Racism

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It may seem shocking to many today to discover that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been racist for the greater part of it's existence. In the past, the LDS church gave more benefits, such as entrance into the priesthood, to white people while denying it to people who have black skin. The Church began ordaining blacks to the priesthood after a 1978 revelation on the matter.[1]

The racial theology that historic mormonism produced was no doubt a result of the various passages in the Book of Mormon which speak of God causing "a skin of blackness to come upon them (those who hardened their hearts against the Lord)" who formerly had skin which was "white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome."

"Ideas that black people are cursed descendents of Cain, one of the Bible's greatest villains, and that blacks were less valiant in the premortal life, essentially 'fence-sitters' in the battle between God and Satan in heaven, continue to be taught and believed by many Mormons, although not sanctioned as doctrine." [2]

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White people, a "pure" race?

It is certainly racist where the 1830 Book of Mormon says that the people who God blesses shall not pass away "save they shall be a white and a delightsome people" (2 Nephi 30:6). To compound matters, the LDS Church has altered this text in newer editions changing the word "white" to say "pure." To give the benefit of doubt that they were not intentionally altering the meaning in this text, it is fair to say that the LDS church views these words as complimentary adjectives which describe the people whom God blesses. To be white is to be pure and to be pure is to be white. This doctrine of racial superiority is certainly supported in other such passages as 2 Nephi 5:21 where formerly white people (the passage also says their white skin was very fair and delightsome) are cursed by God with black skin as a punishment. To be black is to be cursed and to be cursed is to be black.

Racism in the Book of Mormon

1947 First Presidency letter to Dr. Lowry Nelson

Lowry Nelson[1], a professor at what was called the Utah State Agricultural College in Logan, Utah, sent a letter on June 16, 1947, to the LDS First Presidency challenging the position of the LDS Church on people of African descent. On 17 July of the same year, the First Presidency replied[2]:

Dear Brother Nelson:
As you have been advised, your letter of June 16 was received in due course . . . We have carefully considered [its] content; and are glad to advise you as follows:
We make this initial remark: the social side of the Restored Gospel is only an incident of it; it is not the end thereof.
The basic element of your ideas and concepts seems to be that all God's children stand in equal positions before Him in all things. Your knowledge of the Gospel will indicate to you that this is contrary to the very fundamentals of God's dealings with Israel dating from the time of His promise to Abraham regarding Abraham's seed and their position vis-a-vis God Himself. Indeed, some of God's children were assinged to superior positions before the world was formed.
We are aware that some Higher Critics do not accept this, but the Church does. Your position seems to lose sight of the revelations of the Lord touching the pre-existence of our spirits, the rebellion in heaven, and the doctrines that our birth into this life and the advantages under which we may be born, have a religionship in the life heretofore.
From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it is has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.
Furthermore, your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient partiarchs till now. God's rule for Israel, His Chosen People, has been endogamous [meaning 'marriage within a specific tribe or similar social unit']. Modern Israel has been similarly directed.
We are not unmindful of the fact that there is a growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this are, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.
Faithfully yours,
[signed]
George Albert Smith
J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
David O. McKay
The First Presidency

Lowry's reply (October 8, 1947) included:

The attitude of the Church in regard to the Negro makes me very sad. I do not believe God is a racist.

The First Presidency replied[3]:

We feel very sure that you are aware of the doctrines of the Church. They are either true or not true. Our testimony is that they are true. Under these circumstances we may not permit ourselves to be too much impressed by the reasonings of men, however well founded they may seem to be. We should like to say this to you in all sincerity, that you are too fine a man to permit yourself to be led off from the principles of the Gospel by worldly learning.
You have too much of a potentiality for doing good and we therefore prayerfully hope that you can re-orient your thinking and bring it in line with the revealed Word of God.

1949 first presidency statement

August 17, 1949
The attitude of the Church with reference to 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. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”
President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.”
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 premortal 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 mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain 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.
The First Presidency

---

“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 the 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 maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the principle 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 Negroes” (Official statement of the First Presidency to BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, dated August 17, 1951, quoted in Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrinal Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price, 1967, pp.406- 407).

Other theological racism

Cross.jpg This section is a stub. Please edit it to add information.

"The reason that spirits are born into Negro bodies is because those spirits rejected the Priesthood of God in the pre-existence. This is the reason why you have Negroes upon the earth." ("For What Purpose?," a talk given by Alvin R. Dyer at the Missionary Conference in Oslo, Norway, March 18, 1961, printed in The Negro in Mormon Theology, pp. 48-58) [3]

Quotes

Notes

  1. Information on Lowry Nelson is available here: http://library.usu.edu/Specol/manuscript/collms17.html
  2. John J. Stewart and William E. Bennett, Mormonism and the Negro," [Orem, Utah: Community Press, 1960], pp. 46-47
  3. Stewart and Bennett, "Mormonism and the Negro," p. 28
  4. http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1764&tid=2. Quoted here.
  5. http://www.fairlds.org/Misc/Blacks_and_the_Priesthood.html

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