Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Double standard on race

Table of Contents

Are the Church of Jesus Christ, its leaders, and theology racist?

A FairMormon Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims


The author spends an entire chapter berating the LDS on the issue of race and either misrepresenting or misunderstanding LDS teachings on this matter. LDS views and sources are portrayed in the most hostile, prejudicial light possible.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

Answer


Racism has become one of the most strident and damaging accusations that can be leveled in our society, and as such has become a useful weapon for those who wish to harm an organization or individual. As Southern Baptists know, "Few chapters in American religious history prove as embarrassing as the response of the American churches to the issue of race."[1]:33 ONUG is obviously hoping its target audience will not notice that Latter-day Saints have always had integrated churches while Protestant churches struggle with the residual division brought about by their own prolonged discrimination against, or outright expulsion of, black members. Emerson and Smith assess the problem in the following manner:

Our examination of a variety of data and consideration of a variety of levels of social influence suggest that many race issues that white evangelicals want to see solved are generated in part by the way they themselves do religion, interpret their world, and live their own lives. These factors range from the ways evangelicals and others organize into internally similar congregations, and the segregation and inequality such congregations help produce; to theologically rooted evangelical cultural tools, which tend to (1) minimize and individualize the race problem, (2) assign blame to blacks themselves for racial inequality, (3) obscure inequality as part of racial division, and (4) suggest uni-dimensional solutions to racial division.[2]:170

Latter-day Saints are, of course, not immune from the same human foibles. We, like all Christians, might wish that we had played a larger role in correcting social injustices. We must all look at our past and learn from it. But for the here and now, the LDS do have a decided advantage in our centralized leadership and our historical practice of maintaining congregations based on geographical boundaries rather than on personal preference or race. Our members have never traveled past a white or black church to get to their own. We cannot fire ministers who do not succumb to the wishes of a congregation to remain racially segregated. Yet, we join all concerned followers of Christ in acknowledging that we have work ahead of us in putting aside differences accumulated through centuries of misunderstanding and intolerance.

Detailed Analysis

Several chapters later, however, the author admits:

Of course, when any religion or denomination is tainted by the stain of racism, it always leaves future members in a very awkward position. And to be fair, Mormonism is not alone in this predicament. A number of Christian denominations (e.g. the Southern Baptists) have had to work very hard at racial reconciliation, often using public declarations to repudiate past racist statements by leaders.

Unfortunately, this admission is only in the "Postscript," and is not found in the hardcover edition of ONUG. This perspective is nowhere to be found in Chapter 16. This concession thus provides the illusion of fairmindedness, while actually providing little context or balance to the book's portrayal of members of the Church of Jesus Christ and their beliefs.

Furthermore, the author ignores the fact that leaders of the LDS Church have also repudiated many past remarks by previous leaders. His statement leaves the impression that the Southern Baptists have done so, while leaders of the LDS Church have not.

For a detailed response, see: Repudiated ideas, Pre-1978 statements, and Racist statements by Church leaders?

The author of ONUG even goes so far as to quote Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine without telling readers that this apostle published a revised version of his book, and repudiated some of his own remarks.

For a detailed response, see: Use of sources: Mormon Doctrine and race issues

Double standard

Perhaps the double standard being applied to the LDS Church would be better understood if the author's complaint—that the Church has "underlying white supremacist beliefs," (353) and so they didn't support the Civil Rights movement (364)—is placed next to the image of Ferrell Griswold, pastor of the Minor Heights Baptist Church, addressing Klan supporters as Birmingham public schools began their first week of desegregation in 1963.[1]:41 Would the author really have the reader believe there were no Christian leaders among those who refused blacks their basic civil liberties and denied them entrance to their churches, schools, civic centers, and voting booths? What were other high profile white religious leaders saying and doing to give blacks basic rights, let alone positions of leadership within their own churches? Two scholars have outlined how white leaders left the battle for civil rights to the black churches.

In response to King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech that his children might one day play together with white children, [Billy] Graham, who had been invited but did not attend the 1963 March on Washington, said: "Only when Christ comes again will little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children." This was not meant to be harsh, but rather what he and most white evangelicals perceived to be realistic.[2]:47

Three years later on October 9, 1966, Martin Luther King gave his "The Pharisee and Publican" sermon to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in which he said:

So often Negroes in Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia and other places have been taken to that tree that bears strange fruit. And do you know that the folk lynching them are often big deacons in the Baptist churches and stewards in the Methodist churches feeling that by killing and murdering and lynching another human being they are doing the will of Almighty God? The most vicious oppressors of the Negro today are probably in church.[3]

It is easy to look at the worst in one another, as ONUG has chosen to do. There are enough quotes indicting every religious tradition to make any thoughtful person cringe. There are also well-researched, honest, and informative books and articles available from scholars on every aspect of race and religion. So one must ask, why does the author of ONUG persist in this course of action? What purpose does it serve?

ONUG's barrage of the most negative and obscure data that can be mustered against the Latter-day Saints might lead one to conclude that all other Christian churches were fully integrated with all races participating in leadership positions in 1963, or even in 1978 when blacks were given the priesthood by the LDS Church. The following quotes from varied and respected sources are provided so that the reader has the appropriate historical context. They are not meant in any way to criticize other churches who are working so diligently to close the racial divide.

  • Virtually all Protestant denominations have separate Negro churches, and thus the areas of association for religious purposes have been very small.[4]
  • By the 1830's most southern evangelicals had thoroughly repudiated a heritage that valued blacks as fellow church members.[5]
  • The black Methodist church, created not from a desire to be separate but from a desire to worship without discrimination at the hands of white brethren, was to become the most enduring legacy of Methodism's refusal to accord the black communicant all of the rights and privileges of membership in the body of Christ.[6]:318
  • After the [Civil] war the southern churches, continuing the legacy of slavery, were among the first institutions to call for the separation of the races; by the twentieth century they had become bastions of segregation. With no desire to intrude into places where they were not welcome, most black Southerners were more comfortable in their own congregations.[6]:293
  • By November 1968 a survey research by the Home Mission Board revealed that only eleven percent of Southern Baptist churches would admit African-Americans.[7]
  • The most extensive research on integration was undertaken jointly by the United Lutherans, Congregational Christians, and Presbyterians (U.S.A.). They found that 1,331 out of 13,597 predominantly white churches have nonwhite members or attenders. That is just short of 10 per cent.[8]
  • Still in 1964, no more than 10 per cent of the white Protestant congregations had Negroes worshiping with them. Even these 10 per cent had only a few members or occasional attenders, so that throughout the US probably no more than 1 per cent of all Negroes worshiped in integrated congregations on Sunday mornings.[9]
  • According to the 1998 National Congregations Study, about 90 percent of American congregations are made up at least 90 percent of people of the same race.[2]:136
  • About eighty percent of all black Christians are in seven major denominations.[10]:68
  • In 1977, the American Baptist Churches in the USA had a larger number of blacks than any other non-black denomination… An interesting irony of the racial overtones still prevalent is that the American Baptist Churches of the South are now predominately a black sub-convention of the American Baptist Churches in the USA. There has been little white involvement since the influx of black Baptists.[10]:68-69

These statistics readily bring to mind the biblical teaching about the mote and the beam (see Matthew 7:3-4).

Historical Ignorance, or Race-baiting?

The author of ONUG seems to delight in recounting LDS leaders' ideas about skin color and the "curse of Cain." For the benefit of the reader we will here provide a few references from the widely available literature on the origins of this unfortunate concept:

This interpretation of Noah's curse was no southern invention; indeed, it had been in circulation long before the discovery of America. Even so, it proved especially useful to white masters of the South because they had been put on the defensive by the powerful emancipationist movement.[11]
The story of Noah's Curse was so ingrained into the orthodox Protestant mind that it was sometimes invoked far from the pulpit. Speaking before the Mississippi Democratic State Convention in 1859, none other than Jefferson Davis defended chattel slavery and the foreign slave trade by alluding to the "importation of the race of Ham" as a fulfillment of its destiny to be "servant of servants."[6]:107

Once again, the reader is left to wonder whether the author of ONUG is ignorant of the history of race theory, anthropology, and the centuries-old Christian use of the Bible to justify slavery or if he is simply race-baiting. The distinct lack of material that would reflect positively on Mormons, and the pronounced use of outdated quotations, is something that calls for serious consideration. The author draws upon little-known "Mormon" writers instead of using authoritative sources that the Saints recognize as accurately representing their beliefs. Modern Church practice and teachings are conspicuously lacking and context is not sufficiently considered. Thus, ONUG attempts to use Joseph Smith's racist-sounding quote about "confining" "the negro" "to his own species," as an indictment against the modern Church. Yet, ONUG fails to tell us everything else that Joseph Smith said on this subject that was progressive, and even radical, for its time (see Notable omissions, p. 355).

Another example of problematic usage of LDS material on this issue is when Brigham Young is represented as describing inter-racial marriage as "one of the most heinous of deeds" (361). Yet, ONUG fails to acknowledge that there was no inter-racial marriage at the time and in the place where the comment was made. And any sexual relations with someone of African descent usually happened in a context of rape (see: Brigham_Young_on_race_mixing).

Here is one portion of the same sermon that the author neglects to show his readers:

If the Government of the United States, in Congress assembled, had the right to pass an anti-polygamy bill, they had also the right to pass a law that slaves should not be abused as they have been; they had also a right to make a law that negroes should be used like human beings, and not worse than dumb brutes. For their abuse of that race, the whites will be cursed, unless they repent.[12]

Compare this to the views of the founder of American evangelicalism, George Whitefield, who "urged kinder treatment of slaves, but noted that cruelty can have the positive effect of heightening 'the sense of their natural misery,' thereby increasing receptivity to the Christian message."[2]:26 Or the stories of "Christian slaveholders, including clergymen, 'brutalizing their slaves' which 'abound in the narratives of former slaves.'"[13]

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Andrew M. Manis, "'Dying From the Neck Up:' Southern Baptist Resistance to the Civil Rights Movement," Baptist History and Heritage (Winter 1999)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Richard O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
  3. Marty Bell, "Fire in My Bones: The Prophetic Preaching of Martin Luther King, Jr.," Baptist History and Heritage (Winter 1999), 13.
  4. Thomas F. Gossett, Race: The History of An Idea in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963), 447.
  5. Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1989), 107.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Forrest G. Wood, The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth Century (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990).
  7. Dana Martin, "The American Baptist Convention and the Civil Rights Movement: Rhetoric and Response," Baptist History and Heritage (Winter 1999), 44.
  8. Robert Root, Progress Against Prejudice: The Church Confronts the Race Problem (New York: Friendship Press, 1957), 59.
  9. J.C. Hough, Black Power and White Protestants: A Christian Response to the New Negro Pluralism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 177.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Gregory E. Thomas, "Black and Baptist in the Bay State," American Baptist Quarterly (March, 2002).
  11. H. Shelton Smith, In His Image, But… Racism in Southern Religion, 1780-1910 (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1972), 131.
  12. Brigham Young, [Journal_of_Discourses/10/25#111 Journal of Discourses 10:111].
  13. Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 167.