The LDS Church has just published a groundbreaking official statement on the history of a pre-1978 ban that prohibited men of African ancestry from holding the priesthood.

There is much to applaud here. In contrast to fuzzy earlier statements from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, which asked people to forget about the past and simply focus on Mormonism’s racially integrated present, the new statement takes it for granted that history is important and that it continues to affect the present day.

People can’t simply ignore Mormonism’s racist past if no one in authority has ever refuted it. Firmly—finally!—the Church has done so. The racist justifications that some people have relied upon for decades in excusing the former priesthood ban have been officially anathematized:

“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 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. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

Thank God.

Let me say it again: Thank God. I hope this statement will lay to rest forever any justifications for the racism that has been a blight on our religion.

On the other hand, we’re still not quite there yet. I’m sorry that I’m not able to offer up an entirely unqualified endorsement of this new statement. There is much to be grateful for: a nuanced history of Mormon racism within the larger context of nineteenth-century American racism; a robust and specific denunciation of several damaging teachings from the past; and a theological affirmation that all are alike unto God, who “denieth none that cometh unto him” (2 Nephi 26:33).

What is not there, not anywhere in the document, is an apology.

stop racismIt’s good to put racism in historical context, and I’m glad to see that context here. But if that’s all we do, we deny the agency of the historical actors in question. A suggestion that “mistakes were made, but we were only following cues from the broader culture” will only take us so far in a religious tradition whose rock-solid fundamental is that we are responsible for our own sins, and not for other people’s transgressions.

We Mormons harmed people, systematically diminishing their creation as image-bearers of God. Over and over again, we harmed people. And then we fabricated sick theological pretexts to justify that wholly unchristian diminishment.

So while it’s hugely important that the Church has drawn a line in the sand to prevent that from ever happening again, it has yet to openly confess its sin. This is the same church that has taught me what to do when I sin—not just own up to what I’ve done but apologize to those I have wronged. As Marlin Jensen put it, humility “carries the transgressor to God in prayer, to the offended party in apology, and where necessary, to his priesthood leader in confession.”

Is it so different when the offending party is an institution rather than an individual?

I’m reminded of this 2012 General Conference talk by Elder D. Todd Christofferson:

The Lord gives two overarching requirements: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43).

Confessing and forsaking are powerful concepts. They are much more than a casual “I admit it; I’m sorry.” Confession is a deep, sometimes agonizing acknowledgment of error and offense to God and man. Sorrow and regret and bitter tears often accompany one’s confession, especially when his or her actions have been the cause of pain to someone or, worse, have led another into sin. It is this deep distress, this view of things as they really are, that leads one, as Alma, to cry out, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death” (Alma 36:18).

Don’t get me wrong; the LDS Church took an enormous step forward with this official statement. Perhaps an official apology will follow.

65 Comments

  1. Infinite power and YET still wanting more

    You are so right.
    You are so wrong…
    At least it would appear that you don’t understand.
    Tons of churches… STILL don’t allow all to act as spiritual leaders…
    and very FEW offer the total power to each family…

    Cursed as to the Priesthood… I see no need to call that racist. It was a fact…
    It has been lifted…
    So what was your point?
    That we… present past and future are to stupid to talk to?
    When has that EVER been in doubt?

    • Is it a fact that Brigham Young denied priesthood and temple blessings to blacks though Joseph Smith had previously ordained some black men? Yes.

      Is it a fact that black men were condemned by God and unworthy in his sight? No. President Gordon B. Hinckley allowed the LDS Genesis group to openly teach that at no time were blacks ever condemned or unworthy of His priesthood.

      It matters not what other churches do. The Mormon church boldly claims to be THE church of Jesus Christ in the latter-days – one receiving modern day revelation from God – yet was operated for years under racist leadership. That they were acting within the cultural limitations of their upbringing (as many of us do) takes nothing away from the pain and anguish caused many families by this one policy alone.

      An apology should have been automatic.

    • During World War II, some members were excommunicated because they opposed Hitler, the Nazis, and racism. I think some of them were also murdered because of their opposition. After World War II, I’ve read that those records were stamped “excommunicated by mistake.” And the memberships were reinstated. But for someone who lost both life and church membership, don’t you think acknowledgement of the mistake is, well, inadequate?

      That the priesthood ban was a fact, and has been lifted, does not remove the damage done by that fact before it was lifted. My father was baptized by a man who was excommunicated because he thought that the priesthood should be extended to all men. I think this man is probably dead now, but I don’t know whether he lived to see the ban lifted. I think you could make an argument for the idea that he was harmed. Should he have opposed the church on this issue? One could (and some probably have) argued that he should not have opposed his leaders, but he clearly saw it as a moral issue and he was vindicated by later events. However, he paid a price, and so did those who loved him (my father, for example, whose very tender testimony did not survive the experience). How do you get the salt back out of the ground once it has been left sterile? I do not think my father will ever recover in this life from that wound. You think events have no consequences? I disagree. Making the change is one (important) thing. But even so, it is not enough. Apologizing is still the right thing to do. It might not fix the harm that was done. But apologizing is an important part of taking responsibility and repenting of our sins, as a church and as people.

      • @Susan,
        The history you relate in your post is intriguing. A man in my ward in Texas who passed away last year grew up Germany and was a reluctant member of the Nazi Youth told stories about the difficulties of being a Mormon in Germany, not that I think the difficulties were unique. His parents had to feign enough patriotism to avoid being denounced. The family moved to the United States shortly after the war ended.
        Do you have a reference with additional information?

        • A friend, many years ago, gave me a book about Helmuth Hubener (sorry for the missing umlaut). I think that’s where I originally read about it, but I have absolutely no idea where the book went. I might still have it somewhere. There’s an entry in Wikipedia about Helmuth. Look under the part titled “Church reaction” for his excommunication and later reinstatement. I think I also read somewhere that Ezra Taft Benson also restored some church memberships that had been taken for the same reason, but I do not remember at all where I read about that.

          • Here is a copy of what it says in the Wikipedia article:
            In 1937, LDS President Heber Grant had visited Germany and urged the members to remain, get along, and not cause trouble. Consequently, some LDS members saw Hübener as a troublemaker who made things difficult for other Mormons in Germany. This recommendation did not change after Kristallnacht, which occurred the year following Grant’s visit, after which he evacuated all non-German Mormon missionaries.

            Local LDS branch president Arthur Zander was a fervent member of the Nazi Party, even to the extent of affixing notices to the church door stating “Jews not welcome” beginning in 1938. Ten days after the arrest of Helmuth Hübener, on 15 February 1942, Zander, acting for the LDS, excommunicated the young man demonstratively,[6] as had been demanded by the Gestapo, without holding a church court or notifying church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

            Four years later and after the war, Hübener was posthumously reinstated in the LDS Church in 1946 by new mission president Max Zimmer, saying the excommunication was done by mistake. He was also posthumously ordained an elder, was rebaptized on 7 January 1948, and endowed on 8 June 1948 with information on temple sheets stating “All the temple work was done for him.”[7]

            The day of his execution, Hübener wrote to a fellow branch member, “I know that God lives and He will be the Just Judge in this matter… I look forward to seeing you in a better world!” — from a letter written by Hübener, the only one believed to still exist[8]

          • You are very welcome. I probably should have given you a better reference, but I thought that once you knew the general direction, that was probably all you needed. I am impressed by anyone who had the courage to fight against the Nazis even to the point of having his life stolen from him. That kind of courage is a great gift.

          • We are talking more narrowly than you imply: one Nazi bishop (what a contradiction in terms), and one LDS member who was executed wrongly, not by his bishop but by the Nazis. Absolutes are dangerous. I do not know of any country or people that does not have blood on its collective hands. I do not know of any group that does not have serious differences of opinion. And although I have read a fair amount about this war, I don’t remember hearing apologies from any of the people who have blood on their hands for what happened. Come to think about it, collective apologies from any country or church seem to be rare.

            I once heard a German woman speak, now dead, about what it was like to be in Germany and in a situation where saying the wrong thing could cost you your life, and to look around at a crowd of people at a public Nazi rally you were required to attend, and wonder if you were the only person in the entire crowd who did not believe what was being said. Another woman (Austrian) has talked about what it was like, as a child, to have to dive for a ditch if you happened to be walking down a road when the planes came dropping bombs. She said her mother told her to trust no one, and that for that time, it was good advice. She joined the LDS church later.

            I hope you will never be in circumstances where you are treated the way so many people were treated in World War II. And I hope you will never be judged for the actions of other people without any consideration for what you have, in point of fact, actually done in your own life. What concerns me, though, is that by categorizing people in such a negative way, you perpetuate the us-versus-them mentality so characteristic of any war. None of us know what we would do if faced with such horrific circumstances. We all hope (at least, I do) that we would respond with courage, integrity, and honor. One start is to think of others as being like ourselves, not as something so unclean and foul that we would never make the mistakes they have made.

          • “I don’t remember hearing apologies from any of the people who have blood on their hands for what happened.”

            Do more research.

            Japanese haven’t, but the Germans have made formal apologies for the Nazi regime on numerous occasions in word and in deeds.

          • Fair enough, but please help me out here a little. I entered “German apologies for Nazi party,” and I got (1) an apology from the Hugo Boss fashion company, (2) an apology to those who were killed because they were gay, and (3) an apology from some of the doctors who were involved. (What I know about the doctors is that they used the Jews and others to do medical research and to conduct autopsies; apparently, there’s an anatomy book that features pictures of those who were murdered and then studied. I read a recent article on the Internet that included a story about a young woman who worked for a doctor. One day when she came in, some people she knew who had been murdered were on the table waiting for autopsies. She quit, but she is apparently the only one they know of who did. I cannot begin to express how this horrifies me.)

            Where should I be looking? I expected to see something from the German government as a whole.

          • Jana Riess

            Really good question. Here is a story on Willy Brandt’s “silent apology” from his 1970 visit to the Warsaw Ghetto:
            http://www2.facinghistory.org/Campus/Memorials.nsf/0/DC396F572BD4D99F85256FA80055E9B1

            And then Johannes Rau formally apologized before the Israeli Knesset a little over a decade ago:

            http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/english/200002/17/print20000217W110.html

            The German government has spent billions of dollars in reparations to Israel. I don’t have a figure though. Obviously, no apology and no amount of money can ever compensate for six million lives, but I just wanted to answer your question that yes, the German government has apologized to victims of the Holocaust.

  2. This is a welcome yet looooong overdue announcement which should have been accompanied by an apology. I truly hope members were paying attention; I was horrified three years ago when this was taught to a recent convert and she used it to explain the church’s history to her black neighbors. *face palm*

  3. Infinite power and YET still wanting more

    Very few of us ever believed Alan R. Dyer and others with regard to… premortal something or another…

    Those who truly understand see that we ALL were innocent there and ALL COME HERE INNOCENT…
    and in time…

    ALL will be washed white in the Blood of the LAMB and we will be equal…. in power might and dominion…with MOM and dad and Our Redeemer and the HOLY GHOST…

    Few believe it though.

  4. You put it perfectly. Thankyou. This strikes me as baby step #2 towards an apology after the LDS Newsroom statement in February 2012: ‘Church Statement Regarding ‘Washington Post’ Article on Race and the Church’. For over 100 years far too many Latter-Day Saints at every level who should have known better and were preaching better did not have the moral courage to feel the pain they were causing for all concerned enough to do something about it, despite being so willing to sacrificially suffer all kinds of difficulties being counter-cultural and unpopular as they stood by their principles on plural marriage and so on. That’s racism – to disconnect yourself from the pain of others because they are not of your race even though they may be dear friends so that you don’t feel the injustice and the awfulness of it deeply enough to get urgently angry or passionate enough to be unable to rest until it is sorted out. A lot of unequivocable and grovelling apologies are long overdue, and the Church will never be able to detoxify its reputation and really ‘hasten the work’ of converting the world until this is done. When I see what a powerful anti-racist message runs throughout the Book of Mormon, speaking so perfectly to the needs of the last 200 years, I just want to weep at how successful Satan was in neutralising our potential to have been at the forefront of the Civil Rights movements around the world instead of the last to catch up.

  5. This is an excellent post. I deeply appreciate what you have written. As far as an apology is concerned, I have always thought that the big problem is the fact that so many of those who were racist are dead and can no longer give their own voice to a public apology. And the LDS church is protective of its leaders, especially the ones who are no longer here. Many of them are also family, complicating matters even further. It is one thing to repent of your own sins. It is another thing entirely to do so on behalf of someone else, publicly admitting the wrongs of someone you may have loved and been mentored by, and someone who is perhaps even a part of your family. It isn’t a good idea to foul your own nest, to borrow an image President McKay used when he was talking about Fawn Brodie.

    But I think it still needs to be said. I wonder how long it will take. Oh, we do indeed live in interesting times.

    • I hear what you are saying, however, that reasoning didn’t stop Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn from apologizing for the state’s treatment of Mormon’s in 2004 making Gordon B. Hinckley weep.

      It seems to me the church fouled it’s nest; an apology seems more like a spiritual cleansing.

      • Sabra, You missed the change completely! The apology by Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn was reduced to a “We’re sorry it all happened.”
        April 02, 2004 12:00 am • CALEB WARNOCK – The Daily Herald
        A week after the Illinois House passed a resolution asking for “the pardon and forgiveness” of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the sponsoring lawmaker offered a softened version that would simply express regret for the violence that drove Mormons out of the state in 1846.

        • Actually, I am aware of the change and also of the fact that it could have been voted down completely and no official regret extended. It still was an apology which is to more than our church has ever done regarding injustices performed under priesthood leadership.

  6. Susan, Thomas Monson, Boyd Packer and Tom Perry were all Apostles before the 1978 revelation and part of the leadership that enforced the racism for many years. It wasn’t that long ago. They won’t get away with pointing the finger to 1855. They are perfectly placed to make the very personal apology you suggest.
    I’m a teacher so the situation feels familiar – the kid denies doing anything wrong (until 1978), then tries to minimise that it was that wrong (2012 http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/racial-remarks-in-washington-post-article ‘That was in the past – it’s all fine now’) then he admits what he did was terrible but hasn’t yet really connected emotionally with the magnitude of the crime, so gets legalistic and starts blaming everyone else and pointing fingers as far away from themselves as possible (This new explanation webpage on LDS.org – it was all the fault of Brigham Young and social/cultural pressures to accept institutional racism as normal). Only after you redirect the pupil to their personal role and responsibility and choices do they reach real contrition and become honest with themselves and you and break into true repentance and a change of heart. The good news is that’s only one step away now! Nearly there…. :)

    • Good points. I like your pointing out that at least some of those leaders are still alive and could take responsibility. But others are dead and can no longer speak for themselves. I think that has an impact on the remainder.

      From my reading on the subject, I think it is clear that Hugh B. Brown, David O. McKay, and Spencer W. Kimball were not racist, or at least (in the case of President McKay) that any racism was like that of Abraham Lincoln, whose opinions changed over time and who also deferred to his strong sense of what was right more than to his heritage. I don’t know about J. Reuben Clark, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley, and others. It seems fairly clear that Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie were, at a minimum, products of their time, although I have always loved Bruce R. McConkie’s admission of being flat-out wrong. I also think racism in the church at the time was rampant; I still remember when I was growing up how a rumor was passed around by the children in my Salt Lake City neighborhood that (gasp) a black family had looked at one of the houses on my street–across the street and slightly north from the house where I grew up–with a thought to buying. They didn’t, assuming they even tried, and so nothing more was said, but I can still remember being very surprised that this was even an issue.

  7. Wayne Dequer

    I generally like your articles so I regret being disagreeable. I do not see the source or quotation you have provided as being at groundbreaking, but simply evolutionary.

    I looked at Mormon Newsroom and lds.org and found no new official announcement highlighted, so unless my internet connection is strangely weird there is NOT a new official announcement. The paragraph you quote is footnoted to Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Need for Greater Kindness,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2006, 58–61 which is certainly NOT new. In 1978 Bruce R. McConkie states “Forget everything I have said, or what … Brigham Young … or whomsoever has said … that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” In 2012, the following statement was issued: “The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.” http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/race-church and an article was published recounting President Hinkley’s specific apology for past racism at http://www.patheos.com/Mormon/Pastor-to-Pastor-Margaret-Blair-Young-09-18-2012. It appears to me the paragraph you quote in a article has simply been edited and strengthened a bit.

    Of course racist folklore has had no traction in the stakes and wards on the west coast in which I have lived for at least the last decade and more with racial intermarriage being common, etc.

    Yes, I would welcome a more definitive institutional apology for past racism. However, I see investigators and members from all races looking around and feeling comfortable in the stake and ward in which I live. I see the Church growing rapidly in Africa. I see articles about missionaries shinning the shoes of residents in Harlem as a way to engage in gospel conversations (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865591940/Mormon-missionaries-shine-shoes-teach-the-gospel-in-Harlem.html?pg=all). Racism still exists in the world and among LDS peoples, but it is decreasing at a very rapid rate within the Church.

    • @Wayne Dequer
      I grew up in California and I knew racists both in the Church and out. I believe that the problem in the Church was less but this might be euphoric recall. Certainly, my Church leaders taught against it and read versus from the scriptures that declared that the gospel was to be preached to every nation and every people. I first heard of Alan R. Dyer theory of race on my mission to Argentina. I dismissed it immediately.
      As a social scientist, I thought that the discussion about the ward as an integrating unit was spot on. I also believe that interracial marriage will be the norm within the Church in very few years, at leas until the racial distinctions become meaningless. Who now would think of a marriage of a German man and a French woman as being interracial.

  8. Good article. I wrote this a year and half ago when the church made a statement about Randy Bott. It still applies today:

    “Part of offering an acceptable sacrifice is not being content to put others up on a cross but instead offering your own heart, broken and contrite. You don’t get to substitute someone for yourself. And at a minimum you have to recognize your mistakes and name them. You must offer your own sins regardless of the costs. Statements crafted by committees and reviewed by attorneys are not asking for grace and can’t lead to repentance. They are designed to project an image to the public while avoiding the pain and consequences that might come with an actual apology. I don’t expect the church to solve all the worlds problems, I don’t even expect it to be perfect, but I think in part what it means to follow Jesus is to have the character and dignity to admit you are wrong and ask for forgiveness. For the church to do anything less than this is to reject the atonement and the very Christianity it preaches.

    • “Statements crafted by committees and reviewed by attorneys are not asking for grace and can’t lead to repentance. They are designed to project an image to the public while avoiding the pain and consequences that might come with an actual apology. ”

      I love that statement! If you don’t mind, I may steal it for a future discussion.

  9. Jana: I think that you seem to be making two interrelated objections. The first is that you think that the historical contextualizing denies agency to historical actors. I don’t think that this follows. If this is true then it seems to me that most of the historical profession is guilty of the evil of denying agency to historical actors. Also, I am not quite sure why it is that the Church has a duty to make moral judgments about historical figures. If I understand you correctly, you want something that says not only, “BY held racist attitudes like many other people of his time” but also “BY held racist attitudes like many other people of his time, but not withstanding that fact he was morally reprehensible.” I am not sure why we need the Church to make such judgments as a matter of official statements. I certainly don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the official Church position is on the moral culpability of some long-dead historical figure, including Church figures. I am more interested in understanding the Church’s moral stance and the fact of the matter with regard to the past. I can make my own moral judgments.

    I am not sure what to make of the idea of apologies. There is something presumptuous about my apologizing for things done in the past by others to people who are now dead. I think that there might be a stronger claim for an apology to people now living who were alive during the pre-1978 period and personally suffered. Apologizing for to the long dead for the actions of the long dead, however, strikes me as mistaken. It seems that the proper attitude toward such events is something more akin to mourning and a willingness to learn. An apology, however, is a performative act and I am not sure that we’ve got the right actors.

    • You said this very well. I had not analyzed it as thoroughly as you did, but I like what you said very much. We have some, but not all, the actors, and it is not fair to judge people out of the context of their time. If the great fault of historical novels is getting the history wrong, this is most surely a similar problem. It is wrong to both blame someone for being wrong and then also blame them for not seeing their own (widely shared) blindness to that fact. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has pointed out that time makes it easier to see things that we can’t see at the time. That’s true.

  10. I wholeheartedly agree with you Jana that an apology would be appropriate. Sadly, I don’t know that the Church has ever offered an apology for anything, which I find disheartening.

    I have another issue that disturbs me. When I read the official statement “Race and the Church: All Are Alike Unto God,” I came away with the idea that Brigham Young made decisions concerning the blacks, priesthood ordination and temple admittance based on the cultural attitude of the time, rather than through revelation. I would think that something as important as who should be ordained to the priesthood would have been put before God rather than based on personal opinion or cultural attitudes.

    And if this is true, it puts into question so many other Church mandates, decisions and policies. It boggles my mind to think that so many people were denied temple and priesthood opportunities based on something other than prophetic revelation, a practice we claim makes our Church different from so many others. As Richard Bushman said, “It drains the ban of revelatory significance, makes it something that just grew up and, in time, had to be eliminated.”

    President Uchtdorf reminded us that “leaders in the church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles or doctrine.” I know that his statement is true, but if it is true that President Young based the ban on his own personal attitudes rather than revelation, I would say that an apology is definitely in order.

    • I agree wholeheartedly with Lightkeeper regarding Brigham Young. He did many things based on his “own personal attitudes”. That was my same thought after reading the article that BY wasn’t attached to the very bad decision that he made and no apology about it….glossed over. Where was the revelation to end the priesthood for blacks? Seriously, Joseph Smith was the real deal and I believe he was pushed under the bus with the polygamy accusations etc. going around and by Brigham Young.

      I am still waiting for the denounciation of the polygamy scandal and teenage marriage/rape. This also has BY’s imprint all over it. He brought the polygamous congregation from Saco, Maine, where the minister was “married” to many, many women in his church, to Nauvoo. As was said many times in this blog that many are related to previous church leaders, too bad. We all have skeletons in the closet. Just because they are relatives and the same relative to many due to polygamy, does not excuse the behavior and calling it for what it was, “marriage/rape”. This kept the powerful people in charge esp when the power women went and sealed themselves decades after the fact to Joseph Smith to ensure their positions were maintained in the church religious and social circles of the time.

      Where is the tough love? Sometimes we have to stand up to a relative for their bad behavior. Only a courageous leader would apologize. Uctdorf is probably our best hope in that he is a convert and from another country or at least out of the west and the need to completely conform. He was chosen most likely to give the talk he did after Br. Mattson from Sweden fell apart upon learning about all the lies that have been handed to converts like him and me for years. While the coverup on many things might not have been racism, it is just as destructive to one’s testimony. It also took my husband out of the church.

  11. steve christensen

    The church also needs to excise all forms of racism from its scriptures. Racism is still in the LDS scriptures, specifically, the book of mormon and the pearl of great price.

  12. If:
    • The Presidents of the church from the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. through President Spencer W. Kimball were true Prophets, seers and revelators, (which statement I firmly believe) and;
    • Joseph Smith Jr. did not forbid any worthy man the Priesthood, and;
    • The two statements of Brigham Young are accurate (the ban and the future promise), and;
    • The statement attributed to President David O. McKay is accurate (not ready for that now); then it was the Lord who guided Brigham Young to institute the ban or the Lord sustained Brigham Young in doing so. If that were not true, and it was in fact a racist act by Brigham Young, then John Taylor, Lorenzo Snow or at the very least President David O. McKay would have reversed it long before 1978.
    I have subjected this line of thought to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (that Jana introduced to me). It worked for me here. I invite you to point out any logical errors.
    I wonder if President Thomas S. Monson made the following statement in the name of the Lord, “Verily, verily, I say unto you that the Church is in better circumstances and many more souls were baptized and endowments performed between the years 1852 and 1978 with the restrictions on Africans than if there were no restrictions. And I the Lord have been and will be merciful unto all who endure well, trials and hardships, in my name.” I wonder if that would influence opinions on this blog.

  13. I am glad this was released. I have been doing some rather significant research on the lack of African American membership in the American South. Before I take some grief for that statement and how “your” Ward has grown in African American membership, consider the demographics of your geographic ward boundary and your weekly church attendance. I can tell you that in Alabama, our Ward population as a whole is well over 50% African American, yet we get around 5% African Americans in attendance weekly. We simply lack growth in the black community. That said…

    There are a couple things I want to mention (and forgive me due to lack of citations, I will post those tomorrow when I have access to my computer).
    1) The ban partially started with Joseph Smith. There are statements where he wrote that slaves were not to be ordained. That said, there were still free-blacks who were ordained, one being Elijah Able who was ordained as a Seventy.
    2) The ban was not universally enforced because Elijah Able’s son and grandson were both ordained to the priesthood, in 1901 and 1935, respectively, if memory serves.
    3) A church leader, I want to say Pres. D.O. McKay, once said that racial integration in the United States was the work of Soviet communists attempting to destabilize America or something to that effect.

    Yes, an apology is needed.

    Now there still remains that *other* matter of social justice…

      • I was not faulting Joseph Smith for doing what he did with slaves. It was a quite logical decision, really. I was merely saying that the situation with Africans did not come up completely out of the blue after his death.

  14. robert bridgstock

    I never thought I would reach the day when I (with my own eyes) would read such incredulous (though clever) drivel! Such a shifty and such a deviously deceitful and fraudulent statement, than found in this shameful and altogether detached justification
    for prejudice! They talk as if they were commenting on SOME OTHER CHURCH…
    almost like a commentary on something that happened, for which they had no hand
    in. Such – in your face dishonesty and arrogance! Basically theyhave dumped a massive doctrine and have said in effect: ‘it never really was a doctrine.’ The sheer hypocrisy and denial in the face of many scriptures, talks, articles, books, etc., (not to mention the suffering of those in the past who were restricted) shows their utter contempt and distain
    for the intelligence and memory of ex members as well as faithful LDS alike:

    • Well if they apologize for past prejudice, they may feel compelled to discuss current conduct as well. For many who have worked with the intersection of LDS politics with national politics, this is rather distressing

  15. It’s disheartening that when there are positive steps forward, there is always something more to criticize. It seems to be a good way, though, to keep a blog popular…there are many more comments on Riess’ blog entries that critique the church. I guess the positive side to fault finding is that it helps certain bloggers succeed.

    • Because a very very late, half measure which reeks of CYA and spin control is not much to be proud of. It takes extremely low expectations to consider such a step entirely positive.

  16. Jana Riess

    Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to comment here; your contributions to this important conversation are appreciated.

    Nate, I think you raise a good question about whether there is a time limit, or statute of limitation, on apologizing. I don’t believe there is. Even if all of the individuals who perpetrated systematic institutional racism were dead (which, as has been pointed out by other commenters, is not the case), I would still feel that it is inadequate to concede that an injustice had occurred in our church but not apologize for it. What the Church did to people of African descent was wrong; those who are now in authority are in a position to acknowledge that wrong and apologize for it.

    On a spiritual note, I believe that confession of wrongdoing is a vital religious practice as we attempt to become more like Christ — not just as individuals but as a church. Like many of us, I battle against a prideful desire to be “right,” or at least not in the wrong. It’s painful to be wrong. But I’ve learned that there is great freedom in simply saying I am sorry. Hearts can be healed.

    It’s not just the past that is at issue with an apology; apologies are also about the future. When Pope John Paul II apologized to a very-cold-in-the-grave Galileo in 1992, it wasn’t just about an injustice that had been committed nearly four centuries earlier. It was also a signal that the Roman Catholic Church had moved forward in its understanding that science was not to be considered a threat to faith. And so I wonder: how much more powerful and effective would the LDS Church’s outreach to people of African descent become if we not only welcomed them into the Church of the future but apologized for the sins of the past?

  17. Most of this discussion is missing 2 key elements.

    1) You say “We Mormons harmed people, systematically diminishing their creation as image-bearers of God”, but many if not most of those responsible for instituting the ban and upholding it are gone. My 80 year old mother is the only person I have ever heard try to justify the ban with past ideas. With her loosing her hearing, she can barely hear any argument I might have to get an apology out of her! Do you really advocate that current members make up for past generation’s wrongs? Isn’t your statement in direct confrontation with the idea that we are all accountable for our own actions and not the transgressions of others?

    2) The whole point of a faith in a Redeemer is that all injustice is made up for in his sacrifice. I am all for fighting injustice, however, not at the expense of faith in Jesus Christ. If you advocate that current Mormons “make up for” past Mormons transgressions, you lessen need for faith that the Atonement has already made up, is currently making up and will yet make up for racist injustices.

    • “Do you really advocate that current members make up for past generation’s wrongs?”

      Only if you don’t want to be associated with them or give some indication that such bad ideas are no longer acceptable. Especially if you belong to the same group that these past generations came from.

      • “Only if you don’t want to be associated with them or give some indication that such bad ideas are no longer acceptable” – You mean like reversing the policy in 1978 and finally announcing that the policy had roots in “the larger context of nineteenth-century American racism”, and that “Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form?” Did you even read the blog post?

        • 19th Century racism does not provide an honest answer to why the policy stayed on into the late 1970’s. There was plenty of 20th Century racism to go around to keep that going.

          How about instead of the church patting themselves on the back, they formally apologize for those harmed by the past policies. Taking responsibility as an organization for carrying such prejudices out of the 19th Century and perpetuating them for so long?

          Even the Southern Baptists did that!

  18. @All Religion…
    I couldn’t tell how much of your comment was chain pulling and how much was serious. My guess is about 50-50 but I will give a serious response.

    What I offer is my opinion of church history discussed in these comments. Joseph Smith was described as a rough stone rolling in a book by Richard Bushman, an imperfect man made better with by experience and some direction from God. He had to figure most things out on his own. Acceptance of slaves into the church caused little but grief for Joseph and the church and he backed away a little from that acceptance.

    Brigham Young was no different. He may have had 19th century views on race, but generally, when push came to shove, he made good decisions. I would not count withholding the priesthood from African black males as one, but he sent missionaries to teach people of all races (expect black African races). Early efforts were paternalistic but missionaries and the general leadership quickly learned that local leaders of whatever race performed better than leaders from Utah. Preaching the gospel to what many early missionaries might have believed were inferior races brought the discovery that they were not. Trying to live up to the ideals taught by the Mormon church, indeed most religions, establishes a virtuous cycle.

    • I am not so sure that Brigham Young’s decisions were mostly good.
      He siphoned off scarce tithing funds to build himself mansions when his people were destitute and hungry.
      He commondeard hundreds of wagons and oxen for his private ventures when they could have/should have been used to support the handcart companies. This act alone contributed to the deaths and unnecessary suffering of thousands of faithful saints making their way to Zion.
      He has to carry the full responsibility for the handcart deaths. Others may have made poor decisions but it was his greed alone that allowed it to happen.
      Brigham Young set the tone and encouraged the actions that led to the Mountain Meadows Massicre.
      His teachings on blood atonement led to other murders.
      His promotion of polygamy degraded womanhood and took the Church to the brink of destruction.
      By their fruits you will know who they serve. My guess for BY it was never Christ.

      • Amen to most of that but the Jesus Christ comment.
        BY threw JS under the bus w all of his polygamous dealings in Nauvoo. JS never had ANY descendants from polygamous relationships. Not possible. When JS is vindicated from this and the responsibility is square on BY shoulders then we will have a much clearer picture of the kind of person that JS really was.

  19. Native Issues

    Now that the LDS Church has spoken about its errors against those of African American ancestry, we look forward to the same consideration toward Native Americans. Much of the LDS religion looks at Natives as being “misguided” people whom the Church believes need to be “rescued”. That patronizing attitude has failed to recognize Natives as independent sovereign Nations. One example was the Mormon Indian Placement Program, which for decades tried to persuade Native parents to allow their child to live with a white Mormon couple as a means of wiping out Native tradition in favor of white society. Sure, some Indian people believe they received a chance from the LDS Church but others say that losing their identity was a terrible price to pay for survival. And the LDS Church needs to address their forced adoption and removal of Indian children as well.

  20. orange county

    How are we going to address racism within the church beyond the black and priesthood issue? How about the “curse” of Native Americans (and Polynesians)? How do we change the attitude of white racial superiority in common Mormon belief? How do we change those statements in the Book of Mormon?

  21. As a secular humanist and atheist, perhaps the only one commenting here, I have to say I really like your perspective Jana.

    Apologies by institutions, religious or secular, are very difficult to pull off. I have rarely heard one that is genuine and with meaningful words backed up by actions. An apology in the passive voice “mistakes were made” is not an apology. This necessary apology could be quite tricky for Mormon leaders since it is tied so closely to formerly accepted theological revelation or prophecy and deals with such an immutable personal characteristic as race.

    My only suggestion to the Mormon hierarchy is, whatever they do, don’t follow the Catholic example of apology making.

  22. I may have missed the message of the article but to me it was an admission by the Mormon leadership that between Joseph Smith and Spenser Kimball the church was led by men who were mere creatures of their environment. The country was racist and so were they. They couldn’t help themselves. And so they invented false theology to support their segregationist ideals. What more should we expect from 19th and early 20th century white men? Everyone was racist.
    If this is not an apology it is certainly an acknowledgement that the Apostles and Presidents of the church were not Prophets, Seers and Revelators, just men, doing the best they could in a difficult cultural environment. I wonder if anything has changed?

    • @Patrick,
      I must disagree with a couple of statements but I hope not to do so in a disagreeable manner. Although doctrine states that leaders, including the prophet and apostles are imperfect, both the leadership and critics place too much emphasis on perfection. Joseph Smith was not a perfect man but he restored the Church. Brigham Young and the prophets and apostles through Harold B. Lee were not perfect, nor were those that followed. It is possible to be both imperfect and inspired of God.

      These leaders with inherited views on race did direct missionaries to preach the gospel to all peoples save black Africans, and some had dark skin. They did train non-white ethnic groups to lead congregations and turned those congregations over to that leadership. They did call missionaries from these groups as well. This virtuous cycle has done much to limit racism in the Church and that is a change.

      • Yes: way too much emphasis on perfect leadership and obedience. Very hard to listen to when someone is teaching this kind of thing. Sometimes it is appropriate to respond; sometimes not. But I find it to be extremely dangerous doctrine. There needs to be a balance. I think of it in terms of points, lines, and planes. My opinions are a point, my leader’s opinions are a point, my culture’s opinions are a point. I feel more confident when all three are aligned, although even then I guess it is still possible to be wrong. But it is certainly true that we trust others with our conscience at our own peril. Investing others with virtues that they don’t actually have is what I think of when I hear the phrase “relying on the arm of flesh.” We are not supposed to do that, and when we do, we set ourselves up to be disillusioned and possibly deeply hurt.

      • I would have a much easier time accepting that they are sometimes just imperfict men and sometimes Prophets Seers and Revelators if we were not constantly told that ” it is impossible for the Brethren to lead us astray” or “you do not need to think. I have already done the thinking for you” or every sermine I give is scripture”
        How am I, a simple man, supposed to know what is true doctrine and what are the ramblings of a scoundrel.

  23. “We Mormons harmed people…”

    No.

    I wasn’t a Mormon at the time. What did I do to harm people? Whom did I harm?

    Maybe some people were offended back in those days, but harmed?

    Brigham Young is dead. Why kick a dead horse? Why try to demonize me, whose only sin in this regard is being alive today?

    • “Brigham Young is dead. Why kick a dead horse? ”

      Because if you don’t bury it once and for all it stinks up the place and brings disease.

      The harm comes in those African American Mormons who were denied priesthood. To those excluded from community resources where the LDS dominated a community. Harm comes to the reputation of the LDS church and those associated with it. Harm came in the political and financial support the church gave to segregation.

  24. This is not a denunciation of their past activity.

    1. They speak of theories, but they do not consider their scripture to be theoretical, so they do not renounce the racist teachings about skin color in the Pearl of Great price (a holy document like the book of Genesis to Mormons).

    2. They do not say that the earliest black people were “not cursed”. They simply are repeating the 1977 proclamation and simply are disavowing past NON-DOCTRINAL interpretations.

    3. They will not strike out the clear passages that speak of skin of blackness being placed upon Cain and his descendents. IN essence, where did black people come from? According to Mormon scripture, they still came from Cain and his curse.

  25. This isn’t the only “supposed” curse. IF there was one. Women were cursed with pain during childbirth, for taking a bite of the apple.

    I’ve also heard that Cain, who killed his brother was marked, (ethnic)

    Or the Jews for crucifying Jesus.

    Now. Real or Not.

    These things HAD to happen! Technically, any way you look at it, in Christianity.

    We’d all still be in the Garden of Eden. Someone would have messed up by now,

    If Christ wasn’t crucified, we would have no means of redemption or forgiveness, right? It HAD to occur…

    Then you look at science. People’s pigment were due to where they lived. Even Africans, lips, (from National Geographic) was to help cool their bodies in a hotter climate.

    It’s quite interesting and quite along the lines of Darwin.

    Now, to Mormons. They were persecuted horribly. Tarred and feathered, maryrtered, burned out of city after city after city, in our supposed Free worshiping country. I’m not judging here. I’m just stating iinteresting facts in know. It would not have been very safe to put a religion out there against mainstream society that were torturing. Mormons also did fight with the Yankees in the civil war, too.

    We judge people on information we HAVE NOW. There was no welfare then. Malitias were condoned even by the law abiding citizens of the town.

    I have African American, in my own family. From several sects. Like I said, I’m not judging.

    It’s wasn’t long ago we treated Vietnam Vets as baby killers now we respect our soldiers.

    I’d like to think MOST did the best with what they had and knew and some the opposite.

    Looks like some things never change.

    • How do you go from saying this:
      This isn’t the only “supposed” curse. IF there was one.
      These things HAD to happen! Technically, any way you look at it, in Christianity.
      We’d all still be in the Garden of Eden. Someone would have messed up by now,

      To saying this:
      “Now, to Mormons. They were persecuted horribly. …”

      Black people were persecuted far more horribly than Mormons, and yes I agree white people’s lips were an adaptation of the climate, I guess the cold dry air.

      But then again, your comments aren’t really clear about the racism in Mormonism. I don’t know if you’re saying it had to happen, or it didn’t happen, or it shouldn’t have happened.

      Because you know you forget one other thing… Mormon version of history and Christianity is considered and proven to be an inaccurate blasphemy.

      So no their version of events didn’t “happen”.
      They wouldn’t have happened
      and there is no way that Jesus atonement would have been insufficient to remove this “supposed” curse on black people in the first place. Nevertheless that was and still is what Mormon doctrine taught.

  1. […] heaven, or that they are cursed descendants of Cain or Ham.While some have quibbled with details or suggested the article does not go far enough by apologizing, (there are even reports of some who suggest it goes too far), most online commenters rejoiced, and […]

  2. […] Mormons Officially Disavow Racist Folklore (Jana Riess, Flunking Sainthood)– “It’s good to put racism in historical context, and I’m glad to see that context here. But if that’s all we do, we deny the agency of the historical actors in question. A suggestion that “mistakes were made, but we were only following cues from the broader culture” will only take us so far in a religious tradition whose rock-solid fundamental is that we are responsible for our own sins, and not for other people’s transgressions.  We Mormons harmed people, systematically diminishing their creation as image-bearers of God.  Over and over again, we harmed people. And then we fabricated sick theological pretexts to justify that wholly unchristian diminishment.” […]

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