Episode 206: Mormonism and Race

John, Zilpha, Darron Smith, Christian, and Troy discuss current and historical views that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold towards those of African, Native American, and Mesoamerican decent.



Episode 206

42 comments on “Episode 206: Mormonism and Race”

  1. CanuckAussie Reply

    Excellent podcast! Thank you Darron for getting mad about it! I loved your Mormon Stories podcast, which was an amazing expose of the racism from your point of view, rather than the usual excuses from a white-bread point of view. When I listened to that, I was so frustrated that you didnt yell about it. Thank you for doing it so eloquently. I love you brother!

  2. Jack Rodwell Reply

    great podcast. darron is awesome.  is there any way u guys can put the old ensign mags on a pdf file or put them on the inter web some how so we can all read them ?

    cant wait to read his book. love that guy

  3. Ingrid Nilsson Goatson Reply

    The priesthood ban is the greatest example of the incredible harm that comes from an unwillingness to accept that something a prophet has said was just wrong. I wonder if there is any possible model of an LDS church of the future with critical thinking but also believing, faithful members. 

    • Nicéphore Jünge Reply

       What if ethno-cultural, or racial, sovereignty, pride, and freedom, is what’s right, rather than the anti-racial, in fact generally mostly anti-White, fad that emerged in the context of worldwide Occidental competition with the Soviet Union?!

  4. Natalee Tincher Reply

    I will stand up and be counted among those who will get mad and make a difference. I don’t know how and I’m just one but I’ll start by speaking out. It has long been something that has bothered me about the church and it’s doctrine however it wasnt until recently, while reading the journal of discourses, that I realized how horrific the church history is.

    I would love to say that I have not been racist but by mere complacency and lack of action I have been a huge part of the problem. This was a fantastic podcast…. Thank you!

  5. Pingback: Mormonism And Race: Mormon Expression Podcast Sunday June 10, 2011 | Dr. Darron Smith

  6. Jean Bodie Reply

    Darron, you made me laugh several times. I love your passion and speech patterns. You put your heart and soul into this great topic. I just don’t get why black people are so willing to take crumbs from tables that they should be seated at. It disturbs me that the church doesn’t come clean on their racist doctrines. It is wrong to present the church as such a benevolent organization, when their past history shows them as anything but that.

    I didn’t get the priesthood either. The LDS church is a white brotherhood.

  7. Megan von Ackermann Reply

    [I do this all the time – I’m commenting before I’m done listening. It wouldn’t happen so often if you guys weren’t so darn interesting]

    I wanted to say that I really felt it was important that Darron gave the definition of racism that he did. I hope it’ll be re-visited later in the podcast, but it was so essential to point out that racism is more (far more) than just hateful speech and violence. It’s also systematic and wide-spread (institutionalized often) limitation on opportunities, disadvantaging an entire group,  based simply on racial or cultural heritage. To this day I have Mormon family who will honestly and sincerely express love for oppressed groups and at the same time participate in repression of those same people, as though the lack of hate-speech makes the action ethical.

    • Elder Vader Reply

      Megan have you seen the newest episode of Way of the Mister?  That’s exactly what you’re talking about here.  He’s compassionately telling his sister that she will continue to be tortured because she is a supply sider and not a keynsian. 

  8. Chaste_and_Benevolent Reply

    Great podcast, as always.

    As an issue affecting the church, racism was the twentieth century’s equivalent of polygamy. It had to change, or the church would have faced complete marginalization or maybe even extinction.

    Given all the years of thought and discussion about this change’s implications for the church’s other truth claims, it’s kind of striking that both of the common apologetic explanations are so weak.

    First, apologists claim that God simply changed his mind in 1978, and nobody knows why he gave such racist commands before then. This approach tries to salvage the claim that the Brethren know God’s commands, but at the expense of the supporting claim that the Brethren can also understand and explain God’s commands.

    This reduces revelation to the level of arbitrary fiats that are intended to trump conscience, reason, and common sense. So much for John A. Widtsoe’s “rational theology” and Gordon T. Allred’s “comprehensible God.”  

    Second, apologists claim that prophets can be wrong sometimes. Or that the church’s racist scriptural interpretations and other teachings were somehow outside the scope of what can be considered official doctrine. Or some other variant of “the prophets, seers, and revelators speak for God — except when they don’t.”

    If that’s true, then we are all prophets, seers, and revelators. And the Brethren have no basis to claim authority over anybody. 

    There’s really no church-friendly solution to this problem. Maybe the church’s decision to just keep trying to change the subject isn’t so naive after all.

  9. Lorenzo_Charles Reply

    Darron & panel – great discussion.  Darron, My son started kindergarten on 21st and Grove, right next to WSU.  Like you I also grew up in the south, but it was long after I was baptized and received the Priesthood before I learned of the ban.  Like polygamy, it was a “shocker” (there’s your very intended WSU pun) to learn of this odd ball policy.  Nevertheless I toed the mormon line and left the very diversely rich south to see what Provo was all about.  As a Frosh at BYU in ’92 I openly asked my sociology professor how he reconciled Brigham Young’s racist statements, and of course, the ban.  The look of aghast and incredulity that I got from my classmates – it was like “how dare you bring something like that up!  where’s your faith?”  To my prof’s credit he responded that there was no answer other than the fact that we’ve been brought up in a racist Church.  That didn’t sit well with some of the fragile spirits in the class who probably still believe today that it was God’s will.

    So much I’d love to comment on, but I’ll keep at this: A few years go on a trip to the lake on the NC/VA border we stopped at a convenience store on a Sunday.  I was pumping gas and watching as across the street members of a black southern baptist congregation piled into the front lawn of their little church building for a lunch gathering.  I imagined their service – the singing, the clapping, the gospel harmonies, and it finally dawned on me – the LDS Church will likely never succeed in growing it’s black base in the US.  Ban or no ban, BoM curse language aside, take away all the asinine statements by past leaders (including the recent BS press release: “we don’t know the origin of the ban” – whatever) – take all that away, and there’s still this problem of our worship culture – the long, the boring, the slow playing organ, etc.  For whatever reason, the McDonald’s-isation of our worship service is permanently affixed to the doctrine, and it’s frankly bizarre to me. 

    I don’t hate the church nor the people in it.  But I absolutely hate it’s racist past and the existing inexplicable racist teachings still found in canonized scripture.   But most of all, I’m utterly embarrassed at how it’s been dealt with.   Can’t someone in authority just step up to the mic and say, “We have a serious confession to make….” ?

  10. darkmatter20 Reply

    Zilpha: “lamanites can be jewish and dark skin” they weren’t Jewish, they were Tribe of Manasseh and not Jewish therefore their DNA should be different to the mostly european influenced jewish dna of today.

    Loathsome, filthy etc are all terms used to describe the lifestyle of the lamanite; ie one can be white race, with regards to pigmentation, but appear dark, loathsome and filthy due to the homeless type lifestyle lead. this is why nephites could later on go amongst the lamanites as spies and not be detected.

    -An appology over the blacks issue problem? wont happen. it’s like wishing that the jews today will appologize for the invasions of Canaan and then appologize for the deaths caused back then by Joshua or later by King David. we can move on without changing scripture just like the old testaments more ‘wrong’ or incorrect incidents aren’t changed.

    • Heather_ME Reply

      All the Book of Mormon says is they are from the tribe of Joseph.

      (1 Nephi 5:14 — And it came to pass that my father, Lehi, also found upon the plates of brass a genealogy of his fathers; wherefore he knew that he was a descendant of Joseph; yea, even that Joseph who was the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt, and who was preserved by the hand of the Lord, that he might preserve his father, Jacob, and all his household from perishing with famine.)

      But, that is a pointless distinction given that the Book of Mormon is a piece of fiction and that the Native American ancestry has been discovered… and it isn’t European.  Nice try, though.

      • Richard of Norway Reply

        Exactly. And exactly what difference would it make anyway? I don’t understand. Would one of my descendants likely turn out very ethnically different from one of my brother’s descendants? Joseph, Manasseh, Judah, whichever brother it was they allegedly descended from, they would still not magically turn into Native Americans.

        • darkmatter20 Reply

          wasn´t magical!

          plus your brother´s descendants dna would be unrecognizable from your descendents dna after 1000 years, as the iceland study proves (which looked are family relations over just 150 years and they were unregonizable after just 150 years)

          plus if you believe that native americans are or have asian ancestry you are still claiming that they ´magically´ turned from Asian into Native American!!! ….did they go from Japanese to Sioux or Chinese to Apache??

          see the problem there richard??

          • Heather_ME

            That’s a red herring.  Just because one can’t tweeze out specific ancestors doesn’t mean that Iceland’s population’s DNA suddenly started resembling the DNA of, say, Japan. 

            And nobody is claiming that Native American DNA magically changed from Asian DNA to Native American DNA.  Regardless of the unique facets that developed from the Native American populations reproducing in isolation for many years, it’s STILL rooted in Asian DNA.  No magic there.

      • darkmatter20 Reply

        “All the Book of Mormon says is they are from the tribe of Joseph.”

        …who are only Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph´s only sons. Jews were a different tribe, Judah´s children, but we don´t know entirely what tribe Ismael and Sarah were, although people assume they were ephraim.

        Correct that native americans aren´t european, as they shouldn´t be according to the book of mormon since they aren´t jewish (who today are mostly european dna due to their time in european lands), that was the point. But ancestry is still debatable although there is evidence around that they are all descendants of the one family group due to the distinctive marker all native americans have -north and south american- which no other people have. The asian marker could´ve entred the blood line anytime over a period of 1500 years.

        But the fighting over dna and BoM will go on still -and mainly because no one reads what the BoM actually says.

        • cwinchesteriii Reply

           Are you claiming that different Hebrew tribes were actually different races? What are you basing that on? They were all Hebrews. We know what middle eastern DNA looks like, and it doesn’t look Siberian or Native American.

          • darkmatter20

             Ok, let’s clarify things here cause you are going off on tangents.

            We don’t know what the original hebrew DNA from 600BC actually looks like. We do know that hebrews never mixed with egyptians or any other middle eastern DNA, according to bible text, so it’s irrelevant to know today what middle eastern DNA looks like. Middle eastern DNA isn’t jewish nor hebrew.

            We do know that 10 tribes were deported ‘north’ well before Jesus’ time, around 700BC , and we know that the Jewish or Judah tribe later spent many centruries mainly in europe, mixing with european blood since only the mother determined whether you were jewish or not (like in Einstein’s case). so today current jewish DNA (ie people from modern day israel) is very similar to european dna.

            Then after many centruries we can suspect that different Hebrew tribes (the original ancient tribes) became different races, but we don’t know for sure because we don’t know where the northern kingdom was deported to. Are they russian, sweedish or Siberian? we don’t know.

            Also, if you believe in evolution, as you probably do, why wont you believe in the evolution of DNA too? wont it change over centruries? that Icelandic study which looked at family groups over 150 years provides some proof that it can vary and change to the point where even proven family groups can’t be clasified as family after 150 odd years. So what about 4000 years, wont it change? to be as different as jewish and apache? Surely could,  irrespective of the BoM or any mormon theory.

          • Heather_ME

            darkmatter20, go check out National Geographic’s “The Human Family Tree.”  It’s available on Netflix streaming.  I think it will clear up a lot of your misconceptions about DNA and how it traces ancestry.

  11. sonya_d Reply

    what a fantastic discussion!!  My favorite line was when Darron said something along the lines of “Black people don’t go to church to teach white people how to be nice!”  Pure gold!  Thank you for the introduction to Darron and his work. 

  12. Richard of Norway Reply

    This was GREAT! Darron was super interesting to listen to. So much so that I’m going to have to check out his MS eps. One thing I was expecting (but don’t mind missing) was some inclusion of a basic history of the racism in the church, including specific stories or practices through the ages. Some of it was there but I guess less detailed than I expected. Still a terrific episode – especially Darron’s and John’s excellent rants!

    • Elder Vader Reply

      My favorite rant (and it is highly unusual for John Larsen to be upstaged on his own podcast for best rant) was when Darron totally went off about how at the end of the day the brethren just don’t care about the people they’re hurting with this.  They just don’t care.  What do they care about?  Preservation of the corporation and its revenue streams. 

      Exactly.  EXACTLY. 

      • Hayes Bushman Reply

        Agreed, I enjoyed Darron’s rants as well.

        One thing I’d like to mention that might be worth pondering about, is if “change” does occur in the church is it only to gain numbers and stay current to save face or is to legitimately change it’s fundamentals…

        It probably goes hand in hand, but as long as it’s rolling in $$$ I’m sure the corporation doesn’t care.

    • Xerxes028 Reply

      I agree Richard. One of my favorite attributes of Mormon Expression is the topical history. Unfortunately here it seems that Darron hijacked (pardon the harsh word, no offense intended) the podcast and landed it in the current state of race relations in mormonism. Perhaps another podcast is in order focusing on the history of the ban and why it persisted (probably Brigham Young’s fault, that guy screwed everything up) for as long as it did. I think John was attempting to follow the usual script (starting with quoting BoM), then everything went off script.

  13. James Shefchik Reply

    Good one, but I always took the treatment of race in the Book of Mormon exactly the opposite.  Primary example is Samuel the Lamanite, but more fundamentally in the revelations to Nephi making it clear that righteousness is what will save th Nephites, but the Lamanites will survive.  Several times different prophets said the Lamanites are more righteous than the Nephites.  It is blaring to me that race doesn’t matter.  The main thread of the Book of Mormon is the testimony of Christ and that all must repent to be saved – race will not save you.

    I guess you read what you want.

    • Richard of Norway Reply

      You’re talking about groups of people not race. The “Lamanites” are not a race, nor are the “Nephites”, they are groups within the same race: Native Americans. The righteous Lamanites’ skin turned lighter (according to the scripture) but that is the only difference. It was always very clear to me as a kid, growing up, and through my mission. Everything I learned lead me to believe this. It’s not that you read what you want, unless you mean that you did that since you didn’t see it there.

  14. Caleb Baxter Reply

    Another great podcast!

    I served my two years in South Africa and amazingly this issue never came up. In fact I was so unaware of the racist views I’d been raised with that I never thought about it while I was there. It wasn’t until I came home and people started to ask me how I dealt with Africans and the priesthood that I realized there was an issue. My further studies into the church made me realize just how big of an issue it was and how blind I’d been to my own thought processes. I’d always thought of myself as being rather bright until I realized how dense I’d been on that issue. Now that I know of the church’s history and realize that some of the ideas I was taught growing up are just plain wrong I wish I could go back and do some reverse proselytizing. 

    Anyway thanks for an excellent discussion. I’m out of the church now but I’ll be sharing this podcast with as many members as I can, hopefully it will ignite a few conversations. 

    • ChicagoOG Reply

      That letter really pissed me off.  I am sure it is authentic – as it fall directly in line with the mentality of the church, guilt trip extraordinaire.  I’m glad Romney stepped up his efforts to go in the opposite direction.  This solidifies in my mind how Brigham Young deflected the blow of Mountain Meadows….the wink and nod of getting things done….but not in an official manner….let’s talk about issues behind closed doors and then have a church leader force personal opinions down-line in a quasi official manner (letters to political members).  It’s all bullshit – I agree with John and Zilpha by effecting change in the church by leaving – the COJCOLDS is a business in every sense of the word, it’s about the money.  I have believed this from day one- take away their money and they learn how to get humble, learn how to get humble and you start apologizing for issues like racism.  I AM SORRY THAT I TOO HAVE BEEN RACIST…IN MY PAST.  I am still reprogramming what was once hard coded.  God bless all humankind.

  15. TroyJ Reply

    I strongly recommend that everyone purchase a DVD called Blacks in the SCriptures which was created by Perkins and Gray (two Mormon brothers). It proves that there is NO RACISM in the bible nor the BOM but only due to the ignorance of Mormon Prophets and leaders, did racism enter the Church.

  16. Claudia S. Reply

    I loved this podcast! One thing though, you didn’t mention anything about Hispanic/Latin American people, I’m from Mexico, we’re Lamanites too, right? haha

    I have experienced some ignorance from church members in this regards, some members view Latin Americans as lower class people, I realize this is a general public issue, just as is discrimination to black people. One time, while living in the US, a (white) Sunday school teacher publicly said “I wouldn’t ask Claudia and intelligent question”, I winced and then heard a lady (whom I LOVE) shout from the back “Excuse me? Biochemical engineer over there!” while pointing at me, just cause I was working at Subway it didn’t make me ignorant, I have a university degree.

    Anyway, enough venting, now to the real thing, I personally think some of the issues mentioned in the podcast apply to Latin Americans too, mostly on how we’re viewed because of our “curse”. I wonder how is it that so many people are joining the church in Latin America, I’d guess it would be the same reason as why the church is growing in Africa, I think is lack of access to information, most of which is in English so people wouldn’t even know about the ban on the priesthood for black people, I sure didn’t until a couple years after I joined the church.

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