It has been said that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it – the first as tragedy, the second as farce.
The current faith crises of sanctions on homosexuals, their families, and other members of the gay community within the LDS faith, is a challenge that rings familiar to those LDS who lived through the faith’s racial restriction policies of the past that endured up until 1978.
The scars of the exclusion of those of African descent, still not completely healed, have again been wounded as the ghost of this past has been conjured again with these new, painful policies.
There are many striking similarities between how the gay community is being treated as the LDS church enters this new era of segregation wherein recent policies have been enacted to ban blessings, membership and numerous ordinances and opportunities to children of gay parents, in addition to the pre-existing restrictions placed upon those parents.
BLACK- Under the past racial restriction policies of the Church that lasted from the presidency of Brigham Young until 1978, blacks of African descent were somewhat welcomed into the Church, but not with open arms. Under the racial restrictions, persons with any black African ancestry could not hold the priesthood and could not participate in most temple ordinances, including the endowment and celestial marriage. The racial restriction policy was applied to black Africans, persons of black African descent, and anyone with mixed race that included any black African ancestry. While the Church had on open membership policy for all races, blacks were the only group subject to these sanctions as leaders of the time claimed this was due to a godly-imposed “curse”, and therefore their hands were tied. Church leaders tried promoting these institutionalized foundations of segregation as creating a “separate but equal” class structure within the Church, however, this was not viewed as being such by those affected.
GAY- Under the current homosexual restriction policies of the Church, those who self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, are somewhat welcomed into the Church with statements such as “We love and honor them as sons and daughters of God. They are welcome in the Church” (Hinckley), but several current Church policies do not reflect the same welcoming tone. Current policies of Church record annotation for homosexual offences, while not being required for the same heterosexual offences, and the recent Church opposition to the Boy Scouts of America’s mandate to include gay Scout leaders supports the notion that such welcome messages are expressed through clenched teeth. The Church owned Brigham Young University changed its official policy in 2007 to no longer permit the expulsion of someone simply for identifying themselves as being gay. Recent policies have been enacted to ban blessings, membership and numerous ordinances and opportunities to children of gay parents adding further segregation and opening the door to vilification
BLACK- Historically, Mormon attitudes about race were generally close to those of other Americans. Accordingly, before the civil rights movement, the LDS Church’s policies went largely unnoticed and unchallenged. Beginning in the 1960s, the Church was criticized by civil rights advocates and religious groups, and in 1969 several church leaders voted to rescind the policy, but the vote was not unanimous, so the policy stood.
GAY- Mormon attitudes about gays has in the past been generally close to those of other Americans, but today, these attitudes sadly remain lagging far behind. With the upsurge of the gay rights movement, current LDS Church policies and rhetoric are being challenged, and the Church’s grasp is being challenged and criticized by civil rights advocates, its own members, sections of the government, and even from other main-stream religious groups. Church leaders are constantly meeting to discuss ways of reaching for greater inclusion with polices such as those supporting housing, employment and probate, but in reality, such concessions appear to be made in return for the Church to be able to continue with religious freedom to exclude as they wish.
BLACK- During the early years of the church, some black people were admitted to the Church, and there was no record of a racial policy on denying priesthood, since at least two black men became priests – Elijah Abel and Walker Lewis. Examples of such rare occasions have often been held up as “poster children” to project a different image of a more inclusive Church historically.
GAY- During the heat of the Proposition 8 movement where the Church was often portrayed to be intolerant and cruel, Mitch Mayne – a self-proclaimed openly gay member, was paraded through the media as holding the calling of Executive Secretary of the Bishopric of the Bay Ward of San Francisco, thereby being the “poster child” for the church in projecting an image of “see – gays are welcome and happy here.” [Note – Mitch Mayne himself claims that church leaders are mistaken in their teachings about homosexuality.]
BLACK- The LDS church once taught that blacks, “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,” were able to, through their faithfulness, become “white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful”, but most likely not until the after-life. President Kimball formally expressed his observation of skin color change being possible through faithfulness when stating, “The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised… These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and delightsomeness,” and “that through faithfulness, that they all again become a white and delightsome people.”
GAY- The LDS church has taught that homosexuality is generally a changeable and curable condition, and that homosexual problems can be overcome “through faith in God, sincere repentance, and persistent effort.” This position stands contrary to the opinions of all leading western psychological associations who declare that such shifts in sexual orientation are generally not possible and have not been observed.
BLACK- During the Church’s early years, black people were admitted to the church, and there was no record of a racial policy on denying priesthood. Joseph Smith made known his strong anti-slavery position and in writing his views as a candidate for President of the United States, his anti-slavery platform called for a gradual end to slavery by the year 1850.
GAY- D. Michael Quinn suggested that early church leaders had a more tolerant view of homosexuality. In fact, the term “homosexuality” was not even used until First Presidency member J. Reuben Clark said this first in 1952. The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants are silent on subjects specific to homosexuality. Current homosexual rhetoric is seen as a more recent invention and is not based on foundation teachings of the Church. The Church was integral in helping Utah pass its non-discrimination laws, which bars discrimination in employment and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But that support also came with a caveat – the church wanting to make sure that religious organizations were exempt from the standards set forth in the law.
BLACK- Like most other US states, Utah once had a law against interracial marriages that wasn’t repealed until 1963. The Church strongly spoke against inter-racial marriages in the past, even proclaiming “If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” – Brigham Young.
GAY- The LDS Church has campaigned against government recognition of same-sex marriage, and since the 1990’s the issue of same-sex marriage has become one of the Church’s foremost political concerns. During the 2008 ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage in California, it was discovered that the campaign was overwhelmingly funded and overseen by members of the Church with estimates that LDS contributed $30 million of the $42 million total raised in support of Proposition 8, which passed in November 2008. A new Church policy considers church members in same-sex marriages as apostates whose children will be barred from baptism and church membership, with others being required to disavow the same-sex unions of their parents if they wish to proceed with Church membership, advancements and missions.
BLACK- During the civil rights era in the United States, denial of the priesthood to blacks drew increasing criticism, culminating in athletic boycotts of Brigham Young University. Many sporting teams at the time declined to play BYU. San Jose State football players began a boycott against BYU over their policies, then other schools like Stanford followed suit refusing to play the school because of racist policies. In 1969, a group of 14 black football players at the University of Wyoming banded together in protest about how they were last treated by the Mormons when at BYU. They became known as the “Black 14”. They claimed not to be anti-Mormon as such, but rather their stated concerns were over how poorly the African-American players were treated at BYU the year before. “The only thing we were protesting was the way we were treated on the field,” McGee said. “We weren’t against (Mormon) beliefs. More than anything, we were just going against our treatment.” After a decade of these boycotts and mounting pressure across the country, the Church changed its policy and allowed the ordaining of black priests.
GAY- Anti-LGBT policies at BYU are so strong they have prompted a change.org petition asking the NCAA to cancel BYU’s competitions against other NCAA schools over its policies that are harmful to gays. “We ask that the NCAA stand with the LGBT community of Brigham Young University, as well with their families, and refuse their inclusion in NCAA directed activities until their policies are changed in a way that is humane and non-discriminatory.” BYU was ranked one of the least LGBT-friendly campuses in the United States one year after the school’s only LGBT group on campus was ordered to disband by LDS church leaders.
BLACK- In 1965, a black man living in Salt Lake City, Daily Oliver, described how—as a boy—he was excluded from an LDS-led Boy Scout troop because they did not want blacks in their building. In the late 1800s, blacks living in Cache Valley were forcibly relocated to Ogden and Salt Lake City. In the 1950s, the San Francisco mission office took legal action to prevent black families from moving into the church neighborhood. Mark E. Petersen describes a black family that tried to join the LDS Church: “[some white church members] went to the Branch President, and said that either the [black] family must leave, or they would all leave. The Branch President ruled that [the black family] could not come to church meetings. It broke their hearts.” Until the 1970s hospitals with connections to the LDS Church, including LDS Hospital, Primary Children’s and Cottonwood Hospitals in Salt Lake City, McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, and Utah Valley Hospital in Provo, kept separate the blood donated by blacks and whites, even after 1978. Patients who expressed concern about receiving blood from black donors were given reassurance from hospital authorities that this would not happen.
GAY- When the Boy Scouts of America agreed to allow gays in as troop leaders, LDS church representatives stated that they were “deeply troubled” by this decision and threatened to leave the BSA altogether. “The Church has always welcomed all boys to its Scouting units regardless of sexual orientation. However, the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church and what have traditionally been the values of the Boy Scouts of America,” the Church said in its official statement. The Church was willing to allow a boy to be a gay scout at 17, but not [a gay scout leader] at 18 years old. Wendy Montgomery claims Mormon troop leaders didn’t always treat her gay son Jordan well, even though fellow troop members were accepting of Jordan after he came out. “Some [Mormon troop leaders] called him hurtful names, she said, and others made it tough for him to earn badges.” Wendy continued, “The Church has made its position clear, that he’s seen as not good enough, unworthy. They don’t want him to be a part of their organization. He’s just fought too hard to get this far and he’s done fighting.” The family switched scouting troops and Jordan plans to leave the scouting world after receiving his Eagle Scout badge.
In recent years, the Church has appeared to be working toward finding a balance between holding on to official church doctrine and softening its approach towards LGBT people. That apparent softening came to a jolting halt when recent policies affecting gay families were instituted that appear to be even more harsh than those applied to blacks at the time. At least for blacks during this era, certain blessings, baptism, fellowship, opportunities for missionary work and baptisms for the dead were generally not withheld. The segregation applied to children of a gay parent today may therefore be viewed as even more restrictive and punishing than the former restrictions applied to blacks at the time.
It seems hard to believe that Church leaders have not learned significant lessons from past segregationist policies, especially seeing that all of the current top church leadership had lived through this unfortunate historical era.
If there has been a lesson learned from the past, it is that segregationist policies certainly do segregate, even long after such policies have been officially denounced. Segregationist policies keep people away from the Church; not only those people the policies target, but also their supporters and sympathizers. Segregationist polices may in future be denounced, but they are never forgotten, and their legacy remains as wounds for generations.
May the LDS Church and its leaders reflect upon all of the faith’s historical past – its own persecution and its own mistakes, as it considers ways to tackle current and future challenging issues involving real people of the faith.
The past seems to have a way of returning. It is those who don’t learn from it, or those who can’t remember it, who are doomed to repeat it.
1 – Black People and Mormonism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_people_and_Mormonism
3 – What is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ attitude regarding homosexuality and same sex marriage? https://www.mormon.org/faq/stand-on-homosexuality
4 – Homosexuality and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints
5 – Top Mormon leaders tweak gay rules, but fears remain for the children. http://www.sltrib.com/home/3173729-155/top-mormon-leaders-clarify-new-policy