Mormon church denounces folk beliefs about blacks and priesthood
Religion • BYU professor's remarks draw quick rebuke.
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The LDS Church strongly denounced racism Wednesday and dismissed folk beliefs about why the Utah-based faith banned blacks from its all-male priesthood until 1978.

The statements, published on the church's newsroom website, were triggered by comments made by Brigham Young University religion professor Randy Bott in Tuesday's Washington Post.

Bott pointed to Mormon scriptures that indicate descendants of the biblical Cain — who killed his brother Abel and was "cursed" by God — were black and subsequently barred from the priesthood. He also noted that past LDS leaders suggested blacks were less valiant in the sphere known in Mormon theology as the "premortal existence."

The longtime religion professor at LDS Church-owned BYU further argued that blacks were not ready for the priesthood, the Post wrote, "like a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father's car."

Bott's comments, the church said Wednesday, "absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

It went on to say that "the church's position is clear — we believe all people are God's children and are equal in his eyes and in the church. We do not tolerate racism in any form."

As to the question of the now-discarded ban on blacks in the priesthood, the church said: "It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began but what is clear is that it ended decades ago."

Terry Ball, BYU's dean of religious education, echoed that sentiment, saying that the remarks attributed to Bott "do not reflect the teachings in the classroom at Brigham Young University."

Bott was not available for comment, according to BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.

Darius Gray, former president of the Genesis Group, a support organization for black Mormons, welcomed the church's pronouncements, calling them "marvelously well stated" and "much appreciated."

They speak to "simple truths which may have been forgotten," Gray wrote in an email. "The gospel of Jesus Christ is — and has always been — for all people without regard to race or ethnicity. There is no place for racism."

He pointed to the late LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley's 2006 rebuke of Mormons who hold racist views.

"No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ," Hinckley preached. "Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the church of Christ."

In a 2007 interview with filmmaker Helen Whitney, LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland was equally emphatic in his rejection of such rationales for the priesthood ban.

"We don't pretend that something wasn't taught or practice wasn't pursued for whatever reason," Holland said. "But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared."

For some, though, it is not enough to repudiate the folklore. They insist the church needs to go further and admit the ban itself was wrong.

"An unwillingness to call the former policy racist and, therefore, wrong, unjustified, harmful, un-Christian and indefensibly regrettable is, however subtly, still fundamentally racist," Brad Kramer, a BYU graduate who lives in Ann Arbor, Mich., wrote on the Mormon blog bycommonconsent.com. "The priesthood/temple ban is, at present, not just a symptom of a racist past. It is ... an unhealed open wound on the body of a still racist present."

The sooner Mormons "condemn the racism of our past," Kramer argued, the sooner they can "experience the full power of repentance."

pstack@sltrib.com

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O The LDS Church's statements are at www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/race-church .