35 years later, some black Mormons see lingering prejudice

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Amram Musungu, a Mormon from Kenya, is a leader in Swahili Mormon ward in Salt Lake City but says the church still has lingering prejudice, even 35 years after it lifted the ban on blacks entering the priesthood. RNS photo courtesy Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune.

Amram Musungu, a Mormon from Kenya, is a leader in Swahili Mormon ward in Salt Lake City but says the church still has lingering prejudice, even 35 years after it lifted the ban on blacks entering the priesthood. RNS photo courtesy Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune.

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SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) 35 years after Mormons allowed blacks to join the priesthood, some black Mormons say prejudice continues to fester within Mormonism because members are uncomfortable talking about it.

  • gilhcan

    What did any dark skinned people expect. The Mormons have always been loaded with prejudice. I’ve never met a Mormon who wasn’t severely prejudiced against people of dark skin, people of different religious beliefs, and people like Mitt Romney who use their religious connections and then claim to believe that God has rewarded their hard work to become wealthy. They always leave out the advantages of their church connections.

    Mormon beliefs mire them in illiteracy that begets their prejudices. I have a cousin who, with his former pole dancing wife, is a convert to Mormonism–because their daughter before them saw the light of Mormonism and converted. The parents never previously attended any church. The daughter even moved to Salt Lake City to snag a Mormon husband. And the parents later followed her–and left all their other kids behind.

    While visiting them one weekend, I asked if I might join them when they attended their church or stake, whatever it’s called. I found the service vapid, the strangest substitute for theology I have ever heard. The communion was water and regular white bread. Another friend of mine, a former Mormon, referred to it as the Wonder Bread Communion.

    After the regular service, I joined my cousin who was supposedly mentoring a group of young kids in their Sunday School class. He didn’t seem to know much more than the little ones. He certainly didn’t know anything about the learning techniques of young kids. (I taught school junior high and elementary school for almost 40 years.) The woman who was supposed to be the lead teacher only went from table to table asking for rote responses to silly questions–as if the kids understood anything of the content.

    I liked my cousin, but he was a terrible racial bigot, as was his former pole-dancing wife. I could never see how any person of dark skin might consider Mormonism as a friendly religious home.

  • Dale

    “…as was his former pole-dancing wife”

    Gilhcan, as Christians we are taught to forgive others, as we have been forgiven. Perhaps her past is something you should leave in the past?

  • Jay

    A black Mormon trying to excuse racism in her faith is ridiculous and pathetic… Most Mormons know the book of Mormon more than they know the bible. If they read both they’d know the two books are not in harmony.

  • Dan

    Jay – – – I was born and raised Lutheran (Missouri Synod) and was raised reading AND STUDYING the Bible . . . then, as an adult I read the Book of Mormon. . . they fit together. . . they both teach of Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior and Redeemer for all. . .

  • Whether the two books are in harmony, both the Bible and the Book of Mormon have been (and undoubtedly are so today, by some) interpreted in a way that justifies anti-Black racism. The Noah story in Genesis played a big role in the Mormon Black-priesthood ban.

  • Nigel

    In 1978 I had been a member for 11 years. Many of us in the UK believed that before the millenium blacks would hold the priesthood. We understood that in the early church of Jesus Christ gentiles (non jews) did not hold the priesthood; in the days of Moses it was only the Levites.
    1978 was earlier than we had dared hope, but it was received with great joy. I had know locally one family and another mixed race family – they were our friends and their time had come.
    Personally, I find it puzzelling that any prejudice should exist. Good and bad seems spread uniformly between all races. The Man I worship is the Middle Eastern Jew that gave His life that I may be forgiven of my sins.

  • “We understood that in the early church of Jesus Christ gentiles (non jews) did not hold the priesthood.”

    What biblical or historical evidence supports the idea that there was an early rule against gentile Christian priests?

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  • Phillip Smith

    Oh I wish the time would come right away or at least soon that we would relate to each other as true brothers and sisters, that love and kindness would be shown by all, that we would be judged not by our skin color but by the content of our character (paraphrasing Martin Luther King). The answer is found in large part in Moroni 7:48 where we are told to pray to God to be filled with love for others. I look forward to this day and doing all In can to have this love.

  • Jay

    They both teach Jesus is indeed lord, but thats it. Doctrinally and the BoM and the Bible are incompatible. For instance, the bible says “DO NOT GO BEYOND THE THINGS WRITTEN” and not to “ADD TO or TAKE AWAY FROM SCRIPTURE”. The Apostles CAUTIONED against those who would bring teachings NOT from the Gospel. Thats just the basics. The has VIOLATED all these prohibitions when it comes to The Bible. I could go further but i believe ive made my point. The BoM is an apostasy from the Bible Canon.

  • Barry

    God is good. So kind of him to decide black people were finally worthy of the priesthood. Were they worthy prior to Joseph Smith discovering the golden plates? Only God knows that, but at least they were worthy for a short time while Mr. Smith was leading the church. Then He said ‘No’ after Mr. Smith died, then He said ‘Yes’ again in 1978.

    God is good.

  • gcrobmd

    We all like to revise history to suit our agendas—including the critics.

    Bruce R. McConkie was honest and open with his opinions. What this story doesn’t tell is that when the leadership was discussing the change in priesthood policy, they asked Elder McConkie, who was an outstanding scriptorian, if there was any scriptural contradiction to the new policy. He answered there was none. When the policy was formulated, he advised to announce it immediately. When the policy was announced, he publically stated, “Forget everything I have ever written on the subject; new light and knowledge has been received.”

    The critics make it sound like the Mormon Church is the only prejudiced group in the world. There was another prominent group with millions of members who still maintained that the Bible supported slavery until well after the change in Mormon priesthood policy. The “curse of Ham” was not original with the Mormon Church.

    The Mormon Church publically apologized to the leader of a large African American church group, I believe the AME.

    In my corner of the South, in LDS Church congregations, there were never any separate congregations, never any separate pews or drinking fountains or sacrament trays or bathrooms. Mixed couples were never forbidden or banished as church policy.

    The LDS policy of racial difference was changed without a single march, without attack dogs or water cannons or arrests. A single line of words was sufficient. And the change was greeted with jubilation. I admire the courage and tireless persistence of President Kimball who prepared the human side for the change in policy.

  • Kimberlee

    Just wanted to comment on this statement in the article: “Such racist remarks exist in every faith and group, of course, but some Latter-day Saints see the persistence as troubling.” This is not correct. The Baha’i Faith, which by the way was founded in the same time frame as the LDS Church, but in the middle east, has had as a pillar of its principles from the very beginning, the elimination of prejudices of all kinds. As it spread west into Europe and America, it had to deal with the racism it found here. In its own quiet, peaceful, and law-abiding way, it challenged racism head on. When Abdul-Baha, son of the founder, came to the USA a hundred years ago to educate and help guide the new Baha’i community here, he shocked society by holding integrated meetings, encouraging integrated marriage (the first integrated Baha’i marriage took place in 1914), and urging Baha’is to travel, write, lecture and become champions for racial amity. He cautioned that if America did not deal with the problem then, her streets would later run with blood. Four Race Amity conferences were held between 1921 and 1924, an historic achievement by American Bahá’ís. In 1912, a black Baha’i, Louis Gregory, was elected to the first national administrative body for the Baha’i Faith in America (we have no clergy) and was further elected in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s as a member of the national assembly of the Baha’is of the United States and Canada. We have been a racially diverse and multi-ethnic religion since our founding.

  • Allan

    I have found that many Black converts to our LDS Church are horrified to learn that they are expected to pay a tithe to the Church just like the White Mormons are. Sure, this had been covered in the discussions, but they never dreamed that this would be applied to them.

  • Allan

    I have had contact with mostly White Baha’is through the Esperanto movement, and some of them are just as racist as any Mormon.

  • Jeanne Rodgers

    The article seems accurate on the past & present doctrines. Perhaps you should visit an LDS ward such as mine. Our Bishop has dark skin, although he is darker than most self-identified “black” people in our government, he appears to be of Pacific Island descent. I have never felt it necessary to ask him. He was adopted as an infant by a wealthy white couple in our ward. His wife is white and his children (five I think) are various shades between his and his wife’s color. We have several mixed race couples in our upper middle-class ward made up as far as I know by very literate well-educated white people. Too bad we can’t all wake up some morning and have our skins be purple with green spots!

  • Dale

    Allan, that may be so. I have had (AFAIK) no discussions with members of the Bahai faith, so I can’t place your observation into any personal context. However, I would note that the principles of a religion are not always supported by the faithful. Polls of US Catholics regularly show that they are in disagreement with Church teachings.

  • Maury Miloff

    I have been an active Baha’i for 40 years in America, Africa and Asia. I have never run across a single overt act or word of prejudice. That would not be acceptable in Baha’i culture. Institutionally, there is systemic anti discrimination whereby if there is a tie in votes, designated minority person would be selected. That us not to say that every Baha’i is freed fom prejudice. All of us are tainted by the environment in which we live. My point is that the effort to overcome prejudice and be one with all people is CENTRAL to the religion. This can be seen by the large number of interracial marriages and the strong attraction to diversity in the Baha’i Faith. Do we need to do much, much more to weave bonds of friendship and understanding? Definitely. Sins of omission and lost opportunities in interpersonal relations – yes. Privately held racist views – possibly but it would be ibviously highly unBaha’i like. Sins of commission? i have never seen any.

  • [“…They occasionally hear racist comments from fellow believers, such as “black skin is cursed” or “when you become more righteous, your skin will grow lighter.” Some report being called the “N-word.”]

    The problem with this article is that it tries to pin the prejudice on antiquated church doctrine. The truth is that the prejudice comes from the “sacred” scripture of Mormons — the Book of Mormon — and NOT church doctrine. It’s not a particular “reading/interpretation” of the scripture. It’s plainly stated. Were I so inclined, I’d quote them.

    The Book of Mormon is mainly about two groups of people — the Nephites and the Lamanites, descendents of Lehi’s sons Nephi and Laman. Lehi is said to have left Jerusalem during the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah and brought his family to North America. Nephi had a “good heart” and Laman had a “dark heart”. Eventually all Lamanites received dark skin as a “curse from God”, presumably to match their hearts. At one point the narrative speaks of an outside group about to fight the Nephites. The Lamanites decided to join forces with the Nephites to repel the threat. “God” is said to be so pleased at this that (at least for the ones who fought along side the Nephites) he turned their skins BACK WHITE!

    So is there any wonder that many Mormons still consider all dark skinned peoples evil? Their own freaking “sacred text” says it’s so!! I don’t understand why any intelligent Black person would BE a Mormon. I tried to contact former NBA player Thurl Bailey on his Facebook page for some clarification of that but he declined, saying only that his personal beliefs are just that — personal. I truly wanted the dialog because I’d heard him speak and he is CLEARLY an intelligent being. But sadly religion with deities are all about manipulation and indoctrination; and even the intellectuals can be brainwashed.

  • Dohn

    Come on listen to your self, you are grouping all Mormons it this neat little box to fit your own views. What I fine there are all walks of life and what is the big difference is ignorance. Have found that bigotism runs in all faiths and in all races. We all have to try to understand, first ourselfs and rid the bigot ghosts in our own life’s. Then truly reach out to the human family and truly learn and love and forgive. We need to reach down and pick and pick up others.
    Lastly education, family support and exposure will break down the barriers .

  • Dohn

    Hello, Jay how about religious bigotry! They life of Christ in your eyes and heart in your soul is what matters, it’s all good if it changes ones heart to be Christ like. Time to get us and there’s and we are first Out of it. Most of all this rest in old time religion bargaining for its patrons. W e are all better than this.

  • George

    Church policies change due to economic motives not due to revelation. BJU changed its policy on interracial marriage for two reasons: (1) More and more students come from abroad and this ban may not be helpful in attracting foreign students; (2) they had already indoctrinated the members and these members will pass on the bigotry to future generations by forbidding them from dating interracially. Similarly the LDS church found it convenient to accept blacks as members and to priesthood for two reasons: (1) There was a need to get new members and black people were ripe for conversion and in the pre-internet era did not know anything about white people’s bigotry; (2) Same as BYU…members who are indoctrinated pass their bigotry to future generations.

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  • Generosus El

    Where is your church. What state and city? I live in Florida but I want to go study in Utah

  • Generosus El

    How would they know they are not in harmony I’d like to know because I just started studying and haven’t found contradictions yet

  • ELi

    oh please! You know he is Samoan

  • ELi

    Bottom line:

    Mormonism should have been stopped a long long time ago!

  • ELi

    George you are wrong.
    Blacks were admitted to the priesthood because a case was heard by the Supreme Court of the United States which grew out of a lawsuit which was filed by a black member of church who wanted to hold the priesthood

    The day before the court made its ruling the profit in Utah had a miraculous revelation from God that blacks could hold the priesthood. Wow what timing.

    After the court ruling many white Families left the church.