Thursday, April 2, 2009

Black History in Mormonism

“We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” George Orwell (1946)

Those who know me know I have issue with the LDS history regarding treatment of those of African descent yet some don’t see why it is such a stumbling block in my testimony. Before I begin I must give a cautionary warning. This will not be an apologetic approach to previous Mormon position to help reconcile the shady past. It is a full-fledged rant.

Harry Emerson Fosdick, in his autobiography The Living of These Days stated: “The fact that astronomies change while the stars abide is a true analogy of every realm of human life and thought, religion not least of all. No existent theology can be a final formulation of spiritual truth.”

On a positive and optimistic day, Fosdick outlines my feelings regarding the history of this issue. On less than favorable days, my feelings border on dissent and apostasy. The problem with reviewing the history of this particular topic is that one realizes that the Church and its leaders can be wrong. There are some in the faithful flock who will fall in line and shrug off years of institutional racism and false doctrine preached by general authorities and even by Prophets but I can't seem to do it. Not on this issue.

"It's behind us. Look, that's behind us. Don't worry about those little flecks of history." (CBS "60 Minutes." Mike Wallace interview with Gordon B. Hinckley, broadcast 7 April 1996)

I’ll give Hinckley the benefit of the doubt and assume he has never heard or read the hundreds of statements from previous general authorities because if he had, calling them “little flecks of history” is blatantly offensive to anyone capable of intellectual reasoning.

While I can share any number of statements (I do have a hundred plus years worth to choose from), I’ll just share a couple that have had the most lasting and damning effects upon the minds of generations of Mormons.

Our 2nd Prophet Brigham Young said: “Cain slew his brother....and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin...”_(Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, pages 290-291) This is the quote that invoked Hinckley’s comment.

What about the personal revelations of Apostle Bruce R. McConkie that he felt compelled to share with the general membership? “Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the Negroes" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 527, 1966 edition).

How about more from Brigham Young: “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot, this will always be so.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, page 110)

Well, forget what that past Prophet said, just follow McConkie’s advice “And 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.” Obviously he’s teaching us that while past Prophets clearly have the ability to be wrong, CURRENT Prophets are never wrong…

Or are they? Do you believe the statement from Wilford Woodruff that “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray… If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God…”

To me, if a doctrine has proven itself to be false, then I can no longer believe it. I cannot accept that “never lead us astray” means “never teach false doctrine.”

My point is backed up by Bruce R. McConkie in his All Are Alike Unto God BYU address, he said, “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… We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.”

Setting aside my disdain for his speech as a whole (maybe I’ll review his whiny, sniveling blasphemous speech another time), the problem with making the above statement without following it up with corrected doctrine (or counter-arguments) regarding the African race to oppose the lies and “limited understanding” is that it rings hollow and comes off insincere. It is like the kid who is more upset that he got caught rather than feeling sorrow for committing sin.

So where do we stand with this? Either the Church was right or the Church was wrong. Those are the options.

If the Church was right, well, McConkie told us to throw that out the window. We can’t rely on any statements from pre-1978 revelation. Or we can say that the Church was right but God changed His mind due to the negative effect that being known as a racist church would have upon the "stone cut out of the mountain." Yeah well, that leaves us one other option.

If the Church was wrong, then the doctrine was never inspired of God. The problem with that option is like opening Pandora’s box. If they were wrong about this, what else were they wrong about? Everything comes into question now.

The point I'm trying to make with this rant is that Hinckley and any other future Prophet shouldn't be able to get away with saying "that's all behind us" when it comes to the racist doctrine of Mormonism. We all understand we are a global church and everything is like a rainbow coalition now, that’s great, but the current head of the Church is not off the hook just yet. He still needs to give a full explanation as to why the doctrine was introduced in the first place. I want to hear more than racially friendly PR talking points. I want President Monson to address this from a logical standpoint. Heck, skip that and just apologize for crying out loud.

I realize that the LDS Church wasn't the only religion to have a racist history. However, they are the "only true and living church" that claims a Prophet as a mouthpiece who speaks for the Lord, "as if from (His) own mouth." The LDS Mormon church was also 13 years late making the 'social' correction. While other Christian churches made efforts to embrace folks of color after the Civil Rights Movement, the LDS church showed no signs of moving. Until Brazil. And the IRS.

President Hinckley gave the most honest answer I’ve heard when asked why it took so long for blacks to receive the priesthood. Unfortunately the answer, as honest as it is, it scares the hell out of me. He was the Prophet, the mouthpiece for the Lord and he doesn’t know why the Church didn’t allow any with African blood to hold the Priesthood until 1978?

He was an apostle, "One sent forth to serve as a special witness of Jesus Christ." He was the Prophet. "The only person on the earth who receives revelation to guide the entire Church." If he doesn't know, who would know then? And if he didn’t know, why wasn’t he asking God?

I did find this statement from Hinckley on the website and had to chuckle, “no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church.” I wonder how Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph Fielding Smith, and many other former Prophets and Apostles would feel about that stinging criticism? Ahh, but they’re just dead Prophets, "They don't matter anymore", they are just “little flecks of history.”

Explain this to me, why is it that in a record-keeping church that has meticulous files of so many previous revelations and journal entries that we use today for doctrine (and/or quasi-doctrine, Journal of Discourses), why is there not one iota of historical proof of a revelation placing a ban on those of African descent? If the curse was lifted why are people still born black? I guess we can throw that one out the window...

Why were there blacks that held the priesthood in Joseph Smith’s day? Click HERE to read more about them at a fantastic blog posting by Mormon Heretic.

I do not share Elder Boyd K. Packer’s belief that “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not…Some things that are true are not very useful.” (“The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect", 1981, BYU Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 259-27)

Who is he to decide what level of truth I receive? History (even Church History) is NOT required to be faith promoting before availability and dispersion to the general public.

I end, with sadness and new understanding, upon the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: “I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.”


Christopher Maloy said...

Brutally honest and a well written post T.

I cannot simply brush off the past (it is the past that defines you). Most Mormons actually live in the past as they grab onto their Pioneer heritage, but the uncomfortable stuff gets pushed off or written out of the history books. To me that is being dishonest.

The thing that really gets me upset is that they used religion to justify their bigotry.

I can see why you had such a strong stance on the gay marriage issue.

Jared said...

Why did you have to post this 2 days before I go to a Mormon hosted party? Now I will want to fire off my new found ammunition in public.

That may not go over well. I better buy them a good gift just in case.

T.J. Shelby said...

Ha ha, sorry Jared. Bad timing I guess. Hey, just soften them up with a nice Cuban cigar or some sweet coffee grinds or maybe a fine Chianti? Ha ha ha. Okay, maybe not. They probably wouldn't appreciate the joke...

Lisa said...

Friedrich Nietzsche: “I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.”

*gasp* Wow, that really does put it straight, doesn't it? I'll have to use that somewhere. It's perfect.

Anyway: I KNOW!

I love the ideas - I don't have the sources on hand - but the ideas that God separated "us" from the African race by way of continent and that was His will until we effed it up.

Like the Sunstone session title: "I would confine them to their own species."

SPECIES! Like they're animals.

It's disgusting. And the whole idea that the Prophet is always right except for when he's not rhetoric makes my head explode. I can't wrap it around the circular and all-too-convienient logic.

It's ridiculous and Mmph.

And yes, despite the claims to the contrary there are far too many parallels to the quotes used against the African-American people and those used against the gay people of today.

Such as "Blacks never receive the Priesthood."

Dang, I really need to find these quotes...and will have to write a response entry too. Already have ideas *evil grin*

Thanks so much for writing this rant. I love rants, especially smart ones.

Christopher Maloy said...

Lisa, I think the quote you are looking for (concerning the separation of continents) was used by the prosecutor in the Loving v Virgina case more famously known as the interracial marriage Supreme court case against Virginia.

Christopher Maloy said...

Here is the actual quote, " Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

Scott said...

I don't disagree with most of what you say, but would like to make a couple of tidbits to chew on.

1. Bruce R. Mc Conkie wrote most of his questionable comments prior to his call as an apostle.

2. All discussions on blacks and the early church, cannot exist without consideration of regional realities. The church was organized while American slavery was going strong, plus Missouri during LDS settlement was a slave state, and part of what irked many neighbors was the church's abolishionist teachings. To this day the overwhelming majority of churches in the south east are still segregated.

Despite all that I don't think this issue has ever been fully explaned, we just got the revelation and an appology. Leaving us with little beyond speculation.

Lisa said...

Chris: Ah! Thank you. Good to know.

Scott: Yes but here's my issue with #1, at least: Mormon Doctrine continues to be quoted from, not only in Ensign articles but even in General Conference if I'm not mistaken.

And with #2, you'd still think in a Church led by God there would be more of a dissent from the general and acceptable societal opinions/culture of the day. One must also consider just how anti-scriptural so many of those statements were - how can the 2nd article of Faith (and so many other scriptures, BoM especially) call for us to not be accountable for "Adam's sin" and yet be accountable for Cain's? Is that a clever loophole?

Yes the Church was somewhat abolishionist (some of it - I've heard quotes to the contrary, but I'd have to look them up so I may be off here), but that doesn't excuse the apostles of the mid-20th century who really should have known better.

T.J. Shelby said...

1. I don't care when he wrote them. The brethren thought it was good enough to unanimously approve his welcoming into the Twelve didn't they? Mormon Doctrine has been elevated to quasi-doctrine status amongst the general membership and is used as the default for every LDS definition from sacrament talks all the way up to General Conference addresses.

2. The "Church" never had an abolitionist policy. Some may have made conforming comments with the abolition movement but the "Church" did not. Early on Joseph was asked if they were abolitionists. He said, "No...we do not believe in setting the Negroes free."

Not until his inconsequential run for President did his position change. And even then, it was only a plank on his platform, it wasn't his entire platform.

And even if I concede and say that Smith became an abolitionist, there is NO way you can think that the next Prophet was...way too much evidence to the contrary.

And just to clarify. There has NEVER been an official apology.

If there is still segregation in the south, it is by CHOICE now. And I really don't care to compare Mormonism to the rest of mainstream Christianity.

Don't you think being the "true Church" we should be held to a higher standard?

T.J. Shelby said...

Scott, I forgot to include our "non-Abolitionist" policy...

DyC 134:12
"We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude."

Lisa said...

TJ, I'm going to have to do a post of my own otherwise I'd be blogging in your blog.

But an entry where I alluded to even more issues regarding this is here:

I'm going to go work on that post now. There's an unbelievable amount of stuff to be said.

Matt Shelby said...! Sometimes when I read these blogs I find myself wondering who the active and non-active is between us!

Couple of points for thought.

1. White children were raised with these views towards blacks back then. No excuses...just fact.

2. This is not a "little fleck" in history and just own up to your mistakes.

3. Why can't they own up? Because the "sheep" (as TJ so eloquently calls them) wouldn't know what to do. Their "Prophet" would be telling them that all these wonderful prophets of old lied to them. BUT, here's the catch....the sheep have already taken a "statement" and made it doctrine:

“The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray… If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God…”

Yet now they know they were led astray. Then guess what happens? Half your flock is upset! They begin to question all policies. Now the current prophet loses his "holiness and prestige".

If they came clean and said these past prophets were wrong and, based on the "doctrinal status" of one statement, "yes" the Lord didn't remove them, how many followers could they potentially lose from this? Not to mention how many dollars. I no longer think it's about the followers in any's all about the benjamins! As long as the "flock" is happy and content and the money is flowing....why is an explanation or apology needed?

Jared said...

I feel sorry for the casual church goer that gets sucked into a Sunday post service religious conversation with TJ. He must just rip these people to shreds. They have no idea what they are walking into.

My man brings a gun to a knife fight for sure!

Mormon Heretic said...

TJ, thanks for the mention to my blog. For those who want a real in-depth history into the priesthood ban, check out my post on Was the priesthood ban inspired?It is a very long post--nearly 10,000 words, but it hits most of the big, important events.

Mormon Heretic said...

Christopher Maloy,

"Most Mormons actually live in the past as they grab onto their Pioneer heritage, but the uncomfortable stuff gets pushed off or written out of the history books."I don't want to be too much of a self-promoter, but I have some pretty controversial posts on George Washington, Abraham, and Joshua as well. It's not just Mormons who are guilty of writing off the uncomfortable stuff.

Christopher Maloy said...

Mormon Heretic,

I am not trying to be argumentative here, but I never claimed others in history haven't done the same as the Mormons by writing off the uncomfortable stuff. This blog was specifically about blacks and the priesthood in Mormonism. Just because other groups and people did it doesn't dismiss the fact that it was done here as well.

The real question of debate is the rightness of it. There are all kinds of lies. Personally, I think a half-truth is still a lie.

Christopher Maloy said...

Mormon Heretic,

Forgot to post this as well, but I would be interested in reading what you have as well on ALincoln, GWashington, etc. Cheers.

Mormon Heretic said...

I think the priesthood ban was wrong too, as I stated in my post.