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The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has been the center of much
attention throughout modern history, whether it be about the polygamists, the
Book of Mormon, or Joseph Smith seeing God, or the restored priesthood. Though
the church is known to have these forms of controversies, we see through
history that no organization or group is free from mistakes and criticism.
Throughout history in general, there has always been some sort of religious
contention around the globe. A large point of contention then and even now is
the factor of race in religion and the certain rules and restrictions
implemented into the religion regarding race.

Racial
segregation was alive and well during the time the church was restored, and
naturally all the people during this time period would feel a certain way
towards people of color. During this time of when the Church was still new, like
other religions, it taught us the value of being kind to others and to bring
peace unto one another, but due to the time that it was, there was great racial
segregation against the black community. It was until 1987 that African
Americans were not allowed to join in on temple “endowment or sealing ordinances” (LDS.org) and those of color, who
were males, were not allowed to receive the gift of the priesthood. Thankfully,
the rules prohibiting them from being able to receive these gifts have been
removed, as mentioned above, in 1987. Though this portion of history is covered
up a lot, it is important for all of us to know why and how this happened and
for what reasons.

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The
church was restored in the 19th century, which was a tumultuous time
in which slavery was common, including the selling and buying of African
Americans. An important fact to note is that this was commonplace and that
segregation was also the norm for this time period, which is a big difference
from the current 21st century. Every mainstream church did not allow
the entrance of African Americans and denied them membership, which in turn
made them go and establish “Black Churches” for those of their color and for
those who were free slaves in the surrounding community. If we look at it from
this standpoint, the decision to make the church segregated makes sense from a
cultural standpoint as segregation was the norm. For this context during this
time period, they followed the “law of the land” and African Americans didn’t
have the same rights as white Americans.

A
fun fact is that Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the LDS church, was against
the abolitionist movement instead of being part of their group. Joseph used to
use passages in the bible to justify this position. An example is given in “Latter-Day
Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. II, No. 7”, he uses the following verses
in Genesis 8:25~27 – “And he said cursed
be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”. Hes uses
this as an example and explanation of why we should use African Americans as
slaves and that why it should be allowed. Joseph also uses the “history of
Abraham” in which it states that Abraham; “had
sheep and oxen, men servants and maid-servants”. He said that it should be
allowed based on the verse since Abraham was never told to get rid of his “men
servants and maid-servants”. “If the
principle had been an evil one, in the midst of the communications made to this
holy man, he would have been instructed differently.7 And if he was instructed
against holding men-servants and maid-servants, he never ceased to do it; consequently,
must have incurred the displeasures of the Lord and thereby lost his
blessings—which was not the fact.” (Smith 1836)

A
lot of Josephs statements and viewpoints are interesting to look at and
analyze. Through an analysis of what Joseph and others of the church said back
during this time, we can get a clear image of what society was like during this
new and troubling time. In short, people during this time did not know any
better. They were raised in a way in which this was normal and that that was
how society should function. Even the prophet of the church at the time, as
inexperienced as he was, HOWEVER, he would eventually change his viewpoint and
eventually also push for the irradiation of slavery. He proves this in 1844,
about 10 years after the first comments about race and he speaks about how racial
discrimination is disastrous to our society and he says that he felt “a double anxiety for the happiness of all
men, both in time and in eternity”. (Smith 1844).  After this, black people were allowed to go
to church and receive the gift of the holy ghost. So why was it that there was
still a priesthood ban for those of color? According to the LDS.org article, “Church leaders believed that a revelation
from God was needed to alter the policy” and “President McKay did not feel
impressed to lift the ban” (LDS.org).

Though
we have only mentioned comments from Joseph Smith so far, this does not make
him the only one with this form of thinking. Even in 1850, which was right
after Joseph died, slaves were still bought and sold in Utah Territory under
the supervision of Brigham Young. Brigham Young is also quoted saying that
African Americans were “uncouth, un-
comely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of
nearly all the blessings of the intelligence”. Though a little bit more
down the road, even George Albert Smith wrote in his journal “about the use of LDS meeting houses to
prevent Negroes from becoming neighbors”. (Quinn, p.384). These are both
extreme things to do and both of them were quite recent. However, from just
looking at these bits and pieces of statements made by church leaders it is
hard to provide concrete proof to any racism imbedded within the church
organization.

            A big concern for many different people who are new to
the church or have just heard of this for the first time is the fact that this
happened all about 30 years ago. Another thing most people get stuck on is that
they see the church as following a trend more than following the prophet’s
orders. A major question that is posed is “why did the Church follow the trend
and continue to deny the priesthood and temple marriage to black people in a
society”. This is an interesting question as church leaders always say to never
follow what everyone else does, in other words, trends, when you know it is
wrong. We are asked and prompted every general conference to fight against
temptation and to not follow what society sees as what average or normal (such
as keeping the Word of Wisdom instead of drinking with coworkers). Instead we
must listen to the prophets, and follow the commandments and doctrines given to
us. This then brings up the question of why then would the African American
race be denied the ultimate gift of the priesthood and temple marriage even
though our religion always speaks of inclusion of all races? Though it would be
nice for there to be a clear and concise answer, there is not available to
us.  Even President Gordon B Hinkley said
he doesn’t know the exact reasons why this ban was even introduced into the
church, other than that this was all part of Gods plan in some way, shape, or
form. 

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