Why not denounce Brigham Young’s racist statements?

It should come as no surprise to MSP readers that Brigham Young made racist statements. As there are 26 volumes in the Journal of Discourses, Brigham Young said a great deal about many things.

I think most current LDS (including Brigham himself) acknowledge the doctrine that sometimes an LDS prophet is speaking as a prophet (i.e., from God) and sometimes they are speaking “as a man” (their own opinion) Please see Jeff Lindsay’s essay about fallibility here. This is acknowledging that LDS prophets are products of the culture and society they live in and fallible.

The US. in the nineteenth century was in general a very racist place. Slavery – the buying and selling of human beings was still legal. I don’t think we will argue this point, I would hope that it’s just generally accepted that racism in that time period was alive and thriving in all segments of American society. Brigham Young was not unique in some of this thoughts and statements about the races, their differences and the “perils” of interracial marriage.

Brigham said some pretty damning things – quotes from the Journal of Discourses:

Examples (obviously, I’ve left out much of the original sermons. You can query for the entire text of the sermons online – just search for journal of discourses and the volume):

“..Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” – JoD: vol.10 p. 110: (March 8, 1863)

Example:

“You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, un- comely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race – that they should be the “servant of servants;” and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree. How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, [p.291] and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam’s children are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed.When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion. “- JoD 7:290-291 (October 9, 1859)

Many LDS would say that with the 1978 revelation giving blacks the priesthood, institutional racism within the Utah LDS church ended. There was no longer a prohibition on couples of different races getting married in the temple, for example.

But the 1978 revelation fell short (see here) of disavowing Brigham Young’s (and other leaders’) statements. It did not say “Brigham Young was wrong when he said x. He was speaking as a man, not from God.”

The reason I bring this point up, is to ask how can I explain this concept to friends of color or people of awareness? I can’t defend it. I can’t explain that my parents, for example, active LDS members are not racists and vigorously denouce those statements (but they may believe that other things that Brigham said were from God).

An example of the defense would go:

Well, Brigham Young is indeed considered to be an LDS prophet.

And yes, he did say those racist statements.

Yet, active LDS know that he was speaking as a man and not as a prophet in those instances. And they believe that he was speaking as a prophet (from God) in other instances. Members can know the difference through personal revelation.

Without an official statement/apology, it’s up to individual LDS members’ interpretation. One individual is free to believe Brigham Young was indeed speaking from God when he made the statements against interracial marriage – indeed, referring to the death of the individuals in an interracial marriage. This individual can believe this(still have an LDS temple recommend, still fulfill their callings). Whether or not the majority of LDS do not believe that. Whether or not there are many active, temple-going LDS who are interracial couples. Whether or not there are many LDS who are descended from Africans or who are Africans themselves.

Other world religions, Roman Catholics for example, have come out and clarified their positions about past statements and actions of their leaders/members. They have specifically apologized for many former actions (even unintentional ones), compliance with the holocaust; and actions of Catholics against non-Catholics.

Just last year, an LDS spokesperson for the quorum of the twelve offered an apology for the Mountain Meadows Massacre.

So LDS apologies and clarifications are not out of the realm of possibility.

While there has been a clear direction to “follow living prophets”; – the term “living” is not clear. (I’ve linked to a talk given by Ezra Taft Benson in 1980 about the fourteen fundamentals in following the prophet). Living or modern could mean any LDS prophet since Joseph Smith, Jr. And I don’t think that something that Spencer W. Kimball (or Ezra Taft Benson) said would NOT be considered from a “living” prophet, as they were both alive thirty years ago. So within thirty years, it’s okay, but over one hundred years, what they said is suspect?

As I think it’s been discussed here before, when is a prophet still considered a living prophet? Does a new prophet (like Thomas S. Monson) need to go back through everything prior prophets have said and specify that LDS still believe that?

Stating that Brigham Young was NOT a modern or living prophet exposes a whole can of doctrinal worms. His life and works are still studied in LDS seminary, primary and Sunday School. So all of his sayings cannot be dismissed as not doctrinal by the Utah LDS church.

What makes more sense is to clarify specific statements, repudiate and apologize.

75 thoughts on “Why not denounce Brigham Young’s racist statements?

  1. (I almost forgot) correcting certain things from the past would suggest a bright line between the true & ‘untrue’; Mormonism strongly prefers ambiguity.

  2. The article and comments are an interesting read. Everyone, even prophets, are largely products of their generation (as is easily seen in the Old/New Testamente also). Due to JS’s lack of education and world experience, he relied heavily on the opinions and expertise of others – some to his credit and others to his demise.

    If true scripture, then the BOM and D&C are where a clear line can be drawn between JS, BY, and the Lord – which is why we rely more on what is in those scriptures than weird or obscure quotes or doctrines put forth by these individuals. Political views can change over time, scriptural views cannot. Ironically, the issue of race and how it is to be applied towards the priesthood is not defined in these scriptures – which is why historical leaders relied on sectarian notions regarding race. Notions, that I agree, should be clarified and apoligized for.

    Based on the geography of the church, race was not even a relevant issue until the civil rights movement and church growth demanded clarification. I do not fault JS or BY for their ignorance on this issue, which, for them, was mostly a non-issue.

    Like Seth indicated, I think that people who promote the dark-skin curse as racism in the BOM, have probably not read the BOM in full. There are far far too many examples of the dark-skinned Lamanites being blessed and exhalted over the white-skinned Nephites for this argument to be valid. By the end of the BOM, it is the white-skinned Nephites that are anhialated, not the dark-skinned Lamanites. And, it is the Lamanites who are promised the greatest blessings in the last days. Clearly, the BOM prophecies that the gospel, in the last days, will be spread to “all nations”. You know, the Gentiles first, then to the Jews. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

  3. Re: Snoopy “Like Seth indicated, I think that people who promote the dark-skin curse as racism in the BOM, have probably not read the BOM in full.”

    Really? While going to BYU in 80s every single religion professor I had made it perfectly clear that ones skin color was either a blessing or a curse. (This idea is by every known definition to social scientists and historians RACIST) Dark skinned people, Africans, Native-Americans, and Polynesians were cursed. And are Seth and Snoopy implying that President Kimball, a Mormon prophet probably did not read the BOM in full since he clearly saw being white skinned as a blessing? Please read what he had to say on skin color:

    Spencer W.Kimball, speaking at the General Conference meeting, October, 1960. “I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today….they The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos, five were darker but equally delightsome The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation. “At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl–sixteen–sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents–on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather….These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.” Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922-923.

  4. Cain, Ham, and the whole Negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry.” From Bruce R. McConkie’s book “Mormon Doctrine”, 1958 edition, pages 107-108

    Bruce R. McConkie’s was required reading in my Book of Mormon class in 1982. Does the Mormon God really require punishment by skin color? Does the Mormon God really have people with dark skin to be servants in heaven! (Mark Petersen believed in this so much he put the “servant” part in capital letters.)

    ” If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there AS A SERVANT, but he will get celestial glory.” Race Problems–As They Affect The Church, By Mark Petersen, August 27, 1954.

  5. The current LDS prophet, Thomas Monson, should, indeed, repudiate racist statements by previous church leaders and apologize for bigoted church policies. I give church leaders credit for apologizing for the Mountain Meadows Massacre. It seems logical that the one sure way to overcome racism is through intermarriage, which ironically, is ever more prevalent in the church as a result of young missionaries falling in love. After all, aren’t we all of the same family (children of God)? Eternity is a long time, and I feel safe in predicting that racism and prejudice (against gays and women, to a lesser extent) will steadily decline in future church policies and statements from leaders. One must have faith, after all. Current editions of McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” are slimmer that the ’58 volume as a result of extensive editing to remove offensive statements (eg. implying that the Catholic church is the “great and abominable church of the devil.” The Book of Mormon no longer refers to Nephites as “white and delightsome,” rather “fair and delightsome.” Prophets are as flawed and fallible as the rest of us and readily acknowledge that fact. The Church must pragmatically be at the forefront of the movement to eliminate prejudice and discrimination in order to expand our proselyting in foreign lands.

  6. It seems logical that the one sure way to overcome racism is through intermarriage, which ironically, is ever more prevalent in the church as a result of young missionaries falling in love.

    What’s ironic about it? You’re right that this works against prejudice for the whole extended family and ward of the people who end up marrying someone from the foreign culture they learned to love on their mission.

  7. I am an investigator. This is EXACTLY what I was trying to tell a family and two Missionary’s last night and last night. I am not only Native American, I am African American. This is the hump that is very difficult to overcome. I am very upset because it seems that LDS members take this for granted and/or don’t even know it. Then I was even told that I should be greatful for being in America no matter how it happened. While 7 generations ago, my ancestors were slaves? It is not right! They bred my ancestors like animals…they put bags over the heads of the man and the woman because sometimes they forced a son to mate with his mother and daughter to mate with her father. That tells me that this issue is not even thought about as a whole in the LDS community. This Prophet not only talked of my race but the physical features and disposition of my race and I am supposed to accept that? let me tell you that just because some of you may have those couple of Black friends that have no problem with it, that tells me that all parties are ignorant and I demand an apology, clarification of specific statements, repudiation for the racism in the church. i will go so far as to say that GOD does not like it either and wishes the same. I know this for a fact because I FEEL it. Do not take this racism for granted.

  8. @63 True, people telling you that you “should be greatful for being in America no matter how it happened” is a stunningly offensive display of ignorance.

    If you don’t mind my asking, why are you taking the LDS missionary discussions? If they’re this wrong on race, shouldn’t that be a deal-breaker?

  9. @63- If I had to guess, I’d say because his wife is enthusiastic about looking into the religion. I wish him the best in his efforts to help his family find the best religion for them.

  10. @64 A deal breaker? Of course not. In the second paragraph of this post, the writer states:

    “…LDS (including Brigham himself) acknowledge the doctrine that sometimes an LDS prophet is speaking as a prophet (i.e., from God) and sometimes they are speaking “as a man” (their own opinion)” ….”This is acknowledging that LDS prophets are products of the culture and society they live in and fallible.”

    @64 Does this mean that we should throw out the entire New Testament written by the Apostle Paul? by studying Paul’s own words, such a position can be disproved

    “I speak not by Commandment … and herein I give my advice” (2 Cor. 8: 8-10).

    2 Corinthians 11:17 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.

    Paul’s “advice” undoubtedly was good, but it certainly was not always the Word of God. Even if he was led by The SPIRIT, why would the SPIRIT lead Paul to say that he was speaking from his own mind? His own opinion?.

    If we are going to persecute one, Brigham Young, than why not the other, The Apostle Paul?

    The Devil, as some of you call it, is a greater salesman than you or I. But think, if a man is admitting that he is speaking as a man, specifying that it is not God, even if he be led by the SPIRIT, he is still being LED and it is the Man’s Interpretation of what he is being led to say.

    If Brigham Young was speaking as a man than yes, of course it is fallible but does not mean the whole church or doctrine is wrong…at least not in this instance. I am not defending what was said by Brigham Young more than I am trying too empathize with him and do as I was ordered to do by God of The Holy Bible as well as all of you..

    God has commanded ALL OF US to Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on things we don’t agree with in other beliefs.

    Didn’t the BIBLE tell us all to live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to us?

    God has called us to live in peace right?

    Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to THEM.

    To do it just as God has called us to Him. Each of us will give an account of OURSELVES to God right? So why should Brigham Young’s OPINION have any bearing on my desicion to study with LDS or not?

    Why do we forget that the BIBLE specifically told us to stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up our minds not to cause other people to sin based on what they see us do or say. The Bible teaches that if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean! Right??????? If your brother in The Lord is distressed because of what you believe, you are no longer acting in love if you keep shoving your beliefs in his face.

    Well i’m not going to let what i believe destroy my brother for whom Christ died. I refuse to allow what I consider good to be spoken of as evil. The kingdom of God is a matter of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. How can we live like this if we continue dogging a religion or soemones belief rather than pray for them? Anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men Right? No? well i will personally try to make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. I will not destroy the work of GOD for the sake of opinion. It is wrong for a man to do anything in front of someone that causes taht person to sin. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to DO ANYTHING else that will cause your brother to sin!

    So whatever YOU or I you believe about these things the bible says to keep theses things between yourself and God. The man does not condemn himself by what he approves is blessed Right? It’s the man that has doubts about what he is being taught to believe that is condemned if he believes in it anyway. because his belief is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin right?

    Some people like to argue from opinion when I pose these questions but it would behoove them to use biblical fact in this situation…that is what the SPIRIT leads me to say.

    Before anyone responds, if they be compelled to, let me remind you that the Disciples were stopped by Jesus once because in their own opinions, a certain man was CASTING OUT DEVILS in HIS name because the man did was not part of their circle.

    Jesus said “Do not stop him,” “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me.”

    Mark 9:38

    My concern is with the LDS teaching their members more in depth about this from a closer study of it themselves without them taking these statements for granted, KNOWING what they believe so they can defend their FAITH properly, BOLDLY, and WHOLEHEARTEDLY.

    So IN MY OPINION, Thomas S. Monson should refuse to have anything to do with Brigham Young’s racist statements, and reject as untrue or unjust other than for scholarly study, and to have the Church apologize for these statements because very quite frankly, I KNOW this is what GOD wants, and this is not my opinion, this is what GOD says. Mormons are GOOD people and were there for me when no one else was and I will never forget them and discredit them for this man’s opinion’s and in my opinion, neither should any of you…

    @64 I am a student of GOD and so even if I get baptized or not by the LDS, it is my DUTY to learn from them as commanded by the LORD and I will Love them regardless of the outcome. So whatever I think is “WEAK” FAITH by the LDS, I will pray for them and love them and not stop them because they too love Jesus Christ and say nothing bad about HIM. So Brigham Young’s followers weakness, for whom Christ died, is not destroyed by my knowledge…

    1 Corinthians 7
    2 Corinthians 11:17
    2 Corinthians 13:10

    Romans 14

    …and I thought I would add this…

    Romans 15 King James Version (KJV)

    15 We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

    2 Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.

    3 For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me.

    4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.

    5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus:

    6 That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    7 Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.

    I hope this answers your questions…

  11. @63 i answered your questions accidently adressing @64 so I hope you read that as I alsol answer @64 here…

    I am the one enthusiastic because I am a Student of GOD and I am to learn of all religions until I am compelled to get baptized by one…or not. LDS was there for me when no one else was…GOOD PEOPLE to me…when no one else was there for me. So if they do not figure it out, GOD has compelled me to bring this message to all that talk about this. Do you believe me?

  12. Michael Primus open your eyes, when Paul made his statements as recorded in the bible he made clear which statements were from God and which ones were his own thoughts and ideas.

    In the case here B Young makes it clear he is saying this is the law of God! please see the quote. It is not his own word but he claims it is the law of God and will always be so. This teaching of his is so out of step with the teachings of Jesus Christ, even if he was talking about the white man having sex with concubines. Jesus protected the adulteress from stoning.

    Michael Primus, you appear to be so brain washed and willing to lie to yourself and others for the purpose of defending your church from the indefensible. I have found that same trait from a number of Mormons, they are not willing to read or think anything other than that which comes from their Apostles.

  13. I’m glad someone put snoopy in his place, always blaming anyone but the doctrines/prophets/church. I know these types of Mormons, the current prophet would tell them to be racist and they would oblige.

  14. I refute the analogy that sometimes Brigham Young was speaking as a prophet and sometimes as an ordinary man with regards to things spiritual or church related.

    For example if Brigham Young were to say, ” I prefer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches over ham sandwiches,” then he would be speaking as an ordinary man.

    But when he says,”Shall I tell you THE LAW OF GOD in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. THIS WILL ALWAYS BE SO.”

    He is speaking as a prophet. If his comment was contrary to God’s WORD on the matter, then God would surely have him removed as a prophet because as we all know, God will not let a prophet lead the flock astray with false doctrine.

    Since he remained Prophet, Ergo: What he said regarding the Black race was / is true to this day.
    And please don’t say ‘Well..God changed his mind”
    He’s not known for doing that! LOL!

    Unfortunately the present Day Mormon church is slowing falling into Apostasy for disavowing and sometimes outright saying as ‘untrue’ the words of the early Prophets to appease the modern ‘world’ and gain favor with the creation rather than worship the Creator.

  15. Jack @ 72:

    Are you actually that committed to a truthiness for Brigham Young in 19th-century America that you are against miscegenation in 2015? That is a fascinating perspective, to be sure, and an indication of a complicated brokenness that Mormonism instills in its members.

    He is speaking as a prophet. If his comment was contrary to God’s WORD on the matter, then God would surely have him removed as a prophet because as we all know, God will not let a prophet lead the flock astray with false doctrine.

    By no means am I a Mormon apologist, and I think you are absolutely correct that Young at the time was speaking as a “prophet” — but there is another possibility, as I understand it. Just like how the Church was forced to end polygamy because the modern world would otherwise end the Church, it is also true that upholding anti-miscegenation “for all time” was not something Young could realistically pronounce as both a “man and a prophet.” At no point does a prophet speak “100%” for God — any message from God alters at least somewhat as it passes down a telephone line from person to person (or in this case, deity to person)… so I think the point the Church is trying to make is that prophets are not infallible. They don’t speak sometimes as men and sometimes as prophets, but rather always as both “men and prophets.”

    (FYI, I think the whole thing is bogus, but I just wanted to engage your logic here.)

  16. Alan@73

    If the early prophets of the church were the actual ones to have restored God’s one and only true church on earth again, then wouldn’t you think their teachings would be infallible / unalterable?? What’s the point of a restoration if the prophets can add ‘their own 2 cents worth’ to God’s word and those opinions may differ from what God actually said?? God is not a God of Confusion.

    Look at the old testament prophets for example. Did Jesus say anything to the effect that because what they wrote was 100’s of years old that it no longer applied in Jesus’s modern day? Of course not.
    In fact a read of Mathew 5:17: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” backs up the claim that Jesus accepts the Old testament as God’s ‘Unalterable’ word.

    Your analogy that:

    ”At no point does a prophet speak “100%” for God — any message from God alters at least somewhat as it passes down a telephone line from person to person (or in this case, deity to person)”

    is seriously flawed.

    Again, if God’s purpose was to restore his true church once again on the earth after his first attempt was thwarted by ‘man’, don’t you think he’d make sure that he got it 100% right this time with no room for confusion / error??

    About polygamy, if you believe that Joesph Smith was a true prophet of God then you must accept this practice.
    Along with many other controversial teachings. And when the church bowed down to pressure from the US government to stop this practice, is when, in my opinion, they, again started to fall into apostasy. They didn’t believe that God had the power to protect his own work.

    God commands his followers to obey kings, magistrates, governments, etc, etc..but only as far as they don’t go against God’s teachings.

    The modern Mormon church has allowed the ‘evil’ of this world and pressure from liberal zealots to alter / apologize for many of their early core beliefs. Damn shame. Joesph Smith is probably turning in his grave.

    Good Luck.

  17. Jack, are you an FLDS member? I’m just trying to get a sense of your belief system.

    don’t you think he’d make sure that he got it 100% right this time with no room for confusion / error??

    I’m not an expert on how this works according to LDS belief, but my sense is that the Church is not supposed to be considered a perfect reflection of Heaven, but rather an imperfect copy on Earth. Therefore, even with a prophet that’s “never supposed to lead the Church astray,” it’s always at least a tiny bit off track because this isn’t Heaven. Prophets are always able to keep the church “on track,” but it’s never fully there (leading to the Mormon obsession with perfectionism). The living prophet is also not wholly bound to the words of the past prophets because God speaks in the present.

    But then our discussion here is lot like the difference in constitutional law between viewing it as a “living document” (that changes) or the need to maintain original intent when things are stated unequivocally. The difference is the Church has no “constitutional amendment” system, and simply has to wallow forevermore in its historical difficulties.

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