Skip to comments.Mormon and Black: Grappling with a racist past
Posted on 03/20/2009 1:00:38 PM PDT by Alex Murphy
The first time she was ever called the most offensive of racial slurs, Tamu Smith was in the Salt Lake LDS temple.
An elderly man spied Smith, a new bride, and asked aloud what a [racial epithet] was doing there. Instead of reprimanding him, temple workers defended him, saying he didn't know better.
Smith didn't leave the LDS Church over such hurtful language then, and she remains faithful, but frustrated, nearly 15 years later. She will join other Mormons this week to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the June 8, 1978, revelation that opened the church's priesthood to "all worthy men," including those of African descent, and marked a new era for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Spencer W. Kimball's revelation brought a string of firsts for the church: first black missionary; first black bishop; first black couple married in the temple; first black men ordained in Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Jamaica, Nigeria; first black general authority. It also brought relief to many white Mormons mortified by charges of racism leveled at them and their church.
Notably, it also opened Africa to Mormon missionaries, a great boon to the church. Today, 255,050 Latter-day Saints hail from Nigeria in the west to Kenya and Ethiopia in the east to Zimbabwe and South Africa in the south.
More than 2,000 African men now serve as mission presidents, regional, stake, district and congregational leaders, counselors, as patriarchs and in temple presidencies. In some countries, there are even second-generation African Latter-day Saints.
"I love being part of this church," says Noelle Nkoy, who lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo for most of her childhood.
For Africans, it's a new day in the church. Its racist past is not taught and, by those who know, it's viewed as irrelevant.
African-Americans are joining in record numbers, too, especially in places such as Harlem. But for some, the challenge of being the only black face in the congregation can be disconcerting. They sometimes feel slighted or, worse, patronized by white Mormons. And when they discover the historic mistreatment of LDS blacks, some feel a sense of betrayal and many slip from the fold.
"I don't mind defending my faith to my black friends and family," Smith says, "but I do mind having to defend my race to my fellow Mormons."
The never-ending story: Smith knew nothing about the priesthood ban when she joined at age 11 with her grandparents, but she did sense antagonism from Pentecostal relatives who saw the LDS Church as racist. Still, she felt a strong spiritual connection to Mormonism and maintained her faith even after her grandparents dropped out.
Smith met her white husband, Keith Smith, in a Fresno, Calif., ward. It wasn't until they moved to Rexburg, Idaho, that she confronted serious racism among Mormons.
"Everything was white there. The snow was white. The culture was white. The food was white," Smith says. "If this church is so true, where are all the black people? I needed to find out if I was having a unique experience."
So she read the journals of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, who publicly opposed slavery and ordained at least one black man, Elijah Abel.
"Joseph seemed impartial, even ahead of his time. He had a kind heart toward blacks," she says. "But there was a different spirit in Brigham [Young's] journals."
Young brought prejudices common in America at the time into the Mormon faith, sociologist Armand Mauss wrote. No longer were men with even a drop of African blood allowed to be ordained to the priesthood, which otherwise was available to virtually all males starting at 12. Blacks could still be members, but couldn't be leaders, serve missions or be married in one of the faith's temples.
Tamu Smith discovered all this in a pamphlet produced by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. "It was a sad story, but it made me feel somewhat better," she says. "I wasn't alone."
Shifting answers: Mormons explained the ban with the same scriptures other Christian groups used to defend practices such as slavery, Mauss wrote.
The notion that "blacks are cursed" began with the biblical story of Noah's three sons, Shem, Japheth and Ham. Descendants of Shem, the oldest, were believed to be the preferred race the Semites or Jews and Arabs. Japheth, the next son, was the father of "other white or yellow races."
In the ninth chapter of Genesis, the Bible says that because Ham saw his father's naked body, he and his descendants were cursed to be the "servant of servants."
To this justification, Mormons added a unique twist: that blacks were somehow "less valiant" than other races in the spirit world before this life, so-called fence-sitters in the War in Heaven.
Such theories continue to circulate among some Latter-day Saints and find support in quasi-official publications such as Mormon Doctrine and the Mortal Messiah series by Bruce R. McConkie, an influential LDS apostle who died in 1985. Attempts to get the church to repudiate these notions have been rebuffed.
"This folklore is not part of and never was taught as doctrine by the church," LDS spokesman Mark Tuttle said this week, adding that the church has no policy against interracial marriage, nor does it teach that everyone in heaven will be white.
The official LDS position is that only God knows why it took so long to eliminate the ban, but that's a cop-out, says Darron Smith, a University of Utah doctoral student who is serving in the Utah Army National Guard at Fort Sill, Okla. "We don't know why the Lord did this? Bulls---. It's called racism."
He believes all Latter-day Saints deserve an apology.
Such outspokenness two years ago led to Brigham Young University's decision not to renew his assistant-lecturer contract.
"Part of what hasn't happened in 30 years is open dialogue," Smith said. "People aren't as forthcoming because they're scared of repercussions, of being disciplined for speaking their experience. . . . Are you supposed to suppress your feelings for the good of the church or embrace controversy? Controversy presents opportunities for growth."
He's committed to his Mormon faith and simply wants "the church to be what it says it is" and to reach what he trusts is its full potential.
Signs of hope: Black Mormons hope the more people know about the church's racist past, the more progress toward healing they'll see. Better information is what Darius Gray and Margaret Blair Young hope they've provided in their groundbreaking documentary, "Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons."
Gray, the author and businessman who led Genesis, a support group for black Mormons, from 1997 to 2003, and Young, his co-author on a trilogy tracing the history of LDS blacks, have previewed the documentary at film festivals. It will be available for general release later this summer, and includes never-released footage of interviews shot in 1968 and rare archival photographs as well as interviews with members, social scientists, clergy and historians.
"This is not a sanitized nor a bitter piece. We are neither proselytizing nor bashing," Gray says. "It's a chance for black Mormons to share their joys, excitement, sadness and struggles."
Gray, Young and many others were pleased by Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland's recent statements about blacks in the church.
Racist folklore must "never be perpetuated," Holland told filmmaker Helen Whitney in her PBS documentary about the Mormons. "However well-intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong."
They were also gratified to hear the late President Gordon B. Hinckley condemn racism in strong language during the church's annual General Conference in 2006.
"I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us," Hinckley said during the all-male priesthood session. "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?"
Hinckley's words were welcome, but they weren't enough for many.
"For racism to stop, we need to hear it condemned at Conference as often as pornography or abuse are," Tamu Smith says. "The brethren don't want to open up old wounds, but those wounds have never healed."
Here is a link to excerpts from the Encyclopedia on Religion in the South. It really sheds light on the institutional racism in Southern churches.
Have you removed the beam?
When I left the Baptist church. You folks need to get some mirrors.
Racist as compared to what? The Mormon church from its founding opposed slavery. You can’t really say that about most of the other Christian denominations and other religions in the New World.
Is slavery the only thing that comprises racism?
No! Did I imply that? Absolutely not. Why is the media picking on the Mormons and singling them out? Could it be their support of Proposition 8 in California? Compared to the lots of other Christian sects and denominations, they have a much better record. Unlike most of the other groups in the US, they got along rather well with the local American Indian tribes and made alliances with them. Lots of other Christians in the US either wanted to push Indians off of every acre of good land or to exterminate them. Many Christian missionaries who didn't want to kill the Indians still wanted to wipe out their entire culture in missionary schools where children only learned about European and European dervied American culture.
The Mormon Church
The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints
Racial Slurs in Mormon Scriptures!
Book of Mormon
1 Nephi 11:13 (Mary) . . . she was exceedingly fair and white.
1 Nephi 12:23 (Prophecy of Lamanites after Christ) . . . became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.
1 Nephi 13:15 (Gentiles) . . . they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people [Nephites] before they were slain.
2 Nephi 5:21 . . . a sore cursing . . . 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.
2 Nephi 30:6 (Prophecy to Lamanites) . . . scales of darkness shall begin to fall . . . they shall be a white and delightsome people. (Changed to pure and delightsome in 1981)
Jacob 3:5 (Lamanites cursed) . . .whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins. . .
Jacob 3:8-9 . . .their skins will be whiter than yours . . . revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins . . .
Alma 3:6 . . . 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. . .
Alma 3:8 (Cursed) . . .that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren . . .that they might not mix . . .
Alma 3:9 . . . whosoever did mingle his seed with that of the Lamanites did bring the same curse upon his seed.
Alma 3:14 (Lamanites cursed) . . . set a mark on them that they and their seed may be separated from thee and thy seed. . .
Alma 3:19 (Amlicites cursed) . . . brought upon themselves the curse ...
Alma 23:18 . . . [Lamanites] did open a correspondence with them [Nephites] and the curse of God did no more follow them.
3 Nephi 2:14-16 . . . 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 . . . became exceedingly fair . . .
3 Nephi 19:25, 30 (Disciples) . . . they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness . . . nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof . . . they were white, even as Jesus.
Mormon 5:15 (Prophecy about Lamanites) . . .shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us . . .
Mormon 5:17 They were once a delightsome people . . .
Pearl of Great Price
Moses 7:8 . . . a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan . . .
Moses 7:12 . . . Enoch continued to call upon all the people, save it were [except] the people of Canaan, to repent . . .
Moses 7:22 . . . for the seed of Cain were black and had not place among them.
Abraham 1:21 . . . king of Egypt [Pharaoh] was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth.
Abraham 1:27 . . . Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood . . .
A hero of mormonism...
Brigham Young was also a racist...
Speaking of Governor Harding of Utah Territory...
..Man did I say? A thing, I mean - a nigger-worshipper - a black-hearted abolitionist is what he is, ands what he represents; and what i do naturally despise. (Brigham Young at a meeting in the tabernacle, Greater Salt lake City, Utah Territory, March 3, 1863)
The mormons have not denounced any of this...
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 racethat they should be the servant of servants, and they will be, until that curse is removed.
Brigham Young-President and second Prophet of the Mormon Church, 1844-1877- Extract from Journal of Discourses.
Here are two examples from their bible, the book of mormon.
2 Nephi 5: 21 And he 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.
August 27, 1954 in an address at Brigham Young University (BYU), Mormon Elder, Mark E Peterson, in speaking to a convention of teachers of religion at the college level, said:
The discussion on civil rights, especially over the last 20 years, has drawn some very sharp lines. It has blinded the thinking of some of our own people, I believe. They have allowed their political affiliations to color their thinking to some extent.I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after.
He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat. He isnt just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. It isnt that he just desires to go to the same theater as the white people. From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage.
That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feelings to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for Negroes that we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that we used to say about sin, First we pity, then endure, then embrace....
(Rosa Parks would have probably told Petersen under which wheel of the bus he should go sit.)
1967, (then) Mormon President Ezra Taft Benson said,
The Communist program for revolution in America has been in progress for many years and is far advanced. First of all, we must not place the blame upon Negroes. They are merely the unfortunate group that has been selected by professional Communist agitators to be used as the primary source of cannon fodder.
We are told that on June 8, 1978, it was revealed to the then president, Spencer Kimball, that people of color could now gain entry into the priesthood.
According to the church, Kimball spent many long hours petitioning God, begging him to give worthy black people the priesthood. God finally relented.
Sometime before the revelation came to chief Prophet Spencer Kimball in June 1978, General Authority, Bruce R McConkie had said:
The Blacks are denied the Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty.
The Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow there from, but this inequality is not of mans origin, it is the Lords doings.
(Mormon Doctrine, pp. 526-527).
When Mormon Apostle Mark E Petersen spoke on Race Problems- As they affect the Church at the BYU campus in 1954, the following was also said:
...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. he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory.
When Mormon Prophet and second President of the Church, Brigham Young, spoke in 1863 the following was also said:
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, Vo. 10, p. 110)
I am a black woman married to a white man for the last 20 years. I am sorry, but could not join a church that had such racist origins.
I am not familar with is this article but many times enough is left out to changed the context of the report...
It’s one of the best kept secrets’ 2:03
Take a good look at Marvin Perkins. You’ll never guess what group he joined and why.
Racism also includes segregation—both in religious and government institutions. You can read about it here among the mainstream Christian churches:
Again, how is the beam?
In an interview conducted on August 16, 1978 at the Church Office Building. The interviewer was one Wesley Walters and the person interviewed was Mormon ‘Apostle’ LeGrand Richards.
‘WALTERS: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: 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’s 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 the 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. ‘
So much for that ‘revelation.’
Sometime before the ‘revelation’ came to chief ‘Prophet’ Spencer Kimball in June 1978, General Authority, Bruce R McConkie had said:
“The Blacks are denied the Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty.
The Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain 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 doings.” (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 526-527).
The 1978 revelation doesn’t say blacks are no longer of the lineage of Cain, nor does it say that they no longer did these things in preexistence. It does not say they are not cursed with black skin.
How is the beam?
I'm not sbc for starters and secondly the sbc has repudiated those teachings. Whereas the mormonites have still to repudiate those teachings, those prophets who taught it was god's will and purpose that blacks were a sub class and under a curse. When mormonites do what the sbc have done, then you might have standing on the issue.
You obviously didn’t read the material because it wasn’t limited to SBC. But that doesn’t matter anyway because your all part of the same family.
How is the beam?
And you apparently didn’t read my post - when are mormonites going to repudiate smith, young and all the prophets through at least 1978 for promulgating that blacks are inferior. When are mormonites going to repudiate the boa, bom and D&C passages that generated their doctrine. Christians have by an large repudiated segregation. When are the mormonites?
Why were the words white and delightsome in 2 Nephi 30:6 changed to pure and delightsome right on the heels of the Civil Rights campaign for blacks?
Why indeed? The plates have been long gone and the words were revealed one by one, so surely the Lord could not have made a mistake.