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Peggy Fletcher Stack
Peggy Fletcher Stack has been producing stories for The Salt Lake Tribune's award-winning Faith section for nearly two decades. Writing about contemporary faith, rituals, and spirituality as well as religion's conflicts and cohesion has always been Stack's passion. Follow her at facebook.com/peggy.fletcherstack, Twitter @religiongal

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Mormon church disputes BYU prof's remarks about blacks

The LDS Church on Wednesday strongly denounced racism and dismissed folk beliefs about why the Utah-based faith banned blacks from its all-male priesthood until 1978.

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The statements were triggered by comments made about the ban by Brigham Young University religion professor Randy Bott in Tuesday's Washington Post.

Bott pointed to Mormon scriptures that indicate descendants of the biblical Cain — who killed his brother Abel and was "cursed" by God — were black and subsequently barred from the priesthood. He also noted that past LDS leaders suggested blacks were less valiant in the sphere known in Mormon theology as the "premortal existence."

The longtime religion professor at LDS Church-owned BYU further argued that blacks were not ready for the Mormon priesthood, Post reporter Jason Horowitz wrote, "like a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car."

Bott's comments, the church said, "absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

It went on to say that "the church’s position is clear — we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in his eyes and in the church. We do not tolerate racism in any form."

As to the question of the now-discarded ban on blacks in the priesthood, the church said: "It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began but what is clear is that it ended decades ago."

Reactions in the bloggernacle to Bott's remarks were swift and almost entirely critical. They even spawned a Twitter hashtag: #bottgate.

FAIR, a group of Mormon defenders, described the "curse of Cain" as one of one of the "myths" about the priesthood ban.

By Common Consent reposted Lester Bush's definitive account of the ban's origins in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

BYU students planned a protest for March 2.

But Bott is not alone in his views, writes Joanna Brooks at Religion Dispatches.

"Racist rationale[s] for the priesthood ban ... persist and circulate, generally unquestioned and unchallenged."

Before now, the most matter-of-fact renouncement came from LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, who told filmmaker Helen Whitney in 2007 that the church was "unequivocal" in rejecting these notions and keeping them from being written or taught within the church.

"We don't pretend that something wasn't taught or practice wasn't pursued for whatever reason," Holland said. "But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared."

Apparently, Bott slipped through the net.

Peggy Fletcher Stack

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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