Saturday, December 22, 2007

an assault and misrepresentation

A couple weeks ago I posted links to articles in the Wall Street Journal by Naomi Shaeffer Riley and Peggy Noonan. Both writers had positive things to say about Mormons, especially Riley, who had visited Brigham Young University while researching religious schools.

There is another Riley that works for the Journal. When positive things were being said about Mormons, he was seething inwardly. He couldn't stand it any more and finally spewed forth in yesterday's de Gustibus column.

The title of this little piece is "Church Separation." Mr. Riley calls the LDS church a "defiantly apartheid faith." Our church has never been segregated. Blacks and whites have always worshipped together at the same meetings. I don't think many other churches can say the same. Blacks have never been denied baptism or full membership in our church.

It is true that blacks were denied the priesthood until 1978, but it was always expected that they would eventually have it. Members all over the world prayed for it. My personal opinion is that the church leadership and membership were not ready for it until that time, and a big reason is because, as already stated, our wards were never segregated. If blacks had held the priesthood, there would have been the potential for them to have authority over mostly white congregations. Of course we don't see that as a problem now, but to suggest that a black bishop of a mostly white ward would not have been a problem in the 1950s or 60s is to not recognize the deep and abiding racism that prevailed amongst nearly all people, Mormon and non-Mormon, at that time. Again, this is just my opinion.

I can see why it bothers people that blacks in our church did not hold the priesthood until 1978. It bothers me. But I see it as reflective of the times rather than of our church.

Mr. Riley quotes the Book of Mormon, but it seems that he did not read the actual verse from the original source. I cannot otherwise account for his interpretation. He says that the Mormon church "denied blacks full participation based on doctrinal beliefs that whites are 'pure' and 'delightsome,' while black-skinned people are 'unrighteous,' 'despised' and 'loathsome' descendants of the biblical Cain, who was cursed for killing Abel." The verse that he is quoting does not refer to blacks but rather to a group of ancient people living in Latin America. There is no mention of Cain. As J wrote in his letter to the Wall Street Journal, Mormons commonly believe that these words actually refer to J's ancestors. However, rather than finding the message of the Book of Mormon offensive, millions of people from Latin America have embraced it.

Mr. Riley claims that we persist in teaching racism in our church. This is a very grave accusation and I am appalled that the WSJ even printed it. Mr. Riley also says that we have "never repudiated the teachings that supported the policy." (He refers to the false folkloric belief that blacks did not hold the priesthood because they are descendants of Cain.) This is also untrue. LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie said after the 1978 revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy male members, "Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world." Amen.

Mr. Riley says something very strange indeed in his closing statements. He quotes Mitt Romney saying the following: "Look, the polygamy, which was outlawed in our church in the 1800s, that's troubling to me," he told "60 Minutes" in May. "I must admit, I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy." And then Mr. Riley says, "Gee, I can." This was so ridiculous I laughed in disbelief. As one reader responded, "I had no idea Mr. Riley has the authority to pass judgment on which is worse, polygamy or racism. To compare such topics absolutely astounds me." Talk about apples and oranges.

Anyway. I am grateful to belong to a church that reaches out to all people regardless of color. Here I posted a link to the article The New Face of Global Mormonism about the growth of the Church in Africa. Here is another noting the special session held by the Brazilian senate to honor the LDS church in Brazil.


athena said...

i avoid reading articles by people like riley like i do most other anti-mormon propaganda, because that's what it is. propaganda. when i do read things like this, it makes me laugh at how stupid it all sounds. it does nothing but confirm my beliefs about my faith that much more.

ML said...

Although segregation has never been the official position of the Church, unfortunately I don't believe it is strictly true to say "our wards were never segregated."
Also, the Book of Mormon tells of an ancient people living somewhere on the American continent(s)--we don't know where.

ave said...

i read jason riley's article, he sounds angry, kind of like john kracksomething who wrote that weird book on polygs in southern utah. i think a big point that jason missed was that the "dark people" or lamanites, were at times far more righteous and blessed then the "fair ones". but, i guess if jason isn't going to bother to read an entire chapter in the book of mormon he might get confused.

Calandria said...

I avoid anti-Mormon stuff too, but I guess not when it's in the only newspaper I read.

The Book of Mormon does not indicate the exact location, but I think it's true to say that it is "commonly believed" that some of the events took place in central America.

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer is on my reading list only because so many people have asked me about it.

I was thinking more yesterday about Riley's piece. Several things really bother me about it. One is that I would expect someone to do a little more reseach before he accuses an entire church of 12 million people of racism. Looks like Riley picked up a few quotes off anti-Mormon websites, slapped them together, and called it a day. (He probably had Christmas shopping to do.) Also, how about some balance? Riley obviously has a personal agenda. And last, I think what bothers me the most is that this was printed by the Wall Street Journal.

LaDonnaMobile said...

LOL--Has he ever been down to the rural, backwoods south, where the ONLY congregations to mix black and white are the Mormon ones?? I have; I even saw churches that said "Whites Only" on their marquis, just to make it clear . . . .will have to post one on my blog some day!

dave said...

just a couple of notes. i would add a few caveats to your defense. I preface my remarks with expressing full faith in the Lord, His Church, and the leaders thereof.

1. it isn't true that "it was always expected that blacks would eventually have" the priesthood. in more recent years, that is the case with many members, but in the 19th century and early 20th century, I have not read anything to give me the impression that this is the case.

2. the problem with thinking of the priesthood ban as a problem of the time is that it was so slow in being lifted. civil rights were in the 60s, and the priesthood ban wasn't lifted until 1978. if anything, one would hope that the Church would be progressive rather than behind the times.

3. the "false folkloric belief that blacks did not hold the priesthood because they are descendants of Cain" is actually stated by many early Church leaders. Neither the Lord nor the Church has ever given a clear reason for this. In the Prince biography David O McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, one gets a real sense how even in the top echelons of the Church, there were clear and stron gdifferences of opinion as to the reasons for the ban.

All that said, I agree with you in the spirit of your remarks. critics often fail to take a careful look at historical context (as in discrimination generally) or literary context (as in the references to the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon).

You are a staunch defendant of the faith!

Calandria said...

Hi Dave, thanks for your comment.

1. I guess when I said it was "always expected," I meant during the 50s and 60s when people started to realize that there was something very wrong with the priesthood ban.

2. I agree that it would have been preferable that the Church be progressive on this issue and not wait until 1978, but I think it is perhaps unreasonable to cast that expectation back on those leaders of the Church, some very old men, who were obviously not open to it. The Lord has to work with what's available. :-) The LDS Church has never been "progressive" in any way that I can think of. I think there are both pros and cons to the conservative tradition.

3. There were top leaders of the Church who gave that "false folkloric belief" as a reason for why the ban existed, and that's been echoed through the Church since. I think current apostle Jeffrey R. Holland was the one who called it "false and folkloric" on the PBS documentary. I really wish the Church would come out with an official statement about it. I wonder why they haven't?

I have read that chapter in the Prince bio. I haven't finished the book because we ended up choosing it for book group and I want to read it closer to the time we discuss it. I posted about how what I read shocked me.

I don't know that I'm a staunch defender. :-) I just couldn't let that Riley piece go without comment.

dave said...

very fair points all around. my grandfather (95 years old) tells this joke, that many of the Church leaders have revolutionary ideas, it's just that they had them all 70 years ago. (Kind of makes me laugh.)

One way in which the Church has been refreshingly progressive to me is in its attitudes toward women in Kenya. I remember attending a branch in Kenya and the branch president really pushing against some cultural norms about men helping around the house, etc.

I don't remember the Holland quote (only saw the 2nd half of the PBS show), but I believe you. I suspect the Church would be reluctant to release an official statement which is tantamount to saying that a number of earlier statement by leaders are "wrong."

That said, of course I love our leaders and would never pretend to know more than they. It is easy for me to act wise with the benefit of some minor hindsight.

Calandria said...

I found this Holland quote on the subject:

"One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. ... I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. ... They, I'm sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong." [Ellipses in original.]

So he definitely stops short of saying they were completely wrong. It must be as you say, that they wouldn't want to issue an official statement contradicting the statements of earlier leaders. I can see why they wouldn't want to do that, but failure to do so defintiely opens the door for people like Riley.

That is really interesting about the progressiveness of the Church in Kenya. It reminds me that the Church was progressive on women's right to vote.