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Is the Mormon Church Racist?

Updated on April 23, 2013

Are Blacks Welcomed in the Mormon Church?

The Mormon Church has many black members.
The Mormon Church has many black members. | Source

Elijah Abel - Third Black Person to Join LDS Church

Elijah Abel was the first black elder in the Mormon Church.
Elijah Abel was the first black elder in the Mormon Church. | Source

Some Grounds for Understanding

I served a mission for the LDS (Mormon) Church a number of years ago in Canada. Like many LDS missionaries, one of the questions I found myself consistently answering regarded the policies and attitude of the LDS Church towards black people. Men who were of African descent were not allowed to hold the priesthood, nor were black people allowed to take part in temple ordinances until 1978, at which time LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball made a long-anticipated policy change which opened those privileges to all worthy members of the Church.

A simple reading of the paragraph above would most likely lead a person to one conclusion: The Mormon Church is racist. As a member of the LDS faith, I can understand the accusation. However, a deeper look and more understanding will reveal to the earnest seeker of truth another side of the story. I'm reminded of a scripture in Isaiah, chapter 55, verses 8-9:

8 ¶ For my athoughts are not byour thoughts, neither are your cways my dways, saith the Lord.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my aways bhigher than your ways, and my cthoughts than your thoughts.

This hub was created for non-members of the LDS Church as an aid in understanding the history of the church in relation to black people and all races in general. The commentary here does not represent any official viewpoint of the church, since I am not in a position to issue anything authoritative. However, I've had over 30 years of membership in the LDS Church, so my insights are based upon lots of experience.

What is racism?
In today's society, it is common to hear charges of "racism" thrown out towards politicians, religious leaders, and even average people whose words are taken out of context. The truth is that we live in a world where a lot of different kinds of people interact. Amid the tensions that exist today in business, popular culture, education, etc., the issue of race seems to complicate things. I remember growing up in the South. One day while I was in high school a black teenager from my school killed his white girlfriend. For a long time after the incident, security at the school was very tight. Racial tension was obviously high. I'm certain the feelings and environment at that school or anywhere else in this world has improved.
Racism is largely defined as a belief that a certain race is superior to another. Said differently, racism could be considered an affinity for one's own culture, upbringing, and way of life above a lifestyle that is not so familiar. When considered in this perspective, it's likely that there are very few people who would not be considered racist. The point here is that the term "racism" or "racist" have become nothing more than pejoratives used to insult or discredit. People who thrive on using those terms would be benefited by taking a closer look.

What is the Priesthood?
As understood by Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the priesthood is the God's authority. It is given to worthy men on this earth to use for performing saving ordinances (baptism, temple ordinances), to receive revelation to direct the church, to give blessings to others, and for other righteous purposes.
Latter-day Saints believe that the priesthood has existed on the earth since the time of Adam and Eve. Because this earth (a telestial world) is in a state in which sin and temptation are so rampant, limitations on who can hold the priesthood have existed during the history of the earth. During one long era in Old Testament times, the Levites (men who descended from Levi) were designated as temple workers.

Nobody Knows
I recently watched a documentary on the history of blacks in the LDS Church, and I was impressed with the accounts told by Darius Gray, Paul Gill, Ted Whiters, Tamu Smith, and other black members of the church. The documentary is called Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. Being a white person, it's difficult for me to expound with authority on why the discrimination by the LDS Church against black people was necessary or acceptable. I'm including the trailer for the documentary below.

Nobody Knows Commercial


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    • profile image

      Lee B Baker 

      4 years ago

      Blacks Ridiculed again by the Mormon Church

      By Lee B. Baker, Former Mormon High Priest and Bishop

      18 November 2013


      For several years now, every Tuesday evening I have had the great privilege of hosting “Teaching The Truth”, an LDS focused broadcast to the Christian and Mormon listeners of Worship FM 101.7 in Monrovia, the capital City of Liberia, West Africa.

      I have come to know several of the station managers and a number of the more frequent callers to this weekly program. Through their comments, questions and photographs, I have been genuinely moved to see the application of their unyielding faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

      Over the past few months the question of racist teachings in the Book of Mormon and from the past Leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been on the minds of the Black Liberian converts to Mormonism and the many African Christians who struggle to understand how such a Church can be growing in Africa.

      I believe the answer is relatively simple; it has been the perfect merging of a sincere lack of knowledge on the part of the Black Mormon Converts and a disturbing lack of accountability on the part of the White Mormon Leaders. A near total lack of knowledge across Africa specific to the more explicitly racist teachings found within the current Mormon Scriptures, principally that of Black Skin and even less information concerning the racism and bigotry openly and officially taught by the early Leadership of the Mormon Church. These facts, combined with the current Church Leadership’s inability to clearly and specifically reject its own racist teachings both in print and from its past Senior Leadership (liberally using the terms Nigger, Darky, Sambo and Skin of Blackness ), has left the Black Race with only a short irresponsible and offensively juvenile Official Statement that claims the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints knows very little about its own race-based policy, which lasted for well over 100 years:

      “It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended.” - Official Mormon Press Release concerning Race and the Church

      Maintaining a detailed and comprehensive history of every aspect and teaching of the Church has been both one of the hallmarks and one of the downfalls of Mormon Church. Within the relatively young Church, authoritative documentation, however corrupt it may have been, has never been in short supply. Each of the Senior Leaders of the Mormon Church has had several official biographers as well as an army of Church approved historians to record all aspects of the History of the Church. In fact, one of my first of many “Callings” in the Mormon Church was that of a Ward (Congregational) Historian, long before I became a Mormon High Priest and Bishop.

      The peculiar assertion that the Mormon Church itself does not know the details of its very own race-based policy of restricting the Blacks from holding the Priesthood is tremendously embarrassing for all Mormons and exceptionally degrading for anyone who actually believes it.

      As a former local leader of the Mormon Church, I have repeatedly assured the African members of the Mormon Church that the documents and “Scriptures” I have read to them over the air are both Authorized and Official for the time period they are relevant to. I clearly state the current position of total acceptance of all Races by the Church, but I must highlight the fact that the Book of Mormon still carries it’s obviously racist message that dark skin was a curse from God. I have said many times on-air that like the Mormon Missionaries, I too believe that every African should have a copy of the Book of Mormon, if only to learn the truly racist teaching of the Mormons, directly from the Book of Mormon.

      I have and will continue to teach the African Nations from the authentic Mormon Scriptures and the official Church History documents, which I had been provided by the Mormon Church to execute my responsibilities as a Mormon Bishop. The Official Records of the Mormon Church include many jokes and sermons given within the Official Semi-Annual General Conference of the Mormons, using freely the terms Nigger, Darky and Sambo. Additionally, these LDS Church documents record nearly 100 graphic sermons and lessons that clearly teach the principle, practice and policy that Black Skin was, is and will remain forever the Curse of Cain.

      Only in the recent past has the “Complete History” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints come to the attention of its own membership, much less to the under developed regions of the world. As this information is discovered, an ever increasing number of members of the Mormon Church have come into a personal crisis of faith, most notably Elder Hans Mattsson of Sweden, a General Authority of the Mormon Church who has gone public with his doubts and questions concerning the appalling treatment of the Black Race by the Mormon Church.

      Not unique to Africa, has been the Mormon Church’s training of young Missionaries to strictly avoid any discussion of several of the more embarrassing, yet true, teachings of the 183 year old Church. Among the prohibited subjects to discuss have been, becoming a God, the practice of Polygamy and religious racial restrictions on the Black Race.

      With the smooth talent of a skilled politician, the Mormon Church has ended its Official Racial Restrictions with the following hypocritical and deceitful, but technically accurate Statement:

      “The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.”

      As a former Mormon Bishop and member of the Mormon Church for over 32 years, let me be of some help with the translation of this very carefully crafted, yet deceitful message. The two key and noteworthy phrases are: “in the absence of direct revelation” and “These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.”

      I will address the most obvious first, clearly the “previous statements” from the Church and its Leadership “do not” represent the Church doctrine today. The policy was reversed in 1978 and there is no question as to the current policy of today. The hypocritical deception is that between 1830 and 1978 those “statements” did, very much “DID” not “DO” represent past Official and Legitimate Mormon Church doctrine. Yet, I do give full credit to the clever Mormon authors and editors of today for their most skillful use of the English language.

      And finally, the most revealing and enlightening statement from the Mormon Church is: “in the absence of direct revelation”. So then, it is incredibly true and accurate that without any mockery or sarcasm to state that; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had for nearly 140 years, restricted a significant portion of the human race, millions and millions from what they teach is God’s intended blessings of Eternal Marriage, Salvation and even Godhood, without knowing why they did it, all without “direct revelation”?

      This Official Statement of religious shame and embarrassment comes from the Headquarters of a Church that claims to be guided in all things by “direct revelation”. How then, did such an exclusive doctrine based on prejudice, bigotry and racism become so widely accepted, so authoritative, so convincing and so commanding for so long, without any “direct revelation”?

      As a former Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I give solemn testimony that what they have declared is true, in that, they were and are now racist and do not hide the History of the Mormon Church from its members or the public, this, their Official Statement on Race and their Official “Scriptures ” clearly demonstrates that fact.

      I believe that the truly wicked teachings as well as the repulsive history of the Mormon Church concerning Polyg

    • technologyvault profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Utah

      Hi Jim. If you look at the video I linked to: "Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons", you can see several non-whites discussing whether they think the Church is racists. Their conclusions are resoundingly, "No". I relied quite a bit on their insight to create this hub.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      The best person to comment on whether the church is racist or not would be a non-white, sorry, brother.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Explain how after 34 years there is still no diversity on the Quorum of Twelve Apostles? The Mormon Church very clearly threw in a bone - priesthood/temple - but said HELL NO to Apostleship. No Non-White need apply here.

      The pictures of your General Authorities reveal only ONE African American. Since 1978 and it seems just like yesterday.

    • technologyvault profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Utah

      Hi Mr_skeptic. Thanks for your comments. I've heard people ask about those verses in the Book of Mormon before, including one in 2nd Nephi that you were likely referring to:

      2 Nephi 5:21 - "And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them."

      In today's society with its obsession political correctness, it seems like everyone is looking for a reason to be offended. Considering that verse from the Book of Mormon through the eyes of a society that thinks it's offensive to even refer to someone as "black", it would come across as fitting the modern-day definition of racism.

      However, bursting through the clouds and mists of confusion about the nature of human beings in this world are these truths understood by Latter-day Saints: 1) Every person born on this earth, regardless of skin color or any other mortal factor, is a son or daughter of the same God; 2)Each person born on this earth has the same potential to become like God, to live in heaven with him.

      Despite earthly conditions that cause injustice, inequality, favoritism, and other race-related adversities, those two doctrines dispel whatever other notions of racism might exist in regards to the LDS Church.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My experience with Mormons has been that they seem far less racist than other conservative denominations (with a few sad exceptions among the top ranks).

      Nevertheless, the BoM contains several verses that are clearly racist--for example, in 2 and 3 nephi, re skin color.

      Please explain why you think these are not racist.

      (I tried to ask this question using the Ask a Question box but it did not seem to work.)

    • technologyvault profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Utah

      Hi MasamiH. Congratulations on your baptism. One thing that you might be interested in knowing is that the church has more members outside the US now than inside, including many in Asia, South America, and Africa. I have always liked hearing talks from Yoshihiko Kikuchi, who is the first native Japanese to be a General Authority. While the world has a lot of problems with racism, inside the church I think there is a very different perspective on who everyone really is.

    • MasamiH profile image


      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for bringing up the topic here. I am Japanese national and have residency in the US. I've lived in the US for 9 years and I was baptized at LDS church in WA 2 months ago. I studied about ethnic and multicultural education, and about race/racism at college. Do anything about "race" is always complicated. Did you see the Olympic's ice-dance on TV? The Russian pair wore Aboligines costumes and considered as they offended their culture. This is the typical example if public view of racism. I thought this racism argument really never end as long as people see "color." I also believe everyone has some level of racism including myself. At first,I thought LDS was racist group because I rarely saw LDS member with darker skin in my city. All missionaries I have seen are all white until a couple months ago. I just moved to FL and this is my first time I have seen missionary who speaks spanish. When I was in Japan,I saw white missionaries everywhere. Honestly, I was uncomfortable in some level to join LDS just because I thought LDS was for white people at the beginning. Now, I am really happy that I am a LDS memeber and I know this is the true church for me;)


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