JS and MLK — Blood Brothers?

Jeff NeedleMormon 8 Comments

This is the first in my posts with the title “The Continuing Crisis.” Each will discuss issues that either are, or should be, front and center in Mormonism today (at least in my opinion…)

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Martin Luther King Jr. died at the age of 39! This Monday is a holiday celebrating Dr. King. Another young man lost his life at about the same age — Joseph Smith, Jr.  Both had a dream, both were either loved or hated by the people.  Both based their beliefs in religion.  Both died martyrs.

My question: would Dr. King be welcomed into the Mormon church today? They may want him to keep quiet about his feelings of unrest.  And how far has Mormonism come in its well-known problems with race? Has Mormonism become the race-neutral welcoming place that it should have been from the beginning?

Comments 8

  1. Another thing that Dr. King and Joseph Smith have in common: If it suited his political purposes, Mitt Romney would claim to have seen his father march with BOTH of them.

    Okay, sarcasm aside, I’m sure today’s LDS church would welcome Dr. King into the fold. The real question is whether LDS-ism would have dramatically changed Dr. King’s trajectory. LDS culture has a distinct “don’t rock the boat” vein, which may have conditioned Dr. King against his famed and effective civil disobedience.

  2. Jeff: If your question is meant in a meaningful way, then the answer is definitely “no” — and you can throw Jesus on there as unwelcome too.

    The question isn’t meaningful if you are asking whether the LDS church now accepts views on race that 50 years ago were considered “dangerously progressive” and which 50 years ago it fought against to the fullest (and lost). If that’s all you mean, then the answer is “yes,” followed by “so what?”

    However, if you mean would the LDS church today react differently to the kind of inclusive, reforming, progressive vision offered by King, by Jesus and to a lesser extent by Joseph Smith, then the answer is clearly “no.” The institution’s outlook is just as reactionary and conservative now as it was in the 1960s, and it is just as much on the wrong side of the progressive, social justice issues today as it was then against Civil Rights for blacks.

  3. Stephen, you mean it would turn out that he participated in an entirely separate march on the same issue, and that Romney was halfway around the world at the time, so he couldn’t have seen it happen, except “symbolically.” 😉

  4. Of course.

    I worked with a guy who marched with Martin Luther King. He waffled between whether or not it was an accident or not (whether he meant to be in the march or just got caught in it while crossing the street, not realizing that it was going on).

    But think of all the people who claimed to be there, holding him as he died.

    Myth making is myth making.

    Getting back on the topic, the question seems to be whether:

    1. The Church (of today) would embrace a major celebrity who joined (and who gave up his bad habits); or,

    2. The Church would embrace someone interested in exactly the same causes; or,

    3. The Church would embrace someone interested in an equivalent cause.

    with the question being used to illustrate how the Church went from “An Address to all Free Men of Color” (looking at one anti-LDS review of same “The invitation alluded to, contained all the necessary directions and cautions to enable the free blacks, on their arrival there, to claim and exercise their right of citizenship.”) to the insular ethnic group Utah cultural Church (with about 10% of the members attending Sacrament meetings at least once a month) to the modern Church.

    It is an interesting series of transitions, much like Brigham Young’s approach of encouraging women to vote, become doctors, accountants, lawyers and legislature members and then the conservative approach that has had trouble with continued doctrine on educating women and preparing them to be part of the 2/3rd who will have to support themselves and their families at some point.

    We are in a time of interesting transitions.

    Footnote quote

    “When, In July 1833, editor W. W,
    Phelps printed an article, “Free People of Color, in the Independece-based
    Evening and Morning Star, the situation exploded. Phelps had unwisely quoted the
    Missouri statute requiring free blacks to bring citizenship papers when entering
    Missouri, hinted that slavery would someday be abolished, and implied that the church
    permitted free blacks to hold membership. A mob razed the Star’s press and
    forced the Saints out of Jackson County, fearing that Phelps had intended his article
    as a set of instructions for free black Mormon immigrants.”

  5. Dr. King would be welcomed in and then welcomed out within a couple of years at most. He would be too confrontational in style for the church leadership and would pull a Sonia Johnson-ERA thing on gay civil unions or some related issue where the Church took a stand.

  6. Why would the Reverand Martin Luther King want to be in the LDS church, given that is has never repudiated the Book of Abraham (or the Book of Mormon). This is what King said of Hamitic hypotheses:

    It was argued that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah’s curse upon the children of Ham…. The greatest blasphemy of the whole ugly process was that the white man ended up making God his partner in the exploitation of the Negro. ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967

Leave a Reply to John Nilsson Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *