Saturday, May 19, 2018

Mormon Church and NAACP reach historic agreement

Why any Negroes would want to either join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or join with them in activities for the alleged betterment of society is beyond the ability of this blogger to understand. The reader should keep in mind that Mormonism claims to be restoring the "true" gospel of Jesus Christ that was supposedly lost hundreds of years ago. The teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are claimed to be direct revelations from God. However, Mormon leaders since then have shown themselves willing to abandon these "restored" truths in the face of strong criticism from outsiders. When Utah was being denied statehood in the 19th century because polygamy was a central Mormon practice, the Latter-day Saints received a revelation that polygamy was now to be outlawed, thereby paving the way for Utah's admission to the Union. When the Latter-day Saints were being criticized for refusing to admit Negroes to their priesthood, they received a revelation in June 1978 reversing their practice of the previous hundred years and more. When the content of Mormon temple rituals was revealed in documentary films such as The God Makers (1982) and books such as The God Makers (1984, 1997) by Ed Decker & Dave Hunt and What's Going on in There? (1988) by Chuck Sackett, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received a revelation in 1990 removing some parts of the rituals that some found offensive; the excised parts included those that said that Christian pastors were hirelings of Satan. If the teachings of Mormonism are restored truths, how can the church leaders be willing to abandon them just because they become inconvenient and politically incorrect?

Among those teachings are those concerning black people. The Mormon explanation for the origin of the black race is that the angels who remained neutral in the dispute between Jesus and Lucifer were cursed by being born into human bodies with black skin. The Mormon doctrine of blood atonement is that there are certain sins which must be paid for by having the sinner shed his own blood. One such sin is that of marrying a black person; according to Journal of Discourses, which is among Mormon scriptural writings, the penalty for this "under the law of God is death on the spot. This will always be so." (Volume 10, p. 110, cited in The God Makers, p. 232 (1984), p. 249 (1997)). I'm not aware that the 1978 decision admitting Negroes to the Mormon priesthood has changed that "sin" or its penalty.

For those unaware of what the acronym stands for, it's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909. As reported by Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune, May 17, 2018 (updated May 19, 2018) (links in original):

In a dramatic gesture on the 64th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, Mormon church President Russell M. Nelson strolled decisively into a news conference Thursday at the LDS Administration Building in downtown Salt Lake City arm in arm with top NAACP officers.

Creating a powerful image, Nelson and NAACP President Derrick Johnson called on the world to “demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony, and mutual respect” while eliminating “prejudice of all kinds.”

The mutual respect was palpable as the two sets of white and black leaders described plans for future joint efforts.
“In meetings this morning,” Nelson said, “we have begun to explore ways — such as education and humanitarian service — in which our respective members and others can serve and move forward together.”

Johnson said his historic civil rights organization looked forward to many collaborative activities.

“President Nelson, the statement you just made expresses the very core of our beliefs and mission at the NAACP,” he said. “We admire and share your optimism that all peoples can work together in harmony and should collaborate more on areas of common interest.”

Nelson, considered a “prophet, seer and revelator” by millions of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the globe, reiterated the church’s “fundamental doctrine — and our heartfelt conviction — that all people are God’s precious children and are therefore our brothers and sisters.”

“All human beings — male and female — are created in the image of God,” he added. “Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”

Johnson said the ties being established between the Utah-based faith and the NAACP should serve as a model for how groups can unite to achieve common goals.

“Like the Latter-day Saints, we believe all people, organizations and government representatives should come together to work to secure peace and happiness for all God’s children,” Johnson said. “We are clear that it is our job to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. And we do so in an advocacy voice, but now with a partner who seeks to pursue harmony and civility within our community.”

Several invited black Mormons — including LDS icons Darius Gray, Don Harwell and Cathy Stokes — filled front rows as the statements were read and exulted at the unity between the groups. Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP, also was on hand.

“This is unprecedented,” said Thom Reed, a black Mormon and an LDS Church employee. “It speaks to the openness of the new [governing] First Presidency and their willingness to engage with people all over the world.”

Then he added: “It’s the start of something big.”

Tracy Browning, another black Mormon and church employee, views the LDS-NAACP alliance as “an amazing opportunity for us to come together and see our commonalities, to be peaceful and respectful.”

NAACP officials described the meeting as cordial.

“It was like being on a first date,” said Leon W. Russell, chairman of the board. “We find out who you are, and you find out who we are.”

The most “concrete” idea that came from the summit, Russell said, was “the need to continue the dialogue.”

Zandra Vranes, co-author of “Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons,” applauds the exchange but was hoping for more.

“I want us, as Latter-day Saints, to engage in what the church has called us to do, which is to have more civility and racial harmony in our communities,” said Vranes, one of the blogging “Sistas in Zion.” “But I also want us to do that within our own Mormon organization as well.”

It is hard to “call out the world,” she said, “when we have a [church] that doesn’t have racial harmony. The best way for us to be at the forefront of showing the world how to do it is to do it ourselves.”

The NAACP can tell LDS leaders what blacks face in general, such as police brutality, but they don’t know, Vranes said, “what we face in the ward.”

For many, Thursday’s watershed meeting and statements seem particularly potent, given the previous tension between the two organizations.

In the 1960s, the NAACP protested Mormonism’s racial ban, excluding men and boys from the faith’s all-male priesthood and women and girls from its temples.

Even after that prohibition ended in June 1978, prejudice and racist attitudes persist to this day among some Mormons, causing continued pain for Latter-day Saints of color — even as membership skyrockets in Africa.

Last year, in the wake of racial clashes in Virginia, the LDS Church issued increasingly strong statements — especially after an alt-right Mormon blogger voiced bigoted views — condemning “white supremacist attitudes” as “morally wrong and sinful.”

But the church’s racial history never came up in this week’s meeting, said the NAACP president.

“We both have an interest in disaster relief and alleviating poverty,” Johnson said. “We want to decrease bigotry and hatred. We want to look to the future.”

Wilbur Colom, an adviser to Johnson, said the group met Wednesday with Clark Gilbert, who shared with the NAACP members information about the church’s Pathway program, an online educational outreach service.

“They gave us everything they had and anything we wanted,” Colom said, who then quoted Gilbert as saying, “And we’ll work with you to take Mormonism out, and put Martin Luther King in.”

On Sunday morning, the remaining NAACP visitors will take their seats in the historic tabernacle on Temple Square for the weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast, which will include, they say, the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing the black national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
As reported by Ms. Stack in the Salt Lake Tribune, May 16, 2018 (updated May 17, 2018) (links in original):
In 1965, the NAACP led an anti-discrimination march in downtown Salt Lake City to protest the LDS Church’s racial policies at the time. A half-century later, national leaders of that historic black civil rights organization are in the Beehive State for a friendly landmark meeting with top Mormon officials.

These two groups — the NAACP and the governing LDS First Presidency — are set to issue an unprecedented joint statement Thursday morning.

And the extraordinary exchange traces its roots to a nearly decadelong friendship between two lawyers — Steve Hill, a white Utah Mormon, and Wilbur Colom, a black Mississippi activist.

Colom, who is acting as an NAACP special counsel, had a fleeting knowledge of Mormonism when he met Hill at a professional conference.

Back in 1975, Colom worked with Mark Cannon, a Mormon administrative assistant to Warren Burger of the United States. When the African-American attorney heard that the LDS Church barred black men and boys from its all-male priesthood and black women and girls from the faith’s temples, he was appalled.

Colom recalls telling Cannon: “If Mormons think God is saying I am inferior, they can’t be talking to God.”

Cannon assured Colom that the priesthood/temple ban would end — and, three years later, it did.

On June 8, 1978, the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced its priesthood would now be open to “all worthy male members.”

Then, in 2009, Colom met Hill through a mutual friend, and the two formed a fast friendship, including traveling to Africa together and with current NAACP President Derrick Johnson.

Colom and Johnson began looking at groups “that were strangers to us, ones we had very little contact with,” Colom says. “Those tended to be mostly conservative — with a flawed history.”

Last summer, an NAACP chapter in Mississippi partnered with an LDS stake (a regional group of congregations) on a service project. It was so successful that Colom wondered about forming a stronger bond with Mormon officialdom, so he called his buddy Hill.

In December, Hill reached out to an LDS general authority, who turned to apostle D. Todd Christofferson, who then invited the NAACP board and subcommittees — up to 100 people — to meet in Salt Lake City for the first time in that black organization’s storied 109-year history.

One problem? They were already scheduled to meet in Tampa.

Without much arm-twisting, the board agreed to forgo the Florida locale and move the meeting to landlocked Utah.

“I thought it would take at least a year to set this up,” Hill says, “but it took less than two weeks.”

In this era of “uncivil communication,” Colom says, “It’s time for two well-established groups to deal with each other civilly, to find areas of commonality.”

To that end, the LDS Church and the NAACP plan to work together in three areas: disaster relief, education and civic projects.

There is much to admire about Mormonism, Colom says. “We are not different people. We are one.”

In fact, “Be One” is the theme of the LDS Church’s June 1 celebration marking the end of the faith’s priesthood/temple prohibition on blacks.
See also my post 40 years ago: Mormons uphold exclusion of Negroes from the priesthood (January 8, 2010).

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