3 Reasons Why Mormon Racism Won’t Go Away
Nearly 40 years after the LDS Church officially removed religious restrictions for its members of African ancestry, Black Mormons are still hearing the N-word—from fellow “temple worthy” Mormons.
A recent Salt Lake Tribune article by Peggy Fletcher Stack highlighted this and other racial issues within the Mormon Church. These problems persist despite pronouncements from leaders and the publication of an official essay on Race available on the church website.
The troubling question is “Why”?
I think there are three reasons that go to the heart of what’s wrong with Mormon religion today.
- Mormon leaders have never truly repented of the bigotry and racism endemic to their own religious system.
- Mormon leaders have never disavowed their canonized Scriptures used to support and defend their racist policies and practices.
- Mormon leaders are more committed to the growth of the organization than they are to the truth of Jesus Christ that can truly transform lives.
Not only have LDS leaders been silent when it comes to owning and repenting of their sin, they have attempted to dodge and minimize the seriousness of their religiously institutionalized racism by justifying it or attempting to deny there was any true corporate racism happening. They have resorted to cherry-picking random historical facts (like Joseph Smith ordaining Elijah Abel) as if that somehow offsets or allows them to now dismiss decades of racist teachings and practices.
As long as LDS leaders at the highest level continue to justify or minimize the racism of previous leaders and the organization as a whole, their members will continue to feel justified in their racism.
2. Mormon Scripture still supports racism. One of the primary reasons prior LDS leaders would not remove the ban, was because they said they could not remove the ban. The curse on Blacks as pertaining to the priesthood and the dark skin of other races was God’s doing and was recorded in their Scriptures. See for example: Racism in the Book of Mormon, and Blacks and the Book of Moses. These Scriptures are still accepted and endorsed as the foundational sources for Mormon religious belief and practice. Until these sources are disavowed, pronounced false and erroneous, and removed from the Mormon canon, LDS people will find justification for their own racism in them. Why should they not - they are ‘scripture.’
Interesting side note: If LDS leaders actually believed their own Scriptures contained the express will of God, they would not have felt a need to lift the priesthood restriction. They would, to this day, continue to hold to what was taught previously, not caring one whit about public sentiment - valuing more what they understood to be revelation from God than the opinions of men. The fact is, LDS leaders have repeatedly changed core doctrines when these became unpopular and threatened the growth or well-being of the organization. Which brings us to the third reason racism in the LDS Church won’t go away.
3. Mormon leaders value growth and promotion of the organization over Truth. The facts surrounding the lifting of the ban via a press release in June of 1978 indicate the driving force and primary motivation for removing the race restrictions was a desire for growth and greater world-wide expansion. LDS growth in Brazil was greatly hampered by the ban, and it was going to get worse with the opening of a Mormon temple in Sāo Paulo where most of the members who worked on the temple would not be allowed in it. The rituals necessary for eternal life would be only available to those completely free of Black blood.
For similar reasons, LDS work in Africa was nearly non-existent prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban. Since that time Africa has become one of the fastest-growing Mormon regions in the world. Meanwhile, in the USA, until it was removed, the priesthood restriction on blacks was a growing social blight for the LDS church, hampering its proselytizing and tarnishing its image. The priesthood restriction on blacks had become a social and demographic liability to what LDS leaders valued most - numeric growth and a good public image.
The commitment on the part of LDS leaders to growth rather than truth has become increasingly obvious over time as LDS leaders have dodged issues like racism, Joseph Smith’s 30+ adulterous relationships, the fraudulent nature of the Book of Abraham, and the multiple, oft-conflicting versions of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Rather than openly acknowledging and admitting the problems they instead have chosen to go with carefully crafted statements, limited admissions (of what can no longer be denied), and blame-shifting. Their actions resemble far more the damage-control maneuverings of shifty politicians than the transparent, straightforward proclamation of truth that characterizes true prophets.
In so doing, they send a clear message to their members about what Mormons should value most - protecting the image of the organization and its leaders at all costs, even at the cost of truth itself. This in turn creates a religious culture of deception and an increase in unethical behavior. When such behavior is justified for the growth and good of the organization, it is but a small step to then mislead and manipulate the membership as a whole for the greater corporate good. Thus, when commitment to truth at all costs is sacrificed to organizational expediency, the caring, loving treatment of “brothers” and “sisters,” those who are fellow members of the group, takes a backseat to the pursuit of personal or corporate agendas, or a person’s own biases and prejudices. This guarantees the perpetuation of issues like racism rather than their eradication.
Some Hope for Change?
It is encouraging, however to see that some LDS people are recognizing these issues. Stack, in her article quotes Bryndis Roberts, a black Mormon as saying:
The church's ‘race problem’ is ‘much larger and runs much deeper than most of us would like to admit’ and the source is found ‘in its teachings, its actions and its inactions.’
The question is, will LDS leaders come to the same conclusion? In order for Mormon racism to truly become a thing of the past, and LDS people to experience internal spiritual transformation, LDS leaders will need to embrace truth and Jesus’ kingdom values over corporate values. Then they will need to take appropriate, repentant and redemptive action no matter what the cost. After all, what does it profit a General Authority to gain the whole corporation and lose his soul?