FAQ: Race Restrictions

HawkgrrrlMormon 47 Comments

We’ve explored some of the answers members have posted on the site in the church’s new profiles campaign.  So far, we’ve discussed member answers to questions about polygamywomen& the priesthood, politics, parenting, and prophets.  Today, let’s see what members had to say about priesthood & race restrictions.

Here’s the FAQ:  Are there restrictions based on race or color concerning who can join the Mormon Church and have the priesthood?

From the “official” response:

There are no race or color restrictions as to who can join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are also no race or color restrictions as to who can have the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . . .

. . . “We believe in the old adage that many hands make light work. We have a lay priesthood, and every worthy man is eligible to receive this priesthood.”

Best answers:

  • No.  Shortest is best.
  • No, and I’m black.  It’s clearly less unsavory than a bunch of white people talking about how enlightened we are now.
    • “No. I am openly accepted, welcomed and loved by every member of the Mormon church. People are forthright and honest with their questions if their exposure to blacks have been limited and not once have I felt any prejudice only love, the love of Jesus Christ. Black men are accepted into the priesthood, and black men, women, and children serve alongside not only whites but other ethnicities. The church is extremely accepting of ALL races, ethnicities, and cultures and temples exist all over the world for all its members to partake of its blessings. Don’t believe the rumors, there are black mormons and there are mormons of different races and ethnicities. Only the adversary will promote otherwise.”
    • “Anyone of any ethnic or racial background is welcome to join the church. All worthy male members of the church can hold the priesthood.”
    • “I am proud to be an African American. But something i’m even more proud of is that i hold the Priesthood. There are no restrictions based on race or color. I’ve been a member of this Church for over 10 years and have never encountered racism within it! I serve alongside of brothers and sisters of all colors and races and hold the same priesthood of God as any other brother in the church.”
    • “There are no restrictions as to who can join the Church. We are all children of our Father in heaven and all of us are in need of his love, guidance and his gospel plan for us.”
    • “No, there are not. I hold the Priesthood, which is an incredible blessing for myself and my family.  For a time, there were restrictions, and it seems that there were some bad feelings towards the Church about it, but consider this…In my own personal studies, there was not a single Church or religion in the United States, or throughout the world in the last century who did not practice some kind of segregation or discrimination. Humans are far from perfect (Which is why we ALL need the influence of a loving God in our lives).  In the mid 1800’s, leaders of our church particularly suffered major persecution for allowing slaves to live and have membership among the Mormons and were tarred, feathered, beaten, and even driven out of their homes for it. In fact, in 1844 when Joseph Smith (The first prophet of the Latter- Day Church) ran for President of the United States, one of his major platforms was to have slavery abolished by 1850. This did not go down very well in a state that owned slaves as property. Like any other faith, people are striving to be better through living fully the principles taught by the savior, which comes line upon line, precept on precept.  With all this said, the Church that has an official declaration that is printed within Latter-Day Saint scripture announcing to the world that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a whole, do not permit any form of discrimination against color anywhere in the church. I am not aware of many faiths that have an official document like this included in pages of scripture used by all Latter-Day Saints.  There is great power in personal revelation and it can be given to all men who seek the Lord and have desires to know his will..It is amazing!!”
  • No, we have all races in the church.  I think keeping this global and broad is how to avoid tokenism (see below).
    • “We have members of all races, from hundreds of nations around the world. The Book of Mormon clearly teaches that God “denieth none that come to him, black and white, bond and free, male and female…and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 27:33).”
    • “When I was a missionary in Detroit I had the opportunity to teach people of many different races and backgrounds, including Africans, Hmong, and Chaldeans.”  Chaldeans, like Abraham?
    • “No there are not…in fact while my husband was attending graduate school in Philadelphia, the majority of the people in the Mormon congregation we attended were African American. The congregation was also led by an African American…President Johnson. There were also entire congregations of Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Spanish, and Portuguese-speaking members. They were not divided because of race, but rather by language spoken so that the members could hear the Word of God in their own language.”
    • “I am proud to sit in class with African, Indian, Hispanic and Asian members in our ward.”
    • “Our members are from the vast majority of countries of the world.  They comprise of all races, colours, and peoples, from Mongolia to Mauritius, Russia and the Baltic States to Japan, from Ghana to Guatamala, from Korea to Brazil, and most places inbetween.  It might surprise some to learn there are more spanish-speaking members of the Church than english-speaking ones. Twice-yearly Conferences of the Church are transmitted to our Church Meetinghouses worldwide in more than 90 languages.”
    • “I am the branch president of a small congregation that includes white, Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and Haitian members. We fellowship together in unity born of the Spirit of the Lord.  I lived in Alaska for many years. Alaska is truly a “melting pot” for Mormons. Our stake included Tongans, Samoans, Hawaiians, Koreans, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Germans, and Native Americans along with white and African-American members. The same sort of harmony prevailed among us.
  • No, and we don’t know why there was a ban.  I think it beats speculating anyway.
    • “No, there are not. The Priesthood (or right for men to officiate in the church) was not not available to men of African ancestry before 1978. We don’t know all the reasons why this was the case, but assuredly we rejoice in the fact that all worthy men may hold the Priesthood today.”
    • “Past restrictions appear to have been grounded in cultural, social and spiritual understanding at the time.”  If this is speculation, it’s got the benefit of being likely true.
    • “I do not know the meaning of all things, but I know that God loves His children of whatever tint and hue. I know that sometimes He sees fit to try our faith, to give us a tiny sample of the bitter cup so that we can appreciate more fully what He did in draining it to the dregs. I know that there are generational things that need to be worked out in all of us. I know that prophets are inspired and that the Lord has His reasons for everything that happens in His Church. I’ll be interested in finding out the details of this situation when I get to the other side but it’s not an issue now.”
    • “For reasons we don’t fully understand, there was a time when the priesthood was not made available to all people.”
    • “These kind of questions are very legitimate concerns. No, there is not a restriction. However, at one time this was different. I don’t have the answers but I do know that it’s too easy to get caught up in the thick of thin things and miss entirely the true gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Answers I liked slightly less:

  • No, and priesthood is always restricted.  This is perhaps the least unpalatable explanation, but I’m not sure it makes a boatload of sense either since the church was being restored.  It comes dangerously close to implying it was a doctrine, not a policy, a distinction that I think we’ve been pretty careful to make.
    • “For a time the priesthood was restricted to certain bloodlines, as it was in the Old Testament when only the sons of Aaron and Levi were allowed the privilege. However, modern prophets were clear from the beginning that in the Lord’s time the priesthood would be extended to all races, just as the Gospel was finally extended from the nation of Israel to the whole world in the time of the early Apostles.”  A few issues here:  1) not sure the term “bloodlines” is accurate or relevant to the ban in practice, and 2) saying that it was clear from the beginning that the PH would be extended is optimistically naive.  There are many early leader quotes that contradict that.
    • “Priesthood had historically been limited as to who could hold it during ancient times as well as modern, for purposes known only to God. For example, during the time of the Old Testament, only one tribe of the 12 tribes of Israel, (Levi) could hold the Priesthood. In the New Testament times with Jesus only Jews could hold the Priesthood, no gentiles at all. It took a revelation from God to Peter that the Gospel could be preached openly to non-Jews.”  This is probably the best version of this type of answer I saw.
    • “Priesthood in the LDS Church is not a “right” or title. Rather, it is the authority to act in the name of God. Only those who live God’s teachings to guide their lives can receive it, and even then, it is only active when the priesthood holder is living in harmony with God. As a result, throughout history most people have not been given the priesthood. Not that they will never get it–they’ll just get it when God feels that they are ready for it.”  OK, this one sounds like he’s implying that blacks didn’t have it because they weren’t worthy (and by extension, that women are not worthy?)
  • No, and women are still restricted.  I suppose girl power is great and all, but why bring that up?  Actually, the more I think about this, the more I think it’s a bit tone-deaf not to mention it when we’re patting ourselves on the back for being so color-blind.
    • “That is true, but the only restrictions now are dependent on worthiness… and gender, I suppose. Men are the only ones allowed to hold the priesthood, but it is part of a wonderful design to keep order. Women have just as much right to the priesthood as men do, but do not themselves hold those keys.”  You go, girl!
  • No, and I know someone black who is a Mormon.  At best this seems like tokenism.  At worst, it reminds people how rare black members still are as a result of this practice, and points out (truthfully) that only one race was restricted.  This works better if the person we know is someone close to us, not if we knew some black person once who was OK with being Mormon despite the policy.
    • “No. Where I live, in the Washington DC area, we have a number of black members. Several years ago, we had a black member of the bishopric. One of the other wards in my stake has a black bishop. Gladys Knight, a black gospel singer, is a convert to the Church and has performed in our Stake Center.”


  • Into the Waters of Baptism.  “Since the beginning of the Church people of all races have been welcomed into the waters of baptism, given the gift of the Holy Ghost, and equally promised the highest blessings of salvation.”  I suppose it does point out the fact that we are baptizers by immersion, but it just seems like a GC-wannabe way of saying people can join the church.
  • Bloodlines.  “For a time the priesthood was restricted to certain bloodlines”  Outside the history channel and the church, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “bloodlines” used.

Other interesting observations:

  • Policy.  We seem to be pretty consistently in agreement that the race ban was a policy, not a doctrine.
  • Ham doctrine & other racist protestant teachings.  Racist speculations about the reasons for the ban (e.g. less valiant in pre-existence) have likewise been put to bed.

What I might have said:

  • No, and I’m black (but the picture might give me away).
  • I would probably just say “no,” and that the church is global and includes members of all races.  I would probably not even mention the PH ban.

What would you say?  Did you like the member answers to these questions?  Different ones than I did?  Discuss.

Comments 47

  1. I think it’s a bit disingenuous to completely ignore the priesthood ban. I can understand the value of not speculating (although I do, my own speculation not unlike the “likely true” one).

  2. If I was to answer this question, I think my answer would be, “No. Just gender.” Don’t think it would pass the censors, though, which is why I don’t have a profile. In my opinion, there’s as much “doctrinal” basis for gender exclusion as there was for that based on race.

  3. I think addressing the ban is important. If someone is truly looking into the Church, it won’t take long to find out that our leaders taught a bunch of silly things about blacks and the priesthood – ie. ban if “one drop of blood”, or interracial marriages meant immediate death, or premortal fence-sitting, or etc. And this wasn’t that long ago. 1978 is certainly within the lifetime of MANY people. So to merely say “No” or something like that smacks of the white-wash that we are prone to do. If someone reads on the “official” site a simple “no” answer, but soon finds out that the reality was completely different not very long ago, they may wonder what else is being white-washed. I like the honest but complete answers best.

  4. Hawkgrrl,

    It seems everyone misses, or does not consider the 800 lb elephant in the room when discussing this issue; and, that is the practice of slavery. An evil practice that lead to a civil war and intense feelings to the present day. With these factors in mind, and in my judgment, the leaders of the LDS church did the best they could to deal with tensions extant in the US and in other parts of the world stemming from slavery. It is my opinion, as I have expressed in previous posts, if they would have tried to extend the priesthood to the blacks prior to 1978 it would not have been successful. With this said, I don’t think they were racist or their policies were racist as some have claimed in previous posts. Along these lines, I don’t think it was a change in policy but a reflection of the reality in our society.

  5. It is my opinion, as I have expressed in previous posts, if they would have tried to extend the priesthood to the blacks prior to 1978 it would not have been successful.

    Will, please do us all a favor and do not create a profile. Yikes.

  6. Ok, Hawkgrrl, I’m jealous…YOU get to post, but, in all fairness, you proverbially hit another one out of the park.

    This has been a bone of contention for my one-half black stepdaughter about being active in the Church (well, IMO, it’s an excuse, not a legitimate pretext).

    I joined soon after this revelation. There were few, if any, African-American members where I was (Fresno), so I didn’t see an immediate difference. Where it meant something was about a year and a half later, when, on my mission in Italy, we tract out this med student from Nigeria, and he was rather choice. He said later on that it was I that had touched him…well, gee, I was just doing my job, same as my comp. Sure, I care(d) a great deal about him, and wanted him to have the gospel, but honestly can’t remember what I did that was particularly special. We’ve kept in touch and he’s been a prominent doctor in Nigeria and served in many callings, including being in mission and stake presidencies, and has brought many of his fellow Nigerians to the Gospel. Glad to have been a part.

    IMO, the idea that blacks were somehow “lesser” in the pre-existence just seems wrong. I was under the impression that we ALL “sang” for joy in that realm. Judging by the degree of commitment that African folks proper, let alone African-Americans, seem to show once converted (in my experience, albeit limited, higher than average), it would belie the notion of Negro “inferiority”.

    Though we can find “quaint”, if not downright condescending references to blacks by Church leaders in the past (does anyone recall a 1954 talk by Mark E Peterson about separation of the races and “allowing” blacks to own a Cadillac if they so desired?), we can also find instances where LDS leaders blamed not only whites but white LDS for the “plight of the Negro”, condemming racism at a time when it was not popular to do so. When one compares the record of LDS versus virtually any other signifcant American sect in the 20th century, we don’t have anything to be ashamed of. I do recall when Jimmy Carter was running for President how there was a controversy that the Baptist Church in Georgia that he was a member of was debating whether to integrate or not. Pres. Carter, of course, favored it.

    The simplest answer is that the Priesthood is the Lord’s to do with as HE pleases, even when it doesn’t necessarily please us. Were the Church so concerned about political correctness methinks black men would have gotten it by 1958, not 1978. I’m sure even a bunch of hidebound old geezers (as some cynically typify the General Authorities) would have gladly given in and avoided the controversy if they felt free to do so.

  7. “Chaldeans, like Abraham?”

    Actually, yes. Kind of. Chaldeans are an Iraqi Christian branch (Ur of the Chaldees and all Abraham’s other early handouts eh?). There’s a fair number of them in Michigan, and there’s been a few who have joined the church including one sister in my mission many moons ago.

    As for the main topic at hand, I agree either short and sweet or universal make the best answers in general.

  8. Christopher,

    Yikes is right, for people that are blind to the realities in South Africia up to the present day; and, the racial tensions in the Deep South in the US. The tensions were eased somewhat with the civil rights movement in the 1960’s in this country; and, in the 1990’s with the election of Nelson Mandela. I believe God sent both Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela to bring some civility to the world. I saw these tensions first hand. The blacks were treated with hatred and as second class citizens.

    I don’t think it is fair of you to imply that we can just magically wish these tensions away. To throw these people together and pretend the evil practices of the past didn’t happen in unrealistic. Those guiltily of hatred and racism (including some in the LDS faith) needed time to repent; and, those that were treated so horribly needed time to heal. I believe 1978 (within a margin of a few years either way) was the best time to start that healing process – just after the civil rights movement and while the wheels of momentum to take down apartheid were in place.

  9. #1: I assume you complain about the “official” response’s ignoring of the ban, since many of the quoted responses do address it. The question is carefully crafted to avoid that discussion, and of course the church can write whatever questions it wants. People don’t need to look further than the member responses to learn more.

    HG, agree with your sizing up of the responses. Appreciate these posts.

  10. The only thing I have to say is that I am white but have curly hair,it’s actually more wavy than curly but it can be very difficult to comb, which means that long ago, possibly hundreds or thousands of years ago I have a black ancestor or two, I believe this with every fiber of my being, I believe that the curly hair gene originated in one place and one place only. Would I have technically been ineligible for the priesthood before 1978? Brigham Young said that if you so much have a single drop of black ancestry that you are to ineligible and now that I think about it, I rarely see curly headed people in Utah for some reason

  11. Btw, I live in the Southeast where a ton of admixture between black slaves and white slave masters took place, tons of white people have curly hair down here as a result.

  12. #10 and #11 (both JD) Though your assumption about the “curly hair” could be mistaken, it is possible for you or I to have a black ancestor and not merely for slave owners using their (hopefully female) charges. There was more antebellum race-mixing in both South and North than is commonly perceived. The problem in identification is that after three or four generations even dominant genetic traits are bred out. So, if everyone in your family tree going back to your great-great-grandparents was “white”, then it’s unlikely that any genetic trait that we characterize as being “Negro” would appear.
    I don’t know that BY said anything about “one drop of negro blood”. What he did say was that the “penalty” for race-mixing was death (he was employing hyperbole, knowing full well that no one imposed capital punishment for miscgenation) and would always be so. He was actually referring to the practice of many white men to take a black girl as a concubine and in effect render her as a sexual slave. From BY’s viewpoint, it would have been the using the race relationships of the times to take advantage of a black girl that was pernicious.
    I don’t suppose you would ever have been “technically” ineligible. In practice, if you looked white, you were assumed to be white. As I’ve fairly much pointed out, the “one drop of blood” idea was fairly absurd and impossible to enforce. Are there any anecdotes of the Priesthood being taken away from a man found to have black ancestry? If so, will someone cite it?
    BTW, Africans have an even stronger prejudice against American “blacks” than they do against whites. To them, USA blacks are mulattoes or mixed-breeds and ever lower on their social structure.
    What likely sparked the change was that the Church went to all the trouble to build a temple in Brazil, where there are a great deal of black and mulatto folks. Why, indeed, build a temple and have a minority of your members be able to use it? It should be kept in mind that the wording of the Offical Declaration #2 was that the LORD had repsonded to the prayers of the Prophet and the Apostles, so evidently they highly desired that the Priesthood ban should be lifted.

  13. I’ve never liked the argument “Priesthood in ancient Israel was limited to the Levites, so it was OK in the Restoration to limit Priesthood to everybody but Africans.”

    It feels a lot worse to be singled out, as the one class among all who’s not eligible for an honor, than it is when one person or a few are singled out for honor, and the majority don’t have it. The former situation can’t avoid generating a perception that there’s something wrong with the group that’s excluded, whereas in the latter case, it’s understood that the distinction given to the few is symbolic, and not reflective of the worthiness of the rest — the majority — of the population.

    So I would never use that argument, or (in the presence of someone who could be expected to be offended by it, or in public, where I was free to answer) let it go unchallenged.

  14. Will #4:

    I can’t agree with you. We reaffirmed that blacks were to be called to the priesthood during Reconstruction, with a mere caution to not be hasty so as to magnify emnity. The sky did not fall.

  15. #13:
    It feels a lot worse to be singled out, as the one class among all who’s not eligible for an honor, than it is when one person or a few are singled out for honor, and the majority don’t have it. The former situation can’t avoid generating a perception that there’s something wrong with the group that’s excluded,…

    Yes–much like how some want to restrict the word, “marriage.”

  16. Post

    Kari #2 – I think you are right that restricting the PH to men only is not doctrinally justified, but unlike the race ban, nobody has spent loads of time trying to justify the unjustifiable (e.g. creating folkloric reasons to explain it or borrowing unsavory doctrines from Protestantism). That probably just means that female ordination is new enough in Christianity that it hasn’t come up. Ironically, there’s a lot of evidence that the early branches of Christianity were mostly run by women. There were women with PH offices also (deaconess comes to mind). Frankly, I don’t think the church is that opposed to female PH (considering the temple, especially), just that sociologically having a male-only PH is the way to get the men to serve others and stay involved.

    Non-Arab Arab: Thanks for the clarification. I learned something new!

    FireTag 14: While it’s true that lifting the ban early didn’t bring the RLDS to its knees, I think it only fair to point out that liberal and progressive doctrines seem to make for overall smaller congregations. I really really wish it weren’t so, but it seems to have that effect. The small-minded seem to be drawn to religion. Perhaps they need it more. 😉

  17. Best answer, “No, not anymore”.

    I had an experience this past week at church related to this subject. In Sunday School the teacher read a quote from Joseph Field Smith where he said that all the advances of the modern world were a result of the priesthood being restored. My initial thought was to raise my hand and say correlation doesn’t prove causation but that seemed too contradictory. Instead I said I think there is a symbiotic relationship with humanity in general and the church. I then said I think Christianity and America had progressed to a point where Joseph Smith could do the work God had for him. And then I referenced some other comments that had been made previously during the lesson about “not everyone took the revelation that blacks receive the priesthood as good news, in fact many left the church”, I said I thought if the revelation would have come early even more members would have left. My main point was that God is bigger than our church, and while I believe we have a divine role to play, we are not the only players in the game, and in fact we directly benefit from the improvements of humanity as well as helping to contribute to its advances, but we also bear its faults. We may strive to be not of this world, but that easier said then done.

  18. #17 (Carey) “not everyone took the revelation that blacks receive the priesthood as good news, in fact many left the church”. Where is the evidence that ANYONE left the Church over the PH “revelation” in June 1978? Yes, surely some bigoted ole’ boys probably grumbled that now they’d hafta rub shoulders at Priesthood or in the temple with them thar ‘nigras’, and a few probably quietly guffawed, but the reaction by the overwhelming majority seemed to be of relief and thanks.
    Although my theories are no better than anyone else’s regarding WHY the “ban” and its subsequent lifting, of this I’m sure: The LORD was not interested one way or another about our opinions on the subject. If he’d wanted it extended to all worthy males before Jun of ’78, he’d have made the then-prophet aware of it. Methinks somehow the LORD isn’t shy about voicing HIS opinions.

  19. Firetag,

    By the way, in response to our conversation last time, the touché was not intended as an ‘I got you’; rather, it was directed at your response. I just needed to make that clarification as I would say the same thing now that prompted your response. I suppose this is fair as you have in effect said the same thing about the leaders of my church.


    “The small-minded seem to be drawn to religion”

    Now, now, tone it down now. I will accept that if we can acknowledge that liberalism is a mental deficiency. (:

  20. Will:

    No offense intended to the leaders of your church. I’m simply responding to the argument about WHY they did what they did by saying that we have a data point showing that it was possible to ordain blacks to the priesthood without disrupting harmony in the church a century ago.

    I have more problem with my own church’s delay in ordaining gays and sacramentalizing SSM in North America, since most of them clearly believe it to be moral to do so. I have no reason to think that 19th Century LDS leaders SAW a moral problem with their own actions. We see that in hindsight.

  21. #13 — OT; the question is whether the differences between a man and a woman, versus two men or two women, are more substantial than the differences between a Levite and a Danite.

    Also, you’ve got it backwards. Gay relationships aren’t being singled out as the only relationships not classified as “marriages.” Rather, the only relationship that is classified as a marriage, is an consensual, exclusive relationship, for an unspecified term up to life, presumptively involving sexual relations, between an otherwise-unmarried man and woman who are not related within certain degrees of consanguinuity.

    That’s only one species of relationship out of a huge number of kinds of relationships (non-exclusively sexual, exclusively sexual but for a fixed time, polygamous, non-sexual, contractual, parent-child, same-sex, friendly, etc.)

  22. “liberal and progressive doctrines seem to make for overall smaller congregations…The small-minded seem to be drawn to religion.”

    I can’t remember if that’s called “non sequitur” or “begging the question.” “Not liberal and progressive” =/ “small-minded.” Also, I wouldn’t say racial equality is exclusively a “liberal and progressive” doctrine, as opposed to a universal principle that, on average, more liberals than conservatives got on board before its universal righteousness was recognized. (Woodrow Wilson, for instance, was a spectacular “progressive” outlier to the “liberal = racially egalitarian” narrative. Ditto William Wilberforce with the “religious = regressive” narrative.) You probably didn’t mean that quite the way it sounded.

    I think the real limiting factor with “liberal and progressive” ideology in a religious framework, is that liberalism and progressivism often morph into ends unto themselves — to the point where a “liberal and progressive” church becomes little more than a social service agency/political faction/social club that happens to have stained glass windows. It’s possible to be so open-minded that God falls right out of your head. Reduce God into too much of an abstraction — a philosophical symbol for human goodness, reason, love, etc. — and at some point, you find you really don’t need Him/Her at all.

  23. Post

    Will 19 – just because I said that the small-minded are drawn to religion, that doesn’t mean they are the only ones, or that religions are small-minded. I am not saying that at all. Personally, I think the small-minded find comfort in many of the accoutrements of religion, but in so doing, they create for themselves a smaller religion than God would intend.

    Firetag 22 – gulp!

  24. Will, #4

    “Along these lines, I don’t think it was a change in policy but a reflection of the reality in our society.”

    I’d agree with this line of thinking. For a long time it was needed to survive as a people and as a church in the USA. We already had many problems with other groups there, baptists evangelicals etc, over ideology and doctrine and over our communal living and economic control. Had they added freedom for blacks in 1800’s USA then it may have tipped the church over the edge.


    From the OP, its clear that today’s Mormons don’t remember or don’t want to remember what happened pre-1978. nine out of ten just say “No” , a clear direct answer but people who ask this question are probably wondering why we did this in the ’60 and before. Even the way the FAQ is worded I’d say is a bit misleading and doesn’t help anyone who wonders why Mormons were racists back then.

  25. Post

    Thomas 23 – let me clarify a little bit. When I used the term liberal/progressive with regards to a church, I meant one that is prone to change earlier than the majority of society. 1978 is pretty late in race policy, which is why we are often criticized for the ban. To Firetag’s example, 1850 is very early (but as I said, the RLDS church is nowhere near as big). And to clarify “small-minded,” I suppose I meant those that hang onto outdated policies far longer than the rest of society and who find societal change threatening. I’m not intending a political statement with that. I agree that small-mindedness knows no political boundaries. And many many people find change threatening. I literally mean the term “small-minded” in the sense that one restricts their ability to see beyond whatever limits and assumptions they’ve set.

    There’s some trickiness in the term “society,” because the more isolated a social group is, the smaller the society that has a pull on it. Those who seek more social change would broaden “society” to whatever degree needed to make their case that the church is out of step with it (e.g. the whole world, potential converts or the global church population). Those who seek to restrict change would limit “society” to whatever degree needed to make their case that what exists outside that boundary is not binding to the group (e.g. Utah-centric policies). We know from experience that the church has had a hard time shaking it’s Utah- and Ameri-centrism.

    But I’ve observed that churches that don’t have a strong enough sense of stability don’t seem to have the same appeal as those that hang onto the past. Perhaps you see this differently? I would also add that Mormonism has its own forms of flexibility built in (ongoing revelation, personal revelation). But so do evangelical churches (local ministry without broad oversight) which are also very socially conservative and clearly among the most popular churches of our day.

  26. “And to clarify “small-minded,” I suppose I meant those that hang onto outdated policies far longer than the rest of society and who find societal change threatening.”

    Depends on the change, naturally. I notice that some people have gone absolutely bat-waste ballistic in warning how We Are All Doomed because of the change in society towards greater acceptance of shall-issue concealed-carry policies.

    I should probably ask myself what I think “small-minded” means. Because I don’t necessarily think that hanging onto ideas just because they’ve fallen out of fashion with the conventional wisdom of contemporary “society” is necessarily small-minded; it may be society itself that’s displaying small-mindedness, by faddishly turning against genuine wisdom for the proverbial light and transient causes.

    I probably view “small-mindedness” more in the sense of “refusing to think at all.” It’s not small-minded to stand athwart History shouting Stop! when you’ve conscientiously thought things through, and concluded that the conventional wisdom is heading mindlessly off a cliff. It is small-minded when you reject an increasingly compelling argument for change, for no other reason than that we’ve always done things the old way. But it’s just as small-minded to condemn “outdated ideas” for basically no other reason than than one’s parents held them.

    But I’ve observed that churches that don’t have a strong enough sense of stability don’t seem to have the same appeal as those that hang onto the past. Perhaps you see this differently?

    No, you’re absolutely right. But “Hanging onto the past,” aka respect for the winnowing hand of tradition (which has killed off more bad ideas over the years than we even know) tends to give tradition-respecting churches greater appeal, not because “small-minded” reactionaries are simply drawn to religion like flies to dog poop — but rather because there is something inherently useful in having at least some checks and balances against faddishness. Watch an old TV show from the 1970s, for instance, that tries to Grapple With The Great Moral Questions Of The Day. Even most “progressives,” in my experience, tend to wince at the sheer dated naive earnestness of it all. And unfortunately, religion — even “progressive” religion — can never be fast enough to keep up with the surrounding culture. A progressive pastor who, striving for “relevance,” located himself on the cutting edge of liberation-flavored theology in the 1970s, is more likely than not to be still banging away on that bongo drum two or three mass-media-driven fashion cycles later. Cool he is not.

    Ideally, a church should teach correct first principles, through a simple, timeless liturgy and teaching, and leave its members to govern themselves as to the specifics. Of course there are instances where the church needs to step up to confront the more glaring societal sins, like American official and cultural racism — but it may be that the more emphasis a church places on being correct as to specific contemporary “issues,” can come at the expense of emphasis on actual first principles, and the reasons for recognizing them as such.

  27. I should add a “that said, I think the Church truly fell down on the job with respect to the race issue, and would have been far more effective in upholding its timeless First Principles if it had conducted itself otherwise.” I think the delay had virtually nothing to do with Mormons being more “racist” than other Americans, little to do with “small-mindedness,” and a great deal to do with the institutional structure of the Mormon decision-making process.

  28. Post

    Thomas, as usual I think we agree more than we disagree. So, when I say small-minded (meaning people who can’t imagine anything beyond their front yard or their own inherited views) and you say small-minded (meaning people who choose not to think), that is very close. The easiest way to avoid thinking is to leave it to others, whether those others are progressive or regressive. Racism flourished, IMO, when people were too small-minded to examine their inherited prejudices, too protective of their own imagined superiority, or too unwilling to question their own and others’ assumptions about it. I’ve said before and will say it again, self-serving beliefs are always suspect. Even if they turn out to be right, it’s better to not get too attached to them. It certainly doesn’t foster humility.

  29. I’ve said before and will say it again, self-serving beliefs are always suspect. Even if they turn out to be right, it’s better to not get too attached to them. It certainly doesn’t foster humility.

    Exactly! When you discover you have a “desire to believe” something, that’s reason to apply more skepticism, not less. Because you’ve just discovered a powerful potential source of error-generating bias, and you are therefore on notice of your duty to do what you can to correct for it. I can’t count how many times I’ve missed making a spectacular fool of myself, by taking the time to look a little further into a “too good to be true” argument before making it.

    On the other hand, there are other ideas that I wanted to believe, that came out of the heightened due diligence process smelling even rosier.

  30. HG,

    Would the term “the same yesterday, today and tomorrow” qualify as small-minded? Does not God seek to restrict change? His principles, in my judgment are eternal.


    I loved Carlos comment, especially the last line as one of the reasons why our leaders could not have extended the priesthood to blacks at this time “Had they added freedom for blacks in 1800′s USA then it may have tipped the church over the edge”. Like the blacks, they had been beaten, raped and killed. It would have added more fuel to an already heated situation.
    I would add Doug’s last comment in #12 that the Lord had responded to the prayers of the Apostles and Prophets. I see good, honorable, decent men seeking the guidance of the Lord. Not racist, immoral, bigots as some would suggest.

    Finally, I share the sentiments of HG. She tactfully hit it right on the money, although I disagree with her small minded comment. I would add, by their fruits shall ye know them – one of the most financially stable entities in the world; one of best run organizations in the world; one of the best humanitarian organizations in the world; strong, stable leadership; sustained growth in the number of churches and temples; and, millions of faithful members. I think their decision process has been quite remarkable. This stability, as insinuated (intentionally or not) by HG is a result of sticking to eternal principles, not popularism or changing doctrine.

  31. #32 I see good, honorable, decent men seeking the guidance of the Lord that were also sometimes racist. I think that when the people and leaders were sufficiently ready the Lord saw fit to bless us. I think the civil rights movement contributed to that cause, and we should be thankful for everyone that helped us and not act like because our church has Priesthood authority that somehow we were responsible for every good thing that has happened in the last 150 years. There’s a reason we need to cleansed from the blood of our generation.

    The revelation to end the practice of with holding the priesthood did not come in a sudden revelation/epiphany but after much deliberation and debate. It my understanding that up until the time that Pres. Kimball made it official there was dissension among the 12 about doing it.

  32. Will:

    Fair enough. By 1880, we were already too entangled with the rest of American society to be seen as a threat, so our “survival issue” only involved not being mistaken for you. As I said to Hawkgrrrl, when you no longer have to worry about survival, morality does get simpler.

  33. Carey,

    Your reasoning would dictate that the majority of the apostles and prophets before 1978 are racist. Not directly, more of a penumbra, perhaps, but that is still your tone. You equate dissention (I assume that is accurate) to racism. Racism is a strong word and implies hatred. You are in effect stating that these prophets did not extend the priesthood to the blacks because they hated them. Because they felt they were inferior. Because they felt they were less than themselves or the white brethren. I would suggest that they did not feel it was the right time. I would suggest they were worried about the tensions stemming from slavery. I would suggest they prayed and fasted and tried to do the right thing. I would suggest you are wrong. I would suggest that you not judge them without understanding all of the facts. I would suggest you read my previous comments on civil rights and anti-apartheid. I would suggest that you not speak evil of the Lord’s anointed. I would suggest calling them racist is speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed.

  34. Will,

    Fair enough, maybe I should have defined the term “racist”. I used the term to mean that they with held some right or privileged based on someone’s race instead of someone’s worthiness. I don’t think there was hatred involve, they just didn’t think the blacks were created equal. It was pretty much just a doctrinal error. There was then, and there still exists today, those that believe they received this curse due to them not being as valiant in the pre-mortal existence, etc… A quick Google search will turn up a bunch of derogatory quotes from several LDS leaders that more or less support this. But I think you misunderstand me, and perhaps went a little too far saying that I am speaking evil of them. I’m not judging them as being evil men, I’m just accepting them for who they were. I think we are are guilty of the sins of our own generation which is why we have to be cleansed from it by the saving power of the atonement.

  35. Will – just to clarify, I never suggested that the church as a whole or God were “small-minded,” just that people who are small-minded seem to be attracted to religions, especially to religions that are averse to change. Being a part of a church can give someone who is small-minded a sense of justification in their set ways. It’s only being small-minded if you’re wrong about something, of course. Those members who were racists were clearly not justified in being racists. But they probably enjoyed the sense of “rightness” that the organization afforded them by not repealing the ban sooner and that the racist folkloric doctrines used to justify racism.

    I actually view the church as prone to quite a bit of change through ongoing revelation. Any “word of God” is colored by human interpretation. It is those human interpretations that are so changeable, otherwise every religion that follows the Bible would be identical. As we know, this is not the case. The church has a good mechanism (that is sometimes underused) to effect change. Change comes slowly due to several factors, chiefly: 1) gerontocracy (simply put, the old are more invested in the past and less prone to view change favorably), 2) isolationism / Utah-centrism / Ameri-centrism (even in a worldwide church, we have struggled with this for 150 years), and 3) unanimous decision-making practice in the Q12. While God is immutable (although I question this somewhat as I view God to be progressing which to me seems the more accurate interpretation of our doctrine), humans are not, and so long as God will use imperfect humans in this manner, changes will occur.

  36. The RLDS church was organized in 1860 (rather than 1850.) As I understand it, they’ve always allowed blacks to hold the priesthood, since they were organized just prior to the Civil War. I believe William Smith (Joseph’s brother) ordained Walker Lewis to the priesthood in 1844 (prior to Joseph’s death). I can’t recall if Walker or another black member joined with the RLDS church later.

    Of course, if I were to answer the question at, I would like to discuss Elijah Abel, Walker Lewis, Enoch Abel, William McCary, and Black Pete as the original black members with the priesthood (ordained between 1830-1845.) Walker was Branch President in a congregation near Boston, and organized the predecessor organization of the NAACP. See

  37. #38 MH,

    Yes that’s true, the RLDS always seems to have allowed blacks the priesthood but the RLDS was very different under Smith III than what the “Mormons” were under Brigham Young. For starters the RLDS Mormons didn’t practice polygamy nor did they have the PoGP with all its confronting doctrine and they were a rather small organisation from 1860 onwards, nor did they control a territory the way Young controlled Utah. And remember that the Utah saints had the US army marching towards them because of polygamy and those other issues.

    It seems that Brigham Young pushed this anti-blacks line first. Back east being know as a “Mormon” -meaning the Utah saints- was akin to being know today as a Muslim terrorist until well into the 20th century. It was that bad for the Utah mormons so for them being ‘Blacks friendly” back them probably would have only added to their problems rather than solved any. But as many have said before we don’t really know the why of it all just that it did happen, but we can speculate about it innocently imho.

  38. #4, #25, #32: You’re absolutely right, the church had to look out for its larger self-interest by adopting the racist attitudes of 19th-century America. The church and its leaders showed exactly the same thinking by abandoning polygamy in the mid-1850s after the tragic assassination of Joseph Smith; both local and national governments had taken a strong stance against polygamy, and it was utterly crucial to the survival of the restored church for a change in policy. Although plans had been discussed for a westward migration out of the territorial United States, LDS leaders showed foresight and compassion by conforming to the greater societal pressure of the time in order to avoid conflict. As a result, the body of the Saints was able to remain in Nauvoo, free of outside interference. I think of this every time I visit church headquarters out there.

    Oh wait…

  39. Let’s just call it what it was. The correct answer is; Yes, we followed the unfortunate 19th century American worldview and classified the black-man as less than whole. There is some evidence that the early Joseph Smith era was progressive, as we saw a handfull of Blacks offered full opportunities. This faded in later Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young onward we see the typical attitude toward the negro race in full effect. We are thankful that again full rights were extended, albeit somewhat late (1978, oh yea, the same year the ladies were given back the right to even pray in sacrament meeting) after secular, civil rights legislation, and outside pressures being effected upon the church. We are seeing today a beginning of doctorinal shift away from the practice, however there will need to be an abondonment of cannonized scripture called the Book of Abraham, which is not likely in the near, or even distant future. The mormon church has partially repented of it’s unfortunate position on the black question. However in light of the Catholics just recognizing it’s injustice against Galileo, the Mormon church has been relatively speedier in recognizing it’s unjust past. Hopefully it will continue shedding it’s archaic social views, and poise itself for the post internet age.

    Will, your postition on “The world was not ready for Mormons to extend the Priesthood” is spurious in light of the polygamy question. You’re actually saying that the church was ready to foist polygamy as a major tenet of the restored gospel, but extending the fullness of the gospel to the African race was just too much? Is that really your postion? Bubkiss.

    Occams Razor. Otherwise it’s mental gymnastics like Will.

  40. #39-#41: I doubt that the 19th-century LDS were all that concerned about ‘fitting in’ with the rest of American society. Indeed, part of the REASON for “This is the Place” was that (1) At the time, it was out of the legal bounds of the US (though BY wasn’t ignorant that it’d becomes US territory quite soon), and (2) as it wasn’t well-settled, it was a place that the LDS could stake a claim and call their own. The Saints wanted fairly much to be left alone in the shadows of the Wasatch to build Zion as they saw fit. After 1852, when the practice of polygamy was publically disclosed, that became far more of a distinction than LDS attitudes towards blacks.
    It should also be kept in mind that (1) most LDS were converts, and brought their societal attitudes with them. More than likely most have at best a condenscending, superior attitude towards blacks. Even many abolitionists of the time (both LDS and not) would by today’s standards be considered severely racist. Even Abraham Lincoln, as much as he is heralded as the Great Emancipator, also is known to have said, “Negro equality! Fudge!”, etc. Lincoln, in fact, advocated a “return to Africa” policy towards free blacks (sort of a 19th-century “Operation Keelhaul”).
    As HG pointed out, the refusal to ordain black men to the Priesthood was more practice than doctrine, simply because we don’t know they WHY..and all the theories (pre-mortal existence failings, etc.) were just idle and useless (if not damaging) speculation.
    The Church’s not changing the PH “ban” during the 20th century, went presumably from about 1940 on, it would have not endured severe critiscm if it had, may as much be due to HG’s description of the Church being run by a “gerentocracy”…while I may have a testimony that these men are called of God and inspired, that doesn’t mean that they take action as I see fit, however “reasonable” I might be. Part and parcel of having the benefits of experience and aged wisdom is getting the hidebound old farts to get off the dime! The LORD, however, works quite well with it, IMO, and doesn’t need MY advice as to how the Church should be managed. I can testify, however, that whatever failings these senior brethren MIGHT have, they are dedicated men who have given their lives to serve the LORD, in some cases turning away signficant financial and career opportunites. For example, were Elder Oaks not a member of the Twelve, methinks he’d be sitting on the Supreme Court now. Which position do you think he’d rather occupy? I submit that once ordained an Apostle he’s never looked back!
    Therefore, I have little doubt that the timetable for the ability of black men to be ordained to the PH met the LORD’s schedule.

  41. “For example, were Elder Oaks not a member of the Twelve, methinks he’d be sitting on the Supreme Court now.”

    Not a chance. You have to be either Catholic or Jewish these days.

    George Sutherland (one of the anti-New Deal “Four Horsemen” who tried valiantly but fruitlessly to save the Constitution from being flexibilized into more or less a dead letter) had a sort-of LDS background, but his father had apparently left the Church without George ever getting baptized. He did attend Brigham Young Academy with Karl Maeser, though.

  42. Rude Dog,

    You’re actually saying that the church was ready to foist polygamy as a major tenet of the restored gospel, but extending the fullness of the gospel to the African race was just too much?

    First off, I think polygamy is an odd practice. I realize the Bible (chiefly the Old Testament) is God’s dealings with a polygamist family, or the children of Jacob and his four wives. I realize it was the process by which God populated most of the earth. I realize most of the people that have a problem with polygamy look at it from a sexual perspective. I realize if you plan on having sex with multiple women, marriage is not the answer. I don’t fully understand why it was necessary to implement this practice in the 1830’s. I could not have practiced polygamy then; nor, do I ever think I could now. I can barley handle one wife. With all this said, polygamy was already on their plate.

    The saints (at least when they lived in Missouri) were abolitionists and caught grief for this belief. This was not the only reason they were kicked out, but it played a part. One of the reasons that I feel they did not extend the priesthood to the blacks is the reason pointed out by Carlos – it would have been the final straw. If you review my previous posts, you will see my main point focuses on tensions and hard feelings associated with slavery. In my judgment, it would have been extremely difficult to mend this fence at this time. Along these lines, who says the blacks would have accepted the offer at this time. I wouldn’t have. If someone had enslaved me (or at least the race and country they were associated with) and then wanted me to be a part of their faith, I would have told them to go to hell.

    Then came the civil war; along with the fact the Brigham Young Mormons had isolated themselves from the rest of the world, including large concentrations of Blacks. Again, it would have been difficult to bridge this gap at this time. Finally, and as Thomas points out, the delay had a great deal to do with the institutional structure of the Mormon decision-making process . I would agree with this statement fully.

  43. But race intolerance is only part of the issue.

    I worry that there is a fundamental intolerance built into Mormon doctrine. Let me explain:

    I stumbled across your blog and wondered if you might answer a few questions for me, or help me better understand Mormonism. My wife is LDS, but I do not like to ask her these questions so as to avoid contention in the marriage. I have studied Mormonism for many years, and have tried to avoid “anti-Mormon” sources, sticking with official sources only. My questions revolve around the Mormon vision for the future of the world. Of course, with Mitt Romney leading the pack for the GOP nomination, I want to understand how his religious views may influence his Presidency, if he is elected.I understand many LDS (at least in my wife’s Wards and Stakes over the years) truly believe in “The Whitehorse Prophecy”. Many believe an LDS leader will ride in on the proverbial White Horse to save the Constitution. I have heard many (in Utah and Arizona) insist that Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman are the fulfillment of that prophecy.I understand that in the Initiatory ceremony in Mormon temples, Mormons are “anointed to become Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses unto the most high God, to rule and reign in the House of Israel forever.”This “House of Israel” is another name for the Kingdom of God on Earth? And don’t Mormons believe their Church is not only the one and only true and living Church on the face of the earth, but that the Church authority will become the POLITICAL authority?Your Bible Dictionary (from reads:”The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on the earth, but is at the present limited to an ecclesiastical kingdom. During the millennial era, the kingdom of God will be both political and ecclesiastical (see Dan. 7: 18, 22, 27; Rev. 11: 15; JST Rev. 12: 1-3, 7; D&C 65), and will have worldwide jurisdiction in political realms when the Lord has made “a full end of all nations” (D&C 87: 6).”So, if I understand this, you believe the Mormon Church will take over the world, and Temple-worthy Mormons will “rule and reign” as Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses over everybody else, especially since there will be no more “nations”? And you believe that all this stuff might happen any day? (It is close, “even at the doors”).Furthermore, Doctrine and Covenants 87:6 suggests this “end to all nations” will be accomplished through war:”And thus, with the sword and by bloodshed…shall the inhabitants of the earth be made to feel the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God, until the consumption decreed hath made a full end of all nations;”Then Doctrine and Covenants 1:14 suggests those who refuse to be ruled by this Mormon World Government will be eliminated:”…the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people;”I must confess to being quite bothered by this vision of the near future. It is even bothersome to think of this being the long-term future. It seems intolerant, totalitarian, imperialistic, and fascist.Is this truly what Mormons believe? And more importantly, in light of the imperialist, fascist, totalitarian regimes in Nazi Germany, Japan, Italy, and others over the years, aren’t Mormons themselves bothered by this vision of the future? Do you honestly support this? Do you have reservations about such a worldview? Do you wonder how it might feel to be a non-believer who can expect to be “cut off from among the people”?Help me understand. I have a hard time reconciling this horrible vision of the (near) future with the appearance of kindness I see Mormons display.

  44. Mormonism and Obama are involved in an evolving process that is based upon societal demands! It seems to me the foundation is moving!

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