We’ve explored some of the answers members have posted on the mormon.org site in the church’s new profiles campaign. So far, we’ve discussed member answers to questions about polygamy, women& the priesthood, politics, parenting, and prophets. Today, let’s see what members had to say about priesthood & race restrictions.
Here’s the FAQ: Are there restrictions based on race or color concerning who can join the Mormon Church and have the priesthood?
From the “official” response:
There are no race or color restrictions as to who can join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are also no race or color restrictions as to who can have the priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . . .
. . . “We believe in the old adage that many hands make light work. We have a lay priesthood, and every worthy man is eligible to receive this priesthood.”
- No. Shortest is best.
- No, and I’m black. It’s clearly less unsavory than a bunch of white people talking about how enlightened we are now.
- “No. I am openly accepted, welcomed and loved by every member of the Mormon church. People are forthright and honest with their questions if their exposure to blacks have been limited and not once have I felt any prejudice only love, the love of Jesus Christ. Black men are accepted into the priesthood, and black men, women, and children serve alongside not only whites but other ethnicities. The church is extremely accepting of ALL races, ethnicities, and cultures and temples exist all over the world for all its members to partake of its blessings. Don’t believe the rumors, there are black mormons and there are mormons of different races and ethnicities. Only the adversary will promote otherwise.”
- “Anyone of any ethnic or racial background is welcome to join the church. All worthy male members of the church can hold the priesthood.”
- “I am proud to be an African American. But something i’m even more proud of is that i hold the Priesthood. There are no restrictions based on race or color. I’ve been a member of this Church for over 10 years and have never encountered racism within it! I serve alongside of brothers and sisters of all colors and races and hold the same priesthood of God as any other brother in the church.”
- “There are no restrictions as to who can join the Church. We are all children of our Father in heaven and all of us are in need of his love, guidance and his gospel plan for us.”
- “No, there are not. I hold the Priesthood, which is an incredible blessing for myself and my family. For a time, there were restrictions, and it seems that there were some bad feelings towards the Church about it, but consider this…In my own personal studies, there was not a single Church or religion in the United States, or throughout the world in the last century who did not practice some kind of segregation or discrimination. Humans are far from perfect (Which is why we ALL need the influence of a loving God in our lives). In the mid 1800′s, leaders of our church particularly suffered major persecution for allowing slaves to live and have membership among the Mormons and were tarred, feathered, beaten, and even driven out of their homes for it. In fact, in 1844 when Joseph Smith (The first prophet of the Latter- Day Church) ran for President of the United States, one of his major platforms was to have slavery abolished by 1850. This did not go down very well in a state that owned slaves as property. Like any other faith, people are striving to be better through living fully the principles taught by the savior, which comes line upon line, precept on precept. With all this said, the Church that has an official declaration that is printed within Latter-Day Saint scripture announcing to the world that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as a whole, do not permit any form of discrimination against color anywhere in the church. I am not aware of many faiths that have an official document like this included in pages of scripture used by all Latter-Day Saints. There is great power in personal revelation and it can be given to all men who seek the Lord and have desires to know his will..It is amazing!!”
- No, we have all races in the church. I think keeping this global and broad is how to avoid tokenism (see below).
- “We have members of all races, from hundreds of nations around the world. The Book of Mormon clearly teaches that God “denieth none that come to him, black and white, bond and free, male and female…and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 27:33).”
- “When I was a missionary in Detroit I had the opportunity to teach people of many different races and backgrounds, including Africans, Hmong, and Chaldeans.” Chaldeans, like Abraham?
- “No there are not…in fact while my husband was attending graduate school in Philadelphia, the majority of the people in the Mormon congregation we attended were African American. The congregation was also led by an African American…President Johnson. There were also entire congregations of Laotian, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Spanish, and Portuguese-speaking members. They were not divided because of race, but rather by language spoken so that the members could hear the Word of God in their own language.”
- “I am proud to sit in class with African, Indian, Hispanic and Asian members in our ward.”
- “Our members are from the vast majority of countries of the world. They comprise of all races, colours, and peoples, from Mongolia to Mauritius, Russia and the Baltic States to Japan, from Ghana to Guatamala, from Korea to Brazil, and most places inbetween. It might surprise some to learn there are more spanish-speaking members of the Church than english-speaking ones. Twice-yearly Conferences of the Church are transmitted to our Church Meetinghouses worldwide in more than 90 languages.”
- “I am the branch president of a small congregation that includes white, Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and Haitian members. We fellowship together in unity born of the Spirit of the Lord. I lived in Alaska for many years. Alaska is truly a “melting pot” for Mormons. Our stake included Tongans, Samoans, Hawaiians, Koreans, Cambodians, Vietnamese, Germans, and Native Americans along with white and African-American members. The same sort of harmony prevailed among us.
- No, and we don’t know why there was a ban. I think it beats speculating anyway.
- “No, there are not. The Priesthood (or right for men to officiate in the church) was not not available to men of African ancestry before 1978. We don’t know all the reasons why this was the case, but assuredly we rejoice in the fact that all worthy men may hold the Priesthood today.”
- “Past restrictions appear to have been grounded in cultural, social and spiritual understanding at the time.” If this is speculation, it’s got the benefit of being likely true.
- “I do not know the meaning of all things, but I know that God loves His children of whatever tint and hue. I know that sometimes He sees fit to try our faith, to give us a tiny sample of the bitter cup so that we can appreciate more fully what He did in draining it to the dregs. I know that there are generational things that need to be worked out in all of us. I know that prophets are inspired and that the Lord has His reasons for everything that happens in His Church. I’ll be interested in finding out the details of this situation when I get to the other side but it’s not an issue now.”
- “For reasons we don’t fully understand, there was a time when the priesthood was not made available to all people.”
- “These kind of questions are very legitimate concerns. No, there is not a restriction. However, at one time this was different. I don’t have the answers but I do know that it’s too easy to get caught up in the thick of thin things and miss entirely the true gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Answers I liked slightly less:
- No, and priesthood is always restricted. This is perhaps the least unpalatable explanation, but I’m not sure it makes a boatload of sense either since the church was being restored. It comes dangerously close to implying it was a doctrine, not a policy, a distinction that I think we’ve been pretty careful to make.
- “For a time the priesthood was restricted to certain bloodlines, as it was in the Old Testament when only the sons of Aaron and Levi were allowed the privilege. However, modern prophets were clear from the beginning that in the Lord’s time the priesthood would be extended to all races, just as the Gospel was finally extended from the nation of Israel to the whole world in the time of the early Apostles.” A few issues here: 1) not sure the term “bloodlines” is accurate or relevant to the ban in practice, and 2) saying that it was clear from the beginning that the PH would be extended is optimistically naive. There are many early leader quotes that contradict that.
- “Priesthood had historically been limited as to who could hold it during ancient times as well as modern, for purposes known only to God. For example, during the time of the Old Testament, only one tribe of the 12 tribes of Israel, (Levi) could hold the Priesthood. In the New Testament times with Jesus only Jews could hold the Priesthood, no gentiles at all. It took a revelation from God to Peter that the Gospel could be preached openly to non-Jews.” This is probably the best version of this type of answer I saw.
- “Priesthood in the LDS Church is not a “right” or title. Rather, it is the authority to act in the name of God. Only those who live God’s teachings to guide their lives can receive it, and even then, it is only active when the priesthood holder is living in harmony with God. As a result, throughout history most people have not been given the priesthood. Not that they will never get it–they’ll just get it when God feels that they are ready for it.” OK, this one sounds like he’s implying that blacks didn’t have it because they weren’t worthy (and by extension, that women are not worthy?)
- No, and women are still restricted. I suppose girl power is great and all, but why bring that up? Actually, the more I think about this, the more I think it’s a bit tone-deaf not to mention it when we’re patting ourselves on the back for being so color-blind.
- “That is true, but the only restrictions now are dependent on worthiness… and gender, I suppose. Men are the only ones allowed to hold the priesthood, but it is part of a wonderful design to keep order. Women have just as much right to the priesthood as men do, but do not themselves hold those keys.” You go, girl!
- No, and I know someone black who is a Mormon. At best this seems like tokenism. At worst, it reminds people how rare black members still are as a result of this practice, and points out (truthfully) that only one race was restricted. This works better if the person we know is someone close to us, not if we knew some black person once who was OK with being Mormon despite the policy.
- “No. Where I live, in the Washington DC area, we have a number of black members. Several years ago, we had a black member of the bishopric. One of the other wards in my stake has a black bishop. Gladys Knight, a black gospel singer, is a convert to the Church and has performed in our Stake Center.”
- Into the Waters of Baptism. “Since the beginning of the Church people of all races have been welcomed into the waters of baptism, given the gift of the Holy Ghost, and equally promised the highest blessings of salvation.” I suppose it does point out the fact that we are baptizers by immersion, but it just seems like a GC-wannabe way of saying people can join the church.
- Bloodlines. “For a time the priesthood was restricted to certain bloodlines” Outside the history channel and the church, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word “bloodlines” used.
Other interesting observations:
- Policy. We seem to be pretty consistently in agreement that the race ban was a policy, not a doctrine.
- Ham doctrine & other racist protestant teachings. Racist speculations about the reasons for the ban (e.g. less valiant in pre-existence) have likewise been put to bed.
What I might have said:
- No, and I’m black (but the picture might give me away).
- I would probably just say “no,” and that the church is global and includes members of all races. I would probably not even mention the PH ban.
What would you say? Did you like the member answers to these questions? Different ones than I did? Discuss.