Commentary: Time for Mitt Romney to practice what he preaches

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mitt Romney speaks in Orem after winning the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Tuesday June 26, 2018. Ann Romney at right.

Hey, Mitt Romney. You now say, very publicly: “In this country, it must be electorally disqualifying to equivocate on racism.”

Good point. But it’s time to practice what you preach. I call upon you to condemn your own past participation in racial segregation as both racist and wrong — unequivocally. I call upon you to condemn multiple racist passages in your Mormon scripture as wrong — unequivocally. Either that, or proclaim yourself electorally disqualified — by your own assessment.

It’s easy enough to denounce racism generically. Much like you, publicly your church leaders “unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present.” So, too, President Trump tweeted, “I condemn all types of racism,” on the anniversary of the deadly Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally. That’s a welcome improvement, on the surface. Tellingly, however, Trump failed to rebuke his past remarks and actions, just as you’ve failed to rebuke yours. Many people might rightly question Trump’s sincerity. Yours, too.

At least Trump hasn’t systematically practiced explicit racial segregation. Unlike you, Mitt. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you systematically denied blacks entry into the priesthood — despite your recent political proclamations “that we are all children of God,” promoting “the equality of mankind.” (Sorry, ladies. Not including you.) You denied blacks entry into the temple, much as your fellow segregationists denied blacks entry into schools, swimming pools and restaurants. Not even Trump explicitly did that.

And you denied blacks participation in the holy ceremonies purportedly necessary to achieve the highest levels of the Mormon afterlife. Even your heaven was racially segregated. If people “who knowingly march under the Nazi banner have disqualified themselves as ‘good people,’” as you say, then what about people who knowingly practice racial segregation?

You’ve been called out before on these racist practices — and rightly so. But rather than denounce such racism, you equivocated. Tim Russert once asked you directly: “You were 31 years old, and your church was excluding blacks from full participation. Didn’t you think, ‘What am I doing part of an organization that is viewed by many as a racist organization?’” In reply, you equivocated: “I’m very proud of my faith, and it’s the faith of my fathers … I love my faith. And I’m not going to distance myself in any way from my faith.”

Russert persisted: “But it was wrong for your faith to exclude it for as long as it did.” Again you equivocated: “I’ve told you exactly where I stand.” Which is no surprise. The LDS church discontinued its practice of racial segregation in 1978. But, like you, it didn’t directly disavow the practice itself. And it still hasn’t done so, its nondoctrinal 2013 essay notwithstanding.

Instead, nearly 20 years later, when then-Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley was asked whether the church’s ban on blacks in the priesthood had been wrong, he replied, “No. I don’t think it was wrong.

Oh, well. Look at the bright side. At least Hinckley didn’t equivocate. So, Mitt, how about you? Do you now unequivocally condemn as wrong — for both past and present — the racial segregation that you, Hinckley, Prophet Russell M. Nelson, and other Mormons practiced? Yes or no? Do you unequivocally condemn the multiple Mormon scriptural passages claiming that black skin is a curse from God? Yes, or no?

Here’s a thought experiment for you, Mitt. In the early days of your church, a few black males served in the priesthood. But in 1849, Brigham Young declared, “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.” Apparently, either God had forgotten to tell Joseph Smith, or He’d changed His mind. Unless Prophet Young was just making stuff up.

Then, in 1978, God reversed Himself again and revealed that blacks could have the priesthood after all.

So, Mitt. Suppose that your God or your prophets flip-flop one more time, and again ban blacks from the Mormon priesthood, the Temple, and obtaining the attendant celestial rewards. What would you do now: Choose your church, as you did before? Or instead stand for equality for all — unequivocally? Curious voters want to know. Because religious racism is still racism. And equivocating on racism must be electorally disqualifying.

Gregory Clark

Gregory A. Clark lives, works, teaches and writes in Salt Lake City.

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