I wept tears of pain when the verdict was announced in the Treyvon Martin case. I quickly woke up my husband and before he could join me in my outrage, I ran to check on my three brown sons and daughter. I just wanted to make sure they were safe if only for this moment. I have always known that the brown hues of their skin were a visual indicator of looming dangers and societal disdain. I have tried to teach them to be ready but sadly realized I cannot always protect them.
The next morning, I dutifully got them ready for church. As I ironed their church attire, made sure they brushed their teeth and put on the right socks—I was filled with pain. Was I subjecting them to a place with more pain, unanswered questions, and the harsh reality of their minority status and station?
Here I worked to take my brown children to a church that had a racist history, a history that has not been fully addressed.
A church that has remained virtually silent as to why men, who looked like my sons, were denied the priesthood for more than a hundred years.
A church whose hierarchy is a visual representation of the many years of African American segregation and isolation. Don’t think I haven’t had to answer the question “Mom, why don’t any of the apostles or prophets look like us?”
I call on my Church to say something—the silence is deafening and harmful. For years I have sat in meetings and listened as members gave their best reasons as to the whys:
“All Black people weren’t worthy until 1978.”
“The members of the Church weren’t ready to have African Americans in their church.”
“The politics of the time dictated the priesthood policy.”
The Church’s silence has implicitly allowed members to make such racist and hurtful comments and all I could do was sit there with no defense. You have given me no defense. You have me, and many others, sit in a hostile environment where members are allowed to take their stabs at the whys. You have failed to let me worship in safety. Its one thing to know I live in a racialized America but to come to a sanctuary and still be bombarded by racial ignorance that you, as a church body, can rectify is disappointing. You can and should quiet the specious rhetoric.
If you were wrong, then say you were wrong. Repent.
The scriptures are riddled with countless prophets admitting their missteps, their wrongdoings, and their subsequent forgiveness.
Peter denied the Christ—three times.
Joseph Smith lost 115 pages of scripture.
David had a man killed to hide his affair.
Alma needed an angel to turn him around and his father needed Abinadi to shake him back to the truth.
The Brother of Jared forgot to pray.
If you were wrong, if you made a mistake and the prophets of that time succumbed to racist ideology then let me give you the license to admit it.
Say you’re sorry.
You will be forgiven.
Then, let’s move on—both learning and refraining from repeating this mistake.
Do not fear.
Your mistakes, as a church hierarchy, only makes you human, fallible, and in great company. The admittance of this mistake, among any others, does not deter my faith in you as seers and revelators. In fact, the admittance of wrongs frees ones soul, allows you, and all of us to heal.
As a church and a people, let’s start to heal.
Your pain is felt. I hope at some point the organization of the church will come out and admit its missteps, mistakes, and errors. However, I feel that it is wishful thinking at best. The church has shown a propensity to brush things under the rug and try to ignore the situation entirely or claim they just dont know why certain things happened.
Excellent (though heartbreaking) post. I broached this subject just the other day myself. Why does The Church as a living, breathing organization not feel that it must repent for wrongs they have perpetuated? I get more and more sad every single time I read/hear “We don’t know how the Priesthood ban started”, because we do know. We all know. Every time I am expected to believe that *we* don’t know I get a bit more cynical. Like Garrett, I have pretty well resigned myself to the notion that any hope for reconciliation in this respect is a lost cause. It doesn’t make me happy, and it doesn’t make it hurt any less though.
I asked my devout, thinking, Catholic friend a few months ago if Pope John Paul and the Catholic Church “lost face” when he/it apologized for some of the atrocities it perpetuated. He said, “No. We all make mistakes. The Church nor the Popes are perfect.”
Seems like we still have something to learn from the OC – Original Christians, or Original Church; take your pick.
Amen Michael. We teach our children to admit when they they make mistakes and to say they are sorry. Why in the world aren’t the leaders modeling that?
amazing piece… I have a couple of Viking kids and then 2 on the Italian side of hue. We love them just as they are. However, the world doesn’t not always appreciate such diversity. My son tall, blond, blue eyes apparently garners too much attention in Southern Mexico. Sometimes he feels like a freak. I can’t even begin to relate to the world your children face. Know this. Even if the institutions don’t step forward, many of us will.
I recognize the pain that you face, and I appreciate your dilemma. I can’t help but think that the freedom from this pain lies, not in the imperfect actions of past priesthood leaders, but in the beautiful future of more perfect tolerance and love that lies ahead. Though we do not have all the answers right now about why things happened the way that they did, I know that 35 years ago, a decision was made to restore something that had been lost along the way. Now, the church leaders who decided to withold the priesthood from black male members may have done so for racist reasons, folded to societal pressures, misunderstood the scriptures … whatever the reasons (and there were probably more than one), they are long gone from this plane of existence. We can’t ask them their reasons, and we can’t ask them to repent because they are not here. A perfect God knows their hearts and will reward them accordingly. Our task is not to relive the past, it is to live now, today, as part of an organization that has become more enlightened than it was before. We can mourn, surely, for the mistakes of the past, but we cannot undo them. I cannot hold the current church leadership responsible for mistakes that were made by those who wore the mantle before they came to it. I would not wish to be held to such a standard by anyone, only the freedom to seek a more perfect way in my walk before God. And so, while there may never be an apology, we can still release the darkness of the past as we walk in a brighter future with the One who can heal all wounds and meet all needs.
Cassie, what you neglect to mention is whether you are the head of an international organization with a checkered past that proclaims direct continuity of authority and policy from previous leaders.
If this is the case (and your org has done emotional and in some cases eternal harm to your clients,) then I would suggest you apologize before you request forgiveness.
After all, that’s only what the courts and the Lord would probably expect from you.
Cassie S. – You are correct in stating that those who banned non-whites from the priesthood are long gone and that current leaders cannot be held accountable for the previous generations’ actions.
That being said, Fatimah’s main problem, as I see it, is not that the church used to be racist. Her problem with the status quo lies in the fact that the church doesn’t own up to those problems, thus allowing so many members to continue to perpetuate myths and rationalizations as to why people of color were not allowed to hold the priesthood until 1978. This would mostly cease the moment Pres. Monson gets up in front of the pulpit and says something to the effect of, “Brigham Young was racist and stopped people of color from getting the priesthood. Racist thinking within the church perpetuated that line of thinking for over a century. We eventually got it right and offer our heartfelt apologies to everyone that was hurt by that part of our past.”
My heart aches with yours Fatimah Salleh and I admire your courage. I long for the day when human fallibility is more emphasized in our LDS-discourse. It is present in doctrine but seems to be oft forgotten; I believe out of individuals fear to be labeled an “apostate” or be seen to undermine our church. We forget that, if our faith is a tree; we not only need to nourish and water it, but also prune it regularly. Without pruning out hurtful, human doctrines the harm they once created lives on. – Perhaps not taught from the pulpit, but in many other arenas. It would not deter my faith to hear that errors have been committed by general authorities in the past. (Or now).I can love, follow and admire a fellow saints’ great example, well knowing he or she is striving still. It would strengthen my resolve to improve myself, my religious community and the society I live in. An “hush” – all-is-well-in Zion-approach is disheartening, breeding apathy or worse. As a white Scandinavian I am privileged in many ways, this I am well aware of. And I know the world lies in sin because of my privilege. Let’s cleanse ourselves of racism for the sake of our children and grandchildren. I to have a dream, and in that dream we are all considered to be of equal worth by our peers. At home or abroad. On Sundays and weekdays. Strength to you, you brought tears to my eyes.
Thank you, Fatimah Salleh. You’ve said it better than much of what I have read about this extremely difficult topic.
Yes, why not apologize? Why not? Why not repent? Well, nobody really wants to hear what I have to say, but the fact is that there is a scary enabling of some of the things that an early prophet (the man who, without revelation and inspiration, took the priesthood away from black members who HAD BEEN GIVEN the priesthood by the prophet who restored truth to the earth!)–
in the process of enabling Brigham Young, Joseph Smith is diminished.
Joseph Smith was apparently too color blind for some of his associates–and so everyone lost blessings. The condemnation, I believe, will be felt eventually by anyone who contributed to this travesty.
I know my opinion is a minority opinion (no joke intended there), but the fact is that all those who did GOOD things have been overshadowed by the bad deeds of one man.
And, yes, prophets have always made mistakes, so why does Brigham Young have to be protected so much by those who have followed?
At least Spencer W. Kimball had the gumption to do something about it, and for that I honor him. But I refuse to believe that it was because the blacks had not been worthy before; I refuse to believe it was even because ‘white’ members couldn’t deal with it, due to their own imperfections; people have had to step up and do hard things before!)–
I believe it was because a mistake was made, plain and simple–
and there is no other explanation. A mistake was made. Joseph Smith wasn’t here to say, “wait a minute; what ARE YOU DOING?”–
He was too gentle, perhaps, and even the memory of that significant thing that he did (give blacks the priesthood) was obliterated by the more aggressive personalities that followed him.
Here, I am ranting. I am sorry. Your words touched me in a deep place.
Please know that you and all of those in the church (and world) with brown skin are appreciated.
I have a private hope–
that when we see Christ, He will be dark skinned!
If I don’t stop now I will be even more marginalized than I already am!
This may be apocryphal, but I read at some point that Pres. McKay had thought about reversing the ban back in the early 1960s, but it didn’t get anywhere because the majority of the Quorum of the 12 disagreed with him.
I grew up in a very white, Mormon community. We would discuss the reasons for the priesthood ban all the time shake our heads at the racist things said by those from earlier generations. But racism was a thing of the pass. We were colorblind! Bill Cosby was everyone’s favorite comedian and Michael Jordan was everyone’s favorite athlete. And since it race didn’t matter anymore, it was okay that all of the Church leaders were elderly white men.
So then I went to college, got married, and moved to the East Coast. It completely changed the way I had ever thought about race. It was heart breaking. I looked back at all the things that had been said about race and was revolted. Now when I go back and hear people talking the same way it makes me realize how damaging the isolationist culture really is. And I have realized that race does matter. Differences of any kind matter and should be celebrated and encouraged. I had always had little disagreements with the church, but that was the first time that I felt a major disconnect between it and myself. That was almost 10 years ago and I really haven’t seen things get better since then.
With respect, I submit that you may also be in need of repentance. A great and vicious lie is being spread about the Martin-Zimmerman case: that Martin was killed because he was black.
No. He was killed because he was beating a man after he’d been knocked to the ground. If he had satisfied his exaggerated need for respect, and his love of a good fight, with simply knocking the creepy-a** cracka to the ground, he would be alive. If not, his killer would have been found guilty.
Don’t beat a man when he’s down, and you won’t get shot. It’s simple as that.
There are enough reasons for a black Church member to call his fellows to repentance without resorting to lies.
how is ^that respectful?
i agree that there is no evidence that Zimmerman was a racist (the FBI, the DOJ, and the NSA would know haha) but your tone and your post are simply rude.
i do wonder if the author worried about her children’s safety when this: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/13/18213691-at-least-19-injured-in-new-orleans-mothers-day-shooting?lite happened
or when these: http://sistertoldjah.com/archives/2013/07/16/blacks-killed-in-chicago-july-1st-to-july-14th-2013/ occurred.
it seems as though the outrage, fear, and condemnation regarding the treatment of black folk in the US is only directed at white people, and of course our own LDS. that’s odd.
Thomas, I’m not into blog-debates, but I must say if you don’t understand the racial component to the Trayvon Martin case, you must have your head in the sand. Really. If Trayvon was an average-looking white kid, Zimmerman doesn’t follow him. He doesn’t call 911. He certainly doesn’t get out of his car to confront him. I think Eric Samuelson’s wonderful blog post about how Trayvon was targeted because he was “The Other” hits the nail on the head. Race made him The Other. There’s no question about that. Regardless of Trayvon’s past or how he reacted to being chased down by an armed vigilante, and no matter Zimmerman’s intentions, the fact is, Trayvon was seen as suspicious because he was a black male wearing a hoodie. See http://www.mormoniconoclast.com/trayvon/
Cassie, the past is our present. A gentleman in my current ward was teaching a Sunday School lesson about Noah. He spoke in the lesson of the mark of Cain and Ham’s children and tied it to the history of people with darker skin and priesthood authority. When I went to the Bishop to ask him to speak to this brother about his error, pointing out that even Bruce R. McConkie had admitted to being wrong about such things, the Bishop said he would not say anything to the man because “it would embarrass him.” Even decades after the Revelation, the embarrassment of someone spouting bigotry is more important than the truth or of the feelings of African Americans or their family and friends who may be hearing that crap at church. African Americans are still “less than” far too often in the day to day running of the church and change has to come from the highest levels if that is going to stop.
Agree. I taught Gospel Doctrine for a long while and the racist, past-doctrine nonsense I heard from the elderly members of my congregation was despicable. I can’t blame them, nobody ever corrected their prior ‘knowledge’ that ‘blacks were too immature for the Priesthood,’ ‘the mark of Cain hadn’t been removed from blacks yet,’ and ‘the LDS Church wasn’t ready for black members.’
The Brethren seem uninterested in correcting these misconceptions, and that is where the blame lies today in my opinion.
The 2nd Article of Faith has ALWAYS been clear about whether we are held accountable for the sins of our lineage anyway, right?
I believe we’ll see this happen sometime, just as I believe we will see “the brethren” become more and more diverse over time. I think it is also important to remember that the church’s struggle to “repent” if you will, isn’t unique. We still struggle with this as a nation. We just now have our first president of color. The Senate is still as lilly-white as it has ever been. The reaction to the Martin case has revealed the ugly underbelly of racism is alive and well.
It has taken (check that, is taking) our country a long time to overcome our sins–clearly it is still a work in progress.
So I guess I feel like just as it is a gradual process with us as a nation, it is still a gradual process in a church that is hierarchical and slow to change. Yet look at the remarkable changes that are occurring. We do have several black Africans among the general authorities now, two in first quorum of seventy and several others area authority seventies (not to mention Latino and Asian). Look at how the church’s stance toward LGBT issues has changed. The beauty of it all (as I see it) is that the restoration is still unfolding and that the church is dynamic and not static (though from our limited vantage-points change just seems very slow). And another beauty of it all is, as you mentioned, is that this work is divine, even if enacted through fallible, real people, like us.
BTW, I recently listened to a podcast from the Maxwell Institute that you should listen to. See http://www.maxwellinstituteblog.org/podcast-an-interview-with-w-kesler-jackson-elijah-abel-the-life-and-times-of-a-black-priesthood-holder/
Note the source of the podcast. That is significant.
Check it out and maybe we should have a book club around that book. It sounds like a great read.
Rick, I think an important point to remember is that the Legislature, the Judicial, and the Executive branch are all performing without the REAL gift of the Holy Ghost.
Even if you accept that these are goodly men pursuing God’s mission for the US, they do not have the Priesthood any more than men of African descent in 1978, and I have questions about their ability to be as capable as the Lord’s Only Living Prophet. I am fine with the LDS Church progressing…but why in the heck are we progressing at a rate slower (or at best apace) with that of the USA at large? We were the last major US Religion to allow blacks to hold full fellowship in our churches.
I have read the article you posted below, but it does nothing to explain/justify/remedy the racist history or the persistence of false doctrine and half-truths among our congregations.
I have 2 ‘Indian’ First Nations, now adult children who went through their church experience feeling like the bad guys. The Book of Mormon is replete with stories of their atrocities against their righteous brothers and sisters and being that it is the ‘most correct book on earth’ – the ‘knew’ that there was no way around it – they came from the filthy and loathsome stock of the time.
Both kids are inactive from the white man’s church. The very foundational claims of the Mormon Church are that white skin = righteousness and ‘dark, filthy, loathsome skins of blackness = unrighteousness and worse.
How did that racism make it into the most correct book?
I love my kids and their righteous tans.
I dig my righteous tan too!
I read your post over at FMH and just now found your article here. Thank you for your words and your work—it is much needed! And I’m with you in hoping and praying that the church will simply own its mistakes, relinquish the myth of leader infallibility, and let us all heal and move on as humans working together. Keep up the good work!
Here is an outstanding article on the history of the ban and the 1978 revelation. Definitely a recommended read for background on this topic.