Unfortunately that common 19th Century slave owner justification got incorporated into Mormon scriptures. There is no removing that racist notion, that God curses evil people with black skin and their descendants, from Mormon Doctrine, because it is central to the entire plot of the Book of Mormon and Mormon theology.
      If not, then explain why for the vast majority of its history, Mormons discriminated against blacks.
      “We don’t know” and “It doesn’t matter” are not acceptable answers.
      Mormons prophets, seers and revelators, like Brigham Young, Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie, have been quite eloquent about the reasons why….

      Brigham Young, wrote:

      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.

      Cain slew his brother. . . and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.

      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. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. 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. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race–that they should be the ‘servant of servants;’ and they will be, until that curse is removed.”

      Joseph Fielding Smith — the sixth President of the LDS church, wrote:

      “There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.”

      Mormon Apostle and apologist, Bruce R. McConkie, (1915-1985) touched on the black issue in his book “Mormon Doctrine:” “…this is the standard LDS guide to church doctrine, found in nearly every active Mormon household.” He wrote in the first edition of his book — 1958 — about the repercussions on earth of a war in heaven:

      “In the pre-existent eternity various degrees of valiance and devotion to the truth were exhibited by different groups of our Father’s spirit offspring… some were more valiant than others… Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin… Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty… The present status of the negro rests purely and simply on the foundation of pre-existence… The negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow therefrom, but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, is based on his eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate.”

      That’s racist.
      Nobody has ever renounced those official statements, made by Mormon Prophets, which still stand.

      • Stan VerNooy

        As someone who was, and is no longer, a Mormon, there is a question which has nagged me for a couple of decades: Prior to 1978, if one of the few African-American Mormons went for a patriarchal blessing, (s)he would be pronounced an offspring of the “seed of Cain.” A pronouncement that the person is a member of a particular tribe (Usually Ephraim, in the case of white American Mormons) was always one part of any patriarchal blessing. My question is: do the patriarchal blessings of African-Americans still assert that they are of the seed of Cain? Has that part of the patriarchal blessing been dropped in general in order to avoid that embarrassing issue? Can anyone enlighten me on this?

      • David

        Just a note of clarification
        Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie while bold in its title is not part of the scriptural canon for Mormons. In fact The leaders of the church made McConkie change certain things in his book. Also he did not speak for the church in general upon publishing the book. The fact that the book is widely popular among Mormon families does not constitute an endorsement by the church.

  14. The fundamental flaw in nearly all of Joanna Brook’s approach to Mormonism is that she presents Mormonism as a democratic endeavor, wherein if you want to know what Mormonism is, you must take into account the opinions of handpicked Mormons such as her own opinion.

    But Mormonism isn’t democratic. The political philosophy of Mormonism is authoritarian. If a Mormon holds an opinion contrary to the opinion of the church, according to the political philosophy, they are simply wrong and must repent and bring their opinion into accord with the official teachings.

    • Zac

      The official teachings of the Church can be changed and they do change. Slow but sure.

      Joanna maintains what you’ve pointed out is true but her view also includes the culture of Mormonism and its many human components which define it.

      There is no flaw in any part of her presentation. Her interpretation and definition of Mormonism is far more comprehensive and complete than how you’ve defined it.

      There is plenty of democracy in Mormonism.

      In this thread about blacks, the mystery of the 1978 revelation came by way of people asking serious questions. Many of us agree with Joanna and believe that by asking serious questions we can influence our leaders to change policy. It has worked in the past and it will in the future. Yes, it’s slow, but it takes a while to crawl, then walk, then run.

      Therefore, there is democracy in the LDS Church and the 1978 change is proof. There are plenty of other changes that have occurred because the membership asked questions…and the leaders responded. The leaders are imperfect, but for a church government to exist, it must be nonetheless sustained. Otherwise everybody would break-off and start their own church. It’s not surprising that more Mormons don’t do this. It’s better to stay put and work within the existing structure rather than quit and rebel against it.

      • To claim that there’s democracy in the LDS mormonism stretches credulity. Certainly, every single human organization will change or die. Take the most authoritarian organization imaginable, and it will change over time. Some authoritarian organization go through periods wherein they have a more progressive authoritarian leader and that leader may make changes. But pointing out change in the organization does not make that organization democratic. Pointing out lay-person influence in any organization doesn’t make that organization democratic. You have to have an honest conversation about what the core structure of the organization is. LDS Mormonism is authoritarian in the most pure sense. This is indisputable by anyone who cares to be taken seriously. Take the 1978 change in the ban on priesthood; certainly outside and inside pressure from individuals played a role; but it’s also true that the LDS Church was the LAST major American religion to see the light on this issue. Why? Because of the structure of the governing systems in the organization; those structures are the core of LDS Mormonism. This is why the endeavor known as mormonism is ultimately doomed; the authoritarian structure of it is too central to the entirety of the enterprise.

        Joanna…I’d seriously like you to answer this questions: when you apologize for moronisms, what is it about mormonism that you think needs to endure? What does mormonism have to offer to the wider world that isn’t found in a better way in other systems or organizations? In the end, you’re advocating for a system that at it’s core is fundamentally conservative and authoritarian. It will always lead to that due to it’s core values and structure. So, if you’re successful getting 100 people to either join or stay within the organization, the vast majority of those 100 will develop, reliably, more conservative and authoritarian views. You will have been successful at making the church more closed rather than more open.

        I often think that you continue to confuse your desire to love and be loved by your community with the political philosophy and organizational structure of the Church.

        There’s a real fight in the world for equality and freedom and the defeat of oppression. We could use your energy in solidarity there. Your efforts to prop up mormonism lead in the opposite direction, necessarily.

        Come fight with us for justice, truth.

      • Thomas KIillian has eloquently brought the puzzling issue to a head. I hope you will answer his question “what is it about Mormonism you think needs to endure?” And on the other hand one might ask, “how big is the pile of what needs to be eliminated in Mormonism?” As TK says “There’s a real fight in the world for equality and freedom and the defeat of oppression.” So how does your cost/benefit analysis of conservative, authoritarian, oppressive Mormonism lead you in the “opposite direction” from those of us who see you as an innate progressive and natural ally?

    • Anonymous

      For some reason, I’m not able to “reply” to Timothy Killian’s post below, so I’ll reply here instead. Timothy Killian says,

      “Joanna…I’d seriously like you to answer this questions: when you apologize for moronisms, what is it about mormonism that you think needs to endure? What does mormonism have to offer to the wider world that isn’t found in a better way in other systems or organizations?”

      I’m not Joanna, but I’d like to take a moment to respond here.

      What Mormonism offers that isn’t found elsewhere is, of course, the theology. I’m a leftist socialist, and I’m a Mormon; and I’m also, professionally, an expert in theological history. What Mormonism offers that isn’t elsewhere is the triangulation of three theologically revolutionary proposals: eternal progression, radical agency, and infinite atonement. Obviously, any theological proposition requires the persuasions of faith and cannot claim any empirical status. But Mormonism’s core theological proposals are paradigm-altering, theologically speaking, and have the potential to effect real good in the empirical world.

      Having said that, I should also say that I really couldn’t care less about the corporate church, which strikes me as exactly as corrupt (no more, no less) as any other capitalist organization. And to be frank, I find more satisfying communities in other spheres of my life (family, profession, etc.). It’s the theology that moves me, and its propositions are not available in other epistemological systems. (And not for nothing, but its propositions are precisely what have informed my activist leftism.)

      Finally, I find more than a little unnuanced the idea that the “real fight” for justice and truth in the world can only be undertaken within (or without) particular and defined social parameters. If we want to fight for justice and truth, maybe we should start by not disqualifying some portion of the pool of willing workers because of assumptions about their values or capacities. Isn’t that one of the principles of justice and truth we ought to be fighting for? If it isn’t, we’d have a pretty shallow justice, and a pretty circumscribed truth.

  15. Harper

    I like to focus on this verse in the Book of Mormon.
    2Ne 26:33
    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.

    This verse has been quoted over and over, time and time again in General conference. Maybe the Book of Mormon isn’t perfect but there are beautiful parts.

  16. Baxter

    The sad fact is that a very large number of Mormons are quite racist. This is especially true of Utah Mormons. When I recently was in Utah to visit family i was appalled at the anti-Obama racist rhetoric I heard from faithful Mormons. The tiny percentage of black priesthood holders in the United States alone is evidence for skewed view Mormons have of race and how they treat African Americans. Read the letter (link below) to see how mormon leaders have directed government authorities to follow their racist doctrine.
    http://mormonmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/delbert_stapley.pdf

    • The website Lew Craig calls “anti-Mormon” is MormonMatters.org. In fact, it would more properly be called a Mormon website that takes issue with aspects of Mormonism. To suggest that MormonMatters is to Mormons as the KKK is to Jews is dishonest in the extreme. The KKK does not politely lay out logical arguments challenging mainstream Jewish theology, or calmly present valid objections to some Jewish practices. No, they say “Burn synagogues and kill Jews,” and that is what they actually do. To compare somebody to the KKK because they have articulated a disagreement to your position represents the kind of irrational rejection of logical argument that undermines Lew and other dogmatic apologists. This kind of hysteria in defense of Mormons as no more racist than “society in general” adds to the Mormon burden. The collective failure of accountability for a very troubling, unusually racist past adds up to present racism. MormonMatters.org is like this blog in that it points towards a better Mormon future.

  17. anybody

    Sorry to rain on on your parade, Joanna but I’ve experienced Mormon racism first hand and not “all Mormons are glad” that the LDS Church allowed African-American men to hold the Priesthood or to become full members in the church. Until the Brethren come up with a valid theological explanation (i.e. a new “revelation”) to explain why the “less valiant in the War In Heaven” are no longer “cursed,” what the “Mark of Cain” really is if it no longer refers to sub-Saharan African physical body features, or how can dark skin now be a “good” thing if the Lamanites were cursed with it, there will always be institutionalised racism amongst Mormons. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the famous “death on the spot” quote by Brigham Young:

    “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…”

    As the child of a black father and white mother I thought I’d save that bit for last.

  18. I’ve read through the comments section and I cringe at what Brigham Young said, and at the quotes HappyGreen offered from Joseph Fielding and Bruce R McConkie. The Mormon Doctrine quote is especially disturbing. I am an active member of the church. The question posed is “What do Mormons believe about African-Americans?” and while I can not speak for those misguided Mormon men, the LDS faith has taught me that “God is no respecter of persons” So here I am just as much a Mormon as crazy old Brigham, or Joseph Fielding or Bruce R McConkie and I want people to know that I believe that God loves us all equally and that each human being’s soul is precious and divine regardless of race, religion or sex. I am Canadian and have lived abroad for most of my adult life. When I think of my Mormon brothers and sisters, I think of a very diverse group of people who strive to include, unite with and love their fellowmen. I attended church in Ghana about ten years ago and all of the Mormons in that church (all African) seemed to love the Gospel and welcomed me with open arms. I’m sure they feel the same way I do about “African-Americans”. When I hear people refer to Mormons sometimes I think they forget about the Mormons outside of the U.S. ….and there are a lot of us.

  19. Rebecca

    The church doctrine teaches of continued revelation, specifically mentions it in the ninth article of faith. And as such, there have been changes, and there have been corrections of previous insensitivities. The leadership of the church are not perfect, and their worldview is shaped by their experiences, the teachings they grew up with and the society they lived in. I saw this quote on the Huffington Post today and thought it applied here:

    ***For their part, Mormon leaders know they are fallible.

    “Forget everything I have said, or what … Brigham Young … or whomsoever has said … that is contrary to the present revelation,” the late apostle Bruce R. McConkie once preached. “We spoke with a limited understanding.”

    When asked about his statement discounting that man would ever reach the moon, former church President Joseph Fielding Smith said, simply, “Well, I was wrong.”

    Indeed, biblical history is full of imperfect prophets. Moses killed a man and later met God face to face. King David committed adultery and then murder. In Mormonism, LDS prophet Brigham Young expressed racism.***

    I would add that the church had to hold a press conference to ease some of the sting of President Packer’s remarks and I can’t remember where I have heard that the Book of Mormon language about white vs dark is being changed. The church is not perfect. The men who lead it are not perfect. But it is slowly changing, and for that, I am grateful. I do not believe for a second that God is racist or sexist, but some things take longer for us mortals to realize and make changes to come into line with God’s will—which is for all to have joy.

  20. Mommcc

    As another rank and file Mormon I am glad to apologize!! Thanks for providing a way to do this, Joanna.

    • Mommcc–As a person of African ancestry, I don’t accept your apology. You see, you haven’t said what you are apologizing for. Just like the LDS church, you are throwing out a generic, non-specific apology, with a glib, “there, that ought to cover it” attitude. Maybe that is good enough to make you feel better, but you are not actually being accountable.

  21. Jarom

    I don’t mean the people who have commented I mean the author

  22. They call it “practicing” a faith for a reason. The Gospel is true but the rest of us are still striving, and always falling short, to understand what that truth is. Prejudice does exist among Mormons although I don’t think it is any more prevalent among Mormon than anywhere else.

    I am a convert. I was raised in the very liberal atmosphere of the San Francisco Bay Area. I was not raised in Church and converted reluctantly at the age of 37 after a very personal spiritual experience that led me to baptism.

    I personally believe that prophets receive revelation for the Church only when they are humbly requesting it. The rest of the time, they are imperfect men just as I am an imperfect woman. And within the Church, there is a strong sense of persecution from those that are not members. I think as church members, we can dig our heels in when we feel attached and become defensive rather than turning to the Lord for inspiration. I believe that leaders and members of the Church may have been so busy trying to defend their position that they failed to pray sincerely, with absolutely open hearts, about it. We all must remember that the extermination order issued against Mormons by Gov. Boggs in Missouri was, in part, spurred by non-Mormon’s fears that the Mormons were abolitionists. It all became entrenched from there – a fear of being viewed as abolitionists, a fear of outsiders and the endemic sense of martyrdom that is still pervasive today amongst Mormons with pioneer ancestry. None of us are as perfect an example as that set by the Savior.

    To illustrate my point by means of a less contentious issue, I personally believe that the prohibition on coffee is really about caffeine. As a convert, I really miss a good cup of decaf. However, when would the Prophet ever pray about something so trivial as whether or not I can have decaf? In the meantime, drinking decaf coffee would keep me out of the temple, as would lying about whether I am drinking it.

    We only receive answers to the questions that we ask.

  23. Do you think you should have titled this post ‘What do American Mormons believe about African-Americans’?
    I hope that readers of this blog will realise that not all Mormons are American. I think this blog needs to clarify which group of Mormons is being referenced. I also think it’s important to know that the LDS approach to blacks was world wide, and not just those in the USA.

  24. Kelly S.

    I think David Twede answers your question best Joanna:

    http://mormonthinkblog2012.blogspot.com/

  25. ARS

    Joanna, thought you’d like to see Andrew Sullivan’s latest post. It saddens me to be portrayed this way.
    http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/10/religion-race-and-double-standards.html

  26. Kathy

    Racism (as well as sexism) is always a sin. Whenever a person, or a people sin, and the Lord reveals it as sin, that person or group’s progression is stopped. And if the person or group refuses to repent of that sin (either by ignoring it, denying it or religiously justifying it), that person or group’s progression becomes damned. Lack of acknowledgment of responsibility and lack of repentance damns progression. The path of redemption from sin to exaltation has been provided by Christ in His atonement. When sin has been exposed, the person or persons who were connected to that sin, whether as perpetrators or victims, are invited to come to Christ and receive forgiveness and healing. But repentance is required by all. Those who actively, or passively, refuse to come to Christ by refusing to acknowledge the need for repentance are effectively choosing to damn themselves. This applies to both individuals and groups. Ignoring a sin, or justifying it, is the first step away from Christ and the atonement He has graciously provided.

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