How White, Liberal Mormons are Making it Difficult for Mitt Romney and the ChurchBy: Jeff Spector
As we all know, what most people know about Mormonism could fill a thimble. And many people get whatever knowledge they do have in little sound bite pieces or headlines. Most do not do any in-depth investigation to find out more about us. They are more apt to react to a negative report about the Church like the fight over Prop 8, then say, one reporting on how the Church helped tornado victims.
So, if folks hear or read something that says, the “Mormon Church has a racist past,” or that the Church hates gay people, they are apt to believe it at face value without understanding if it is even true. And when they hear it from someone, generally white and usually a liberal Church thinker, acting as an inside authority on the Church, it can be far worse.
So when one of these unofficial spokespeople says, the Church has a racist past, it is even true? I maintain the answer is no.
There is no doubt the Church, except in rare instances, prohibited men of African descent, from holding the Priesthood and restricted Blacks from Temple Ordinances until June 1978. There is no clear cut doctrinal reason why this ban was upheld for so long and the outgrown of it was vile explanations by some in Church Leadership and so-called scholars as to the reason. But, did it rise to the level of racism as some might claim by today’s standard?
I suppose it depends of how you define racism.
As we should all agree, Racism is bad. Any kind of active, hatred, xenophobia, separatism or violence perpetrated on people because of their race, color, or national origin is an affront to society and especially to God. I’ve always viewed racism as an active thing, not just thoughts, but deeds as well. To me, there is a difference between been a racist and being prejudiced.
According to the dictionary, prejudice is
1. an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.
2. any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable or unfavorable.
3. unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or national group.
As I look at the two words, I do see a huge difference. Having said that, The Church, by the very nature that it allowed an idea of Black race inferiority to be perpetuated within it, it did rise to the level of racism. But, that alone, does not qualify to make the Church a racist Church, like, let’s say, White Southern Baptists.
But, the policy of exclusion from the Priesthood, seems more rooted in prejudice than in the racist idea of inferiority taught in The LDS Church and other Churches throughout the land.
One needs to look at the actual actions of the Church to get a better picture of this. The LDS Church did not restrict anyone from joining the Church because of their race. Some joined in spite of the ban. There were not many, but on the other hand, many of us did not even know any African-American people. I, for example, did not have one single black kid in my schools until the 9th grade. And throughout high school, there were not more than 10 in an entire school of 5000 students in suburban Southern California. We had other races and cultures in our schools growing up, but few Blacks.
Compared to other Churches, organizations and parts of the country, the LDS Church and its members, as a whole (There are always exceptions), were not actively advocating or performing acts of violence against Blacks. There were not fiery, racist talks advocating separatism given in General Conference after the 1800s. While there were some prejudicial actions excluding Blacks from some facilities in Utah, it did not rise to the level that you saw in the South, for example.
By today’s standards, all of this might be considered racist, but when measured against the times when it happened, it was normal, albeit repugnant to us today.
As we know by personal recollections, when the 1978 revelation was announced, many members were overjoyed that the ban was finally lifted. And leaders like Bruce R. McConkie openly admitted he and other Church Leaders were wrong about his assessment and teachings about the ban. So, it is pretty clear that a great majority of the Church was ready and eager for the news. Hardly the mark of a Racist organization. Some probably did leave as a result, but they were the exception.
I am not arguing for the ban, sympathetic to the erroneous and vile explanations justifying it or anything like that. But, I am also not in a position to say with complete confidence, like one particular LDS correspondent, “we were wrong.” I don’t dismiss the possibility, but frankly, I don’t know enough and the foremost experts in LDS Church History also do not know.
And for me, it is the ultimate insult to those Black members, who did join in spite of the ban, who exercised that much faith, to turn around and call their Church and ours, racist. Especially, in light of the fact their brothers and sisters were being killed and discriminated against in the worst way in other places simply because of their skin color.
And, to get back to the original point, to have some, mostly white, liberal members throwing around those terms to a sound bite hearing, headline-reading crowd who already knows little about the Church, who thinks we are weird anyway, hurts the campaign of Mitt Romney and the image of the Church.
Especially, because it is not true today and was not really true in the past. I know that many of us want the Church to have been better than the other organizations at that time and the fact that maybe the ban was rooted in prejudice is troubling given the divine guidance we claim. But, we must keep the entire history in the perspective of the time in which it occurred.