On 6 December 2013, the LDS Church posted on its website, LDS.org, a new document titled, “Race and the Priesthood,” along with videos and other resources for better understanding the history of race issues within Mormonism, as well clarifying its current positions. The key piece of the statement is a renunciation of past teachings about black persons descending from Cain and Canaan, which teachings through centuries of biblical exegesis have been used as justifications for black slavery, and within Mormonism for the withholding of priesthood and temple blessings. The statement also repudiates the teaching that persons born with black skin were less valiant in their support for God and the Plan of Salvation in the premortal realm; it disavows all sensibilities that would suggest that mixed-race marriages are sinful; and it further torpedoes any claim that “blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else.” Another main feature of the document is a brief overview of racialized thinking and discourse in the United States during the church’s formative and later years that affected the ideas and attitudes of LDS leaders, including prophets adn apostles, leading them to think and make statements that are not in accord with the scriptural view of “all are alike unto God,” and that God offers the same salvation to all. It also mentions key moments in the church’s history that led to shifts in position, including several factors leading up to the 1978 revelation that reversed the ban on priesthood and temple access for those of black African descent.
In this two-part episode, panelists Gina Colvin, Margaret Blair Young, and Janan Graham join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a discussion of the new statement, with each sharing their assessments of its importance and the ways in which it might shift discourse within Mormonism and lead to important reassessments of not only race but also Americentrism and other forms of privileging that seldom receive scrutiny. The panelists share not only what they think needs to be next steps, but also possible ways to help these challenging but rewarding tasks take root. They further consider the use of certain wordings within the statement, as well as its lack of an apology for the negative and painful effects these teachings have had on blacks and other persons of color. Should an apology be forthcoming? Why or why not? Much of the discussion also focuses on our responsibilities to take the starting point offered by this statement and to move the discussion and examinations forward in our families, wards, and other circles.
Please listen and join in the discussion below!
“Race and the Priesthood”–Official Statement at lds.org
“Understanding of Events in Church History”–Video with Elder Snow, official LDS Church Historian, on the Gospel Topics series, who writes the documents, etc.
“Mormons, Mandela, and the Race and Priesthood Statement”–Gina Colvin blog post at KiwiMormon
Kristine Haglund, “Bound Hand and Foot with Graveclothes,” blog post at ByCommonConsent
Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008)
Lester E. Bush, Jr., “Mornmonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview,” Dialogue 8, no. 1 (spring 1973)
Armand L. Mauss, “The Fading of the Pharaohs’ Curse: The Decline and Fall of the Priesthood Ban Against Blacks in the Mormon Church,” Dialogue 14, no. 3 (autumn 1981)
Neither White Nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church, Lester E. Bush, Jr. and Armand L. Mauss, eds. This link is to the Signature Books online library version