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(RNS) Until 1978, African-Americans were denied full membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has refused to say whether he thinks his church's racial policies before then were misguided. Daniel Burke explores Mormons' troubled history with race.

8 Comments

  1. Ask the question on the other side of that coin that arises from the nonsensical and dangerous violation of mingling politics and religion. Will the Crusades, the Inquisition, the sale of indulgences, phony relics, masses, or other prayers be any problem for the new member of the Christian Right, Newt Gingrich, who has been making a shameless display of having found Jesus just in time for this presidential run? Will the murderous civil wars that were part of the Reformation be raised? Religion and secular politics have equally hideous histories. Wiser and better not to mix them.

  2. An “apology” would be superfluous, when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been dedicating its resources to recruiting people in Brazil, Haiti, and Africa. There are close to 400,000 African Mormons now. If the Mormons didn’t “like” blacks, why would they send thousands of missionaries to baptize more of them into the Church over the last 30 years? There are lots of the “white” Mormons in Utah and other parts of the US, both young men and women and retired couples like my neighbors here in Richland, Washington, who devoted a year or two to living in Africa and (when necessary) learning a new language so they could bring more Africans into the Church. Is that something that “racists” would do? When did the Ku Klux Klan ever send missonaries to Nigeria and Ghana?

    And this is consistent with Mormon missionary efforts in 150 countries, in 96 languages, that have achieved a milestone where 8 million of the 14 million Mormons are outside the US, and more Mormons speak languages other than English. A million Mormons in Mexico (say that three times fast)! A million in Brazil. A million in Asia, from Mongolia to the Philippines. A third of Tonga is Mormon. A tenth of the residents of Ulaan Bataar have joined the Church since communism loosened its tyranny there. Mormons in Russia and Eastern Europe, too.

    Between the missionary system and the BYU campuses in Utah, Idaho and Hawaii, Mormons are building an international network of personal relationships across all racial, language and national boundaries. Racism is not an element of a church where your grandson is called to proselyte in Bolivia and you go to Haiti as a Church service missionary to help people build homes.

  3. By the way, one of the most popular authors of Mormon books discussing the authors’ view of “Mormon Doctrine” was Bruce R. McConkie, who was one of the apostles who supported the 1978 change. When asked about his earlier writings, he told Church members that he was wrong, that his understanding had been limited, and that none of what he wrote on the topic was correct in light of the new revelation, which he received in a spiritual confirmation with the other apostles. Inasmuch as what he had written was quoting earlier Church leaders, he was saying it about their statements as well. And I think he was happy to learn he had been wrong.

    The people who spouted the old interpretation to Mr. Perkins were clearly NOT the mission president who supervised the misisonaries or another Church leader, who would have known better than to recite stuff that had been renounced by McConkie.

    I knew McConkie when I was a young missionary in Japan and he oversaw missionary work in the Far East. He thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the Japanese Mormons, and posing for pictures with them with his arm outstretched and a local branch president standing up straight under his arm (McConkie was a big guy). He had a real sense of humor as well as gravitas. In 1985, as he was dying of cancer, he spoke in the general conference broadcast worldwide about his testimony of the reality of Christ and his atonement which he wrought to save and exalt all mankind.

  4. It’s probably true there are some racists in the Mormon Church. I imagine this is no different than their being racists as part of any religious congregation anywhere in the world. I would imagine racist attitudes in an America that grew up with slavery were not that uncommon, and understandably influenced the thinking of some early Mormon leaders.

    However, as a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I can tell you in all honesty that racism in not part of Mormon doctrine, has never been preached at any meeting I’ve ever been to. Rather, Mormons preach with sincere vigor that God loves all of his children, no matter what race or color. I haven’t seen a study done, but I’m rather certain, that of all Christian denominations in the US, Mormons have a higher rate of mixed race marriages than any other group.< .b> If that doesn’t say something about Mormon’s racial attitudes, I don’t know what does.

  5. It amazes me how the history of The South and the terrible relations with blacks is ignored by Christians in The South. Where were they when blacks were tortured, shot and hanged. A white man was never found guilty of a crime against blacks until Lyndon Johnson sent troops in the 1960′s.
    All we hear is about how bad Mormon’s teated blacks. We repented and changed our policies.

  6. Making an accusation that someone is “racist” has all sorts of associations that usually characterize the American South. People shols be clear that those preconceptions do NOT apply to Mormons.

    The original Mormons were principally from New England, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. They were not part of the slave-holding southern culture, and that was one reason that slavery supporters in Missouri eventually ordered them to leave the state or be exterminated–literally. The next large influx of Mormons came from Canada and from England and Wales, not exactly hotbeds of slavery. Slavery was not a feature of the economy in Utah territory.

    Utah did not have racially segregated schools, nor were Mormon churches ever racially segregated. There have been a small number of blacks in the Mormon Church ever since it began, and there were several black families in the congregation where I grew up in Salt Lake. As a young adult, I helped baptize a black man in 1974, who said that the Mormons were more welcoming to him than people in all the other churches he had visited. The church explicitly supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other legislation protecting people in employment, housing, and other life activities. Even before 1978, BYU had an elected student body president who was black.

    When the announcement came of the end of the restriction on priesthood ordination, every Mormon I knew had the same reaction as Mitt Romney: Incredible joy and relief. I heard about one person who was disciplined by the Church for complaining about it, meaning released from all church teaching and leadership positions. The policy caught up with the views and desires of the church membership. And of course the Mormons who were happiest were the black Mormons who had stuck with the Church, having faith that it would be worked out. That also included thousands of people in Ghana and Nigeria who had informally organized themselves into “churches of anticipation” because they had been converted to Mormonism by reading the Book of Mormon, and prayed that their united efforts to live its teachings would allow them to have Mormon missionaries come and baptize them. A whole generation of African Mormons has now grown up. Calling these Mormons “racist” is to dishonor their accomplishments.

  7. Problem in what way? Can’t see how it would be an election problem when 95% of blacks aren’t going to vote for him anyway.

  8. Missionary work is done to control people, weaken them and gain control their resources… they have not done Africans or African American’s a favor.