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."
This thread shoule interest you...
Blacks in the Scriptures Audio (LDS Caucus),
Do we all look alike to you, too?
There are obvious and important truths here. Writing in the midst of the civil rights revolution, scholars such as Samuel Hill and John Lee Eighmy could not help but see cultural captivity when stiff-necked deacons and ushers stood cross-armed at church house doors, defending segregation now segregation forever, or when prominent black ministers avoided association with the movement. Southern social critics and the cultural captivity school advanced a far less provincial understanding of the regional religion. In their mind, something outside Christianity had entrapped the southern soul.
Yet the religious notions of the dominant classes have rarely buttressed theologies of equality. More commonly, they sanctify inequality. “We do not believe that all men are created equal . . . nor that they will ever become equal in this world,” a prominent Southern Baptist cleric said in the 1880s. The theology of class and blood was premised on God-ordained inequality. It was an unstable foundation in the context of American liberal democracy, but one common in human history.
Thus, southern white supremacist Christians were not necessarily hypocrites. Such a stance implies that “true” Christianity would have required acceptance of racial equalityan important point theologically, but a dubious mode of analysis for historians. White southern religious racism could be intellectually grounded in a conservative vision rather than merely hypocritical cant intended to void the clear Biblical message. God created the world. If inequality exists, then God must have a reason for it. Without inequalitywithout rulers and ruled, without hewers of wood and drawers of waterthere could be only anarchy. Men cannot govern themselves on a plane of equality. Realizing this, God sanctions Himself to head the church, men to lead women and children, slave owners to direct the lives of slaves, and white people to guide the destiny of black people.
You obviously haven't read the BoM. The BoM is reverse racist if anything. In the end the Lamanites (darker skin) kill all the Nehpites (Honkies) because they are more righteous and blessed of God. IOW, the moral of the story is not based on skin color but how righteous they are.
Interesting that you ar taking the liberal race baiting apporach to try to impugn the LDS church.
Besides you are presenting a litmus test that the Bible can't pass. Black in the Bible is used to denote sin and darkness as well.
Black is primarily associated with the negative aspects of human experience - including death, disease, famine, and sorrow - all of which are the results of sin. Direct Meaning: sin - Job 6:15-16, disease - Job 30:30, famine - Lamentations 4:8; 5:10, Revelation 6:5-6, death - Jude 1:12-13, sorrow - Jeremiah 8:21 (KJV)
While White is a color of purity and righteousness. It is also used to describe things in nature. purity / refinement / unblemished / righteousness / heavenly - Psalm 51:7, Ecclesiastes 9:8, Daniel 7:9; 11:35; 12:10, Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:3, Luke 9:29, John 20:12, Acts 1:10, Revelation 3:4-5;18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9;13-14
There are many liberal sources which try to impugn the bible with the same arguments you are using.
You obviously haven’t read the BoM. The BoM is reverse racist if anything.
Well, let’s see what the bom has to say...
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 . . .
Black in the Bible is used to denote sin and darkness as well.
From the Bible, please...
The word “BLACK” appears only 18 times in the Bible.
(Lev 13:31) And if the priest look on the plague of the scall, and, behold, it be not in sight deeper than the skin, and that there is no black hair in it; then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague of the scall seven days:
(Lev 13:37) But if the scall be in his sight at a stay, and that there is black hair grown up therein; the scall is healed, he is clean: and the priest shall pronounce him clean.
(1Ki 18:45) And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel.
(Est 1:6) Where were white, green, and blue, hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and pillars of marble: the beds were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red, and blue, and white, and black, marble.
(Job 30:30) My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat.
(Pro 7:9) In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night:
(Son 1:5) I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
(Son 1:6) Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.
(Son 5:11) His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven.
(Jer 4:28) For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black: because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.
(Jer 8:21) For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me.
(Jer 14:2) Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they are black unto the ground; and the cry of Jerusalem is gone up.
(Lam 5:10) Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.
(Zec 6:2) In the first chariot were red horses; and in the second chariot black horses;
(Zec 6:6) The black horses which are therein go forth into the north country; and the white go forth after them; and the grisled go forth toward the south country.
(Mat 5:36) Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
(Rev 6:5) And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
(Rev 6:12) And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood;
Not one of those 18 verses support Rameumptom’s allegation.
Maybe it was in the part that Joey Smith put back in ????
Maybe all those racist comments using the word “black” were part of the plain and precious things that were removed by the evil Priests of the Great and Most Abominable Church.
Christianity in and of itself does not have racist origins. There are plenty of churches and denominations or non-denominational churches to choose from.
Oh, Nana...now YOU are being called a liberal too....Hmmmm...there must have been a memo from SLC. Anyone disputing mormon claims is/must be a (gasp!) liberal!!!
OR...was it actually "Any WOMAN disputing the power and authority of the "priesthood" is, by definition a "liberal" or "feminist".
Oh ok so you mean when Christianity first started and a Mongol horde stopped by and wanting to sign up it’d be all good? My point is it was thousands of years ago so who the hell cares. So the Mormons were racist up until the Bishop conveniently got the message from God? Water under the bridge, I say.
Dontcha know that only “liberals” “feminists” and “bigots” dont believe that mormonism is true ???
and didnt vote for RINO Romney ???
I guess I’m ALL 3 ...
When Christianity first started it was started by the Disciples, Jewish men who worshipped Christ and in the Gospels, the early Church is taking place in settings like the Mediterranean, the Middle East, even North Africa. The ones who sought a true relationship with G-d were not “religious” people, full of dogma and rules. T. Galations 3:28 says There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Thats the CHURCH I’m talking about. These folks were gangstas ready to give up there very lives for G-d.