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Racism

I don’t know what else to call this post. Calling it “Blacks and the Priesthood” would only be tackling half the issue.

Let’s get started with some good old fashioned racist quotes

President Brigham Young

Journal of Discourses, 7:336:

“You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation…When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break his covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel; but by-and-by they will become a white and delightsome people.”

Journal of Discourses, 10:110:

“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, 4:39-40:

“It is not the prerogative of the President of the United States to meddle with this matter, and Congress is not allowed, according to the [p.40] Constitution, to legislate upon it. If Utah was admitted into the Union as a sovereign State, and we chose to introduce slavery here, it is not their business to meddle with it; and even if we treated our slaves in an oppressive manner, it is still none of their business and they ought not to meddle with it.”

Journal of Discourses, 7:290-291:

“You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, un- comely, 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; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree. How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam’s children are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion.”

President Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection:

“Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures.”

President Wilford Woodruff. Wilford Woodruff Journal:

“And if any man mingle his seed with the seed of Cain the only way he could get rid of it or have Salvation would be to come forward and have his head cut off and spill his blood upon the ground- it would also take the life of his children.”

President John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 22:304:

“And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham’s wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God;…”

President Spencer W. Kimball, The Improvement Era, Dec. 1960:

“The day of the Lamanites in nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome… The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation…There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness.”

Obviously we have the a different understanding of racism now than they did then. But do any of those hateful, bigoted statements sound like they should have come from prophets and leaders of a Christian church?

How about the passage in the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 30:6, which said:

“…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 white and a delightsome people.”

It said “white and a delightsome people” until 1981, two years after the revelation, when it was changed to “pure and a delightsome people”. Was that change done by revelation too? Wouldn’t it have to be in order to change canonized scripture?

Modern viewpoint

The modern church leaders would have you believe that the church never participated in racism.

General Authority Alexander Morrison in the Improvement Era, 2000:

“Unfortunately, racism-the abhorrent and morally destructive theory that claims superiority of one person over another by reason of race, color, ethnicity, or cultural background-remains one of the abiding sins of societies the world over. The cause of much of the strife and conflict in the world, racism is an offense against God and a tool in the devil’s hands. In common with other Christians, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regret the actions and statements of individuals who have been insensitive to the pain suffered by the victims of racism and ask God’s forgiveness for those guilty of this grievous sin. The sin of racism will be eliminated only when every human being treats all others with the dignity and respect each deserves as a beloved child of our Heavenly Father.

“How grateful I am that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has from its beginnings stood strongly against racism in any of its malignant manifestations.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley, April 2006 Priesthood Session:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?

Isn’t that last sentence precisely what the church did for 148 years?

President Hinckley essentially admitted the church had racism in a 2002 interview, but had no answer as to why:

“HN: Until 1978 no person of color attained the priesthood in your church. Why did it take so long to overcome the racism?

“GBH: I don’t know. I don’t know. I can only say that. (long pause) But it’s here now.

Not just a lack of priesthood

I have never understood why church leaders, members and non-members alike make such a big deal about the priesthood and ignore the fact that temple blessings were also denied to black people for the first 148 years of the church’s existence. Imagine attending church, obeying all the commandments, living a righteous life, and being denied what the ultimate goal of faithfulness: exaltation with your eternal family.

Elder Richard G. Scott:

“One of the most beautiful, comforting doctrines of the Lord—one that brings immense peace, happiness, and unbounded joy—is that principle called eternal marriage. This doctrine means that a man and woman who love each other deeply, who have grown together through the trials, joys, sorrows, and happiness of a shared lifetime, can live beyond the veil together forever with their family who earn that blessing. That is not just an immensely satisfying dream; it is a reality. Any husband and wife who have shared the joys of marriage here on earth would want that blessing. But only those who meet the requirements established by the Lord will receive that supernal gift.”

The First Presidency’s Official Statement in 1947:

“From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.”

So why didn’t black people meet the requirements for 148 years?

There is a mountain of evidence that church leaders until the revelation in 1978 believed that blacks were neutral in the war in Heaven. They didn’t take sides or weren’t valiant enough. After the 1978 revelation, which didn’t address the reason at all, the church leaders have been strangely silent on the matter. In fact, President Gordon B. Hinckley, in an interview on an Australian TV show called Compass, said:

COMPASS:: So in retrospect was the Church wrong in that [denying blacks the priesthood]?

HINCKLEY: No I don’t think it was wrong. It, things, various things happened in different periods. There’s a reason for them.

COMPASS: What was the reason for that?

HINCKLEY: I don’t know what the reason was.

So what exactly did church leaders teach before it became too controversial to do so?

Elder George F. Richards in Conference Reports:

“The negro is an unfortunate man. He has been given a black skin….But that is as nothing compared with that greater handicap that he is not permitted to receive the Priesthood and the ordinances of the temple, necessary to prepare men and women to enter into and enjoy a fulness of glory in the celestial kingdom….What is the reason for this condition, we ask, and I find it to my satisfaction to think that as spirit children of our Eternal Father they were not valiant in the fight. We are told that Michael and his angels fought, and we understand that we stood with Christ our Lord, on the platform, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” I cannot conceive our Father consigning his children to a condition such as that of the negro race, if they had been valiant in the spirit world in that war in heaven. Neither could they have been a part of those who rebelled and were cast down, for the latter had not the privilege of tabernacling in the flesh. Somewhere along the line were these spirits, indifferent perhaps, and possibly neutral in the war. We have no definite knowledge concerning this.”

Apostle Mark E. Peterson, Race Problems – As They Affect The Church:

“Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood. This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in their lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa–if that Negro is willing when he hears the gospel to accept it, he may have many of the blessings of the gospel. In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

President Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, p. 61:

“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.”

“That negro race, for instance, have been placed under restrictions because of their attitude in the world of spirits, few will doubt. It cannot be looked upon as just that they should be deprived of the power of the Priesthood without it being a punishment for some act, or acts, performed before they were born.”

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 527-528:

“Negroes in this life are denied the Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. (Abra. 1:20-27.) The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them… 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 there from, 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.”

In another Official Statement by the First Presidency, this time in 1951:

“The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes…..

“Man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam’s transgression. If this is carried further, it would imply that the Negro is punished or allotted to a certain position on this earth, not because of Cain’s transgression, but came to earth through the loins of Cain because of his failure to achieve other stature in the spirit world.”

Obviously, the common answer was the curse of Cain and that black people must not have been valiant in the pre-existence. Why does the church no longer teach that it was for neutrality or lack of valiance in the pre-mortal life? What is the answer now? President Hinckley said that he doesn’t know. The church leaders have been predictably silent on the matter (I have noticed a trend in that regard).

If a black man was born in 1850, he was told by church leaders all his life that he wasn’t valiant in the pre-existence. How about a black man born in 1950? For the first 28 years, he was taught that. Then suddenly revelation changed. Was he valiant or not? What about his son born in 1980? Valiant? Neutral?

I can only imagine how difficult those questions must be for black members of the church.

During the early years of the church, some black members received the priesthood

One such example is Elijah Abel. He was ordained an elder, then was a member of the Seventy. He served two missions for the church. His son and grandson were also both given the priesthood, in 1900 and 1935, respectively. I really have no comprehension of how this could possibly fit into the teachings of the church.

There is also an example of a black woman who was sealed to Joseph Smith long after his death, but as an eternal servant rather than his wife. So when exactly was revelation received that directed the prophet to discontinue allowing black people to receive the priesthood and temple blessings? Where is that revelation? Why don’t we have any record of it?

The timing of the 1978 revelation

This was the situation in 1978:

  • Segregation had ended more than 20 years ago. Brown v. Board of Education was in 1954.
  • Racism was no longer socially acceptable. Most Christian churches didn’t practice or support it, and especially not publicly like the Mormon church.
  • San Jose State and Stanford were refusing to participate in sporting events with BYU because of the Mormon church’s racism.
  • The first temple in Brazil was about to open. As a very racially diverse nation, it became difficult to tell who would be allowed in the temple, if anyone. The policy before 1978 was that you would not be allowed if you “had even a drop of negro blood.”
  • The church faced a very real threat of losing its tax exempt status because of its racism.
  • Since only priesthood holders could be boyscout leaders in LDS troops, the Boy Scouts of America was putting pressure on the church to change its policies.
  • The church was expanding to encompass the globe. How could it possibly go into Africa?

Was the 1978 revelation really a revelation?

Here is an interview by Wesley Walters of Apostle Le Grand Richards. You decide for yourself if this sounds like revelation (emphasis mine):

Walters: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: I’ve heard that Christ appeared to the apostles; I’ve heard that Joseph Smith appeared; and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had had a concern about this for some time, and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Are any of those stories true, or are they all?

Richards: Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it is hard to get leaders that don’t have negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It’s going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising money to build that temple. If we don’t change, then they can’t even use it. Well, Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it. He asked each one of us of the twelve if we would pray–and we did–that the Lord would give him the inspiration to know what the will of the Lord was. Then he invited each one of us in his office–individually, because you know when you are in a group, you can’t always express everything that’s in your heart. You’re part of the group, see–so he interviewed each one of us, personally to see how we felt about it, and he asked us to pray about it. Then he asked each one of us to hand in all the references we had, for, or against that proposal. See, he was thinking favorably toward giving the colored people the priesthood. Then we had a meeting where we meet every week in the temple, and we discussed it as a group circle. and then held another prayer circle after the close of that meeting, and he (President Kimball) lead in the prayer; praying that the Lord would give us the inspiration that we needed to do the thing that would be pleasing to Him and for the blessing of His children.

And then the next Thursday–we meet every Thursday–the presidency came with this little document written out to make the announcement–to see how we’d feel about it–and present it in written form. Well, some of the members of the Twelve suggested a few changes in the announcement, and then in our meeting there we all voted in favor of it–the Twelve and the first Presidency. One member of the Twelve, Mark Peterson, was down in South America, but Brother Benson, our president, had arranged to know where he could be reached by phone, and right while we were in that meeting in the temple, Brother Kimball talked with Brother Peterson, and read him the article, and he (Peterson) approved of it.

Walters: There wasn’t a special document as a “revelation”, that he had wrote down?

Richards: We discussed it in our meeting. What else should we say besides that announcement? And we decided that that was sufficient; that no more needed to be said.

He’s all but admitting that there was no revelation. No revelation to start, no revelation to end it. That’s okay, it only deals with the ability of a massive group of people to receive the priesthood and temple blessings.

The interview continues:

Walters: Will this affect your theological thinking about the Negro as being less valiant in the previous existence? How does this relate? Have you thought that through?

Richards: Some time ago, the Brethren decided that we should never say that

Walters: Is there still a tendency to feel that people are born with black skin because of some previous situation, or do we consider that black skin is no sign anymore of anything inferior in any send of the word?

Richards: Well, we don’t want to get that as a doctrine. Think of it as you will.

Richards: If you quote me you will be telling the truth.

Walters: Ok, well fine. You don’t mind if we quote you then?

Richards: No.

Conclusion

The church was a racist organization for most of its existence.  That’s simply a fact and cannot be denied.  The argument that people were just a product of their time is ridiculous.  This is an organization that claims to have a living prophet on the Earth.  It claims to be led by Jesus Christ.  It claims that revelation guides its leaders.  Yet no fewer than 7 of its prophets have said despicable, racist statements multiple times.  It instituted a policy of racism for well over a hundred years, segregating blacks from whites and denying blacks both the priesthood and access to the temple.  When it did change its policy and deny its previous doctrines, it was out of necessity.  Just as with polygamy, political pressure forced it to change its ways and conform, not revelation.

Next Step: Doctrinal Contradictions

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