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21 February 2015

Blacks in the Scriptures

I have a friend that recommended this Blacks in the Scriptures site to me. She's having a get-together to talk about it in a couple days, and she wants to know if I'm coming.

No, sorry, I've looked over some of their stuff, and I disagree with their interpretation of scripture, and thought it would be better to stay home. Then I don't rain on her parade with my skepticism. But she asked me what I think about it, and the Brother Perkins that writes for the site wants to talk to me about it, and for whatever reason, WordPress isn't playing nice tonight, and I've spent the better part of an hour trying to persuade it to give me a password so I can comment on the blog. No luck. So I'm putting my thoughts here, in order to keep my word that I would share some comments, and because my friend asks. It's a pretty big site, and I haven't looked at it all, but this article seems to have a good summary of their thoughts, so that's what I'm responding to.

First of all. The title.


My first beef is with the title. I don't believe in "really nice" racists. Racism is ugly and unacceptable. I don't buy this accidental (kinder gentler) racism thing. And, right off the bat, I'm on my guard. I am so so so sick of baseless accusations of racism. It's hurtful. It's divisive. It's as ugly as real racism. And that's what this sounds like is going on in this article. At this point in my first trip through the article, the only reason that I didn't just roll my eyes and move on to something else was that my friend asked me to have a look. That was a couple months ago. I still feel pretty much the same.

There is a wordy introduction, and then the article gets to the meat of the matter, starting with the Great Commandment and a definition of racism. I agree with the comments on both topics. Next comes a list of teachings that are to have grown out of the policy of not ordaining blacks to the priesthood. Some, I have heard of, others I haven't. I'm rearranging the list just a little, so I can comment on it. I've bolded the words from their list to separate them from my commentary. (It may be worthy of note that I had achieved the ripe old age of 8 months when the policy was changed, and I cannot remember a time when blacks couldn't have the priesthood. I've only read about it.)

  • Blacks were fence sitters in pre-existence - I have heard this said in conversation, but I have been a member all my life, and I don't recall it ever being part of a lesson. In my reading of the scriptures I have never seen justification for this belief. Nor have I seen it in my reading of Conference talks or other commentary. I have never, personally, found this idea compelling.
  • Blacks are representatives of Satan here on earth - Oh fer cryin out loud. Really? I have never seen anything remotely like this in scripture. This one floors me.
  • Blacks are lowly, uncouth, lazy & detestable to others - I have never, ever, heard this at church or in reading church materials. Not once. Not anything like it. Really, the only place I've seen this kind of gross generalization is in the movies about the civil rights movement. In real life, I've never seen anyone act like this toward blacks.
  • Dark skin is a mark of unworthiness - I vaguely recall hearing this idea once. If I had to guess, I think it was when I discussed the restriction with my dad, and he was telling me some people believe this. I don't remember him being very convinced by the idea, and I don't think that I have ever been aware of anyone at church saying that they believed this when the restriction would come up in lessons. I can't think of any scriptural justification for the idea in modern times. 
  • Penalty for intermarrying Blacks is death on the spot - What?? I've never heard this before. 
  • It was time for everybody else but Blacks - I've heard this said in the general membership, put forward as an explanation of sorts. "Well, I guess it wasn't time for them yet." Christ gets to decide who gets what, and when and I make it my policy to not argue with Him. He's smarter than me.
  •  Blacks cannot enter into the Temples and perform sacred ordinances - This used to be the policy of the church. When I studied it as a teen (it bothered me that they would have been shut out), I was never able to discover why the policy was put in place, but I did learn that it was just a policy, not a doctrine. I was glad to hear that, and eventually stashed the questions this raised under "Things To Ask the Lord When I Die." I've still got an eye peeled for those answers, but have yet to find them. 
  • Black families cannot experience the blessings of sealings - This would have been the natural consequence of the policy, at least for this life. Knowing that God is no respecter of persons, my conclusion was that those who died prior to the change in 1978 would, along with those without the law, have their temple work done by proxy. To categorically, permanently bar these people from the blessings of temple ordinances is inconsistent with what I know about the nature of God, and inconsistent with His stated purposes for earth life. I figured that blacks would be dealt with much the way that people who die without the law are: mercifully, and on the merits of the portions they had access to in life.
  • Blacks are cursed - The scriptures plainly say that the Lamanites were cursed with "skins of blackness" and that "a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan", though in that case, it is the land that was specifically cursed. We also read that "the seed of Cain were black". It is my experience that the scriptures say what they mean. In the case of the record about the Lamanites, that verse was written by Nephi, who told us "I glory in plainness". I don't believe that a man who glories in plainness, who wished to write in a way that could not be mistaken, so there would be no mistakes, would mean something so different from what he says. It is my policy to take the scriptures at face value, particularly the Book of Mormon, until there is some compelling reason to do otherwise. However, all these things happened a very, very long time ago. The record since then is fragmentary at best, being far more concerned with the preservation of Gospel principles than with the story of what happened after these curses were given. The scriptures are silent on the topic of modern skin colors and any relationship that they might or might not have to cursings previously given.
  • Blacks, the seed of Cain, a murderer - This appears to have been true at one point. However, the Lamanites, also black, were Hebrews, and described as being "white" prior to their cursing. It stands to reason that there may be other peoples who had their skin changed, since we have record of it happening twice. Therefore, to say that all modern black people are descended from Cain is a hasty generalization

So far, so good. But here is where it all goes off the rails. The next item is a "racism test." I'll go ahead and just answer the questions Brother Perkins asks, again given bolded:

  1. Was the priesthood restriction of God?  I don't know. I do know that it stood through the presidencies of 10 different prophets. I do not believe that God was unable to persuade 10 different prophets to do it His way. That not only doesn't stand to reason, it flies in the face of the promise that the prophet will not be permitted to lead the Church astray. I have to conclude that He, for whatever reason, chose to allow the restrictive policy to remain in place. I don't know enough to answer this question.
    *** Edited to add: ***
    Due to information the church has published, pointed out by "Anchovies" in the comments, I can now say that for reasons known to the Lord, it is clear that He directed President McKay to leave things as they were, with the ban in place. I do not understand, but I don't have to. His ways are not my ways, and He is not required to explain Himself to me.
    *** End of addition ***
  2. Did the Lamanites have a darker skin than the Nephites? Yes, most of the time. The scriptural record is very clear on this point.
  3. Is or was dark skin a curse? Yes, at least part of the time, it began as such. The scriptural record is also clear on this point.
  4. Is interracial marriage wrong in the eyes of God? This one is an interesting question. I don't think it was ever about color; in my opinion it was always about covenant. I'll get to that in a bit. 

Now, according to Brother Perkins, anyone that answers yes to any of these questions is a racist. That's another hasty generalization. And one that I take serious issue with. I am not a racist, and I am finished with cowering before baseless accusations of being such. Being very conservative, and for the Constitution, it's an accusation I hear regularly. Saying that strangers are racist is  calling names; it's ugly. It is not Christlike. I don't care a fig about color. It's not an issue until someone else makes it an issue, generally by calling names. Left to my own devices, I don't think about skin color.

One thing Brother Perkins was right about, though, is the Great Commandment. There has never been any more than one standard for behavior: Love God and love your fellow men. Jacob wasn't very happy with his people for their behavior toward the Lamanites, and hating or treating people poorly is no more excusable today. There is no astrix on the Golden Rule.

Now. About interracial marriage. I can think of several cases where intermarriage was forbidden. I don't believe that the Nephite prohibition against marrying Lamanites was about color, not for a minute. I believe that it was always about the covenant. The Children of Israel were forbidden from marrying the people of the land. The Lord was very specific: that prohibition was specifically to keep His people from going "whoring after other gods".  The idea is to have as many righteous homes as possible, so that as many spirits as possible can be taught the gospel. In the case of the peoples the Children of Israel drove out, they were ripe for destruction. In the case of the Lamanites, I'm thinking that Laman and Lemuel must have been extremely effective teachers of hate. They taught their children a hatred of their cousins that lasted for a thousand years, and they must have taught them to also hate the Gospel, because a thousand years later as the Nephites were being destroyed, the Lamanites were still trying to destroy the sacred records. It is something of an assumption, but I think it safe to presume that Cain also taught his children to hate and to destroy. The prohibitions recorded, then, were never about color, and always about preserving the Gospel, and preserving the people from apostasy.

In modern times, things were a bit more murky during the period of priesthood restriction. I can recall seeing a quote from one of the Brethren discouraging interracial marriage. I don't remember who or where; it was a long time ago, so I can't link to it. But, as I recall, it was less about color, and more about preserving the integrity of the home, and avoiding the strain on the marriage that comes from the blending of two cultures. If I remember correctly (and I may not - it was quite some time ago), then they discouraged not only interracial marriage, but also marriage of those not of your own country. There is, too, that encouraging those kids who could, to marry in the temple would have as a natural by-product a discouraging of interracial marriages.

In the end, while I have some common ground with the site, and I disagree with them on some important points, it is his ugly generalizations and baseless accusations of racism that leave me wanting to have nothing to do with his site.


Anne Chovies said...

Interesting thoughts. If you want to see the church's official position on race
the priesthood the best place to go is https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng. I was around during the 60s and 70s and remember a lot of discussion on the topic, not all of it particularly inspired, like some of the points you reference here. I came across a comment from Elder Oaks yesterday where he mentioned that the Lord seldom exclusions the "why" behind His commandments. And agreements of logic and reason are not the basis of a solid testimony. I'm glad to see that your position here is based on solid scripture and not "alternate voices" that are so prevalent among the members of the church today.

Rozy Lass said...

Very good post. When I was growing up inter-racial marriage was discouraged because you couldn't be married in the temple and your male children wouldn't have the priesthood. Probably the reason the ban stood for so long is that no prophet before Spencer W. Kimball asked about it. He presided at the time of the first temple in Brazil and was concerned that the Brazilian saints wouldn't be able to enjoy the blessings of the temple without the lifting of the ban, (which I now understand was a racial, cultural thing of Brigham Young). Anyway, Brazil is very racially mixed and integrated, unlike the US. So Pres. Kimball plead with the Lord for direction and in answer to his pleas the Lord granted his petition. Remember, the Lord doesn't reveal anything until we ask a question. Also at that time the few members in Africa were begging for baptism and the church to be organized for them. I was almost 21 in 1978, and served a mission in the deep South the next year. It was so great to be able to see black families come into the church and receive the full blessings.
I believe the blacks today who claim that white members are racist are listening to Satan rather than the Lord. Satan wants to divide us into "ites" while the Lord wants us to be unified and one. Accusations of racism divide us rather than unite. I grew up in San Diego with black friends, teachers, and eventually dated blacks. I taught and saw baptized blacks on my mission. I think of myself as colorblind when it comes to skin. We are all one race--the human race, children of our Father in Heaven, with great variety of skin color, I am pink myself.
What purpose does it serve to accuse members of the church with racism? And how can anyone know the heart of another? It is by our fruits that we are known. I sure don't see the fruits of racism in the church and I've lived all over the US. Thanks again for this post.

Ritsumei said...

I agree, Dad, logic and reason are not the basis of a solid testimony, though they can augment one, because God is a God of order. My experience is that, if we are patient, He will tell us why when we are ready. In this case, and perhaps this is because I am not black, it's not something that I think about or study. That being the case, it's not surprising that I haven't found the answers. But you don't need all the answers to have a solid testimony; all you need is trust in Christ.

Ritsumei said...

Rozy Lass, that is exactly the impression that I came away with: the priesthood is a precious privilege, and an inheritance that should preserved for our posterity. Your point about revelation coming when we ask questions is also an important one. And the thought that this is more divisive than healing had occurred to me as well. I'm not seeing the fruits of racism at church, either.

Anne Chovies said...

The only reason I've ever heard against interracial marriage that I thought had any validity was that it adds cultural differences to an already difficult proposition. But that can be overcome so I personally see no real reason not to. Any difficulty in marriage can be overcome as long as both parties are willing to talk and keep working toward a solution.


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