Just before the final presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012, American Atheists paid for this ad to be driven around Boca Raton, Florida, where the debate was being held:
The ad referenced two doctrines of the Mormon faith — one, that black people were forbidden from entering the priesthood until 1978, and second, that sexually-active gay people are still banned from the church altogether.
Let me repeat that first part: Black people were forbidden from entering the priesthood until 1978. 1978!
It’s a fact echoed in the lyrics to “I Believe” in the musical “The Book of Mormon”:
I Believe; that Satan has a hold of you
I Believe; that the Lord, God, has sent me here
And I Believe; that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!
You can be a Mormon
A Mormon who just believes!
It’s one of those things you can’t sweep under the rug. It was blatant racism and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints never really owned up to it.
Until December of 2013, anyway.
That’s when the Mormon Church’s website released a statement admitting that the reason for the black priest ban was racism, pure and simple:
In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter blacks continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.
Nevertheless, given the long history of withholding the priesthood from men of black African descent, Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter the policy, and they made ongoing efforts to understand what should be done. After praying for guidance, President McKay did not feel impressed to lift the ban.
Today, 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.
Which brings us to what happened last fall in Honolulu. Sunday school teacher Brian Dawson — who is white and married to a Nigerian woman — was asked some tricky questions: Why did the couple belong to a church that barred black priests before 1978? Why was the ban ever instituted at all?
To answer the teen’s inquiry, Brian Dawson turned to the Utah-based faith’s own materials, including its groundbreaking 2013 essay, “Race and the Priesthood.” His research prompted an engaging discussion with his class of 12- to 14-year-olds.
Sounds fine… but when the students told their parents what transpired, word got back to Mormon elders, who were not-at-all happy with Dawson’s approach.
So they told him he wouldn’t be teaching the students anymore.
“Anything regarding black history before 1978 is irrelevant,” Dawson recalls his bishop saying, “and a moot point.”
Then, the former teacher says, his bishop insisted during a February interview that Dawson agree never again to bring up the essay or discuss “black Mormon history” in the class.
Dawson refused to play along… and that’s why he was fired. For teaching the kids about the Church’s racist past using material available on the official Mormon website.
Justin, an ex-Mormon who has written a lot about the Church, isn’t surprised by what happened to Dawson:
… That these new essays are unintentionally and/or willfully ignored seems telling that their contents are troubling and embarrassing. One might question why The Church has written them at all. Of course, if the “approved” versions are this damning, what might unapproved sources have to say about these topics?
Great question. One the Church won’t be answering anytime soon, I’m sure.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)