African Americans and Mormons

There have been two recent articles on HuffingtonPost trying to link Mormonism with racism, to which I feel a reply is warranted. The article’s main contentions are Orrin Hatch’s comments about Thurgood Marshall during Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings and previous prominent Latter-day Saints’ opposition to the civil rights movement. If you would like to read the articles here are the links: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alexander-zaitchik/past-is-prologue-glenn-be_b_634826.html ; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stanley-kutler/its-still-all-about-race_b_635273.html.

In commenting on accusations that Mormonism is racist, I want to make clear that I do not deny that there are and have been racist Mormons. Mormons, like any other group of people, has its racists. My main contention here is that the theology of Mormonism is not racist and that people who think that other are inferior because of the color of their skin need to repent. Gordon B. Hinckley acknowledged and decried racism in Mormonism when he addressed the worldwide membership of the Church in 2006. A large quote from him is found below:

I have wondered why there is so much hatred in the world. We are involved in terrible wars with lives lost and many crippling wounds. Coming closer to home, there is so much of jealousy, pride, arrogance, and carping criticism; fathers who rise in anger over small, inconsequential things and make wives weep and children fear.

Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.

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?

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.

Most of the fuel for accusations that Mormons are racists come from quotes from prominent Mormons. The vast majority of these quotes are taken from publications where these Mormons were expressing their opinions and not the opinions of the Church. The evidence in the HuffingtonPost articles falls into this category. These quotes are from politicians and other figures who happen to be Mormon and their comments aren’t meant to represent the view of the church.

However, there are a few racist comments that have been directed from the pulpit or some other forum to the worldwide membership of the church. None of these comments are or should be considered canonical, and at least one apostle (Bruce McKonkie, now deceased) who is often quoted has apologized and retracted his comments. In order to be considered canonical be the worldwide membership, statements must be received by “common consent” in the Church (see Doctrine and Covenants section 28 where the Lord explains why statements from Hiram Page, a prominent member of the Church, should not be considered canonical). Common consent means that the scripture or statement is presented to the body of the Church and the members raise their right hands to signify their acceptance of the document as scripture. This pattern was followed for all of the LDS canon. The most recent scripture to go through this process is “Official Declaration 2” located near the back of current versions of Doctrine and Covenants. This scripture extended the opportunity to participate in priesthood ordinances to all worthy male members of the church regardless of race or color. “…every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color” (Official Declaration 2). This scripture also corrected an erroneous interpretation of the scriptures leading some to believe that anyone of African decent would never be able to receive the priesthood.

Here are what the LDS doctrine on race DOES say:

1 Samuel 16:7b “…for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

Doctrine and Covenants 101:79 “Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.”

2 Nephi 26:33 “For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

I realize that this explaination on race and Mormon theology will be insufficient for some people. If you are not satisfied and want to learn more on this subject, I encourage you to do more research. Some good places to start are wikipedia, lds.org, and ldsgenesisgroup.org. An excellent article on this issue that goes much further in depth than I did here can be found at http://www.ldsgenesisgroup.org/newhowtoreach.html. It was written to white members of the church by an African-American member of the Church.

If you have questions, please e-mail me or comment. I’ll get back to you as soon as my schedule permits me to.

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