Race and the Priesthood

The church quietly released a historian-written and published treatise on the official website — LDS.org — this week, which deals with the racial history, scriptures and teachings of the LDS church over the last 180+ years.

In a nutshell, Brigham Young is thrown under the proverbial bus (they protected Joseph Smith, the founder), along with essentially all of the leaders that followed him up until the present, with this pithy quote:

In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter blacks continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.

They go on to explain that the whole country was racist at the time — and that that concept drove the decisions of members of the church to follow the prevailing attitudes of the day.

It does not explain how terms like “white and delightsome” and “cursed with a black skin” and other quotes from the LDS scriptures, came to be included in The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants — both of which were purportedly received directly from god himself.

Further, the church acts as if stating a new official policy effectively erases what was considered inviolate doctrine for most of the church’s existence since 1830.

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

There are a reported 13 of these “mea culpas” waiting in the wings to be released as the church tries to get in front of the damage caused by 20+ years of the Internet’s “further light and knowledge”, which is effectively decimating their membership and tithing receipts.

Good luck getting that genii back in the bottle.

One comment to “Race and the Priesthood”

  1. Comment by Steve:

    Former LDS church president Ezra Taft Benson’s disaffected grandson, Steve Benson, added copious comments to the SL Tribune article, including some that are response to other comments, as noted below —

    Steve Benson
    The Mormon Church’s official, documented history of White supremacist racism includes its official, notorious endorsement of Southern-style slavery, as laid out by its inventor, Joseph Smith. . Smith went on record defending slavery against the opposition of abolitionists, declaring it to be a true principle which found support in the Bible and in the teachings of Jesus. Smith, in fact, said that slavery was a divinely-decreed “curse” imposed on Blacks by the command of God and warned against attempts to interfere with its practice.

    In the LDS Church publication, the “Messenger and Advocate” (vol. 2, pp. 289-301, April 1836), Smith asserted that slavery as practiced by the Southern states was ordained by God and in keeping with the “gospel of Christ”:

    “After having expressed myself so freely upon this subject, I do not doubt but those who have been forward in raising their voice against the South will cry out against me as being uncharitable, unfeeling and unkind–wholly unacquainted with the gospel of Christ.

    “‘It is my privilege, then, to name certain passages from the Bible and examine the teachings of the ancients upon this matter, as the fact is incontrovertible that the first mention we have of slavery is found in the holy Bible, pronounced by a man who was perfect in his generation and walked with God. And so far from that prediction’s being averse from the mind of God, it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude!

    “’And he said cursed be Canaan: a servant of servants shall he be unto this brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant–God shall enlarge Japheth and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.’ (Gen. 8: 25-27)

    “Trace the history of the world from this notable event down to this day and you will find the fulfillment of this singular prophecy. What could have been the design of the Almighty in this wonderful occurrence is not for me to say, but I can say that the curse is not yet taken off the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by a great power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least will come under the least condemnations before him and those who are determined to purse a course which shows an opposition and a feverish restlessness against the designs of the Lord will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good, that God can do his work without the aid of those who are not dictated by his counsel.”

    Smith then proceeded to counter claims that the Bible was not talking about Ham-lineaged, cursed Black slaves brought under control by the command of God to be used as forced labor:

    “Some may urge that the names, ‘man-servant’ and ‘maid-servant’ only mean hired persons who were at liberty to leave their masters or employers at ant time. But we can easily settle this point by turning the history of Abraham’s descendants, when governed by a law given from the mouth of the Lord himself.

    “I know that when an Israelite had been brought into servitude in consequence of debt, or otherwise, at the seventh year he went from the task of this former master or employuer; but to no other people or nation was this granted in the law of Israel. And if, after a man had served six years, he did not wish to be free, then the master was to bring him unto the judges, bore his ear with an awl and that man was ‘to serve him forever.’

    “The conclusion I draw from this is that this people were led and governed by revelation and if such a law was wrong God only is to be blamed and abolitonists are not responsible.”

    After quoting from Ephesians 6:5-9 and 1 Timothy 6:1-5 (which admonishes that “servants be obedient to them that are your masters” and that they “are under the yoke [of] masters worthy of all honor”), LDS Church president Joseph Smith concluded that “[t]he scripture stands for itself and I believe that these men were better qualified to teach the will of God than all the abolitionists in the world.”

    (cited in Lester E. Bush, Jr., complilation of notes on history of Blacks in the Mormon Church, pp. 18-19, copy in my possession)

    In the same treatise, Smith warned that if Blacks were freed from slavery and the South was militarily defeated, Blacks might overrun the country and degrade societal morals:

    “ . . . I am aware that many who profess to preach the gospel complain against their brethren of the same faith who reside in the South and are ready to withdraw the hand of fellowship because they will not renounce the principle of slavery and raise their voice against every thing of the kind.

    “This must be a tender point and one which should call forth the candid reflection of all men and especially before they advance in an opposition calculated to lay waste the fall States of the South and set loose upon the world a community of people who might peradventure overrun our country and violate the most sacred principles of human society, chastity and virtue.”

    Smith advocated that no one had the right to tell others not to engage in the business of human trafficking:

    “I do not believe that the people of the North have any more right to say that the South shall not hold slaves, than the South have to say the North shall.”

    Smith stated that slave owners should retain final say over the condition and future of their human property and that slaves, should unconditionally & meekly obey their masters:

    “. . . [W]e have no right to interfere with slaves contrary to the mind & will of their masters. In fact, it would be much better & more prudent not to preach at all to slaves, until after their masters are converted: and then teach the master to use them with kindness, remembering that they are accountable to God and that servants are bound to serve their master with singleness of heart, without murmuring.”

    Smith taught that slavery was condoned by scripture and that Mormons had no right to foment resistance to Southern slavery:

    “I do most sincerely hope that no one who is authorized from this Church to preach the gospel will so far depart from the scripture as to be found stirring up strife and sedition against our brethren of the South.”

    Smith said that freeing the slaves would only cause trouble for people not accustomed to seeing Blacks (the latter whom Smith labeled as inherently lazy, professionally unemployable and childish):

    “. . . [W]hat benefit will it ever be to the slave for persons to run over the free states & excite indignation against their masters in the minds of thousands and tens of thousands who understand nothing relative to their circumstances or conditions? I mean particularly those who have never traveled in the South and scarcely seen a negro in all their life.

    “How any community can ever be excited with the chatter of such persons-boys and others who are too indolent to obtain their living by honest industry & are incapable of pursuing any occupation of a professional nature, is unaccountable to me.”

    (Joseph Smith, letter to Oliver Cowdery, published in “Latter-Day Saints Messenger & Advocate,” vol. 2. no. 7, Kirtland, Ohio, April 1836, pp. 289, 291)

    Moreover, during the presidency of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Church desperately came out in favor of preventing the immigration of freed Black slaves into Missouri and against allowing Blacks to join the Mormon Church:

    “In an attempt to defuse the explosive situation before another anti-Mormon meeting scheduled [by slave-holding Missourians] for July 20, 1833, could take place . . ., an ‘Extra’ edition of the [Mormon cnurch's] “the Evewning and Morning Star . . . frantically tried to explain:

    “‘Having learned with extreme regret, that an article entitled, ‘Free People of Color,’ in the last number of the ‘Star,’ has been misunderstood, we feel in duty bound to state, in this ‘Extra,,’ that our intention was not only to stop free people of color from emigrating to this state, but to prevent them from being admitted as members of the Church.”

    (authored by W.W. Phelps in behalf of the Mormon Church, published in “History of the Church,” vol. 1, pp. 578-79; Phelps was an assistant president of the Mormon Church in Missouri, a scribe for Joseph Smith, and an LDS Church printer/editor; Phelps’ “Star” editorial cited in Richard Abanes, “One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church,” Chapter 6, “No Rest for the Righteous” [New York/London: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2002], p. 114)
    5 days ago 173 likes

    Steve Benson
    It’s news because the Mormon Church is:

    a) hobbled with a blatantly racist past;

    b) trying to scrub that disgustingly bigoted Mormon Church history by parceling out selectively-edited and misleading essays about the Mormon Church’s horrendously racist past; and

    c) currently attempting to reinvent its Mormon God into a deity that is conveniently no longer racist.

    All that, by definition, is:

    a) news;

    b) news; and

    c) news.



    Steve Benson
    You are completely out of step with the Mormon Church First Presidency in your claim that the priesthood ban against Blacks was merely policy and not doctrine. The official position of the Mormon Church, as explicitly described in an official First Presidency statement, in the 20th century, was that the Mormon Church’s anti-Black priesthood ban was, in fact, the actual definitive and official postion of the Mormon Church.

    On 17 August 1949, the First Presidency so stated, invoking not only LDS Church president Brigham Young, but Church president Wilford Woodruff, as well. Furthermore and quite importantly, it stated that this priesthood ban applied against Blacks originated with the initial founding of the Mormon Church (which, of course, took place underr Joseph Smith, not Brigham Young

    Here’s the 1949 First Presidency statement:


    "The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: 'Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.'

    "President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: 'The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.'

    "The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

    "The First Presidency"

    (emphasis added for your benefit)


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