for FAIR Newsletter – Black History Month Edition 4 2022
I am a white male. Well, I really have more of a ruddy complexion that looks red most of the time, but that still counts as “white.” I have found no one in my family history who owned slaves. One family line came from Scotland after the Civil war, and the other family line was simply too poor to be participating in anything like that. So why am I writing about black history? The Church is often criticized for having a “racist past” because of the priesthood ban, plus I think that we currently participate in a lot of unconscious racism and dismissive behavior that doesn’t help welcome our brothers and sisters into the Church.
So, let’s step away from the political rhetoric, tightly held positions, and defensiveness just for a moment. Let’s agree that black lives matter (of course they do – we aren’t talking about the political group), and we aren’t going to talk about Critical Race Theory (CRT) in this article. Let’s breathe deeply and step into this.
In 1832, Elijah Abel (Able), a black man, was baptized into the Church. He was later made an Elder and a Seventy. You can see his name in the book at Seventies Hall in Nauvoo. He served several missions for the Church. He performed baptisms for the dead and was washed and anointed in the temple. While probably the most well known, he was not the first black member who was baptized. That person was probably Peter Kerr, sometimes referred to as “Black Pete.” He served as a Latter-day Saint missionary in 1831 and baptized a number of people.
Joseph T. Ball served several missions and served as the presiding elder of the Boston branch (Branch President) in 1844.
William McCurry was baptized in 1845 and married Lucy Stanton, the daughter of the stake president. According to the minutes of the Quorum of the Twelve, he met with them about his racial status and his desire to be seen as “a common brother.” Brigham Young replied, “We don’t care about the color… It’s nothing to do with blood, for of one blood has God made all flesh.”
Others joined the Church including Jane Manning James, Eunice Kinney, Green Flake, Walker Lewis, and Samuel Chambers. Each of them has a fascinating history. In talking about Walker Lewis, Brigham Young said, “We have one of the best Elders, an African.” Some of these blacks had the priesthood, some did not. Some remained faithful, and some did not. Like everyone else, each of their histories is unique.
Our Church is often singled out for its racist past. Contrary to what some have recently stated, most other American Churches were not ordaining blacks to their priesthood for white congregations and had a mixed history on blacks and slavery. In 1841, the Southern delegates to the American Baptists argued that slavery was not a sin according to the Bible. In 1843, 1,200 Methodist ministers owned 1500 slaves. 25,000 members owned 208,000 slaves. That same year the Methodists split over the slavery issue into a northern and a southern branch. In 1848 the Southern Baptist Convention was formed over the issue of slavery. In 1861 the Presbyterian Church split over slavery. In 1839 Pope Gregory issued a statement condemning slavery, but in 1866, the Catholic Church taught that slavery was not contrary to the natural and divine law. Then in 1873 Pope Pius IX prayed that God remove the Curse of Ham from the blacks. But, unlike many others, the Catholics did ordain black men to the priesthood.
One could maybe make the case that blacks were not discriminated against in our church and were welcomed with open arms. All the Latter-day Saint slaves were freed while other churches segregated them and taught that slavery was of God. One could make that claim, but I’m not going to do that. It wouldn’t be true. Like everything in history, it is complicated.
In 1860, the Utah Census lists 59 blacks living in Utah, 29 of them slaves.
In 1852, for an unknown reason, blacks were no longer allowed to be ordained to the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But even with that ban, we know that some continued to hold and use their priesthood.
WHEN DID BLACKS GET THE PRIESTHOOD AGAIN?
So, when was it when blacks were able to have the priesthood, and have temple ordinances again? That is also complicated.
On November 27, 1900, Enoch Able, son of Elijah Abel, was ordained an Elder. This is long after 1852. On July 5, 1934, Elijah Able, grandson of Elijah Able was ordained a priest, and then on September 29, 1935, he was ordained an Elder. Wait, wasn’t this during the time of the priesthood ban? Yes, it was. How do we explain that? We don’t. It was apparently believed that the Able family had a special exemption.
On the issue of temples, while blacks were not able to attend the temple, white members were able to do temple work for ancestors of black members. (See Elder Mark E. Petersen in An Address to Teachers at BYU, August 27, 1954.)
Not counting the Abel (Able) family, when were blacks given the priesthood again in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? That would be 1955. You heard that right, 1955!
In 1955, under the direction of David O. McKay, Melanesian blacks were defined as being from a different linage and not under the priesthood ban. The first Fijians received the priesthood in 1958 while the Negritos of the Philippines were given it earlier. (Armand Mauss, Neither White nor Black, Signature Books, pg. 152).
If you don’t think Melanesian blacks are black, just do an internet search on “Black Melanesian” or “Negritos of the Philippines,“ and look at the images.
That isn’t the end of the story. Blacks of known African descent were not given the priesthood until June 8, 1978.
HOW DO WE EXPLAIN THE PRIESTHOOD BAN?
We used to explain the priesthood ban by quoting from historical non-Latter-day Saint sources and claiming the Curse of Cain. Or sometimes it was the Curse of Ham. Those theories were used to justify slavery long before Joseph Smith came on the scene. They were commonly held ideas by people of that day.
In 1869 Brigham Young denied the less valiant, or “fence sitters” theory that many had about blacks. When asked “if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven,” Brigham Young answers, “No, they were not, there were no neutral [spirits] in heaven at the time of the rebellion, all took sides…. All spirits are pure that came from the presence of God. (Journal History, 25 December 1869, citing Wilford Woodruff’s journal.)
Then we tried justifying the ban by quoting from the Pearl of Great Price. As people have been studying in their Come, Follow Me lessons, I have heard some of those same arguments. So, it is important to know where those came from.
In 1885 B.H. Roberts appears to be the first to use the Pearl of Great Price to speculate on the origin of the priesthood ban. The Pearl of Great Price had been canonized in 1880. Roberts quotes from that newly canonized Pearl of Great Price and asks if Ham’s wife, Egyptus, was a daughter of Cain and her line perpetuated the curse of a priesthood ban through Ham’s children. (The Contributor 6:296-297)
Since this speculation occurred in 1885 and not in 1852, we know that the Pearl of Great Price was not the reason for the priesthood ban. For these verses to be about the ban, you have to read that into them. You have to start with the premise of the ban and the curse of Ham or the argument makes no sense.
Then some argue that Brigham Young was racist and that is why there was a ban. I think we can all agree that by today’s standards Brigham Young was racist, as were Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, the Republican party, the Democratic party, the Elks club, the Lion’s club, the Ladies’ Garden club, and pretty much everyone else that lived during those times, including some blacks. Racism was the environment of the day wherein everyone was raised. But, just to say the reason for the ban was “Brigham Young was racist” does not fit all the evidence.
There is the still-popular Levite explanation. It is said that even during Jesus’s time, most people didn’t have the priesthood, only the Levites did. I hate this explanation. The Levites aren’t an example of anything. As I have stated in the past using a sports analogy, everyone understand that a baseball team has captains and managers who speak for the team, that is totally different than being permanently benched. One person speaking for the group, is very different than everyone being invited to the party except you.
Why was there a ban? I have my own opinions. But they are unsupported opinions. I don’t want to fall into the same trap giving opinions as fact. I will say that when asked about the ban I talk about the sad history of non-acceptance and racism. When I was studying black history, and I read about the Birmingham Church bombings where some men blew up little girls and thought that was ok, I was sickened.
My opinion is that God gives us what we are willing to accept. The rest is on us.
We do need to move on. But we have to acknowledge that things were bad. Just stating that, “I don’t see color,” or “That is in the past,” is not especially helpful. Imagine you are standing outside of a historic Nazi concentration camp and talking with someone about the holocaust and your response was simply, “That’s in the past, we need to move on.” I think you can see that response would be inadequate. We are talking about a disaster at least on the same level or more. Over 200 years of slavery, rapes, killings, starvation, and inhumanity. We must first acknowledge the racism that has occurred in the past, and sometimes occurs even now.
As African Americans come into the Church, perhaps we can be sensitive as to why there might be a lack of trust. It is difficult coming into an all-white, or even mostly white congregation. The relationship between blacks and whites was broken long ago. We can’t make that broken trust go away with a wave of the hand. We have to acknowledge that our families, and our church members treated people badly. It is like having an abusive marriage relationship, and now we want the abused spouse to simply forgive and fully trust the next suitor. Yes, that would be good – but it probably isn’t going to happen until trust is rebuilt.
I spoke to one African American man who loved living among the Latter-day Saints. He is Baptist but lived in a heavily Latter-day Saint community. He said that people continually asked if they could touch his wife’s hair. He was asked if he was the new basketball coach several times. No, he wasn’t over 6 ft tall. He called it, “Unconscious racism.” We are sometimes thoughtless and need to do better.
The relationship has been broken. The way to fix it is to show an increase in love, and to understand if there is initial suspicion. Just keep loving and building up trust.
To conclude, Elder Bruce R. McConkie said,
There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things…. All I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past 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.
That doesn’t mean that we forget the pain that has been caused, rather we forget the false explanations that have been given in the past. We need to move forward in love. We need to build that trust, acknowledge the pain, and stop trying to justify bad behavior. Then we need to be patient when that trust doesn’t immediately come. This one is going to take some time.
Scott Gordon serves as President of FAIR, a non-profit corporation staffed by volunteers dedicated to helping members deal with issues raised by critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has an MBA from Brigham Young University, and a BA in Organizational Communications from Brigham Young University. He is currently an instructor of business and technology at Shasta College in Redding, California. Scott has held many positions in the church including serving as a bishop for six years. He is married and has five children.
Wonderful article, Scott! Thank you for the best explanation I have seen yet, respectful and thoughtful.
Rodney Ross says
Perfect. Well done. I have recently heard many negative comments that you mentioned. The work on ourselves needs to continue if we are to become a Zion people.
Stewart Lang says
Scott, thank you for the article. I became a convert of the Church back in 1971 and almost left it 3 weeks into my baptism. Our family was tracted out by the missionaries and we became “golden converts” after our first meeting. We completed all 6 of the discussions and our conversion was truly and answer to prayer. BUT 3 weeks later I heard about the the restrictions on the blacks and the Priesthood – I was pretty angry and being 19 years old I grew up watching all the riots in the U.S. and the Viet Nam War and fully supportive of them. So I stopped going to Church for at least three weeks until some members from our Ward came to see me and so I started back to Church again.
I was in our Ward “Gospel Essential’s Class” and we had a wonderful teacher and she asked me if I could stay after class as she wanted to talk about “IT.” She gave me some excellent council and never tried to defend the current position of the Church but said these very wise words…
“For those of us that don’t believe in revelation there is no adequate explanation but for those of us that do believe in revelation we stand by until the Lord speaks!
I have accepted that statement and testimony my whole life – I knew that Jesus is my savior, and I knew Joseph Smith is a Prophet and that the Book of Mormon is a 2nd witness of Christ so how could I argue with that. Well 11 months in the Church I was called on a mission (my Bishop got a bit of a chastisement from Salt Lake though – that’s another story) and many, many times I quoted those words and continues even today and every person I have quoted that to has accepted this wise counsel – how could anyone argue with that. So I chose to “stand by until the Lord spoke!” and it HAPPENED! So glad I had the faith to wait as my life would be so very different today.
We had some friends over last night for dinner and we watched my DVD Pioneers of Africa – an inspiring story of those who led the way. (from BYU Broadcasting) it truly is a treasure of our early Pioneers from Africa and look at what’s happening over there today.
Simon Michelini says
It is my view that too much stock is placed on group identity. Each person is a unique individual. Unique individuals relate to each other, and just as each one is different, each relationship is different.
Robert J Foster says
Layne Pace says
I very much enjoyed reading this article and learned much. My beliefs and opinions have followed very close to the truths you have pointed out.
I was raised in Utah in the 50’s thru the 70’s as a young man and was raised in a home where race biases were not taught. In fact I didn’t know what racism was until I went to basic training in 1973. Unfortunately I had a Very Bad experience with young blacks with very large chips on their shoulders and I came away the most racist person I knew. It took 5-10 years for me to work those feelings out of my system and get back to the person I was before.
Since then I have sought every opportunity to meet and make friends with as many blacks in or out of the church.
You did a great job articulating the need to just Love and do the best we can to rebuild the trust lost long ago.
At first I was drawn to your article to see what your opinion was on why the Church imposed the ban, I have my pinion and was pleased to see that yours (put in a nut shell) matches mine.
“My opinion is that God gives us what we are willing to accept. The rest is on us.”
Love Fair and love all that Scott does. However I don’t agree with some of the statements above. This is 2022. People do indeed need to get over things of the past. This isn’t like an abusive marriage. I’m not racist and I don’t think I’ve met a real one in my lifetime, (living in the south too) this whole keep being upset about the past is just dragging things on and making things worse. Our church has long treated African Americans just fine. A priesthood ban was indeed from God. Individuals who did bad things were not from God. And we learn from ours and others mistakes and move on. I’m tired of the race card being played by non members and members. The only real solutions to past problems is not do them anymore. End of discussion.
John T says
I enjoyed reading this and gained some new information which I was not aware of! As a convert from back in the 70s, it has always been an uncomfortable subject, and I agree with everything you said. I am also aware that there is a movement to take this honest awareness and use it to manipulate genuinely caring people into accepting “solutions” and programs, which would be damaging to others, of all races! We all need to come together in true love and fellowship, while at the same time rejecting politically motivated ill intensions that are indeed out there!
Love to all true seekers of Jesus Christ and his gospel!
Gary Hatch says
This is excellent. You obviously put a lot of work into this, and it is much appreciated.
Jay H says
I agree with your assessment. There is no easy or logical answer to this issue. In my opinion, this brings to light something that many faithful members of the church don’t usually want to entertain, the idea that some church positions, policies or practices may not come from God and are in fact in opposition to what He would have us do. The question is ‘why’ He allows these things to perpetuate within His church. I don’t have the answer but try to continue with faith to the best of my ability. Prophets and apostles are weak and prone to failings, biases and prejudices just like the rest of us.
Royal Skousen says
Thanks, Scott, for this informative write-up.
I remember my own “wake-up call” on this issue, in the early 1970s, when I was in graduate school and for once I did not want this policy to continue any longer. I wanted to send the missionaries to a Christian Nigerian family. The father was a fellow graduate student of mine, and we had had some wonderful discussions about Christ and the gospel, and I thought: yes, I’ll send the missionaries. And then I realized that I couldn’t: no priesthood for this good brother, no temple sealing with his wonderful wife. It hit me like a brick wall because the policy had suddenly become personal. I changed. I repented. No more defending this policy, it was wrong, and I wanted it changed.
I think we have all pretty much had this wake-up if we’ve lived from the 1950s on. If we haven’t, then we still have a problem.
T Hill says
Good article. Thanks
“I spoke to one African American man who loved living among the Latter-day Saints…He said that people continually asked if they could touch his wife’s hair…He called it, “Unconscious racism.””
My wife is what people would call “white.” She grew up in South Carolina, in a majority “black” community. Guess what the black girls always asked her? If they could touch her hair.
Labeling natural curiosity as “unconscious racism” and shaming people who display it is a vicious, profoundly anti human approach that will only make things worse.
John Dove says
Thank you for the article. Though I am not a member of the church now for over 43 years, I continue to believe most of what I had a testimony of all those many years ago. I was a young 18 year old convert back in 1978, having been a member only a few years. I was raised in the south where, contrary to some, racism was very prevalent in my own home, family, and town. I had fought against it from the early age of six even up to my present age of almost 62. When I learned of the ban on blacks from holding the priesthood was after my conversion. It broke my heart. I was delighted when the ban ended in 1978. I didn’t understand it then nor do I understand it now. Your article gave me a bit of peace about it. Thank you very much.
Enjoyed this article very much! Very well done, but It would be helpful if Scott could expand his research and include his sources, citations, quotes to support his research. He is right that history is complicated and full of bias, I don’t doubt his research but would be interested in his sources. Happy to support FAIR in all of their work!
Tommy B says
It’s one thing to acknowledge and even regret past acts and attitudes of racism. It is an ugly blight on society and should never have happen in a Christian nation, or one professing Christ as Lord and espousing principles of the Gospel. But it’s quite another to serve as a living, breathing memorial to the sin of racial discrimination by insisting we self-flagellate and throw on a hair-shirt.
Using your analogy of the holocaust: how long would you have the German people atone for the sins of a single generation? Is there no redemption for such a nation? Or is it only to be restitution and penance until kingdom come? The Jews and the German people seem to have come to an understanding at least. So life does move on.
But you’re right, we should move forward in love, for in this is healing. Anything less is salting an open wound and denying the Christ.
Scott, you did your homework and it is greatly appreciated!
Spence Christensen says
Scott, thanks very much for the article and all your work in this great cause.
Perhaps this has been discussed elsewhere, but I’ve wondered about the role that the slavery debate raging in Missouri and surrounding parts in the late 1830s and 40s and 50s played. Could it be that Church leaders at the time just decided that they would fight one battle at a time and would try to lessen the persecution the Church faced. And so decided as a means of placating the proponents of slavery that Blacks would not be ordained. And as time went on, the “policy” became part of our folk culture and then mixed in as doctrine. It was not the brave thing to do, but they may have felt it was a way to preserve the church by having fewer enemies.
While our prophets are inspired men of God, each has focused on what they feel the Church needs the most. And the need to question the policy/practice was kicked down the road. I can’t think of any of our prophets who would not have reversed the practice if it was brought front-and-center.
Then in the 1960s and 70s, when this policy became a source of persecution, our Church leaders did not want to be viewed as willing/able to change policies (and what many viewed as doctrine) if enough public pressure was applied.
Then President Kimball felt, with the spreading of the Gospel to more parts of the world where dark-pigment individuals joined the Church, that the “can” had been kicked far enough. Prayed for specific guidance and made that policy change.
I was on my mission in the American South when the announcement was made. It was a wonderful change.
Allen Craig Bishop says
I remember the glowing, hardly believable announcement in June 1978. Then Elder McConkie’s “Forget everything I have said” speech. They have become powerful tools (among others) by which I can measure how the principle of ongoing revelation and the pure love of Christ may (or may not) be growing in my mind and heart.
Brother Gordon, thank you for this reminder!
Sasha Kwapinski says
While I was first learning about the gospel in late 1970, early ’71, I was aware of the priesthood ban and made a point to ask about it myself in my discussions with the missionaries. While we did not go into it at length, I was nonetheless given to understand that: (1) the ban would in fact come to an end; (2) that Black people have long been church members and are children of our father in Heaven and have the potentiality of salvation like everyone else. I was privileged to read about several of their experiences.
The idea that Black were somehow “less valiant” in the pre- existence has never once been presented to me as constituting church doctrine.
One additional factor worth mentioning is that this church, wherein Blacks were barred from holding the priesthood, is the same church which brought with it the staff or Spirit of Elijah, enabling Black people as well as others to go back through their generations (as Alex Haley did in “Roots”) and reconnect through all the years of slavery and segregation, and to rediscover their ancestors from Africa.
Alissia H says
I appreciate many of your comments and the work that went into that. I do have a little feedback. First, as a Black *person* in America, to you and all who read this, a s a heads up, *please* don’t refer to Black *people* as “the blacks.” We are not lamps or some other inanimate object, and referring to us as though we are is rude whether you meant to do it or not.
Also, it has been way more than 200 years of violence and racism directed at Black people. Please do more research into the existence of structural racism. It started during Reconstruction and is still happening and you don’t have to have slave-owning ancestry to take part in it. People aren’t responsible for their ancestor’s sins, but for how they make sure they don’t continue to benefit from them.
Also, for anyone, like Travis, who believes the Church treats its Black members “just fine”—it doesn’t. It may try to, but Scott is spot-on that there is still a lot of unconscious racism and dismissive behavior that occurs towards Black people and our experience—such as labeling anyone trying to talk about it as “playing the race card.” Not all Black people have the exact same views on things, but if you have any Black friends that trust you in matters like this why don’t you ask them what their experience has been like? Ask them if they’ve had any uncomfortable things at Church that they feel, or have been told, might be due to their race and then listen to them. They may think it wasn’t bc of race, but their experience doesn’t negate the experience of those that have.
Also, when comparing the situation between slavery and the Jewish Holocaust, let’s remember that Jewish people were (and some still are) paid reparations and everyone has to learn accurate information about it in school. Black people weren’t and aren’t, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy made sure our school lessons are tainted when slavery gets discussed at all. Holocaust survivors and their descendants are allowed to speak on their story, but descendants of slavery are told to get over it already and stop playing the race card. And yes, Germans and Jewish people may have come to an understanding, but Germans have outlawed anything related to Hitler while we still have the Confederate flag flying in people’s homes, on their clothing, and in several state capitals as it’s part of their state flag. We also have many monuments to confederate soldiers and generals, made *way* after the Civil War, in public places. Try to do that anywhere in Germany, even as a foreign visitor, and see what happens. Finally, Germany *just this last week* evoked its Nazi wartime history as a reason it will find ways to support Ukraine without providing weapons in the potential conflict with Russia. How repentant does America seem now? To a lot of Black people not very.
JennaVee Allgrunn says
Ron VanLeuven says
Thanks Scott. Excellent, the best on the subject I’ve seen.
I hadn’t grown up around people of non-white ethnicity. S o I took my first job out of college in New Jersey. My first boss was black as was several of my co-workers. Great boss, great experience.
Dennis Horne says
While we don’t know the WHY, we do know that God did not and will not let His fallible prophets lead His Restored Church astray. He works thru those who hold the keys, even if He doesn’t always provide all the answers. God implemented and then sustained His restriction until June 1978 (when He removed it), though He has not revealed WHY and we do not know–but let us not call God a racist, when His knowledge is so immensely inexpressibly greater than ours:
Bob Lavender says
Scott, I learned some good things from this. Like others, I want to appreciate the past but move on as well. One thing that strikes me is the instance and expectation by some that the church and its people/leaders must be perfect. I don’t see perfection in the Old or New Testament church, nor do I see it in the Book of Mormon. As a convert to the church I appreciate so much the many fabulous things the church and its members do on a daily basis that the relatively few negative things don’t really affect me. I am amazed that real, imperfect people can do so many great things. I feel grateful and excited every day to be a member of the LDS church.
Leland Cheney says
Wonderful article. I appreciated it very much, Scott. Thanks. I am enclosing a link to an article I think you will really enjoy. It is not a rebuttal to your essay, but perhaps an additional source of enlightenment.
John Pack Lambert says
I live in a congregation that is about 50% activie members are African-Americans and about 50% are not African-American. I deeliberately use these wording. Our “not African-American” branch president is 25% Native American, although he admits to never having been mistreated as such, in large part because he looks white and grew up in an intact family.
On the other hand a couselor in our primary presidency looks white, but in fact is a first generation rased outside of the tribal communities part Inuit who grew up with divorced parents, hitched hicked to BYU-Idaho and very much felt being the poor and not up to the standards student while at BYU-Idaho. However her husband has a Ph.D. in physicas and is doing a post-doc at Wayne State University, putting her in many ways in a different socio-economic class than many of the African-Americans in my branch.
Today we have an African-American general authority, who has a Ph.D. and was a professor at multiple universities (including for a time at BYU). We have an African-American in the Young Men General Presidency who has a law degree.
However in my branch it is still hard for the African-American members to see this, even though Elder Johnson was the speaker at our stake conference a few years ago.
What they see first hand is that they do not have their high school diploma or GED. Many became mothers while still teens. Most came from broken homes, if the homes were ever even intact.
In my branch we do not have people try to touch your hair, or make unfounded assumptions that you are a baskeball coach, unless of course you really are over 6 foot 5.
This does not mean that things are good. In some ways they may be worse. The white members in my branch know first hand how hard a place Detroit is, and in some ways some have been burned out by seeing so many people come to Church and then not show up after 2 weeks.
There is a need for more unity, especially among the sisters, but the path forward is hard. My branch faces especial problems because it is not just that we have blacks who live in Detroit and mainly whites who live in the suburbs (I am a white man who lives in Detroit with my white wife, and techically we have 2 black households in the suburbs), the divide between Detroit and Grosse Pointe is the most stark. Also, almost all our active adults members who are black are single or married to non-members, while almost all our white active adult members are married. Also Grosse Pointe is one of the richest suburbs, while the part of Detroit we have is one of the poorest sections of the city.
3 other units in my stake bridge the Detroit to suburbs divide, but they are less pronounced divisions. 1 of them has clearly less affluent suburban areas. while another 2 are not as affluent in the suburbs as my branch, and they also have a higher percentage of black people living in their suburban areas.
Some days it does seem like people are not willing to flow with the present situation.
Still, there have been times in my branch when the entire branch council was non-African American. Today we have 3 members of the branch council, including one member of the branch presidency is African-American. Also, an African-American member of our branch was just called to the high council. We have had African-American members of the high council in the stake before, but never from my branch. We have also never had a member of our stake president who is African-American even though at least thirty percent of our stakes residents are African-American.
Living in Detroit and having an African-American neighbor who chooses to play his profanity and racial slur laced music at a volume that makes it so I can hear it distinctly and overwhelmingly at every point in my house, among many other issues makes me realize that there are things that make people in the suburbs not want to overly connect to Detroit.
There are huge divides. I have to admit I hate how geographically divided the members of my branch are.
Some of the divides come from recently baptized members feeling out of place. However there are so many cultural issues, many not directly related to Church membership, that divide members that often white members will seem outwardly to be more knowledgeble in the gospel even if they have been members less time.
My wife for example has been a member since 1994, but she still does not feel deeply connected and knowedgeable in the gospel. Some of this is a direct result of her not reading the scriptures a great deal, some of which is because she got pregnant as a teenager and did not complete school, some of it because Detroit schools are sub-standard, and some of it because her family did not have a tradition of reading and her mom was on drups so at times she scavenged food with her little brothers from trash cans instead of going to school.
There is a whole lot here. Our relief society president who is African-American has the background and vision to move us forward. She got her GED after her baptism at about age 45, and made many other life inprovements. Her and her husband were later stake service missionaries assigned to the personal storehouse program. Sadly her husband, who served at various times as Elders Quorum President and in the branch presidency, passed away from cancer when he was about 60. I still feel the hurt from that over 3 years later.
My wife I think does sometimes have an overly idealized view of what life is like for white members. On the other hand, considered the levels of not just neglect, but active abuse she reacived from family members, she has a huge point.
Neal Smith says
Thanks for all you do Scott. I appreciated your article. This is a topic that warrants continued discussion. My opinion as a 63 yea old lifer is that the policy was a mistake and not from God. We continue to admit or leaders are fallible but we don’t seem to want to admit it when they demonstrate the concept. I have no problem sustaining leaders who are human and mess up. I don’t think God does either. The policy was racist by definition – excluding a group of people from privileges based on race. I don’t believe God is racist.
Another way to look at it is through the lense of genetic research. We all came out of Africa at one point or another so the one drop of African blood policy would prohibit any of us from holding the priesthood before 1978.
Matthew Hyde says
Great work! So good to read all this information together! Two comments I would add. Many people feel that the term “Black people” or “Black folks” is much more humanizing than “the blacks.” Also, you stated that we don’t know why the priesthood ban started. Brigham Young states explicitly in two addresses to the Utah legislature in 1852 that the ban should be in place because he believed Black people carried the curse of Cain. He says it multiple times and very forcefully. Also, you pointed out that Brigham Young denied the idea of Black people being less valiant in the pre-mortal existence. But later, others prophets DID put that exact theory into writing! (See 1949 and 1969 First Presidency statements). Luckily, it has been officially disavowed by the Church. Thank you again for all the work put into this important article!
Matthew Hyde says
One more interesting tidbit: at LEAST until 1969, prophets of the Church openly taught that the priesthood ban started with Joseph Smith (see link below). Why? And how much did that myth factor into how long it took to overturn the ban? It was bad information! And as President Nelson has said “good inspiration is based upon good information.” Luckily, in the 70’s Church historians made it clear that the priesthood ban started with Brigham. Yet even then, the myth that “we don’t know why the priesthood ban started” has prevailed. Brigham Young said in 1852 “I tell you this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain” and “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot hold the priesthood.” So how can we say we don’t how or why the priesthood ban started when Brigham Young tells us exactly why. I believe that saying “We don’t know” is bad information.
Scott Gordon says
I appreciate everyone’s comments. I have read every one. Thank you for your feedback.
John Perry says
Thank you for your thoughtful and informative words on this topic.
In 2010 we had a stake conference presided over by Elder Joseph W. Sitati of the Seventy. Elder Sitati is a native of Kenya. During the conference, Elder Sitati courageously accepted anonymous questions from the attendees (written on cards passed up to him). Naturally, a few were about the priesthood restriction.
Elder Sitati’s approach to responding to these questions was interesting. As with a few other questions, he started with the perspective of the pre-existence. He then asked the congregation to refer to his General Conference talk from October 2009 entitled “Blessings of the Gospel Available to All” where he said he addressed the question. I recall when I first read this talk it did not seem to address the priesthood restriction at all, but if you read it in that context, it does address it in a way.
Elder Sitati also memorably referred to the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20:1-16. He reminded those in attendance that all received the same wage no matter when they were called to labor in the vineyard, even those who had to wait until the 11th hour.
He also referred to Acts 10 and the vision of Peter to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Peter resisted, but the Lord gave him a revelation and that settled it.
Perhaps being a native of Africa and not an African American has given him a different perspective, but his message seemed to be one of looking to the future with optimism and not dwelling or trying to figure out the past.
You and a few commenters made mention of Nazi concentration camps. My Jewish grandfather’s first cousin and entire family (wife and 3 young children) were brutally executed by Nazi sympathizers in Latvia in the summer of 1941 for no reason other than being Jewish. The attitude of my living relatives was one of sadness, but not anger or retribution. Indeed, they had moved on.
I should also note that, contrary to the comments of Alissia H above, nobody in my family has ever been offered reparations and I know of none among the American or Latvian Jewish communities that has, so I don’t know where she is getting her information.
On another note related to your comment about the African American man who loved living among the Latter-day Saints and his experiences with “unconscious racism”, I served my mission in France from 1979 to 1981 and the French made many assumptions about me based solely on my nationality (that I played baseball, that I drank whiskey, that I was infatuated with the English royal family, etc), and I had blond friends who served in Asia where the people would ask to touch their hair. I think the world is full of national and racial stereotypes and it is better to laugh at the harmless ones (as we did) rather than assign a negative motive to them.
Again, thanks for your encouragements and reminders.