What can repair the church’s race relations?

I guess that is the ultimate question of today’s post.

On Mormon Matters, Mormon Heretic (the Mormon part’s the dominant side of that name, btw) wrote a post trying to discuss positive black history in the church. And I guess, stinker that I am, I just had to approach the issue with skeptical comments.

See, the way MH approached the article just seemed like something I experience often in my life which annoys me. I’m not saying that MH is doing this, but I’ve heard people say things like, “I’m not racist; I’ll let you know I have 3 black friends…”

…Right. You definitely just counted out the number of black friends as if that would alone absolve you of any ill will. (I don’t doubt that the people who say this indeed may have 3 black friends. But interestingly enough, I’ve also heard [from different people] this: “I just wish all black people could be like you.” Ergggh, with this kind of honesty, who needs lies?)

Anyway, I’m not saying that MH is doing this, but I can’t help but get that impression from the church. “See, the church isn’t really racist, because look at all of these instances of people who got ahead?”

This is a bit unfair though…if I reject six examples, then someone might ask me, “How many do you need?” And if I say something like, “There is no amount of examples to fix the history…” then I sound prejudiced instead!

So, I had to think…what would make me feel differently about the church’s race relations?

I guess I should caveat. Myself, I don’t particularly think the church is egregiously racist. MH argues that the Priesthood Ban was just the machination of a few imperfect people but which happened to get stuck in the church for longer than it should have. While I have problems with this, I can at least buy (on a good day) that racism is not essential to the Mormon church’s doctrine and was an unfortunate side effect of imperfect people. I don’t fool myself into believing the prophet is infallible.

My problem is this: regardless of the ideal of “pure Mormon truth,” the fact is that the church is also a factory of culture, of policy, of history. So, just saying, “Well, this policy was not a ‘thus saith the Lord'” doesn’t really fix the fact that it *did* get into the church and it is in the the history and there it remains.

And the fact is that even today, we’ve got members believing all sorts of crazy things (see the last few paragraphs of this comment). Now, I can accept that memberes will believe crazy, undoctrinal things. It’ll happen regardless of anything anyone can do. But the problem I see is…because the church has never fully confronted this issue…never laid out what *is* doctrine and who should be repudiated and denounced (the whole “we didn’t have full understanding” thing is a bit of a dodge — considering that Mormon Doctrine, even though we can infer that it’s NOT Mormon Doctrine, is still quoted and used and Bruce R. McConkie is still well regarded by some)…so people who think that people will all become white in the afterlife are just as justified as people who believe people will be as they are (will we have gays in heaven? etc.,).

And of course, I’m just being a typical DAMU by expecting and making demands of the church.

Why should the Church confront this? Do you seriously think that in the state of things as they are now that they would confront this?
I tire of DAMU types wanting the Church to do this that or the other. The church isn’t going to do anything that it thinks is bad PR, and why should it? You should know that well enough now. There is no doctrine. there is only historical evidence and good logical conclusion from those evidences. You cant base what the church *should* do off what you think it should do. It will only do what *it* views as being in its own interest, and obviously what you want it to do is *not* what it is going to do, or it would have already done it.

And you know what? Commenter Aboz is right. We have repeated evidence that we just keep forgetting: even though the church hypes itself up as a True Church or a Righteous Church or whatever, we have to look past the fluff and realize that it is an organization that ultimately serves to reach whatever ends are most expedient to its sustenance. And expedience is not a virtue.

Andrew S

Andrew S grew up in a military family, but apparently, that didn't make much of an impression upon him because he has since forgotten all of his French and all of his Hangungmal (but he does mispronounce the past tense of "win" like the Korean currency and thinks that English needs to get it together!) Andrew is currently a student at Texas A&M who loves tax accounting, the social sciences, fencing (epee), typography, presentation design, and public speaking, smartphones, linux, and nonparallel structured lists.

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10 Responses

  1. Steve M says:

    I’m not sure that the solution is for the Church to come up with some systematic way of differentiating “official” from “unofficial” doctrine. Mormonism is already legalistic enough. And in the abstract, the idea of rejecting creeds (as expounded by Joseph Smith) sounds great. I think there is value in keeping a relatively narrow canon of official doctrine.

    The problem, in my opinion, has more to do with the combination of an ambiguous canon with widespread unwillingness to second-guess or disagree with church leaders, past and present. Since General Authority pronouncements are given a strong, almost irrebuttable presumption of validity, virtually everything they say constitutes quasi-official doctrine. Deference to leaders is so strong that controversial or unenlightened General Authority statements are only classified as “unofficial” long after the fact, and only when it is necessary to do so. Even then, the statements are seldom contradicted.

    The result is that, rather than facilitating diversity of belief, Mormonism’s amorphous canon acts like a black hole, drawing in nearly every crazy notion ever uttered by a General Authority.

    And so the 21st century Church finds itself in a difficult position. The commonsense solution to its race problems would be to officially (and specifically) renounce the Priesthood Ban, as well as all of the terrible folk doctrines that were used to justify it over the years. But that would clash with the Mormon practice of not contradicting those revered as prophets.

    And so, in my view, the only real solution would be to reduce the authoritarian aspects of Mormonism and try to remove the stigma associated with dissent. Until or unless that step is taken, I don’t see how the LDS Church can ever come to terms with, much less rectify, its past blunders.

  2. Yeah, I would feel better if the LDS community would spend less time playing the apologist and for the church to offer a sincere apology. Really, that’s all. 🙂

    They’ve painted themselves into a corner where they can’t repent without losing face, so they’re going with a tried-and-true strategy of ignore, ignore, ignore, profess ignorance, and delay until people forget, like what has been done with Adam-God or the commandment to practice polygamy in D&C 132. We’ll see how well that works in an internet world.

  3. chanson says:

    This is an excellent explanation of what’s wrong with the LDS church refusing to make any official, doctrinal statements about controversial LDS teachings. If Aboz is a faithful Mormon, then that comment is jaw-droppingly honest when it comes to the church’s priority on PR. The one point I’d take issue with is the claim that “there is only historical evidence and good logical conclusion from those evidences.” There aren’t spcific conclusions (on doctrinal issues) that follow clearly from the evidence — that’s the whole point. There is only expedience.

  4. Hellmut says:

    Now, I can accept that members will believe crazy, undoctrinal things.

    Are you thinking of members such as Thomas Monson, Gordon Hinckley, Boyd Packer, Bruce McConkie, Brigham Young, or Joseph Smith?

  5. Hellmut says:

    Aboz makes a good point but it is analytically wrong footed.

    The Church does not make any decisions. It takes no action. The Church is an institution that structures actions of human beings.

    The Brethren are making decisions, many of which hurt the Church, to say nothing of the members.

    The Brethren should make more ethical decisions even when it hurts their interests because in the long term, it will strengthen the Church. Without the Church, the Brethren are nothing.

    So in the long term, the Brethren have an interest in the well being of the Church.

  6. aerin says:

    I was going to mention my prior post on BY here, but saw the shout out. Thanks Andrew.

    I believe there are two competing pressures here. (Which may be what is being said here, I don’t know). 1 – this religion or belief system is evangelical. The LDS church seeks to convert the entire world to the LDS faith. In trying to convert the world, it tries to put its best foot forward. It claims to bring the one true path to happiness and to be the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

    2 – Competing with that is the comment Andrew quoted above. The LDS church currently doesn’t need to make any changes or address any of its critics. It only does those things in its own time. That process is not transparent and difficult to follow at best.

    The LDS church, an individual, whomever can’t have it both ways IMO. You can’t attempt to convert the world and not incorporate feedback and change. Your message will not be heard – because of exclusionary tactics.

    The nature of that feedback might come from current members or former members or outsiders. Eventually, this will change or need to change. I’m not saying that the LDS church will implode or no longer be around. I’m just saying that I don’t think this model will be functional for much longer.

    I don’t know a great deal about the Amish – but their community (for example) has been able to remain unchanged over many decades. The difference is – they have a method of incorporating some changes AND are not trying to convert others (as far as I know).

  7. tn trap says:

    I agree, the answer is make an actual apology: admit the mistakes, false doctrine, and make an apology. Would that really harm the church? Who would fall away because of it? For a church that believes so much in continuing revelation, we (or some of us) are rather afraid of continuing revelation. To continue to defer to PR fears is small minded and unbecoming.

  8. Matt says:

    I have to say that my only real problem with this is, unforunately, the crux of Mormonism’s claim to validity and authority: that such claim, as human as you and I know them to be, are made from the position of the supreme mind of the universe. And though these are often watered-down with “glass darkly” type caveats, they nevertheless command godly respect. This I can neither forgive nor forget. It is not my right to excuse or explain or in any week seek to minimize such claims as merely human failing.

    You claim to speak for god and right or wrong you’ve introduced the inhuman as justification for the inhumane.

  9. Hellmut says:

    Exactly. Matt has also identified the biggest obstacle to reform.

    If the brethren undermine claims of revelation and divine authority with apologies, members will reduce the level of their sacrifice.

    In plain English, that will mean that the LDS Church will collect less tithing.

  10. Joey A Jones says:

    I have to admit, it was a good try. Many have tried to understand the priesthood ban and i dont think it will ever as long as people try to find good in evil.
    I suppose Hitler done some good thing for the Jews before the Holocaust also. There are many the even say that the Mormons were good, kind and gentle slave owners. I suppose none of them had a whip. I find that ironic too.
    If what you say is true, why isnt there one drop of evidence in Temple Square?
    Why isnt there one picture of a black person in Temple Square?
    I have been there about 10 times thinking that one day it might change. All the church history that exists and is showcased in Temple Square, there isnt one wall or one corner with one black person. I am sure there are about 1000 paintings, murals, and photos but there isnt a painting, mural, or photo of one black person. The day the church become more diverse will be the day I believe that the LDS church is sincere. For some reason I get the impression that heaven wont have any black people.

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