Part 31: CES Letter Prophet Questions [Section E]
by Sarah Allen
Today and next week, I’ll be covering one of the very most controversial topics in our church’s history, the Priesthood ban on black members. I’ll say right up front that I don’t know exactly where this ban came from, but it’s a lot more complicated than just saying that “Brigham Young was racist.” However, racism—both casual and overt—was certainly a large element of the history we’re going to cover and some of the quotes I read this week made me physically sick to my stomach. I can’t even imagine thinking of other children of God like that, especially not over something as trivial as skin color. There will be some things I’ll have to quote that will be difficult to read, and I want to say clearly from the outset that I do not endorse the things being said or the language being used. Some people I love very much have African heritage, and the thought of some of these labels and attitudes being applied to them is absolutely horrifying to me. I apologize for any offense these quotes may cause. The intent is to explain the context and history, not to cause anyone pain or to defend the things that were said.
We need to remember right from the start of this, though, that these things were being said and done in a very different day than ours, and casual racism was much more common than it is in the world today. It doesn’t excuse it, but it helps explain it. We can’t view the past through today’s lens. This is called “presentism,” and it’s considered a logical fallacy. If we judge the people who lived back then by our standards today, it simply doesn’t work. Looking down on them doesn’t make us much better than the way they looked down on black people in their day. That can be a difficult thing to remember when reading some of these quotes. Believe me, I’m right there with you on that. But we have to at least try to keep in mind that some of these beliefs were held by virtually everyone in the entire Western World during the time period, and had been for centuries. Their entire culture was shaped by these beliefs. It’s easy for us to look back on it and say that we’d have been different had we lived during that time, but the truth is, we probably wouldn’t have been. It would’ve been all we’d have ever known. So, judge their words, absolutely, but try not to judge the people saying them, okay? We haven’t been in their shoes. Like Moroni says, Heavenly Father shows us the mistakes of the past so that we can learn from their example and be better than they were. [Read more…] about The CES Letter Rebuttal — Part 31