Some Thoughts on The Ban/Racism/Chris Buttars

Dr. Warner Woodworth, Utah Educator

On June 8, 2008 I made the drive to Temple Square from Provo to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the restoration of the priesthood to all worthy Black males in the tabernacle. It was a thrilling event and the day brought back rich and painful memories. I want to share a bit of personal history from my experiences with Black Mormonism in Utah and Brazil, and then raise a few concluding issues.

I grew up in Salt Lake City in the 1940s-‘50s, a descendant from Mormon pioneers on my mother’s side, and on the other side, my father was a convert from Ohio. It was difficult for many Blacks growing up in the Church in those days in Utah because their numbers were few, yet discrimination was large. Both in high school and in my neighborhood, there were increasing tensions between ethnic groups.

During that period Utahns practiced segregation in various ways including forbidding prominent Blacks like the great soprano Marian Anderson who came to perform in Salt Lake from staying in the best hotel, Church-owned Hotel Utah, because of her race. As student body president of a large high school, I witnessed racial conflicts begin to rise such that as a student leader, I sought to help resolve. I remember in my own ward congregation when a long-time High Priest was told he had “Negro blood,” and he was required to refrain using the Melchizedek Priesthood for the rest of his life. I recall when in 1963 the Church issued a formal statement supporting civil rights that was read by President Hugh B. Brown, clearly the most liberal member among the Church’s apostles. It forestalled the NAACP’s plans to picket Temple Square that year. These were times of the Brown vs. Board of Education case, the heroic Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” civil rights struggles, of JFK’s feds implementing desegregation which upset many Utahns, of Malcolm X, of SCLC’s founding, bus boycotts, civil disobedience, and Rosa Parks.

Later as a college student, I recall numerous boycotts against BYU by other university sports teams because of accusations of racism. The few Black athletes who came to the university were soon essentially run out of town, and as far as I know none was able to endure the racism for a full 4 years. I remember when Joan Baez did a concert in Salt Lake City and announced that she and thousands of musicians, hippies, and other rabble-rousers would march on the Salt Lake Temple to protest the LDS Church’s race policy. During all these events many LDS members attempted to justify the culture, as well as did several out-spoken Church officials.

Eventually a number of African Americans in the Salt Lake community began meeting informally in my ecclesiastical unit, the Liberty Stake. Several Apostles were sent to officially meet with these individuals and organize them as the Genesis Group. It was a wonderful opportunity for those members to finally have their own refuge, their own support group where they could share both their faith on the positive side, and their pain on the negative side, and enjoy the support that came from others of the same minority group.

In the early 1960s I was called to be a missionary to Brazil. The challenges we faced in that huge country, where the bulk of the population was mixed race, were tremendous. We were counseled by mission leaders to not seek out those who were obviously of African descent. However, if they genuinely wanted to know about the Church, we were to teach them. If they sought baptism, we had to explain the Church’s practice that would prohibit males in the family from receiving the priesthood. Banned from access to the temple was a moot point since none was nearby. During my 30 months in the mission, hundreds of such individuals, having great faith in the message of the restored gospel, sought baptism, no matter what. One of the most impressive people I worked with in Brazil was extremely dark black, a trained attorney, with an African name, Tupinamba, who translated several Mormon books into Portuguese. Although he was brighter than any of us missionaries and a natural leader, he unfortunately could not receive the priesthood. Eventually we lost him over this issue, although his white wife continued for some years afterward

From the early days of my mission until 1978, I prayed every day and fasted every month that the day would come when Blacks worldwide could receive the priesthood. It took 17 years of faithful pleading that they might receive all the blessings of the gospel such as leadership opportunities and temple marriages that I enjoyed. When the decision was announced by President Kimball, I conducted another fast of simple gratitude that the change had finally come!

While going to college I was also a fulltime seminary teacher in Utah. There were constant questions about the Church’s policy and doctrine regarding Blacks and the priesthood. Several of my colleagues in the Church Education System tried to defend the Mormon position, making up numerous justifications and theoretical interpretations of the scripture that they thought warranted such a position. But they were weak arguments and they all turned out to be invalid. My view was one of continual questioning and researching Church history, interviewing Church leaders, and wrestling with the issues.

I concluded that part of the problem was the early tensions between the U.S. North and South, which left the LDS Church caught in the middle of events leading up to the Civil War. I discovered that Joseph Smith had ordained Blacks to the priesthood, and that later, during the Utah years, that practice was halted. My personal view from studying the doctrines, the history, and my experience of the Salt Lake inner-city and of Brazil, was that we had no clear rationale, and to take a stand either way was problematic. On the one hand, I was becoming caught up in the civil rights movement of that era, and on the other, I was completely faithful to the Church. Thus, I would encourage my Seminary students to love their Black associates and to pray that a revelation would be received.

After receiving a Ph.D., my family and I spent another year and a half (1974-75) in Brazil, where I was a visiting professor. This time I got to know the people, not from a missionary perspective of trying to convert them, but as neighbors, friends, and university colleagues and students. The pressures were growing on the issue of race in the Brazilian LDS Church. Catholic associates, members of my Mormon congregation and Church leaders, continually raised questions about priesthood policy. A number of wonderful Church members dropped away as they were not able to maintain their faith in the face of what they perceived as institutional racism and personal discrimination by white members. Yet the reality was that the bulk of the Church in places like Rio were racially mixed. Many members were brown, not black, and others did not have African features at all. LDS families were having to conduct extensive genealogical searches in order for the males in the family to receive the Priesthood, yet most did not have access to records or documentation for even 2 or 3 generations back. I met blonde haired, blue eyed, German-speaking individuals in southern Brazil who appeared to be immigrants from Germany, and yet it was later discovered they had African ancestors instead.

On a personal level, my wife and I sought to adopt a Brazilian baby while residing there. When we did find a dark-skinned 18 month-old in an orphanage, we fell in love with him and signed the papers. We took Marcos to a Rio pediatrician for a checkup, and the doctor told us we were crazy. She argued that we were white, and the child was Black, poor, and obviously developmentally slow. She warned he would never survive in racist America, especially in a white-only Church, and that while we had advanced degrees, he would amount to nothing. That was when I first understood the extent of Brazilian racism. In the years since then, Marcos has done well in studies at the elite University of Pennsylvania, as well as at universities in Brazil and Italy.

It was in the middle of these racial dilemmas in Brazil that the Church announced the first temple in Brazil was going to be built in Sao Paulo. My former mission president, Finn Paulsen, was sent from Salt Lake to oversee construction and then become its first president. He continually worried about how temple officials were going to be able to determine who could enter and who couldn’t, based on skin color, based on what people said, based on their genealogy.

Thanks be to God, the June 8, 1978 revelation was announced just in time, as far as the temple dilemma was concerned. Some saw it as a practical solution, others a political one. I was living in Utah at the time, and I remember tears of gratitude and joy streaming down my face when I heard the news. I ran to a phone and called several of my Black friends. Some people at BYU were relieved that now the school’s football and basketball programs could return to business as usual rather than be boycotted by other universities. But Church members in Brazil, the Caribbean, the Pacific, and Africa, as well as those of us who were North Americans, who had lived in those countries and knew Latter-day Saints in those regions, had a deeper appreciation for the revelation. Now all worthy men of every race would have the privilege of being ordained to the priesthood, and all righteous members around the globe could now enter the temple and be married for eternity. Essentially, the Church had reached the tipping point. It was no longer a Utah religion, or even a white American one, but a global organization.

However, it was not just an opportunity for Third World saints. Since 1978, it has been so wonderful for me to see large U.S. congregations of mostly Blacks established in New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, and many other large urban areas, as well as throughout the deep South. I’ve visited many of them and at times given presentations to such groups, and I’ve always been struck by their strong faith. The same is true with numerous LDS wards and stakes in Canada and Europe where perhaps the largest groups being baptized there and in places like the UK, France, and Sweden are immigrants from Africa.

My question to readers is whether or not Latter-day Saints have evolved since the 1978 event. What do you think?

At times I have been deeply troubled by the existence of racism that still seems strong within some who claim their Mormonism as God’s truth. I recall several years ago when a neighbor came to our home on a Sunday afternoon. He informed me he was selling his house, but that I could rest assured, he wouldn’t sell it to non-Mormons or “Darkies.” I was shocked, as were my children. I informed him we would be happy to have African Americans in our neighborhood, that such diversity would enrich our lives, whether Black or LDS, or not. We had enjoyed great neighbors who lived next door to us in Ann Arbor years earlier. Yet he continued to press the fact that Black people would not be good for our ward. I asked him to cease such ideas, but he insisted. Finally, I said, “Bob, if you don’t stop your racist language, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” He became even more vociferous, so I took his arm and escorted him to the front sidewalk.

I was embarrassed, angry he would say such things, especially in front of my children. Over the years we had held a number of home evening lessons on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s national holiday, or during Black History Month. We sang old spirituals and told of how Blacks had blessed our country with many great contributions down through history. Now a member of my high priest quorum was tearing minorities down and pressing his discriminatory views on my kids.

Today my kids are young adults, but the way they see Blacks portrayed in Utah is at times, still problematic. Earlier this year, a member of the Utah State Senate, Chris Buttars, made the ludicrous analogy about a bill he did not like by using discriminatory language knowingly, actions which became an affront to all decent Utahns, as well as to most Americans and citizens of the world. He called a proposed bill he didn’t like a “black…dark, ugly thing.” It was denigrating and racist to the core, and clearly offensive to anyone with ethics and values. Later, he reluctantly met with a Black Salt Lake congregation to apologize, claiming, of course, he meant no harm. On the other hand, he was also to meet with the Utah NAACP, but became afraid, and backed out of apologizing to that group.

The episode was much like Don Imus referring to the women of Rutger’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.” Of course, Imus lost his job over those remarks. But not so, Butters. He manipulated his Republican colleagues so that they simply requested an apology on the senate floor for the “unintended” words used. This reinforced Buttars’ deep-down racism that was also manifest earlier in 2006 when he complained about the Brown vs. Board of Education laws to halt segregation in America. In those remarks he questioned why Black children shouldn’t just stay in their proper station in life—in broken-down schools with few opportunities in life.

To make matters worse, Buttars whined that his 2008 critics were becoming a “lynch mob.” Of course, this became a further rubbing it in of his bigotry. For him to think that merely brushing off his blatantly racist attacks as “innocent mistakes,” or “unintentional,” is the height of naivete. I guess Alabama had its racist official in the person of George Wallace. But he paid for his sins. Likewise, when the comedian, Michael Richards, who played Kramer on “Seinfeld,” spewed racist verbiage at a club, he was immediately fired. So why did LDS Utah legislators timidly tiptoe around this mess instead of cutting the cancer out? It seems a sad situation, to me.

Mr. Buttars is a card-carrying Mormon who goes to the temple near his West Jordan home. Yet he deceived himself, as well as the Republican officials who tolerated such shenanigans. State officials and elected representatives should have removed him from office in February, according to the official mechanisms for doing so. To not act, showed not only his cupability as a deceiver par excellence, but a con man who manipulates his legislative peers as well. Still, his colleagues exonerated him. Thus, some Utahns’ political donations started going to any and all groups who sought to beat him in the next election—whether Democrats, Libertarians, Greens, Independents, or other Republicans.

Last month on May 3, just six weeks ago, Buttars received the support needed as incumbent at the Salt Lake County Republican Convention. At the last minute, Senate leaders officially endorsed him, apparently fearful a newcomer might not hold sway against a Democrat in November. Having a two-party system is a matter of much worry to state officials. They always prefer their party candidates, regardless of moral values. So although Buttars faced three other Republican opponents at the event, their supporters apparently split the opposition, and Buttars barely prevailed by winning 60.2 percent so he would not have to face a primary election. At least one of Buttars’ competitors was so troubled by the unethical Senate’s leadership, he is now campaigning for John Rendell, the Democrat who will challenge Mr. Buttars in the fall. Only in Utah!

In conclusion, what do readers think? Did the 1978 Revelation really change the mindset of insensitive, biased, and outright bigoted members of the Church? Should the Church do more to alter LDS attitudes? If so, what and how? What about Utah’s government officials? Can and should they do more? What else might be done by lay members like you and I to truly eliminate the last vestiges of Mormon racism?

Comments

  1. We’re on the battlefield, but it’s a long way home.
    Thank you for this beautiful, thought-provoking post. I will forward the link to several of my friends from Genesis.

    Should the Church do more? Absolutely. Can it? I used to believe it would happen soon. I no longer believe that, but I am capable of being pleasantly surprised. I believe that no movement towards the needed repudiation of past teachings will happen until there’s unanimity in the Twelve. I think that’s a long ways off. If we had had the speakers at the priesthood commemoration we were told would be there, I might feel differently.

  2. Julie M. Smith says:

    Thank you for sharing this story.

    This sentence:

    “A number of wonderful Church members dropped away as they were not able to maintain their faith in the face of what they perceived as institutional racism and personal discrimination by white members.”

    made me think of this one:

    “And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.”

    Whatever else we might say about the ban, it tested the saints, then and now.

  3. Julie M. Smith says:

    “In those remarks he questioned why Black children shouldn’t just stay in their proper station in life”

    Are you SERIOUS?

    And, to answer the larger questions of your post, I think the most important thing the Saints can do is to escort Bob off the porch. Thank you for doing that.

  4. Margaret, who was supposed to speak at the commemoration?

  5. Thanks for this informative post. It wounds me to find out there are these kinds of hateful attitudes in church members. What should be done? President Monson should make explicit remarks, speaking plainly to those who need to hear. Maybe the church should include issues of the Ensign that celebrate Black History Month, too.

  6. Look, you can’t drive a change into some peoples’ head. Especially some of the older generation. They may sulkily agree not to say stuff that will publicly offend a lot of the people around them. But they still think it.

    There’s really nothing you can do about these people. but slowly and surely, they are dying off, and the people replacing them do not share their opinions.

  7. anonymous says:

    I sure hope the church has continued to evolve. I was born after the announcement. I remember feeling really confused when I first learned about it (some things never change). If I can share a little story, maybe I can explain why I think the church/members are continuing to evolve.

    My father’s parents were educated people, and I doubt either of them would have considered themselves racist. Grandpa made some really racist comments to me as we left the funeral about a person of color who had come to the services. He couldn’t remember that it was his own son-in-law (family relations weren’t the best, and he had some dementia, too).

    My parents would consider themselves quite ecumenical, progressive, and not even remotely racist. Until a Hispanic family moves into the neighborhood, or their son starts dating an Asian girl.

    My parents are at least an order of magnitude better than my grandparents, and I certainly hope that I am at least that much better than my parents. But is that enough?

  8. “And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.”

    The unfortunate thing is that many or most of those “scoffing” (and causing our black brothers and sisters to be “ashamed”) purported to be followers of Jesus Christ and faithful Latter-day Saints.

  9. anonymous says:

    I moved away from Utah a couple years ago, but I remember the embarrassment Rep. Buttars was. It really pisses me off that he could get 60% of a vote.

  10. StillConfused says:

    I moved from the South to Utah in the early 80s and was (and still am) shocked at the blatant racism. I have to explain to my black friends that “they just don’t know any better”. It wouldn’t suprise me at all to have a politician equally as ignorant.

  11. I moved to the deep South six years ago. I’ve found the racism here to be deep but secretive. People don’t talk about what they think unless they think you’re “safe.”

    I think it’s a human thing, not a Mormon thing. And I think we have a long, long way to go.

  12. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 10
    Do you think the racism in Utah is actually worse than in the South, StillConfused?

  13. Thank you for this post. Very well written and I like the questions…these are on my mind as well.

    I live in St. Louis Missouri, my husband is a bishop of a ward in downtown St. Louis. The population of St. Louis is 51% black, yet our ward is mostly white. We have some work to do to reflect and better fellowship our community.

    I see not blantant as holding us back, but subtle and just plain ignorance. I count myself among the better informed, but still ignorant because I am white and I am learning about the experiences of my black brothers and sisters (members and friends).

    President Hinckley addressed blatant . I was grateful. It was needed.

    But the dialog needs to continue at all levels of the Church especially to address subtle . We could do well to have more comments by the Brethren to bridge the divide within our lds community and also between the Church and the community.

    Within the Church in the St. Louis area I have heard many comments made by leaders and members that run along the same theme: “blacks aren’t ready for the Gospel” or “There so many problems in the black community”. I hear too many lds expressing lack of faith and belief in the black community. (What, perhaps, they don’t realize, is that is really an expression of lack of faith in the power of the Gospel to change lives.)

    These attitudes are a reflection of commonly held ideas even in the larger community by people who want to lump all African Americans in one homogeneous group and largly want to write them off. It was highly distressing to see such attitudes were reflected when a predominately black struggling branch was folded into another branch last year. Too many lds pointed to this event as being evidence that “blacks aren’t ready for the Gospel”.

    Poppycock. There is no foundation for this idea. In Blacks in the Scriptures, Marvin Perkins points to a study done by The Higher Education Research Institute of UCLA Graduate School of Education that found African Americans ranked number one in seeking religion. As a group they were number one in seven of 12 spiritual categories.

    I have anecdoctal evidence too: Every Sunday in my community I see scores of blacks streaming into churches. If I drive 30 minutes away to the predominately white suburbs, I see churches, but not to the extent I see in the city. I see whites washing cars, attending baseball games and soccer…I see many recreational activities. But in my community on every block, I kid you not, there are churches with crowded parking lots.

    How can anyone say blacks aren’t ready for the restored gospel?

    When I have confronted such attitudes I ask the reasoning. Most often it is rooted in folklore harping back to old policies and old justifications. Some short-sighted lds see the closing of a branch or the slowness of our work in this community as evidence to support these false ideas.

    I could go on, but my point is there is much work to do to address not just blatant , but subtle . I am not even sure we can make much headway with those out-right racist folks and I am not convinced that is our greatest problem. But there is a whole group of well-meaning people, lds and non, who need to hear expressions of faith toward the black community. A whole big group who hold to old or popular notions of race without thinking.

    In the larger community, I see lack of faith in the Church. I serve in public affairs for my stake and represent the Church to many black institutions. I am often asked to clarify our attitudes towards blacks.

    For example, a community leader told me a local church leader gave him an old testiment justification for our past priesthood restriction. It distressed him to the point of being angry…and it distressed ME too. I was in an awkward position. I didn’t want to contradict the church leader, but I felt a moral obligation to tell this community leader that I don’t believe there is a suitable justification for discriminatory practices. I testified that God loves all His children. The community leader seemed relieved to hear me bear testimony of that simple truth. A wall came down and we continue to support each others work on family issues of relevance to the Church and the community.

    I have observed that at the grassroots level — member to friend, or church leader to community leader — we don’t have our talking point straight. We, sadly, are not unified in our thoughts on race and equality. As a result the community has a hard time making out what we believe. We need a consistant message, one that clearly outlines what we believe about God’s relationship to His children. If that means repudiating past beliefs and practices to clean house, then we must do it.

    I believe that once we get it straight, we will effectively take the bushel off and our light will shine through. The pure Gospel message can’t be heard through garbled and confused messages.

    You ask the question: “what and how”. I pray that leaders and members will do at least two things to start: 1) address head-on the “many” false interpretations of history and scripture, the folklore, that denigrates blacks and does nothing to testify of the goodness of God. I hope to see this message be comprehensive and repeated often. 2) Report and speak often of successes, evidence that all God’s black children are not only ready for the restored gospel, but that we “need” them in order to move the church forward in a vibrant and inclusive way. And give strong examples of that need.

    Having correct thoughts will help us “be believing”. Being believing will increase faith and action. With increased faith the restored Gospel message will find fertile ground to uplift and heal.

  14. The Buttars incident wasn’t that shocking to me. There are many Mormons I know age 60+ that are just like him. My wife’s grandparents disowned a grandchild after she married a black guy, because he was cursed. There are many people with the same attitude, but as they die off things will improve.

    re: 10
    Do you think the racism in Utah is actually worse than in the South, StillConfused?

    I think Utahns have less opportunity to be blatantly racist, there are people around here I know that didn’t see a black person in the flesh until they were in their late teens.

  15. sister blah 2 says:

    Julie (#2), I see essentially no similarity whatsoever between those two things. A better analogy would be if someone partaking of the fruit were to be pelted mercilessly with said fruit by others there at the tree.

  16. #13 – Dana King, Thank you.

  17. One friend shared with me a personal experience he had just a few years back in which members of his Stake Presidency welcomed him to one of the evolving Utah County bedroom communities. He explained in the reassuring and self-congratulatory tones of privileged racists that this was a great community because it was free of gays and N-words, as opposed to Salt Lake City proper. He was horrified but couldn’t figure out how to respond to a prominent ecclesiastical leader. So we’re not done.

  18. “In conclusion, what do readers think? Did the 1978 Revelation really change the mindset of insensitive, biased, and outright bigoted members of the Church?”

    We shouldn’t expect that result, any more than the Savior’s sermon on the mount ended the ills it advised against.

    I think the criticism (judgment, actually) of Chris Buttars and his political party weakens this otherwise insightful message.

    There are plenty of motes and beams closer to home for all of us.

  19. I’ve personally suspected that the reason the ban lasted so long was not anything to do with faithfulness in heaven, or any other pseudo-doctrinal explanation, but that the Saints themselves were not ready for that equality. It seems borne out by some things I’ve observed and some of the stories you’ve told. I think that we’ve come a long way since 1978, primarily culturally. It may just be a generational thing.

  20. Exactly, sister blah.

  21. StillConfused says:

    The racism I have experienced in Utah is actually worse than in the South but it is also completely different. In the South, black and white people are confronted with each other on a daily basis and experience each other. THere is racism, no doubt, but as far as white against black racism, it is experienced more in the uneducated, poorer areas. In Utah, on the other hand, the racist remarks are worse in the upper class neighborhoods. People in my “fancy” ward would say the most shocking things about “those people” in every day conversation that would get you smacked by your mother in the south. However, the problem is much less pronounced in the “more humble” neighborhoods where people actually interact with minorities on a daily basis. It is a very interesting situation. My children are still exposed to racist remarks by their classmates so the practice does not seem to be ending.

  22. Allie P says:

    Re: #19 (Neal),

    I’ve personally suspected that the reason the ban lasted so long was not anything to do with faithfulness in heaven, or any other pseudo-doctrinal explanation, but that the Saints themselves were not ready for that equality.

    I find this an unsatisfactory justification for the length of the ban. What if Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King had waited for people to be “ready” for change before they spread their message? People don’t just magically become “ready” for things like that.

    Were members of the church in 1978 really any more “ready” for the change than members earlier? Or did the change itself force members to revisit and rethink their racial attitudes, contributing to the generational change that’s been noted here? This is an important question as we talk about what can and should happen to address the racism that still exists both within and without the church.

    (This line of thinking is also insufficient to explain the existence of the ban in the first place, especially given that Joseph Smith ordained black men to the priesthood.)

  23. #13, thanks for your insightful and constructive comment!
    #15, yes. Exactly right.
    #18, I agree that the judgement of Buttars mars the author’s message. Some of the recounted episodes also seem somewhat distorted, which only serves to make me wonder if the author has some sort of personal vendetta against Buttars?

  24. #19–Many people (including the late Gene England) share this view. I don’t, however. If God can ask His people to build cities and temples during times of poverty, to sacrifice comfort and sometimes life itself to move to the Rocky Mountains from Illinois as well as from Scandinavia and England, surely He can require more spiritual commitment in the ways we treat one another. As I’ve told Dana (great comment, Dana–#13), we claim to be the restored Church of Jesus Christ, not of Moses. As the restored Church, we come with a clear mandate, found in Galatians 3 and elsewhere:
    28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all bone in Christ Jesus.
    29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

    I see no room for squirming in speculation after these words. The mandate is clear. No exceptions.

    Tracy M–I’m probably over-reacting, based on raised expectations. It would have been nice to have the speakers we were told we’d have, but it is better to simply be grateful for what we did have. The time will come when others will speak from the pulpit as clearly and boldly as did President Hinckley in APril 2006, priesthood session. I anticipate it with great faith. The sad thing is that there are many card-carrying Mormons like Brother Buttars who genuinely don’t see themselves in what President Hinckley describes. That too will have to change.

  25. My question to readers is whether or not Latter-day Saints have evolved since the 1978 event. What do you think?

    We should recognize that a SIGNIFICANT number of “lifelong” members of the Church came “of age” after 1978 and for whom race has never been a factor. We haven’t had to change our minds. (Not to say that we haven’t been exposed to racism in the Church — certainly we have — but we ourselves haven’t had to change…)

    Some of us haven’t had to really evolve, since we’ve never had to grow up with it (I was baptized at age 8 in 1978, but after the ban was lifted). Hopefully our numbers are helping the Kingdom evolve.

  26. Also … couldn’t it be said that Chris Buttars represents a Utah political and Utah Mormon problem, not a Mormon problem?

    I really don’t think that my non-member friends and neighbors particularly care what Chris Buttars says. To the average Texan, he would represent Utah state politics, not the Church.

    (Yes, we have racists in Texas. Some of whom say things worse than Buttars. But in Texas, no one conflates the Church with racism. They equate us with polygamists…)

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. “Have we evolved?” is an ambiguous question that results in an ambiguous answer–yes and no. There has been definite improvement. Are we there yet? Certainly not.

    My ward is the most racially diverse I’ve ever experienced, and I quite honestly do not perceive any racism at all. I realize that there may be racist attitudes among some members that they keep hidden because they know such attitudes are not welcome. I also realize that there may be subtle things that I miss simply because I am caucasian and not finely attuned to such things. But those caveats aside, I don’t see any racism whatsoever in my ward.

    But then, I live in a suburb of Chicago, where people are accustomed to dealing with African Americans in daily life. And my ward is demographically young (our bishop is younger than I am, for instance), educated, and relatively affluent. I realize that these particular conditions do not obtain in many other wards.

    My own view is that to go all the way is going to take leadership from the top. We’re a hierarchical church, and people will sit up and take notice when the prophet says something over the pulpit at GC in ways they won’t coming from others. The remarks of GBH and Elder Holland are a start, but ultimately there is going to have to be a stronger commitment to repudiating past teachings and any sort of racist dregs still in our barrel. And I agree with Margaret that we’re not there yet.

  28. Yes, I think there has been huge progress.

    In my opinion, the bigger problem today is the continual rehashing of this subject. I think this post is an example of that kind of rehashing. It reminds of those who have been in military combat and just can’t get over what they’ve experienced.

    Racism as we knew it 50 years ago is dieing, IMHO. Now there seems to be a growing tenancy among some church members wherein they relish mentally stoning the Apostles and Prophets of the past and present over the churches early position on Blacks and the priesthood. My initial take on it is that many Blacks in the church appear to be putting this behind them “faithfully”, while others are using it to be non supportive of our church leaders as they confront the definition of marriage being between a man and woman.

    The faithful Black members of the church have used prayer, faith, and inspiration to move on. Their example can be emulated.

  29. Jared, this ain’t over…no way. Some black members may be able to put this behind them, but it is still a massive stumbling block in the way of missionaries, investigators, and members alike. I am in a ward in a small Southern city that is about 60% black. We have one active black family in the ward, period. The other wards in the city are the same. There are tons and tons of inactive African Americans on the membership rolls in our ward, but they don’t feel at home in our congregations. While I have not observed any overt acts of racism by members, I think that in many ways members send a subtle message that blacks are not totally welcome in our Church.

    By not expressly acknowledging the problem, we are simply ignoring the problem and telling our black brethren that we white folk don’t really think its a problem (or at least not OUR problem).

  30. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and joined the church. The fact that the blacks didn’t have the priesthood has always been an embarassment and shameful to me. (I am in my 60’s so always is a long time.) I can’t help but equate with the same gender marriage position of the church which I believe is cruel. I like the quote in Alma 9:26, “And not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory; and his glory shall be the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, equity and truth….” In answer to your question, my brothers grew in the same household, joined the church at the same time I did and are some of the most prejudiced people I know. Or maybe they feel free to say in a family setting. It makes me sick to hear them talk that way.

  31. #30 ALDuke By not expressly acknowledging the problem, we are simply ignoring the problem and telling our black brethren that we white folk don’t really think its a problem (or at least not OUR problem).

    Good point. I agree, but if our brand of acknowledging the problem keeps bitterness alive or redirects it to those who are not here to respond to it, then what have we accomplished? Bitterness needs to be swallowed up, and the only way I know of doing that is through the healing power in Christ. The Book of Mormon shows the way, but I wonder how many are prepared to fully embrace the principles to do this.

  32. “#19–Many people (including the late Gene England) share this view. I don’t, however. If God can ask His people to build cities and temples during times of poverty, to sacrifice comfort and sometimes life itself to move to the Rocky Mountains from Illinois as well as from Scandinavia and England, surely He can require more spiritual commitment in the ways we treat one another.”

    Amen, Margaret.

    “As the restored Church, we come with a clear mandate, found in Galatians 3 and elsewhere:
    28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all bone in Christ Jesus.
    29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

    I see no room for squirming in speculation after these words. The mandate is clear. No exceptions.”

    Not to be a wet blanket, but really — _Galations_ gives a clear mandate? I like the sentiment, but I don’t think it’s anything like a clear mandate.

    For one thing, the church doesn’t take the social justice provisions in the NT seriously. Are we really supposed to sell all we have and give it to the poor? when was the last time any of us actually did that?

    Second, the NT has all sorts of problematics texts, too. Heck, it explicitly endorses slavery, in Ephesians.

    Bottom line — I think the Galations verse is a good one for setting one’s own course. But I think it’s unrealistic to see it as a clear mandate to the entire organization, that everyone should agree on. It just doesn’t do that amount of work, sorry to say.

  33. This is damning with faint praise, but in response to the question of whether or not we have evolved:

    We are one of the most racially integrated denominations in America. We still have a long way to go to reach our hoped for ideal, but we have quite a few instances of black members in highly visible leadership positions in congregations that are predominantly white. We also have no congregations that are segregated strictly by race. (Language, yes; race, no.) Protestantism, however, is often the last bastion of separate but equal.

    I understand and agree completely with our need to continue to be aware of this and eliminate any vestiges of racism, but we shouldn’t downplay the advances we have made – in many cases beyond that of many who call us racist.

  34. Got your point, Kaimi. This was our family’s scripture yesterday, and it caught me. I’m just pointing out that the NT does not leave us with an “everyone but them” idea of how God views his children, nor does it suggest that we need to “wait” to extend God’s promises to the persecuted, nor that “God always restricted his priesthood–remember the Levites?” I have heard so many speculative justifications for the restriction that seem to forget we are the restored Church of Jesus Christ, not of Moses or Job of Levi.

    Jared, I can’t even begin to tell you how off-base you are. The statistics of how many Black investigators and converts we lose are very sobering.

  35. OK Jared, but you don’t get away with criticizing my brand of “acknowledging” without offering a better one of your own.

    I agree that there are lots of things (ex. apology, repudiation) that could be done that would make the kind of conversations about race and racism that we have here moot, but until those who can are willing to take those steps, I’m staying where I am.

  36. Thank you for the thoughtful history (and for your apparently lifelong work in racial justice and human rights.). I found it interesting and educational with the exception of the part about Chris Buttars. What I saw happen in the Senate this year is a little different than the story recounted here. Call or E-mail me if you want to talk about it.

  37. Thank you Dr. Woodworth for sharing your story. I was a teenager in 1978. One of my many blessings is that I was not called upon to live my adult years under the ban. It bothered me as a kid, and it surely would have been a thorn in my side as an adult. Thank you for bearing up so well. Thank you for your testimony and your good works.

  38. MikeInWeHo says:

    “….we have quite a few instances of black members in highly visible leadership positions…”

    Oh yes, I noticed that at the last General Conference.

  39. Chris Buttars… could you expect anything better from the guy who was going around claiming the Church leaders supported his intelligent design bill?

    I had some odd hope that the 30th anniversary of the lifting of the ban and the new administration of President Monson would bring a formal apology for the racist ban. Unfortunately, such was not the case.

    Until the ban itself is repudiated, a vacuum will always be left open in Mormon culture ready to be filled with racist speculations and beliefs.

  40. G Barthol says:

    Many thanks Dr. Woodworth for raising this important issue. I was born and raised in Costa Rica where I joined the Church. I also served as a missionary in my home country. There were many times where I was the only Hispanic missionary in a zone. I witnessed a culture of racism and cultural arrogance from the U.S. missionaries. This bothered me greatly; it affected the work we were doing. Later I came to study at BYU and have lived in the States for the past 16 years. Although I have not seen blatant racism against African Americans, I have seen constant reminders of the shared feelings of cultural superiority and ignorant arrogance everywhere (by LDS members, in services, activities, etc.), especially when comparing this country to others.
    I feel we have so much room for improvement.

  41. “Did the 1978 Revelation really change the mindset of insensitive, biased, and outright bigoted members of the Church?”

    I believe it has for some members. However, I know from personal experience here in Utah that there is still pervasive racist ideas about. I dont usually share stuff like this but I think some people who think there is not a problem need to open their eyes. Some vignettes

    1) I am in church 5 years ago and a young man is passing the sacrament. The two sisters in front of my comment, “Its fine they give them the priesthood, but do they have to let them pass the sacrament.” the young man is black.

    2) In a Priesthood class when discussing the ban on blacks the class focuses on how hard it is or was for them as white people to accept blacks receiving the priesthood. The idea that it was any hardship for blacks seems to not even register.

    3) A young man getting sealed in the SL Temple is told by the sealer to treat his white wife well or “as they say in the South, all the coons up the tree.” The young man is dark skinned, Dominican.

    4) Two years ago I am in the foyer when a 19 year old girl asks a young man what he did for the summer. He replies I did landscaping. She is shocked and surprised. She asks with complete sincerity, “How? I thought you had to be a Mexican.”

    5) 1 year ago, a family receives an anonymous note on the door asking that their “black” children not be allowed to play with other kids in the neighborhood.

    Im sure we can all supply many stories. My point is that there is much to do. Just this year my wife was teaching Sunday School when students replied that a sign of coming disaster and apocalypse was having Mexicans around and that they did not need to listen to my wife because she was dark skinned.

  42. Mark D. says:

    I. It is a non sequitur to equate the actions of Chris Buttars with the Mormons or Utah Mormons is general. That significantly weakens your argument.

    II. Supposing that, as it seems likely, Senator Buttars remarks reflect some sort of suppressed racist tendencies, he was talking about a bill in the context of an analogy he did not introduce, not races nor individuals. That does not rise to the same level as what Don Imus or Michael Richards did.

    III. If I were a delegate in his district and there were any other viable candidates, I would be inclined to vote for one of them. However, not knowing any of them, I don’t think you can blithely conclude that the vote in convention constitutes an endorsement of his statement. He apologized. No doubt most of the delegates thought his apology was sincere.

  43. #38 – Mike, I didn’t say global leadership. That takes time in our structure, and as passionate as I am about seeing full racial equality in the Church, I am glad it takes time to make it into the global leadership.

  44. Gerald Smith says:

    I was stationed in the USAF in Montgomery Alabama for almost 17 years. Definitely a different world from western Montana, where African Americans were virtually non-existent.
    So, when called as both ward mission leader and into the stake mission presidency at the same time (1987), I proposed we begin doing something new in the stake: proselyting to blacks.
    Two of the 3 wards in Montgomery embraced the idea, and over a three year period, we baptized about 100 people per year in those two wards.
    Unfortunately, getting the members to adapt and accept this change was a matter of time.
    There were many who refused to home/visit teach in black neighborhoods, including leaders. There were members who complained when a black sister was called to teach Primary. And there was the constant complaint that the blacks were not staying active after baptism – even though we tried encouraging the members to fellowship.
    I’m thankful to say that the Montgomery stake is basically integrated now, and fully accepting of the concept of black members and leaders. But it took many years to make those changes in members’ attitudes.
    My highlight from being in that stake was opening up a group and then a branch in Tuskegee. What a marvelous group of people. Their third branch president, David Oryang, served for about 8 years, before moving to another job. His family’s remarkable conversion, which I was closely involved with, will forever be a part of me.
    For me, it is a great blessing to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the priesthood revelation. A new generation is being raised within the Church, and is blessing us with their wisdom and insight, due to that wonderful revelation.
    Hopefully, more members will ponder and consider its significance in all our lives.

  45. bizarro kevin says:

    I think things have significantly evolved in many ways, but we’re not there yet. Having moved from Utah 14 years ago, I can’t speak to current attitudes there with any degree of accuracy, but my take is things are better here outside the Mormon Cultural Region. In our stake n Western Washington, we have one bishop from Africa, a HC member who is from South America, and a black members in most of our wards. Considering that here on the Eastside the percentage of African Americans is fairly low, I would guess that we are fairly representative of the overall population.

    But Chris Buttars represents a mindset that is slow in changing, and in their daily lives not challenged in a world view that is decades out of date. We have a few folks even here that still believe in the justifications for the ban, but are not as vocal about it. We need to keep learning, and teaching, correct principles, so that we get through the last remnants of a racist heritage that was more benign and based on ignorance than overt in its intentions. Time and dialog will help us get through.

  46. “I didn’t say global leadership. That takes time in our structure, and as passionate as I am about seeing full racial equality in the Church, I am glad it takes time to make it into the global leadership.”

    I gather that there are two black African American
    stake presidents in the United States out of 1390 US stakes (0.14%). There are zero black Africans among the general authorities. I do not know if there are any black African Americans who are area authority 70s; I gather there may be a handful of black African area authority 70s and mission presidents.

    To my knowledge there are, and have been, zero non-caucasian members of the FP and 12, although the Church has existed and had members in countries with noncaucasion majorities for over 100 years (e.g., Mexico).

    Of course, we believe that the leading Brethren represent God and not the members. For whatever reason, God has chosen, at least until the present, only men who happen to be caucasians to be His highest representatives. I hope that changes while I am still alive. In the meantime, it is not difficult to understand why many people, inside (like Buttars) and outside the Church, might conclude that ours is a primarily “white” religion.

    I do agree with Ray and others, though, that things are changing, slowly but surely. But I believe that as a Church and as a people (at least among the caucasian saints) we have a long way to go.

  47. david knowlton says:

    Chris Buttars represents as well the fierce dominance of an ultra right wing over the Utah Republican party legislative delegation. I do not think he nor many of his cohort are representative of the people of Utah and their political ideas Gov. Huntsman, called a moderate in the press, probably represents them more. He does not represent me, I am a left wing Democrat. But I think this control of the extreme right over the Utah Republican legislative delegation relates perhaps more to hard ball politics than it does to Utah’s reality.

    I love Warner’s post. I think there is a slow evolution in Utah county, and in much of Republican Utah. If nothing else, the demographics are changing and it will be ever harder for the old hegemony to be maintained.

  48. Ross Eldridge says:

    I spent much of my youth living in Bermuda, which had a resident population that was 75% to 80% black. We white folks called them “coloured”, and they did not attend our schools, clubs, restaurants, etc. They sat in a special area in the Church of England church I attended, and the black children attended Sunday school in the church hall at a different time from the white boys and girls. Buses were segregated, cinemas had blacks downstairs, whites up. Blacks were not welcome in Bermuda’s hotels and guest houses (except for the few black-owned places). And Jews were not welcome either. I wonder if Jews were refused a bed in the Hotel Utah when Marian Anderson was not welcomed there. Asians?

    When I joined the Church in 1974, I worried a lot about the racial thing. Our Branch was exclusively white, mostly American service personnel, and the missionaries came from Rocky Mountain states. We had one black lady join before 1978 (she was Jamaican, actually) and I was her HT. Her husband (quite rightly, I think) despised us! Our visits were difficult.

    I was in the Branch Presidency by 1978. I recall the missionary who had baptized me (a much-loved friend, who, sadly, died young a few years ago) phoned me from SLC the minute the announcement had been made by the Church. I phoned all our members that I could reach, nearly all Americans, and hardly any believed me! Couldn’t be possible!

    Well, last I was in Bermuda, the Branch had grown, there were no Americans, there were very few whites. The Branch President was a black Bermudian (married to a Filipina, with lovely mixed-race children!) and the missionaries they were getting were mostly black American, African and Asian.

    The meetings were a lot more enthusiastic than many I attended in Washington County, Utah.

    I don’t really understand the capacity those converts (they ALL have converted since about 1980, more each year) have to somehow “get over” the “racism” of the LDS Church.

    Of course, now, in Bermuda, the Mormon Church there is considered … well … a bit too “black” for some white folks on the Island.

    My experience, back here in the UK, is that the English know little or nothing about Mormons and racial issues, past or present, but have opinions on polygamy, not always based on the facts. I believe there are very few LDS in the UK.

  49. But I think this control of the extreme right over the Utah Republican legislative delegation relates perhaps more to hard ball politics than it does to Utah’s reality.

    I’d note that Chris Cannon has said much the same thing.

    He, correctly I feel, points out that the current convention system tends to reward the “in your face” passionate activists who don’t mind staying in caucuses for 12 or more hours to get their guy. There’s a lot that needs reformed structurally in the Republican party in Utah. A move away from caucuses to pick a runoff primary is probably a necessary thing.

    I’d note that I don’t think this is why Chris lost. He really didn’t campaign the way he needed to. (He didn’t last time where he nearly lost over the immigration issue as well) Massively low voter turnout no doubt hurt him. But his lackadaisical campaign combined with some questionably weak vetting by the press of his opponent allowed someone in who may well lose to a Democrat this fall.

  50. Nat Whilk says:

    Clark wrote: “But his lackadaisical campaign combined with some questionably weak vetting by the press of his opponent allowed someone in who may well lose to a Democrat this fall.

    Congressional Quarterly describes Chaffetz as an “overwhelming favorite” over Spencer.

  51. cj douglass says:

    There’s really nothing you can do about these people. but slowly and surely, they are dying off, and the people replacing them do not share their opinions.

    This comment by Seth is so refreshing – and I totally concur. Hey old bigots! – we can’t wait til you die! Yes, very funny.

  52. cj douglass says:

    Whatever else we might say about the ban, it tested the saints, then and now.

    How about testing their racism?

  53. Mark D. says:

    Moderate Republicans like Mike Leavitt and Jon Huntsman certainly have not had a hard time dominating both the convention and (on occasion) the primaries. Conservative dominance of Republican delegates is more imagined than real. Very poor excuse.

  54. Nat, I recognize that. However — well there may be stuff coming out. Let’s just leave it at that.

  55. Nat Whilk says:

    @54:

    This is quite unlike you, Clark. Surely you recognize that even when it comes to politics, dropping vague hints about dirt to be revealed about someone in the future is inappropriate, don’t you? If Chaffetz were your brother would you speak about him this way?

  56. Let’s just say I hope the press will do their vetting and call up past employers.

    I really think the Democrats could pick this seat up again.

    I will say I am deeply saddened that Cannon didn’t really run much of a campaign in the least. And that he deserves the bulk of the blame for his loss.

  57. Nat Whilk says:

    Let’s just say I hope the press will do their vetting and call up past employers. I really think the Democrats could pick this seat up again.

    And once again the question is: Would you engage in this sort of rumor-mongering if Chaffetz were your brother?

  58. Nat, please ease off.

  59. Nat Whilk says:

    Whoops! I just realized that I said “dark”. I must be a racist!

  60. Nat, I’m intentionally not spreading rumors.

    As I said I just hope the media vets everyone. I don’t think the media really did much on the primaries which partially accounts for them being so surprised the next morning.

    I hope Chaffetz turns out to be a great congressman. One benefit to him is that I don’t think the Democrats have really run anyone super strong simply because they assumed the seat was strong. However it’s odd to me that everyone assumes it’s so safe since Cannon’s predecessor was a Democrat.

    I think there is going to be a bloodbath for Republicans this fall and I really hope this seat stays Republicans if only because we need a real opposition. I predicted prior to the 2006 election that Democrats would win big and then not live up to their rhetoric. Which happened. I’m predicting the same thing this fall. We need a change. I’m not sure we’ll get a change – more just a change of faces. There are some big structural problems in Washington and sadly, unlike 2006, the Democrats aren’t even focusing on most of them since they are so confident they’ll win.

  61. Nat Whilk says:

    Thanks for your clarification, Clark. I thought #54 was paralipsis, but I guess I was wrong.

  62. I live in the deep south … Our last Bishop was black … our HPGL is black, the EQP is black and the RS pres is black … noone thinks anything of it.

  63. Cultural Marxism – Political Correctness – comes to Utah with a vengeance.
    One tenet of the new value system is that ideology always trumps history. No facts need be visited in order to reach the perfect social analysis.

    Here we have a writer who is perfectly willing to assassinate, at least as to a public career, anyone who does not agree with him politically. And it is fine to twist words and smear others in a “good cause.” Now that sounds like a nice way to bring peace to the community does it not? It is OK to curse and damn others if you are sufficiently sanctimonious about it all. But it is still a despotic impulse at its core.

    As one of those ancient “bigots” (merely because of my age) who everyone is waiting to see die off, I am offended at the completely un-Christian tone at the end of that post. I would probably escort such an intolerant fanatic from my home if he were here and could not get off his high horse.

    I am quite tired of the endless charges of racism and bigotry against anyone but themselves in forums like this, including making those charges against every Church leader who came before.

    What is missing here is the slightest understanding of the complete history of the Church in the US on this point. The Mormons played an enormous role in ending slavery in the US, having social effects far beyond their small numbers. It is only a small stretch to say that the Mormons caused (more accurately, made inevitable) the Civil War which cleansed the US of that scourge of legal slavery (although many lesser problems obviously remained). And all this was at a tremendous cost to themselves, which we bear still, to some extent, as echoes of those past titanic clashes. But all they get today for those heroic acts is this endless whining about the imperfect ability of Mormons to solve every perceived social problem, and unwillingness to commit suicide in the process. It makes no sense to me. I agree we should do as much as we can, but torching ourselves like a protesting Vietnamese Buddhist monk has its problems as a policy.

  64. Kent, you’re saying your a bigot and your offended that people would call you that? I’m afraid I can’t make heads nor tails out of what it is you are saying. It’s almost like you’re saying bigotry should be excused because people 140 years ago ended slavery? But I can’t see you making that claim.

  65. I saw racism like no other when I told certain family and friends about my engagement to an Asian immigrant. We have now been married 4 years, and have a beautiful daughter, and still face racism here in Utah on a daily basis.

  66. Clark writes:
    “Kent, you’re saying your a bigot and your offended that people would call you that? I’m afraid I can’t make heads nor tails out of what it is you are saying. It’s almost like you’re saying bigotry should be excused because people 140 years ago ended slavery? But I can’t see you making that claim.”

    I do not consider myself a bigot, but according to one comment on this thread, if I am an older guy I must necessarily be a bigot, that itself being a bigoted “ageism” comment.
    I have friends from several African countries, some of them Church members, and managed to get two of them into the US for advanced schooling.

    All I mean to say is that there were a lot of very good historical reasons for not becoming any more the abolitionists (that epithet used to equal a death sentence in Missouri and elsewhere) we were accused of being by the murderous Southern interests. The Mormons actually had four extermination orders, not merely one.

    Treating blacks as equals was a good way to get even more church members, maybe all of them, white or black, killed by mobs. As a society, we have zero recollection of those on-going mortal conflicts. It has all been sanitized for Primary-level instruction. It is nice we can forget those murderous days, but if people insist on bringing up all that old stuff but being completely ignorant of the history, and blaming it all on LDS racism, then I find it hard to keep still.

    Everyone seems to assume there was a long line of strong bigotry from the beginning. In the 1800s it would literally have been suicidal to take a different public stand on blacks, regardless of private feelings. Today the reasons are different for being cautious about trying to bring millions of US blacks into the fold.

    Are you sure there are no more political mine fields out there for a close mixture of Mormonism with lots of blacks in the US? Or if there are, it is all the fault of LDS members? For example, how many blacks have finally been socially detoxified enough to ignore the professional race baiters in our country, like Jesse Jackson, Rev. Wright, Al Sharpton, etc.? Long-term, how many would really accept the word of a white prophet over these racist political hustlers? Or would that be fine with you to bring in all the political conflicts still associated with blacks? Are you ready to start legal or legislative proceedings for reparations for slavery for blacks? How about having the Rev. Jesse Jackson demand to speak in Conference to all his people? As noted in another thread, we can barely manage in the US to hold a steady church population, which is actually a declining relative share. What we don’t need at the moment is to devise ways to make our membership go up in smoke any faster, even if there are a few ignorant and unrepentant bigots in the mix.

    If we were growing through diversity that might be a good thing. But it appears we are dissolving through diversity. If we cannot integrate people into the gospel culture any better than the US integrates new immigrants as a whole, these days, as apparently we are not, then we are going to simply disappear into a thin mist. The world of the Church ends with a whimper.

    Maybe I should write a book about this, and help people actually understand what happened and how it affects today. But I’m not sure there are many today who would even want to study the facts, at least not enough to justify the effort involved in writing such a book.

    One other thing—I did not even bother to read the name of the guy who started this thread, assuming I would not know him anyway. But seeing later it was Woodworth, I have to at least give him credit for doing a great deal of good work, raising money and volunteers to help the less fortunate around the world. That is not something I have managed to do very much of, although I have made a few small efforts. My problem comes in the violence he would be happy to see done to those he disagrees with. Is it possible to be a war-mongering tolerant abolitionist peacenik? Any logical problems there?

  67. Kent–
    Our stereotypes about old people (those of us who have them) have just been reinforced.
    The “Obama sock puppet” episode and how people on Deseret News forums reacted to that was a bit of a wake-up call for me…racism is still in issue.

  68. Steve Evans says:

    “Today the reasons are different for being cautious about trying to bring millions of US blacks into the fold.”

    Pray tell, old man, what are the reasons today for being cautious about bringing millions of US blacks into the fold?

    Go ahead and write your book. Just keep us modern folks out of it, we tend to shy away from such overtly disgusting racism disguised as looking out for the best interests of the Kingdom. Jesse Helms, though dead, yet doth he live.

  69. For the BCC defenders and justifiers of Chris Buttars’ denigrating use of “black, dark ugly” baby, you may be interested to know that last February when the Utah public began to complain of his offensive words, he accused them of being a “lynch mob,” apparently unaware this was the frequent term whites in the South used to mobilize efforts for finding and hanging a Black person. The phrase is still troubling to Blacks today, as illustrated by the 2007 furor in Jena, Louisiana over white students hanging a noose from a tree limb on their campus, allegedly to warn Black students that sitting under the tree was white territory only.

    Further, the Salt Lake Tribune reported today, July 4, that Buttars blatantly used the “black, dark” phraes several times again in recent days while meeting with Mapleton City officials, one of whom has 3 adopted Black children. According to the city officials, who are also Republicans like Buttars, he called the meeting to threaten them in behalf of his wealthy friend, an MD and developer who has sought for years to violate public lands law so as to build 47 houses on the beautiful hills above the town, an area that has served as a beautiful place of nature. Although the senator is from a district in West Jordan, he extends his reach of intimidation on behalf of the powerful in Utah, has threatened a judge, and is now beating up on leaders of a town far south in another valley. Apparently in the latest debacle, Buttars threatened the town council to their faces, and assured them that he possessed absolute power to do whatever was needed since he survived earlier criticism about his racist remarks, and obtained support of the state’s Republican legislators.

    So it looks like the bigoted, embarrassing words he used before were not simply an innocent mistake like some individuals would like to hope.

  70. That was some good ol’ fashioned frontier gibberish from Gabby Johnson.

  71. #69: He assured them he had absolute power? He threatened a judge? He is beating up on leaders? Wow, he must be the anti-Christ! Or maybe Dr. Evil in disguise. Seriously. Buttars appears to be a racist jerk. He is an embarrasmment. No one is defending him. But what is the deal with the obsessing over him and the hyperbole?

  72. Maren, I’m sorry you’re having to deal with racism within your family. We have two inter-racial marriages in our family, and a small handful of people have been downright ugly. I hope it gets better.

  73. I guess this blog, and others, is a good substitute for Hyde Park-style discourse. Gets pretty raucous.

    Tim — #67:
    I just read up on the Obama sock puppet episode and it all seems to indicate that the inventers were Pro-Obama people. So isn’t a racist Democrat supposed to be impossible? Apparently you can’t pin this one on the Vast Rightwing Conspiracy of the aged.

    I take it you have the recipe for the “Age of Aquarius” perfect society the 1960’s Baby Boomer/protesters/hippies were promoting? Traditional society and morality is to be chucked? Have the young revolutionaries of the world ever had any other message? “Never trust anyone over 30, etc.”
    —————
    Steve — #68:
    I listed a few reasons “for being cautious about trying to bring millions of US blacks into the fold,” including the political tug-of-war these people find themselves in, but you seem to have missed them. Are you suggesting that the LDS Church become aggressive advocates for your favorite political causes which might include a new round of civil rights civil disobedience, harboring illegal aliens, etc? Do you want the Church to self-destruct?
    ————-
    gst — #70
    So who is Gabby Johnson, and where is the gibberish?
    ————
    E — #71, concerning #69:
    I agree. The level of emotion and language police apoplexy over Buttars is extraordinary. How about talking about the issues he cares about instead of trying to yell him off the public stage? If you hate the private school voucher option, let’s hear about that. If you hate any use of private property that spoils your view, and want to find the next spotted owl on a Mapleton hillside to stop change, let’s hear about that. But name-calling is a bit tedious. That is what the thuggish student ideologues do on campus to stop any kind of public communication on issues. That is brown-shirt fascism, not civilized moral behavior. Strange that the “free speech” left hates free speech so much and wants to criminalize it.
    —————-
    Tracy — #72:
    I am sorry to hear of such difficulties. But I am not eager to drop all the blame on such people. Sometimes they have a good reason.

    I have a nephew with two adopted black babies, I have one friend with one black adopted child, another friend with two, etc. I have three nieces who have married men of other races, etc. I know something about this.
    My personal concern is about the differences of culture, religion, and values that usually get in the mix, not about skin color, but the two usually go together. A friend of mine married a lady from the Philippines. Didn’t last. A friend from the Philippines married a US lady. Didn’t last.
    It seems all too easy to just call people racists if they see unique problems ahead. Mixing cultures is not always consequence-free for surrounding people. Such categorizations and substitutes for thought as “racism” are often far too simplistic. For example, what if you marry a Navajo and that either pulls them out of the tribe (weakens “cultural diversity”) or pulls you into the centuries-long set of grievances they have against whites? Is that really what you want you and yours to get personally tangled up in? One should probably not jump into those moccasins on impulse.

    Should we bring single black young men from Africa to school in the US, who then instantly wish to marry a white girl so they can stay here, and their female African associates and potential wives are left there in Africa? Any problems with doing that on a large scale?

    More generally today we have the standard leftist list of epithets of “racist, sexist, homophobe, bigot…..” – you can probably add to the list. This PC stuff, this name-calling for political advantage, besides sounding very Marxist, is not what America was supposed to be about. If some want to relive the brutality of the 20th Century, this is a good way to start.

  74. Kent,

    There is a huge difference between being concerned about the difficulty of overcoming differences in a marriage and the kind of statements that Buttars has made and keeps making. There is a huge difference between controlling membership growth in Africa and other places around the world in order to avoid division and possible splits due to the lack of a solid foundation and worrying about “bringing US Blacks into the fold”. There is a huge difference between concern about the difficulties still faced by many inter-racial families and appearing to claim that inter-racial marriage simply can’t work.

    My age puts me between the young and old; it gives me the perspective of my own, my parents’ and my grandparents’ generations, but it also gives me the perspective of my kids’ generations. (I have a 20 year old and a 6 year old – and their views are different in fascinating ways, so I effectively have three generations in my house and five generations of direct and personal observation.)

    My kids’ world is radically different than mine was, and mine is radically different than that of my parents and grandparents. I understand your concerns, as they were expressed throughout my upbringing, but I don’t see those concerns in the views of my children. For example, inter-racial marriage still can be difficult due to increased and non-trivial differences, but that difficulty is decreasing every year for many. Frankly, concern over inter-racial marriage used to be the norm; it quickly is becoming the exception, if it is not the exception already for the majority of those facing marriage choices today.

    Please consider this as you comment here. You and I are among the oldies here, which means you generally are speaking with people whose perspectives are different than yours – and mine while I was growing up. As gently as I can phrase this, I appreciate and am grateful for this difference, as I believe it represents an improvement over the ideas with which I was raised.

    I’m not asking you to embrace and accept everything others are saying here; I’m just asking you to step back and realize why statements like, “Today the reasons are different for being cautious about trying to bring millions of US blacks into the fold,” are so incredibly offensive to those of a different generation than you – and why I am glad that they are offensive.

  75. SC Taysom says:

    One should probably not jump into those moccasins on impulse.

    There’s the gibberish Gabby.

  76. Kendall Smith says:

    Come on, Kent, you know who Gabby Johnson is. Or maybe you never saw Blazing Saddles.

    [audio src="http://www.ladyofthecake.com/mel/saddles/sounds/gibbersh.wav" /]

  77. Thanks to those who have reacted to my essay. On the one hand, I appreciate the kind words from readers like Margaret Young (of whom I am a fan she’s never met), as well as Julie, Dana and perhaps others. Those who criticized what I wrote have suggested that my efforts to criticize Sen. Buttars detracted from the heart of my message. You probably have a point. Maybe I just had to let it out!
    Several appear to confuse my views as those of their past professors (how terrible), that they may be Marxist, or other strange assertion–even “hyperbole.” They themselves may dislike Sen. Buttars words, but so what? They imply we ought to forget about it. Get over it. Ignore it. They wonder what the point is of going through such discussion, arguing that these are just exercises, a re-hashing the past. I worry that their justifications about our racist history and simplistic optimism for the future may tend to obfuscate. By this I mean as in: 1. To make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand: “A great effort was made . . . to obscure or obfuscate the truth” (Robert Conquest). Or, 2. To render indistinct or dim; darken: The fog obfuscated the shore. [Latin obfusc?re, obfusc?t-, to darken : ob-, over; see ob– + fusc?re, to darken (from fuscus, dark).] obfuscation ob’fus•ca’tion n. obfuscatory ob•fus’ca•to’ry (?b-f?s’k?-tôr’?, -t?r’?, ?b-) adj. http://www.answers.com/topic/obfuscate. In contrast, I believe we need to still do the hard work of debate and criticism that may eventually produce deep understanding and reconciliation so we may grow as one in building God’s Kingdom.
    What I wrote on the topic of Blacks and the Priesthood was from my personal experience. Some readers have had different experiences. Fine. My main concern is that a few writers seem to refer to a kind of narrow history about racism in the Church in which the change occurred somewhat automatically. A prayer was offered, an answer received, and an announcement was made. I believe the process was slower and somewhat torturous.

    Let me add a couple of further experiences and observations which may serve to illuminate the problems at hand:

    a) In southern Brazil, the original focus was on proselyting whites, most of whom, in fact, were German immigrants. Eventually in the ‘60s, the Church had expanded somewhat further north. In 1967, then Elder Spencer W. Kimball of the Twelve, visited the country. Greatly troubled by the numerous Black difficulties among congregations in northern Brazil, the Brethren were considering shutting down the Church in the country and withdrawing all its missionaries. At least they were preparing to halt its expansion northward. They had no real ability, because of Priesthood restrictions, to operate the organization and staff the leadership of Branches, Districts, and later Stakes. Without the 1978 Revelation, most missionary work in Brazil would have dried up and disappeared.

    b) Pres. Kimball, who had long been concerned about the dehumanizing way Native American Indians were treated in white America, seemed to have a special sensitivity to the issue of race. In Brazil he spent long hours personally listening to the plight and pain expressed by Black Brazilians, who either had been told to drop their practice of the Priesthood because of likely African lineage, or those individuals were never allowed to receive the Priesthood in the first place. Many other officials were aware of the pathos of those who suffered, but it took a Pres. Kimball with a soft heart to lead the effort to formally change the practice. Those years of pain accelerated the push for change. The 1978 announcement did not simply occur in the echo chamber of one man’s mind.

    c) In the United States, Elder “ABC” told me of his shocking experience when traveling to the South to preside over a stake conference. The meeting was held in an auditorium. When he and the other leaders went up on the stage and sat down, he suddenly realized that the main floor was a sea of white faces. Up in the balcony, however, were dozens of Black families. He asked the Stake President why this practice of segregation was being done and was told that it was the norm among Church members in the southern states. Elder ABC told the Stake President to please invite the African Americans to sit on the main floor with their white brothers and sisters. At first the Stake President refused the request. When he was told again to do it, he responded to the effect that he would do so, but the General Authority from Salt Lake should be aware that the bulk of the membership who were white would then stand and leave the stake conference, and not return. It was a deeply troubling experience which made him push his Brethren for eliminating the ban.

    d) During the 1960s, the Church faced intense public criticism over its policy. It greatly damaged George Romney’s presidential race in 1962, as his son, Mitt, experienced the residue of those criticisms during his own recent campaign. At the 1963 General Conference, Pres. Hugh B. Brown, one of the most outspoken liberals among the leaders of the Church, sought to counter our public image, as well as prepare Church members for the ban to be lifted. He read a declaration of the Church’s support for Civil Rights. It was an outright rejection of racism of any kind. Not all Church leaders agreed with him, nor did a number of white Utah Mormons. It was a courageous act on Pres. Brown’s part. Roughly during that same period, he also, in fact, tried to personally change the Church’s policy and eliminate the Priesthood ban earlier, long before the 1978 decree. However, Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve, intervened at the last minute and, with others, forced Pres. Brown to back down. This isn’t in the Church’s official history regarding the Priesthood ban. It is simply one episode that illuminates the fact that there were huge differences and various arguments put forth by the General Authorities over many years.

    e) When the day finally arrives that each has shed one’s bigotry completely and learned to truly “esteem his brother (and sister) as himself”(D&C 38: 24), we will become a genuine Mormon community. We will see a huge and dramatic growth in missionary conversions among Blacks worldwide. While success up until now has been significant, in many respects, we have hardly yet skimmed the surface.

    f) As several BCC readers mentioned, back during the 1960s-70s, thousands of Blacks in Africa had learned of Mormonism from media, dreams, and other sources. Innovators from Ghana and Nigeria, among others, petitioned Church headquarters for missionaries. When it didn’t happen, they began forming and incorporating their own LDS churches. This caused great consternation among Salt Lake leaders, who were caught between the horns of a real dilemma. Those years of hot debates among officials over what might be done are evidence of the influence individuals generated in leading up to 1978.

    g) A number of readers described heartbreaking experiences from mixed race marriages and extended family situations regarding race and ethnicity. Just a few months back, a longtime friend expressed his grief that, although he has served as a Black Bishop in a diverse U.S. ward, he will never be allowed to fulfill his dream of serving as a mission president. When I inquired as to why, he pointed out that because he is married to a white woman, some Church leaders would block his potential appointment because as a couple, it would legitimize interracial marriages, which, according to him, are heavily frowned upon, still today. This is from an individual who, because of his considerable connections, knows intimately how such callings are issued.

    h) On the brighter, more optimistic side, several comments suggested that the old racist legacy of the past is dying, and I hope they are correct. As evidence, many of my LDS college students today are more liberated than their parents and grandparents when it comes to racial questions. This is particularly true of those from the East and West Coasts. Some of this may derive from the openness and self-confidence of today’s young who are not threatened by Black progress. They understand the basis of affirmative action programs, the need for a Black student club, even at BYU, and they are certainly more sympathetic to the problems linking poverty, crime, and race as manifest in contemporary America.

    Of course there are many such stories yet to be told. Collectively they inform us as to forces which propelled the ultimate change in 1978. But the wonderful events of that day did not occur in a societal vacuum, or a single question, plea, or prayer in the Salt Lake temple. What I was trying to convey was that, like most changes in the Church, shifts occur within the context of culture, and that they are often the accumulation of many ripples.

    My own history is just that—my personal experience. It may or may not fit with someone else’s history, or interpretation of events. So please just take this as my experience, not an attack on Utah culture, the white race, the LDS Church as an institution, or subcultures within Mormon society.

    Ultimately, my point was that, at least in my case, I need to repent and work on these matters further. As Nephi declared, “Woe unto those who say all is well in Zion” (2 Nephi 28:21). Apparently, when it comes to Black issues, we still have far to travel.

  78. Warner has provided some very interesting insider’s history and personal observations on blacks and the Church. I was aware of some of the struggles, but only a tiny portion, and almost nothing from inside the Church leadership. I had one strange experience while on my mission to Northern California. We had Henry D. Moyle visit our mission in about 1962, and at a large gathering of missionaries, he asked if there were any questions. I foolishly said I had heard there were black converts in Africa (I think a couple from my region had been called to go there), and wanted to know what was going on. He yelled that it was none of my business. After he calmed down a bit, he said it was OK to ask about using the Primary to do missionary work. That was the kind of question he had in mind. It took a while before any one else was so brave or silly as to actually ask a question. I did certainly get a sense that this was a perplexing state of affairs.

    When we leave out the group politics and related struggles, and focus on the individuals, I can agree with nearly everything Warner has to say. The first two blacks I ever met in my life were fine people, exemplary individuals. One I worked with at Geneva Steel, and one I knew in the army. The army guy became everyone’s hero when he took on one unpleasant white guy who was quite a bully and really needed to get straightened out. The black guy ended up with a broken arm, and I think the other guy ended up in the brig for a time. Everyone there was cheering the black guy in this confrontation. These were easily the two biggest guys in our training platoon, a battle of the Titans.

    Making this into a partisan political issue is exactly what I think is a bad idea. We don’t need to go to some “king of the blacks” and have them all join up en masse like some Book of Mormon (or King of Siam) mass conversion. One at a time is still the right way. Do we want college affirmative action (government regulation) to be exactly tracked or mirrored by LDS “affirmative action” for potential black converts? Let the government do our missionary work for us? I think that would be a really bad way to administer the gospel.

  79. Warner Woodworth says:

    Thanks to those who have reacted to my essay. On the one hand, I appreciate the kind words from readers like Margaret Young (of whom I am a fan she’s never realized), as well as Julie, Dana and perhaps others. Those who criticized what I wrote have suggested that my efforts to criticize Sen. Buttars detracted from the heart of my message. You probably have a point. Maybe I just had to let it out!

    Several appear to wonder what the point is of going through such discussion, arguing that these are just exercises, a re-hashing the past. I worry that their justifications of our racist history and optimism for the future may tend to obfuscate. By this I mean as in: 1. To make so confused or opaque as to be difficult to perceive or understand: “A great effort was made . . . to obscure or obfuscate the truth” (Robert Conquest). Or, 2. To render indistinct or dim; darken: The fog obfuscated the shore. [Latin obfusc?re, obfusc?t-, to darken : ob-, over; see ob– + fusc?re, to darken (from fuscus, dark).] obfuscation ob’fus·ca’tion n. obfuscatory ob·fus’ca·to’ry (?b-f?s’k?-tôr’?, -t?r’?, ?b-) adj. http://www.answers.com/topic/obfuscate. In contrast, I believe we need to still do the hard work of deep understanding and reconciliation so we may grow as one in building God’s Kingdom.

    What I wrote on the topic of Blacks and the Priesthood was from my personal experience. Some readers have had different experiences. Fine. My main concern is that a few writers seem to refer to a kind of narrow history about racism in the Church in which the change occurred somewhat automatically. A prayer was offered, an answer received, and an announcement was made. I believe the process was slower and somewhat torturous.

    Let me add a couple of further experiences and observations which may serve to illuminate the problems at hand:

    a) In southern Brazil, the original focus was on proselyting whites, most of whom, in fact, were German immigrants. Eventually in the ‘60s, the Church had expanded somewhat further north. In 1967, then Elder Spencer W. Kimball of the Twelve, visited the country. Greatly troubled by the numerous Black difficulties among congregations in northern Brazil, the Brethren were considering shutting down the Church in the country and withdrawing all its missionaries. At least they were preparing to halt its expansion northward. They had no real ability, because of Priesthood restrictions, to operate the organization and staff the leadership of Branches, Districts, and later Stakes. Without the 1978 Revelation, most missionary work in Brazil would have dried up and disappeared.

    b) Pres. Kimball, who had long been concerned about the dehumanizing way Native American Indians were treated in white America, seemed to have a special sensitivity to the issue of race. In Brazil he spent long hours personally listening to the plight and pain expressed by Black Brazilians, who either had been told to drop their practice of the Priesthood because of likely African lineage, or those individuals were never allowed to receive the Priesthood in the first place. Many other officials were aware of the pathos of those who suffered, but it took a Pres. Kimball with a soft heart to lead the effort to formally change the practice. Those years of pain accelerated the push for change. The 1978 announcement did not simply occur in the echo chamber of one man’s mind.

    c) In the United States, Elder “ABC” told me of his shocking experience when traveling to the South to preside over a stake conference. The meeting was held in an auditorium. When he and the other leaders went up on the stage and sat down, he suddenly realized that the main floor was a sea of white faces. Up in the balcony, however, were dozens of Black families. He asked the Stake President why this practice of segregation was being done and was told that it was the norm among Church members in the southern states. Elder ABC told the Stake President to please invite the African Americans to sit on the main floor with their white brothers and sisters. At first the Stake President refused the request. When he was told again to do it, he responded to the effect that he would do so, but the General Authority from Salt Lake should be aware that the bulk of the membership who were white would then stand and leave the stake conference, and not return. It was a deeply troubling experience which made him push his Brethren for eliminating the ban.

    d) During the 1960s, the Church faced intense public criticism over its policy. It greatly damaged George Romney’s presidential race in 1962, as his son, Mitt, experienced the residue of those criticisms during his own recent campaign. At the 1963 General Conference, Pres. Hugh B. Brown, one of the most outspoken liberals among the leaders of the Church, sought to counter our public image, as well as prepare Church members for the ban to be lifted. He read a declaration of the Church’s support for Civil Rights. It was an outright rejection of racism of any kind. Not all Church leaders agreed with him, nor did a number of white Utah Mormons. It was a courageous act on Pres. Brown’s part. Roughly during that same period, he also, in fact, tried to personally change the Church’s policy and eliminate the Priesthood ban earlier, long before the 1978 decree. However, Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve, intervened at the last minute and, with others, forced Pres. Brown to back down. This isn’t in the Church’s official history regarding the Priesthood ban. It is simply one episode that illuminates the fact that there were huge differences and various arguments put forth by the General Authorities over many years.

    e) When the day finally arrives that each has shed one’s bigotry completely and learned to truly “esteem his brother (and sister) as himself”(D&C 38: 24), we will become a genuine Mormon community. We will see a huge and dramatic growth in missionary conversions among Blacks worldwide. While success up until now has been significant, in many respects, we have hardly yet skimmed the surface.

    f) As several BCC readers mentioned, back during the 1960s-70s, thousands of Blacks in Africa had learned of Mormonism from media, dreams, and other sources. Innovators from Ghana and Nigeria, among others, petitioned Church headquarters for missionaries. When it didn’t happen, they began forming and incorporating their own LDS churches. This caused great consternation among Salt Lake leaders, who were caught between the horns of a real dilemma. Those years of hot debates among officials over what might be done are evidence of the influence individuals generated in leading up to 1978.

    g) A number of readers described heartbreaking experiences from mixed race marriages and extended family situations regarding race and ethnicity. Just a few months back, a longtime friend expressed his grief that, although he has served as a Black Bishop in a diverse U.S. ward, he will never be allowed to fulfill his dream of serving as a mission president. When I inquired as to why, he pointed out that because he is married to a white woman, some Church leaders would block his potential appointment because as a couple, it would legitimize interracial marriages, which, according to him, are heavily frowned upon, still today. This is from an individual who, because of his considerable connections, knows intimately how such callings are issued.

    h) On the brighter, more optimistic side, several comments suggested that the old racist legacy of the past is dying, and I hope they are correct. As evidence, many of my LDS college students today are more liberated than their parents and grandparents when it comes to racial questions. This is particularly true of those from the East and West Coasts. Some of this may derive from the openness and self-confidence of today’s young who are not threatened by Black progress. They understand the basis of affirmative action programs, the need for a Black student club, even at BYU, and they are certainly more sympathetic to the problems linking poverty, crime, and race as manifest in contemporary America.

    Of course there are many such stories yet to be told. Collectively they inform us as to forces which propelled the ultimate change in 1978. But the wonderful events of that day did not occur in a societal vacuum, or a single question, plea, or prayer in the Salt Lake temple. What I was trying to convey was that, like most changes in the Church, shifts occur within the context of culture, and that they are often the accumulation of many ripples.

    My own history is just that—my personal experience. It may or may not fit with someone else’s history, or interpretation of events. So please just take this as my experience, not an attack on Utah culture, the white race, the LDS Church as an institution, or subcultures within Mormon society.

    Ultimately, my point was that, at least in my case, I need to repent and work on these matters further. As Nephi declared, “Woe unto those who say all is well in Zion” (2 Nephi 28:21). Apparently, when it comes to Black issues, we still have far to travel.

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