Yes, it’s a hot topic right now with the release of the church article entitled “Race and the Priesthood” on the church’s website, lds.org.
The article admits something that I didn’t learn until after I’d left the church: “…for much of its history—from the mid-1800’s until 1978—the church did not ordain men of black African descent to its priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple endowment or sealing ordinances.”
Essentially, these people were denied the necessary ordinances for the Celestial Kingdom, according to Mormon beliefs, just because of the color of their skin.
The article attempts to blame the teachings behind this on the culture of the time, even going so far as to point out that many Christian churches were racially segregated and in favor of slavery. However, this ignores the fact that is has been Christians and Christian churches that have sought to end slavery in many places in the world because of the Bible’s clear teachings that all are equal in God’s eyes, and revolutionary thinking towards slaves as “brothers” such as is found in the book of Philemon. If Mormon prophets have such a direct line to God, you would think they would come to the same conclusions as Paul did.
The article mentions that Brigham Young began the racist doctrines of the church, but glossed over the sort of things he actually said.
“The Lord put a mark on [Cain]; and there are some of his children in this room. When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity.” Journal of Discourses 2:143
“You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. …the Lord put a mark upon [Cain], which is the flat nose and the black skin.” Journal of Discourses 7:290
“Ham will continue to be the servant of servants, as the Lord has decreed, until the curse is removed. Will the present struggle free the slave? No…our Christian brethren think that they are going to overthrow the sentence of the Almighty upon the seed of Ham. They cannot do that…” Journal of Discourses 10:250
Brigham Young made it clear on more than one occasion that, while blacks would someday receive the priesthood, it was only after every single non-black person who believed already had, after the resurrection of the dead had already taken place. He declared this was the will of the Lord, but Spencer W. Kimball and his first presidency received a different version of the will of the Lord in 1978, when the ban was lifted.
One of the things glaringly lacking in the essay is an apology for the priesthood ban. The closest it comes is by saying that the current church condemns all racism, past and present.
As profound and disturbing as the lack of an overt apology is, even more important are the implications of these doctrines and revelations.
For instance, Ezra Taft Benson promised that “the prophet will never lead the church astray” in his Fourteen Fundamentals speech. Other General Authorities such as Wilford Woodruff have expressed the same thing. Yet as this “Race and the Priesthood” article, and the history behind it, clearly show, the prophets from Brigham Young until Spencer Kimball did lead the church astray on this issue.
Furthermore, Brigham Young and other prophets after him presented and taught these teachings as doctrine, as being from God. Since the church’s position on it now is that they were, essentially, wrong and misled by the prejudices of the time, this means that these prophets taught revelation that was not from God. And frankly, I cannot accept that the same God who freed His people from slavery and made laws regarding the release of slaves every seven years in the Old Testament, and who inspired the book of Philemon and statements like that in the Galatians 3:28, could have inspired these revelations. Putting forward doctrine as revealed by God and in line with God's teachings, but which is in reality neither, is false revelation, making those who taught and endorsed it false prophets. (Deut. 18:20-22)
And that is really the big issue here. As important as the history, racism, changes, and lack of real apology in the LDS church are significant issues requiring consideration, the real problem rests in the fact that these men who are supposedly prophets of God gave and supported false doctrine for over 100 years.
They had no support from the Bible. The slavery practiced in the Bible was not based on skin color, and God even had a provision for the releasing of slaves every seven years in the Old Testament, since people were usually made slaves to pay off outstanding debt. The New Testament is even more radical, in its open declaration of equality in Christ in Galatians 3:28, and in Paul’s fatherly attitude toward a runaway slave and his exhortations to the slave’s owner to treat the returned slave as a brother and with love in the book of Philemon.
They knew the opposing view from the culture they lived in; they even knew that many Christians opposed slavery. Many of the Mormons came from the North, where slavery was outlawed and abolitionism began. Joseph Smith, though not against slavery for much of his leadership, made his presidential run near the end of his life on a platform of abolitionism. Brigham Young maintained his doctrine in the face of the Civil War, even falsely declaring that the slaves were supposed to remain as slaves and that Christians wouldn’t be successful in freeing them. And even in the 1960’s in the face of the Civil Rights movement, David O. McKay didn’t feel that the priesthood ban should be lifted.
And yet, in the face of all this, the false and racist revelations persisted. There is no way to say that that was from God. Revelation from man, prophecy from man, that is not of God, is false. The one who utters it is a false prophet.
The Mormon Church needs to do more than just issue a public apology for the long-standing racist teachings. They need to admit that the real issue is the false prophets that have led them.