Apologising for historical racism

The General Synod of the Church of England apologised in 2006 for its role in the slave trade. The church, through the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, once owned the Codrington Plantation in Barbados, where slaves had the word “society” branded on their backs with a red-hot iron. One teaching that was used by Christians to defend their support of slavery was the notion that blacks carried the curse of Ham.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said: “The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time, it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the body of Christ, is pray for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant ‘them’.”

After the apology, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York led a procession through London to mark the 200th anniversary of Britain’s abolition of the slave trade. They joined a group who walked 250 miles from Hull (where abolitionist MP William Wilberforce held his Parliamentary seat) in yokes and chains. They were then “freed” by the Archbishop of the West Indies.

All of this leads me to wonder if there us anything to learn here for Mormons.

Yes: In order to fully escape from racism, the whole sorry thing needs to be cauterized. It’s not enough to condemn racism today, nor to distance oneself from past theologies. Racist practices themselves, whenever they occurred, must be fully condemned and repented of in sackloth and ashes. Claimed ignorance as to why a Christian church ending up owning human chattel would be absurd.

No: Owning slaves and branding with irons is of a completely different kind to the priesthood ban. Also, the Church of England’s ecclesiology is not such that it feels a loyalty to its past leaders and thus it is very easy for them to condemn the Codrington Plantation. Easy, and possibly a tad sanctimonious.

I think Williams is right that present believers own the beliefs and practices of their forefathers, whether they like it or not. Quite how the Mormon Church will proceed on this issue will be interesting to see. It is clear to me that for any action to be influential it must take place in fora with much more normative power than the LDS Newsroom. I don’t envy those called to make these difficult decisions.

Here’s an interesting thought experiment: what if the LDS Church, with prophetic approval, had owned slaves? What would it do about that fact now? The answer to that question will help determine how easy or difficult the road ahead might be.

Comments

  1. The procession is somewhat dramatic but also very clear. I suspect it was sincerely meant and therefore, for those involved quite meaningful.

    Yet, I too find Williams quite persuasive. Mormonism has provided the story which shapes my life and I have been someone who has accepted certain racist versions of that story. It is impossible to complete extricate myself from the implications of this theology and these past practices without repentance. The leaders of our Church (not the LDS Newsroom) have a responsibility to call us to make that change and then to demonstrate that change in their own lives: perhaps I have missed something I have not seen this yet.

  2. Was this influenced at all Jacob’s post on work for the dead? As a people who believe in ordinances that bind us to our previous generations Rowan Williams’ words should have special meaning. We believe that we cannot be saved without our dead and neither they without us. Don’t we also believe it is easier to repent whilst in this probationary state than in the next life? Perhaps as we own and repent for past (and present) racism in part on behalf of our ancestors (literal or spiritual) we will enable their progress beyond the veil in ways we cannot comprehend.

  3. “what if the LDS Church, with prophetic approval, had owned slaves?”

    The Church basically did. Some slave-owning Mormons actually paid their tithing with slaves, and some of “The Brethren” (TM) used those tithes as personal servants.

  4. Whether it came from him or whether it came from the weakness of his servants, you’re still saddled with basically the same issue. If racism is the most horrendous sin, why would God speak through such men?

    Would we insist that every church or organization that ever held any kind of a racial attitude do the same kind of apology? It doesn’t matter whether it was 1978 or 1878, wrong is wrong, and if you demand an institutional apology for every sleight by every organization, that’s all that organizations would be doing, and it would hinder whatever they are trying to do in the, you know, present. The reason why you are up in arms about this one is because of the media exposure, Mitt Romney, and the fact that you have thin skins when being called bigots. What about covering up Mountain Meadows in the 19th century? I would think that would go up higher on the list. What about the psychological damage done to homosexuals by telling them that their desires the result of sin (yes, I know that that has recently changed, but there is still the past to atone for) Those two alone probably had more damaging effects than the ban did. And I’m not picking on the Mormon church here, every organization with a similar age has analogous histories. This would open up a can of worms for the Mormon church.

    Rowan Williams is the head of an anemic church that owns no sort of metaphysical narrative and is running entirely on ritual and tradition. The Mormon church has a very strong narrative that would be threatened to its core by this kind of official repudiation. Yes, those commenting here would undoubtedly be fine with this, but in my experience they don’t seem to represent the rank and file of the Mormon church. And, ultimately, in any organization it’s the conservative rank and file that provide the engine for church growth and activity, and who successfully transmit their beliefs intergenerationally, and in the Mormon case those conservatives rely on a narrative that would be severely disrupted by such an admission. The church won’t do it because it would be suicide, and it would be; I guess the question then from a utilitarian perspective would be: if you see the net contribution of the church as positive, would this admission have a net negative or positive impact? I’m sure different people will answer differently to this, but there’s no denying the effect that this would have on the Mormon narrative, and it’s naive to think otherwise.

    Undoubtedly some will immediately be offended and accuse me of downplaying the struggles that the blacks went through, but that’s missing the point. What about the struggles that the MM descendents went through? What about the women in polygamy? The point is, that if every organization apologized for every issue that is “too important” not to apologize for, that is all that any organization would be doing. And then they would be stuck with having to justify why they did so for one issue but not another, but the sum total of all the issues that “merit an apology” would add up to a huge mass of issues. Just be honest, the anxiety about this issue and the relative lack of concern for others has more to with PR concerns than honest soul searching.

  5. Anon,
    I reject your premise that churches would spend their entire time apologising for things if this Anglican example were to be taken as a useful precedent. That’s absurdly hyperbolic. Plus, I wouldn’t call slavery a “sleight” in any case. However, even it were even close to being true, isn’t repentance supposed to be a continual act and one of the things foremost in our minds?

    gomez,
    Jacob’s post, and your idea, are brilliant and illustrate the beauty and possibility of Mormonism.

    narrator,
    How large is the gap between “basically” and “did”?

    Aaron,
    I’m wondering why Williams isn’t more popular.

  6. “Some slave-owning Mormons actually paid their tithing with slaves” (comment 3)

    I would like to see the proof of that statement.

    Seriously.

    Especially if you mean Green Flake. The story about him being donated as tithing has been told by the Flake family, but the family members who repeated that statement were young boys when both of their parents died, and couldn’t be expected to know the details of their parents’ estate. There are a number of incorrect details about early Flake family history, probably due to the lack of continuity caused by the boys being orphaned, and the story about Green being donated as tithing has not been substantiated by any documentation besides the Flake family story. The existing letters I’ve seen about his ownership contradict the story of Green being donated as tithing, so if you have other sources, I’d be interested to see them.

  7. RJH: You’re right, I meant the priesthood ban, not slavery. But yes, I’m sure that many of the commentators here could suggest many, many other things that the church should apologize for.

    Also, using the phrase “all their time,” might have been misleading. It’s not that they will be literally spending all day at the news station, but rather that what they are trying to do in the here and now will be completely overwhelmed by historical concerns.

  8. I still wouldn’t call the priesthood ban a “sleight”, Anon. I also still don’t think that a religious organisation would be “overwhelmed” by these concerns. The C of E is sensitive to its past but doesn’t seem to be obsessed by it. I agree that it’s a very different church, of course.

  9. Kristine says:

    Anon (#4): “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the task itself has become easier, but that our ability to perform it has improved.” (Emerson, via President Grant)

    Dealing honestly with the past is no different than any other task. We would learn how to do it, and it would eventually become a matter of course, both for leaders and members. What good is it to have the church of Christ on earth, if behaving in Christian ways = institutional suicide?

  10. “What good is it to have the church of Christ on earth, if behaving in Christian ways = institutional suicide?”

    Would somebody please embroider this on a pillow for me in block letters?

  11. Mark B. says:

    It can only be embroidered using sleight of hand by hands that are slight–which obviously points toward the fairer sex.

    As Reagan said of Pres. Carter–“there you go again.”

  12. But I think that’s the issue; there are many non-sleight issues. Here are a few of the top of my head, each of which I think the argument could be made was more detrimental than the priesthood ban (which affected relatively few people).

    Church’s earlier statements on homosexual tendencies being sinful (given the percentage of people who have these tendencies, I don’t want to try to quantify what this has done).

    Church’s earlier tolerance of slavery (at least in some sectors)

    BY-era MM coverup (or obfuscation, or whatever you want to call it)

    Gallatin and Millport raids

    Coercive polygamy

    None of these issues were “slights” either. In each of these cases, somebody who argues that the situation was more complicated, and than it doesn’t necessarily reflect the bad motives that are imputed to it, could be labeled with a derogatory term such as racist, or at the least could be accused of downplaying the significance of what these events meant.

    And I don’t think that in this case slippery slope is a fallacy. It is interesting reading these threads how often the connection is made from here to women holding the priesthood, SSM, etc. Again, whether the church should have as much influence in the lives of its members that it has is an open question, but I don’t think that there is any denying that what you and other seem to be proposing would have a pretty significant effect on the superstructure of authority on which the Mormon church is built.

  13. Anon ~ Would we insist that every church or organization that ever held any kind of a racial attitude do the same kind of apology?

    Actually, quite a few churches have apologized for their past racism. As for the ones who haven’t, they at least wouldn’t insist that they used to be racist because God told them to be racist.

    @ the OP ~ I think the real difficulty with the prospect of the LDS church apologizing for the priesthood ban is that, if past leaders got such significant points of doctrine and policy wrong, then current leaders may be getting significant points of doctrine and policy wrong. It would harm the trust that the average member has in the leaders’ ability to accurately implement the will of God. It would have members asking, “How do you know that this isn’t wrong like the priesthood/temple ban on blacks was wrong?”

    As difficult as that may be, with an election contest between a black sitting President and a white Mormon challenger on the horizon, the media is sure to shine more light on this topic than it has in a long time, and the church’s current “we just don’t know” response is not going to save any face. While I firmly believe that an apology is still the right thing to do, I do worry that it would be criticized as a move calculated specifically to help Romney win the presidency. The sad reality is, the church may have procrastinated the day of its repentance for too long, and the storm is about to get very bad.

  14. Query: is the Church still the kingdom of God on the earth whether or not it apologizes for politically incorrect misdeeds of the past? I think the answer to this question is very important.

    Also, let’s say that the Church never officially apologies for the priesthood ban policy. Therefore, what?

  15. “The sad reality is, the church may have procrastinated the day of its repentance for too long, and the storm is about to get very bad.”

    Pure garbage. This statement is absolutely, totally, bovine fecal matter.

  16. Kristine says:

    prophetize–you have to provide some substantive critique. Clever circumlocutions of “bullshit” are cute, but insufficient. Ms. Jack may be mistaken, but it’s not a ridiculous idea.

  17. I think it’s a ridiculous idea because it seems to smack of Freudian wish fulfillment rather than based on any objective facts.

  18. “Freudian wish fulfillment”

    Sounds like bullshit to me…

  19. a random John says:

    The problem at the moment is tha people have been asking the Church to apologize for years, but if they did it now it would appear political. We’ve procrastinated too long. Yes it could still be done, but the sincerity would be doubted.

    Historically, Utah could have been a free territory but was a slave territory in name and practice.

  20. oudenos says:

    Pretty sure Freudian wish fulfillment would involve more snakes, spears, obelisks, candles, flowers, blossoms, wounds, moms, and dads.

  21. #13: “The sad reality is, the church may have procrastinated the day of its repentance for too long, and the storm is about to get very bad.” I couldn’t agree more.

    I have been on a very long journey with the Church. I stopped attending last year and have harbored ill feelings for the many historical facts I feel have been hidden from me, some might say because of my ignorance but purely because as a TBM I read only from correlated materials. Yet, recently, I have considered trying Church again for various reasons, mainly because the community is wonderful. This Bott incident (or properly coined Bott-ulism by Mark I think) has left me reeling. I want you and all the other authors who have so eloquently spoken about repentance regarding our history to know that it has really hit home with me. If I had people like all of you in my ward, it would be easier for me to come back and feel okay with speaking my mind while engaging in honest discourse. However, when I post the articles of BCC on my FB, I get lambasted by TBM folk who call me anti-Mormon. How ironic that I find your words refreshing and they find it uncomfortable.

    Anyway, I couldn’t think of a better way to start dealing with our history more honestly than by issuing an apology for this. Who knows, maybe other apologies or clarifications for doctrine would follow! It isn’t about what God felt, clearly God cares for all his children, it’s about what we have done wrong and correcting that.

  22. Hm. Well, I was warned that BCC didn’t welcome alternative voices to the prevailing wisdom here. I guess you guys are proving the warning correct.

  23. Prophetize: Would I be justified in coming to your house, calling you an ass without any real explanation beyond the mere name-calling, and then becoming upset when you don’t appreciate my “alternative voice”?

  24. Ben: You and your friends here ignored my question up in 14. Then you zero in when I call something BS that is, indeed, pure BS. Then I explained why it’s BS. But that’s not good enough for you folks, apparently.

    How about answering my serious question up in 14? And stop hyperventilating that I had the temerity to disagree with Ms. Jack.

  25. Thank you, Kristine. You’ve always been a class act.

    And thank you, Brad. I’ve really been enjoying your posts as of late.

    prophetize ~ I would say that the statement you protest is based on the following facts:

    – That the LDS church engaged in a lengthy campaign of institutionalized racism against blacks from the latter part of the 19th century until 1978.
    – That the LDS church has never apologized for or admitted that its prior treatment of blacks was sinful and wrong.
    – That the church insists that its prior treatment of blacks was a commandment from God every bit as much as its 1978 change in policy was.
    – That this strikes most outsiders as extremely wrong-headed and absurd.

    Do you disagree that any of these are facts? Why or why not?

    It’s true that part of my statement was based on conjecture rather than fact. I think that this topic is about to get a lot of attention from the media due to the pending contest between Romney and Obama (and the recent Washington Post article indicates that this is correct). I also think that, even if the church issued an apology this year, some would say that they were only doing this to help Romney win the presidency, or because the media has begun to put pressure on the church on the matter. I think these are both reasonable conjectures, but you’re welcome to disagree.

    So, explain it to me again: what was so “ridiculous” about what I said?

  26. #22 – It’s not alternative voices that aren’t welcomed. Just saying.

  27. Prophetize, from my experience, BCC welcomes opinions from all sides as long as the commenter is willing to back up what they say with facts or doesn’t resort to mud-slinging.

  28. Let me say that differently:

    You’ve badly distorted and ridiculed others’ comments without any substantive contribution on more than one thread now. Say something that has real meaning (not just condemnation of something else), and I think you’ll find the reaction very different.

    Iow, nobody here knows you, and you’re coming across as someone who is firing his guns at everyone without engaging in real discussion. It’s the approach and the tone from someone nobody knows that is the issue.

  29. Prophetize: are you still a child of God whether or not you commit morally atrocious acts? Of course you are, but that doesn’t excuse you from repenting. Using the “Kingdom of God” distinction is more of a responsibility than a cop-out, and should encourage all of us to be the best types of people we can be–which, I would argue, sometimes admitting that we were wrong.

  30. Saying “it seems to me like Freudian wish fulfillment” doesn’t count as an explanation for why something is bullshit. You’re being an ass and then holding it against us that we’re calling you out on it. You can’t possibly think that any reasonable person would mistake your behavior here for a reflection of a sincere desire to engage in productive, substantive discussion, can you?

  31. “It’s true that part of my statement was based on conjecture rather than fact.”

    Thank you for admitting this.

    “I think that this topic is about to get a lot of attention from the media due to the pending contest between Romney and Obama (and the recent Washington Post article indicates that this is correct).”

    Yes, you are certainly doing your part to ensure that it receives more attention.

    Ms. Jack, the essence of my strong disagreement with your statement lies in its underlying assumptions. I don’t want to get into a protracted and silly argument with you or your supporters here on BCC. I will offer to agree to disagree with you and your underlying assumptions about the LDS Church and Mormonism in general. (Not to mention the media and Obama/Romney.)

    I apologize to anyone who took my “fecal matter” comment as a personal affront. It was merely a strong visceral reaction to what I perceived to be an overreach.

  32. I think Ms. Jack is right–the church will have a harder time apologizing until after the election.

    Personally, I think it will happen, but not until the media furor over Romney dies down (in other words, after he loses to Obama).

  33. prophetize ~ How is it that you think I’m bringing more attention to the subject? I’ve mentioned the matter in posts at my blog maybe once a year. I haven’t been particularly active in commenting on the subject on blogs or message boards. BCC bloggers have done far more to bring attention to the topic than I have. Why don’t you complain to them?

    Ms. Jack, the essence of my strong disagreement with your statement lies in its underlying assumptions.

    Sad. I spend over a year (for the most part) not commenting on Bloggernacle blogs because I’m so tired of people addressing who I am instead of what I say, finally work up the courage to come back, and . . . the very first response to me is yet more angry ad hominem. It seems some things never change.

    In any case, I’m not interested in having a conversation with someone who has nothing to say outside of angry invective and ad hominem. BCC’s stated goal is to provide a place for charitable discussion. That’s what I came here for. If you can’t provide that, then I hope you do go somewhere else.

  34. Lol….”angry invective”. My.

    Well, sorry about that. I can issue you a formal apology if you think that would erase the deed. ;)

  35. No thank you. It sounds like you’ve got your hands full being “a philosopher and Mormon chess player that wants to reclaim the bloggernacle for the people.

    Good luck with that . . .

  36. Well I think both of your mothers smell of elderberry

  37. However, when I post the articles of BCC on my FB, I get lambasted by TBM folk who call me anti-Mormon. How ironic that I find your words refreshing and they find it uncomfortable.

    @Amber – I feel ya. Just remember though, “TBMs” aren’t inherently divisive and suspicious. They learn this behavior from the Institution. This is what’s taught on the local and general level.

  38. I would appreciate it if commenters would not use the term TBM as an epithet, but I agree that the Church as an institution, at the central and local levels, does cultivate strong, often paranoid suspicion of critical and/or intellectual approaches to Mormonism. And I agree that this is unfortunate.

  39. Kristine says:

    ““TBMs” aren’t inherently divisive and suspicious. They learn this behavior from the Institution. This is what’s taught on the local and general level.”

    eyeroll

    Mormons aren’t the only ones who respond to their history and experience in ways that don’t meet the high standard their doctrine calls them to.

  40. Kristine says:

    And Jack, don’t go. We’ve missed you.

  41. Kristine says:

    Well, if nothing else, prophetize, Brad and I have just demonstrated that conflicting opinions happily coexist among friends around here.

  42. “because as a TBM I read only from correlated materials”

    Umm how on earth is that a TBM position? It’s one thing to use correlated materials during Church. The Church has never indicated that’s all you should study. Indeed far from it if you look at BYU as a sign of study.

  43. Is it really so hard to imagine that God’s Church could withstand apologizing for its past mistakes?

    If admitting that the Church has, in fact, made mistakes will cause everything to implode, then the Church is just a house of cards to begin with.

  44. agree that the Church as an institution, at the central and local levels, does cultivate strong, often paranoid suspicion of critical and/or intellectual approaches to Mormonism.

    I’m really, really skeptical of this position. It’s one thing to say they foster a skepticism and suspicion of particular approaches that are seen as having a political motivation (whether true or untrue). It’s a huge leap from that to being paranoid of intellectual approaches in general.

  45. I don’t like the common derogatory usage of the term either Brad – at all. I only used in reference to the comment I was responding to.

    Mormons aren’t the only ones who respond to their history and experience in ways that don’t meet the high standard their doctrine calls them to.

    Kristine – Ronan’s post illustrates to me that Protestants at least are way ahead of us.

    I can handle the fringe (see: Bott) responding this way. But, I’m sure you know better than I that this approach is prevalent in more than one avenue of *official* Mormon teaching. I love Dialogue btw – but Lester Bush was 40 years ago. I’m not sure we can honestly say that these thoughtful discussions have any effect on the mainstream Church. Sadly.

  46. Kristine says:

    Well, hell yes, the Anglicans are way ahead of us on this. They have waaaay better music, too. And yes, I’m aware that there are virulent strains of American anti-intellectualism alive and well in Mormonism. It is still a long way from there to “They learn this behavior from the Institution.”

    The “Institution” is the body of Christ. It’s me teaching ten-year-olds and Brad teaching Elder’s quorum and RJH serving in a bishopric, among the many other things that it is. It’s not some monolithic, oppressive force, and it’s silly to speak as though it were. (Please remind me of this sometime, when I’m having a bad day. Possibly the Monday after General Conference will be a good time).

  47. Well, I am not sure that I view progress as being more Anglican.

  48. The “Institution” is the body of Christ. It’s me teaching ten-year-olds and Brad teaching Elder’s quorum and RJH serving in a bishopric, among the many other things that it is. It’s not some monolithic, oppressive force, and it’s silly to speak as though it were. (Please remind me of this sometime, when I’m having a bad day. Possibly the Monday after General Conference will be a good time).

    Yes. I will certainly save this quote and hold you to it at a later date. :) thanks BTW. Its good to hear you say it.

  49. unknown says:

    If one accepts that “its prior treatment of blacks was a commandment from God every bit as much as its 1978 change in policy was,” as Ms. Jack notes above, then those that seek a Church apology are asking to Church to apologize for following a commandment from God. That is, unless the Church apologizes for the folklore used to justify the ban, but not the actual ban itself — a nuance that would not play well in the current media environment.

  50. Kristine says:

    Unknown, that’s exactly the problem. Accepting that the pre-1978 treatment of blacks is divine makes God a racist. Fallible prophets is a much more appealing explanation, and (one hopes) also the one that is true. It’s time to say so. There’s no room for nuance, in the media or in the church, on the question of whether God discriminates among his children on the basis of their skin color.

  51. “Umm how on earth is that a TBM position? It’s one thing to use correlated materials during Church. The Church has never indicated that’s all you should study. Indeed far from it if you look at BYU as a sign of study.”

    Clark, that seems a little coy of you — surely you are aware of not insignificant numbers of Mormons who take this approach, even if it is not directly mandated by the Church? I agree with you that it is wrong-headed but I have observed this pretty frequently among fellow Latter-day Saints. These are the members who believe Rough Stone Rolling is an apostate book, don’t believe that Joseph Smith was a polygamist or leave the Church when they find out he was, etc.

  52. Kristine says:

    “Well, I am not sure that I view progress as being more Anglican.”

    I assume you did not mean this as a disagreement with me, since I didn’t say that progress is more Anglican.

  53. There seems to be an assumption that somehow an apology would help the Church. At least, that is what I gather from those of you who seem to be wanting (hoping?) that the Church issue an apology.

    However, the Church really has nothing to gain from issuing an apology. As an institution, it makes more sense to be honest and say “we don’t really know” why the ban was in place.

    I realize that this is anathema and unacceptable to the majority of you here. But as someone who works for a large institution, I can tell you that it would be a mistake from the Church management’s perspective to issue an apology for the following reasons:

    1. It wouldn’t really satisfy anyone. At the very least, the wording of the apology would be picked to bits, over-analyzed, and yet more quibbles would surface.
    2. If the Church sets a precedent for apologizing for the ban, then when other social pressures come to bear on other points, there will be yet more pressure for yet more apologies. Hijinks might even ensue.
    3. An apology for this is essentially a capitulation at this point. Now you can fault the Church for this or not. But you can’t fault the Church for NOT doing something that will hurt it, not help it.

  54. I agree with your assesment of the problem, Kristine. From a theological standpoint, the issue is infinitely larger than the issue of race, as very important as that it, because it touches upon the very foundations of the LDS belief in modern, continuing revelation. In other words, an apology on the race issue would also be a dramatic pronouncement on the role of prophets in God’s plan and the Church. While many would welcome this development, I think that it is safe to say that a formal shift in the way we view prophetic authority in the Church would affect how many, if not most, Church members view their relationship to the prophet, the Church and God. I think many more members would be affected by this than would be affected by whether the Church apologized for something that it discontinued 30 years ago. The point is, as you comprehend, that there is a lot more going on here than it might appear to those that think it would be simple for the Church to issue an apology. Other churches that do not have such an emphasis on prophetic authority do not have the same issues with which to grapple.

  55. He could have been responding to EHS, who did seem to suggest that Protestants “are way ahead of us,” which raises the obvious question of why God would have a church that is apparently so backwards and hurtful in every possible way when there are alternative churches that seem to be doing better at being Christ’s disciples. Admittedly, he could have implied the “on this” at the end, which would have changed the meaning, but it seems like there would still need to be at least some good fruits that on the net counterbalance the harm.

  56. I was replying to #52

  57. Kristine says:

    “that is apparently so backwards and hurtful in every possible way when there are alternative churches that seem to be doing better at being Christ’s disciples.”

    There’s the leap that neither EHS nor I made.

  58. An apology would help the Church because a sincere apology entails sincere acknowledgement of past wrong-doing, sincere contrition for it, and a sincere desire to move past it forever. In other words, it will help us because it is a necessary step in the repentance process. I’m cutting and pasting what I wrote on the other thread:

    “The grace of God and power of the Atonement are real and transformative and miraculous, but nowhere within the Gospel is there even the faintest suggestion that we can avail ourselves of that great redemptive power if we refuse to acknowledge why we need it.”

  59. If you count non-racism as an element of Christian discipleship, then yes, on this particular element, there are other Churches doing better at being Christ’s disciples.

  60. I submit that an apology would simply add to the ammunition of the Church’s critics. There is really no practical reason to do that.

    Pressure groups use calls for formal apologies as weapons. I see this in politics all the time.

  61. People should not do only those things that are beneficial to them.

    “Do what is right let the consequence follow”. This song usually implies to Latter-day Saints that the consequences can only be good if you do what is right, but the song does not actually say that and neither does basic ethics or morality. In many instances, the consequences for doing what is right can be temporally detrimental.

    If issuing an apology is thought to be detrimental to the Church, that is no reason not to do it if it is the right thing to do. The arguments that I’ve seen in the last few days merely argue that issuing the apology is the right thing to do, regardless of the consequences. In fact, some of these arguments exhibit the faith that the consequences won’t actually be bad but rather will be beneficial in the long run for the Church.

  62. The fact that it can be used as a weapon is irrelevant. The calls for apologies aren’t coming from pressure groups and political enemies. Right now they’re coming most forcefully from voices within the Church who want desperately to find redemption from our past iniquities.

  63. If that is not your angle, then it might be good to occasionally point out in what we the Mormon church is doing better than others at being Christ’s disciples (if you can think of any), or else it would be easy for people to misread your perspectives based on what you’re saying. When the hit versus compliment ratio is so highly skewed you can see how people could get the wrong impression. Even if you amended my statement to just “so backwards,” the point remains the same. If general conference makes your Monday a bad day, then why listen?

  64. Brad, the problem with your assesment is that the “Church” is an institutiuon — not an individual. There is no doctrinal basis for suggesting that an institution, as opposed to its members, can undergo the repentence process or avail itself of redemptive power. There is no doctrinal basis for suggesting that the Atonement and grace of God are intended to transform and to redeem institutions apart from the individuals therein. Rather, it is the individuals in institution that can — and should — repent of their wrongdoing and be changed by the love of God. Anyone who has ever acted in a racist manner or even had racist thoughts should repent, and the Church can encourage them to do so. To suggest that the Church as an institution needs to apologize so the Church as an institution can go through the repentence process and be redeemed, however, does not make much sense to me. What will happen to the church in the next life if it does not repent?

  65. sorry, once again, responding to 57

  66. Since prophetize posed the questions and complained no one responded directly, I’ll bite:

    “…is the Church still the kingdom of God on the earth whether or not it apologizes for politically incorrect misdeeds of the past? I think the answer to this question is very important.”

    Yes. But I don’t think the answer to this question is important. Are you saying that if the answer is yes, then the church shouldn’t have to or doesn’t need to? I may have missed what you’re getting at.

    “Also, let’s say that the Church never officially apologies for the priesthood ban policy. Therefore, what?”

    On a personal level, let’s say I don’t apologize to someone I have deeply wronged (even if I didn’t necessarily understand that I had or how) after becoming aware of a problem. I would become my own stumbling block and limited in my ability to progress spiritually or emotionally. Not completely, and not in all ways…but isn’t the fact that a someone may feel deeply hurt enough reason to give serious and humble consideration as to how to I should proceed? In personal cases, saving face, avoiding social awkwardness, or cowing to external opinions might be considered, but those are ultimately nothing but distractions.

    I think the analogy could be extended to the church in this case. To the extent some of us allow our worst impulses to re-trench us in an us vs. them mentality (not implying prophetize or anyone specifically here), we will continue to limit our potential as the “Kingdom of God” (which I believe we are in many respects). Just my $.02.

  67. I don’t believe in collective guilt, Brad. Is that a doctrine you subscribe to? Am I guilty for Brigham Young’s alleged racism? Guilt by association?

    Sorry, but I’m not guilty of it. I am not sure what I personally need redemption from in that regard. And to be honest, not sure what YOU need redemption from in that regard either.

    Be back later, got to go to a kiddie birthday party.

  68. Re: # 62 – What happened to only being accountable for our own sins. As long as I act the right way, I do not need to be redeemed from the past iniquities of anyone else, whether they be a prophet or not. We part of what we do in sacred places is clear about our not being responsible for the sins of our generation.

    I am not saying that an apology is or is not a good idea. I go back and forth on the idea. I am saying that we don’t need to create a pseudo-theology in order to justify it. I also think we need to be aware of the doctrinal implications.

  69. I use TBM because it is the only adequate term to describe what I am referring to. When we are describing groups of people, like ultra-conservatives, most can picture what that person would say/do in regards to certain comments. I wouldn’t consider ultra-conservative an inflammatory term, I would see it as descriptive of that person’s worldview in politics. That is how I see TBM. If you find it derogatory/inflammatory I would like a good way to describe these people without having to say ‘those who attend church regularly and see it from an infallible perspective that get offended when someone like me suggests that the brethren might be wrong on something’ every time I describe the reactions of many (at least 90% of my current Mormon friends) who react to historical points that may reflect badly on the Church.

    FWIW, I think that a church sets itself apart by its reactions to historical issues. Is the LDS church any worse than others in how it treated African Americans? No. But if it wants to call itself a church following Jesus Christ, the leaders need to follow Jesus Christ’s example of humility and admit when they were wrong rather than hide from it. That will not do any good for its current and future credibility.

  70. Admittedly, he could have implied the “on this” at the end, which would have changed the meaning, but it seems like there would still need to be at least some good fruits that on the net counterbalance the harm.

    Anon, Since we were in the middle of a conversation about dealing with ones own history in relation to race (what the OP is all about), the “on this” was implied. Of course other Christians do a better job of being disciples – in more ways than one! That understanding of other faith traditions is an essential element of Joseph Smith’s Mormonism. (of course, we do a great many things better, but I’m not keeping score – just trying to learn from the many different approaches to Jesus)

  71. What is a TBM?

  72. True Believing Mormon, True Blue Mormon – take your pick. Often used by ex-Mormons to describe a mindless idiot, who only sees the world through the lens of the Ensign and other Church approved media.

    But, I agree with Amber. There has to be a way to refer to the – ‘those who attend church regularly and see it from an infallible perspective that get offended when someone like me suggests that the brethren might be wrong on something’ – Because they are many.

  73. (My comment, 69, was in response to # 38)

    71-TBM is True Believing/Blue Mormon. It can be used to describe a variety of members but I see it more as a description for many members who aren’t naive but look at the Church with a different perspective than I do. Many in this group would look at history as a “so what” idea, insisting that your real responsibility is to follow the commandments of God but fail to recognize that it’s okay to question the positions of the Brethren (or the leaders) and inquire into the history of the Church.

  74. EHS! I wouldn’t call TBM’s “mindless idiots!” But I get your point. It can be used by ex-Mo’s in an inflammatory way much like they would call me “Anti-mormon” for posting things that contradict church teachings.

  75. The Book of Mormon provides multiple case studies for “collective guilt” in which whole societies suffering decay and destruction for ignoring the tenets of true religion in their grinding the faces of the poor. Their refusal to deal justly, morally and equitably with each other, disintegrating instead into castes and tribes in which people are devalued and spitefully used because of their limited opportunity for learning and thrown out of synagogues and churches because of their poor clothing and social status, brought a collective need to repent and change. God sent prophets to them with this message and those prophets were ignored, rejected and in some instances killed. “Collective” guilt and repentance simply means that all the individuals in the group repent and beging to adhere to God’s will. In the case of an institution like the Church, “collective” repentance in this case would mean nothing more than each of us as individuals being willing to repent of this past wrong. If we are not willing, is that a sign that we are too full of pride and therefore not worthy of the Kingdom of God? If so, that implies that we remain our own worst enemy when it comes to efforts to establish Zion — just like the various societies reported about in the Book of Mormon.

  76. Right Amber – definitely not saying that I see people that way, but many who use that term do.

  77. Both individuals and collectives (i.e. a people) can be guilty of sins and iniquities. To claim otherwise is to ignore the teachings of scores of Old Testament and Book of Mormon prophets. Individuals and institutions can be guilty of the sin of apostasy, and the Church, as a body, can stand under condemnation (for example, for treating the Book of Mormon lightly, as the D&C states). If the core of Mormonism teaches us anything unique about the nature of sin, it is that we are capable of being guilty and responsible not just for our own individual sins but for the sins of an entire generation. Any number of collectives—Israel, the Nephites, even the restored Church—can be and have been called by God and by His prophets to repentance.

  78. Sorry, I can’t help it…”Churches are people, my friend!”

  79. TBM – True Believing Mormon.

  80. Well I, for one, always appreciate your comments, Ms. Jack

  81. Whoops, should have refreshed before making myself redundant.

  82. As an aside on terminology, it’s difficult to find terms for different categories of Mormons that work well. “TBM” is problematic because of its pejorative origins with the ex-Mormon community (“True Believing Mormon” or “Truly Brainwashed Mormon”?), but “believing Mormon” doesn’t work because it may not adequately describe the target group. For example, Mike Quinn is a “believing Mormon” in my book, but he sure as heck isn’t what I would think of as a “TBM.” I don’t really fault people too much for having to rely on “TBM” in spite of the term’s problems.

    I think an apology would be appropriate because (and this is obviously my own moral judgment) it’s the right thing to do. The church has always preached that one should do what’s right regardless of the consequences. Well, it’s time to practice what it preaches. As far as individual accountability goes, some of the people who enforced and upheld the ban prior to 1978 are still alive. Many of those who were not alive have been passionately arguing that the priesthood ban wasn’t the fault of their forebears, it was the will of God. So if anything, the church still needs to apologize for pinning its own wrongdoings on God.

    I also think an apology would put to rest the Randy Botts of the church who still believe that blacks are the descendants of Cain or they were less valiant in the pre-existence. (One of our regular commentators at LDS & Evangelical Conversations was making such arguments in December 2011. Mormons who believe this are rare but still very much out there.) If the recent debacle with Bott demonstrates anything, it’s that the church has not been forceful enough in denouncing these ideas. Something more pointed, more specific, and more official is needed if the church wants to right the wrongs of its history. I’m talking, Family-Proclamation-official. Occasional comments from apostles in very unofficial venues is just not going to cut it.

    For all of these reasons, I think apology is the right move. I just think that, at this point, there will be a storm no matter what the church does. The only thing that might save the church from the coming storm would be a Rick Santorum nomination.

  83. JamesM (#78) FTW.

  84. # 75 and 77 – I agree that members of groups and institutions and societies have been called to repentence. I disagree, however, that I can be punished for the sins of others. We believe that man will be punished for thier OWN sins.

    Either way, John gets it right when he notes that it is people — not the institutions themselves — that have to do the repenting. There is no scriptural basis for suggesting that an institution — apart from the individual members therein — can be redeemed or can repent in a theologically meaningful manner. The Atonment is for people and not corporate organizations whatever the type. Thus, you can’t argue that an institutional apology has any doctrinal significance. If one feels that they need to repent for the sins of their fathers as part of their own quest for redemption, they can do so. But, the church doing it for them will have no redemptive effect — just like the fact that priests bless the sacrament each week for the congregation doesn’t do any good for me unless I personally have done what I need to.

    Again, there may be nothing wrong with an apology, but let’s not try to change well-established and foundational doctrines in order to justify doing so.

  85. Nonsense. The Church is people. It is the general membership as well as the leadership structure. If the leaders of the Church instituted a church-wide policy that identical twins should be killed as infants, and then later ended the practice via revelation and practical changes implemented through the organizational structure of the Church, that would be a sin for which the entire church, as a people, as a body, as an organization, as a collective, would need to acknowledge complicity, apologize, and repent.

  86. Brad,

    Random question. The fact that we’re currently ordaining and sealing more black men and women collectively than were ever discriminated against in the past…does this fact “make up” for the mistakes of the past?

    I know your answer is no. But it begs the question of why a statement of formal apology would make the difference, when what the Church has been doing since 1978 somehow doesn’t mean anything.

  87. When the 1978 revelation came, it was not merely a matter of telling individual church members to stop discriminating in priesthood ordination and temple admission on the basis of race. _The Church_ had to change. Any entity capable of acting in the world is capable of acting badly, wrongly. The Church is an organizational form through which its members and leaders can act efficiently and effectively. The Atonement does have power to heal the Church, to compensate for its imperfections, to purge its sins, and to transform it into Zion.

  88. re #84, I am sure you can see that it is easy to understand how you might suffer the consequences of the sins of others.

    In any event, if you don’t believe it is possible for a group (a society, a church, some other group) to incur collective guilt through its actions, which brings negative consequences as a natural result that are experienced by the whole group, then what do you make of President Benson’s admonitions (following the D&C) that the Church stands under condemnation for not taking the Book of Mormon seriously enough?

  89. The big difference is this: President Benson was a prophet of God that was calling us to repentance……um, not you.

  90. “there may be nothing wrong with an apology, but let’s not try to change well-established and foundational doctrines in order to justify doing so.”

    Im not even sure I want to guess what you think are well-established or foundational doctrines with regards to the ban. In fact, your comment suggest that an even stronger denunciation and naming the forms of racism including the ban is needed.

  91. I’m not saying it doesn’t mean anything. I’m saying that it isn’t enough for full repentance and full healing to be possible. The unwillingness to admit that the old policy was racist and wrong and to express contrite broken-heartedness for it is still a source of real harm and pain. Restitution, no matter how complete, is not enough. And complete restitution is not even possible in the absence of the power of the Atonement. We cannot alone atone for the consequences of our sins. Acknowledging and expressing contrition for ones past sins is not just good, or even just the right thing to do. It is a fundamental requirement for accessing the full transformative and healing power of the Atonement. Why on earth would we want anything less?

  92. “Im not even sure I want to guess what you think are well-established or foundational doctrines with regards to the ban. In fact, your comment suggest that an even stronger denunciation and naming the forms of racism including the ban is needed.”

    Nonsense. He wasn’t referring to priesthood or race doctrines at all. That’s a low blow, dude.

  93. @#89—Nice bait and switch. Which is it? The Church cannot be called to repentance, or the Church cannot be called by _me_ to repentance?

  94. Brad,

    I truly believe that you are off-base on calling the Church to repentance. I would not dare to be that presumptuous. Now, I can criticize its flaws, the ways in which Mormon culture comes short (and they are many, no doubts), but you continually harping on this theme that the Church needs to repent……bottom line is, it’s not your call to make. It’s not my call to make. You seem almost obsessed with this concept.

  95. I’m not calling it to repentance in anything like an official or authoritative sense. I am simply stating that the imperative to fully repent of one’s sins applies as much to us as a people and as a Church as it does to individuals, and that an unwillingness to acknowledge and express sincere contrition for one’s sins is an obstacle to full repentance and blocks the healing power of the atonement.

  96. Nice backtrack, Brad. Well done!

  97. There’s no backtracking. I never invoked some kind of prophetic authority. I am simply saying that racial discrimination is wrong, and that it is a wrong for which the Church was complicit for a long time, and that claiming that collectives don’t need repentance or, conversely, that simply ending the wrong behavior constitutes full repentance does not change the wrongness of it all. The merits of my claims either stand or fall on their own. It’s not about me, and you trying to make it about me is a deflection.

  98. re # 89, but before you were denying that it was possible to have “collective guilt”. But now you are saying that President Benson was right in saying that the Church itself was under condemnation. President Benson’s role as a prophet is not relevant to this inconsistency in your arguments.

    I believed President Benson when he taught that the Church stands under condemnation for not taking the Book of Mormon seriously enough, and I believe that is still the case today. The Book of Mormon shows numerous situations of collective guilt/condemnation. Whole societies suffered disastrous consequences.

  99. The need to repent is a constant imperative, and the scriptures make clear that individuals as well as peoples, nations, and churches are bound by this imperative. My saying so is not a usurpation of prophetic authority, and my calling racist beliefs, teachings, and practices sinful isn’t either. Most of my conversation about the need for the Church to repent has been an abstract argument about the possibility that a church is subject to the imperatives of repentance. Churches do need repentance, and ours is no exception. And refusal to acknowledge the full wrongness of one’s iniquities is an obstacle to it. Period.

  100. re # 91, now that is a fundamentally Mormon statement if I have ever seen one. Well said, Brad. We need to prioritize letting the Atonement become effective in our lives. That means not only individually but also collectively, as a group. I don’t think we will be able to achieve Zion without the cleansing power of the Atonement, both individually and collectively.

  101. I’m not sold on the idea of collective guilt. Check out the Church’s position on soldiers that kill for their country, for example. Surely we can agree that killing is “heavier” than racism. Gods, I hope so.

    Appealing to the Old Testament is humorous, since most liberals like to use the Old Testament as an example of unenlightened thinking. Using the Old Testament for support on the collective guilt thing is amusing. You’re just cherry picking your doctrines. (And I submit these thoughts respectfully).

  102. “(And I submit these thoughts respectfully)”

    No you don’t. You submit them like an arrogant ass who is finished trying to talk like a grown-up and is flailing about for anything he can use to deflect.

  103. Brad,

    You’re becoming a little unhinged. I’m the arrogant one? lol

  104. Careful, Brad, you are dealing with a PHILOSOPHER!!!1!!!1!

    I love how prophetize is calling out Brad for assuming the role of a prophet when his own dammed handle is prophetize.

  105. Here is a good first person account from a black European LDS perspective. Sorry for the self-promotion of sorts, but Gabe is a good friend of ours.
    In His Own Words

  106. Well you believe President Benson’s position about the Church standing under condemnation for how we ignore the teachings of the Book of Mormon so you do accept collective guilt.

  107. #86 – “The fact that we’re currently ordaining and sealing more black men and women collectively than were ever discriminated against in the past”

    That is probably the most stupid, incorrect, ignorant, damnable statement I have read at any point of my participation in the Bloggernacle. Seriously, I am hard pressed to make up a more stupid, incorrect, ignorant, damnable statement.

    I’m past responding. There is no logical, charitable response to something like that. I can’t cure willful blindness, so I’m walking away completely from the garbage spewed by that blindness.

  108. Some of the comments in this post have been great at illustrating precisely why the statement by the church was not enough and the forms of racism including the ban need to be denounced.

  109. Capozaino says:

    Here, prophetize. Let me help you. Please select any of the following to complete the sentence:
    “The church should never apologize for denying those of African descent access to priesthood ordination and exalting temple ordinances because _________.”

    A. Collective guilt is impossible to have
    B. Collective apology by a group subsequent the the group that might be collectively guilty is useless
    C. Encouraging a group to collectively apologize when you are not the leader of that group is inappropriate
    D. The priesthood ban was justifiable, but we don’t know why
    E. The priesthood ban was justifiable because blacks really are somehow inferior (curse of Cain, preexistance fence-sitting, etc.)
    F. Utilitarian ethics are great and apologizing in this case would hurt the church more than it would help
    G. Utilitarian ethics are really only concerned about maximizing utility for white racists and not so much with letting marginalized blacks suffer in silence
    H. Trolling Brad is the best thing

    FWIW, I largely agree with Brad and Ronan’s thoughts on this one and don’t think any of the above reasons (or any other ones to be found in the shifting sands of your rhetoric) is a good reason to continue with the “we don’t know” explanation of the ban instead of apologizing, trying to repair the damage, and moving on.

  110. MrRoivas says:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-genesis-of-a-churchs-stand-on-race/2012/02/22/gIQAQZXyfR_story.html

    According to the church, they have nothing to apologize for. After all, blacks just weren’t responsible enough before 1978 to be priests.

  111. #110 – ???

  112. #110, lolz.

    Capozaino gets the square.

  113. BHodges says:

    MrRoivas fail.

  114. MrRoivas says:

    If its a fail, then you’ll have no trouble explaining this comment,

    “The Mormon Church’s own longstanding priesthood ban was, according to Bott, not racist. Rather, it was a “blessing.” Prior to 1978, blacks weren’t spiritually mature enough to be ordained with such authority. Bott compared blacks to “a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car,” and told Horowitz that misusing priesthood authority—like crashing dad’s Oldsmobile—could have put blacks “in the lowest rungs of hell,” reserved for serial killers, child rapists, world-class tyrants, and “people who abuse their priesthood powers.”

  115. You’re right. There is no trouble.

    “The positions attributed to BYU professor Randy Bott in a recent Washington Post article absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “

  116. MrRoivas says:

    “For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago.”

    Something you didn’t quote. Fail.

    Its obvious why. The people who made the original rule were convicted racists, as were many of their congregants. The fact that the church chooses to lie about it gives room for assholes like the professor room to babble.

    Because if they refuse to come up with an explanation, others will.

  117. Sigh…

  118. BHodges says:

    I submit that an apology would simply add to the ammunition of the Church’s critics. There is really no practical reason to do that.

    So either the church is apologizing to appease the critics or it isn’t in order to appease the critics? OK…

    How about this, prophetize: to hell with the criticism. Do what’s right, do it in the best possible way, and mourn and celebrate the consequences.

  119. BHodges says:

    #69: That is how I see TBM. If you find it derogatory/inflammatory I would like a good way to describe these people without having to say ‘those who attend church regularly and see it from an infallible perspective that get offended when someone like me suggests that the brethren might be wrong on something’ every time I describe the reactions of many (at least 90% of my current Mormon friends) who react to historical points that may reflect badly on the Church.

    I suggest fidning ways to love such people and lift them up rather than return evil for evil.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2011/05/manifesto-against-tbm/

  120. BHodges says:

    MrRovias, you do realize all these recent posts are responses to the article you’ve tried to marshall to make some sort of point, right?

  121. MrRoivas says:

    Yes. And I am pointing out something I feel is being overlooked: Namely that as long as the church refuses to call the previous rules stupid and wrong, then people will attempt to find logical explanations for said rules. And the only logical explanation for such a rule is that the racists were right.

  122. Well, thanks for dropping by our little blog and making that original insight.

  123. #121 – That’s being overlooked? Here? Seriously?

  124. One thing I’ve learned over the decades is that it’s MUCH easier to recognize and reject the incorrect traditions of THEIR fathers than it is to do the same with the incorrect traditions of OUR fathers.

  125. MikeInWeHo says:

    Just wondering: Where is Steve Evans??

  126. Kristine says:

    He’s off hunting chupacabras.

  127. Kristine, why would he have to leave to do that? Didn’t he know about these posts before he left?

  128. tThe main problem with the church issuing an apology is that they apparently don’t know if they have done anything wrong. In my mind that means that they really don’t know if the ban was from revelation or from policy. Please forgive me if I take the church at its word and believe that they really don’t know how, when, or why the ban came from.
    If it simply was a policy based on the racist notions (that were common at the time, apprehensible all the same) then by all means issue an apology. If by chance it was from God for X,Y, or Z reason (none of which anybody has came up with before apparently) then I don’t see how the Church can be faulted.
    In any case I hope the First presidency and Quorum are spending a lot of time in the temple trying to figure this one out. I don’t think it is going to go away without answers.

  129. “The main problem with the church issuing an apology is that they apparently don’t know if they have done anything wrong.”

    I think, based on the many statements since the ban was lifted, that it is obvious the church leaders know much wrong was done. Everything else aside, I respect those statements that make it so obvious they do know much wrong was done.

  130. What statements are you talking about? I would love to see them.

  131. “The main problem with the church issuing an apology is that they apparently don’t know if they have done anything wrong.”

    I think the key word in this sentence is “apparently.” That is exactly how it appears as they insist in saying “we do not know…”

    If I punched a baby in the face yesterday, and today I insist that I do not know whether I did wrong or right, that gives the appearance that I do not know or I do not understand whether my actions were right or wrong. Inside of me, I may have enough light of Christ in me that I know exactly whether my actions were wrong or right. Yet, I can still choose to “appear” as if I just do not understand whether my actions were right or wrong by stating that very phrase “I do not know.”

    This is a typical attitude of criminals in a court of law. It is easier to claim “no contest” than to claim guilt. And that is exactly what the Church is doing. It is pretty disgraceful.

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