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Racism in the LDS church

Racist statements by LDS leaders

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Early racist statements by LDS leaders:

Brigham Young, the leader who led many of the Mormons to Salt Lake City, UT wrote:

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.

Cain slew his brother. . . and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.

You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race--that they should be the 'servant of servants;' and they will be, until that curse is removed." 1

Joseph Fielding Smith -- not to be confused with Joseph Smith, the founder of the church -- was the sixth President of the LDS church. He wrote:

"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." 2,3

Inherent in both of these statements is the concept that sins committed by one generation can cause subsequent innocent generations to be cursed. This concept of transferal of punishment from the guilty to the innocent may appear to be irrational, immoral and unethical. However it runs as a theme throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

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Racist statements by LDS leaders during the 1950s:

In 1954, Mormon elder Mark E. Peterson discussed blacks and the priesthood in an address to a Convention of Teachers of Religion at the College Level at Brigham Young University. He said:

"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'...."

That is, all male descendents of a racially-mixed marriage in which one spouse had even a single distant black ancestor would be forever prohibited from becoming a Mormon priest. In addition to racism within the LDS church's past, sexism was -- and continues to be -- present. Even today, no woman can be ordained. However, a black or partially black person could be baptized in the Mormon faith and attain heaven after death. Peterson concluded:

"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."

It is not clear whether Peterson's reference for servant status for all persons of African-Americans ancestry refers to status as a literal servant, or as a slave. In theological terminology, as in many translations of the Bible, "servant" often means a human slave owned by a slavemaster.

Mormon Apostle and apologist, Bruce R. McConkie, (1915-1985) touched on the black issue in his book "Mormon Doctrine:" "...this is the standard LDS guide to church doctrine, found in nearly every active Mormon household." He wrote in the first edition of his book -- 1958 -- about the repercussions on earth of a war in heaven:

"In the pre-existent eternity various degrees of valiance and devotion to the truth were exhibited by different groups of our Father’s spirit offspring… some were more valiant than others… Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin... Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty… The present status of the negro rests purely and simply on the foundation of pre-existence… The negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow therefrom, but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, is based on his eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate." 4

In other words, racism and sexism -- as exhibited by refusing the priesthood to anyone who has an African-American ancestor or who is female -- is perfectly moral if it comes from God.

In a subsequent printing of his book after his death, the above text was deleted and replaced by new wording that was in agreement with the 1978 revelation.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Brigham Young, "Journal of Discourses," Vol. 7, Pages 290 & 291
  2. Tom Mathews, "An example for possible future changes in policy relating to women and gays," at:
  3. Joseph Fielding Smith, "Doctrines of Salvation," Page 61.
  4. Bruce R. McConkie, "Mormon doctrine, 1st edition," Bookcraft, (1958), Pages 476-477.

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Copyright © 1997 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-AUG-12
Latest update: 20112-MAR-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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