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Are Mormons Prejudiced?

Poster designed for LDS teenagers to teach them the Church's standards on Racism

by W. John Walsh

Are Mormons prejudiced against Blacks?

Let me start by saying that the Church absolutely denounces the viewpoint that one race is either superior or inferior to other races.  Members of all races are welcome in the Church.

The Book of Mormon, the keystone of our religion, teaches:

"[Jesus Christ] 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" (The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33).

"Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous is favored of God." (The Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 17:35)

"Now my brethren, we see that God is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth. Now this is my joy, and my great thanksgiving; yea, and I will give thanks unto my God forever. Amen." (The Book of Mormon; Alma 26:37)

The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated in 1987:

"We repudiate efforts to deny to any person his or her inalienable dignity and rights on the abhorrent and tragic theory of the superiority of one race or color over another." (Church Global Media Guide)

President Spencer W. Kimball taught:

"We do wish that there would be no racial prejudice…. Racial prejudice is of the devil…. There is no place for it in the gospel of Jesus Christ. (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 236).

President Hugh B. Brown called for:

"full civil equality for all of God's children," saying "it is a moral evil…to deny any human being the right to gainful employment, to full educational opportunity, and to every privilege of citizenship, just as it is a moral evil to deny him the right to worship" (IE 66 [Dec. 1963]:1058.)

Elder M. Russell Ballard taught:

"All of us, regardless of race, color, or creed, belong to the family of our Heavenly Father." (See "How Is It with Us?" for Elder Ballard's full comments")

Anti-Mormon critics often misrepresent the Latter-day Saints in order to stir up hatred and persecution against the Church. (See The Exclusion by Misrepresentation) One of their most common methods of attacking the Church is to associate Latter-day Saints with socially unacceptable beliefs and practices. For example, in the 1980's, society became more aware of the terrible crime of child abuse. Multitudes of books, magazine articles, and television shows addressed this serious problem. Therefore, following their standard pattern, anti-Mormons started circulating pamphlets falsely accusing the Latter-day Saints of wide-spread child abuse. Of course, Latter-day Saints condemn the abuse of spouse and child as a reprehensible crime. (See Abuse of Spouse and Child)

Another example of this tactic is how anti-Mormons have tried to twist the Church's attitudes about women since the emergence of feminism. Again pamphlets have been created falsely proclaiming that the terrible Mormon priesthood enslaves and degrades women. Of course, their characterizations do not match our real beliefs and practices. (See Feminism; Motherhood and the Role of Women)

Likewise, due to the increasing social unacceptability of racial prejudice, anti-Mormons today try to associate the Church with widespread prejudice against Blacks. What is especially ironic about this false attack is that the anti-Mormons of the1830's tried to stir up passions against the Church based upon Latter-day Saint opposition to slavery as summarized in our scriptures:

"... it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another." (D&C 101:79)

Since society has changed its social outlook, anti-Mormons have adjusted their attacks accordingly.

What basis do the critics have for this charge? Until 1978, Blacks of African descent were not eligible to hold the priesthood or participate in certain temple ordinances. It should be noted that the issue was one of genealogy and not skin pigmentation. For example, Black men from non-African descent were allowed to hold the priesthood. On the other hand, Caucasian, Asian, and Hispanic men who had some Black African ancestry were not allowed to hold the priesthood.

Since 1978, all members of the Church have been eligible to participate in all priesthood and temple blessings. Blacks, including African races, have always (both before and after 1978) been allowed baptism in the Church. In addition, while many denominations have historically segregated their Churches (i.e., blacks in one building, whites in another), Latter-day Saints have always had an integrated congregation. (See Revelation on Priesthood and Blacks and the Priesthood)

Did the priesthood ban originate in racial hatred? As we examine the situation in a little more detail, it should be clear that no one who has made a reasoned, thoughtful examination of this issue could possibly say that racial hatred was the source.

President Spencer W. Kimball taught:

"Intolerance by Church members is despicable. A special problem exists with respect to blacks because they may not now [1972] receive the priesthood. Some members of the Church would justify their own un-Christian discrimination against blacks because of that rule with respect to the priesthood, but while this restriction has been imposed by the Lord, it is not for us to add burdens upon the shoulders of our black brethren. They who have received Christ in faith through authoritative baptism are heirs to the celestial kingdom along with men of all other races. And those who remain faithful to the end may expect that God may finally grant them all blessings they have merited through their righteousness. Such matters are in the Lord's hands. It is for us to extend our love to all." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.237, emphasis in original)

As we can see, members of the Church were specifically charged not to use the priesthood ban as an excuse for racial intolerance. It should be noted that the only restrictions that were ever placed upon the affected lineage were access to certain Church ordinances. For example, the Book of Abraham lays the context of the priesthood restriction as follows:

"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." (Abraham 1:26)

Here the Lord makes it clear that the priesthood ban was not due to wickedness on the part of those affected. (e.g., "Pharaoh, being a righteous man"). Furthermore, while they were restricted "as pertaining to the Priesthood", they were given great blessings in other areas (e.g., "blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom").

The Church first published the Book of Abraham in 1842. In 1842, over 20 years before the end of slavery in the United States, how many people [other than Latter-day Saints] would proclaim that Blacks were righteous, ruled wisely and justly as kings, filled with wisdom, blessed with the right to acquire wealth? Furthermore, since "he that is righteous is favored of God" (1 Nephi 17:35), they enjoyed the favor of their Heavenly Father as well. Personally, I do not see how someone who expresses this attitude towards Blacks in 1842 [the date is important for context] could be accused of wide-spread racial hatred, notwithstanding we believed that they were temporarily restricted "as pertaining to the Priesthood."

Let's think about this issue carefully for a moment. Many other religions, including most Christian denominations, have historically restricted the receipt of their faith's spiritual blessings along genealogical and/or racial lines. While many have since abandoned the practice, the LDS faith is far from being the only denomination sponsoring the idea that God might bless different people differently at different times.

The restriction of spiritual blessings is without meaning unless their restriction also influences temporal opportunities (e.g., civil rights) as well. After all, if you are a faithful adherent of the denomination, then you must believe that such restrictions come from God, who is perfectly merciful and just, and are therefore fair. In our case, we know that while our Heavenly Father has never explained the reasons for the priesthood ban, they must have furthered his own eternal purposes and were therefore not only appropriate but good. As an interesting side note, because of unique LDS beliefs concerning salvation for the dead, we have absolute assurance that even those affected suffered no permanent harm.

On the other hand, if you do not believe that the denomination making the restriction represents true religion, then you cannot believe that they withheld anything of any real importance or significance to those affected by the ban. For example, the Roman Catholic Church has not always offered priesthood ordination to members of all races. Since I do not accept the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church to be God's true priesthood, I deem the restriction to be of little importance. It's kind of like someone making up a phony award and then not giving it to people. Likewise, if someone does not accept The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Lord's true Church and our priesthood as the Lord's true priesthood, then it should be of little importance that not every person was able to receive it at one time. If anything, non-believers of the religion should be grateful that not everyone received this "false" priesthood [false in their minds].

The exception to this principle is when temporal blessings are also restricted due to the lack of spiritual blessings. For example, it would be a major concern if the Church restricted the right to employment, acquire an education, vote, own property, etc. because a person did not hold the priesthood. However, the Church never took such a view. For example, President Joseph Fielding Smith taught:

No church or other organization is more insistent than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that the Negroes should receive all the rights and privileges that can possibly be given to any other in the true sense of equality as declared in the Declaration of Independence. They should be equal to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." They should be equal in the matter of education. They should not be barred from obtaining knowledge and becoming proficient in any field of science, art or mechanical occupation. They should be free to choose any kind of employment, to go into business in any field they may choose and to make their lives as happy as it is possible without interference from white men, labor unions or from any other source. In their defense of these privileges the members of the Church will stand. (Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.2, p.185; It should be noted that President Smith's comments were made in the 1950's, decades before the priesthood ban was lifted, and are quite meaningful when considered in historical context.)

Now let's address another subject. In order to create the impression that Latter-day Saints practice blatant and severe prejudice against Blacks, anti-Mormons have passed around pamphlets which contain contain racist statements that supposedly come from Church leaders and represent the attitudes and teachings of the Church.

On almost every occasion, the quotes are either altered statements that were never said, second-hand statements that cannot be verified, or accurately reported sentences that are taken out of context. In addition to not accurately quoting Church leaders, the critics often misrepresent historical facts as well. Here are a few examples:

Why Don't LDS Indians have White Skins?
Is Skin Color a Curse by God?
Is Being Black a Disadvantage?
Are Blacks the Representatives of Satan?
Did Brigham Young Teach that Interracial Marriage is a Sin?

Since the Church teaches that only Jesus Christ was perfect and free from all error, it is not my supposition that every Latter-day Saint who has ever lived was free from all prejudice. All men, including Church leaders, are influenced by the culture of their times. For example, the Apostle Peter, the man personally chosen by Jesus Christ as the lead apostle, was prejudiced against those not of the Jewish race (See Acts 10-11; Are Prophets Infallible?)

However, the charge of widespread and blatant racism against Blacks by the Church is simply not true. It is true that some Church members have deep-rooted feelings of race and class prejudice, but the Church is making major efforts at driving such ungodly feelings from those who profess membership in its ranks.  Furthermore, when the historical records are examined in context, Church leaders have generally been far more racially tolerant than other men living at the same time.  For example, in 1842 when many white people were debating whether blacks even had souls, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the only reason that blacks were not as culturally and intellectually advanced as whites was the lack of opportunity. The Prophet Joseph taught, "Change their situation with the whites, and they would be like them. They have souls, and are subjects of salvation." (TPJS p.269)  Also, in 1863 when many people believed that slavery was morally correct, Brigham Young taught: "For their abuse of [the Black African] race, the whites will be cursed, unless they repent." (Journal of Discourses, Vol.10, p.110)  It is important to remember that there are over 11 million Latter-day Saints and not every single one lives up to the Church's teachings.

In summary, the Church teaches that all races are loved equally by God and racial intolerance is strictly condemned. Each person (of every nation and every race) is as precious to him as another. (See Equality)

(See Blacks home page; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page)

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