A year ago, the LDS Church officially released a statement entitled “Race and the Priesthood.” Interestingly, although I follow trends in the Mormon community fairly closely, I just barely came across it. I’m sure it’s been discussed repeatedly by those who follow the Church more closely than I, but I find it interesting that there was been very little public discussion on the matter.
Interesting, not because I’m surprised at Mormons’ general lack of giving a shit about their shady history; interesting because, just as they did with the release on the information that Joseph Smith did practice intensive polygamy, the Church did it, as it were, in the dead of night. Quietly, with most of their constituency’s focus on Christmas and the lovely MoTab concert and the pretty Temple Square lights. If any Mormons paid attention, they’d surely forget it quickly.
The Salt Lake Tribune discussed the race publication it only a few days after its release. It took the Church-owned Deseret News six months to talk about it. In June, they finally published a ridiculously biased announcement – oops, I’m sorry, news article – that claimed LDS blacks and scholars cheered the release! In an excellently staged PR move, they gave a “special citation” to one light-skinned black man named Darius Grey, who helped write the Church’s piece. Translation: Taking a leaf straight from Fox News, the LDS Church picked a token black guy, had him help write the statement, and then gave him a fucking award for it. Well gee, if one of the people who helped write it was black, then it must be true! Yippee!
“How else could you feel but great?” That’s a quote from Don Harwell, president of the church’s Genesis Group for black Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. “They’ve renounced the silliness that blacks were fence-sitters and less valiant (in the premortal existence), all the things some members had used to justify the racism.”
Oh, right. All that trite silliness, which definitely wasn’t taught by the LDS Prophets and Apostles. Ahem:
“The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God… Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.” –Letter of the First Presidency, August 17, 1949
“A black skin is a mark of the curse of heaven…. We understand that when God made man in his own image and pronounced him very good, that he made him white.” The Mormon Church’s Juvenile Instructor, vol 3, page 157
“The present status of the negro rests purely and simply on the foundation of pre-existence. Along with all races and peoples he is receiving here what he merits as a result of the long pre-mortal probation in the presence of the Lord….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.” –Bruce R. McConkie, 1966
“Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures.” In his book he made clear that the contents were his opinion.” — Joseph Fielding Smith, 1935
“[t]he 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 fullness of glory in the celestial kingdom.” — Apostle George F. Richards, Conference, 1939
“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.” — Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses
Okay. So we really don’t need to go on here. It is clear that the doctrine, whether official or no, of Mormon leaders has been racist – right up until the “restoration” of blacks having the Priesthood in 1978. But in their release, the modern Church suggests that the reason that the blacks didn’t have the Priesthood had nothing to do with poor guidance from the Lord. No, no, no, no. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was restored amidst a highly contentious racial culture in which whites were afforded great privilege,” the Church says, and then goes on to quote the Supreme Court affording privilege only to whites.
So all that nonsense had simply to do with the times. That’s all. And by golly, if you can quote the Supreme Court as being complicit, well it really isn’t the Church’s fault, right?
I apologize for making no attempt to disguise my snarky attitude here. It’s just that, after years of racist policies, enacted by racist men claiming to be the mouthpieces of the Lord, the Church releases bullshit like this and expects that their sudden bout of honesty will make everything okay. There’s no apology. No quoting of Presidents past and asserting their wrongness. There’s no attempt to explain why God, in His all-knowing goodness and kindness, found himself bound by idiot sentimentalism of the time, rather than just being equitable from the very beginning.
No, in fact, they go in the exact opposite direction and quote how inspired they felt, how fucking hard the prophet and apostles in 1978 supplicated our Good God for the opportunity to change the doctrine. To quote Gordon B Hinckley: “There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren.” The Church wept for joy at the time of the change.
Yay! Here come the good, kind white people, sweating blood in their effort to share blessing of Eternal Consequence with blacks. It’s so sweet, isn’t it?
Maybe I need to take a break before I can write less heatedly on the subject. It might be a little easier if the Church didn’t sweep everything so easily under the rug and actually took ownership of their shitty behavior in years past. But they don’t, and they won’t. This is the closest they get: “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else.”
So, there’s that. No apology. No refutation of former teachings. I’m sure this is just another one of those instances where, you know, these Prophets and Apostles are just men, after all. Even though they teach that “We will not and cannot lead you astray.” (That’s M. Russel Ballard just two months ago in General Conference).
Which is it, Mormons? Either your leaders are appointed mouthpieces of God and cannot lead you astray, or they were racist assholes who you should hold accountable and apologize on behalf of. You can’t have your caffeinated beverage, and drink it too.
Oh, wait. You can.