My “Blacks and the Priesthood” Experience

The following is a letter I wrote to Darron Smith, author of Black And Mormon after he appeared on this podcast on Mormon Stories (mormonstories.com) which is hosted by John Dehlin:

Darron,

Great job on the recent Podcast with John Dehlin! I have enjoyed most all of his Podcasts including this last one and I just wanted to let you know that I think you did a great job in portraying that certain knowledge that needs to be spread amongst the Church. I am very much with you in that there are many things that we should teach or be taught in the Church. The folklore about the Blacks and the Priesthood is definitely a topic that needs to be more openly discussed. Sure, President Hinckley confounded racism in the Priesthood session of General Conference, but he overlooked the root of where LDS racism may lurk. As you know, these same racist ideas, folklore and literature are still taught amidst the members in a “hush-hush” tone, or for the missionaries it is even called “deep doctrine”! Like as if they are part of the “mysteries of the Gospel”. My brother, on an LDS mission in Kentucky, told me he was once in the home of the supposedly “most knowledgeable” older man in the Stake on Church doctrine, and he taught these same racist ideas to my brother. So yes, even some of the “most informed” are misinforming others ’till today.

My personal experience with the topic of Blacks and the Priesthood goes like this, for me personally: I was raised in Provo next to three Black families during my whole childhood and up to High School. One family was Dominican and I did not have very much contact with them but the other two have been a part of my life until today. The first family is an African-American family that moved into my neighborhood from Michigan. The boys my age quickly became my best friends for years. We passed the Sacrament together for a few years, too. Today, none of them are active in the Church although still abiding by the Word of Wisdom and generally being good in all areas. I will get back to them in a minute.

So throughout my childhood I was raised with Black friends. The questions came when the second Black family moved into my neighborhood from Zaire (now Congo), Africa. My new friend was (in my mind) overly-dedicated to the Church, and to being righteous. He would not take part in any of our childish pranks or filthy jokes or movies. Like I said he was that 110% obedient guy. The first time I really thought about the Priesthood Ban, however, was when my African friend asked me to inquire of my Seminary teachers about why there was a ban until 1978. I remember simply not ever caring about it before (you might call that my subconscious racism as a White, maybe), but it simply was not an issue for me until my Black friend was having trouble understanding it. I remember when asking my Seminary teachers about it and no one had an answer or a talk for me to read (they might have given a very general talk but it was not memorable, nor did it satisfy my friend’s question). So I went back to my friend empty-handed and we left it at that. What else could I do as a High School student? My parents didn’t know, nor did they ever teach me any of the folkloric reasoning- I remember them just saying they knew it would happen one day and that they were very happy when it did happen.

So my African friend went on a mission and came back two years later. Now more righteous and obedient than ever (with that RM mentality). I later went on my mission, prayed and sought knowledge (like you did on your mission) in order to be an instrument in God’s hands. Baptisms, like you said, would come as a result. I loved to read what I thought was “deep doctrine” on my mission and made quite a collection of interesting articles and things. From one companion I got a re-print from a Mission President in the Orient somewhere who talked about the Pre-Existence, Pre-Ordination, and faithfulness in our past life. He even included Asians and other races in his teaching that the Whites were the most valiant of all.

I found this very interesting (not because I’m White- I could care less about feeling superior to other races since my whole life I was raised with other races) but because it was what I thought was the answer to my friend’s question. I wrote my friend saying I may have found the answer to his question and later, when I returned from my mission I showed him the material. I held these ideas to be true (the Church needs to teach that not everything the Church leaders say is true). After researching on apologetic sites and other internet resources, I made a packet of other material like genealogy and explanations of why the Blacks should not have received the Priesthood tracing them back to Cain and included statements from several Church leaders saying both racist and non-racist remarks. My intentions were good, I thought I had come across pertinent information and was ready to share it with my Black friends of the Church. Needless to say, it didn’t do much for the first family I talked about, nor for my African friend.

My views had stayed the same on the subject until summer 2005 when I started to read several articles from Sunstone and dialogue on the subject. Since then I feel I have a more profound love for all of God’s children. Thank you for your testimony you shared about the Church and its prophets. It was humbling and refreshing. Thank you for the work you are doing to bring greater love and acceptance to all our brothers and sisters.

Much love,

[me]

For me, the Blacks and the Priesthood issue is one of my stronger problems to deal with as far as the “issues” go. It was the first issue that burrowed its way past the cognitive dissonance going on in my mind and struck a chord/nerve. After reading a couple of articles from Armand Mauss and a couple of other authors on the subject (one even dating back to 1968), I was amazed at how a prophet could be decieved or possibly lead his people astray. After this issue made its way into my mind, it was all I could think about or talk about with others for the next months. It was the catalyst to start my whole Mormon Studies.

My top three recommended sources for further study on Blacks and the Priesthood:

  1. Dispelling the curse of Cain: or, How to Explain the Old Priesthood Ban Without Looking Ridiculous, by Armand Mauss
  2. Videocast of “Blacks and the LDS Priesthood” by Darius Gray and Margaret Young (Please wait 20 seconds for presentation to start)
  3. Mormon Stories # 022, 023, and 024: Black and Mormon — The Darron Smith Story
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~ by bonoboi on April 4, 2006.

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