By June 8, 2017
“Following the death of Joseph Smith the policy of the church was to exclude blacks from ordination to the priesthood and from Latter-day Saint temples. Although some black members of the church were given patriarchal blessings, declarations of lineage were omitted as a matter of policy. But guidelines were not consistent, and the question remained the subject of debate. In 1934 Patriarch James H. Wallis wrote in his journal, “I have always known that one of negro blood cannot receive the Priesthood nor the blessings of the Temple, and are also disqualified from receiving a patriarchal blessing . . . But I am sure there is no objection to giving them a blessing of encouragement and comfort, leaving out all reference to lineage and sealing.” Apostle John A. Widtsoe relayed President Heber J. Grant’s reply to Wallis’s request for a ruling. It stated, “It will be alright for Brother Wallis to bless them, but as to their status in the future, that their status in the future, that is . . . in the hands of the Lord.”[i]
In a previous post, I explored the ways in which racism has been espoused by LDS leaders and average Latter-day Saints alike, and how the vestiges of some of those teachings remain in modern Latter-day Saint doctrine. In today’s post, I’d like to explore the ways in which patriarchal blessings continue to identify Latter-day Saints by racial heritage, and, in some instances, place people of African descent as separate and inferior to “white” Mormons, through the LDS Church’s counsel not to declare an Israelite lineage to African-descended Mormons.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a “patriarchal blessing” is a blessing bestowed by an ordained patriarch (in the vein of Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham), which dispenses direction and advice to the receiver. The blessing also declares the blood lineage of the receiver in relation to his or her connection to the House of Israel.[ii] Smith’s own theology was generally universalist, meaning that he did not preclude any person from obtaining salvation, regardless of racial background. In the New Testament, John the Baptist preached to the Pharisees and Sadducees that their Abrahamic lineage did not elevate their relationship or access to God. Indeed, John the Baptist informed the Jews, “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”[iii] Joseph Smith similarly believed that Abrahamic lineage did not matter in relation to salvation or divine favor. God could raise up anyone, including Africans, as “children of Abraham,” so far as they converted to Mormonism and accepted its principles and ordinances.
By November 18, 2016
Last night the University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center hosted a panel discussion on race and gender in Mormonism. The panel featured talks from Margaret Toscano and Paul Reeve, and was part of Marlin K. Jensen Scholar in Residence Brian Birch’s class, “The Intellectual Life of Mormonism: Reason, Faith, & Science Among the Latter-day Saints.” We tweeted about it here!
By August 12, 2015
CALL FOR PAPERS:
Race, Gender, and Power in the Mormon Borderlands
Mormon history lies at the borders between subaltern and dominant cultures. On the one hand, due to their unusual family structure and theocratic government, Mormons were a persecuted minority for the better part of the nineteenth century. On the other, Mormons played a significant role as colonizers of the North American West, extending their reach to the borderlands of Mexico, Canada, and the Pacific Islands. There Mormon colonists intermarried with Native Americans, Mexicans, Hawaiians and Samoans, even as they placed exclusions on interracial sexual relations and marriage. During the nineteenth century, Mormons also discouraged Native peoples’ polygamous practices while encouraging plural marriage for white women. And Mormon religious doctrine subordinated persons of color within church hierarchy well into the twentieth century. African-American men, for example, could not hold the priesthood until 1978. Historically, then, Mormons have navigated multiple borders– between colonizer and colonized, between white and Other, and between minority and imperial identities. This limnal position calls for further investigation. We propose an anthology of essays on race, gender, and power in the Mormon borderlands.
Over the past thirty years, historians of Mormon women have expanded our understanding of gender and power in Mormon society. However, most of these studies focus on white Mormon women, while Mormon women of color have remained largely invisible. This volume seeks not simply to make visible the lived experiences of Mormon women of color, but more importantly, to explore gender and race in the Mormon borderlands. Taken together, these essays will address how Mormon women and men navigated the complications of minority and colonizer status, interracial marriage and doctrinal race hierarchies, patriarchy and female agency, violence and religious responsibility, and plural identities. These metaphoric borders were brought into play on the geographic and cultural borders of the United States. Specifically, this volume will encompass the continental U.S. West, the borderlands of Canada and Mexico, and Pacific Rim islands such as Samoa and Hawaii, exploring the intersectionality of race and gender in Mormon cultures on the borders from the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries. This focus will open new directions in Mormon history in concert with recent trends in western history. The anthology will have full scholarly apparatus and we welcome both historical research and interdisciplinary work.
Please submit article proposals/manuscript drafts by Sept.15, 2015, to Dee Garceau at <firstname.lastname@example.org> (901-484-1837)
Co-Editors: Dee Garceau, Rhodes College email@example.com ; Sujey Vega, Arizona State University, Sujey.Vega@asu.edu; Andrea Radke-Moss, BYU-Idaho firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-Editors’ Faculty Profiles:
Please feel free to contact us with any questions you might have.
By July 2, 2015
When I composed the introduction to the special edition of the Journal of Mormon History (July 2015), I described the study of race and Mormonism as a “nice subject, historically obscure even within the Mormon studies world.” But boy have I been proven wrong, or at least behind the times!
Anyone attending last month’s Mormon History Association annual meeting in Provo, where many of the panels dealt with race (broadly conceived) and the restored church—not to mention the powerful Smith-Pettit plenary by Margaret Jacobs on the adoption of Native American Children by Mormon families as well as the Best Book Award going to Russell Stevenson’s documentary history on people of African descent and Mormonism—would recognize that race has become a major preoccupation for the corner of Mormon studies that MHA represents.
By April 10, 2015
Max Perry Mueller uses a clever title, “History Lessons,” in his essay on “Race and the LDS Church” in the fiftieth anniversary edition of the Journal of Mormon History. “History Lessons” implicate some form of historical appropriations. Institutions use history to formulate lessons, which support certain values and ways of knowing. Mueller traces how the LDS Church alters historical narratives of a “black Mormon past” through three main time periods to argue “the LDS Church has worked to tell a story of historical continuity in its relationship with people of African descent” (143).
By April 3, 2015
This is second and final entry in a series of posts from guest Shannon Flynn on missionary work, race, and the Priesthood Ban that draws on his experience as a missionary in Brazil from 1977-1979. See Part I here.
The final document in this series is a scan of a letter that we missionaries received at the end of February 1978. The handwritten note is from the Mission President at the time, Roger B. Bietler.
This letter indicates to me that there was beginning to be a softening of what had been, at various times, a hardened position. By the time this letter was written, the date of the completion of the temple in Sao Paulo would have been known at church headquarters. It is my estimation that the temple dedication was the signal event that provided the final impetus to change church policy/doctrine regarding blacks and the priesthood. There would have been a flood of people entering that temple whose linage had not been thoroughly checked and such a situation could have caused a significant problem. What is known to few, is that a number of men in Brazil before June 1978 had discovered a partial black linage after having been ordained and served in many leadership capacities. I know of one story in particular where Elder Grant Bangerter had to travel to Belo Horizonte to release a stake president because that stake president had discovered, through diligent family history work, that he was partially descended from black people. I don’t know what percentage it was, but it couldn’t have been much. The stake president had informed Elder Bangerter, who in turn had consulted with higher authorities in Salt Lake and then went to Belo Horizonte to reorganize the stake. Nothing was ever said to the stake members and it was handled as delicately as possible. Nothing was done to “remove” his priesthood, he was just asked to not perform anymore ordinances or serve in leadership capacities. I was told Elder Bangerter was personally mortified to have to do that to this man but his personal discomfort was outweighed by his need to maintain loyalty to his ecclesiastical superiors and fidelity to established policy.
By April 2, 2015
Today’s guest post comes from Shannon Flynn, a longtime student of church history who currently lives in Gilbert, Arizona. Shannon holds a B.A. in history from the University of Utah and had published four book reviews in the Journal of Mormon History. Today’s post is the first in a two-part series that draws on his experience and presents documents (with accompanying translations) from his time serving as a missionary in Brazil Sau Paulo South Mission from 1977-79.
While the significance of Brazil and its unique cultural heritage and hierarchy of race often receives at least a passing mention in discussions of the ending of the ban in June 1978, often lacking from historical accounts of this era are the first-person perspectives and (especially) documents of the sort provided by Shannon below. Part II of the series will be posted tomorrow.
I was called to serve a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Brazil Sao Paulo South Mission from the first week of March 1977 to the first week of March 1979. Because of visa problems, I did not arrive in Brazil until October 13, 1977. I was assigned to the Maua area of Sao Paulo during the month of June 1978. It was there that I heard of the announcement of extending the priesthood to all worthy males. The impact this had on missionary work and the progress of the church cannot be underestimated — it was a sea change. Previous to that time the way the church dealt with blacks and the priesthood had been a vexing problem since the first missionaries landed in Joinville in 1926. In the first few years blacks were almost never proselyted but that eventually changed and methods were developed to handle the ensuing problems. Previous to the time I arrived there was a lesson that was added to the regular discussions that dealt with the problem of determining whether the investigator had black lineage (scans of the documents, together with accompanying translation, can be found here). This lesson was given at the conclusion of the regular discussions. I don’t ever remember using this exact catechism style of discussion but we would try to accomplish the goal of determining the lineage of the persons being taught. Missionaries elsewhere in Brazil used similar lessons during this time — in a 2013 guest post at Keepapitchinin.org, Grant Vaughn provided scans of the lesson he taught in the Brazil Porto Alegre Mission from 1976-78. Moreover, I would assume that most missions before my time had something of a similar nature.
By April 1, 2015
Elder: We are all children of God.
Mathew 6:9 “Our father who art in heaven”
Is it true that God loves each of us equally?
Response: Loves us, yes.
Read 2 Nephi 26:33 – “inviteth them all …white or black, bond or free…”
Elder: Although God loves all of us, are we all the same regarding talents and mercy?
Read Abraham 3:22-23 – intelligences organized before the world. Intelligences were different: some being noble and great.
Elder: According to what the scripture says, when was it that God chose those persons that were to be the leaders on the earth.
Response: Before birth.
Elder: What is the authority that God gave His leaders for the purpose of acting in his name on the earth?
Response: The Priesthood.
Elder: God chose His leaders that would be priesthood holders on the earth before they were born.
Read Alma 13:1, 3-4
When were these priests chosen?
Response: From the foundation of the world.
Elder: How were they chosen?
Response: With the opportunity to choose, they chose the good and exercised great faith.
Elder: Was God just in the decision he makes as to who can hold the Priesthood?
Response: Yes, he was. They deserved the right.
Elder: We know that God has a time and place for everything. For example, this earth was created for our mortal life at a certain time, and in the future the time for this mortal life will end. Now, just as Jesus was the savior of the world, He was not born at the beginning of the earth nor the end, but when?
Response: The middle.
Elder: This does not mean to say the he loved the people who live in the middle any more than those at the beginning or the end, wouldn’t you say?
Response: You are right.
Elder: This was just the right time for Him to come.
Elder: God also decided before the world that some of His sons would not hold the Priesthood on the earth until He decided the right time had come. God put all those spirits in one race so they could be identified. We read in the scriptures that after the flood in the time of Noah that this race ended up in the African continent. Which race was this?
Response: The black race.
Read Abraham 1: 21, 25-27
Elder: What kind of man was Pharaoh?
Response: Wise, just and fair.
Elder: Then, what was the reason he could not hold the Priesthood?
Response: Because he was not of the lineage that could hold it.
Elder: God has not told us exactly why black people cannot hold the Priesthood currently, but just that it is so. But let us consider our lives in general. What is it that God wants for every person?
Response: To perfect us, save us etc.
Elder: Do you think that God loves all of us equally?
Response: Loves all, yes.
Elder: Then brother, don’t you think that God in his wisdom, does what is best for all of his people?
Response: He does, yes.
Elder: Joseph Smith and other modern prophets having been instructed by God the blacks will receive the priesthood in a future day, when the time is right. But for now, the blacks can join the church, but since their hour has not yet fully arrived, we are not sent to them.
Elder: Brother, what do you think your own attitude should be with respect to our brothers and sisters here on earth?
Response: One of love.
Elder: Members of our church have suffered persecution at various times and places. It is our desire to love everyone and fight for the rights of every man in all places. Brother, are you capable of accepting and appreciating people of all races and cultures equally?
Response: I am.
Elder: Do you know if you or your parents have any black linage?
Response: If yes, Elder: Do you want to be baptized and live in the church?
If no: Elder: If you were to discover after your baptism that someone in your family had come from a black lineage would you remain faithful in the church?
Elder: Do you have any questions?
D&C 76:24 — the inhabitants of the earth are sons and daughters of God
Hebrews 12 — The father of our spirits
Acts 10:34 — God is no respecter of persons
John 3:16 — God so loved the world
Revelation 12:7-9 — the war in heaven showed great differences
Jeremiah 1:5 — the prophet was chosen before he was born.
Moses 7:8,12,22 — People of color had no place amongst the others
Genesis 24:1-4 — the prophets did not want their descendants to marry people of Canaan.
Esdras 2: 62-63 — The Jews kept their genealogies, even while in captivity in Babylon, so they could have rights to the priesthood. Those without a genealogy had to present themselves before the prophet.
Mathew 12:30 — There were no neutrals in heaven
Acts 17 — Pre-ordination
Mathew 15:24 — Christ did not preach to the gentiles, but only the lost sheep of the house of Israel
Deuteronomy 32:7-8 — all of the house of Israel were numbered before coming to earth.
By February 12, 2014
What follows is a sort of follow-up to Joey’s excellent post last week analyzing reactions to the 1978 revelation ending the race-based priesthood and temple ban. I am admittedly far outside of my own field here, and it is entirely possible I’m not aware of some study that has already been written and published. Please feel free to point out any such work in the comments, and to otherwise respond to the post.
In December 2007, perennial presidential candidate and prominent Mormon Mitt Romney was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about the 1978 revelation that signaled a shift in LDS church policy and lifted the ban that had previously denied people of African descent ordination to the priesthood and entrance into LDS temples. Romney’s response was a familiar one to most Mormons:
I can remember when I heard about the change being made. I was driving home from — I think it was law school, but I was driving home — going through the Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I heard it on the radio and I pulled over and literally wept. Even to this day, it’s emotional.
By September 28, 2013
This is a guest post by Cassandra Clark, a PhD student at the University of Utah whose work focuses on how religious communities thought about religious discourse and race. Cassandra is the mother two lovely daughters – both of whom bear the names of Presidents!. She also attended the University of Northern Colorado where she earned a MA in history and teaches courses at the community college in Salt Lake.
Filed away in the archives of the Church History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are two copies of a 1907 postcard with the by-line, “No Race Suicide in Utah!” The scene printed on the postcard depicts an old bearded gentleman, decked out in a black suit and top hat, carrying a baby on each arm with eight children following him. Each child is adorned in brightly colored dress, and several of them hold toys while two clutch balloon strings. The artist, identified as C.R. Miller, printed “No Race Suicide in Utah!” in all capital letters on one fourth of the top right hand corner of the card.
As I held this postcard in my hands, I realized that this one piece of material culture provided a physical representation of the conclusions I drew about Mormon involvement in the American eugenics movement. The eugenics movement, or the scientific program pioneered by Charles Darwin’s cousin, Sir Francis Galton, encompassed two main objectives. First, the promotion of “positive eugenics,” or the proliferation of the “white” race by emulating Victorian gender roles and large family sizes, and second, “negative eugenics,” or the sterilization of all people deemed “unfit” because of their lifestyles and economic status. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints living in the midst of the American West, eugenics became a vehicle
By September 13, 2013
Michael J. Altman received his Ph.D. in American Religious Cultures from Emory University and is an Instructor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. Mike’s areas of interest are American religious history, theory and method in the study of religion, the history of comparative religion, and Asian religions in American culture. He is currently completing a book manuscript analyzing representations of Hinduism in nineteenth century America. This post originally appeared at Mike’s personal blog. He graciously allowed the Juvenile Instructor to repost it in its entirety.
One of my favorite weekly podcasts is Slate’s Hang Up and Listen, a sports podcast that deconstructs sports media and culture with a wry wit that deflates American sports of all its self-seriousness. If sports talk radio is Duck Dynasty, Hang Up is 30 Rock.
Every week host Josh Levin signs off with the phrase “remember Zelmo Beaty.” Beaty, a basketball star in the 60s and 70s passed away recently and this past week Hang Up and Listen reminded us why we should indeed remember him. Stefan Fatsis’ obituary of Beaty opened by staking out Beaty’s importance as a pioneer for black players in professional basketball. But what caught this religious historian’s attention was the confluence of race and religion that surrounded Beaty’s move to Salt Lake City to play for the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association in 1970.
By July 17, 2013
Recently, two biographies were published on Elijah Abel/Ables, a black Mormon man who held the priesthood in the nineteenth century with the blessing of Joseph Smith and many of his contemporaries. Rather than attempt a traditional review, I decided to write a conversations post with Russell Stevenson, the author of one of the two biographies. Stevenson is an independent scholar with a master’s degree in history from the University of Kentucky. He recently self-published Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables.
In order to make the post easier to read, I have arranged the questions I asked and Stevenson’s responses into categories.
The Spelling of Abel’s Name
Amanda: In your book, you use a spelling of Elijah Abel’s name that many readers will be unfamiliar with. Where does it come from? Why did you decide to go with that spelling?
By February 28, 2013
Journal of Mormon History
Call for Articles
Special Issue on Mormonism and Race
To be published in the summer issue of 2014
Finished papers due July 31, 2013
Max Perry Mueller: email@example.com
Prof. Gina Colvin: firstname.lastname@example.org
Goals of the Journal’s special issue on Mormonism and race:
This special issue of the Journal of Mormon History aims to broaden and deepen the conversation on Mormonism and race beyond the historical focus on the ban on black men from the Mormon priesthood, and its emphasis on the U.S. experience. In particular we aim to understand “race” beyond the black-white (European-African) binary. We welcome articles ranging in historical focus from the Mormon movement’s founding to the present day. Articles exploring international encounters, race and gender, and race and politics, and race and class are of particular interest.
Papers should be original work. Wherever appropriate, concrete evaluation results should be included. Submissions will be judged on originality, technical strength, primary sources, significance, and interest to our readers. Papers should range from 6,000 to 8,000 words. Please submit manuscripts simultaneously to both of the Special Editors listed above. Include separately a brief CV or biography.
By November 17, 2012
Today I’m flying west, from Boston to Chicago, for the American Academy of Religion’s annual conference. Depending on how the plane banks west, we might fly directly over Lowell, Massachusetts, the onetime home of Walker Lewis, a black Mormon whom Brigham Young once described as “one of the [Mormons’] best Elders, an African.”
The timing of this indirect mention of the black Mormon convert—Spring of 1847—is important. Young and most of the leaders of the Latter-day Saints in exile and exodus—passing the winter of 1846-47 in Winter Quarters—were debating the place of black men, or at least a black man, in their community. William McCary, the “Nigger Prophet,” as some of the Mormons leaders called him, was causing quite a stir in camp.
By May 10, 2012
In recent years, historians have looked beyond Utah’s borders to Arizona as a fruitful place to explore the dynamics of race, gender, and class among Mormons in the American West. Two works that have appeared of late include Mormons as prominent actors in Arizona’s history, Daniel J. Herman’s Hell on the Range: A Story of Honor, Conscience, and the American West (2010) and Katherine Benton-Cohen’s Borderline Americans: Racial Division and Labor War in the Arizona Borderlands (2011). Herman examines the Rim County War of the 1880s, which violently drew together Mormons, cowboys, New Mexican sheepherders, Jewish merchants, mixed-blood ranchers, and eastern corporations. Many Mormons, with their “code of conscience,” stood opposed to Southern whites’ “culture of honor” (although Herman is careful to note that these categories were always porous). Benton-Cohen analyzes interracial interactions in Cochise County between Mormons, Mexicans and Mexican Americans, Apaches, Chinese merchants, white Midwestern transplants, white female reformers, Serbian miners, and New York mine managers. She asks how racial categories developed along with national identities in the borderlands. In both works, the authors use Mormons to complicate facile notions of “whiteness.”
By September 22, 2011
Over at The Immanent Frame, the always insightful and provocative Jon Butler offers “a historian’s reaction to American Grace,” a sweeping treatment of “how religion divides and unites us” in contemporary America that has rightly gained a fair amount of publicity and praise since its release last October. Butler’s thoughtful critique wonders whether authors Robert Putnam and David Campbell allow the “many and complex “beliefs'” they survey to “float too free from their historical moorings.”
By August 15, 2011
(cross-posted at Religion in American History)
The latest issue of Religion and American Culture arrived in my mailbox last week, and I was excited to see the first article dealt with a topic sure to interest JI readers: “‘Until This Curse of Polygamy Is Wiped Out’: Black Methodists, White Mormons, and Constructions of Racial Identity in the Late Nineteenth Century,” written by James B. Bennett, associate professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University.
By March 18, 2010
First, thanks to Kristine and Matt for their kind invitation to join you folks. Second thanks to all members of JI for your kind welcome.
For my first (trepidation filled) post for your august community, I want to briefly share my fresh experience having lectured this past week on Mormonism for a Harvard College undergrad course on American religious history (led by Prof. Marie Griffith, formerly of Princeton).
By August 27, 2009
Well, here is my modest and somewhat impromptu contribution to this most excellent series. Pratt’s Autobiography offers the reader some interesting perspectives about his views on race and native populations. This great series inspired me to dust off my copy of the Autobiography and give a brief look at how Pratt deals with these issues on his Chilean Mission. For time and other constraints, I have not done the extensive reading or thought that this topic merits, but I offer the following, very preliminary, observations as food for thought.
By September 18, 2008
Last year, Peggy Fletcher Stack ran an article in the Salt Lake Tribune highlighting two important changes in the 2006 Doubleday Edition of The Book of Mormon. Those changes were discussed at length thoughout the bloggernacle. Well, it looks like there were even more changes made—over a hundred more, in fact. I have heard rumors that the latest printing of The Book of Mormon by the Church includes these changes as well, although no printings newer that those issued in 8/2007 were available in the BYU Bookstore when I checked today.