Confronting Racism with the Church-Part 1

I’ve previously posted part of this transcript when I talked about Misunderstanding Racism.  Here is the entire transcript of Mormon Matters episode 79:   See How can we Truly Confront Racism Within Mormon Thought and Culture—Part 1 at Mormon Matters.  I plan to post Part 2 as well when I complete it.  (These transcripts take quite a bit of time.)

Dan Wotherspoon, Host of Mormon Matters

Dan Wotherspoon, “Welcome everyone to the newest edition of Mormon Matters Podcast.  I’m your host Dan Wotherspoon, and I’m really excited to have this wonderful panel.  It’s taken us a little bit longer than I wanted to gather the right group to gather a discussion on the recent events in Mormonism that has surrounded the issue of race.  It all began with an article in the Washington Post that was about Mitt Romney, but it was sort of was the history of racism within the church.  We had the wonderful Darius Gray and Don Harwell were going along, doing their best to kind of give a great presentation, but one of the people that the reporter interviewed is a BYU professor who gave some fascinating but what do you call it, just ones that groan you know the deep—“

Brad Kramer, “Humbly offensive?”

Dan, “Yeah, there you go.  Just those things that you just don’t really love out there.  You know, it prompted some response, it prompted good discussion, and we’re going to try to continue that good discussion that it’s generated, reflect on it, reflect on how we’re seeing the people around us process the events of these last 10 days or so since it happened, and just get our minds and brains around racism, and institutional causes and personal racism, and speculated and share what we think would be great next moves and just do what the typical talking head stuff.

So I’m so grateful to have our guests.  They’re all first timers to the podcast—well no, that’s not true.  Marguerite Driessen, I’m going to start with you because you did come on but it was on a show that I didn’t host, it was Dustin Jones as the host, and we have Marguerite Driessen on and it was talking about the history, and the current stuff about the priesthood ban, so it was more of a theological kind of approach than what we’re doing today.  So Marguerite Driessen, welcome back to the podcast!  Would you mind just giving everyone a little bit about your background?”

Marguerite Driessen, Adjunct Professor at BYU in Law and Communications

Driessen, “Sure, happy to be here.  You’ve got my name Marguerite Driessen.  At this moment I’m adjunct faculty in the Communications Department at BYU teaching Media Law and Ethics.  I taught Law at BYU for 10 years and then relevant  to this discussion, you should know that I am an African American female, convert to the church.  I joined back in 1981 so after the revelation, and at a time when the dust had not quite settled, and at this moment, I serve as Relief Society President for the Genesis Group.   Don Harwell, who you mentioned, is the current President of the Genesis Group, and Darius Gray is the past president of the Genesis Group, so I’m very well acquainted by them.

Also my husband and I both serve as Genesis Group missionaries, so we’re members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we’re missionaries.  We also are deeply connected with the Genesis Group to serve the needs of African American members of the church, so that’s my perspective.”

Dan, “Fantastic.  Thank you, thank you for joining us.  We’re so grateful to have you.  I am excited to introduce to our audience Gina Colvin, or have her introduce herself.  Gina and I have been probably six months writing each other back and forth, sharing stories, and I’ve just really enjoyed interacting with you.  We’re planning to do a podcast in about a month from now on Lamanite identity, especially related to Islanders because Gina is coming to us from New Zealand.  Tell us a little bit about your background, and kind of you situation within the church, and racially and all that stuff.”

Dr. Gina Colvin, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Gina, “Hi Dan.  Hi Mormon Matters listeners.  Thank you so much for having me.  It’s odd actually speaking to you, not listening to you. {Dan chuckles}.  As Dan said, I’m from New Zealand from Christchurch, New Zealand where is was born and bred.  I am biracial.  My father was a third generation member of the church who impregnated my unmarried my teen mother and so I inherit his race and also his religion and currently a university lecturer—in the United States, you like college professor don’t you?  Right?

Dan, “Yup, Yup.”

Gina, “Yeah, Ok.  A professor is something that we become when we’re very old around here.  So I’m a university lecturer, and active member of the church.  I’m currently Gospel Doctrine teacher and I have a blog called Kiwi Mormon.

Dan, “Yes, you do, and it’s a fantastic blog.”

Gina, “Thank you.”

Brad, “What do you teach Gina?”

Gina, “Oh I teach mostly cultural studies, critical theory, anti-race pedagogies, indigenous studies, etc.”

Dan, “Wow.  Thank you for all you bring to this and we’re just thrilled to have you.  Brad Kramer is that third voice that we’ve heard a couple of times.  Brad would you introduce yourself to our listeners?  We’re glad to have you.”

Brad Kramer - By Common Consent blogger

Brad Kramer, “Happy to and I appreciate the invite.  I am a candidate, a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Michigan in socio-cultural anthropology.  I live here with my wife and five kids.  I teach courses, introductory courses to anthropology as well as biological anthropology, and linguistic anthropology.  I study religion and in particular Mormons.  I also happen to be an active member of the church and I am a regular contributor to the blog, By Common Consent.”

Dan, “Yes, you are, and in fact it’s your recent post that I—do you keep analytics?  Do you know how many times your post has been opened, or anything like that?  Because it’s made a huge impact Scott, it’s got a ton of comments, and you made some really great points that we’re just grateful to have you be able to share tonight.  Has it made a huge difference in your life?  Has your profile shot through the roof?”

Brad chuckles, “I don’t follow the stats too closely but I did glance a couple days ago.  It does seem like there was a bump that day, I’m not sure it was attributable to that post.  There were a lot of different conversations about this issue sort of at the same time, and there was a lot of linking via Facebook and Twitter and stuff to the side, so it’s a little difficult.  Peggy Fletcher Stack broke her piece as well, in which she referenced the blog, so it’s hard to know to attribute it to a single cause, but I would say that the conversation around the questions definitely like I said has given us a spike in our stats.”

Dan, “For sure.  I’ve seen a link like everybody too.  Just one more thing before we dive in, well actually two more things.  Joanna Brooks was going to be with us and we just barely learned recently that she is just unable to.  We’re sorry, we’re going to miss her. We’re grateful for her.  She actually contributed some ideas that I think we’ll definitely incorporate into tonight’s conversation, so we’d like to acknowledge her and thank her and also want to thank Rolf Strabhauer.  I don’t know if I’m saying his name right, but Rolf was one of those people right within the days of this story breaking that said Dan, Dan, you have to do this.  And he’s got wonderful theoretical perspectives and he wrote and I shared three of four of his angles in pre-conversation documents with everybody here, so I’m really thankful for Rolf for doing that.  We’re definitely going to have Rolf on a future podcast.  Alright guys, let’s just dive in and I’m really excited.

This is an angle we’ll just start on with first because since this story has broken, and since we’ve been watching the blogs, all of us have had a Sunday that we’ve been to church and we’re in conversation with families and friends and things like that.  I thought just to begin the podcast with what did Professor Bott say?  What did the Church’s response say immediately after that?  But mostly, what have the people around you been saying?  How are you seeing them process this new conversation that’s at least getting going again?

So before I have you guys talk about the reactions all around us, just a brief summary is within the Washington Post article, Professor Bott started to talk about justifications for the priesthood ban.  These were his own speculations but the nature of them were basically along a couple of lines.  It isn’t racism because the Lord was in charge of this and the Lord knew that black people were not ready at the time, prior to the revelation to receive it, and he used the analogy of it’s like giving a child or a teenager a car and telling them to drive before they’re ready.  Another time he says you know it was actual kindness to not do it because if you go up too high a ladder when you fall down you’re more likely to be injured if you’re higher up on the ladder so he was just keeping them on rung one or rung two, and that way—it was a loving God’s actions to do this and of course this did not go over well.

It made perfect sense to him and in his mind, and it’s within that world view of God is completely in charge, and no human being can really thwart God’s plan, therefore when you’re within that mindset you have to come up with justifications.  So after Dr. Bott did his musings and things like that, immediately, I think it was the next day the church issued a statement that said simply Professor Bott’s comments in no way represent the views of the Church.   I won’t read the statement here and things like that, but it was a very clear—you hate to say repudiation of the person, but at least a definite clear, that is not our view.  Those things are justifications of things that we do not endorse; we don’t know.  Their rhetoric was basically along the lines of we don’t know why it started, we don’t know why it ended, exactly when it did, etc. etc.  Is that a fair summary at least of the background of the story you guys?  Did I miss out on a key part?”

Gina, “No, I think that’s great.”

Brad, “No, I think that’s good.”

Marguerite, “That seems fair.”

Dan, “Ok, with that as our background, and I know a lot of out podcast listeners will have that.  Let’s turn to really since that happened you guys?  What are you hearing?  What are you watching?  Gina, can I go to you first?  Has this raised a stir at all over in New Zealand, or is it just mostly you’re aware of it because you’re watching the blogs?”

Gina, “Yes, it’s a curious thing.  I did a study on LDS New Zealanders understanding of—I’m going to call it the Negro Doctrine, and largely it was not necessarily a lack of engagement, but there was this thinking that it really was an American problem.  Issues of race that came out of pre-1978 were an example of how religion and politics get conflated.  And all of this washes up in the tide, and is left at the margins of the church.  We’re sort of left with what I means to us.  In terms of an immediate reaction, I had , like I say I have the privilege of being the Gospel Doctrine teacher, and I think that last week was on 2 Nephi chapter 26 where I think the last verse of that chapter is ‘all are alive unto God’, and I was able to pull out the Church’s statement, and it was sort of met by pleasant surprise, and lots of people wanted to see copies of it, an older member of the church, new to the class said, ‘I’ve never heard anything like that, that’s wonderful.’  In terms of hitting the spotlight, no it hasn’t really.”

Dan, “Ok, excellent.  That’s neat to get that angle on it, and feel free to weigh in on what you have noticed on blogs or online conversations.  But Brad, what have you seen.  Have you noticed?  What are people saying to you?  What are people saying in response to your post?  What are you seeing?  Have you noticed any patterns?  Is there anything?”

Brad, “Well, I’m seeing a few things.  Obviously there’s all the reactions that you’d expect.  There’s the reaction where people are trying to downplay it as a problem.  Their reaction, people are getting really angry and indifferent, sort of where it fits, peeling the scab off the wounds that are trying to heal or whatever.  There’s a lot of a whole range of responses that you’d expect where you have a church where you have a lot of different opinions, and a lot of different ideas about the underlying questions at play here.  But I have noticed a couple of interesting patterns, or phenomena that I’d like to bring to the table in this discussion.

One is that I went out of my way to in my post and in my description and in all the comments and in all the conversations I’ve been in, I’ve always gone out of my way to not just call it the priesthood ban, but to call it a priesthood and temple ban.  And when I call it only one of the two, I always call it a temple ban.”


Brad, “And what I’ve been realizing is that is a description—I mean on the one hand it’s just there’s no way around the fact that it’s a more accurate description.  The worst part of the policy was not exclusion of ecclesiastical privilege.  It was exclusion from exalting ordinances, from temple covenants and temple sealings for all black members of the church, not just black males.”

Marguerite, “Let me just tell you, it’s really interesting that you’re putting this together as a convert to the church, I didn’t even know about that aspect of the restriction until recently, meaning I knew about the priesthood restriction, but didn’t know that the church actually equated that priesthood restriction to all other temple blessings as well.  It wasn’t until I was participating in the “Nobody Knows: the Untold Story of Black Mormons” that I found out it actually found out it applied not just to men of the priesthood, but to women not being able to go to the temple as well.  That was not something that was generally talked about or known, nothing that I heard generally when I joined the church after 1981.”

Brad, “It’s kind of funny because in its own weird way, this very embarrassing, very sort of unfortunate part of our history, I think actually teaches us something implicitly about the relationship between priesthood and the temple and the relationship between priesthood and women.  That there is, at it’s very deepest core, the priesthood, the fullness of the priesthood is inextricably tied to the temple and therefore you can’t simply take the two from each other.

One of the things I’ve noticed is that that description of the priesthood and temple, or simply as the temple ban, or temple exclusion resonates really strongly with people who have always had a hard time, younger generations of folks in particular, people who never had to get used to the existence of the ban in the first place, people who have always been uncomfortable with it, but older generation folks, folks like my dad or just people in his generation, people who I know that actually had to learn to live with this at some point in their lives, had to be reconciled to it really take issue with my description of it as a temple ban.

Dan, “Hmmm, Interesting.”

Gina, Wow.

Brad, “They sort of find it, they feel like I’m trying to describe it in deliberately offensive terms, that I’m exaggerating.  It’s what it really was.  It’s so interesting because I went and I looked back at something I had looked at several years ago, which was in around, I can’t remember the issue.  There is an issue of Dialogue in the early 70s.”

Gina, “Lester Bush?”

Brad, “No, no, no.  I’m not talking about Mr. Bush.  I’m talking about Hugh Nibley.  I would imagine it was in response to Bush.  He writes this very short little piece, in which he basically defends the ban.  The way that he defends it is by treating it as if it’s only an exclusion from ecclesiastical privilege.  He does it in very classic Nibley-esque fashion: by skewering authority.  By saying that ecclesiastical privilege is nonsense anyway…”

Dan chuckles, “Privilege, Smivilege.”

Brad, “Yeah.  So he downplays it as a problem.  He sort of bears this weird testimony that he believes it comes from God, and that it’s going to end and completely elides the question of temple access.”

Marguerite, “Yeah, and I’ll tell you, I not only have read that article, I own a copy of it, but I’m not going to go grab it now to avoid noise, but I will tell you I read it a long time ago, and that’s part of what contributed to me not even realizing that this priesthood ban was also a temple ban.  It was a priesthood restriction, that’s all it was ever described as, and oh by the way, since I didn’t join the church until 1981, it was all water under the bridge, history to begin with.  So it’s not like anyone felt the need to dig in and deny it and feel the need to see if it was accurately described.  It’s an interesting concept.”

Brad, “Exactly.  So this particular phenomenon that I’ve encountered in responses, I think is connected to another one which is that I’m seeing that there are sort of—people are sort of two minds and I’m sensing that for people who are more indignant about this part of our history, and who want to more forcefully disavow or repudiate this part of our history in really strong language, that those people are seeing racism in any form as a very,  very serious problem, and what I’m seeing from people that don’t feel this strongly about disavowing the ban, or acknowledging that there was something wrong with the ban, and I know we’ll talk about the details more later in the podcast, what I’m seeing is a tendency to treat racism as a problem but not a super, super bad problem.  Like a more sort of let’s put things in perspective folks.  Yeah, it’s bad, but it’s not that bad.  And this is something that—I grew up in Utah.  I’m a white male, grew up in Utah, one of the things that I have come to realize in retrospect is that there’s a lot of racism in Utah, but it’s a racism of a peculiar flavor.

It’s not a sort of deeply entrenched white supremacy racism like you might encounter in residual forms in the American south.  It’s a racism that manifests itself in part by trivializing racism as a problem, so I encountered it most often in the form of a persistent willingness of my LDS friends, mainly my male LDS friends to be totally comfortable making really offensive racist jokes really casually.  These would be the kinds of friends that would never use the f-word in a joke because they were Mormon, and they probably wouldn’t, they probably knew at some level that historical forms of racism and segregation and certainly slavery were really bad things.  Using the n-word in a joke, if there weren’t any black folks around to hear it and have their feelings super hurt by it, using the n-word as a punch line was not really that big a deal.

So it got me thinking that if you on the one hand try to say that we don’t like racism. Racism is bad, and we believe in equality and this and this and that, but were not really gonna say anything bad about the fact that we had this policy of excluding black  folks from savings ordinances for most of our history.  We’re just going to sort of not comment on that.  That actually reflects and reinforces a culture that says that racism is bad, but it’s not that bad.”

Marguerite Driessen, ”Let me interject as someone that currently lives in Utah County.  I have definitely encountered the attitudes that Brad is talking about, but really it goes a different step which is that there are a lot of people here who don’t just trivialize racism, they clearly do not recognize it.  They act in these ways that are discriminatory, that clearly evince racial stereotypes or racial prejudices, and yet have a total inability to acknowledge that that is racist.  A dear friend of mine in an employment situation had the bosses absolutely treating her differentially based on race, and here’s what they did.

They said, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to give you an executive parking place like all the other executives, but you can’t have one up at the front because we’re in this upscale area, and of course our neighbors saw that we’d given a black girl a position of this kind of authority, that would be terrible, so your parking place is going to be in the back by the dumpster.’

And they’re thinking ‘we’re not racists, of course not.  We’re simply acknowledging the racism that exists inside the community, and trying to protect you.  You’re going to be hired to have this title, but we’re not going to print you business cards because heaven forbid if that got out and people see that we had given a black girl a position of such authority then there will be racist backlash against you’, and these people do not understand that treating her differently because she was black IS racial discrimination.

I scratch my head because this is not you know 1950, this was happening in 2006, you know.  These are things that were happening recently from people who don’t even recognize it.  I scratch my head thinking, don’t they have a TV?  Haven’t they heard of the civil rights era?  Don’t they understand that discrimination is treating people differently based on race.  And there are people here in Utah County who I think don’t.  They think it’s not racism or discrimination unless it comes from a position of race hatred.”

Dan, “Good.  Good.”

Cramer, “That is so absolutely spot on.  That’s one of these underlying factors that I’ve seen this response is that when I’ve been trying to make the case that the ban was racist, it turns out that people who are unwilling to see the ban as racist, are people who think that racism is a solely mental phenomenon.  Racism is only carrying mean-spirited attitudes toward black folks or towards minorities.  Therefore I say the ban is racist, and they say ‘how do you know?  You don’t even  know where it came from?”

Dan, “Or why?”

Dreissen laughs.

Kramer, “It doesn’t matter where it came from.  It doesn’t matter if it came from people who thought that black people were superior.”

Driessen, “Right.  It’s differential treatment.”

Kramer, “It’s racism.  It discriminates on the basis of race.  It excludes on the basis of race. It is functionally racist.  Its consequences and its effects are racist.  It is racism.  No matter what motivates it.”

Dreissen, “Right.”

Kramer, “The story that you described there to me it, you couldn’t script a better microcosm of the problem, which is that in the Mormon corridor, in Mormon Utah where you have this long history and this really horrible skeleton in the closet, to say racism is bad at the same time that you’re not willing to acknowledge that a deeply and transparently racist practice was racist, you’re just going to breed a culture in which people who  think that racism is wrong are simply incapable of recognizing the racist behaviors all around them.

Wotherspoon, “Good, Good.  Hey, I want to tease that apart.  So you mentioned it’s not purely a mental state, and there’s just that because I don’t have hatred, or because I don’t think they’re inferior, I’m not racist.  How much is it like just the conflation in their minds of racism means bad people versus racism is embedded in systems of power and privilege, and all the different—you guys with all your sociological backgrounds and Gina, you’re probably dying to throw in the right language here, but is it because it feels like oh I would be so bad to acknowledge that I’m part of a system of power that’s racist?  You know, they’re worried that that’s going to reflect on them?  Is there a way to tease those two things apart, and could we deal with it better if we could just say, ‘Brigham Young was not a bad person.  This wasn’t a reflection on his character.  This was a systems of power and storytelling and all that stuff, that he inherited.  Get rid of the idea that he was a bad person because of those things coming out of his mouth. Does that make any sense?”

Colvin, “Yes. Absolutely.  I think sort of one of the key ideas that perhaps Mormonism fails to grasp is that white folk, particularly in the church, there’s certain kind of Mormon disposition when it comes to  matters of grace.  I thoroughly agree with you Brad, there’s the sense that if I think nice thoughts that will make me a nice person, therefore I couldn’t possibly be racist.  But one of the issues is that white folk, they’ve got the luxury of choosing whether or not to know black or brown truth.  They can engage with it, or they don’t have to engage with it.  Whereas black and brown folk don’t have that luxury, and I consistently with the need to survive in a racialized communities, in racialized societies, and so there’s inequity right  there. There’s an advantage to whiteness which doesn’t get acknowledged of not having to deal directly with the exigencies and the problems and the brutality of racism.  You can kind of opt in or opt out.”

Dan, “Interesting, thank you.”

Brad, “Yeah, and I think that going back to this question of thoughts versus larger systems and power structures and sociological patterns and things like that, you know, it’s really easy to treat racism as a problem that exists in the minds and the hearts and minds of people, and only there.  Because then if you do that, you don’t have to worry about changing how things actually operate, how things actually work.  So you can say, I’m not going to let you park here because you’re black, and that would cause problems, and it’s not in my interest to let a black person have this parking spot.  So because you’re black you don’t get to park here.  But I’m not a racist.  This isn’t racism because I like you, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with black people myself, so it’s not racism.  In other words, we don’t have to change anything that we do, and the most extreme version of this—you see this dichotomy breaking down with people saying, ‘hey we’re repudiating all the folklore, we’re repudiating the racist doctrine, we’re repudiating the racist sentiments and ideas and mythologies and all these things, all the teachings we’ve  repudiated.  We don’t need to repudiate the ban because we don’t know where it came from.’”

Driessen laughs.

Kramer, “The logical extension of all that is to say, if the ban were still in place, and the 1978 revelation had only repudiated all the racists teachings, and therefore we have got rid of all the doctrinal folklore but the ban was still in place, that we wouldn’t have a racism problem in the church.  Because even though we’re excluding blacks—

Driessen interrupts, “Yes, it would, yes they would.”

Brad continues, “I know but that’s a sort of logical outcome of thinking in these terms.  You can imagine for yourself a church in which it’s somehow—that the ban still exists and that’s somehow not racism.  Of course it’s racism.”

Dreissen, “It’s not that it’s not racism because you don’t acknowledge that it was.  There’s a difference between you know saying ‘oh yea it was and I’m guilty and just leaving it to be and do what it says’ but I would also add that it says to that Brad that there is a chicken and egg issue here: in that sure there was no big revelation pronouncing the ban and the reason.  However, people made up reasons because there was a ban.  If in 1978 all that had happened was that the Church had specifically repudiated the 3 say most popular theories or all of the then known theories, if that had happened, they simply would have invented other ones.  It was not that it would exist in a vacuum.

They would have come up with other reasons why the black people were singled out for this treatment.  They created them, because there was a policy and they needed some way to explain the policy, and if you actually get into Mormon doctrine, get into the scriptures, get into the core beliefs of the church, everything they came up with to explain the ban is contradicted in the basic core doctrines.  Just go into the Articles of Faith.  Every reason they came up with is repudiated in the Articles of Faith.  They were reaching, they were grasping at straws to explain the inexplicable in any other terms and if we got rid of all of those as you said, maybe there would have been a half day, that day in ’78,  but then the very next day, they would have come up with something else because the ban still existed.“

Gina, “I think one of the questions here though is who are we talking about when we say ‘they’?  Because I think the elephant in the room is the ‘they’ happen to be a succession of presidents of the Church, and so the elephant in the room is, yes they could have come up with it, and they do so in the positions of president and a prophet, but how much or that is revelation and are we to understand that kind of equivocation around reasons for the priesthood ban to be coming from God?  How are we supposed to understand the relationship with kind of prophetic instruction and revelation and something that just feels theologically out of step?”

Dreissen, “Well, and it wasn’t just the prophets of the Church, however.  I mean there were certainly things that Brigham Young said, but a lot of his most racially derogatory, racially-tinged comments were not spoken from a pulpit at General Conference but were spoken by him as the Governor of Utah or in some political meeting having to do with getting Utah’s statehood, which was coming up around the same era of time when Brigham Young was not just the chief, the CEO of the Church, but the head of the government as well.  He wore multiple hats, and spoke in that context in multiple ways, and a lot of the other things they arose after his time.

The ideas were promulgated by people, religious professors, and religious scholars.  Bruce R McConkie was never the prophet of the church, and yet a lot of the theorizing can be laid at his door.  So when I say ‘they’, I really do not mean just the prophets of the church, I mean people in the church who either came up with or accepted for themselves the truths of these various tracts of folklore to explain the policy that was then in place.”

Gina, “But there’s still presidents of the Church who legitimated it.  They gave it some kind of credibility.”

Dressein, “Well, they gave it credibility in so much as they didn’t change it. They certainly didn’t repudiate them, and they didn’t change them even if they never spoke these words themselves from the pulpit.  They had power to repudiate them.  They had the power to make the change, and chose not to.”

Kramer. “And there’s something that we have to come to terms with, I think which is kind of the underlying sentiment of my post, which is that once we commit ourselves to the proposition that racism is a sin, we have to come to terms with the fact that the worst sin in our history is not something Brigham Young said, it’s not something that Joseph Fielding Smith said, or Bruce R. McConkie said, or Alvin Dyer said.  The worst sin in our history if racism is a sin is THE BAN: the actual practice of excluding black folks from access to temple ordinances, covenants and sealings. Everything else is extraneous to it.”

Group agrees.

Gina, “Then it becomes systemic.”

Dreissen, “It’s not extraneous, ancillary to.  They are certainly playing around out there, but we have to go back to even defining racism, and that’s where the problem is.  You saw it in the Washington Post article.  How did Randy Bott describe racial discrimination?  Do you remember what he said? He said simply denying people something that is a benefit to them.  He missed the point altogether.

Discrimination based on race is not simply denying someone a benefit.  It’s treating people differently because of race, and he did not define it that way, which then prevents the question that Brad just framed from ever being asked, or the assertion inherent therein, and from ever being asserted or discussed which is If we define racism is some really silly way, then of course we don’t have anything to worry about.  You know?  What do you care?  Denying someone a benefit?  People get denied benefits all the time, yada, yada, yada.

That to me was the part of the article that shocked me the most, because quite frankly I’ve heard all the theories.  I’ve heard all the folklore.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is here is someone who says discrimination is simply denying someone something that would be a benefit to them, and that’s not what discrimination is.  It’s differential treatment based on some characteristic based on some characteristic.   That is discrimination based on that characteristic.”

Brad, “And how often do folks who discriminate?  Do people who are participatants in patterns of discrimination rationalize discrimination on the grounds that somehow they are doing something nice for the people on behalf of the people they’re discriminating against.  It doesn’t matter if you think it’s nice. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re blessing them in the process.  It’s discrimination.”

Margarite, “Right, you’re treating them differently.”

Dan, “Good.  And that’s a way to kind of defang it right?  It depersonalizes it, it takes a lot of the emotion out of it., right?  I at least see an opening there Brad if that can simply be communicated really well that you know—Does it make it easier to deal with?”

Brad, “Yeah, I am much less hung up honestly—it’s going to sound weird—I’m much less hung up about the fact that past white male Church  leaders said things that today we can see as being seriously racist.  Like obviously I wish that weren’t the case, but I’m not—I don’t want to hold that over their head in the way like I don’t think that Brigham Young was more racist than Lincoln.  Maybe I don’t know the histories well enough.  But the problem isn’t that these men held racist attitudes.  The problem is what we did collectively as a church: what we permitted ourselves to do.  And the terribly harmful tragic effects that had—impact that had on the lives of church members, potential church members, potential converts, children of God everywhere.”

Dan, “That opens up to two different things Brad, and one of them came out in Joanna Brooks Ask Mormon Girl post that she did this week where she was asking people to reflect on how this ban –she was basically saying, have any of you really begun to process internally your life story and your interaction with this ban and how it’s affected you and how it’s distorted various pieces of you and you’ve experienced the world in a different way?  What you’ve raised there is that—have you guys been seeing that kind of reflection?

She posted to all of us in her little note saying that she couldn’t be part of the podcast this one fellow who really seems like was in his 60’s or something, and he has been a church leader.  He was taking this as the opportunity to say ‘what did I miss?  What did I blow?  How did I hurt people unintentionally?  And he’s s got the perfect attitude of repentance about the whole thing.  Are you guys seeing that?”

Dreissen, “I’m not seeing it, but I’ll tell you.  I’ll just jump right in.  I’ve been hanging out with Genesis folks who by and large are black people, family, friends of black people and they are reflecting upon another leap forward.  In that the statement the church made at least has been their strongest one to date¸ and the closest one to actual repudiation of the past folklore.  Eliminating the ban was one thing, and now President Hinckley in the priesthood session a few years ago condemned racism but he’s speaking presently, and speaking in terms of future conduct and how we should interact right now.  This time what the Genesis folks were rejoicing about is that the statement from the Church clearly condemned racism past and present and specifically inside the Church as well as out.

They didn’t get specific.  They didn’t tie names to it but they specifically condemned past racism inside the Church, acknowledging thereby, that there was racism inside the Church which is not something that had come officially from the Church before.  So the Genesis folks were celebrating that and there were people who said ‘yes this is a big step; wish it would have gone a little further’, there was some of that.  There were people, the black people especially weren’t necessarily surprised about the comments that Professor Bott made, because we hear that all the time. It was about this is another step forward, and we’re looking forward to the day when they make that next step.”

Dan, “Right.”

Brad, “It’s a baby step for one reason which is that it would be soooo much better—You’ve got this anonymously written Newsroom press release the same week that you’ve got one of the most strongly worded and deeply apologetic First Presidency letters that I’ve seen in a long time in the same week.  It was about baptizing holocaust victims for the dead.  It would be great if that exact language—and I agree it is novel language.  It is very—I wish it came from a more authoritative source.”

Dreissen, “Oh, you mean the anonymous news release from the church public affairs office?”

Brad, “Exactly.  I mean Michael Otterson didn’t even sign it.”

Dan, “Well let’s hope we’re close to conference.  This may be good timing in this game.

Hey Gina, we haven’t heard from you in a second.  There was a while back, probably 10 minutes ago, you reacted really strongly to when Brad said, ‘No the biggest sin is not when Brigham Young saying this and this and this, the biggest sin was the ban.’  It seemed like you got really energized there, so I didn’t want to miss a chance for you to get some stuff in.  Or has the points you wanted to make about that sort of come out yet?”

Colvin, “Oh, I’m still energized, I’m just listening.  It’s interesting.  Speaking to Americans is different kind of cultural ways of having conversations and discussions.  So yeah, I’ve still got lots of energy!  Yes, I agree with you Brad.

The problem was the ban, and that’s because it was a systemic problem.   I kind of posed in one of my blogs once, is if somebody gets it wrong.  If a policy comes out in the Church, it’s usually God that takes the flak.  I think that’s deeply, deeply problematic.  A prophet/God, well we’ll go with God because I guess he can’t speak back to us.

[Dan and Marguerite laugh.]

Colvin continues, “And so it becomes a systemic problem.  All the kind of nasty dispositions in the world can be sort of circulated and reproduced generation upon generation, but when you’ve got a systemic problem, that kind of shifts it.  That kind of challenges us to reorganize out thinking.  We bring that kind of reorganized thinking not to kind of personal, self-reflexive sort of thinking to community.  Like there is a systemic ban from a certain group of people from participating fully in the ordinances in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  What does that mean in a broader kind of—you know answering certain social questions?  It becomes much more gray?

I think Dan, you sort of hinted at this question of power, and I was kind of curious.  When I first read that Church statement regarding race in the Church, I was quite heartened.  But then it caused me to question who owns this conversation about racism in the Church? It seems to me that it largely comes out of the center.  We know what the center of the Church looks like.  It’s largely white, it’s largely American, it is male, and it’s kind of adhered to a particular model for churches which is a deeply conservative one.  So when they say, ‘we don’t believe this, the Church doesn’t believe this, we don’t know how or why”, my question is, have they moved that question out from the center to the periphery and asked people of color, and black folk what their position is, and how they would like to see the center change so that doesn’t continue?

There’s a big difference between moral outrage, and practical ethics, and I think that’s what we miss in the Church.  It’ like Ok, now that we’ve got to the point where we can acknowledge racism, what does that actually mean in terms or pursuing a vision of social justice, pursuing/acknowledging race and the different stories that people bring based on the kind of communities that they live in, which is their experiences of oppression?  So I kind of—I’m just sort of thoughtful on this notion about the systemic violence that happens which kinds of moves out question of racism on from whether I feel it or not to what can I do to change it?  What does my Christianity call upon me, and my theology call upon me to make a change and make a difference?  Would the church even facilitate that?  Would they ever be part of that conversation, or would they say their duty is goodwill to all people and just kind of stop there and bury our heads in the sand that there are actual kind of categorical violences that happen to marginalized persons?”

Brad, “You asked the question of who owns the conversation.  The answer that you gave is partially correct.  If anybody owns it, it’s the center, at least the way the Church is structured now.  The problem is that it’s a conversation they’re abdicating.  So, I made on a blog somewhere—I can’t remember, I’ve talked a lot about this in the last week, it may have even been a Facebook comment or something.  I sort of glibly said something that as I reflected more on it struck me as being actually quite true, which is that it’s impossible to deal with a question really thoroughly and really in a clear and unambiguous and straightforward and brutally honest fashion while simultaneously pretending it doesn’t exist.”

Wotherspoon, “Good point.”

Driessen, “That is 100% true, but I would also add to what Gina was saying, it’s not just the past violence that we are talking about.  When you have institutionalized racism and you have what happened here, which is the theories that developed to support it because it didn’t come with an instruction book or an explanation, so then you had the theories come to support it.  Now you have the policy changed, you did not have the repudiation of the folklore in any way, and so what you have was the policy gone, but people in the Church who still clung to their racist attitudes, discriminatory attitudes that resulted in the marginalization of people of color in noticeable ways, especially socially where people wouldn’t be welcome or just would be noticed, and there would be pressures, there would be a different status of life for a person of color in the Church than otherwise.  These are the artifacts if you will of institutionalized racism even when they end the institution.  So the conversation that they’re not having, I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen its corollary outside world.

Instead of thinking of the Church, think of say the United States where ok once you have the court ruling that segregation isn’t allowed, that’s enough.  Or let’s just get rid of the idea—we won’t have Jim Crow anymore, now. Now you get to compete on equal footing, except people aren’t on equal footing.  They are not going to be on equal footing unless you somehow acknowledge the evil of the past and do something to correct the effects of that.  So the conversation that they’re not having right now is, yeah we’ve got this, we’ve now made this statement, this statement is that step in the right direction.  It’s the first time we’ve acknowledged past racism inside and outside of the church. They need to move forward, but I kind of look at this.  It’s sort of the Church’s, this racism question, in say the LDS Church’s Achilles heel the way that pedophile priests were the Catholic church’s Achilles heel.

It’s something that when they finally had to acknowledge it.  They didn’t really know what to do, and so they hid it under the rug, they moved people around, and that went on for decades until it finally blew up in their face in terms of the harms created by not addressing the problem directly.  Now we’ve got some of those issues.  Now clearly it’s not the same level, but I’m just talking about it in analogy.  We’ve got our issue, and perhaps we could learn from the Catholic Church’s example, and rather than sweep it under the rug, pretend that it didn’t exist, pretend that it doesn’t have this lasting artifacts that need to be dealt with, we should address them.  But who’s going to bring that up to them? As you said, at the center of the Church, It is not us having that conversation.”

Gina, “Yeah, so I presume Marguerite that they didn’t consult with the Genesis Group about how to frame this question, and how to address past racism?”

Marguerite laughs, “No they did not, although I will tell you Darius Gray is not kidding when he said that part of the reason that the Genesis Group exists is because devout, faithful members of the Church who were descendants of folks with African blood were lobbying them, they were crying out to them.  Tell me what’s wrong with me.  You tell me what blot is on my soul or on my character.  They were lobbying these people to reassess the situation, to reassess the question and to raise it.  That had to have contributed to the fact that they did.  They had vocal voices within the Church, people who were people of strong character and of strong faith, people trying to be obedient in a situation where they were absolutely marginalized in direct ways in lacking ecclesiastical authority and in the everlasting ways in being denied the temple blessings.”

Colvin, “Well, perhaps the litmus test for when there is some kind of change in the Church is when that conversation about racism actually turns outward and people are consulted and not necessarily spoken to.  The need for kind of the marginalized to sort of speak loudly to the center is actually a sort of eradicating, because the center is sort of faced outward.  Tell me your truth. We need to hear it because we need to change.”

Dreissen, “What Darius Gray said is they didn’t wait for the invitation, they just spoke.  And what happens is–“

Brad interrupts, “It reminds me of Samuel the Lamanite.”

Dreissen continues, “Yes, Samuel the Lamanite didn’t wait for an invitation, Darius Gray did not wait for an invitation. They spoke but the interesting thing was the Church listened. We don’t have to wait for the invitation.  If you speak and they listen, then the seeds are planted, and it sometimes takes a while.  It takes a while all the time, especially when the minds that have to changed are the minds that grew up understanding what we know consider racist folklore as de-facto doctrine.  They had to change an entire mindset that we didn’t have to change.”

17 comments on “Confronting Racism with the Church-Part 1

  1. “Well, they gave it credibility in so much as they didn’t change it. They certainly didn’t repudiate them, and they didn’t change them even if they never spoke these words themselves from the pulpit. They had power to repudiate them. They had the power to make the change, and chose not to.”

    It seems that Brother Dreissen is stating as a fact something for which he has no real evidence. It seems that there is more than a bit of judging going on here. Ten past presidents of the Church.
    Now lets extend that line of thinking to its logical conclusion. God, as the acknowledged head of the Church, had the power and opportunity to repudiate it and did not. So, by the reasoning of Brother Dreissesn, God is a racist. Or, to take it to another extreme, God is not the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and it is all a sham. Or, did God tell some of His chosen servants to end the ban and they just ignored Him?


  2. Glenn, that would be SISTER Dreissen (not Brother). Her photo is at the top of the post.

    It seems that [Sister] Dreissen is stating as a fact something for which [s]he has no real evidence.

    As are you. You have faith that God is in charge of our church, but what proof do you have?

    I don’t think God is a racist, but I think that many members make God a racist by giving human actions divine sanction.

  3. MH, My Apologies to Sister Dreissen. I did not look.
    I do not think that you read my post correctly. I am not assuming or stating any facts not in evidence. In my post I pointed out three different scenarios.
    1. Is from a faithful LDS perspective with God in charge of the Church and the leaders struggling as well as they may to do his bidding. God either instituted the ban or left it in place for His own unknown reasons when originated by leaders who felt they were doing so correctly and in accordance with scripture.
    2. One in which the LDS church is not led by God but is a man made church whose early leader(s) developed a racist policy and it was blindly followed by nine subsequent prophets/presidents.
    3. From another faithful LDS perspective that God is in control of the LDS Church. He did not institute the ban, but told his chosen prophets to drop the ban but they did not listen to Him. Nine of them refused to listen, or eight blindly followed the lead of Brigham Young.

    The fact not in evidence is that each of the prophets since Brigham Young have had the power to repudiate the priesthood ban yet have did not do so. Sister Dreissen seeminly is assuming that the priesthood ban was in fact almost entirely racially motivated and that any of the subsequent prophets could just have stood up in the pulpit and stated such and declared the ban null and void, but none of them did.

    It is evident, from the sketchy history that we are privy to, that the question of lifting the ban had been discussed in several previous presidencies. That seems to legislate somewhat against all eight just blindly buying into Brigham Young’s policies.

    I have a question for you at this time. Do you think that all racism is wrong? Do you think that an organization founded specifically to promote people of a specific color or race is wrong?


  4. Glenn, you are making assumptions. Of course we all have to make some assumptions when we’re trying to make a point, but you don’t seem to recognize your assumptions. Let me outline a few of them.

    Point #1. assumption (1) “from a faithful LDS perspective”. Assumption (2) “with God in charge of the Church”. Look, my belief is that God is much less involved in human affairs than we think. An interventionist God would have prevented Hitler’s atrocities, or Bosnia, or Somalia, or the Crusades, or the priesthood ban. Of those I’ve listed, the priesthood ban seems the least of God’s worries.

    Point #2. assumption (1) “LDS church is not led by God”. Look, once again, I think God is not an interventionist, except in unusual circumstances. God can be leading his people, but allow bad things to happen. Certainly, God didn’t save the Jews from Hitler, so why would he intervene in this instance unless approached like President Kimball did?

    Point #3. assumption (1) “God did not institute the ban.” Look, this is my assumption, but nobody can call it a proof–it is an assumption.

    I could list other assumptions here, but I think I’ve made my point. There is absolutely no way any of them can be proved until we die and meet God face to face (as the Brother of Jared) and ask him.

    Sister Dreissen seeminly is assuming that the priesthood ban was in fact almost entirely racially motivated

    Yes, I agree with you, but let’s remember what Driessen’s definition was “discrimination is treating people differently based on race.” Is your definition that “it’s not racism or discrimination unless it comes from a position of race hatred”?

    Do you think that all racism is wrong?

    I can’t think of a situation in which racism is a good thing. I like 2 Nephi 26:33

    For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

    Do you think that an organization founded specifically to promote people of a specific color or race is wrong?

    The thoughts that come to my mind by such a question are KKK or Black Panthers, but that’s probably not what you meant. I’m not sure where you’re going.

    If you’re trying to go after Israel as God’s chosen people, let me just say that God loves all. He doesn’t love Jews more than Arabs, Muslims, or Christians. He doesn’t love Abraham more than you or I. When we believe that God loves us more than others, or one group of people above another group of people, I think we’re dreadfully wrong. God’s hates sin, but he still loves the sinners.

  5. MH, You got it right and wrong. My scenarios are assumptions. I was looking at the issue from three different possible perspectives. I did not state that any of them are fact. Your point that “There is absolutely no way any of them can be proved until we die and meet God face to face” is spot on, in my opinion, and that is actually the point I was trying to make.

    Your idea that God is less of an interventionist in the affairs of man than we might think, has some merit, in some cases, and then there are episodes where He does intervene, in dramatic fashion.

    He intervened directly in the case of Cain. He intervened directly with Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 20. He intervened directly with Abraham and Pharoah in Genesis 12. He intervened pretty much with the known world when He sent the flood.

    He intervened in the New Testament with Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus. He intervened with the Church in the New Testament in Acts 10 when Peter received the vision of unclean things which God bade him to eat. This was the revelation admonishing Peter and the Church to take the gospel message to the Gentiles.

    The Book of Mormon, Old and New Testaments abound with events where God actively intervened in the lives of mankind. And there are also times when God has left nations to their own devices. God intervened greatly in the lives of the Children of Israel while they were in the wilderness, but left the surrounding nations alone unless they threatened Israel. These nations were idolatrous and their religions often involved human sacrifice. God did little with them, for or against, yet was strict enough with the Children of Israel that a man was stoned to death because he was gathering sticks on the Sabbath.

    The point I am making on this is that God intervenes when He deems it necessary, and in His own dues time. I was more than okay with the 1978 revelation lifting the ban on the priesthood. If a revelation were to come down that God was repudiating that ban, I would accept that also. In the meantime, I am not going to flagellate myself or the church about the issue.

    As to my last question about all racism being wrong. I was specifically thinking of the NAACP. It is a racist organization dedicated to uplifting men of color. The very name is racist. But it is not bad racism, in my opinion, because it is not a supremist organization such as the Ku Klux Klan or the Black Panthers.

    There also have been racist policies followed by the United States that promoted and or helped people based entirely on their race. The ideas were laudable, although I still am not sure how correct they were and are.


  6. Glenn, I don’t have any major bones of contention with what you have to say. The times when God intervenes in scriptures (while abundant) are in fact rare over the course of 4000 years of history. The rarity of the events is what makes them important enough to become scripture.

    As for “flagellate myself or the church about the issue”, I think that when we do nothing, we are not making the world a better place. A world without racism is a better place, and doing nothing does not make it better.

  7. MH, the fact of the matter is that after all of these years we still do not know whether the ban was racially motivated, instituted by God, or instituted by man based upon his reading and interpretation of certain scriptures.
    The Priesthood ban was lifted via revelation. The revelation did not list any reasons for the ban or repudiate it. If President Monson were to come out with a statement that he had received a revelation from the Lord that the ban had indeed been racially motivated, I would accept it. But until such happens, all we have is speculation. Because we do not know the hearts and minds of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, any of the other eight prophets before Spencer W. Kimball, nor the many members of the Quorum of the twelve of those generations. But there are those who can blithely sit in judgment of them.

    I will get back to you on this later. Other things are pressing right now.


  8. Glenn, let me reiterate what Brad Kramer said

    Kramer, “It doesn’t matter where it came from. It doesn’t matter if it came from people who thought that black people were superior.”

    Driessen, “Right. It’s differential treatment.”

    Kramer, “It’s racism. It discriminates on the basis of race. It excludes on the basis of race. It is functionally racist. Its consequences and its effects are racist. It is racism. No matter what motivates it.”

  9. MH, So, if God allowed the priesthood ban, He is a racist?


  10. MH, I guess a podcast by Marcus H. Martins best sums up my own attitudes, but from my perspcective. I am pretty sure you have already read it, but I will give the URL anyway.


    One thing I do agree on though, is that we need to work on eliminating racism in the church as much as humanly possible. I know that there are some really good men who still hold on to some racial prejudices. This was brought to light with me in a personal experience some years ago. The bishop of the ward I was currently attending called me into his office and asked me if I would be upset to know if one of my daughters was dating a Negro. My answer to him was that I was much more concerned about moral character of the person she might be dating than the color of his skin. The bishop admitted that he had not come that far in his thinking.

    He had been a bishop two or three time prior to this current calling and had served on the stake high counsel and in the stake presidency. He did not show any prejudice in the way he treated the Negro members of the congregation, but he had this objection to interracial dating and marriage.

    While I have much I can learn and have learned from this man, I also think he learned or could have learned something positive from my responses.

    But, as I mentioned before, I am not going to flagellate myself, the church as an institution, or any of the past leaders of the church about things that I do not have enough knowledge about to make a righteous judgment. The priesthood ban was allowed to happen, at the very least, by the Lord and it was allowed to continue for over a hundred years by the Lord. Since there have been no revelations pertaining to the reasons for that, I have to be content with that those were “to fulfill his inscrutable purposes whatever they are.”


  11. […] take one of their number to task for simple-minded racism, and work on the sexism. The Mormonism are taking on Mormon racism as well (since it seems to have spread to political […]

  12. Glenn, your question “if God allowed the priesthood ban, He is a racist?” is full of assumptions that I do not share. By the same logic, because God allowed the Jews to die, He would then be a Nazi.

    I believe the ban was man-made, as does Marcus Martins. I hadn’t read the link you posted, but I did review his book on the subject.

    I the link you posted, Martins said,

    In my mind, the priesthood ban and its associated rationales were never part of the restored gospel. I would argue that they constituted educated responses to the social environment in which the Church existed in the late 19th and most of the 20th century.

    I have used my typology to categorize the ban as a mortal law, or in other words, a rule or regulation established as an educated response to the social environment in which the Church existed in the late 19th and most of the 20th century. This would have been what those Church leaders of 150-or-so years ago felt was the best approach at the time, and they used the keys of the priesthood in their possession to enforce it. And because of his inscrutable purposes, the Lord remained silent about the issue until June 1, 1978. This categorization and hypothesis will be sufficient to me personally until evidence is presented of the existence of a revelation dated in the 19th century establishing the ban.

    Glenn, it is my belief that no revelation will ever by found. From my study of the history, 3 black men engaged in sexual relationships with white women between 1845-1847: (1) Joseph Ball (with encouragement from the prophet’s brother William Smith) engaged in polygamous relationships in Massachusetts in 1845. William was excommunicated later that year. (2) Enoch Lewis married a white woman, Matilda Webster (also in Massachusetts), and had a child together. Mission President William Appleby was horrified to learn this in 1847, and wrote to Brigham Young in 1847 asking if if was proper for black men to hold the priesthood. (3) Also in 1847, William McCary, who claimed to be Indian, but was actually an escaped slave, married a white woman (with apostle Orson Hyde performing the wedding). McCary subsequently tried to participate in unauthorized sealings with white women also in 1847.

    Joseph Smith, while allowing black ordinations (such as these 3 men), was against interracial marriage. As mayor of Nauvoo in 1844, he fined two black man in 1843 for trying to marry white women. Brigham Young didn’t need a revelation to know what Joseph thought. The ban came about shortly after the McCary episode. I don’t think it’s hard to recognize the impact of Ball, Lewis, and McCary had on Brigham Young’s thinking that interracial mariage was bad. Even President Kimball has preached against mingling the races, and it is still in our current Aaronic Priesthood manual.

    So I do agree with Martins that the ban was man-made, and what Church leaders “felt was the best approach at the time”. I don’t believe God created the ban (as I understand is your position), and I don’ believe God is a racist. I lay all racism at man’s footsteps.

  13. MH, I did not phrase it that way .“if God allowed the priesthood ban, He is a racist?” I asked “If God allowed the band is he a racist?” That is not an assumption. It is only asking a question. Your Nazi analogy is widening the scope so far as to make God a murdered, an adulterer, etc. But no one is claiming that God is or was the head of the Nazi party.
    That God is the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a matter that both I and Brother Martins are accepting as a fact. If you wish to call that an assumption, fine. But still, with that assumption in mind, does the fact that God allowed the priesthood ban to remain in place from at least 1847 until 1978 make Him a racist? By the definition that your panelists handed down, it does. He allowed differentiation based upon race or lineage.
    And, extending the definition logically, God is also sexist because He has never allowed women to hold the priesthood.

    I do not actually have a position on whether the ban was implemented by God or by man because I do not know. But we do know that it was allowed by God to exist from the time it was first implemented until 1978. And now we have people condemning nine former presidents for being racist or allowing racist policies to continue while there is evidence that several prophets before Spencer Kimball went to the Lord with questions about the ban.

    I do not really like the black and white definition of racism that the panel offered. Everything that differentiates based on race is racist. That includes such fine organizations such as the NAACP, programs at BYU and other schools to assist Native Americans, government programs to assist colored people and Native Americans, etc. That is why I reject that definition and rather accept the Random House Dictionary definition: “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.”

    I don’t really like labels because they so often are used to try to stereotype people, to make their beliefs black and whit, and to fit them into one own’s little paradigm.
    Labels such as homophobe, cultural mormon, liberal, chapel mormon are anathema to me because they are emotionally charged, discourage debate, and encourage ad hominem attacks while skirting around the actual issues.

    I don’t think God is a racist either, by the dictionary definition anyway.


  14. Glenn, a quibble.

    That God is the head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a matter that both I and Brother Martins are accepting as a fact.

    No, you accept that on faith. It is impossible to accept that as fact in this life.

    It is apparent to me that you view God as much more of an interventionist than I do. If God didn’t intervene in World War 2, I can’t see why he would intervene in the priesthood ban sooner. Mankind manages to foul things up by themselves just fine, and then attribute our screw up to God. I’d rather not slander God as a sexist or a racist, and place such blame on man.

    It makes no sense to me to call God a Nazi or a racist, but when you attribute the ban to God, what other conclusion is there? Even with your dictionary definition “involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others”, the church is guilty of this definition. Do you see a black prophet leading our church? Plenty of prophets, from Brigham Young to Spencer W. Kimball felt that blacks having administrative authority over whites was Godly wrong. Whites ruled over blacks until 1978, and still rule over blacks. We don’t yet have a black apostle, yet the RLDS Church does (and also has women apostles): see http://www.cofchrist.org/council-12/

    I don’t think God is a racist either, but the dictionary definition you provide and your insistence that God initiated the ban makes God a racist and a sexist. Even if you don’t like those emotionally charged words, what other conclusion is there? Apparently God only likes old white men to be apostles, but he doesn’t lead the RLDS church to believe such conclusions, despite our common inheritance of scripture in the Book of Mormon and D&C.

    There is no revelation concerning a ban because it doesn’t exist. If it had existed under Joseph Smith, I am quite confident the RLDS, Strangites, Bickertonites/Rigdonites, or other Mormon groups that date to the time of Joseph Smith would have published the revelation and joined us in a ban. None of them ever did. Only FLDS Mormons, who still believe doctrines promoted by Brigham Young believe the ban was Godly. (and they really didn’t start until the 1930s.)

  15. MH, Of course I disagree with you on several points. To start out with, I quibble with your quibble. Just as a person accept as a fact the existence of a country or place he or she has never seen, based upon reports from other people or even on person that can surely be trusted, a person can know that God lives, that Jesus lives, that Joseph Smith was a prophet well enough to accept it as a fact. I have this report from a very reliable source, namely the Holy Ghost. You may not accept my report, but that is okay. You have to get your own report from the Holy Ghost.

    You keep saying something about my insistence that God initiated the ban. Please reread my last post. I said that I do not know if God initiated the ban.

    He could have. There is scriptural precedent for God bestowing the priesthood based solely on lineage and denying it to all other lineages in the Old Testament. And there is the “proof text” in Abraham where the priesthood was denied to the descendants of Ham.

    Contrary to your assertion, the dictionary definition does not make God a racist if he initiated the ban. Here it is again. “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others. ” Since we have not had the reason for the ban revealed, assuming for the sake of this argument that God did initiate the ban, you would have to know that He did it because He is asserting that all other races are superior to the Negro race. Since there is no scripture that states such, we would be left with the status of not knowing what the reason was that God initiated the ban. You asked me “what other conclusion is there?”, but you will have to ask God that question.

    The problem with the definition that the panel came down with is that it goes further than the dictionary definition to make any differentiation based upon race to be racism, no matter what the motives. In any scenario, whether God initiated the ban himself, or, as the head of the church, allowed it to happen and remain in place from 1847 to 1978, would make God a racist.

    The same logic can be applied to sexism. If sexism is defined as differentiating based primarily on sex, no matter what the motives, then God is a sexist. He has never extended the priesthood to women.

    Similarly we can make God out to be a murderer, by definition. But all of these are man made definitions. We need to find out what definitions God has.

    I think that your point about God not interfering in calamities such ad World War II, the Holocaust, and other calamities is not on point. The scriptures show pretty clearly that God does not interfere much with the affairs of the world. Most of His interventions have come in connection with his chosen people. Such was the case with Abraham and Abimilech. Or Lot in Sodom. But we are not really talking about that type of intervention here. We are merely talking about instructions and revelations to his apostles and prophets.

    There are some pretty clear examples in the scriptures of God giving commandments to his prophets and the consequences. Take Jonah for instance. He was given a command and tried to run away from his duty. I am sure that you have read the consequences. There was the command that God gave to Saul. God’s anointed King of Israel, concerning the Amalekites. And we know the results of his disobedience. There is the revelation that Peter concerning taking the gospel message to the gentiles. Jesus himself said that He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.

    When Joseph received the revelation on plural marriage, what was the result when he delayed engaging in the practice? Something about an angel and a flaming sword.

    The fact that there has been found no written revelation concerning the ban is not a game changer. There is no written revelation or account of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood either. But the church is assuming as a fact that there was such an event.

    Your paradigm requires that either God is not the head of the church and does not direct its affairs, or that God, as head of the church, allowed an unjust policy to be implemented by His chosen prophet and did nothing about it, for over one hundred and thirty years and through eight more prophets until He finally found one righteous enough to do the right thing and remove the ban. This is not a very flattering picture of God nor in His choice of prophets.


  16. […] I asked if 1978 was the right year, and whether the Church should apologize.  The transcript below continues after Part 1. Dan Wotherspoon, Host of Mormon […]

  17. […] I’ve already posted Part 1 of the Mormon Matters episode 80:  How Can we Confront Racism within Mormon Thought and Culture? Here is part 2.  I have previously posted excerpts from this panel discussion when I asked if 1978 was the right year, and whether the Church should apologize.  The transcript below continues after Part 1. […]

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