I was listening to Radio from Hell on the way to work, and they were discussing a story in the Salt Lake Tribune, wherein the LDS church repudiated several statements from BYU religion professor Randy Bott about the reasons behind the priesthood ban.
For those who aren’t aware, before 1978, men of sub-Saharan African descent were not allowed to hold the LDS priesthood. In LDS belief, the priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God and perform saving ordinances, such as baptism and temple ceremonies. Black men and women alike were denied entry to LDS temples, even for baptisms for the dead.
In the discussion on Radio from Hell to the Randy Bott/LDS racism story, the producer, Richie, who is a believing Mormon, suggested that the Washington Post had lied to Bott about having received permission from the LDS church and BYU to talk to him; Richie went on to say that Bott’s comments may have been fabricated or distorted. Bill Allred and Kerry Jackson, both former Mormons, explained that Richie is too young to remember when these teachings were common and official. Allred was exactly right about what the church has taught in the past officially; the church is being less than truthful in saying that the teachings Bott described are “folk beliefs” and don’t reflect church doctrine. I’m giving Richie a pass, for the most part, because he wasn’t born when these teachings were common, as Bill, Kerry, and I were.
Let’s take a look at these “folk beliefs.”
- “Bott pointed to Mormon scriptures that indicate descendants of the biblical Cain — who killed his brother Abel and was “cursed” by God — were black and subsequently barred from the priesthood.” Bill correctly pointed out that LDS scriptures contain that teaching: “ And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them” (Moses 5:22). Also:
“23 The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;
“24 When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
25 Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal.
26 Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.
27 Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry;” (Abraham 1:23-27).
Mormon prophets and official publications consistently taught that, as indicated in these scriptures, people of African descent were descendants of Cain who were cursed with black skin and prohibited from the priesthood:
“From this it is very clear that the mark which was set upon the descendants of Cain was a skin of blackness, and there can be no doubt that this was the mark that Cain himself received; in fact, it has been noticed in our day that men who have lost the spirit of the Lord, and from whom His blessings have been withdrawn, have turned dark to such an extent as to excite the comments of all who have known them.” (Juvenile Instructor, vol. 26, page 635).
“Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, p. 101).
- ” He also noted that past LDS leaders suggested blacks were less valiant in the sphere known in Mormon theology as the ‘premortal existence.’” An official statement from the First Presidency in 1949 says exactly that:
“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 premortal 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.” (A Statement from the First Presidency, August 17, 1949, emphasis mine).
- “The longtime religion professor at LDS Church-owned BYU further argued that blacks were not ready for the priesthood, the Post wrote, “like a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car.” This one isn’t taught in the scriptures, but it certainly goes along with the notion that black people are “inferior” and incapable of exercising priesthood authority. There are many examples of this teaching: “The Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow there from, but this inequality is not of man’s origin, it is the Lord’s doings.” (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, pp. 526-527).
So, these folk beliefs are not really folk beliefs. Maybe the church should have been nominated for Boner of the Day for being so disingenuous.
The problem here isn’t that the current church has racist teachings but that they’ve never acknowledged that the past policies and doctrines were racist or wrong. What they’ve essentially done is to pretend that nothing before 1978 matters, as current teachings are clear. But what this does is force some Mormons, such as Randy Bott and others, to continue to justify past racism, and we see the results in the Washington Post interview. Richie may feel that the Post was dishonest with Bott, but even if Bott didn’t say what he was quoted as saying, these beliefs were common and officially taught in our generation, and they are still being perpetuated today by people who want to make sense of the ban.