Beliefs Columns Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

Fake Mormon news story goes viral, claiming the LDS Church has apologized for racism

A fabricated press release claiming to be from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. May 17, 2018.

The LDS First Presidency had a historic meeting with NAACP leaders this morning, but the organizations’ resulting joint announcement was less of a lightning rod than a very convincing fake news release that apologized for the Church’s past racism.

In the fake story, published with a URL that was only one character off from the Church’s official website of mormonnewsroom.org, LDS Pres. Russell M. Nelson was quoted as issuing a full apology:

Today, as Prophet, Seer and Revelator, and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day [sic] Saints, I offer a full unqualified apology for the error of racism which was taught from this office and in the tabernacle and over the pulpits of our churches the world over. I am joined by my counselors in the First Presidency and the full Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in making this apology and we collectively bear witness and testimony of the devastating effects of racism which were perpetuated by leaders of the church in the past.

The faux statement went on to specify some of the racist acts the Church had perpetuated, such as teaching “false and hurtful ideas about curses, skin color, and spiritual worthiness,” and excluding anyone with black skin from the Church’s temple rituals. That was the Church’s policy until 1978.

The website was clearly calculated to exactly emulate the layout and design of the Church’s official website. For comparison, here is a screen shot of this morning’s fake news story.

A fabricated press release claiming to be from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. May 17, 2018.

 

And here is a screen shot of this morning’s actual news release from Mormon Newsroom, released shortly thereafter.

The real press release from the Mormon Newsroom of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. May 17, 2018.

 

In the Church’s actual statement, issued jointly with the NAACP, no mention was made of past racism at all. Rather, the organizations called for “greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect.” They pledged to work together at the local level in the future on at least one service project to help “increase education and wage improvement.”

Details of the fake news release—fonts, sizes, colors, white space, and language—appear to have been carefully arranged to mimic the official Church’s site, with the exception of two subtle errors regarding the Church’s full name (it’s Latter-day Saints, not Latter-Day Saints or Latter Day Saints).

Mormons’ reactions to the fake apology tended toward initial joy followed by grief and anger, all playing out in real time on social media.

“I was fooled by this earlier and had some really painful whiplash,” said Natalie Prado, a North Carolina legal administrator, on Facebook. “There was a much better, less cruel way for this person to make a point. It’s deeply unkind to play with people who are hurting.”

Prado told RNS that she first discovered the fake story on Twitter through the stunned but jubilant reaction of Mormon convert Janan Graham-Russell, an African American doctoral student at Harvard.

Russell, who has written previously about the tortured legacy of racism that persists in Mormon culture, soon had her joy replaced by anguish as she learned the news release was a cruel hoax:

It is unclear who created the fake news story or what they hoped it would accomplish. According to a search on Who.Is, the domain name was first registered two days ago in Ontario, Canada.

LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins told RNS that the Church’s Public Affairs Department did not know about the fake statement’s background or provenance. “We haven’t provided any comment on it, other than to let people know it is a fake site,” he said.

In the meantime, plans are on track for the LDS Church’s “Be One” celebration in Salt Lake City on June 1, where LDS leaders will join African American members and musicians, including Gladys Knight, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Church extending priesthood and temple blessings to African Americans.


Related posts:


 

 

 

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

49 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • So the takeaway is that the LDS still hasn’t apologized for the racism of its past?

  • It seems like this was done by someone looking to embarrass the Church in the lead-up to the 40th anniversary event. Now they have to get out there and say, in essence, “No, we are not apologizing for our past racism.”

  • Yes, shaming the Church into action seems to have been the goal, with little or no thought to the way the author was toying with the hopes and feelings of Mormons of color.

  • Do you think they’re really trying to shame them into action though? Or just trying to troll the Church?

  • Like the “Single Men of the age of ____ are a menace to society” the power is in the cultural truth not the absolute provenance.

  • The irony is that the “fake story” is that is what the church morally should have done if it had any humility and shame.

  • Does Moses 7:22 call for apology or clarification? Seriously, how should it be explained?

  • Of course they were trolling the church and unfortunately hurting a lot of people at the same time. If they were really concerned about the church members they would not have done it this way.

  • Since it isn’t known who did it, they themselves could be Mormons. Maybe they felt the point was more important than some folks feelings, especially since they’ve put church leadership on the spot. The LDS Church had a few ways to respond that would have been useful, but all that they have said it that it’s fake news. That’s someone else’s schtick!

  • to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Church extending priesthood and temple blessings to African Americans

    Shouldn’t that be “renewing the extending of the priesthood and temple blessings”, because Joseph Smith ordained a couple of African-Americans to the priesthood in the 1840s?

  • From my readings there were 5-6 black males ordained to the priesthood prior to Brigham’s declaration.

  • Hmm, I’m not interested in the church issuing an apology for one reason:

    # Moses did not apologize/deny for disobeying the Lord when he used his staff to touch the rock and bring forth water for the people, which was against what the Lord had commanded him to do.

    The Lord had told Moses to make the people go without in order to humble them and Moses deliberately disobeyed as he thought he knew better than God.
    Moses’ punishment was that he knew he stalled the Lord’s plan for Israel and he wasn’t allowed to enter the promised land.

    My view of black males being denied the priesthood by Brigham is that Brigham was so angered by the claims of one black male who Brigham had given the priesthood to.

    Q- Why was Brigham angered so by the individual?
    A- Because Brigham didn’t have the knowledge Joseph Smith had. Brigham had his theory called the Adam God theory in which Brigham put forward the idea that God the father might be Adam, as that would explain where the father gained his body.

    It was a totally incorrect theory as Joseph (previously) and later prophets said that the father went through his own human trial alright, but not on our earth.

    See, what angered Brigham was that the black male who Brigham ordained to the priesthood became a bishop and then began taking extra wives without approval AND *he began claiming he was resurrected Adam* which according to Brigham’s Adam God theory, would mean that man was claiming he was God the father.
    In a moment of blinding frustration, Brigham touched the rock, so to speak. He did it because he lacked the knowledge, in the same way that Moses did when he touched the rock with his staff.

    Q- Do I have a problem with the whole episode?
    A- Hmm, not really, as Moses also made a mistake, while believing he was doing good for the people.

    One of my friends asks this question of all:
    # Which is better- to have a theory or to have nothing?

    We all make rash decisions based on us having no knowledge while we also make rash decisions based on our incorrect theories/beliefs.

    I do know that Moses disobeying the Lord temporarily stalled the progress the Israelites were making, and that was a lesson that Moses needed to learn.

  • I guess Moses wrote racist scripture. Joseph translated it. Brigham perpetuated it as did every president of the church up to Spencer W.

    Who apologizes for institutional Racism? The instigator or the perpetrators? Or the Church itself? Some guidance on how to view this scripture would be helpful. Call Moses a Racist and I’m good with that I guess. Call Joseph a Racist and I’ll go along on that. Label Brigham and all the Presidents of the church to 74 Racist and I’m still OK. But given modern revelation with Christ at the helm and I’m going to pull up short of calling the Lord racist. If it’s a human error, apologize, fix it and move on.

  • Hmm, the First Presidency & 12 had to agree in order to lift the ban. Took a loooong time to get them to agree… Harold B Lee remarked that the negroe would have the priesthood ‘over his dead body’, and he soon died (2 years later) after making that remark.

    I have spent some time pondering this and there’s one other possibility that we don’t know of (because we don’t see as God sees) and that was the damage caused by the rioting that followed Martin Luther King’s assassination in 68.

    What many don’t appreciate is that there was rioting in 90 cities across the USA that lasted a week- it was only Bobby Kennedy coming forth and telling the black community that he knew what it took to forgive following the murder of his brother 4 years earlier. Bobby Kennedy subdued rioting blacks right across the USA with that speech.

    Now, here’s my theory and you can dis it as you please but just consider it first:

    If the Lord had have lifted the ban earlier then the racial make up of Utah would have been significantly different to that of 1968.

    # It is not for the Lord to dictate by means of force- all must *choose* to have the spirit and to listen to the spirit.
    I don’t believe for a second that those who are so angry that are driven to raping/looting/murdering/arson in a riot will allow the spirit to guide them.
    I do think it’s likely that rioters would have worked to physically destroy the church in Utah though.
    The ban was lifted about a decade after that era.

    Could the Lord have allowed the ban to stay in order to preserve the Church? Like I said, I don’t know the Lord’s big-picture mind. He allows evil to fight evil to bring about a good quite often in the scriptures.

  • This is the biggest pile of BS that I have ever read perpetuated against the LDS Church!

  • “If the Lord had have lifted the ban earlier then the racial make up of Utah would have been significantly different to that of 1968.

    # It is not for the Lord to dictate by means of force- all must *choose* to have the spirit and to listen to the spirit.
    I don’t believe for a second that those who are so angry that are driven to raping/looting/murdering/arson in a riot will allow the spirit to guide them.
    I do think it’s likely that rioters would have worked to physically destroy the church in Utah though.
    The ban was lifted about a decade after that era.”

    This is an excellent example of rationalizing Racism.

  • What conditions forced the Jews return to Israel?

    # The answer to that question doesn’t mean I’m rationalizing the holocaust.

  • Great Idea, reminds me of the yes men and what they did with Dow chemical and Bhopal. Unfortunately, these entities will never apologize on their own, it takes bad PR to pry even a whiff of humility out of them.

  • Human errors? Love it.

    So much for divine inspiration, divine leadership, prophets and revelators. If you’re caught with your holy pants down, simply declare it human error, pull them back up, and carry on. Eventually, you can even apologize to the victims of the errors, if you are so inclined and if anyone brings it up.

  • The all powerful god could have just preserved the church by fiat. Instead, he allowed injustice to represent holiness, as he has done so often.

    All of this is justification after the fact, by blaming god instead of fallible humans following their prejudices and pretending it’s all about god.

  • What is wrong with people?

    I acknowledge finding out the hoax was a hoax was deeply disappointing, but to start blaming the person who called out the church for its racist past and refusal to own up to their error is the one they’re angry at? Not the church itself for refusing to follow its own doctrine of repentance that it demands of its members?

    It hurt because this is a real and important concern that needs to be brought forth, like this brilliant piece of satire did.

  • “Instead, he allowed injustice to represent holiness, as he has done so often.”

    I don’t know the mind of God but the Lord allowed the ban to last a long time, at least with the theory I have put up here, the time of the ban’s lifting comes *after* the USA has experienced the worst destruction from race rioting.

    Yeah, from my reading Brigham over-reacted in the way he prescribed a ban on all black males receiving the priesthood but from his mind, he probably thought ‘there are so few negroes who have been given this gift and look at how they destroy it and the church around them’.

    We don’t know the mind of God… and the official Church policy is that it doesn’t know why the ban was implemented to begin with.

  • You know? Fake news announcing that corporations have done or will do what they SHOULD have done all along is probably the most effective kind of fake news. (Yes, LDS is just a corporation.)

  • They put the Mormon Church in the position of publicly announcing that they are not apologizing for racism.

    Well played.

  • Bovine fecal matter.

    Sorry, but did you read what you wrote? Your deity sounds pretty weak and pathetic.

  • We don’t know the mind of God…

    Yep. But that has never stopped people from speaking for their deity of choice to justify fraud, hate, and every manner of nastiness.

  • Sorry, that sounds what Bambi would say after joining Happy Deerhunters of America.

    Mormonism is racist. People who are comfortable in denial don’t like people making the truth plain. But the messenger isn’t the problem.

  • Exposing racism is hurtful!?

    Perhaps one should go after the source of the racism, not the one that exposes the racism.

    If the hope for an apology then disappointment that it is not forthcoming “hurt a lot of people”, doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know about the club you chose?

  • The Mormon church could have said
    “We didn’t write that press release, but we should have. We affirm it.”

    That they chose not to says it all.

    All the people claiming the hoax was hurtful are missing the most important point.

  • The church doesn’t have to do anything.

    It truly doesn’t have to do a thing here.

    The world is not the socialist dictatorship that you wish it was.

  • Nope, the Mor(m)on Church does not have to do anything.

    And the rest of us do not have to respect them. In fact, we are free to think them a bunch of racists who did and still do believe nonsense.

  • non se·qui·tur
    ˌnän ˈsekwədər
    noun
    a conclusion or statement that does not logically follow from the previous argument or statement.

  • You might want to reread your Numbers, because Moses didn’t bring water out of the rock when God commanded him not to. Rather, God had commanded him to bring water out of the rock, but Moses took credit for it.

  • Back up to verses 7 & 8. Also, this is all ante-diluvian, when almost everyone was lost in wickedness.

  • Does this mean that when it comes to attacking the LDS Church and playing with the emotions of its membership, the ends justify the means?

  • I couldn’t say, since I didn’t attack anyone, and neither did the hoax. Well, except for the arrogant leaders. It did attack them.

  • Yeah, I’m sure LDS Church members who are African-American didn’t feel attacked. It’s pretty clear to me that many LDS critics were seething at the sight of LDS leaders meeting with the leaders of the NAACP, so they had to find some way to spoil it, regardless of the consequences.
    Do you honestly believe the leaders of the NAACP were unaware of the LDS Church’s past? Do you think they were foolish to meet with Russell M. Nelson and the other LDS leaders? And do think LDS leaders were unaware of how this would play out in the media?
    It’s pretty clear that when it comes to building bridges of understanding and respect, certain LDS critics lost while the leaders of the LDS Church and the NAACP won. But of course, critics like you won’t see it that way. Ironic since so many critics attack the church for being dishonest with its history and organization, but appaarently its okay for those same critics to lie. That is why, in the mind of these critics, the ends justify the means.

  • Hmm, isn’t it that Moses was commanded to speak to the rock in front of the people and instead he willfully disobeyed and struck the rock twice with his staff ?

  • No, the deity of choice for many on earth has been Marx for the last 150 or so years and marxism allows the mob to justify hate, fraud and all manner of nasty practices.

  • True, but God had instructed Moses in how to bring the water from out of the rock, so He wasn’t refusing to provide the water the people needed.

    Moses’s punishment for a failure in method rather than purpose (not being able to lead the people into their God-granted land) seems extreme. The two reasons I’ve heard offered for that were 1) that Moses’s sin wasn’t just that he had used a different method (which God went along with) but that he claimed personal credit for it; and b) that God was taking advantage of the situation to do Moses a favor, by arranging for him retire before the bloodbath of the conquest of Canaan.

  • Feel better now after that outburst?

    Now can we get back to a rational discussion? Nothing you said has any relevance to my points.

ADVERTISEMENTs