On Being a Latter-day Saint and a Black American: Living With the Past

Updated on November 1, 2019
Rodric29 profile image

Rodric has been a member of Christ's Church since he was 15 years old. He has a lot to say about his religion.

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As a Black person, how hard is it to know that the church I love once had living prophets who taught that my legacy, my family is to represent Satan on the earth as a curse and would not get the blessing that all other humans get in mortality?

Black Latter-day Saint (Black "Mormons") are no exception to this behavior of Ethnocentrism. Proof can be found on the web decrying the racist past of some adherents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or lobbying Afrocentric versions of Church doctrines. Being Black and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ is not limited to the perception of White supremacy but scans the spectrum of ideas as a million members of the Church of approximately 16 million identify as Black—with thousands living in the US as a unique minority and budding community of awareness.

Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive Dissonance | Source

In 1978, the Church ended a policy of exclusion towards people of Black African heritage from participating in the highest sacraments of the Church in its holy temples and ordination as ministers. Because all men in the Church are expected to hold the priesthood to bless their families, it was a devastating blow to new converts to the faith to realize they had joined an organization that taught the only reason a Black person could not be a priesthood holder or temple attender was due to his or her race.

To explain the reason this policy went into effect under the leadership of Brigham Young, second leader and prophet of the Church, well-intentioned members and leaders suggested theories that Blacks were the seed of Cain and therefore actively refrained from pre-mortal support of Jesus Christ. Black members of the church taught this fabrication along with the Whites members.

The leaders of the church in the First Presidency, the presiding council of the church, taught that the restriction was not a policy, but a directive from God. Of course, the members taught what our leaders taught. The members of the First Presidency are prophets. Why would the membership advance something different? If Moses said the Lord revealed to him to do a thing, who would disagree with him? This was the position of the Latter-day Saints.

Brigham Young
Brigham Young | Source

Can a Prophet Be Racist?

The better question is: Can a prophet have major flaws and still be called of God?

Brigham Young advanced his theories and spoke them as if God revealed them directly to him face-to-face about Black people and our natures. After declaring at a territorial gubernatorial address in Deseret (Utah) that the Negro shall not receive the priesthood until the Lord tells him otherwise because Blacks are not to lead or rule over Whites due to Cain's curse and Ham's curse through his son Cainan, President Young supported his stance with some distressing dogma.

He taught that black skin was the curse from Cain who slew Abel, and slavery or to be the servants of servants was the curse placed upon Ham's posterity. He never supported the abuse of Blacks and always considered us human. That, however, does not take away the decades of abuse members heaped on the faithful few Black members of the Church because some White members felt justified by President Young's racial leanings. He explained in warning what should happen to those who would seek to propagate with Blacks. Said he,

Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so! (exclamation point added)

President Young was the ordained prophet of God! Who would question his words? As a faithful member of the Church, I did not and do not question the words of this prophet.

Brigham Young on Black Mormons

To support his view of things, Brigham Young declared that Blacks are NOT:

  1. to lead White people.
  2. to rule in the Church
  3. to receive the authority to use God's priesthood.
  4. to receive temple blessings.
  5. to intermingle with other races in marriage.

He taught all of this to avoid the 1847 fiasco with William McCray at Winterquaters, Nebraska, before the Church moved West to Utah, from happening again. I mention this because following this episode started the policy of excluding Blacks from some of the blessings of the Church.

President Young served the Church as the prophet for over four decades, enough time to cast his shadow of influence over the Church well past his ministry into the 1970s when the revelation to extend the priesthood to all worthy males went to President Spencer W. Kimball.

Brigham's view and leadership cultivated the European idea of Christianity in the form of his cultural leanings and those of the other Saints, all of whom were European stock just as it was taught in other American churches at the time.

Perpetuation of Racism

Brigham Young was not the only teacher to uphold the exclusion of Blacks of African descent from the higher sacraments of the Church.

In a statement to a BYU President, Earnest L Wilkinson, who spend his career attempting to progress the Church university to become more competitive with the other schools int he nation and world, by the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints August 17, 1951, was revealed the standing policy of the church. This statement occurred when the BYU president searched for a solution regarding governmental pressure for schools to be inclusive to Blacks, the Civil Rights movement. It read:

The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. 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 father‘s rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God.‘ They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be re-moved from the seed of Cain, and receive all the blessings we are entitled.... taken from John Lewis Lund's The Church and the Negro, p.89.

Every consequential leader succeeding Brigham Young of the Church upheld this policy as if it were from God until President Kimball's revelation. There is no adequate explanation provided why the leaders of the Church did this other than they assumed the Church policy regarding Blacks of African descent was correct at that time.

Possible Reasons for the Ban of Exclusion Before 1978

Several explanations were given to me over the years. None of them provide a socially acceptable conclusion that will appeal to every person. As a faithful Saint, and follower of Christ, sometimes the answer is not provided. There will always exist people who will advance ideas, however.

  • God saw no willing servant who could receive instruction to end the policy until President Kimball.
  • It was not in His interest to end the policy at that time.
  • The leadership could have been wrong about the whole thing.
  • The need to address the issue never arose until Civil Rights started to become an issue in the United States
  • A temple was constructed in a part of the world where many of the people were of Black African descent who were not easily identifiable; so, leaders finally sought revelation.
  • The people were too racist to handle serving as equals with Blacks in the Church.
  • Blacks receiving equal status would hinder the growth of the Church at a critical time when the Church needed support from the racists, but otherwise, faithful members.

This list is not exhaustive, but it could continue. As a Black person, how hard is it to know that the church I love once had living prophets who taught that my legacy, my family is to represent Satan on the earth as a curse and would not get the blessing that all other humans get in mortality? It is mighty hard. It hurts. Trusting God is the key. Humans are not perfect, but most Saints strive to be. How can a faithful Saint trust that what he or she hears from the leadership is from God if the words he or she hears or reads are not always the words FROM GOD!?

The Answer to the Question Is...

Yes! A prophet can have major flaws and still be a prophet, including the flaw of being racist.

Sure, God could have cleared things up, but He didn't. This is the kind of stuff that many Black Americans struggle with as Saints. Most other Christain Blacks just started their own churches. Because we know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord's Church, only God can authorize such a radical occurrence. We have to be humble as our Master Jesus commands and wait on God for an explanation. That is a very unpopular answer in today's society of doing it "my way," "having it my way," or "I'm just doing me."

So... What color is God anyway?
So... What color is God anyway?

Why did God not take the time to correct this easy to clear up item? It is a sticking point for many people of color, Black people. Why not prove to the Whtie people that God is not Caucasian and let the world unite under the true Black God, or insert whatever race God?

The Restoration of the Gospel is an ongoing process, and restoring the people to the truths of the gospel has more value than revealing an accurate description of the mortal Jesus, or the importance of the race of God—two things that have no eternal value for anyone to know other than to pit racists people against each other further.

  • The White Side Would Say: I told you we were right. Of course, God is White.
  • The Black Side Would Say: I told you we were right. God is Black. You should have listened!
  • The Saints (be of whatever racial mixture) Will Say: Father. He is all of our Father.

The truth of the matter is that someone is going to have their feelings hurt in the end. The truth will come out and all glory be to God.

Everything in today's society is so politicized.
Everything in today's society is so politicized.

God and religion are no different. Each group has a theory on who and what God is and how He looks though modern prophets have seen Him. God is Black to those who need Him to be Black and of Asian stock of those who need Him to be so. No one genuinely wants to know the truth about who God is and what He looks like who fears to know the truth may differ from their cherished held views, even among the Saints. People want validation, especially minorities—the world over!

As a part of the conditioning from European Christology, God is White. Jesus has blond hair and blue eyes. When the Gentile converts started flooding into the Church of Jesus Christ during the centuries following the death of the apostles, the Jews no longer dominated the religion. As people do, the new dominant group of White people began to compare and identify God and Jesus with themselves. No matter that the Jews live in the desert regions of Africa, called the Middle East in modern times, but all the founding leaders of Christianity became European because it is the Europeans who took Christianity to the rest of the world, at least the form that evolved from the Bishoprick at Rome, which became the Roman Catholic Church.

Restoration

The history of the evolution of the Church of Christ after the death of the apostles is one of sad apostasy as no other apostles stood forward to reorganize once the last one disappeared from Church interaction. In councils did the leaders left to themselves meet to regulate the faith, but dissidence led to the splintering of the Church, even before the authority to regulate the church died with Peter.

No longer was there a person to declare the mind and will of the Lord. Bishops remained only who, with other leaders, formed around the largest churches of Christ to maintain the truth that Jesus suffered for sins, died, and was resurrected. That truth remained. The need for apostles and prophets and other officers of the Church of Christ lost their meaning as the centuries went on. Years passed with no one claiming an apostleship or prophetic mantle of significance until Joseph Smith 15 hundred years later in 1830. He reorganized the Church of Christ under the direction of God, which later became officially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by revelation from Jesus Christ Himself.

The point is, after almost 2000 years of European domination, of course, the Gospel is significantly European in ideology and culture. In other words, God is White and Jesus has blond hair and blue eyes.

The most important part of the Gospel survived the apostasy, which is that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of humanity. What did not make it through the apostasy of the Church was restored in the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ. It bears repeating: the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an ongoing process. The fullness of the gospel will not be completed until Christ returns in glory giving each person the answers he or she needs to the burning questions of why.

So, can we trust the prophets if we know they make mistakes sometimes? It is God we should trust, but I give another question here. Who would we trust if everyone had to be perfect in everything he or she did and said before we heeded him or her?

In my next article, find out what President Russell M. Nelson, the current president of the Church and prophet of God has to say how to know when the leaders are speaking the word from God.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Rodric Anthony

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