Missionary Racism

From BCC Guest mmiles

The following is the weekly email update that arrived today from my brother serving a mission in Idaho.

It snowed in Aberdeen again. Had a member missionary bring up in the middle of a lesson [discussion] that blacks were a cursed race. Yeah, that lesson was not one of my favorites. See, I told dad that doctrine was circulating around Aberdeen. Now I have to figure out how to deal with it. Other than that all the other teaching appointments went really well.

Love you all

What advice would you give him and other missionaries in similar situations? Are there any good resources (quotes, talks, etc.) he can carry around with him as he teaches that can help counter these ideas?


  1. Please note: I would prefer this discussion on actual effective ways to counter racist ideas, rather than how obviously terrible it is.

  2. I think it is best to counter such ideas in the moment, firmly and resolutely. E.g.:

    “Actually that is an unfortunate perpetuation of racist theologies that date back hundreds of years. Black people are not cursed and our Church President has explicitly rebuked racism among our people.”

  3. What Stapley said. The potentially hurt feelings of the member who said it are about 734th on the list of things that matter in this instance.

  4. I’m for immediate and forceful repudiation, but when the 75 year old HP in your ward who personally has given the shirt off his back to help many, many other folks at great expense of his own time and money says something like that, I hesitate. In so many ways, he is a better person than I am. I think that is why these things are so entrenched in our culture.

  5. I think part of the problem is that people who perpetuate those ideas don’t view themselves as being racist–or the idea as racist. I think the logic is that, “Sure, their equal and I like them, but God cursed them,” a kind of seperate but equal view of priesthood power.

  6. I’ll tell you who was actually cursed in the pre-Earth life: Those called on missions to Aberdeen, Idaho.

  7. I think President Hinckley’s priesthood session talk dealing with race would be a great resource.

  8. The Other Brother Jones says:

    But it says right in the bible that they were cursed. It is easy to see where the idea comes from. And I think it is easy to see how it remains. It is hard to root out.

    The scriptures talk about some bad actions having an effect “unto the third and fourth generation”. I think this is part of what it means. When there is a change in policy or a new revelation the church does immedialtely turn on a dime. It takes time for long entrenched attitudes to change.

    But so we are clear, I agree with immediate repudiation.
    “Reproving betimes with sharpness…afterwords showing forth an increase of love”

  9. #8
    No it doesn’t. It says Cain and his posterity were cursed. It doesn’t say black people were cursed.

  10. Chris H,
    What year was that given? Because that was my first thought too–or if someone could link it, that would be great.

  11. Kristine says:

    Bruce R. McConkie:

    ” We have read these passages and their associated passages for many years. We have seen what the words say and have said to ourselves, “Yes, it says that, but we must read out of it the taking of the gospel and the blessings of the temple to the Negro people, because they are denied certain things.” There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

    We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. ”


  12. And also so we are clear, from what I understand, “Reproving betimes with sharpness…” means reproving *immediately* with exactness, not reproving sometimes with mean-ness.

  13. The Other Brother Jones says:

    Exactly. And the loooong held interpretation is “Black people”. That may be incorrect. I think nobody really understands all the reasong behind the blacks and the priesthoos issue. So in the confusion and the backwoods of ID, it is still easy to see where it came from.

  14. “…not reproving sometimes with mean-ness.”

    When will everybody stop picking on me.

  15. I would probably recommend President Hinckley’s counsel from four years ago


    “I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ,” said President Hinckley. “How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color, is ineligible?”

    That quote, of course, raises all sorts of questions as to why there ever was a priesthood ban, but that’s for another time.

  16. Other Bro. Jones, for a good summary of what the Bible really says, see this discussion over at the Juvenile Instructor here and here.

  17. #8,

    But it says right in the bible that they were cursed. It is easy to see where the idea comes from. And I think it is easy to see how it remains. It is hard to root out.

    As mmiles said, no the Bible doesn’t. The curse was on Cain, but the curse was not a “skin of blackness” as was the case in the Book of Mormon. It was a “mark.”

  18. The Other Brother Jones says:

    to #12. Sure. We want to maintain the truth, not let the discussion get ditracted. This would take immediate action. That may look Sharp or harsh, it also should be exact (specific and clear). But some might feel that there toes were quite stepped on. Thatiis why we need to show forth mor long and understanding after the fact.

  19. Here is a link to the full Pres. Hinckley talk:


  20. The Other Brother Jones says:

    To all. I understand your rebuttal of my comments. I agree with you all. (but I have not read the Juvenile Instructor link yet). My point is that someone who is not a great scriptorian, not a deep student of doctrine, but who hears stuff growing up in his society and believes the faulty folklore can still believe this stuff long after the church has officially changed course.

    (…and please excuse my spelling -thanks))

  21. “our Church President has explicitly rebuked racism among our people.”

    Only with generality and vagueness. Never has the Church openly and institutionally and explicitly repudiated the theological rationale it once used to justify the priesthood ban. The status quo is “we don’t know” why God ordained the ban, and “we don’t know” if the previous rationale was correct.

  22. OBJ.

    I am not denying that. I actually am not a huge fan of my own culture for that reason. However, It has been over 30 years. There are not many excuses for this anymore. At this point it is intentional.

  23. I echo the links to Pres. Hinckley and Elder McConkie.

    What scares me is Aberdeen is a neighboring ward to mine.

  24. OBJ, I agree with your #20. Short answer, for whatever reason after Joseph Smith’s death, a lot of 18th and 19th century cultural and religious ideas from other churches got borrowed to justify a practice that has no clear beginning in Mormon history, and no real scriptural basis, but a rather specific end in 1978.

    But that short answer, just like the Lost finale, doesn’t answer everything.

  25. Aaron is right. And even with the discontinuation of printing of Mormon Doctrine, many of the 75 year old high priests, to which Kevin refer, grew up defending the policy on the theory, taught in First Presidency messages, that the ban was tied somehow to the pre-existence, and that African blacks were descended from Cain and Ham, who were cursed as to the priesthood and temple.

    The current “we don’t know rationale” revokes prior FP statements (1) that the policy was tied ot the pre-existence, or (2) that the policy would not change until the posterity of Abel received priesthood/temple blessings. It does not revoke (or endorse) the prior teachings that black Africans are descendents of Cain/Ham, or that throughout history they and their descendents (until 1978) could not hold the priesthood or receive temple blessings.

    Thus, a person who argues that black Africans until 1978 were subject to a “curse of Cain/Ham” as to priesthood/temple blessings is not contradicting current Church teachings (because current Church teachings are silent on the issue). Conversely, someone who argues that the policy lasted only from BY to SWK, and was driven by societal attitudes shared by leading Brethren, would not contradict current Church teachings either.

  26. aloysiusmiller says:

    Race can never curse but culture can destroy.

  27. #2-#3 (J. and Scott) The problem with this solution is it isn’t practical. Sure it is the right thing to do but I guarantee the significant majority of members would not have the guts to be so forward.

    #4 is right and this situation is the case all too often.

    I don’t claim to have the perfect answer but on a practical level I think most members of the church, the best thing to be expected to actually happen will be to wait and sort out what is said incorrectly in private. In private you have to be willing to go back and say the racist comment that was previously expressed was uncalled for.

  28. Starfoxy says:

    If nothing else, I bet you could convince most of the Curse of Cain hold-outs that this sort of thing sounds racist (and so, is best left unsaid) even if they still swear up and down that it isn’t actually racist. After all, we take our cues from the brethren, and not one of them has taught this ‘doctrine’ in 30 years.

  29. The problem is not caused because these well-meaning members believe the folklore. The problem is caused because they share it with those who don’t understand it is folklore.

    Sure, you can have an entire library that disputes the racist notions perpetuated by folk Mormonism. But the Church has never said that Blacks should not have been denied the Priesthood until 1978. I have never read anything from a modern Church leader disputing the notion that the descendants of Ham were cursed with black skin. If someone does have a citation for that, it would be great.

    What I have seen is what has been shared here: that modern leaders have said that we should not be racist, and that what was taught before 1978 about Blacks and the Priesthood is no longer accurate.

    But this still doesn’t solve the problem of members saying things like, “Blacks are a cursed people.” It is a phrase that has a certain meaning within the context of LDS theology that I think goes right along with “I know the Church is true.” There is much more to the concept than just the words. But those who don’t know what all is meant just hear the words and take offense.

    The best thing that mmiles can tell her brother is to remind members, before going into an appointment, that the discussion needs to stay focused on the doctrines contained within Preach My Gospel. He should also speak briefly about the concept of giving “milk before meat”.

    If all this is done and the member still spouts off something that is incorrect or at least somewhat sketchy, the missionary needs to say something like, “Well, that’s not quite accurate, and it doesn’t have much to do with our current discussion.” Then he needs to be prepared to share some of the quotes given about and shift the conversation back to the concept of modern-day revelation, which will allow him to easily segue into any lesson being taught.

  30. There is no Black race__or yellow__ red or Brown. Only a Human race that has a continuum of skin colors.

  31. Aaron nailed the problem bang on. The quotes listed here provide salve for the wound, but until there is a definitive declaration saying ‘this was racist, this was wrong, this was never right,’ there will be ambiguity and confusion. Perhaps discussing this with your missionary brother can help him feel less troubled when the issue arises. It will arise. This is part of LDS doctrine and folklore. The less hand-wringing and the more direct discussion the better.

  32. Kevin Barney says:

    Boy, that’s disheartening, although unfortunately not really surprising.

    It can be really tough for a missionary to correct a member in a setting like that. I remember being very conscious of the fact that I was a neophyte in gospel knowledge at the time, and generally the regular members knew more than I did. And your average 19-year old doesn’t really know anything about this issue.

    This is why I personally am not a fan of the Church’s “we don’t know” apologetic. The idea is that over time the old ideas will die. But “we don’t know” leaves too many people in backwaters of the Church thinking that the curse of Cain was, and therefore is, solid doctrine. I personally would rather bite the bullet and say it was a(n understandable at the time) culturally conditioned mistake. Supposedly we don’t believe in prophetic infallibility, but even so we’re loath to acknowledge that in specific cases. Still, to me this is a case where it would be worth it to spend some theological capital and cop to a mistake. If we don’t do that, this kind of thing will continue to pop up here and there for decades.

  33. I actually had this happen to me on my mission in South Africa. I corrected the guy right there then went and asked the Bishop to have a talk with him. This guy probably needs either a talking to or a release.

  34. Why aren’t missionary companions ‘practicing’ their discussions with each other BEFORE going to the home of someone? They should go over their main speaking points, bring up any controversial parts and figure out what they’re going to say FIRST. If this elder is having trouble with this particular aspect, then he should be bringing it up before they even go inside a person’s home. Talk to the mission president, have them clarify it in a meeting.

  35. What Starfoxy said in #28, and in the spirit of #1 and #4.

    It is unfortunate that a church member would continue to teach the idea of blacks being cursed. It is equally unfortunate, IMO, that other church members are so quick to judge that member of racism, rather than incorrect doctrine. We know only what was said. We don’t know what was in the heart.

  36. BBell–
    From what my brother has written previously, it’s a problem in the area (as indicated in this email also). I’m not sure talking to one guy privately will do the trick.

  37. #34:
    It was a member missionary, ie., a ward member. If only a missionary could cover the many and varied ways a member can kill a discussion. But, alas, they are legion.

    As to the OP, I agree with other comments that addressing the issue of racism is a dead end. This man doesn’t believe he’s being racist. In his mind, that would be like declaring God a racist for withholding the priesthood from blacks. No, the problem is that there is no clear statement regarding the un-teaching of false ideas. In light of this, I like Kevin Barney’s answer best.

    Also, gst: Awesome.

  38. I served in that same mission. I recall once an older (early 80s I think) ward mission leader (now deceased) wanted my comp and I to drive by a certain park. Why?? There was a gathering of many Hispanic people. I thought it was so silly- I am from a large metro area and am used to diversity. My comp wanted to make that WML happy, so we drove by.

    He also told us of a time he visited an area in the south where many African Amercians were gathered. He thought it was interesting so he shared this info.

    For your brother, I would encourage him to share scriptures of how God loves all his children and all are of value to him. Remind him that African Americans serve in leadership, have served missions,etc and are wonderful Saints.

    About the crazy racism, I think we just have to realize some are not used to diversity and they think they are “enlightening us” somehow. Still it is frustrating to see.

    Perhaps your brother can share the concern w/his mission pres, perhaps the mission pres can provide some additional guidance/suggestions.

  39. The worst thing the missionary could do would be to try to explain anything at all. He, and pretty much everyone else currently in the discussion, have no place to try and explain something we don’t know anything about.

    These beliefs are relics of past generations for which we have no right or reason to speak for. That aspect of Church policy was in place long before we ever came along, and it does no one any good to pretend we have the answers for them when we don’t.


    This interview from Elder Holland states his personally feelings on the lifting of the ban and what explanation he is willing to give on the subject. His feeling that “there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed,” is the sentiment I echo.

  40. I compiled a bunch of quotes that address this idea head-on, some more strongly than others, but all of them focused on not continuing the former justifications for the ban.


    I would suggest becoming familiar with the quotes and being able to tell others who has said what in our own time.

  41. Paradox,
    While I see your point and agree it is not a missionary’s place to explain why the ban existed, is it not his place to dispel the perpetuation of myths like the one this member shared? especially when trying to teach an investigator the gospel?

  42. Paradox,
    mmiles gets it right in (41)–there is a fundamental difference between trying to explain the origins of a doctrine or teaching and explaining whether or not a doctrine or teaching is currently taught. The former may be out of harmony with Elder Holland’s sentiment; the latter definitely is not. A missionary, or a member, who doesn’t dispel such false notions upon encountering them is irresponsible.

  43. If I am reading the quotes Ray linked correctly, which included Elder Holland- he was talking directly about myths that black people had been cursed, etc–not that racism was a contributing factor to the priesthood ban.

  44. If in 1700, a man started a walk at the botton tip of Africa, and walked to Demark, the humans he saw would turn from black to white. But at no time could he draw a line where or when this happened. Mormons will never get passed this issue until they understand there is no race line between White and Black. It’s only a continuum of skin colors.

  45. (That’s Denmark in #44)
    #39: I ‘came along’ in 1945__I accept I was part of the problem.

  46. let’s be clear BY and a lot of other ex-Southern Mission “experts” believed the curse of cain was to be black. it wasn’t an idea unique to the LDS red-neck, it was a common belief in the pre war-of-northern-aggression. [think back a few years, the idea that blacks were the curse of cain was expressed as a need to keep one’s self apart from the cursed. Apartheid. etc]

    It should also be clear that JS didn’t believe it to be apart of the gospel restoration doctrine. Elijah Abel was ordained an Elder by JS. Understandingly BY was upset by it, and he didn’t ordain any more blacks to priesthood. Apparently the MP continued in the Abel family down thru the 1980’s
    Utah in the late 60’s was very isolated in terms of race. A lot of these old attitudes were firmly entrenched, and didn’t require a lot of maintenance.

  47. Antonio Parr says:

    I find it mind-boggling — absolutely mind-boggling — that this question is even being posed, and am sickened by the thought that my son may be required as part of his missionary service on behalf of the Church to learn how to finesse such a situation.

    The real curse of Cain is the one that stains us even today as we try to explain away a priesthood ban that has no scriptural authority and for which no credible explanation has ever been provided. I love my Church, but hate the fact that our past conduct has created a presumption that we are biased against people of color. What a needlessly awful cross to bear.

  48. de Pizan says:

    April 1966 Hugh B. Brown conference talk:
    “The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches the universality of God’s concern for men, and that obedience is a universal and fundamental law of progress, both temporal and spiritual. The aristocracy of righteousness is the only aristocracy that God recognizes. This leaves no room for self-righteous expressions in words or actions of being ‘holier than thou’. There is a real unity in the human race, and all men have a right to equal consideration as human beings, regardless of their race, creed or color.
    For any church, country, nation, or other group to believe that it is the only people in whom God is interested in or that it has special merit because of color, race, or belief, that they are inherently superior and loved by God, without regard to the lives they live, is not only a great fallacy but is a continuing barrier to peace. This is demoralizing, whether it is the exploded and presumptuous myth of Aryan race of supermen or disguised in more subtle forms. Let us steadfastly avoid such demoralizing arrogance.”

    There’s also some good articles here: http://www.blacklds.org/priesthood

  49. Thanks for that quote de Pizan. I do not recall hearing or reading it before. I have a dream that one day that quote will appear in a CES manual somewhere.

  50. Wouldn’t it also be nice to see President Brown’s other quotes denouncing the John Birch Society and Ezra Taft Benson’s far right politics?

  51. Latter-day Guy says:

    What Ray said. Honestly, the best thing is to have the quotes and their sources and cite them every time this claptrap gets dragged out. The only way to kill this folklore is to quash it ruthlessly, repeatedly, and with statements of sufficiently authoritative provenance so as leave a major impression in members’ minds. Any time the issue comes up in the future, you want these kinds of statements to be the first thing that pop into someone’s head.

  52. Kierkegaard said that to be believing was difficult because it demanded belief in the absurd. The absurd abounds in Mormonism, thus the faith needs to be greater.

  53. Latter-day Guy says:

    FWIW, I think many of our issues with race are just the result of cultural “blind spots”––it’s easy to cut off the driver you can’t see in your rear-view mirror.

    For instance, every week at the MTC, a newsletter is distributed to each district leader to be read and discussed in district meeting on Sundays. It has scheduling information, general instructions for the week, etc. There’s also a small section titled “A More Excellent Way,” which reveals some small nugget of The Unwritten Order of Things™ (e.g., you refer to apostles not as “Apostle Bob,” but as “Elder Bob”).

    One week––within the past two years or so––this section contained a request that missionaries not use “responsive” greetings, such as “Aloha,” during their branch sacrament meetings. There is no problem with that request; the MTC President can basically make whatever rules he wants. The problem was in the justification for the request: “…as we want to maintain a fully LDS culture.”

    I’m sure whoever wrote that bit had no intention to offend anyone, but that didn’t keep the statement from being offensive.

  54. I remember making the same mistake as this member missionary did. Of course I was 14, and it was nearly 40 years ago, long before the ban was lifted. The missionary looked me square in the eye and said, “That’s not correct, and we’re not going to talk about that now.” And he moved on.

    Our young elders should not be afraid to take command of the lessons they teach, even when member missionaires go astray (though I understand how intimidating it might be).

    I think the BRM quotation above is a great one, since so many people relied on his book as justification for the position. Thanks for sharing it.

  55. #53: If you believe in a Black race, you are living a folklore.

  56. Matthew says:

    I think this email should be forwarded to the First Presidency. I know that in putting out best foot forward we don’t like to dwell on ugly things of the past. But I have thought for a long time that an explicit repudiation of racist doctrines on First Presidency letter head would go a very long way both in and out of the church. And yes, it should include an apology. I think this is the Christ-like thing to do. And there is little doubt in my mind that it will be done eventually.

  57. Antonio Parr says:

    54. Paul: I think it is asking quite a bit of young elders to artfully handle racist comments from older members, especially when those racist comments are rooted in institutional racist policies of the past.

    I agree with Latter-Day Guy’s comments that “The only way to kill this folklore is to quash it ruthlessly, repeatedly, and with statements of sufficiently authoritative provenance so as leave a major impression in members’ minds.” However, this quashing should take place well before some 19 year old kid is placed in the position of having to correct racist statements by someone old enough to be his father. (That taks is made even more difficult when the racist statements are lifted from pronouncements of individuals esteemed to be prophets, seers and revelators.)

    The Priesthood ban has left a painful legacy, and continues to cast a shadow on the purity and beauty of the message of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  58. I disagree that its not a missionaries place to discuss these things. I discussed it all the time as I am sure many elders in the South discuss it as well. Some missionaries know what they are doing and can handle this topic. If the missionary is unsure they should bring in a local member that knows was up.

    This S@#$ needs to go away and get buried in the dustbin of history

  59. bbell,
    Your wish is a noble desire, but you know this can never happen. History is everpresent. Redefining the past is what every totalitarian and idiot regime tries to do. In never happens. We will be discussing this same S*** past the millennium.

  60. Can I ask a related question? If not, just ignore all this. Some of you talk about milk before meat and such, but what would you prefer from an investigator who has already heard about some of the more problematic doctrines?

    I met with the missionaries for a while last semester, mostly just to learn about the church without intending to join, though I was (and still am) willing to be open to the possibility that it’s true.

    I had been reading through the Book of Mormon, and when they asked about what I honestly thought about what I read, I hesitantly brought up how I was uncomfortable with the idea of dark skin being a punishment. One missionary hurriedly assured me that Mormons aren’t racist, and she brought up the “Biblical” example of God cursing Cain with black skin. (Something about how she loves black people just the same even though they’re cursed.) I had heard that idea before, but only in the context of 19th century Protestants trying to justify slavery, and I knew it wasn’t in the Bible, so I was pretty shocked that anyone still believed that. I know she meant well, but I was just really comfortable after that, and I think that was my last discussion.

    Anyway, I’ve been feeling like I should start meeting with the missionaries again. I had an absolutely awesome sister missionary for the first six or so weeks, so I’m sure more great missionaries exist. However, I feel like I’m not being honest with them if I don’t bring up some of those issues. I have a lot of respect and admiration for your church, and I’ve found myself defending it quite a lot, but I still have some reservations that would have to be resolved before I seriously considered joining.

    Sooo, that was kind of a ridiculously long way to ask that question, which I will repeat: how would you prefer an investigator to bring up such subjects? I know that I’m far from a typical investigator, though, and perhaps I shouldn’t bother the missionaries with these questions. I didn’t really get the sense that they are ready to discuss that sort of thing.

  61. Kate,

    I would suggest you speak with Margaret Young at BYU. She is also a permablogger on this site although she has been mostly quiet recently.


  62. #57 AP
    We expect a lot from missionaries. Confronting misspeaks is hardly the most difficult thing missionaries do when bridging around and over concerns while teaching the gospel. I think they can handle it.
    The important thing is to equip them so they can better, or best–do that.

    I think this discussions shows, if nothing else, that missionaries don’t have answers to this question, and lots of others. This isn’t a gospel of ‘all the answers’ for sure.
    I’m not saying don’t bring up problematic things with missionaries, they are there in part for that reason. Ultimately though, you may find somethings irreconcilable. There are things for me that I have yet to reconcile. I choose to believe nonetheless. It is just faith, after all.

  63. another great example of why the local members make much better teachers than the missionaries .. /sarc

  64. Antonio Parr says:

    62. If we expect so much from missionaries, why not arm them up front, instead of expecting them to improvise in situations that would cause even the most erudite of bycommonconsenters to stumble.

    I, for one, long for the day when we can simply say “we were wrong on that one”, with our penance being the extension of selfless service and love unfeigned to all of our Black brothers and sisters. (I see the latter in the wonderful lives of my LDS brothers and sisters. The former remains our stumbling block.)

  65. Kevin Barney says:

    Kate, I think any legitimate reservation you have is fair game to bring up with the missionaries. Some may be able to deal with the issue right there; others may be able to look into it and come back to it; others may be able to locate local members who have the capacity to discuss the issue. And some may simply whiff on it altogether. But if you have a good faith interest in the Church, that’s exactly what the missionaries are there for.

  66. mellifera says:

    I think my favorite counter to the “black people are a cursed race” thought is this one:

    “Good Brother, did you know that that idea is an apostate doctrine invented by the Muslims?”

    Bam! Watch them good ol’ boys backpedal!

    This one works because it’s actually true. There was a big slave trade going on in the Indian Ocean and across the Sahara, conducted by Arab traders during Europe’s middle ages (the heyday of the Middle Eastern empires though). They’ve got the “old testament” too and the traders came up with this “cursed race” idea based on the OT to justify kidnapping & selling black people. Then when they took over Catholic Spain, the idea found a warm reception in Europe.

    Have fun watching people try to piece together in their head that GA’s used to perpetuate false doctrines invented by Muslims though. Not sure how to help you on that one.

    FTR I’m not gettin’ down on Muslims here, obviously we all know every religion picks up bits of crap as it rolls through history….

  67. mellifera says:

    Kate (#60)–

    Thanks for asking! I’m really impressed that you’re still interested in learning about the church; if I hadn’t been raised with it and gotten to know the ugly parts after the good parts, I can’t imagine what I’d think.

    AFAK, the missionaries probably won’t ever be able to answer these kinds of questions. I’m certain there are 20-year-old kids out there somewhere who have 1) been exposed to the fact that the church membership was at one time openly racist, and 2) have been able to think about it clearly and intelligently– but I wouldn’t hold my breath for one to show up in your area. My recommendation is that you don’t expect answers about complex real-life issues from missionaries– there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re just young and very new at this whole living-the-gospel-as-an-adult thing.

    Now, what you can do– meet with a member of the church who’s black. I can pretty much guarantee you they’ve thought about it– and if not, keep inquiring until you find somebody who has. This is something the missionaries probably can help you with– finding somebody you can talk to.

    Another thing is read the biography of President McKay by Gregory A. Price and William Robert Wright (David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism). It may not give exactly the answers you’re looking for, but it will give you a very clear picture of exactly what was going on at the church’s top levels when the priesthood ban was still in effect but on its way out. Knowing history is always helpful.

  68. I would also suggest the concept that there is no curse today, even if there was one before (which I do not believe). Blacks have just as much right to the priesthood and temple blessings as anyone else. Just where is the curse? The ban was lifted 32 years ago. Therefore, IF there ever was a curse, it does not apply today. We should move forward with the 1978 revelation, rather than move backward with previous statements that no longer apply at all.
    Lamanites were also “cursed”, yet the curse did not apply to those who believed, repented, and received the gospel. Both Native Americans and blacks (as well as all others) have an equal access to the fullness of the gospel and its ordinances. Without a ban or curse, there is no curse on anyone, except those who are wicked and refuse to repent.

  69. Margaret Young, Darius Gray, Marvin Perkins, etc. need official callings to straighten out missionaries going through the MTC. ;-) Or they could head a committee that sends firesides around the church! Ok… not doable.

    Yeah, we need to educate each other that there is no such thing as race. Ethnicity yes, race no. There is no Jewish race, or black race, or Mexican race. It is indeed ridiculous that we dance around the issue when the science is very clear.

  70. PS: The Jewish race comment was meant tongue in cheek. But you still here people claim they are a 1/4 Jewish. Go figure?

  71. I was reading through all the comments with the thought in mind that somebody better link to Ray’s post about repudiating racist justifications for the ban once and for all. I’m glad you already did so, Ray. A whole bunch of quotes that I found worthy of re-posting on my own blog awhile back too.

    Also, Kate–ditto to Kevin Barney in #65.

  72. “Most anthropologists recognize that race is a social concept, not a biological one. That is, it stigmatizes some individuals as different and reinforces the privileges of others. There is no evidence that there are large groups of biologically distinct human beings (i.e. subspecies) that correspond to what people refer to when they talk about “race.” Furthermore, to base any kind of biological category on a single physical characteristic, such as skin color (which, in itself is incredibly varied and determined by multiple genes), is clearly nonsense”.

  73. I’m late to this dance, but I have to say that many of the above comments make me laugh in disgust. The idea that all this one errant member needs is a “good talking to” by his bishop is ridiculous. I am also in Idaho and, while the Church here is full of thoughtful and intelligent people with big hearts, the idea of blacks being/having been cursed is still actively accepted by many, many, many members (and not just in the backwaters of Aberdeen). It is pervasive.

    This is not because members of the Church are racist. And it’s not as if this old tired doctrine is on anyone’s minds much, really. But the doctrine is part of our historical fabric, and to assume that it has been gotten rid of because President Hinckley made some comments on the evils of racism recently would be utter foolishness. The doctrine exists because some of the Brethren perpetuated it (and not because members are racist). We are a believing people. Attacking the generic problem of racism is not getting at the real issue here.

    In all likelihood, the bishop here would probably just tell the member-missionary to avoid dealing with controversial issues when talking to potential converts. And the doctrine would stay firmly intact in that member’s mind.

    The only way to get rid of the doctrine is from a specific repudiation from the top. And in the meantime, these missionaries should avoid that member, mourn at the possible loss of another convert, write up the incident and send it to their Mission President and to the Church Missionary Committee. And then pray.

  74. @73 – I’m not convinced that it’s not a case of entrenched racism. The way to deal with it, in my opinion, is to forcefully call it what it is. There’s enough evidence and statements from leaders of the Church that should help members get over the past.

    A Church leader needs to deal with it firmly and directly and label it for what it is.

  75. FYI…….The race of Cain historically are actually white……read your bible again and see that Cain gave forth the people of the caucus……
    Blacks came from Ham who was cursed not by God but his father for seeing his naked body and not doing anything

  76. Antonio Parr says:

    74. You wrote:


    I think the bigger problem is that there’s enough evidence and statements from ~past~ leaders of the Church that hinder members from stepping into the future.

    If we believe that our leaders are not just leaders, but prophets of God, and these prophets utter decrees about our Black brothers and sisters that are racist, it is not an easy step to do an Emily Latilla (“nevermind!”), and just pretend that these statements don’t exist. Apparently these misguided Latter-Day Saints in Idaho (however goodhearted they might otherwise be) did not recognize President Hinckley’s statements about racism to be a repudiation of President Brigham Young’s statements about the cursed status of Blacks. Instead, they appear to believe that President Hinckley was teaching them to be nice to people who, according to past prophets who wore the same mantle as President Hinckley, bear the curse of Cain/Ham/whoever.

    The Church’s history with Blacks is a stain on the otherwise glorious restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a practical matter, we are still in the repentance process, and have miles to go before we even begin to make restitution for the years in which Blacks were excluded from full fellowship. Disavowing the past teaching that Blacks have black skin because they are cursed seems to be a healthy (and necessary) step in our repentance.

    Nothing in this post should be construed as a lack of support for our beautiful, living Church. I would simply like to see the Church as a more viable option for Blacks around the world, and fear that our past is a stain that conceals the luster of the restoration.

  77. Antonio Parr says:

    The missing quote from 74 is:

    There’s enough evidence and statements from leaders of the Church that should help members get over the past.

  78. One of the problems is that members who believe in the curse of Cain/Canaan do not see it as a racist issue, but one of revealed doctrine.
    I lived for 17 years in Montgomery, AL, where I was in key leadership positions most of the time, including stake mission presidency/ward mission leader. About 1987, the stake mission presidency decided it was time to take the missionary work to the blacks, and so we worked with the full time missionaries to do so. You would be surprised at the racism that came forth from members. My wife did almost all the visiting teaching among the blacks for several years, because the RS presidency would not go into “those neighborhoods.” We received complaints about black sisters teaching Primary, etc. It was a very ugly thing to work with.
    However, a decade later, those wards were well integrated, and the racist views that once were there were well on their way out.

    I think in Idaho it will take longer to deal with, because there are so few blacks that it isn’t a daily thing to manage. And unless Church leaders in the area sit down with the members and spell it out to them, the 50 year old GA books that discuss the curse will still be quoted.

    Later, as stake clerk, I was in many meetings with the stake presidency discussing continued racism in the smaller outlying branches. We had to tackle those issues straight on, as some members were attempting to bully black members into not attending.

    One way to begin fixing this is to ensure the seminaries and Institutes teach the correct concepts in conjunction with their lessons on the D&C and the Revelation. We can sometimes save the new generation.

  79. The ‘problem’ is not the old ‘curse’ idea. The problem is the leaders and members today who still see Blacks as a race and different from them. That’s today’s racism in the Church.

  80. I agree, however many of them base it upon old GA quotes. We have to break the tie with the past racism in order to overcome the modern racism.

  81. #80: No, racism ends when the idea of race ends. There is not a race of tall people__or black people.

  82. JJ Rousseau says:


    You have made the same point over and over again. It is not as interesting as you seem to think. Race may be a social construction, but guess what? A lot of thing are social constructions, including gender, property, nationality, and religion. I would like a number of these things to go away, but they will not be anytime soon and thet still have social significance.

  83. Bob,
    Give it a rest.

  84. Latter-day Guy says:

    No, racism ends when the idea of race ends.


    Even if you could get everyone to accept that “race” is not a scientific reality, people would still make judgments based on ethnicity, color, or whatever you’d prefer to call it. If somebody’s colon is riddled with cancer, it can be removed through surgery. But if the surgeon didn’t also remove the metastases that had spread to the small intestines, it would be irresponsible to claim that he/she had “cured” the patient of his colon cancer. Your argument is nothing more than a cosmetic/semantic red herring. Repeating it ad nauseum doesn’t change that.

  85. #82: I have made the same point over and over. But I continue to read comments that are based on race. There can be no race to “curse”, if there is no race. There can be no “Ban” if there is no race to ban.
    Gender is real__there are males and females.
    Nationality_I would say a social construction.
    Property or Religion_ I am not sure.

  86. #83: I rest.

  87. Bob,
    Gender is also considered a social construct. But we aren’t going to talk around that here. For the sake of clarity and sanity, we use the term race. What would rather have us say, “Some people were banned from the priesthood because based on the continuum of shades of pigment in their skin they fell to a certain place on that spectra that was not acceptable to the people on the other place on that spectra, or if it was deemd they had ancestors with skin that ran to a certain place on the shade scale on the continuum of skin color.” We could even draw graphs and show the skin color continuum for everyone on the planet. Is that what you would prefer?

  88. 87:
    There is no such thing as color.

  89. Antonio Parr says:

    There is no such thing as thing, either.

  90. There is no end to matter, and it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white!

  91. Antonio Parr says:
  92. Antonio Parr says:

    All kidding aside, and to go back to the beginning, the missionary hopefully would have the courage/wisdom/presence/whatever to say “that is not Church doctrine — the Book of Mormon teaches us that God loves members of all races equally, and we are called to do the same. Every person is entitled to the blessings of the atonement and, as such, every person is blessed with the potential for the gift of eternal life, which is the greatest gift of all.”

  93. #87: Yes.

  94. Bob,
    Can I put ‘ism’ on the end of that?

  95. #94: If you feel that adds ” clarity and sanity”.

  96. There’s at least three offical statements stating that black people were inferior in the pre-existence. I am not away or any acutal re of these comments.

    Statement of the First Presidency August 17,. 1949:
    “President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death.”

    Statement of the First Presidency in 1951
    “The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes..

    Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, “The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God….

    “Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man’s mortal existence, extending back to man’s pre-existent state.” (The First Presidency, December 15, 1969) This statement also included strong support for the civil rights movement.

    The existence of three official statements from the First Presidency indicating that blacks were less valiant in the preexistance without any repudiation of these statements allows these folk beliefs to continue to circulate. What could be done about this problem?

  97. “What could be done about this problem?”

    Call a spade a spade and state that those explanations were “wrong.” Some church leaders have already said this.

    See, for example:
    Endorsing the Call: Repudiate Racist Justifications for the Priesthood Ban

    Why I Don’t Believe That God Instituted The Priesthood Ban

  98. Agnes,
    Have you read any of the comments with the many links to other statements? or are you a troll?

  99. Yeah, you really gotta go with the most recent quotes–after “further light and knowledge” was shed on the subject. (And after Lester Bush enlightened people with his research into the history of the ban).

  100. Bob,
    I think you’ve been reading Lois Lowry.

  101. Latter-day Guy says:

    FWIW, agnes, your first example from Brigham Young doesn’t really sound like it’s referring to the pre-mortal existence per se. “[T]heir fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood,” makes more sense in an earthly context — perhaps some of the baggage about Noah and Ham?

  102. #97: “Call a spade a spade “. Not going to fix the problem.
    #100: I have to say she is new to me__I will check her out.
    No, my thinking comes from having a degree in Anthropology.

  103. Troll 2 is an amazing film, by the way.

  104. I don’t think most Mormons are racist at all, and have examples from my family–but at the same time, folloing those links I don’t see any repudiation of the blacks on the wrong side of the war in heaven official pronouncements of the mormon church. Until then, there’s going to be problems. I think you misstake what side I am on.

    I also think you misstake the amount of infomation available to the average non-northern eauropean. It’s a problem.

    Latter Day Guy, my first example was from George Albert Smith and the rest of the presidency in 1949.

  105. Also, Latter Day Guy, the whole 1949 statement makes much clearer the idea that black people sat out the war on heaven and so were punished. i just didn’t feel like quoting the whole thing. Also, quoting Brighham Young is a way of reaffirming what he said.

    Decent’ non-racist Mormons shouldn’t be saddled with this stuff. It’s brought great pain to my family, to speak personally, and I think ties in with some of the stuff people like Sen. Pearce are saying in Arizona; while running entirely counter to the rest of the church.

  106. Agnes,
    I combined a couple of your comments into one. You might also try that! :)

  107. Agnes, the answer, as I said way back in #40, and others have repeated, is to counter old quotes with modern quotes – of which there are quite a few.

    Seriously, to say that the LDS Church leadership hasn’t disavowed the previous justifications simply isn’t accurate. They have. The key is to know the quotes and the leaders who have spoken them. Then say something simple, like: “You can believe the former statements; I will accept the words of the prophets of our time.” If you are talking to current, active members, it’s hard for them to dismiss that statement or even argue against it.

  108. Antonio Parr says:

    1. We
    2. Were
    3. Wrong.

    “We were wrong.”

    Not hard to say.

  109. Antonio Parr says:

    To circle back to the original question, and as (hopefully) a better (and more useful) response than my preceding post, here is a possible response for the missionary forced to address the comment by the member missionary:

    “Past comments about Blacks were made with limited knowledge. Thanks to the gift of continuing revelation, we know have more light on the subject, i.e., we now know that Blacks are entitled to every single blessing that is available to every son and daughter of God. As such, we now know with perfect surety that neither Blacks nor any other race are cursed, as each and all are invited to partake of the gift of eternal life, which gift is the greatest gift of all.”

  110. we can all say it,…….Brigham Young was clouded and blinded by the happeings of his time…cos no God that I serve discriminates against his creations……..the only creation of his he despises is the devil and his cohorts…….read isaiah and jeremiah……
    Moses/david/solomon/ all had black wives………

  111. Modern-Day Revelation,
    All the more a better reason to update the teaching manuals.

    As for the ban: I’ve had it explained that no one receives all the blessings at once, and even the priesthood was not available to all when it first came to the earth (casing point: Jesus, he was the only one with the priesthood until he shared it with his apostles,Who too did not freely give it to all members just because they were male. I wouldn’t be shocked if in all the believers of Jesus in his time, only 13 held the priesthood).

  112. JJ Rousseau says:

    “I’ve had it explained that no one receives all the blessings at once, and even the priesthood was not available to all when it first came to the earth”

    Please, the explanations are so horrible…let’s not repeat them.

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