17. Church Prejudice Against Blacks

From the translated scroll written by Abraham comes the important doctrine that descendants of Cain (taught by Mormons to be African-Americans) are unworthy to hold the priesthood, the authority to act in God's name. This clearly racist policy was changed in 1978 through another "revelation." While Blacks could always be baptized into the Mormon Church, up until 1978 they could not hold the priesthood. This excluded them from the "saving ordinances" of the temple, and thus kept them from exaltation as the Mormons defined it.

Consider the following declarations by church Prophets and Apostles:

President Brigham Young:

"Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African Race? If the White man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so." (Journal of Discourses 10:110)

President Joseph Fielding Smith:

"There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less." (Doctrines of Salvation, p. 61)

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie:

"Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them... Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned…" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 343)

Apostle Mark E. Petersen:

"God has commanded Israel not to intermarry. To go against this commandment of God would be in sin. Those who willfully sin with their eyes open to this wrong will not be surprised to find that they will be separated from the presence of God in the world to come. This is spiritual death…

"The reason that one would lose his blessings by marrying a Negro is due to the restriction placed upon them. "No person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the Priesthood" (Brigham Young). It does not matter if they are one-sixth Negro or one-hundred and sixth, the curse of no Priesthood is the same. If an individual who is entitled to the Priesthood marries a Negro, the Lord has decreed that only spirits who are not eligible for the Priesthood will come to that marriage as children. To intermarry with a Negro is to forfeit a "Nation of Priesthood holders…

"The discussion on civil rights, especially over the last 20 years, has drawn some very sharp lines. It has blinded the thinking of some of our own people, I believe. They have allowed their political affiliations to color their thinking to some extent, and then, of course, they have been persuaded by some of the arguments that have been put forth…We who teach in the Church certainly must have our feet on the ground and not to be led astray by the philosophies of men on this subject…

"I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after. He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat. He isn't just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. It isn't that he just desires to go to the same theater as the white people. From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feelings to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for Negroes that we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that we used to say about sin, 'First we pity, then endure, then embrace'…

"Now let's talk about segregation again for a few moments. Was segregation a wrong principle? When the Lord chose the nations to which the spirits were to come, determining that some would be Japanese and some would be Chinese and some Negroes and some Americans, He engaged in an act of segregation…

"When he told Enoch not preach the gospel to the descendants of Cain who were black, the Lord engaged in segregation. When He cursed the descendants of Cain as to the Priesthood, He engaged in segregation…

"Who placed the Negroes originally in darkest Africa? Was it some man, or was it God? And when He placed them there, He segregated them…

"The Lord segregated the people both as to blood and place of residence. At least in the cases of the Lamanites and the Negro we have the definite word of the Lord Himself that he placed a dark skin upon them as a curse -- as a punishment and as a sign to all others. He forbade intermarriage with them under threat of extension of the curse. And He certainly segregated the descendants of Cain when He cursed the Negro as to the Priesthood, and drew an absolute line. You may even say He dropped an Iron curtain there…

"Now we are generous with the Negro. We are willing that the Negro have the highest education. I would be willing to let every Negro drive a Cadillac if they could afford it. I would be willing that they have all the advantages they can get out of life in the world. But let them enjoy these things among themselves. I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change that segregation? It reminds me of the scripture on marriage, 'what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.' Only here we have the reverse of the thing - what God hath separated, let not man bring together again.

"Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood…This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in their lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa--if that Negro is willing when he hears the gospel to accept it, he may have many of the blessings of the gospel. In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory." (Apostle Mark E. Peterson, Race Problems - As They Affect The Church, Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954)

References

How Obvious Would It Have To Be?

Mormon racism in perspective: An example for possible future changes in policy relating to women and gays

Apologist Response

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained how earlier statements by church leaders on African-Americans and the priesthood should be disregarded because their understanding was limited at the time:

"There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren that we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, "You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?" All I can say is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

"We get our truth and light line upon line and precept upon precept (2 Ne. 28:30; Isa. 28:9-10; D&C 98:11-12; 128:21). We have now added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter anymore." (Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, All Are Alike Unto God, pp. 1-2)

Marvin Perkins explained the Book of Mormon teaching that those "cursed" with a "skin of blackness" could remove the "curse" by coming unto God:

"There are Blacks here today who are members of the Church. Why have we not turned White? But there are Blacks who have joined the Church, married White spouse, and their children became lighter than their Black parents. Then those kids grew up to marry those that believe as they do, which most are White, so they married White, and their kids became even lighter, and so on. Makes you think a bit, doesn't it? (Marvin Perkins, Blacks and the Priesthood, FAIR)"

President Spencer W. Kimball described the process through which the church decided to bestow all church privileges upon African-Americans:

"It went on for some time as I was searching for this, because I wanted to be sure. We held a meeting of the Council of the Twelve in the temple on the regular day. We considered this very seriously and thoughtfully and prayerfully.

"I asked the Twelve not to go home when the time came. I said, 'now would you be willing to remain in the temple with us?' And they were. I offered the final prayer and I told the Lord if it wasn't right, if He didn't want this change to come in the Church that I would he true to it all the rest of my life, and I'd fight the world against it if that's what He wanted.

"We had this special prayer circle, then I knew that the time had come. I had a great deal to fight, of course, myself largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life till my death and fight for it and defend it as it was. But this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it." (President Spencer W. Kimball, Deseret News, Church Section, January 6, 1979, p. 19)

According to President Gordon B. Hinckley, he simply doesn't know why Blacks were denied the priesthood until 1978:

"HN: Until 1978 no person of color attained the priesthood in your church. Why did it take so long to overcome the racism?

"GBH: I don't know. I don't know. I can only say that. (long pause) But it's here now. We're carrying on a very substantial work on Africa for instance and in Brazil. We're working among their people developing them. We've had them among the leadership of the Church and they're able to do a great work and we love them and appreciate them and we respect them and we are trying to help them." (Gordon B. Hinckley Interview, ZDF German Television, Salt Lake City, Utah, January 29, 2002, Conducted by Helmut Nemetschek)