Since we now know that the “priesthood ban” was only temporary — from the days of Ham and Abraham (1:27) up through 1979 — it’s easy to selectively remember what things were like back when Mormons knew that the negro’s role was an eternal and immutable part of God’s plan. But our recent discussion of BYU sports protests reminded me that, in fact, I’d read an article about those protests from way back.
My husband is a big fan of The New Yorker, and bought the DVD ROM of their whole archives — including an article from March 21, 1970 on BYU’s reaction to Stanford’s refusal to play ball with them, among other BYU sports protests. The whole article is worth reading, and it looks like it’s available on The New Yorker site: here (though you have to sign up for their service to read it).
In a nutshell, the folks of BYU agreed with university president Earnest L. Wilkinson when he called Stanford’s action “flagrant religious discrimination.” I’m tempted to make the obvious snide remark (it’s bigot-phobia!). Yet, perversely, the zoobies of way back then seem to have had a more legitimate cause to complain than their modern counterparts who claim “religious discrimination” when Mormons are criticized for their role in passing Proposition 8: The Mormons of back then were only asking for the right to discriminate within the walls of their own private, secret clubhouse — they weren’t writing their highly questionable beliefs about others’ inferiority into the public, civil laws that affect everyone. Yet — then as now — other people have every right to (peacefully) express their own opinion of the LDS church’s policies and actions.
Allow me to share some highlights from the article. My favorite is a quote from an (unnamed) BYU P.R. guy:
There’s probably not a higher-type student body in the United States. Look at the Campus! Not a drop of paper on it. No cigarette butts. When the flag goes up, the students come to attention. On other campuses, the students burn the flag. Our students are patriotic and they’re well dressed, and these are the people who are being persecuted. The kooks, the hippies, the filthy people — they’re not persecuted.
The author (Calvin Trillin) goes on to describe BYU as many of us who were there remember it. The university newspaper dutifully reports the university’s official protestations of innocence, but has been instructed not to print any discussion of the peculiar church doctrine in question (and, of course, the paper follows that instruction). The most left-leaning political group allowed on campus is the “Young Democrats,” but there’s plenty of room for the extreme right:
Among the Mormon religious pamphlets displayed at the bookstore is one called “Civil Rights — Tool of Communist Deception,” by Ezra Taft Benson, one of the twelve apostles of the church.
Then there’s another interesting quote from the then-current president of the church (SWK?): “darkies are a wonderful people.”
According to the article, the BYU coaches have publicly acknowledged that they warn potential (black) athletic recruits that they won’t be happy at BYU (since interracial dating is strictly forbidden, and there are almost no black students at BYU) while simultaneously claiming that black athletes are recruited “under exactly the same terms as any other athletes.”
Then the author closes by saying that there is real debate within Mormonism over the race issue, just not at BYU. It’s in Dialogue.
So, what do you think? The more things change, the more they stay the same…?