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Kirby: Mormons not alone in failure to acknowledge racism
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

For several reasons, I grew up hearing and using the "N" word. Not only was ours a military family but it also was the '50s and '60s, a time when that particular word hadn't become entirely unacceptable.

It didn't help that we were also Mormon. My grandparents, descendants of Mormon pioneers on both sides, were about as racist as it was possible to be without actually owning slaves.

This was particularly true of my paternal grandmother, who, upon learning that I was marrying a "foreigner" (Canadian), demanded, "Why can't Bobby marry a white girl?"

My family wasn't bad. Well, OK, I was. We were a product of our time, social status and church. The LDS "policy" back then was to deny black people the priesthood.

As they did with most religious edicts, the obsessively obedient took it to the extreme. Leaders gave talks on the matter, wrote books about it and enforced the ban by excommunicating anyone who ordained a black man.

It got really picky. If black was unacceptable for the priesthood, how much black was too black?

Apparently any. If your great-great-great-grandfather was 0.016 percent black on his foster family's in-law side, that was enough. You couldn't have the priesthood or get married in the temple.

I heard all the reasons for this, including an extra-secret vision, conscientious objecting during the war in heaven, relationship to Cain in the Bible, etc.

It was also in the blood. I recall — and I am not making this up — when a family member needed a blood transfusion but the only available matching blood type was inside a black guy.

Before the life-saving transfusion was permitted, church leaders were contacted to see how much of a problem the introduction of this tainted blood would constitute. There was no problem, as it turned out.

As awful as this was, keep in mind that it wasn't just an LDS problem. At the same time that blood thing was being tossed idiotically about, blacks couldn't attend school with whites in the South.

There were still laws in many states prohibiting interracial marriage, and civil rights for blacks in much of America were just a dream.

But Mormons hung on to our stand long after most of America conceded such behavior was just wrong. By then I was already out of touch with LDS policy regarding blacks and the priesthood.

Not only had I developed a high-school crush on a black girl, I started thinking about the fairness of it all. It didn't make any sense no matter who said it had to be that way.

Later, I got so out of touch with the policy that I started wishing I were at least a little black.

Being a partial descendant from Cain would free me from the obligation of going to priesthood meeting and home teaching. I considered lying about my bloodline but then concluded it was more honest — and easier — to just not go.

In 1978, the LDS Church changed the policy regarding blacks and the priesthood, but it took another 35 years to officially acknowledge that it had not necessarily been God's idea.

Cool. Sunday I'll be sitting in church and thinking about how great it is to finally have that lunacy out of the way.

Now we can focus on banning people who really shouldn't be allowed to have the priesthood, people with the potential to do the church real harm.

People like me.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.

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