Is Mormonism Still Racist?

Comments from a BYU professor are a reminder that church beliefs about black people have never been officially repudiated.

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A statue of Brigham Young (George Frey/AFP/Getty Images)

Randy Bott, a professor of religion at Brigham Young University, in a Washington Post piece by Jason Horowitz, said that "God has always been discriminatory." His comments have caused a stir (to put it mildly). Slate's Max Merry Mueller points out that this wouldn't have been so significant if not for Mormonism's complicated and troubling history with regard to race. The issue, of course, will continue to be of interest for at least as long as Mormon GOP hopeful Mitt Romney is looking to lead a country that includes people of all ethnicities. 

From Slate:

Starting shortly after the death of the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, in 1844, the Mormon Church began denying its priesthood -- otherwise granted to faithful young men over the age of 12 more or less as a matter of course -- to men of African descent. That policy survived for well over a century. Only with a divine revelation announced by then-prophet Spencer W. Kimball in 1978 did the church finally overturn the ban and allow “all worthy males,” regardless of race, full and equal membership in the religion.

Why did the church withhold the priesthood from blacks for over a century? Among the reasons trotted out by church leaders -- including church presidents -- during that time: Black people are the cursed descendants of ancient Biblical figures; black people committed pre-mortal perfidy; black people lacked the intelligence and personal integrity to hold such a sacred office.

Such past beliefs have never officially been repudiated. And the failure of the church to repudiate them helped set the stage for the comments made by Bott, perhaps the most popular professor at BYU (and at one point, according to ratemyprofessors.com, the most popular professor in the country). Bott, 67, teaches in the school’s religion education department, which is more like a college-level seminary class than the standard “religious studies” program at a liberal arts college. In his comments to the Post, Bott cited the Old Testament anti-heroes Cain and Canaan, whom Christians of many denominations long believed to be cursed for their ancient transgressions, marking their offspring with dark skin and casting them into perpetual servitude of the lighter skinned races ...

Read more at Slate.

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