Mormonism and White Supremacy

It’s not hard to dunk on the Church when it comes to race issues. 42 years ago today, the First Presidency announced to Church leaders that the priesthood and temple ban on black members would end. 42 years is not a long time! The Church really is a particularly white subset of American Christianity, and yet we have consistently provided the message that we are not racist, that we treat all people as God has directed us. Joanna Brooks’ new book, Mormonism and White Supremacy, probably won’t tell the world or the Church anything it doesn’t already know — Church leaders have said and done a lot of terrible things throughout our history. Her perspectives on Mormon* racial innocence are provocative, and while her interpretations might sometimes be debatable, her book is timely and a worthwhile catalyst for self-examination.

Brooks has not exactly written a history book here, but Mormonism and White Supremacy is a fairly full inventory of the history of race in the Church. She follows a roughly chronological format and chooses anecdotes and case studies to illustrate the racial dynamics within the Church over the years. The result is a fairly damning portrait of how white supremacy has been sown in the doctrines of the Church nearly since its beginning, coming to fully poisonous fruit with Brigham Young and perpetuated by white leadership for decades after any political expediency had long since evaporated. There is no comfort in this book for Church members looking for healing balm.

Not that we need such balm. We have become exceptionally good at giving this balm to ourselves. It is an absolutely fascinating dynamic to describe. Here we have an overwhelmingly white church, with an open, documented history of institutional racism, with doctrines that are explicitly racist, and we not only manage to feel pretty good about ourselves, we go so far as to boldly declare that we do not apologize for this (adding that the word “apology” does not appear in the scriptures). It’s amazing! Brooks delves into this phenomenon, explaining that one of the duties of racial structures (particularly in religion) is to build a structure that assuages the guilt of its adherents, removing the immediate morality and ethics of racism from the equation by dictating that God has demanded the racist policy or doctrine. For Mormons, we can feel that we are not racists because we do not draw a distinction based on race — God has drawn that distinction for us, and so we are not individually responsible. Brooks draws on the notion of “racial innocence” to describe this structural process, and it hits its mark in describing Mormonism and its willed innocence in the face of horribly racist practices and beliefs.

As I said before, Brooks has not produced a history book here. This is a book geared towards awareness and social action. As such I would not expect a great amount of historical rigor here, but rather a rhetorical intent to cause people to reflect on their own willed innocence, their own complicity in racist systems, and to start to change them. Brooks writes powerfully and convincingly. Yes, the Church has made strides forward. We now work hand in hand with the NAACP to call for racial equality. More change is needed, and we must work together to get there. Brooks has written a painful reminder of how much more change we need. It is a hard book to read, but her work is needed for this moment.

——————-
*I use the word ‘Mormon’ here to describe both Church members and members of related groups. Try to relax.

Comments

  1. I was thinking about this topic after Floyd was murdered. I remember in Seminary/Sunday school seeing some sort of video materials produced about this and they portrayed the lifting of the priesthood ban as if it was this thing that nobody could do anything about. As if everyone really wanted it to happen but just couldn’t lift the ban until God said so for inexplicable reasons, and then God finally did because ‘the time was right’.

    And that’s usually closest any casual apologist can come to a justification “the time wasn’t right” and the church leaders’ hands were tied. Seems very disingenuous to be honest. The simple answer is that the Church like most institution in the US at the time was racist and no one bothered to question or even think about the way things were until the Civil Rights movement forced a conversation.

  2. I would think that a book attempting to “damn” the church would be required to use historical rigor, even more than a history book. Seems like the book picks and chooses to make a case rather than present the full story.

  3. For perspective: Schools were desegregated legally by Brown v. Board of Education only 62 years ago last month, with legal battles in individual states and schools lasting for years afterward (and continuing today). The Civil Rights Act passed 56 years ago. Not a long time! Given the times, it’s actually somewhat remarkable that David O. McKay, who became President of the Church in 1951 as a 77-year-old white man, fought a not-yet-willing Church leadership to end the priesthood ban. I was likewise impressed by President Nelson’s swift and blunt response to the Floyd killing, including its frank assessment as racism and blatant disregard for human life–not entirely what I expected from a rather stodgy 95-year-old wealthy, privileged white man leading a church whose membership leans politically conservative.

    That the Church was, and is, a product of its time is no surprise – one need only read the New Testament to see how a church led by apostles who lived and taught with Jesus Christ in the flesh struggled with the issues of its day. But much has been accomplished in and out of the Church in only about two generations. We must do better, of that there’s no doubt, and I look forward to reading this book and hope it inspires more of us to work for social justice. But we only have to look at our parents’ or grandparents’ world to know that we at least have made progress.

  4. Collin, I don’t think the book attempts to “damn” the church.

    Abbey, one would hope that racial equality in an institution led by Jesus Christ himself would occur a little more quickly than civil rights legislation and lawsuits precipitated by protests, incarcerations, and deaths.

  5. Susan Hunter says:

    Steve, one would think that if an institution were being led by Jesus, racial inequality wouldn’t have occurred in the first place. Racism is so repugnant as to condemn any institution that would promulgate it as inherently evil, and therefore certainly not of Christ. Members are quick to excuse the actions of the church by pointing out that the church is not perfect. One would not expect its people to be perfect in execution, but those who profess to speak for the Lord should certainly be expected to be perfect in those teachings. That the leaders of this church made no changes to its policies until pressed by political correctness is an indication that the church is not actually led by divinity.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    This makes me feel sick. It doesn’t matter if the church has made progress over the years, it is still damned because the men leading it were wrong in the beginning and so the church will always be wrong. There is no repentance for the church. If her book is not an attempt to “damn” the church then the OP is. My son, born the same year as the revelation, has a 16 year old son himself. Maybe by the time that boy is 42 and my generation is dead there will be some forgiveness for the church’s past sins? Maybe.

  7. Susan, what can I say? I don’t really disagree with your comment, though the history of scripture itself is God wrestling with his people to do what’s right and prophets frequently not making changes until pressed. Peter expanding the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles is an example.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the review.

    In case any of our readers get thrown by the notion that “apology” does not occur in the scriptures, they may find this piece useful:

    https://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2015/01/does-the-word-apology-appear-in-the-scriptures/

  9. phbrown says:

    Our doctrine regarding the favored blessings available to those of an Ephramite heritage contribute to our continuing racism. Ephramites are better than other tribes. The tribes are more blessed than the Gentiles. Ergo, we’re the best of the best. Easy to fall into the trap of disrespecting black people.

  10. Kristine says:

    “Steve, one would think that if an institution were being led by Jesus, racial inequality wouldn’t have occurred in the first place.”

    I don’t know why one would think this. Jesus’ track record of creating non-racist churches is non-existent. It doesn’t appear that human beings have ever been capable of fully instantiating the just society Jesus would like us to live in. That doesn’t mean we should abandon institutions that are trying to get better at it.

  11. Truckers Atlas says:

    Steve, it’s of course crucial that whites be allies and fight against racism, but I look at BCC from a representational perspective and ask myself, could this blog get any whiter?

  12. Loursat says:

    What makes the Church worth following—or as we so often say, what makes it true—is not that it is right, but that it is inspired.

    The Church has never been right about everything. We can respond to that fact by stopping our ears and insisting that no, we have always been right and a prophet can’t be wrong. That response is unwise. It denies our imperfect nature and our mortal task of learning to cope with imperfection.

    The better response is to embrace our access to divine inspiration. The whole point of divine inspiration is that it helps us correct our mistakes. It helps us to be a little more right tomorrow than we were today.

    The mistakes that Joanna Brooks writes about are not small ones. So much the better. How greatly will we rejoice when we find the love that waits on the other side of repentance for these great mistakes!

  13. Truckers: you’re not wrong! What’s your proposal?

  14. rickpowers says:

    “Truckers: you’re not wrong! What’s your proposal?”

    My suggestion: hire Chris Rock to produce the “…, ranked” content.

  15. Kevin Christensen says:

    I will be interested to see whether Brooks discusses this essay on the long cultural history of interpretations of Noah’s Curse, by Stirling Adams. As I recall, he did a post here on the same topic.
    https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3686&context=byusq

    Or this by Ethan Sproat on “Skins as Garments in the Book of Mormon”
    https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1572&context=jbms

    Regarding Susan’s comments on expectations for LDS leaders, Thomas Kuhn points out that in science “anomally emerges against a background of expectation.” And recovery literature makes the point that “expectations are premeditated resentments.” Over the years, whenever I run across something I did not expect, I’ve adopted the fruitful practice of asking “What should I expect?” That is, I check my own eye for beams, and not surprisingly, since I lack omniscience and infallible judgement as a starting point, I usually find a beam or two, incorrect expectations, and that the process of removing them enables me to see more clearly.

    Just as Jesus defines what we ought to call his doctrine in a very narrow and specific way, warning of consequences for doing otherwise, (see 3 Nephi 11:31-40) so I find that D&C 1 sets my expectations of LDS leaders in a profoundly blunt and realistic way:

    24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.

    25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;

    26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be binstructed;

    27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;

    28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.

    If that is a correct and realistic expectation, that I am not disappointed but not shaken when I see LDS prophets behaving with same blend of humanity and occasional inspiration that I see in the Bible, rather than as divine sock puppets, whose agency and personality has been surgically removed to prevent them embarressing me and making me ashamed to be associated with them by their behaving as as Acts 14:15 states, that, “We are men of like passions with you” and 1 John 8 that “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

    Lorenzon Snow famously commented that he personally saw Joseph Smith do things of which he did not approve, but rather than disillusion him, that gave him hope, because he knew his own weakness.

  16. I appreciate Loursat’s perspective, including the insight about “learning to cope with imperfection” being our mortal task. In my experience, we often invest a great deal of energy in making the case that we’re not wrong, and in creating distance between ourselves and the wrong thing (basically D&C 121:37 –“we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition” etc.). I consider what we might accomplish if we were instead able to divert all that energy toward addressing our biases and past mistakes. And I’m interested in developing skills that will help me do that. Not an easy undertaking, but the alternative is more of what we’ve had, and that just isn’t sustainable.

  17. There are three possible scenarios as to how the Church handles race:
    1. The Church leads society in terms of racial inclusion
    2. The Church mirrors society in terms of racial inclusion
    3. The Church follows society in terms of racial inclusion

    Some of us believe that an inspired Prophet and Apostles receiving revelation from the Lord should have lead to #1. Some of us would be willing to accept #2 and the justification would be that the Church’s main mission is salvation, not social justice. The problem is, we have always operated in #3. You can see it with women and gays too. We are always 30 years behind. Hard to reconcile with the idea that we represent THE true church.

  18. Kristine says:

    “We are always 30 years behind. Hard to reconcile with the idea that we represent THE true church.”

    Why are those ideas hard to reconcile? Churches (and durable institutions generally) are quite conservative. I don’t like it, and I’d mostly prefer that we were in the vanguard on more issues, but I’m not sure why anyone should think that a “true and living” church would necessarily be aligned with any particular set of social justice goals. Inclusion has been a hard sell ever since Peter and Paul fought over it–humans just aren’t good at it, and I’m not sure why we should expect a few American church leaders (who have lived largely provincial lives) to be better about it than their peers. I understand why we should WANT it, just not why it should be expected, or why conservatism is equated with a lack of inspiration.

  19. Kristine, those ideas feel hard to reconcile for me because church members and leadership continually advance the perception that we are not behind the times at all, but in fact are precisely where we ought to be.

  20. Jack Hughes says:

    Agreed, Steve. Just like every Word of Wisdom lesson that smugly trumpets the revelation being decades ahead of science in warning us about the negative effects of alcohol and tobacco. But as soon as someone brings up the racial issues, members tie themselves into knots with their explanation attempts.

  21. Kristine says:

    Steve, of course they say that. People say a lot of things that are wrong. But I feel like if you’re going to try to say what the church should be, it makes more sense to start from a realistic notion of what it is rather than members’ and leaders’ self-description. It’s hard to criticize an organization while also reasserting its misperceptions of itself.

  22. I think that it’s sometimes easy for the still-faithful who long ago wrestled with the harder aspects of our history (which is probably most of those participating here) to reconcile that (a) the Church is God’s church, but (b) for whatever reason, He’s let us make plenty of mistakes along the way, including racist mistakes. I’ve come to my own conclusions on those issues, but my experience is the level of nuance necessary to hold both views is often lost on the average member, and can frequently lead to faith crises–i.e., how can a putatively inspired church have believed incorrect things for so long? My guess is that the Church knows that coming out to and saying “we were 100% wrong about race for 130 years” is certain to lead to faith crises, and I think that weighs heavily on those in charge.

    Also, FWIW, the newest “Saints” book seems to get pretty close to a mea culpa without actually saying it. How many average members are reading that book, and also reading between the lines of that book, I don’t know.

  23. “if an institution were being led by Jesus, racial inequality wouldn’t have occurred in the first place.” This glories in moral clarity, but exhibits a fairly simplistic assumption about the nature of revelation and prophets, which simply doesn’t hold up unless you want to toss all Judeo-Christian scripture out on its ear. See Philemon, for example. This is something we also need to wrestle with.
    https://benspackman.com/2019/11/01/gospel-doctrine-lesson-40-colossians-and-philippians-but-mostly-philemon/

  24. Steve,

    I can’t wait to read JB’s book. It’s a major problem. If you will forgive me spamming your post, I think White Jesus is at the centre of this whole thing: “Hey, Christians: Show Us a Black Jesus!”

  25. My quick and informal experiment looked for the first Jesus image on the websites of the top four American denominations. White Jesus, every time.

    In the Mormon case, the scale and prevalence of the whiteness is remarkable. The Catholic, SBC, and UMC Jesus is white but is typically portrayed using classic art and somewhat hard to find, whereas the Mormon White Jesus is everywhere and often portrayed in photographs by models. He is Mega White and the result of a conscious, contemporary choice by the church

    I really suggest having a look. It’s quite amazingly off the scale compared with other churches.

  26. Thank you, Steve! I’ll look forward to the book.

    And RJH, that’s—well, I won’t say it’s surprising—but it’s very telling, isn’t it? Thank you.

  27. If you actually want to study the history of the church and not your skewed interpretations of it, read about President NcKay’s long period of prayer seeking to remove the priesthood restrictions on Blacks. God told him no, the time was not yet.
    Please do not comment on things you obviously know nothing about.

  28. Nathan K says:

    Give it a rest people. The children of God who are last to get the gospel and priesthood power are the Moslems, the North Koreans, the Chinese, and the Jews. Spend some of your hand wringing time on them. Or 50 years from now your intellectual descendants will be criticizing the church leadership for failing these people.

  29. Nathan K. Give it rest. There’s a difference between self-imposed restrictions and church-mandated restrictions.

  30. Jane, if you want to study the history, reading one account and ignoring material produced by others, including the church itself is a very poor way to go about it. Please do not comment on things you obviously haven’t consider much either.

  31. @Nathan K. I think what you are forgetting is that if a Muslim, North Korean, Chinese, or Jew wanted the priesthood, they could get the priesthood if they joined the church. Whether it was back in the 50’s or today. Blacks joined the church and the priesthood was withheld because of their skin color. Racism in the church needs to be talked about. Thank you for this book review. I went and bought it and it’s opened my “white” eyes.

  32. What I find interesting is that there are 31 comments on this post but 85 comments on whether we should go back to church. It’s a testament to me that white people are just uncomfortable with the topic altogether. Nothing is going to change unless white people do something about it.

  33. phbrown says:

    Jane,
    With ME Petersen & HB (over my dead body) Lee in the quorum, DOM would have difficulty getting a consensus. So, “not yet.” Sadly, sometimes progress in the Church depends on some funerals in Salt Lake City.

  34. I think Nathan K was talking about Moslem, North Korean, Chinese and Jewish women…. :-)

  35. Mark Olmstead says:

    Mary,

    As someone who frequents this blog and reads considerably (but posts rarely), I’ll bite. What exactly do you suppose that white people start doing?

  36. Truckers Atlas says:

    Steve: “Truckers: you’re not wrong! What’s your proposal?”

    So long as you’re not being coy, I’m suggesting BCC get some non-white bloggers to discuss the pressing race-related issues of the moment.

  37. Living in LA I would be careful where I drove at night. I didn’t want to drive into black or Mexican neighborhoods where I might be in danger because I am white. Does that make me a racist?

  38. Mark, I’d say the first step is to do exactly what you just did and ask what you can do.  My answer is this:
    1.  Education.   For starters you could read the book that this post is about.  Ask questions and understand that people of color may have a different experience than you with church.  So many people fail to see the pain associated with LDS institutionalized racism, or see that it even exists.

    2.  Speak up.  Be an advocate to help your church make changes and reparations for their racist past and that it can do something about it.  If you would like to help, you can join the conversation via outreach groups and discussions / firesides, advocate for a church apology, etc.  I think there are plenty of ways to help.

    3) In general though, since this is all really addressing the larger issue of racism that the entire country is addressing right now; I think that every white person should make sure that your family and friends know through your actions that you will not tolerate racist words, jokes, or behavior in your presence.

  39. Since Truckers Atlas asked…

    I have African American roots in the Church that stretch back to the late 1800’s. My family has felt the brunt of the biases of the people of the Church from that time forward. But many of us are still active members because the cause is still right, despite the faults of men.

    So am I qualified to comment?

    Joanna Brooks work comes across as a rather opportunistic and polemic attack on the Church. She has promoted her book by using ‘woke’ tweets to elicit outrage by noting certain old comments by Church leaders taken out of context to arouse the ‘tear down the monument and rename the building’ crowd. Her ulterior motives are suspect to me and come across with bit of academic ‘white savior’ flavor.

    She also seems to borrow from the works of others to make her case (see: Mauss and Reeve, among others).

    My suggestion: Read the works of Armand Mauss and Paul Reeve. They are real historians without axes to grind. Leave Brooks work to the ‘outrage of the day’ crowd.

    jb

  40. Kristine says:

    jb–I don’t think Joanna would dispute that she relied on Mauss, Reeve, and others. However, she is also a serious and credentialed scholar who has published on racial issues for a couple of decades, so “opportunistic” seems unfair.

  41. Posting incendiary tweets about Church leaders racial comments, from 50 to 150 years ago, during the midst of racial unrest, to promote sales of ones book is the definition of opportunism.

    Jb

  42. Mary, what you may not be aware of is that the church has denied Moslems the right to be baptized, in countries where their safety is at risk if they leave Islam. The reality is that Black people are joining and have joined now for decades. People in Saudi Arabia cannot. Nor can they provide temple work for their ancestors.
    As someone who spent over 30 years living in Oakland. California, a very Black city for much of the time I was there, the Black members are not rehashing past prejudice. They are celebrating the Gospel today. And they will tell you how proud they are that the LDS faith never set up separate congregations for Black members so the whites did not have to worship together with them.

  43. Kristine says:

    Sorry, jb, I misunderstood your comment to be related to the book, not the marketing tactics. I agree that out-of-context quotations on social media are not an effective way to create understanding.

  44. Truckers: “I’m suggesting BCC get some non-white bloggers to discuss the pressing race-related issues of the moment.”

    Agreed. Steve, is this something you guys can work on? Do you need suggestions of names?

  45. Quinton says:

    Perhaps we need to question our beliefs regarding when God intervenes in history. Does he randomly pop in to correct all evil? Or does he use it to teach us to abhor and reject it.
    Not even racism has been as abhorrent as was the Holocaust. Yet God allowed it to take place to teach us and prompt us to ask how was this ever allowed. What beliefs made it possible.
    Are we willing to share the gospel with all God’s children and truly see them as equal to us? The uneducated? The poor? Those whose academic background is sparse? Those who support Donald Trump?
    Remove the beam before you point out the mote.

  46. I wonder when the LDS Church and race topics will be diverse enough in academia to have black people do the commentary from their perspective instead of white authors. I remember reading Black and Mormon but what books can I read on the black perspective from black authors? Or Latinex, etc? Why are only white authors getting published on this topic at the big university presses?

  47. Why are only white authors getting published? That’s not true if you look at the literature. But it is generally true due to the racial structure of the US and the Church.

    Ask the question again in a decade and hopefully the publishing field will look different. But it will have a better chance of looking different if you, RL, and others support established and upcoming scholars, academics, and artists. Do you know who they are? Do you know what kind of effort it takes to write a book? Do you know what kind of privilege it is to be published? To spend years working on projects that will have little chance of economic return except for the few who manage to make it through graduate school and into tenured academia?

    Do you know that you’re showing your ignorance by asking why others don’t have the privilege to spend the tens of thousands of hours it takes to develop expertise and have something to say that the white power structure of the country wants published?

  48. So Anon
    1. I asked for more to read on the black perspective from black authors. What would be the top ten books on the black LDS experience by black authors?
    2. Why isn’t Oxford publishing non-white authors on Mormonism? Are you saying there aren’t any folks worthy of publishing because of privilege or are you saying the press is structurally racist?

  49. 1 You can look at the lists of published works and notices of conferences as well as I can.

    2 No idea about OUP. No to the next question, and good luck trying to argue that university presses are not inherently structurally racist.

  50. Nathan, when you mention Muslims in SA I think you are making the same point that I am.  Black people were withheld the priesthood because of the color of their skin. Muslims were not. Muslims are/were denied baptism because they did not have religious freedom in their country and they may be in danger. These are two very different situations. Even in the 1940s a Muslim could’ve gone to Utah (or anywhere with religious freedom) and received the priesthood. By contrast, a black person could have fought in WWII, come home to Utah and been denied the LDS priesthood.

    I’m not sure I understand the premise of your argument. Are you saying that whether or not the priesthood ban was wrong we shouldn’t be that concerned about it because there are others who (for different unrelated reasons) also are unable to get the priesthood?  Are you saying that whether or not the priesthood ban was wrong you know some black members who have moved on so we all should too? If the priesthood ban was wrong, shouldn’t an apology be the first step? I actually live about 30mins from Oakland, I am married to a black member of the church, and I’ve spoken to many members about this topic.   I think this church can multi-task enough to address this issue and advocate for religious freedom across the globe.

    As for black members of the church moving on from past historical wrongs…they have to.  What other choice do they have besides leaving the church?  This is something black people do in all aspects of their lives. They shop at stores, eat at restaurants, work for companies or bosses, tolerate sports teammates, all because they have to –  and the list goes on and on. Maybe the black people you met are choosing their battles and leaving LDS off the list. 

    In my opinion an apology from the top would go a long way to healing for blacks and whites.

  51. A reader says:

    jb, I, too, have been put off by what you term the opportunistic promotion of the book. I also feel like it’s overly simplistic and reductive. I thought that about her work on feminism, too. The OP says the book isn’t historically rigorous. I think on this subject, as on everything, being historically rigorous is essential. Otherwise we’re just imposing our current sensibilities on the past. There is a place for that. At some point the abhorrent ideas and practices of the past need to be rejected and denounced. But history is always more complex than we’d like because it’s inhabited by actual people, not just our caricatures of them, and there is usually a context that resists being read reductively. Therefore, history doesn’t easily serve simplistic narratives that serve primarily to make us feel good about ourselves. Now, I hasten to add that that principle applies in all directions and I would include the institutional and cultural narratives about race in the church. But when one is writing a book that purports to give a historical perspective on a question of contemporary urgency, the historical part shouldn’t be anything less than rigorous.

  52. I think Steve’s comment about “historical rigor” may be misconstrued. Brooks relies heavily, though not quite exclusively, on secondary sources. Without developing a command of the primary sources—which, in fairness, would be a daunting task, given the scope of her survey—her work is more in the vein of journalistic, rather than scholarly, history. That doesn’t mean that the book is misstating facts. While perspective is sometimes lacking, that may be attributable to Brooks’s openly activist aims. The book is unapologetically a “call to action.” If you want straight history, stick with Reeve, Mueller, Mauss, Bush, et al. If you’re open to something more along the lines of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “The Case for Reparations,” but for Mormons and race, Brooks’s book delivers that.

  53. MoPo and A Reader:

    I would agree with you. Brooks is an activist promoting her worldview in this case under the guise of academic research.
    No problem with activism. Just don’t pretend it is something else.
    Jb

  54. This whole topic for me harkens back to the value proposition the church brings in to my life. The church is asking me to dedicate everything, with a capital E, to the church and its expansion. In return, it allows me to, more or less, decipher and choose my future. I believe this is the bargain I struck. I also see it as being led by prophets, seers and revalators – men who can see in to the future and plan ahead for us. I think as humans, our brains are wired to predict the future as a way to survive the present threats and dangers that might impede us (or kill us!). Perhaps an evolutionary force at work. We want to know that everything will be “okay” in the end. So coming back to the value proposition, I place my confidence, money, time and everything with these men to guide me to best prepare me for the future and the threats that await. I can’t help but feel I got the short-end of the stick. My religion was supposed to be able to see far enough in the future to know things which are unknowable and guide me accordingly. Instead, I bought in to the the whole racism thing. It was reinforced everywhere and the only way I could reconcile it is to know God’s ways were not my ways. So here we are, sitting in our homogenized white wards (with few exceptions) judging each other on how well one another is following the prophet using outward signs (garments, WoW adherence, etc). I feel like these guys failed at the most basic role they were supposed to fill – preaching love and acceptance of those on the fringes. They took the exact wrong path, and now I feel I am encumbered and wholly wrong about what I thought was right. Wrong with what I thought was going to happen. They were supposed to lead. Now my confidence in this whole value proposition is greatly shaken to say the least. I am not sure I understand the point of it anymore.

  55. I’m bit from the USA, and most wards in France and Switzerland I’ve been to our very diverse. So my perspective is different. I would guess that more than the Church’s doctrine and the traces of what our forefathers have said regarding race, the reason for racism could be more linked to the overall attitude of Conservative populations in the area towards race. Its no surprise that even if they are well intended, there has been a few hiccups in the church administration because somebody in Salt Lake was working from his perspective and not from the locals. Could it be that this same human blindness to other perspectives also be the cause of racism in the church. I sure believe that the Lord is at the head of this Church and is aware of the sufferings and trials of its people. I also believe that the same process through which we can receive personal revelation is the same the brethren do. Wouldn’t be surprising if, I as well meaning and flawed as I am, I can still receive guidance from in high-according to my understanding– then so can the Brethren, in whatever culture they came from?

  56. Thanks for your words Guest.

  57. Kristine says:

    rwc–I think looking at the church in terms of a “value proposition” is bound to get one into trouble sooner or later. And defining the proposition in all or nothing terms compounds the problem. If it’s not too obnoxious (I feel like I’m sounding condescending, and I don’t mean to), I want to suggest that there are much more flexible and helpful paradigms–I especially like the one Eugene England lays out here: http://www.eugeneengland.org/why-the-church-is-as-true-as-the-gospel

  58. Kristine – I agree with you that it was bound to get me in trouble. But, in all honesty, that is very much coming from a place that “there is safety in following the prophet.” Follow the prophet and you can’t go wrong. That’s been drilled in my head. In fact, we have piles of scriptures dedicated to the fact that people didn’t follow the prophet and got in heaps of trouble. I think where I went wrong is putting church leadership on a pedestal and they became my idol. I figured it was the safest place I could possibly be to guarantee a life and eternity of only the best things I could ever wish for.

    When science wasn’t able to answer our questions about why there are different pigments in skin or how the world began, we have always turned to religion to provide those reasonings. I relied on their word as coming straight from God. The LDS apostles hint all the time that have actually seen Him. They continued what Joseph started, and that was allowing his followers to touch the face of God. We are told our temples are visited by the Lord himself. You can go and be exactly where God had walked the halls himself. That kind of language drew my confidence that they were interacting with him on a normal one-on-one basis – from the beginning. All I am saying is, if society is outpacing my own church in social issues – and these aren’t small insignificant issues. People are dying over these issues. Am I supposed to ignore that fact and just continue to rely on God speaking directly to a prophet who seems obsessed with changing logos and clothing choices for missionaries?

  59. MoPo – thanks for your comment. Your way of saying it is more accurate.

    Regarding calls for more black authors here, I would welcome it. We have had numerous guest authors here that are BIPOC but it’s high time there were permas.

    Regarding a desire to read more black perspectives on the church, may I suggest The Book of Mormon for the Least of These?

  60. This video that promotes Joanna’s book pretty clearly is meant to incite the tearing down of statues of Latter-day prophets. Par for the course, I suppose.
    https://films.radiowest.org/film/white-on-purpose

  61. I am only on chapter three and I am totally engrossed! All of my life I have struggled with the history of our church, and the anti-black priesthood ban…. My testimony of Jesus Christ and his gospel of Love is solid, and I treasure my membership in the church… but, this part of church history was like a cloud casting darkness over a gospel that I love…, I was hesitant to read this book, worried it might be an “anti-Mormon” piece… but I was intrigued and as a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, I had to read it…
    I actually feel like my faith and trust in God has been strengthened! The subject of blacks not allowed to hold the priesthood was a topic I had to tiptoe around in my soul, because it never felt right or “divine” that God would direct a ban on blacks. To read the history and to acknowledge the clear systematic anti- black and white supremacy motivation from our church’s first leaders, gives me the freedom to separate their sins and horrendous decisions from the God that I love and trust..,, It was Them! not Him, that got it wrong. It was always wrong….Although I am shocked and saddened by the church’s history, I do believe in the teachings of the Book of Mormon, and I believe in my Savior and know that he is no respect of persons… I think one of the most important take aways so far for me is that men make mistakes…. and Gods church has mistakes, because of men…. and I believe our church still has a long way to go, and God will continue to help us become a more loving and inclusive religion the more we allow His influence to soften our hearts to change…❤️

  62. Anonymous says:

    I think this is an important topic, but I really do wish Brooks had been more historically rigorous. The problem with her approach is that in one case I’m aware of, some of her activism is based on a historical error that would have been corrected if she’d consulted the primary source instead of relying on a newspaper article about it. She kicked off a statue removal campaign based on misattributing a story about extreme violence to the wrong person–and when her error was discovered and conveyed to her, she chose not to correct the social media posts where she repeated the story to drum up support for her campaign (it’s obviously too late to correct the book, but the social media would’ve been an easy fix). So the error keeps perpetuating and seems to demonstrate her priorities at the tricky intersection of scholarship and activism. Everyone who has written a book knows there’s no such thing as error-free scholarship, but I’m nevertheless uncomfortable with how this approach is playing out. Historical rigor is exactly what this crucial topic needs or a good cause risks being undercut by doubt.