There is a stark contrast between Dr. King’s “Dream” speech and his letter from Birmingham. In the former he spoke of unification; in the latter he spoke of shattered dreams. From Birmingham he wrote,
“In spite of my shattered dreams of the past, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and with deep moral concern serve as the channel through which our just grievances could get to the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.”
Of all the disappointments and heartbreak Dr. King experienced it was the white religious leadership of America that shattered his dream and was the focus of much of his letter. It was the white religious leadership of America that turned a blind eye to the moral injustices black people were suffering. I don’t think anyone can deny that Mormonism and its white power structure contributed to this religious and social culture of hate and oppression.
King goes on to write, “I have longed to hear white ministers say, follow this decree (desegregation) because integration is morally right and the Negro is your brother.”
White Mormon leaders weren’t interested in what was morally right as much as they were maintaining Church practice, policy, precedent, and tradition. Racism and hate were oozing from our discriminatory practices and by extension some of our members. Seeing the Lord’s Prophets, Seers and Revelators unable to discern truth from error and hate from love is a jagged little pill.
“The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s often vocal sanction of things as they are.”
It has been said that “a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.“(Matt 7:17) In this case the Church’s fruit was hate, fear, bias, segregation, pain, discrimination and oppression. What does that say about Mormonism and its leadership? Maintaining the status quo shouldn’t be an option when the alternative is the aforementioned offenses against humanity.
Finally Dr. King writes: “But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I meet young people every day whose disappointment with the church has risen to outright disgust.”
And so it is with us…only this time our hateful treatment of the LGBTQ community will be the tipping point. This hate is displayed constantly in the Church’s persecution of LGBTQ citizens who wish to get married. These marriages will not change our doctrine. These marriages will not change the will of God as we understand it. These marriages will in no way deteriorate heterosexuals marriages, and yet, we rail and rally against them unrelentingly. We are involved in a great and terrible endeavor to destroy the pursuit of happiness of many of God’s children.
Years before King wrote his letter from Birmingham the First Presidency of the Church had released a statement that says in part,
“The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.” Letter from the First Presidency Aug 17, 1949
Recently an official statement on Race and the Priesthood was published by the Church stating,
“the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form”
Whether we believe our prejudice and discrimination was God’s will or an extension of cultural norms, the net result was the same- hate and oppression.
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day Mormons-
Thanks Viliami–well said and so true
I choose not to project onto my leaders particular viewpoints or reasons beyond what they have spoken. I don’t believe that they hated Blacks, nor that they hate LGBTQ individuals, nor any other group. But I am with you that IT DOESN’T MATTER. If people are being hurt by our collective choices as church leaders and members, we need to stop defending that. I’ll defend the good of Mormonism, and the goodness of LDS leaders, but I won’t defend the evils of Mormonism nor of its leaders–even inadvertent ones. I may seek to understand and forgive, but not defend.
Loved this. The situation is not the exact same, but there are enough similarities that make this an important concept for members of the church to understand, if we are not to make the same mistakes we made in the past.
It is a rare thing to hear a racist say they are racist because of hate. Racism is often justified by divinely granted superiority, as is the case with Mormonism. From the perspective of the hated it is clear that the justifications are hollow and the hate is as substantial as any temporal object. One of the major problems for those suffering from white privilege is that the condition precludes their ability to see things as they really are. When you place multiple white males into positions of power over minorities these white men quickly find themselves serving the greater good while those being served are often overwhelmed by a climate of hate and oppression. And so it goes with class systems and hierarchies.
Ask a gay or lesbian couple that seek to be married if they consistently feel persecuted and hated by the Church. I think the most frequent reply would be in the affirmative. If the LGBTQ community feels hate eminating from the Brethren does it matter if the Brethren admit to being fueled by hate?
I am a product of miscegenation and I can say personally that the discriminatory, prejudicial, hate filled message was particularly violent for me. Especially because they still have one such message posted on the Church website in an old Young Mens manual.This statement refers both to race and economic class systems.
““We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question”
I agree that there should be careful consideration and deference give to the Brethren, but the institutional racism is undeniable. And when we look at who created the institutiona and who manages its message, materials, and direction it is pretty easy to see that the Brethren are culpable. Perhaps an apology would help to heal the wound even further?
I agree that comparisons are totally different; my concern is that when you place white men in positions of power and authority over minorities that dynamic lends itself to certain abuses of power that we are still struggling to manage today. We are losing the battle in my opinion.
I lovey loved this Viliami. My feelings mirror this. The comparison between LGBT rights and past racism totally holds weight for me as well.
I just randomly googled MLK and the Mormon Church and found this powerful commentary. Your “I love Bob Marley more than Brigham Young but not as much as Joseph” made my day. An interesting fact, and one which you may already know, is that Judy Mowatt of I-Three’s fame has a tribute song to Bob Marley called ‘Joseph’.