On 37th anniversary of priesthood ban’s end, black Mormons say race issues still need attention
| Courtesy Janan Graham-Russell
Janan Graham-Russell, a Mormon graduate student at Howard University School of Divinity in Washington D.C.
Thirty-seven years ago Monday, the LDS Church announced a momentous decision: Its priesthood would henceforth be open "to all worthy male members," ending a centurylong ban on black men and boys in its ranks.
The June 8, 1978, change was celebrated throughout The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, leading many Mormons to believe past racial issues were now over.
The change, however, did not explain any reasons for the prohibition in the first place, nor put an end to some of the theological folklore
that long had been used to defend the ban, which also kept black Mormon women out of the faith's temples.
In December 2013, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted on its website an essay titled "Race and the Priesthood
." It described how the prohibition began under Brigham Young, the faith's second prophet-president, who was influenced by common racial beliefs of the time. The article notes that the policy did not exist during the tenure of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, who opposed slavery and allowed several African-American men to be ordained.
In other words, the ban stemmed more from earthly racism than heavenly revelation — a major change from how many Mormons saw it.
The essay marked a good start, some black Mormons said Monday in a Twitter chat "on the past, present and future of black Mormons," but it wasn't enough.
"Today marks the 37th anniversary of the restoration of priesthood and temple rights for black LDS," wrote Janan Russell, a black Mormon graduate student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. "Can we acknowledge that the spiritual lives of black Mormons was not a priority? Can we be honest with what it was?"
Russell, who goes by Black Magic Woman, created the hashtag #BlkLDS37 for people to address lingering questions, including "when and how did you hear about the ban? Prophetic authority: Where do we draw the line between prophet and man? Do you ever still hear members justify the ban? An apology: Is it necessary? How can members better serve those affected by the ban?"
And, finally, "Where do we (black Saints, non-black person-of-color Saints, white Saints) go from here?
"The LDS Church did not invent the notion of dark skin being a curse," wrote Bryndis Roberts, a black Mormon convert in Atlanta, "but it held on to it longer than most churches."
There followed a lively Twitter discussion, with Latter-day Saints weighing in from a variety of perspectives.
Brad Kramer, a white Mormon who has written about the ban before
, believes June 8 should be a day of LDS repentance.
"You can't repent, as a person, a people, or a church, of something that you refuse to acknowledge was a sin," Kramer wrote Monday on Facebook. "This was a great and grievous sin, with ruinous human consequences, that we collectively allowed ourselves to commit in God's name. And to the degree that we still blame God for our sin, we are still culpable in it and cannot truly heal from it."
You can't have repentance, though, if you don't even know about the previous ban or its history, Russell responded. Thus, she concluded her Twitter chat, with a call for discussion at every level of the LDS Church.
"I encourage everyone to keep the conversation going," she wrote. "Not just today but everyday. Read the church's essay. Do your research."