Mixed Signals

Greg at T&S posted poll numbers from a Gallup poll. As you all know, I love the polls.

The folk’s overall favourable opinion of us is 42%; while unfavorable is 46%. There is nothing particularly surprising about that.

More surprising, Republicans dislike us at a rate of 52% (the highest among political parties (Dems dislike us at a rate of 47%)). This is particularly interesting because Liberals dislike us 61% compared to Conservatives 45%. These numbers do not make very much sense to me, so I turn to you to explain it to me.

Feel free to comment on other aspects of the poll, which also shows that Catholics like us more than Protestants and frequent church-goers dislike us more than infrequent church-goers.

Comments

  1. Darrell says:

    I live in a small town where members of the church are a definate minority. One day my children came home from school in tears because there were certain of their friends that said they could no longer associate with them because their minister, from the pulpit, said that all Mormons were going to Hell and that no one should associate with them. After a frank discussion with the minister and an apology was given things settled down a little but it seems obvious to me why frequent church-goers have a dislike for us more than others.

  2. I’m wondering what “doctrine” the resondants were referring to. There could be so many. Of course, I’m particularly interested in how Mormons are perceived in regards to race, but the question as posed was so vague that it could refer to anything.
    Disagree with their doctrine/false teachings: Do they mean the Joseph Smith story? The idea of eternal progression? The Lorenzo Snow couplet? A corporeal God? Race issues?
    I would GUESS that most people don’t know enough about Mormons to identify anything but the race issue question. A Protestant pastor who comments often on T&S said that his congregation would identify that issue first if they were asked to assess Mormonism.

  3. J. Daniel Crawford says:

    My impression is that polygamy is the doctrine/issue most tightly associated with Mormonism (certainly, the pollbears that out). I would think that our tight associatino with it would lead to the problems with public perception , too.

  4. molly bennion says:

    We educated our children in Roman Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopalian schools. Doctrinal criticisms of our Mormonism varied among the denominations.
    The most common criticism was of the corporeal God. Many thought us blasphemous to worship an “anthropomorphic” God and even more blasphemous to consider eternal progression to Godhood a possibility. The concept of additional scriptures runs contrary to a basic conclusion of early Protestantism so that was a big issue too. Joseph Smith, polygamy, “secret” ceremonies and race followed behind.

    Nevertheless, we were always treated fairly and kindly, even by the Baptists who had an entire row of anti-Mormon literature in their downtown bookstore and some of whom sadly told us how sorry they were we were going to hell. I never doubted their sincerity as they were lovely people and good friends.

  5. Hellmut says:

    This poll bolsters if ever so slightly my hypothesis is that it is a lot easier to convert liberals than conservatives. If you are a conservative then you are not going to join some religion from Utah because you stick with a traditional religion.

    Liberals, on the other hand, are much more likely to try something new. If that were correct then our preoccupation with paleo-conservative causes are counterproductive.

    Does anyone remember a paper in the early eighties about the ideological background of Belgian Mormons by any chance?

    In Belgium you can track people’s ideological evolution with health and unemployment insurance. Apparently, you can choose between Christian and Socialist insurances. The choice of a health insurance occurs at birth, which reflects the ideology of one’s parents. One chooses unemployment insurance with the first job, which indicates people’s ideology as a young adult.

    If I remember correctly, that author found that two thirds of Belgium Mormons were lefties, one third conservatives.

    In my experience, that matches what you usually see in the German speaking countries.

  6. In Florida, we never had problems with our Catholic, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, or non-affiliated neighbors. It was the evangelical Christians that said we were going to “rot in hell,” that yelled, “You make up your own Bible” at my kids, and that disassociated with us. FWIW, most of them decided we weren’t rabid after a time.

  7. J. Daniel Crawford says:

    But Hellmut, the survey says that self-defined Liberals dislike us at a much higher rate than self-defined Conservatives. The divide there is much wider than the Dem/Rep divide. Hence, my confusion.

  8. Hellmut says:

    Yes, you are right, JDC. I made a mistake. The data contradicts my hypothesis.

  9. Mike N. says:

    One explanation might be that people are not as rational as we expect them to be. Not very complicated, I know, , but there’s that whole law of parsimony thing that science likes.

  10. J. Daniel Crawford says:

    I don’t understand your point, Mike.

    The problem here is that we associate liberals with democrats and conservatives with republicans. But the poll shows that conservatives and democrats like us more than liberals and republicans. Is our assumption about how the parties self-perceive wrong or is something else going on here?

  11. lxxluthor says:

    HP: Do you think it has something to do with people claiming to be liberal but supporting the Republican party? Otherwise the poll doesn’t surprise me much.

  12. you know which numbers struck me the most, JDC? Church attendance:

    Church attendance

    Weekly 34 55 -21 11

    Nearly weekly/
    Monthly 41 47 -6 12

    Seldom/
    Never 49 39 +10 11

    I find that one far more fascinating than the political and ideological ones. It basically implies that the more frequently an American goes to church, the worse impression that American has of Mormons.

  13. Mike N. says:

    I was trying to say that although we expect dems to be liberal and republicans to be conservative, people don’t always label themselves that way. But I could be off track here altogether.

  14. Mike,

    It could also be that with how weak and corrupt both parties are right now, liberals may not identify themselves as Democrats in droves anymore, likewise with conservatives and the Republican party.

  15. Starfoxy says:

    I think the divergence could possibly be explained by the way the pollsters asked the questions. The way they phrase the questions may serve as subtle reminders about how one is supposed to feel about Mormons as a [liberal/conservative democrat/republican].

    For example if person A is reminded that they are a social conservative (and are against SSM and abortion) then they are more likely to report thinking favorably of Mormons because of our stance on specific social issues like SSM, and abortion. Whereas when person A is reminded that they are a Republican they may be reminded of the more vague reasons why they are republican- reasons that tend to be against mormonism (ie their religious affiliation, family and friends etc.).
    Conversely Person B, as a liberal, dislikes Mormons for our socially conservative stances on specific issues, but as a Democrat (who believes in tolerance, and acceptance as general principles) they will not report feeling unfavorably towards Mormons.

  16. Hellmut says:

    That’s a good point, Starfoxy. Usually, polls ask demographic questions last. That means that respondents would have answered the questions about Mormons before they would answer questions about themselves.

  17. Doesn’t it appear that the answers are clear? Protestants don’t like us because they have been taught in their sunday school modules on Mormonism that we are cult and evil. That is their way of inoculating their members against the missionary effort. That is why if one attends church more then one dislike LDS more — the churched are getting their views of Mormonism from their Protestant preachers. A simple look at the net will show the active Protestant attacks on the Church that are well-funded.

    Liberals don’t like Mormons because they are pro-gay rights, pro-abortion, pro-free-sex and generally anti-family (they are about 20 times more likely to live together unmarried and have no children BTW).

    Republican and Democratic self-identification cuts across this demographic. On the other and, I have to wonder why any self-respecting Latter-day Saint would want to affiliate with either group?

  18. It’s not that people dislike us for who we are, it’s that they dislike us for who they think we are. I wouldn’t vote for a polygamist either. We tend to think the church has made major PR strides; we haven’t. No-one knows us, and when they do, they think we’re Warren Jeffs.

  19. Tom Manney says:

    I think the church attendance stat is bogus. I would be willing to bet that people who go to church more often also dislike other religions at a higher rate. The more committed you are to your particular faith, the less you’re going to like any alternatives.

    Few liberals are Republicans anymore, but there are still a few conservative Democrats kicking around, and they’re typically a more tolerant bunch than liberal Dems, who find zealously religious people to be judgmental and irrational. This is another stat that probably isn’t unique to Mormons. I bet liberals are prone to dislike devout Catholics, fundamentalist Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses just as much as they do those Mormons.

    In my experience as an American, the only demographic that is going to single out Mormons in particular is conservative Protestants. I’ve lived in more than one town where the reigning megachurch, be it Baptist, Presbyterian, non-denominational Christian or something similar, they make a point of regularly focusing on the evils of Mormon doctrine, often in their Sunday School classes.

    Then these people go out into the community and unavoidably interact with some Mormons, who don’t seem nearly so evil in person. The dichotomy between the vitriol they’re taught at church and the nice, decent Mormons they personally know causes a lot of them to develop a strong mistrust of Mormons.

  20. Dave Nelson says:

    Liberals don’t like Mormons because they are pro-gay rights, pro-abortion, pro-free-sex and generally anti-family (they are about 20 times more likely to live together unmarried and have no children BTW).

    This seems to be a blatant, blanket mischaracterization of liberals, a sentiment that seems a bit surprising on a site where correspondents generally decry the mischaracterization of Mormons.

    Most of us liberals indeed support the right of committed, same-sex couples to enjoy the same civil rights afforded married couples. That does not mean we’re in favor of indiscriminate “free sex” or espouse “anti-family” sentiments.

    On the contrary, many liberals support the rights of families, especially the economically challenged couples who struggle daily in a country where there’s an increasing disparity in wealth. I don’t know anyone who is “pro-abortion,” but I’m acquainted with many who wish to leave that wrenching choice to a woman and her doctor.

    Incidentally, the Church Handbook of Instructions allows Latter-day Saints some discretion with regard to abortion in cases of rape and incest, a freedom which others in the so-called pro-life community might decry and “pro-abortion” or even “liberal.”

    Perhaps the bunker mentality demonstrated on this thread could be overcome if the correspondents afforded the same tolerance and understanding to others outside of their belief structure as they wish to have extended to them.

  21. Regarding the difference in the statistics between liberal/conservative and Democrat/Republican, I saw that a lot on my mission. I served in North Carolina, which is very Bible-belt. Many people were Democrats in sort of a dynastic fashion. Their parents had been Democrats, and their parents before them, etc. However, these people were actually quite conservative (and at odds with most of what the Democratic Party believes). Additionally, these people were very often Evangelicals, who have a rather negative view of Latter-day Saints.

  22. Dave Nelson: Note that you don’t really disagree with what I say — you just get indignant. Instead of speaking of marriage, you speak of “committed couples”. That isn’t really the same, is it? Moreover, you ignored the fact that those who self-label as liberal are about 20 times more likely to be unmarried and to have no children. Moreover, conservatives and liberals alike are in favor caring for the poor.

    I know several who are pro-abortion for teens, for anyone who just isn’t ready for kids and for those in developing countries. In fact, I believe that is pretty standard isn’t it?

    Look, I’m no conservative (as if that label had any real value), but labeling someone who merely makes observations about demographics of self-labeled as engaging in bunker mentality is a bit self-defensive for me. And for the record — I happen to be in favor of allowing a woman and man the right to choose after careful consideration. I am against indiscriminate abortion as birth control.

    Finally, I stick by my assessment. Anyone who is in favor of gay rights (as you admit you and other liberals are by definition) is going to have trouble with the Church’s stand on gay marriage. In fact, you do, don’t you?

  23. Dave Nelson says:

    Blake: I did not reply to your assertion to start a flame war, nor am I trying to troll this thread. I followed a link from the European Mormon Studies Association email I received last night and found this discussion at the top of the page.

    Being indignant is in the eye of the beholder. I thought your blanket condemnation of liberals was out of character with the rest of the comments on this thread, most of which were measured and moderate in tone.

    You may know of several “pro-abortion” people; I’ve never met one. However, even if you have encountered someone who genuinely promotes abortion, that doesn’t make the preponderance of liberals such. We liberals are generally pro-choice, regardless of our personal feelings about the procedure. We don’t think government should get between a pregnant woman and her doctor. Some might even regard that as a conservative sentiment.

    The definition of conservatism has changed quite a bit since I used to describe myself as one.

    As for the LDS Church’s stance on same-sex marriage, you’re certainly correct in saying I oppose it. That’s why I worship in the United Church of Christ these days. This afternoon, at my congregation’s meetinghouse, our minister will perform a blessing ceremony for a dedicated female couple that has been together for twelve years.

    That’s hardly a pro-free-sex stance. I affiliate with a liberal progressive denomination that promotes monogamy. That’s a bit different from current LDS doctrine, which specifies monogamy only in the current dispensation. Ask Elder Nelson.

  24. My unscientifc view is that that moderates are more likely to have a live and let live attitude than conservatives or liberals. Both conservatives and liberals tend to belive that their way is the right way, and anyone who doesn’t belive that them is either dumb (liberals) or dumb and going to hell (conservatives).

    This also bears out my impression that those who self identify as moderates tend to self identify themselves democrat.

  25. J. Daniel: “The problem here is that we associate liberals with democrats and conservatives with republicans. But the poll shows that conservatives and democrats like us more than liberals and republicans. Is our assumption about how the parties self-perceive wrong…?”

    Yes. Large segments of registered Democrats and Republicans self-identify as moderates.

    Blake: “you ignored the fact that those who self-label as liberal are about 20 times more likely to be unmarried and to have no children.”

    And these characteristics make people “anti-family?” Last time I checked, the singles ward in my stake was, therefore, anti-family. Are you also suggesting that folks like my unmarried neighbors with their three little kids are anti-family?

  26. Dave Nelson: Well, I’m certainly glad that you aren’t trying to start a flame war — that would be untoward even for a liberal. I’m not a liberal. I’m certainly not a conservative. You still don’t get that I am just making observations about demographics. Liberals who self identify are more likely to not be married and not have children. In fact, you don’t value marriage as it has been traditionally understood for the last millenium or so and in that you fit the liberal demographic. BTW you can look at reliable survey results (do you want citations?) which show that liberals are much more likely to believe that marriage is outmoded, that sexual relations outside of committed relationships are’t bad, evil or wrong in any way, and that homosexual activity is just as acceptable as heterosexual activity in marriage. They also express more consistently desire to be able to engage in sexual relationships without restraints moral or otherwise. It is just a demographic.

    That said, we are in essential agreement on abortion rights. I don’t like it either, but I believe that the government isn’t in the position to make the decision.

    As for same-sex marriage, it is an issue that is ripping apart the Episcopalians and Methodists and rejected by the overwhelmingly vast majority of Christians (at least if you count Roman and Orthodox Catholics as Christians like I do).

    Now I am going to go beyond making demographic observations. While I can certainly see why many reject the LDS Church’s stance on same sex marriage, I support it. I am in favor of emphasizing loving acceptance of all, including especially those who have same-sex proclivities. I believe that we must be especially aware of extending fellowship to them because they are so vulnerable. On the other, I don’t believe that we get to redefine sin just because we don’t like it. Further, I believe that the primary purpose of marriage is to provide stability for the family relationship and care for children. I don’t believe that homosexual couples ought to be allowed to adopt. So that makes marriage superfluous for them (as I see it).

    Finally, I believe that it is demonstrable that homosexual couples can achieve all the protections that marriage affords under current law — so the issue of having the same “civil rights” is a red herring. What they really want through marriage is social legitimization. I don’t believe the state has any business legitimizing homosexual relationships. But that is just how I see it. I don’t like it that it is that way, but that is the way I believe it is.

  27. Greg B. — No I don’t believe that the family down the street with 3 kids who are unmarried are anti-family, just anti-marriage. I believe that what makes liberals anti-family is that they are much less likely to choose not to have kids and not to get married. I don’t consider room-mates to be a family, even if they they sometimes have intimate relations.

  28. Blake, my impression is that Dave is upset about the free love attribution. I know a lot of liberals but no one who advocates free love.

    I was wondering if anyone had historical data. Mark Shields claimed on the News Hour that tolerance for many groups had increased since the sixties and Mormons were an outlier because intolerance against us has increased.’

    The Deseret News, however, quotes Rodney Stark that the results would have been worse thirty years ago.

    Does anybody know who is right?

  29. Greg B.,
    So this would indicate that there are more “moderates” in the Republican party than in the Democrat party?

    It is worth noting that among moderates and independents are where we receive a net favorable rating.

  30. Hellmut: It was and I believe continues to be a staple among liberals that what two consenting adults agree to ought not be touched by the governemnt. That doesn’t entail that they adovocate free-love; but that they believe it isn’t anyone’s business. It is “free love” that the government cannot address. However, recently the view that what two consenting adults do ought to not be anyone’s business and there is nothing wrong with it has emerged as a position advocated by “liberal” theologians who back gay rights.

  31. Hellmut says:

    It’s not that people dislike us for who we are, it’s that they dislike us for who they think we are. I wouldn’t vote for a polygamist either. We tend to think the church has made major PR strides; we haven’t. No-one knows us, and when they do, they think we’re Warren Jeffs.

    To the extent that this is correct that is a universal phenomenon that should not be limited just to Mormons. In our case, however, there are people that don’t like their experience with institutionalized Mormonism, either because they do not agree with our notion of Christianity of because they consider our political agenda threatening.

    Notice that we are just as unpopular in the West where people know us best. The good news is that the undecideds have disappeared and are breaking positively. In that sense, Ronan is correct. It should be troubling, however, that our negatives are remaining just as high as anywhere else.

    Gallup’s analysts think that people are comparatively familiar with Mormons:

    Only 18% of Americans have no opinion or say nothing comes to mind about the Mormon religion. That fact, plus the specificity of the open-ended responses, underscores the idea that Americans appear to have at least some basic concepts or associations about the Mormon religion.

    Ultimately, there are not that many people that are willing to confront bigotry and stick their head out on behalf of an unpopular minority. During the last fifty years, we have done a pretty good job alienating our natural defenders such as the ACLU, for example.

    Utah Mormons have a lot to answer for in that respect. So does the institutionalized Church. While Mormons all over the world have to rely on judicial review to defend their minority rights, there continues to be too little respect for minority rights where we are in the majority. And too many Mormons refer to civil rights groups and the courts as the enemy.

    Thank heavens, liberals reciprocate imperfectly and the ACLU is still willing to defend the civil rights of Mormons vigorously in places like Texas (see for example Santa Fe ISD v. Doe 2000).

    Instead of hiring PR firms, our reputation would be better served by a more principled approach to minority rights and we need to quit picking on marginal groups such as racial minorities, feminists, and gays.

  32. Hellmut,
    I object to what I feel is a mischaracterization on your part. I do not feel that the church as an institution now or has “picked on” minorities, feminists, or gays. Other than that, I kind of agree.

  33. Hellmut: I believe that you are correct in a substantial way. That said, I admit to being a bit troubled with the view that the Church as the sole bogeyman here. It is like the media that focuses on Mountain Meadows (no gripe with that) but ignores the deprevations at Haun’s Mill and Far West (big problem there). It seems to me that the fundamentalist evangelical churches also have a lot to answer for here. Polls show that among them, the majority are so prejudiced that they only need to know that a person is Mormon to know they wouldn’t consider voting for him/her. I have the same issue with someone who would vote for a Mormon just because s/he is a Mormon.

    Finally, I just disagree with your assessment of what you call “minority rights.” The church definitely believes that homosexual conduct is sinful; that doesn’t mean that homosexuals shouldn’t be extended every civil right, protected from attacks and accepted with love. Seeing homosexual conduct as sinful has nothing to do with “civil rights,” it has everything to do with the Church’s prophetic duty to warn against sinful conduct.

  34. Hellmut says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Blake and HDC. If we put ourselves into the shoes of those who are at the receiving end of our actions, we might feel different.

    Warning against sin is one thing. Regulating behavior with the coercive instruments of the government is another. Of course, people who value human rights will find that threatening, especially in the absence of science based justification for the official LDS position.

    African Americans in Utah certainly feel that they have been mistreated by Mormons, be they their LDS neighbors, classmates, and teachers or the LDS Church as an institution. If one reads the words of Mark Peterson, for example, one probably needs to choose much harsher language than “picking” to properly describe the apostle’s behavior.

    Remember that LDS apostles such as Neal Maxwell continued to preach against interracial marriages as late as 1995 (at a time when ten percent of my Wymount neighbors had married a spouse of another race). Since we all belong to the same species, racism requires marriage prohibitions.

    Back in the day, LDS advocates would agitate against the ERA threatening, for example, the abolition of separate bathrooms. The people who cared about the ERA have not forgotten that propaganda, which affected not only their agenda but also maligned them personally.

    It cannot surprise us if some of them will take a back seat when Pat Robertson’s employees spew anti-Mormon hate on AM radio.

    Anti-Mormon violence has actually been well covered in the media. Within the last five years PBS introduced two documentaries about Joseph Smith’s biography and the exodus to Deseret, which have been aired repeatedly.

    The apology of the Illinois state legislature shows how fortunate we have been with media coverage. If there had been any coverage of Joseph Smith’s contribution to the lawlessness, it would have been a lot more difficult to obtain that apology.

    In my opinion, the anti-gay referenda result in a net damage to our reputation. Of course, it must have been fun to win them all.

    It is true that we were able to benefit from alliances with Catholics, conservative Christians, and Christianists. The Gallup poll documents, however, that only Catholics view Mormons positively. The base of the other organizations is still looking at us as a cult. Add to that the people who are getting hurt by these referenda will have a long memory.

    The Romney campaign might transform the attitudes of right wing protestants. Andrew Sullivan claims that James Dobson is most likely to support Romney. That might do for Mormons what the Christian Coalition did for the Republicans in the South. We might become acceptable after all.

    In that case, the gay referenda strategy will turn out to be a public relations triumph. But even then the generational shift in attitudes about homosexuality will cost us in the long run.

    As I said earlier, the biggest consequence is that these acts separate us from our natural defenders when we are the target of discrimination. People would think twice if they dared to make a bigotted statement about Mormons if they knew that they would be censored by opinion leaders.

  35. Hellmut,
    I am familiar with the argument regarding Elder Maxwell’s words and I believe that it is based on a “worst-possible” interpretation of his words.

    I believe that you will find me eating my hat before James Dobson endorses Mitt Romney. Dobson’s distaste for Mormonism is well-documented.

    For that matter, I would not characterize any of those movements as attempts to “pick on” minorities in any case. Once again, these seems to be a matter of the benefit of the doubt. I am generally willing to extend it to the Brethren; you appear to generally be unwilling to extend it.

  36. Hellmut says:

    HP, I think it is great that you are not giving racism an inch within the gospel but how confident can we be that other believing Mormons are as discriminate as you and will not act on Maxwell’s advice in a racist way? Parents continue to report that their children are treated with condescension by fellow ward members.

    I am not going to invalidate the experience of those families so that I can be a comfortable Mormon.

    There is a historical context for Maxwell’s words. You might remember that the Brethren paired the priesthood declaration with vigorous messages against interracial marriages. Check it out in the 1978 and 1979 volumes of the Ensign. In light of the parallels, there is no room to interprete Maxwell’s words benevolently.

    Besides even if I were to concede Maxwell’s case there is no dearth of racist rhetoric by other leaders. How do you explain Peterson’s words? Wasn’t that racism that burdened African Americans who lived within Peterson’s sphere of influence?

    You might be right about Dobson. In that case, however, the net damage of the anti-gay referenda to Mormonism would increase because we would not be able to shift the negative reputation of Mormons among right wing evangelicals.

    The bottom line is that people are getting away with statements about Mormons, most prominently on AM radio, that would never be tolerated about African Americans or women. The question is where is the dog that did not bark?

    Is that phenomenon in any way related to the Gallup data? I suggest that it is. The civil rights community is not all that excited to defend a group that continues to affect the rights of others negatively.

  37. Greg B. says:

    JDC,

    This particular poll does not suggest that there are more moderates in the Republican party than in the Democratic party. It does suggest that, on average, Republicans hold unfavorable views of the Church (Democrats’ negative opinions fall within the margin of error). It also suggests that people who self-identify with the “liberal” pole of the rather narrow US political spectrum have, on average, negative opinions of our religion (conservatives’ negative opinions fall within the margin of error).

    What we don’t know from the presentation of the data is how many respondents self-identified as liberal or Republican–or conservative, Independent, Democratic, or independent. Because the data also tell us nothing about how political moderation correlates with party identification, I don’t see how the survey can be construed to suggest that there are more moderates in the Republican party than in the Democratic party.

    However, you might be forgiven for assuming there are more moderates in the Democratic party based on this data–if you place liberals in the party they must be balanced out by significant numbers with positive views to bring the Democratic negatives within the margin of error. But this conclusion is also a stretch with Gallup’s limited data and analyis.

  38. Jessawhy says:

    Greg,
    I was going to say most of what you said. If there were numbers of respondents, instead of just percentages, we could know more about the Cons/Lib split vs the Rep/Dem split. This is a good example about how pure statistics can misrepresent the picture.
    I thought the more interesting statistic was the regional one. As the LDS church is better known in the west, I find it comforting that the west was the only region where the favorable score was higher than the unfavorable score. That tells me that any Mormon politician needs to educated the areas of the country that don’t know much about his/her religion.

  39. Jessawhy says:

    I also want to comment on the idea that the church’s history of polygamy is part of the reason that folks don’t look at us favorably. Up until recently, I would have said, “that’s crazy, of course we don’t support polygamy.” Which is technically true, but we do support it in some ways and have never come out saying that it isn’t the “higher law.” Sections of the D&C still discuss polygamy as celestial marriage, and as far as I know temple sealings are still set up in that way. (a widow cannot be sealed to more than one man, although a widower can be sealed again). I think the concerns about polygamy by the public in general are fair. They are issues that still cause consternation within the church membership. I am interested to see if closer scrutiny of this issue in the public eye has any impact on church policy.

  40. Darron Smith says:

    Folks, you truly have been engaging in a very fascinating debate over Mormonisms troubling history and mistreatment of minorities, particularly African Americans. I have said repeatedly the church must forthrightly address its racist past because, whether we Mormons see this reality of not, many Americans are under the assumption that the church is a racist and polygamist organization. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney must, to some extent, bare that burden. I think it is unfair for Romney, however the church has not done its part in addressing its own historical wrongs. I was especially fascinated by Hellmut’s Maxwell quote that is indeed suggestive that some church leaders continue to spew forth racist remarks regarding the nature of interracial marriage. What is more surprising is the willingness of many on this blog to politely excuse Maxwell’s behavior then we wonder why the Church is the object of scorn by many. It is not a strecth of the imagination to assert that our church is considerably hostile to gays, lesbians, and African Americans to be sure. Many converts to the Church since 1978 have been primarily carribean and African blacks who have a entirely different experience with white supremacy. Carribean and African blacks seems to endorse the “American dream” metaphor more readily than North American blacks. Understandably North American blacks, are skeptical of what America has yet to provide enmasse in terms of opportunity and equal treatment. As Hellmut stated, there are continuing reports of mistreatment by African Americans, gays, lesbians and other Americans of color within the church national wide by well-meaning Latter-day Saints. Many of this well-intentioned practitioners of the faith regularly attend sacrament meeting each and every Sunday.

    Although such extreme examples seem removed from the causual observer, the fact remains that our church is in need of reform from the bottom up and top down.

    I am also concerned by the heavy emphasis on conservative politics that is intertwined with gospel prose. Thus sayeth the Lord is akin with republicanism and made to appear that is not what is happening. In the church, there seems to be little tolerance for open and honest discussion on the most pressing issues of our day. The reluctance to address social issues that effect us all is perhaps one reason why African American have not flock to Mormonism in a post 1978 era. Mainline white churches do not address the political aims of communities of color. Hence, the perception of God, as a manifestation of social justice, is so very removed from the white theological traditions, especially within Mormonism. Anyway, I am rambling and if I “know” my white generally conservative brothers and sisters nobody cares anyway.

    —Darron

  41. Antonio Parr says:

    Non-LDS’s negative impression of Latter-Day Saints is not the result of our strong families or our sense of service or our devotion to prayer or our quest for holiness. Non-LDS’s don’t like LDS’s because there are glaring aspects of our past (and, to some extent, our present) that are simply unlikeable. Polygamy? Degrading to women. (Who among us wishes for our daughters to be part of some kind of a celestial harem?) Blacks and the Priestood? This doctrine appears to have been nothing more than a reflection of the prejudice/racism of Church leaders. I can’t even imagine a credible argument for this practice. God used to be a man? Not if you want to count the Bible as part of your scriptural foundation. The whitewashing of our history? Looks like something the Soviet Union would do.

    All of these practices/dogmas/doctrines are painful legacies that we pass on to our children, needlessly burdening them with baggage that detracts from that which is good and holy and noble in our faith.

    Who can blame a non-LDS for being repulsed by the unseemly aspects of our faith?

    Our Church has many aspects that are stunningly beautiful and, in many respects, unique to our faith. It is tragic that the luster of our faith is tarnished by things that just don’t belong in our past.

  42. Antonio: “God used to be a man? Not if you want to count the Bible as part of your scriptural foundation.”

    Well Antonio, there was that man in Palestine around the turn of the century who was with God in the beginning and was God. The assertion “God became a man” happens to be the universal Christian affirmation. That ought to count as God being a man.

    I know you mean the Father becoming a man, but surely there is scriptural support for that too. If Jesus does what his Father did, that is scriptural support and it is BTW in the Bible. It is one of the doctrines of the restoration that I value most and believe is very defensible.

    That said, I agree that the black policy never was based on revelation and was supported by widely accepted pejudices that should have been challenged.

    I disagree about Polygamy. If a grown woman chooses to enter into polygamy, who are you to say it is degrading? I wouldn’t “wish it on my daughter”, but that has connotations of forcing it on her. If she is mature and chooses it, then it is her choice and not mine. I grew up in Sandy, Utah with a number of polygamist friends. They were good and decent people that I respect even today. Your judgments about them as degraded women are based on ignorance about them. They are not degraded women, but noble and good people.

    Now for something very important. It seems to be assumed that if a doctrine or practice doesn’t play well in Peoria the Church ought to abandon it. The same folks asserting or assuming that we ought to be culturally palatable chastise the Church for its attempts to assuage the public through PR campaigns. It’s a no win. I don’t give a woof about what others think of our beliefs and practices if that means giving up something truly essential to the gospel.

  43. Darron mentioned Hellmut’s “Maxwell quote.” I looked and didn’t see any quote at all but a characterization of what Hellmut believes he said. Neal Maxwell was a good friend of mine. I don’t like it when folks attribute to him something he didn’t do or say. The only thing I remember was a caution about marrying people with different backgrounds because marriage is difficult enough without mixing in challenges of melding different cultures as well as different people. However, it was a wise caution and not a mandate. So i don’t know what Hellmit is referring to — could you provid the actual quote that you believe is racist?

  44. Antonio Parr says:

    Blake:

    I’ll withdraw the “God used to be a man” issue, except to add as an aside that the God that I worship is not subordinate to any other being. (I, on the other hand, intend to worship my God forever, thus placing my status as one that is eternally subordinate.)

    As to race, we need to be mature enough as a people to simply fess up that we were wrong with our ban on priesthood.

    Finally, I think that polygamy is a heartbreaking relationship, where women are, by the very nature of the relationship, placed in an inferior status. I also believe that the practice as administered in the early church was frequently coercive, and broke the hearts of many fine women.

    As to what plays in Peoria, I don’t live there. I also don’t live in Salt Lake City, and am very sensitive to the challenges that my children face as perhaps the only Latter-Day Saints in their schools. It is one thing to stand up for what is right. It is quite another thing altogether to place them in the position of having to defend against things that are not defensible.

  45. Antonio: The God that I worship never has been nor never will be subordinate to another. We agree on that. In fact, I have argued at length that the KJV doesn not entail that the Father was ever less than fully divine any more than Christ’s being mortal entails that.

    As for polygamy, I simply disagree. I don’t believe that the relationship is inherently inferior nor are the people who engage in it. I know them well. The practice may have been coercive at times in the early church — marriage even in monogoamy was often coercive throughout history. That is why I emphasized the voluntary nature of a mature decision.

    Know that I pray for you and your children. However, refusal to defend a view doesn’t make it indefensible. Please understand that I don’t suggest your children refuse to defend anything; I believe simply that failing to defend and what is defensible are two very different things.

  46. Whoops, Antonio I meant KFD, not KJV.

  47. molly bennion says:

    Darron, Thanks for your post. I hope you do know many of us care deeply. The folklore must go, officially and finally, before we can deal with our history and build a true community of saints.

  48. Hellmut says:

    You are right, Blake. The speech that I was thinking of was by Russell M. Nelson:

    The probabilities of a successful marriage are known to be much greater if both the husband and wife are united in their religion, language, culture, and ethnic background. Thus, in choosing your eternal companion, please be wise. It’s better not to fly in the face of constant head winds. Occasional squalls provide challenge enough.

    More Excellent Hope, January 8, 1995

    My apologies to Neal Maxwell.

  49. Greg, thanks for the analysis. It brings me back to the original question, though. If our understanding of self-professed Libs being mostly Dems and self-professed Cons being mostly Reps, what message does this data give us?

    Jessawhy, I think you are crediting the public with a greater desire to understand our doctrine and its intricacies than the public actually has. I believe that they associate us with polygamy primarily because of 19th century polygamy and, possibly, because of offshoots like Warren Jeffs.

    Darron,
    “you truly have been engaging in a very fascinating debate over Mormonisms troubling history and mistreatment of minorities, particularly African Americans.”
    You and I must operate using different definitions of fascinating. In general, Hellmut has brought stuff up and I have said that there is no compelling need to accept his interpretation of it. Scintillating.
    “What is more surprising is the willingness of many on this blog to politely excuse Maxwell’s behavior then we wonder why the Church is the object of scorn by many.”
    As has become apparent, Hellmut had the wrong Apostle; I went with it because Hellmut has used the argument before using the right apostle and I forgot which one it was, Blake pointed out the right Apostle, and Hellmut supplied the actual quote, which isn’t remotely rascist. Let’s all just move on, eh.
    “It is not a strecth of the imagination to assert that our church is considerably hostile to gays, lesbians, and African Americans to be sure.”
    I 100& disagree with this statement. Our church is not “considerably hostile” to those minorities. This is a distortion, plain and simple.
    Finally, since you seem to deal in gross over-generalizations, please tell me if our Church, as a whole, is more or less integrated than most other churches out there and please tell me how our racial record stacks up with other US churches given. How many lynchings have we actively and unambiguously endorsed? How many sermons did we read in support of segregation? Please enlighten me, Bro. Smith.

    Antonio,
    “The whitewashing of our history? Looks like something the Soviet Union would do.”
    History is nothing; look at our art!

    Hellmut,
    I am sorry for adding fire to the mistake by acting like I know what I am talking (it happens a lot). Now that I am confronted by the quote, I find it starkly un-rascist. So, I don’t believe that even a generous benefit of the doubt is necessary.

  50. Oops, I “100% disagree” with Darron on the church’s hostility

  51. I see 2 camps of Anti LDS hostility.

    1. Old School anti-mormonism practiced by the evangelicals. For example here in Texas many private elementary schools ask parents to sign a statement of belief that repudiates additional scripture besides the bible. This seems aimed at us specifically. Also some parents in our area will not allow their children to play with the LDS kids at the urging of the local pastors.

    2. A newer form of Anti-mormonism practiced by secular progressives. Usually hinging on gender roles, SSM, abortion etc. Usually the practioners of this type of anti-mormonism also have issues with the other conservative faith groups as well. I witnessed this first hand at a Big Ten University.

    As I stated yesterday in SS School: “We must be doing something right to get both ends of the political spectrum mad at us.”

    I found the poll to be a mess. Not well done at all.

    Nelson’s quote is quite tame to be honest.

  52. HP, what about Mark Peterson’s language. Do you find that “unracist” as well?

    In the meanwhile, I conducted a little experiment and showed Nelson’s language to my friends and students and asked them what it meant.

    The consensus reading is: Don’t marry black people!

    Frankly, I am astonished that you disagree. It’s well known code among racists, Mormon and gentile, that has been used for decades.

    In fact, intermarriage prohibitions are the essence of racism.

    Race is not a biological category. Rather it is a social construct that rests on intermarriage prohibitions.

    Human beings belong to the same species, which means that males and females of any group can procreate successfully. Race becomes a social reality only in light of instructions such as: Don’t marry one of those.

    Nelson is advocating a notion of sex and culture that is essentially racist.

    To be sure, we have all been socialized in a racist environment, which is not something that one can just shake off. Ultimately, the difference between insensitivity and a commitment to racism is the intermarriage prohibition.

    If people want to determine whether they have shed a commitment to racism then they need to ask themselves if they would mind if their daughter were to marry an African American man, everything else being equal.

  53. Jessawhy says:

    I’m with Hellmut on the racism thing. It rubs me the wrong way. Nelson has a point, there are plenty of challenges w/o marrying someone very different from you.
    I guess I’ve always seen inter-racial marriage as a chure to racism. If everyone was forced (or chose) to marry someone from another race, we could eliminate racism in a generation.
    The ways things stand now, with quotes like that, we just perpetuate it.

  54. Hellmut,
    I have no illusions about the racism of Elder Peterson’s comments. Nor do I have illusions about the environment in which they were spoken. Further, I have no illusions as to President McKay’s feelings about Black People and yet he prayed frequently to have the ban lifted in his lifetime. Matters here are complex and painting them in the simplistic black/white manner in which you are doing it is either manipulative or terribly naive. I don’t believe that you are naive.

    Further, when you conducted the poll, did you prime the candidates? It is possible to read “ethnic group” as referring to something other than what we today call race, even when uttered in the neolithic period of the mid 1990’s. Since the point regarding searching for a compatible mate was made without sole reference to “ethnic group” I contend, and will continue to contend, that Elder Nelson did not have miscegenation on his mind when he said it and that attempts to read it in his statements are examples of people finding what they are looking for.

    Hellmut, you come from a land with its own troubling history of race, as do I. In my experience, when someone wants to be racist and believes that they are talking to a sympathetic audience, they choose to be openly racist. As it stands, you are assuming that all Mormons were meant to quickly pull out their decoder rings and intuit in some fashion what Elder Nelson wanted all of us to understand. In other words, you are dealing with what you believe him to have said, not with what he said. That is no evidence on which to build a case.

    For that matter, there is no interracial marriage prohibition. Why are you (and Jessawhy, I guess) pretending that there is?

  55. Hellmut: I agree that Peterson’s comments were racist, but they are old and they paralleled the apologetics for the priesthood ban in effect at the time and they have since been retracted, in my view, by the statements of McConkie and by the elimination of the ban itself. You ought to at least acknowledge, if you are interested in being honest, that Nelson’s words are in a completely different category. Your interpretation of them as a “prohibition” is strained at best. Such interpretations court the idea that one in authority cannot even talk about racial differences without being branded a racist. That’s not helpful or appropriate, in my view.

    Jessawhy: what is the “racism thing” exactly, that rubs you the wrong way? Racism, wherever it is found, should more than “rub us the wrong way” but the problem is that when we go out of our way to find it in innocent statements like Nelson’s we are just setting up straw men.

    Equally unhelpful, in my view, are “cures” like the one you suggest. Ignoring, for the moment, the fact that it just ain’t gonna happen, the other problem is that, from what I know of genetics, it would not cure anything. The cure, if there is one, is found in changing the hearts and minds of all of us which, though it may take more than one generation, is preferable to genetic engineering.

  56. “since you seem to deal in gross over-generalizations, please tell me if our Church, as a whole, is more or less integrated than most other churches out there and please tell me how our racial record stacks up with other US churches given. How many lynchings have we actively and unambiguously endorsed? How many sermons did we read in support of segregation? Please enlighten me, Bro. Smith.”

    I will try to respond in as peaceable way as I can.

    Bro. Crawford,

    I am not aware of any lynchings supported by our Church (but then I am not aware of any mainline churchs that “actively and unambiguously endorsed” any lynchings).

    I can think of books and speeches that supported segregation (including one that seems to support “caste” systems as being gospel based) and that claimed that the civil rights movement was a communist front. These books and speeches were written or spoken by individuals sustained as prophets, seers and revelators. I can give you links to some of those statements if you desire.

    I do not have access to statistics on how well our Church compares in the United States with other denominations in terms or “integrated” or “nonintegrated” congregations. I do know that there are very few African Americans members in our stake (and we live in a fairly integrated geographic area). I also know of one African American stake president in the United States. Do you have other information in this respect, HP/JDC?

    I am not aware of any other churches of respectable size that declined to allow black African males to be ordained to the priesthood as late as the 1970s. Do you know of any others? Also, do you know of any other churches of respectable size (or in fact, any churches at all) that withheld their highest marriage rites from black Africans until the late 1970s? Or any other churches whose publishing arms continue to publish books teaching the curse of Cain and the curse of Ham?

  57. Darron,

    I echoe Molly Bennion’s comment.

  58. “echo”, not “echoe” (sorry) [?or is it potatoe?]

  59. I also do not have access to statistics so I operate only from anecdotal evidence. In the south, where I grew up, it was my experience that our church was the only one that was somewhat integrated (hard to judge, as you note, there were not a lot of black members). It remains my experience that, in the south where I grew up, the number of integrated churches is very few, but we are one of them.

    The same caveats apply to the other statements you make, in that I anecdotally know of churches who would sooner kill a black man than allow him to preach in their halls today.

    Regarding Mormon Doctrine, it has been repeated endlessly lately that DBook is allowing it to go out of print. FWIW.

    In general, in the ’50’s, the era in which these pernicious GA quotes seem to be made, they are not unusual (unfortunately). We have some evidence that President McKay was praying to have the ban removed 20 years prior to its actual removal. As to why it wasn’t removed then, I don’t know, but assuming conspiracy on the part of the brethren (as Darron and Hellmut do) isn’t helpful.

    I also cannot speak to the numbers of North American African American Stake Presidents. I would assume that since we are just reaching the point were we have North American African American 20 year priesthood bearers that whatever numbers we have may soon grow.

    Hellmut’s point and Darron’s point is that the church is hostile to minorities. I don’t believe that to be the case. Calling me out on my gross-generalizations when I admit I am using such, how does that make Hellmut’s and Darron’s point make sense?

  60. Hellmut says:

    Further, I have no illusions as to President McKay’s feelings about Black People and yet he prayed frequently to have the ban lifted in his lifetime. Matters here are complex and painting them in the simplistic black/white manner in which you are doing it is either manipulative or terribly naive.

    Hold on, HP. Of course, Mormon attitudes about race are more complex than one statement by Russell Nelson in 1995. However, there is a context for this argument. You questioned my assertion that the civil rights community has reason to consider Mormons violators of minority rights.

    In the context of that question, violations are sufficient to verify an existential statement. Other items might be relevant for a more encompassing discussion of race relations within the Mormon experience but not in order to establish the veracity of my initial claim.

    You are moving the goal line mid game and then evaluate my answer in light of a different question. That’s not reasonable.

    In my experience, when someone wants to be racist and believes that they are talking to a sympathetic audience, they choose to be openly racist.

    Racists are not idiots, HP. They are perfectly capable of adapting to their environment. I am beginning to wonder how much experience with racism you actually have.

    We are living in societies where racism has become a taboo. As the sanctions for racist behavior have increased many racists have increasingly relied on code and insinuation. That is true of antisemites in Germany as well as racists in the United States.

    Of course, if one acknowledges racism only in the presence of the most inflammatory language then one cannot be surprised to find little of it. That might help us sleep well but it is neither a reasonable nor a responsible view of the world.

    Notice, you have not engaged my arguments about the essence of racism, which establish the racist nature of Nelson’s statement.

    I have collected about a dozen statementsby LDS apostles between 1956 and 1995 discouraging intermarriage, which document the evolution of the relevant language. To date, Nelson’s is the last one in a chain of statements that were objected to increasing sanctions.

    Once one controls for the increasing sanctions of racism, there is little difference between Peterson’s and Nelson’s language. Peterson was less constrained and more outspoken.

    It is, of course, always possible that I might be wrong myself.

    I offer you two experiments, HP. First, we randomly select ten members of the American Political Science Association’s section on Race and Ethnicity. We send them Nelson’s text with an interpretation by you and me. If less than nine agree with me then I will concede that Nelson’s language is ambiguous with respect to racism.

    Alternatively, next time you are in DC, we can go to Howard University and ask their students how they read Nelson’s language. Lots of luck finding anyone who does not think that this statement is about whites marrying African Americans.

    In the meanwhile, you might be interested to learn that I have received several e-mails of African American graduates of our Alma Mater who had no problem recognizing Russell Nelson’s statement for what it is and identified the consequences that this kind of language continues to have for their social status.

    One pointed out that Asians had a lot less difficulties than people of African heritage, which confirms in her mind that I was not the only one who interpreted Nelson’s words in terms of black and white relations.

    Thank heavens there are white BYU students that marry black BYU students. Their life is not easy. The biggest obstacle to a harmonious marriage turn out to be their brothers and sisters who feel obligated to demonstrate their allegiance to the Brethren by passing judgement. It turns out that Nelson’s and his colleagues’s statements have become a self-fulfilling prophecies.

    MCQ, Bruce McConkie deserves credit for admitting that he was wrong. If the LDS Church operated on that model and explicitly discarded erroneous statements by authorities then Mormon society would be healthier.

    With respect to Peterson, it is true that his statements are old but they are also two years younger than Brown v. Board. Bruce McConkie apologized twenty four years after Brown. An event in 1978 cannot disprove my argument that the civil rights community has reason to perceive our lack of commitment to minority rights.

    The cure, if there is one, is found in changing the hearts and minds of all of us which, though it may take more than one generation, is preferable to genetic engineering.

    Intermarriage is not about genetic engineering but it demonstrates that race is no longer a relevant category. The good news is that intermarriage rates are increasing steadily. There could not be a better proof that hearts and minds are changing than intermarriage.

    Those, however, who discourage intermarriage are denying that we all belong to the same species. To use your language, MCQ, they are imagining genes and have hardened their hearts.

  61. “Other items might be relevant for a more encompassing discussion of race relations within the Mormon experience but not in order to establish the veracity of my initial claim.”

    I understood your initial claim to be that the Mormon church is actively and currently seeking to “pick on” minorities. I then proceeded to say that I do not believe that to be the case. Then you cited the evidence of older quotes (the most recent being the very innocuous Elder Nelson quote) in order to show that the Church was racist. I said that the whole nation was racist, so finding the church to have so been is not a stunning revelation and that I find significant the fact that though the church was racist, some of the prominent leaders of the church still tried to get rid of the priesthood ban.

    Once again, your initial claim, as I understood it, was that Mormons are actively and currently “picking on” minorities. It wasn’t me who changed the playing field.

    What are you arguments about the essence of racism? I seem to have missed them entirely. Are you arguing about the social construct situation? I understand that it is common in European discourse to use race and “ethnicity” as interchangable terms, but this simply isn’t the case in US discourse. While I agree with you that race is primarily a matter of social construct, I don’t agree that race and ethnicity cover the exact same semantic field in typical American discourse and I certainly don’t believe that they do in Elder Nelson’s speech.

    Heck, Hellmut, I don’t mind you sending it to whomever you want. You can even send me the results of the survey. I would still disagree with you over the right way to read this statement and I would still believe that this is more a case of your bias than mine. How about we split the difference and send it to a group of sociolinguists?

    Hellmut, Pres. Hinckley has explicitly stated that basing religious judgments or beliefs on the color of another person’s skin is not acceptable and that it puts the bearer of ill will in some ecclesiastical jeopardy. I appreciate that you do not believe that he may have gone far enough, but between his statement’s and Elder McConkie’s I do not believe that there is a place for the racist in our church today.

  62. Furthermore, if I was of a mind to look for a target audience at whom Elder Nelson’s counsel was being directed, I would assume that he was talking to those who treat their foreign missions EVERYWHERE IN THE WORLD as an opportunity to look for mail-order brides. After all, he specifically mentions “language” as a potential cause of “head winds” in the home. The last I checked, Citizens of the USA do not consider the African-Americans among us to be speakers of some foreign tongue.

    I am sorry that your African-American friends found themselves in Elder Nelson’s remarks. But that has much more to do with the debate regarding the place of race in the US as a whole and almost nothing to do with the actual content of Elder Nelson’s words.

  63. Hellmut says:

    Once again, your initial claim, as I understood it, was that Mormons are actively and currently “picking on” minorities.

    HP, my claim is that we do not have a clean rap sheet in the eyes of the civil rights community. Unfortunately, there is a pattern of behavior that targets various minorities and marginal groups. Targeted groups include at various times in history, African Americans, homosexuals, feminists, and gentiles in Utah.

    Officers of the Church are implicated in such actions to varying degrees. During the last fifty years, the target groups have changed and the amount of discrimination has shifted.

    With respect to contemporary behavior, you only need to look at the referenda campaigns that are instigated by us, advocated in sacrament meeting, and seeded with Mormon money. Now you and other Mormons may not consider that discrimination but in a sense that is irrelevant to the argument at hand. I assure you that there is a consensus in the civil rights community that we are discriminating gays.

    With respect to feminists and intellectuals, one only needs to look to Elder Packer who explicity designated them as enemies of the kingdom.

    qed

    What are you arguments about the essence of racism? . . . I understand that it is common in European discourse to use race and “ethnicity” as interchangable terms, but this simply isn’t the case in US discourse.

    Precisely, ethnicity and race are not the same. There is no such thing as race in the absence of intermarriage prohibitions.

    If no one had ever shared Nelson’s ideas about intermarriage then there would not be racism. His words are transforming ethnicity into a racist category.

    Strange, he is not even a European.

  64. “my claim is that we do not have a clean rap sheet in the eyes of the civil rights community.”
    Well, in that case, why are we arguing. I agree. Nor will we have one for quite a while.

    “there is a pattern of behavior that targets various minorities and marginal groups.”
    This is the point where I disagree. There has been a pattern of such behavior, sure. But I believe that the church has moved beyond it. Cold comfort to those directly affected, I am sure, but I believe that this is something that can be put in the past tense.

    “consensus in the civil rights community that we are discriminating gays.”
    Now that is a funny typo!

    I don’t know about your assertion regarding the prohibition on intermarriage as being the sole cause of “race” talk. I kind of belief that there are other issues at work. As an example, I don’t believe that the Bible, in its prohibitions on intermarriage, explicitly uses race talk, although I don’t believe that ethnic designations in the Bible center on race, but rather on religion (which do not share the same semantic range). That said, I do not believe myself to be in the minority opinion regarding that reading of the Bible today. Further, there at plenty of restrictions regarding marriage that have nothing to do with race, as I am sure that you would agree.

    “ethnicity and race are not the same.”
    Once again, if you agree with me, why are we having this conversation? ;)

    “If no one had ever shared Nelson’s ideas about intermarriage then there would not be racism. His words are transforming ethnicity into a racist category.”
    Once again, I don’t think that I agree with this argument. I don’t believe that such prohibitions are essentially racist, although they are essentially exclusionary. Another example would be the effective prohibition of the upstairs from marrying the downstairs in Victorian England. This is, I believe, a prohibition based on factors aside from race or even ethnicity (although I might accept culture as the discriminatory barrier).

    This argument comes down to this:
    Hellmut believes that when Elder Nelson says “ethnicity,” he means “race”
    I believe that when Elder Nelson says “ethnicity,” he means “ethnicity”

    I don’t know that we are going to convince each other that the other’s reading is the correct one. So, where do we take the conversation from here?

  65. Hellmut: I don’t believe that Nelson’s statement is racist in the least and it takes a pretty determined slant to take it as anything other than a pretty wise statement: marriage can be tought and marrying someone with a lot of difference is tougher genrally than somone with fewer differences. How is that racist?

    In my own experience, I believe LDS make a point of being conscious about not being racist. I believe that we are super-conscious as a matter of fact. In my experience those with same-sex attractions are treated with respect and love. However, telling someone that their lifestyle is unacceptable is equal opportunity — those living with members of the opposite sex receive the same message as those who have same sex relations. I have a hard time seeing that as hostile toward gays. Hostile toward sin is a more appropriate characterization. Now you may disagree with the Church about whether same-sex relations are in fact sinful — just as you may disagree about whether opposite sex relations outside of marriage are sinful. But that isn’t hostility toward a minority. I don’t want anyone to believe that I am saying that gays are necessarily pedophiles (they are not), but there is a parallel to assert that the Church is hostile to pedophiles because it won’t accept their conduct. I don’t see the Church as hostile to them; it is their conduct the Church rejects because it gets in the way of life and exalatation. You may disagree, but that is to put a spin on a view of God’s commandments rather than on racism or intolerance of others.

  66. greenfrog says:

    Blake,

    A couple of points:

    Regarding your belief stated in 28 that all privileges the law affords to married couples can be obtained by gay couples without marriage, it is ill-informed. You cannot, no matter how much you might be willing to pay a skilled lawyer, write a document that will afford to a same-sex couple the same financial benefits the Internal Revenue Code confers on my wife and I each year. Nor can the same lawyer write a clause that will confer upon same-sex partners social security spousal survivor benefits. The list of similar prohibitions, absent marriage, is actually quite long, if you’re interested.

    Regarding your assertion in #33:

    “The church definitely believes that homosexual conduct is sinful; that doesn’t mean that homosexuals shouldn’t be extended every civil right, protected from attacks and accepted with love.”

    Were you aware that in the early 1990s, the Church was a prominent policy and financial supporter of the adoption of Amendment 2 in Colorado, a statewide constitutional amendment by referendum that overturned local ordinances in Denver and Boulder that prohibited discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment or housing?

  67. Hellmut, it sounds like you are saying that race doesn’t exist absent interracial marriage prohibitions. I might be wrong about this, but most people aren’t ashamed their race and don’t find a need to pretend it doesn’t exist and add a dimension to their lives that wouldn’t be their if they belonged to a different race. Presumably, members of minority races in any given society would not take kindly to your denial of their race as a category. It seems you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater by denying that race exists at all in an attempt to make your argument that prohibitions on interracial marriage are bad.

    As for your interesting comment about Asian-Americans’ vs. African-Americans’ response to Elder Nelson’s statement, it doesn’t really make much sense. Elder Nelson’s statement was uniform; an Asian-American is equally addressed by it as an African-American or a Caucasian-American. It is unclear why you are trying to argue that African-Americans saw themselves more in the statement than Asian-Americans. It’s just a strange approach for you to take, that’s all.

  68. greenfrog: You are right that gay couples don’t presently get the benefit of a married couple filing jointly. They didn’t pay the “marriage tax” that arises from filing jointly either. The tax code is a meandering pastiche of exceptions. However, if you’ll look the standard deduction for 2006 for a single filing is $5,150. For married filing jointly it is $10,300. No benefit there from marriage and no less deduction for two singles filing separately.

    You are right that the Social Security Benefit won’t be passed on to a same-sex spouse even if married because federal law prohibits it; but it can replaced with a designated beneficiary trust. I hesitate to add that room-mates cannot receive the Social Security benefit either.

    As for Colorado’s amendment 2, the 14th Amendment of U.S. Const. guarantees equal rights and civil rights to all regardless of sexual orientation. Unless Colorado’s laws added something to the spate of laws ranging from the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Fair Housing Act, I fail to see that Amendemnt 2 in Colorado impacted anything having to do with same sex couples.

  69. Darron: I care. I agree with Molly too.

  70. “Race is not a biological category. Rather it is a social construct that rests on intermarriage prohibitions.”

    Hellmut – race is biological. There are definitely genetic concommitants of race that are identifiable. There are a lot of intermarriage prohibitions that are not based on race — marrying one’s brother is almost universally frowned upon! So I don’t see this way of viewing the issue as enlightening.

  71. Boyo’s,
    Here’s my two Euro cents’ worth:

    Hellmut,
    I’m afraid you’re simply wrong about Nelson’s comment, at least in one fundamental way: it is not code for “white women, don’t marry black men.”

    But I’ll agree with you that it may well be construed as such at Howard University. That is important actually, and public figures ought to be careful in what they say (even if they don’t mean what people think they mean).

    I also find it unlikely that such advice as Elder Nelson gave would be offered today, which means that there is an increasing sensitivity to these matters. Howard University-types have every reason to believe that Mormons are racist; it is now up to us to disabuse them of that notion. It will take much careful work. We have only just begun, but begun we have. You should give the church some credit for that.

    I have to say, though, that given the fact that the church usually sacramentalises a little “head-wind” in marriage (like, “a few babies whilst in grad school is good for the soul”), race-“compatibility” should be way down a list that ought to be headed with “marry someone you really, deeply love.”

  72. greenfrog says:

    Blake,

    Your implication that my gay and lesbian friends who have lived monogamously in committed relationships for decades are nothing more significant than “roommates” is just plumb silly. The same silliness could be applied to my wife and I. I assure you, I can see a meaningful distinction between my relationship with my wife and my relationships with the many other people I lived with temporarily prior to marriage. I’d be willing to be that you could, too, whether my wife and I have children or not.

    I won’t belabor the point about Colorado’s amendment 2. The history of it is sufficiently detailed in the Supreme Court’s decision, Roemer v. Evans, and you can read it if you’re interested. The fact is that, despite the 14th Amendment’s terms, the Amendment 2 advocates insisted that the 14th Amendment of U.S. Constitution did not apply to sexual orientation. The Church supported them in those arguments. (And, FWIW, Rex Lee, in private practice at that point, pitched in on the pro-discrimination efforts and attached his name to the pro-discrimination court briefs.)

    It’s decidedly peculiar to argue that the Church was on the side of civil rights for gays because the 14th Amendment protected them from discrimination, given that the Church was arguing exactly the opposite, and simply lost the battle at the Supreme Court.

  73. greenfrog says:

    For those who understand race as a reified “thing” separate from culture, when does it go away? At what point in the genetic mixing process is a white person no longer “white”? At what point is a black person no longer “black”? How confident are you that a person you look at today as “Oriental” is, in fact, sufficiently genetically “Oriental” to be racially categorized as “Oriental”? What if the only “Oriental” genetic inheritance was from one of the person’s four grandparents? Is that enough? What if it’s only one of a person’s eight great-grandparents?

  74. greenfrog: I suspect that we are talking past each other. The reference to room-mates is raised because the law has a difficult time distinguishing between relationships of commitment and relationships of convenience. No one that I know believes room-mates ought to get preferential tax treatment or additional civil rights in virtue of their relationship regardless of whether the room mates are same or opposite sexes.

    You now limit your response not to gay people, but specifically to gays in committed realationships for decades. Such committed people ought to creates trusts and wills and contractual agreements that reflect their commitment — and they can. They don’t need marriage to do it.

    FYI I’m well familiar with Roemer v. Evans and civil rights decisions of the Supreme Court because it is an area in which I practice and frequently litigate (i.e., civil rights and things like status of gay clubs in schools; not specifically laws that may discriminate against gays). Further, I don’t believe that anyone has ever argued that the Church is on the side of civil rights for gays — at least to the extent we are talking about laws in favor of gays as opposed to anyone else. As I read it, the Church is opposed to special civil rights recognizeable for gays only (as justices Scalia, Thomas and Rhenquist all read prop. 2 to provide as well).

    Finally, a reference to “ethnicity” isn’t race-based but a distinction based on differences in backgrounds. Italians and Swedish folks are different ethnicities though both are overwhelmingly caucasion. Elder Nelson is just saying it is wise to marry someone we have more and not less in common with. Sounds like good advice to me. It seems to me that at times the worst possible spin or interpretation is given to anything said by Church leaders to damn them. It seems that we ought to extend a courtesy of a charitable reading of their words.

  75. greenfrog says:

    Blake,

    Perhaps we are talking past one another.

    We agree, apparently, that the Church actively, politically, and financially supported housing and employment discrimination against gays and lesbians as recently as the mid-1990s.

    In my world, that is more than a little bit of “picking on” gays, just as I’d think it was more than a little bit of “picking on” Mormons if my neighborhood homeowners’ association were to prohibit Mormons from living in my neighborhood.

    The genesis of this thread is an exploration of why various demographics might view the LDS Church and us, as Mormons, unfavorably. Even the Rehnquist-led Supreme Court concluded that the Church’s position violated the US Constitution.

    In my mind, that — all by itself — is an eminently comprehensible reason why persons who oppose discrimination against gays and lesbians might view the Church and its members in a negative light.

    Do you disagree?

  76. greenfrog says:

    To be clear, I’m talking about history, though not terribly remote history.

    I do not contend that the Church would, today, take the same position with respect to Amendment 2-type legislation that it did a decade ago. I don’t know that it would, since Amendment 2 would have permitted discrimination against even entirely solitary and celibate homosexual persons. The Church no longer considers such persons as sinful or repugnant, but that’s a development of very recent vintage. It seems possible to me that current Church leadership might not think that employment or housing discrimination against such persons is justifiable.

    But those potential implications didn’t preclude its support of Amendment 2 a decade ago, and it hasn’t said anything that I’ve seen to evince a changed course on the political issue. So it’s hard to be certain of exactly what the Church leadership thinks of housing discrimination against celibate homosexual persons today.

  77. greenfrog: I don’t agree in the least that the Church supported discrimination. It lobbied against special protections as I see it. However, I think we could both agree that it ought not lobby against fair treatment or for discrimination.

  78. Greenfrog,

    The church currently practices what could be described as Constitutionally protected discrimination against Homosexuals.

    In hiring, housing at BYU etc.

  79. Practicing homosexuals, bbell, practicing.

    I think that the church was afraid of the establishment of “gays, lesbians, bissexuals, and transsexuals” as a legal category. The church is, I think, suspicious of legal categories based solely on sexual orientation. That said, the church would not, I believe, encourage its members to deny housing or civil rights to its GLBT’s (in spite of Elder Oaks’ comments). FWIW

  80. HP,

    That goes without saying that the LDS church makes this distinction. I find the distinction to be troubling and confusing in most cases. How often does a gay friend come to you and say I am a non-practicing homosexual? This probably only occurs with LDS gay members who have made a decision to be non practicing, Gay catholic priests, and similar minded evangelicals gay folk. My mission comp came to me 10 years post mission and said. “I am gay. I have had sex with men in the past and will again in the future but its been 3 months since my last sexual encounter” So is he practicing or not?

    Only the LDS church makes this distinction. The rest of the world does not and would simply define my old comp as a gay man who has not gotten lucky for 3 months.

    HP see the problem???

    Mikinweho can you please comment on the non-practicing vs sexually active issue. Can and does the world see this distiction? And if so what is the general opinion of this issue in your community.

    HP I also think the church is very aware that a series of adverse court rulings on this issue could make it very difficult to operate in a PC world for a tradition minded church. I suspect that in the decades ahead it will get more and more difficult. Ask the Salvation Army in San Fransisco.

  81. bbell,
    The burden that is placed upon gay members is more burdensome than that placed upon other members, including lifelong single hetero members. They, after all, can kiss without guilt.

    I am not sure what to do about it.

  82. Hellmut, it sounds like you are saying that race doesn’t exist absent interracial marriage prohibitions.

    Without an intermarriage prohibition, racism cannot emerge. Humans belong to the same species. To create races, one has to create political obstacles to procreation.

    Its like turning canines into dachshunds.

    I might be wrong about this, but most people aren’t ashamed their race and don’t find a need to pretend it doesn’t exist and add a dimension to their lives that wouldn’t be their if they belonged to a different race. Presumably, members of minority races in any given society would not take kindly to your denial of their race as a category. It seems you are throwing the baby out with the bathwater by denying that race exists at all in an attempt to make your argument that prohibitions on interracial marriage are bad.

    Yes, that’s true. Having to overcome tougher odds than most of us, African Americans have reason to be proud of their achievements. Insofar as these achievements are a consequence of group solidarity, pride into the group was essential and success has validated attributions of collective self-worth.

    People are not going to tolerate when they find themselves at the bottom of the totem pole. Instead they will contest the imposed hierachy and give the labels positive meaning. I don’t see how that validates racism. It validates people’s humanity.

    It is wonderful that some African Americans have been able to construct a self-confident identity. Clearly, it would have been preferable if Western societies had acknowledged the universal humanity of our species in the first place.

    As for your interesting comment about Asian-Americans’ vs. African-Americans’ response to Elder Nelson’s statement, it doesn’t really make much sense. Elder Nelson’s statement was uniform; an Asian-American is equally addressed by it as an African-American or a Caucasian-American. It is unclear why you are trying to argue that African-Americans saw themselves more in the statement than Asian-Americans. It’s just a strange approach for you to take, that’s all.

    That’s right. The observable contradictions that follow such language lead African American Mormons to conclude that the term ethnicity meant them more than other groups.

    It’s an observable fact that it is a lot easier for an Asian to get a date in Mormon society than for an African.

    Another example would be the effective prohibition of the upstairs from marrying the downstairs in Victorian England. This is, I believe, a prohibition based on factors aside from race or even ethnicity (although I might accept culture as the discriminatory barrier).

    You might want to read the work of Gobineau, a friend of Tocqueville, who justified aristocratic privilege in racist terms. According to Gobineau, aristocrats deserved privilege because they carried the blood of the Germanic invaders while the commoners are the descendents of vanquished and inferior populations.

    By the way, before the nineteenth century sexual violence was an important element of aristocratic domination. Ideas about purity, Darwinism, and predictive breeding made an essential contribution to racism as we understand it today. But sex and intermarriage were always constitutive in matters of intra communal violence and domination.

    In Britain, matters were a little different than in most of Europe because strong primogenitur placed members of the nobility and even the royal family among the commoners which obscured delineations. Nonetheless ideas about breeding and inheritable qualities played a big role even there.

    That is why George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion was such a big deal. Most might know Pygamalion as My Fair Lady, the musical adaptation. Shaw wrote the drama in 1912, 73 years before Nelson would still peddle the same old tired stuff getting into the way of people’s humanity.

    Gobineau, by the way, was probably the most important theoretical influence on Adolf Hitler. So references to the marriage patterns of the aristocracy, I am afraid, will not save us from the racist implications of marriage demarcations.

    This argument comes down to this:
    Hellmut believes that when Elder Nelson says “ethnicity,” he means “race”
    I believe that when Elder Nelson says “ethnicity,” he means “ethnicity”

    Although it is important, attribution is a secondary point. The bigger problem is that Nelson’s advice against intermarriage reconstitutes ethnicity and culture as racist categories.

    Racism is not about a dictionary of disadvantaged groups. It’s a theory that says that members of the same species should not mate each other if they belong to separate populations.

    That’s what Nelson is saying when he advises the Saints to stick to people of their own background.

    Hellmut – race is biological. There are definitely genetic concommitants of race that are identifiable. There are a lot of intermarriage prohibitions that are not based on race — marrying one’s brother is almost universally frowned upon! So I don’t see this way of viewing the issue as enlightening.

    Really? I don’t know anybody who studies racism who would agree with you. If you could specify the “genetic concommitants” that “definitely” divide our species that would be quite the coup.

    If it were definite then you should be able to do it. I claim that you cannot, nor can anyone else. Logically, nothing is easier than to disprove a negative. If you can come up with a schema that captures the racial properties of our species then I will admit defeat.

    I have seen African Americans that I cannot recognize as black because their skin is lighter than mine and they have blond hair. How about Egyptians? Are they Africans or Arabs? My Indian cousins are they or are they not black? In Britain they might be called black but not in the United States. Which race do they belong to? The black race or the German race? Is somebody from Lusatia less German than someone from the Rhineland because their ancestors are Slavic?

    Once one conceives of race as genetic, all sorts of problems arise that are unresolvable. Insofar as there are genetic differences, they are superficial and do not affect people’s ability to generate off-spring.

    I also find it unlikely that such advice as Elder Nelson gave would be offered today, which means that there is an increasing sensitivity to these matters.

    That’s exactly what I thought until 1994. Then I was forced to revise my view in 1995. Notice that the Salt Lake Weekly documented the pain that their Mormon brothers and sisters are inflicting on interracial couples and children only two years ago.

    I’m afraid you’re simply wrong about Nelson’s comment, at least in one fundamental way: it is not code for “white women, don’t marry black men.”

    But I’ll agree with you that it may well be construed as such at Howard University. That is important actually, and public figures ought to be careful in what they say (even if they don’t mean what people think they mean).

    According to your statement everyone but believing Mormons get it. That’s a problem.

    Again, notice that Nelson’s statement is essentially racist. You don’t need to say the N-word to be a racist. But once you suggest, don’t marry one of those, then you are a racist regardless of your self-image. Racism is about dividing members of the same species into separate breeding populations, like Dachshunds and Saint Bernards.

    Of course, the status of African Americans and Africans in Mormon society has substantially improved. Nonetheless, it is still harder to get married in the temple for African Americans than for any other group in the LDS Church. And if you are an interracial couple then your children will have to suffer insults from well meaning Saints who act out of their desire to enforce the words of the Brethren.

    Those are observable facts. All we need to do is to ask our African and African American brothers and sisters.

    Gains with respect to race that still fall short of equality in 2007, hardly earn us bragging rights within the civil rights community, especially not at a time when the LDS Church is organizing million dollar campaigns against gays. Whatever merit Blake’s arguments may have, they are not relevant because no one in the civil rights community shares them.

    Who does agree with Blake are Pat Robertson’s folks on AM radio that refer to us as a cult every week. It seems to me that we have paired up with the wrong team.

  83. I learned a lot from reading that City Weekly article Hellmut, thanks for supplying the link. I note however that, though the article is dated in 2004, the problems it documents for the couples involved ocurred years earlier than that. It may be wishful thinking on my part, but I think we have made progress even in the few years since that time.

    Regardless of that, I still think you are misguided in much of what you say, and you are clearly reading much more into Nelson’s words than is there, including the importance of them. He is not anouncing a policy, he is not talking about race, and ethnicity is only one of the categories he mentions. Also, you seem pathologically obsessed with racial intermarrage and our acceptance of it as the sole touchstone of racism:

    Racism is not about a dictionary of disadvantaged groups. It’s a theory that says that members of the same species should not mate each other if they belong to separate populations.

    Racism is about dividing members of the same species into separate breeding populations, like Dachshunds and Saint Bernards.

    You may be surprised to learn that there are racist attitudes, policies and practices in this country that have nothing to do with marriage or “breeding.” Those attitudes and policies are much more racist and have much much more impact on minorities in his country than Nelson’s benign statement.

    While you’re getting worked up over this silly statement, racism is rampant in our criminal justice system, in many employers, in much of our healthcare system, and in housing. Please, turn your attention to something that actually matters.

  84. Hellmut wrote Without an intermarriage prohibition, racism cannot emerge. Humans belong to the same species. To create races, one has to create political obstacles to procreation.

    My comment # 67 was in response to your # 62 in which you stated There is no such thing as race in the absence of intermarriage prohibitions. In other words, your claim was that race itself doesn’t exist absent intermarriage prohibitions. Now you are saying racism doesn’t exist absent intermarriage prohibitions. That is more circumscribed and certainly more accurate. Race exists, Hellmut. Now what you do with the idea that different groups of people look different from each other is an entirely different matter. But denying that race exists at all doesn’t seem very productive; in fact, I believe that minority communities in any given society might find that notion offensive (it’s the old fallacy of claiming to be “color-blind” in an effort to prove one isn’t a racist, see “The Office (U.S.)”). (I say “in any given society” because you keep focusing on African-Americans. But in many places, Africans are not in the minority in society. In those places, some other race, be it southern Asian, or even white, might be the minority race.) There is no reason to act like race itself doesn’t exist in an effort to argue that society shouldn’t place restrictions on interracial marriage.

  85. Further, with regard to the material that I quoted from you above, you seem to espouse a view that separate races only exist because at some point in history people have prohibitted interracial marriage. (To create races, one has to create political obstacles to procreation.) This doesn’t seem a credible claim. Aren’t different races the natural result of genetic response to climate and geography?

  86. Also, Hellmut, in # 82 you say I don’t see how that validates racism. It validates people’s humanity. What you are doing here rhetorically that is offensive and also ineffective is that you are equating the word “race” and the word “racism”, essentially saying that they mean the same thing. Race exists separately and independently of racism. Racism is the condition when social status is made to correspond to race. Race itself just is.

  87. To be fair to H., I think his view that “race” is a social construct is a fairly popular one. He’s not plucking this stuff out of the ether. The American Anthropological Association says,

    In the United States both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences. With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century, however, it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups. Evidence from the analysis of genetics (e.g., DNA) indicates that most physical variation, about 94%, lies within so-called racial groups. Conventional geographic “racial” groupings differ from one another only in about 6% of their genes. This means that there is greater variation within “racial” groups than between them.

    I don’t really have an opinion on this, but Hellmut’s is rather popular among social scientists. There seems to be little biological basis for “race.” That being the case, what are we left with? What people look like?

    For those who believe the human “race” is subdivided by “races” can you please list them? Once you’ve done that, please tell me what “race” is the offspring of two people from two different “races”?

    “Ethnicity” is probably a safer term, but not without its own problems.

  88. Ronan, I am speaking on a much more fundamental level. Groups of people look different from each other. Skin color is one manifestation of this. It is simply a fact and the term “race” refers to this. Racism is something different in which race is made a building block of something else. Underlying Hellmut’s argument is the idea that it would be desirable to interbreed all races for the express purpose of eliminating racial differences. I am not sure that most people agree with this sentiment. What is desirable, however, is dismantling any artificial barriers that have been placed on people unjustly based on their belonging to some race, whatever race that is.

  89. Underlying Hellmut’s argument is the idea that it would be desirable to interbreed all races for the express purpose of eliminating racial differences.

    Well, if that’s his argument it seems a little extreme. How about this: stop caring who breeds with whom, and hope only that it is based on love, mutual respect, and fidelity? No need to engineer anything. White/white, black/black, white/black — who cares?

  90. Hellmut seems to care. It would seem that, according to Hellmut’s construct above, a white person who is physically attracted to another white person — and not to a black person — and chooses to marry the other white person is actually a racist.

  91. (ditto for a black person who is attracted to another black person and chooses to marry that other black person rather than a white person.)

  92. Anonymous says:

    For what it’s worth, although I’ve met plenty of racist individuals in the Church, they have by far been in the minority. Moreover, exactly zero Mormons have ever said anything racist or even impolite to me about my own interracial marriage. (Me = white, wife = black.)

    Honestly, the only disparaging thing I ever heard was a lecture from a very uptight guy about how I shouldn’t get married at all rather than marry outside of the temple. (We were temple-married 2 years later, btw.)

    I don’t in any way intend to deny Mormonism’s troubled history with race issues, but these days things seem to be OK, aside from a reluctance to discuss the past.

  93. Hellmut says:

    Good for you, Anonymous.

    Unrelated to anon:

    Unfortunately, there is a report on NPR this morning about the use of “ethnic” as code for African American:

    “Not long after her manager learned that she was black, she was reassigned to a store that [Walgreen] refers to as an ethnic store,” Favre said. “That term generally refers to the low-income, primarily black stores.”

    That is an interesting piece of information for those who think that decoding “ethnic” as African American is unresonable.

  94. greenfrog says:

    The notion of “race” is an idea — not a fact.

    A fact is that Brother X’s skin contains more melanin than Sister Y’s and less than Bishop Z’s.

    Concluding that Brother X and Sister Y are part of Race A, and that Bishop Z is not part of Race A, but rather part of Race B, is entirely an idea, based (largely or entirely) on cultural notions using those facts for purposes other than merely articulating the facts.

  95. John F., groups of people certainly do look different from each other. “Race” selectively picks certain dimensions of difference to emphasize. Those dimensions differ radically from society to society. In some parts of Latin America, the straightness vs. kinkiness of one’s hair is more racially determinative than skin color. Many people of Italian descent have the same skin color as some Native Americans, yet the Italian folks are racially “white” while the Native Americans are not. Race as skin color is a 20th-century American conception, and it’s partially illusory, as the Italian/Native American example demonstrates. Viewed in a broader historical context, there’s nothing preordained about race, and there have been societies that defined groupings based on things other than skin color. The idea that race is a social construct and really nothing more is not only common; it’s nearly ubiquitous and nearly universally accepted among biologists and social scientists.

  96. RT, you’re not getting me. I am not saying there’s anything preordained about race.

  97. Also, see my #88, RT, in which I only mention skin color as one characteristic of race. Race is only a useful concept in a descriptive sense. Racism comes into the picture when normative attributes are given to it, I would guess. But it remains a fact that different groups of people look different than each other and in the English language the term “race” is used to describe the visible attributes of these differences. As a descriptive term it seems harmless enough. At least I don’t see the benefit in pretending there aren’t visible physical differences (which are historically tied to climate and geography) between people who hail from different geneological backgrounds. Rather, ackowledging, accepting, and valuing those differences — and the beautiful variety of manifestations of the species — can lead to a deeper appreciation of human life and the intrinsic value of it. Pretending to be color-blind, on the other hand, results from a subordination of your aesthetic perceptions to politics.

  98. Hellmut seems to care. It would seem that, according to Hellmut’s construct above, a white person who is physically attracted to another white person — and not to a black person — and chooses to marry the other white person is actually a racist.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify. According to the criterion that I have specified that would not constitute racism.

    Of course, marriage requires sexual attraction. If one is attracted to someone then that is an important factor in matters of marriage. The notion that one should not marry “one of those people” constitutes racism.

    If the person that happens to be attractive to you also happens to be a member of your own group that’s not racist. Racist would be not to marry someone that you are attracted to for the sole reason that they do not belong to your group.

    It’s a ceteri paribus condition. If all factors are equal and only group membership is not identical then non-marriage constitutes racism. If on the other hand, a specific person is attractive to someone then that is a defining feature of the relationship that may lead to an ethical and reasonable decision to get married.

  99. John F. #97, the important point here is that race descriptively isn’t a term for the “visible attributes of [human] differences.” There is no race of blondes in American thinking; there is no race of tall people or of short people; there is no race of green-eyed people. Racial conceptualization focuses on a subset of visible differences, and the content of that subset is socially constructed. That doesn’t mean it isn’t real in social interaction; but it does mean that thinking of a given racial scheme as natural or obvious reinforces a key ingredient of the system of inequalities that generates societal racism.

  100. You may be surprised to learn that there are racist attitudes, policies and practices in this country that have nothing to do with marriage or “breeding.” Those attitudes and policies are much more racist and have much much more impact on minorities in his country than Nelson’s benign statement.

    Of course, there are other forms of discrimination than intermarriage prohibitions. But without intermarriage prohibitions there would not be racial categories.

    You can only discriminate a race if there is one. Therefore other forms of race discrimination, like housing or employment discrimination, for example, could not exist if there never had been a marriage prohibition.

    Underlying Hellmut’s argument is the idea that it would be desirable to interbreed all races for the express purpose of eliminating racial differences.

    Nope that is not what I am saying. Neither did I imply that at any time.

    Here is what I am saying: Thou shalt not tell human beings to refrain from marrying members of another group. When you do, you create the category of race.

    That is not logically equivalent with the statement that all people shall marry outside their ethnic group. The logically equivalent statement is that some people ought to be able to marry members of another group without judgement.

    In terms of formal logic, the negation of “no one” is not “everyone” but “someone.”

    What you are doing here rhetorically that is offensive and also ineffective is that you are equating the word “race” and the word “racism”, essentially saying that they mean the same thing.

    If one conceives of group membership as a breeding category then that’s racist. If one conceives of race as a cultural legacy that can be appropriate.

    In light of the fact that human beings belong to the same species, that’s how the biology works out.

    He is not anouncing a policy, he is not talking about race, and ethnicity is only one of the categories he mentions.

    Even if the LDS bureaucracy does not act on these words, many believers will feel an obligation to obey the man that they understand to be a prophet seer and revelator.

    In terms of the word of God, twelve years are nothing. Heck, I even encountered a couple of Mormons that bore their testimony that there are people living on the sun because Brigham Young said so. Statements by men with prophetic authority will linger in the consciousness of believers for generations.

    It does not really matter which categories an intermarriage prohibition invokes. When members of various populations are not supposed to get married then the speaker has designated them racial groups.

    Again, that’s an implication of the fact that all human beings belong to the same species.

    In the United States both scholars and the general public have been conditioned to viewing human races as natural and separate divisions within the human species based on visible physical differences

    In the interest of honesty, I will out myself and admit that I used to believe that until I got into grad school. After all, it seemed to be pretty easy to tell who is African American, for example.

    It turns out that I was wrong. In light of insufficient experience with human experience, I had jumped to the same conclusions that many people still share but that cannot withstand scrutiny.

    By the way, in the meanwhile I have met a number of people who consider themselves African Americans but meet the Germanic stereotype a lot better than me. I could not recognize them as African Americans until they identify themselves.

    Consciously holding unto the notion that human beings belong to the same species continues to give me a lot of leverage dealing with my own racist baggage. It’s a powerful fact of human nature.

  101. Hellmut,
    I have no doubt that some members of the aristocracy considered themselves to be of a different breed, however I believe that to have been the extreme minority view, and it certainly wasn’t ever a very popular one. My point stands that in England intermarriage prohibitions existed without recourse to racial causation.

    Further, it seems to me that you are conflating terminology. It appears that you are arguing that any attempt to establish an “other” is racism. I think that this is a horrible definition for racism as it renders any decision racist (as john f rightly points out). My preference for Italian food to Chinese food in this case becomes racist. My preference for the Florida Gators to the Maryland Terripins would also.

    Finally, the example you use from Walgreens proves my point. The fact that you are bringing up usage from that report only confirms that you are assuming that Elder Nelson is a racist prior to reading the statement and therefore it reads as racist code for you. This is why attribution is the primary point. Both you and I are attributing intent to Elder Nelson. I am a little surprised that you don’t realize that you are doing this.

  102. I should qualify my statement regarding “minority views” to England, as that was what I intended.

  103. When I wrote my first statement, I hadn’t read your comment where you limit decisions regarding the other to “breeding decisions”. I am still unconvinced. If a Beverly Hills millionaire father disapproves of his daughter’s decision to marry a farmer from Kentucky because the farmer is “white trash,” is this racism?

  104. I am all about qualifications today. The Beverly Hills pop is white, too (as is his daughter)

  105. If a father says that people from Beverly Hills shall not marry people from Kentucky or poor people or poor people from Kentucky that constitutes racism.

  106. I believe that to have been the extreme minority view, and it certainly wasn’t ever a very popular one.

    Actually, it was quite popular among the aristocracy that poor people suffered from poor breeding. Of course, it was not popular with the people.

    It appears that you are arguing that any attempt to establish an “other” is racism. I think that this is a horrible definition for racism as it renders any decision racist (as john f rightly points out). My preference for Italian food to Chinese food in this case becomes racist. My preference for the Florida Gators to the Maryland Terripins would also.

    No, I said no such thing nor can anything that I have said be construed to mean that. Racist would be when people say that folks shall not marry Chinese, Italians, Florida Gators, or Maryland Terrapins.

  107. Hellmut,
    If all parties concerned consider themselves “white” and all parties concerned would be considered “white” by objective observers, it cannot constitute racism because there is no element of race in the decision. It is certainly discriminatory and wrong-headed, but you must develop another term. This is why I am saying that your version of “racism” is far too broad.

  108. Hellmut: I agree with HP. I don’t think we do any favors toward stamping out racism by taking a view of racism that is so radical that it makes no sense. By your lights, as has been said, in marrying my wife (who is white and middle class like me) I’m a racist. That just isn’t reasonable and your view seems unworkable to me. I find your posts to always be thought-provoking and well-thought out; this time I must demur.

  109. Hellmut says:

    Blake, you are getting silly. Of course, a white guy marrying a white woman does not constitute racism. I neither said nor implied anything of the kind. See my reply to John F. on the charge of universal intermarriage.

    You are not making a genuine effort to read my text.

    HP, racism is not a check list of groups. Races do not occur in nature rather race is a social construction. When one says that members of one group shall not marry members of another group then one has constructed two races.

    You need to think more carefully about the nature of racism rather than relying exclusively on the established racial categories.

    But even on historical grounds you and Blake should realize that being “white” is not necessarily a racial category. Germans, Jews, Gypsies, and Slavic peoples are all white. Yet some people managed to conceive of them as different races.

    The reason is that race is essentially a political, not a biological category.

    You might want to reread RT’s posts above.

    Let me give you one more illustration. If a person in authority were to say: “You shall not marry people without ear lobes!” then that act creates an inferior race in the eyes of his followers. In fact that leader has defined two races. The race of people with ear lobes and the race of people without ear lobes.

    Now you might find that funny but is it really that different from making a big fuss about melanin? From a biological perspective racial characteristics of humans are universally ridiculous. The difference is that we are used to one set of ridiculous markers but not to another.

    Racism, however, is a lot more than a random convention. Rather the convention has to take the form: Don’t marry one of those!

    The content of those is completely variable. Any human characteristic might qualify. What is fixed is the marriage prohibition in the sense of having and raising off-spring.

  110. Hellmut,
    What I am saying is that in the hypothetical I am citing, no-one would reasonably come to the conclusion that race was the issue. Socio-economic status, sure. Local culture, fine. These are elements that get tied into race, but every known instance of racism has also been based on some set of perceived biological difference. It destroys the meaning of the term to argue otherwise as you do.

    So, it comes down to this:
    You argue that “racism” is discrimination based on a fear of potential miscegenation
    I argue that “racism” is based on a number of factors (of which a fear of miscegenation is undoubtedly one) but that a prohibitions on breeding alone does not necessarily constitute racism.

    In any case, neither definition proves Elder Nelson is a racist or that his comments should be taken as such. There is nothing in it to indicate that Elder Nelson considers the potential of genetic intermingling to be a danger faced by couples from very different backgrounds getting married (as he is a medical doctor, I am sure that he is not frightened by the genetic possibilities). So, if I read the statement as not having anything to do with the issue of genetic/racial mixing, but rather as to having concerns with the potential oncoming friction found in such a marriage, I am reading it as a non-racial statement (much as I would read the wrong-headed hypothetical dad telling his daughter not to marry the Kentucky farmer because he can’t provide for her, etc.).

    Finally, I am tired of arguing about this, because we clearly aren’t going to convince each other. Can we call a truce and move on?

  111. I read an interesting take on race in the Seattle Times this morning, regarding Barack Obama. You can read it here at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/jerrylarge/2003607020_jdl08.html.

  112. I was interrupted by work, but what I wanted to point out is the observation by Mr. Large in his column is that white people think that because Obama has a black father, he is black, while blacks think that since he has a white mother, he’s really not African-American, especially since his father is from Kenya, and not really of the typical African-American cultural experience. Kind of muddies the water somewhat about race, reflecting more of a cultural perception.

  113. Ronan: You don’t get it. I didn’t say that you affirmatively maintined that marrying someone of the same background could constitute racism on your view — I said it because I believed you would realize that it is absurd. And you expressly agree! However, you then go on to define race so braadly that anyone can be of a different race! It is all in how we consider another and how we choose arbitarily to categorize groups. So it follows that in marrying my wife I could racist. It is a logical implication of your view. I’m glad that you expressly reject the notion; I befuddled that you cannot see how your position on race logically entails it.

    The advice: “marry someone more like you and there will be fewer problems” just isn’t racist. That is what Nelson was saying. Your attempt to characterize any advice on whom to marry as racist is bizaar to say the least. I can see why given your cultural background you are hypersensitive to this issue — but the point is precisely that you are being hypersensitive and not charitable. Calling Elder Nelson a racist over the remarks you have identified leads me to believe that you looking to take offense. That doesn’t do anyone any good in the legitimate efforts to address vestigal racism that we all want to stamp out.

    BTW I don’t appreciate damning by association with Pat Roberts and would respectfully request that you refrain from such ad hominem attacks.

  114. Steve Evans says:

    Blake, when did Ronan address you?

  115. Whoops@! Good catch Steve. I meant Hellmut. But then I cannot tell the difference between anyone over the pond; they all look the same to me.

  116. Steve Evans says:

    Agreed. Lame Euros with their dashing good looks and fine tailoring…

  117. I was actually thinking of their rotting teeth and bo.

  118. Hellmut, is Blake’s comment racist as is or is it only racist if he says you shouldn’t marry Euros?

    BTW, having read the article on Obama, I’m claiming him. He’s white, as of now.

  119. MCQ: My comment should be seen as racist until you realize that my intials are “bo” (a moniker that I went by all the way thru school BTW) and I have chipped teeth from playing football. Further, I like euros — I have a bunch of them.

  120. Blake, for what it’s worth, scholars who have studied racial conceptions across societies largely have reached the conclusion that race is purely a matter of”how we consider another and how we choose arbitarily to categorize groups.”

  121. RT,
    That doesn’t fundamentally change my argument. Race is always tied to tangible things, even if only in the minds of those affected.

  122. J. Nelson: Yeah, perhaps racism is; ethnicities is geography based. Elder Nelson used ethnicity, Hellmuit charged racism and race became the operative category. Ethnicity is grounded in similar cultures, languages and origins — just what Nelson was talking about. At this point, the term “race” is so broad it means nothing, making racsim really hard don’t you think? I like the suggestion to draw boundaries based on species — but it is still good advice that marrying someone with a more similar background is an indicator statistically of a marriage that is more likely to survive and flourish. Doesn’t mean it can’t work; just means it’s good to consider. That just ain’t racism.

    What I object to is Hellmut’s all-too-ready to charge racism where it ain’t. He’s the one who needs the concept of racism to mean something.

  123. Hellmut and J.” I feel it is important to make explicit my stand against racism rather than just leaving it to presupposition. In asserting that I don’t believe that Elder Nelson’s remarks constitute reacism, I don’t want it to be inferred that somehow I condone racism in the least. We are all unalterably opposed to racism as both morally objectionable and especially a violation of the love commandment and the gospel of love. It is for that reason that arguments that trivialize it or cry wolf and racism where it doesn’t exist are especially damaging to opposition to racism. It motivates the view that seeing racism where it actually exists is just more hypersensetive insistence on finding fault and taking offense where there is no cause. We stand together in opposition to racism in all forms.

  124. HP, race is certainly tied to tangible things, yet it remains intangible because the rules for which tangible things are relevant can be changed at any time. Even skin color hasn’t always been a reliable marker of the black-white race line in the US; if it were, the phenomenon of African-Americans “passing” as white, especially during earlier generations, wouldn’t be conceptually possible.

    Blake, not to be picky, but: Nelson is half of my last name. Please feel free to call me JNS, but if you want to use part of my last name, I’d prefer that you use it all.

    Here’s the tricky bit: race is a socially constructed category, but it’s nonetheless real. Just ask any person who is categorized as racially non-white. And racism isn’t that hard; there are very good social-psychological indicators of various syndromes of racist attitudes — which are still depressingly prevalent in American society. Ethnicity is also a social construct. It isn’t always geographic; consider the Ashkenazi Jews. Nor is it grounded in similar origins; the ethnicity “French” is a relatively recent creation made by violently merging a collection of quite divergent identities, cultures, and even languages during the political process of state- and nation-building during the early modern period. And France is a tough case; think of the “British” ethnicity for a moment. Is a Welsh person British? A Scottish person? A person from a small British island in the North Sea? A black-skinned descendant of Jamaicans who is a second- or third-generation London resident? Similarity in culture is hard to establish for any of these groups — and origins are usually cultural myths, as well. Scots are “Celts” while English people are “Saxons,” even though in actual genetic fact, they’re all just the same thing.

    Shall I tell my favorite story about how ethnicity is determined by social practice? I’m Irish-American, which in most of the US is meaningless; we’re just “white.” But when I visited Madison, Wisconsin, last year for a professional talk, I found that “Irish” is a distinct ethnicity for at least some Madison locals. In particular, every taxi driver I met in the area regarded me as ethnically distinctive. Two told me the same — actually negatively stereotypical — Irish joke: “What’s an Irish seven-course dinner? A six pack and a potato.” So, in Madison, I stopped being “white,” i.e., ethnically unmarked, and suddenly — for the duration of my stay — because a member of a concrete, and for at least some people around me, negatively stereotyped group. But then I got on a plane and my ethnicity fell away as we took off from the runway.

  125. Elder Nelson’s general advice to marry someone with a similar background because, statistically, like-minded and like-experienced partners are more likely to stay together and flourish seems accurate as far as it goes. But it’s easy to see why Nelson’s specific focus on “ethnic background” and not just “culture” raises hackles (as it should, IMO). Offering marriage advice based on statistics is fine, but–to be fair–we should consider other correlations. For example, the Brethren do not generally advise that members delay marriage until their late 20s or later although, statistically, later age in marriage correlates highly with marriage sustainability.

  126. Then we agree.

  127. That is to say that I agree with JNS, regarding the nature of racism.

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