Mormons and Racism

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I have heard again the accusation of racism levelled at the LDS church and its members.

Are there racists in the church? Most likely. (You can probably find murderers, adulterers, and homosexuals as well.) Is racism condoned? No, it is vehemently condemned, and those who have racist tendencies run the risk of being excommunicated unless they repent.

Racism is completely incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the LDS church.

What follows is my interpretation and my limited understanding of the church and its issues. Don’t take it as gospel. My intent is to explain what I have learned and what I believe so that you can see how the issue of racism is handled internally.

The charge of racism often comes because of the LDS history with blacks and the priesthood. Let me introduce this subject in the easiest way possible: by being completely honest with you.

First, what is this “priesthood” the Mormons talk about?

The priesthood is power from God given to man. God controls the priesthood through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ dispenses it to men through the laying on of hands. The priesthood is what allows the church to do anything in the name of God or Jesus. Without it, there would be no church at all. How could you create a church of God without the power of God?

Joseph Smith received the priesthood by the laying on of hands directly from Peter, the apostle of Jesus. (Peter received it likewise directly from Jesus.) Joseph Smith then distributed that priesthood to faithful men, and they in turn distributed it as well. Always it is done in accordance with the will of God. Trying to use the priesthood in contradiction to the will of God is an exercise in futility and damnation.

Joseph Smith also gave the priesthood to a few black men.

Under the leadership of President Brigham Young, Joseph’s successor whom we revere as a prophet as much as Joseph Smith, it was revealed that the descendants of Ham (whom the black people are) should not to have the priesthood because of their special curse which would be lifted in the future. President Young then made a church policy that the priesthood not be given to anyone who is a descendent of Ham, or in other words, who is black.

What is this curse of Ham? I do not know very well. What I do know is that in the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites were cursed with a different curse. However, the Lord also gave them a special blessing. This hints at a pattern: The Lord blesses and curses in balance when it comes to distinct races. I do not know what the blessing in proportion to the curse for the Hamites was. I have heard that it may have been their enhanced intelligence and wisdom. If this is true, then the LDS doctrine would be that black people are inherently smarter than white people.

If you aren’t doing a double-take, then you should be. Let me repeat: my understanding is that the church doctrine states that black people are inherently smarter than white people.

Now, intelligent readers will go, “Wait a minute, Joseph Smith gave the priesthood to black men against the will of God then!” Well, probably yes. I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that we can’t be judged for what we don’t know, and Joseph may not have known at the time. Or perhaps Joseph did know, he didn’t tell anyone, and he got special permission for the black men he ordained.

Well, the revelation was given, and it was clear that the curse would be lifted in the future. When, though? There are several records of various church presidents (prophets along the lines of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, etc…) petitioning the Lord to lift the curse. There are records of the Lord responding, “Not now.”

In the 1970’s, President Spencer W. Kimball was moved to ask again. The answer came, and it was “Ok.” Immediatelly, he announced the revelation and the resulting change in policy. And immediately, faithful blacks who were already members of the church were given the priesthood. The doors for preaching the gospel in Africa were opened. Today, the church is rapidly growing in Africa.

Now, there is great speculation, outside of the church, that President Kimball was simply responding to social pressures. I believe this speculation is unfounded. There is ample evidence that the church does not respond to social pressure, no matter how severe. Why would they respond in this one instance when there are much larger issues?

I wish to season the above history with another bit of history. I believe this will show the true heart of mormons and their feelings towards racism.

In the 1920’s, the Ku Klux Klan was at the height of its popularity. It was spreading like wildfire in the US. However, there were a few states that weren’t taking to the KKK. These states included mostly LDS states–Utah, Idaho, etc… The KKK redoubled its efforts. The church and its members actively opposed them, publishing anti-KKK literature, exposing them for the evil that they were and so on. The KKK and the LDS church became bitter enemies.

So, even at a time in our nation’s history when being racist was “cool”, the LDS church and mormons did not embrace it. In fact, they fought it. My ancestors were anti-racist even when being anti-racist wasn’t cool. Can you say the same for your ancestors?

Here are a few more thoughts on the issue of mormons and racism.

  1. It is very possible that one of the books of the Book of Mormon was written by a descendent of Ham, making at least one descendant of Ham part of our accepted body of canonical prophets.
  2. Mormons were persecuted in Missouri in the late 1800’s for, among other things, being opposed to slavery.
  3. Even though the priesthood could not be given to blacks, that does not mean that God did not call prophets among them! There are remarkable stories of groups of faithful believers forming spontaneously in Africa under the direction of prophets who taught that the LDS church was true.
  4. There were many blacks who joined the church even though they knew they could not get the priesthood. These people understand better than anyone about racism and the LDS church. Find one and ask them.
  5. During the civil rights era, while the issue of civil rights was being intensely debated, the LDS church and its members worked vigorously to support reform. I don’t think the members have ever been so active in politics since. Note that this occurred before President Kimball’s revelation on blacks and the priesthood.

I hope this clarifies a lot. As always, I am proud of my religious heritage, and I have nothing to be ashamed of, even when it comes to this aspect of our history.

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One Response to “Mormons and Racism”

  1. Joel Says:

    As always, I am proud of my religious heritage, and I have nothing to be ashamed of, even when it comes to this aspect of our history.

    Nor should you be.

    The 1920s KKK was much less interested in blacks, really, than in Catholics, Jews and immigrants, especially here in the Northwest where blacks were fairly thin on the ground at the time.

    Ironically, my great-grandfather rode with the Klan. I sometimes wonder what he’d say at seeing that his male-line heir was a Papist, married to an American Indian, and raising half-Mexican kids.

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