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Following Faith

How hoop star Jabari Parker views Mormonism’s past black ban: a personal foul by fallible leaders

First Published      Last Updated Feb 14 2017 09:30 am

Jabari Parker, a basketball prodigy who has been compared to LeBron James, may be among the most celebrated of young Mormon athletes but even he didn't know about a controversial aspect of his faith's history — a ban on black men and boys from being ordained to its all-male priesthood.

Parker grew up in a diverse, open-minded, educated LDS congregation in Chicago, but it wasn't until he was a freshman at Duke that he first learned about his church's racial ban, which ended in 1978.

Though the star was born after that momentous change in the Utah-based faith, misunderstandings about the prohibition's origins among the Mormon faithful have persisted to this day. In 2013, the LDS Church published an essay, "Race and the Priesthood," which disavows any theological justifications for the ban and explains how racism created a context for the Mormon policy.




The Milwaukee Bucks' third-year power forward had heard nothing about that history, according to a new biography of the young man published in an online magazine, The Ringer.

"My church was in Hyde Park," Parker told the magazine, an area of the Windy City that was home to Barack Obama and the University of Chicago. "It's a unique place. It's different than maybe a lot of other churches. We had a lot of black people. A lot of Asian people. A lot of really liberal white people. I never once saw any discrimination. I never once felt anything like that."

Parker was involved in LDS Young Men groups, where "a lot of us kids were black, and a lot of the counselors were white," he said. "They never frowned on our culture. They embraced it."

When the hoop star did confront Mormonism's past racial restrictions, in college, he "struggled to reconcile the rhetoric of former church leaders with the kindness he'd experienced as a child."

Eventually, he came to a conclusion shared by many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: leader fallibility.

"The way I view it, those policies and views  — they didn't really represent God or the church," he told the magazine. "They represented those individual people who were in leadership, and people are always going to be flawed."

Peggy Fletcher Stack

 

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