Brigham Young and Race

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CES Letter Core Question

Did Brigham Young hold racist views?

If Brigham Young was really a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, would it not be unreasonable to expect that God would give him a hint that racism is not okay, sexism is not okay, blood atonement is not okay, and God’s name is not “Adam”?

CES Letter, Page 69

Apparently the "racism" referred to is the priesthood ban, which has been removed. Although reasons for its original implementation are unclear, all worthy men and women can now receive all priesthood ordinances.

The original issue was lineage, not skin color. The author of The CES Letter seems unaware that in the Old Testament under the Law of Moses, only males from the tribe of Levi were permitted to hold the priesthood and officiate in temple priesthood ordinances. Limitations on priesthood ordinations have a long religious history.

Even Jesus Christ acknowledged the importance of lineage telling the Twelve Apostles:  “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6; see also 15:24). To blame Brigham Young for being concerned about ancestry is short-sighted.

Brigham Young’s implementation of the restrictions over time were undoubtedly influenced by surrounding cultural norms, a violation of which may have produced significant disdain and additional turmoil for the nineteenth-century Church. This does not excuse racism, but it does provide context for the policy Brigham eventually implemented.

In 1978 through a manifestation to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, the priesthood ban was removed.

Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, a man responsible for some of the Church’s justifications for a racial ban, denounced his own statements within months of the 1978 revelation. He told an audience at Brigham Young University to “[f]orget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or . . . whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” It was a statement that suggested that prior teachings on race may have lacked “light and knowledge.”

The priesthood and temple restrictions were a trial for both white and black Latter-day Saints. In retrospect, it might seem like it was a needless trial that could have been easily remedied. However, the label of “needless” could be applied to many (most) of the individual trials we each face daily by those who do not possess God’s vision. He had the power to prevent its implementation or to remove it earlier, but He did not.

While the trials associated with the priesthood ban were ultimately removed, dealing with its memory is a trial for many today. We are here to face trials and God ultimately decides what those trials will be, although our individual choices will greatly modify the types and number we encounter. When trials appear that are not a result of our choices, then God is simply testing our faith, which is why we are here on earth.  The Apostle Peter explained: “The trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).


 Additional Resources:

FAIRMORMON: Mormonism and Racial Issues

“Race and Priesthood” LDS.org Essay

A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel (2006 FAIR Conference) by Marcus Martins

Revelations in the Summer of 1978: A Personal Essay on Race and the Priesthood

Black Latter-day Saints: A Faith-FULL History (2003 FAIR Conference) by Margaret Blair Young

Blacks and the Priesthood by Marvin Perkins

Blacks in the Bible (2005 FAIR Conference) by Darius Gray

Dispelling the Black Myth (2002 FAIR Conference) by Renee Olson

Empathetic Imagination: Reading between the Lines in Standing on the Promises (2004 FAIR Conference) by Margaret Blair Young and Darius Gray

How to Reach African-Americans (2005 FAIR Conference) by Marvin Perkins

International Perspectives of a Black Member in a “White” Church (2004 FAIR Conference) by Alex Boye

No Johnny-Come-Lately: The 182-Year-Long BLACK Mormon Moment (2012 FAIR Conference) by Darius Gray

The Charge of “Racism” in the Book of Mormon (2003 FAIR Conference) by John A. Tvedtnes

The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics by Armand Mauss

Tract Misrepresents LDS Stance Regarding Blacks: A review of The Mormon Negro: Blessed or Cursed by Mark Jasinski

What Does the Book of Mormon Mean by “Skin of Blackness”? by Brant Gardner

History of Blacks and the LDS Church, ,

Africa and the Welcome Table — Margaret Young, ,

Brigham Young and Racism — Russel Stevenson Podcast, ,

Mormon FAIR-Cast 79: Does Mitt Romney belong to a “racist religion”?, ,

Elijah Able, The First Black Mormon Priesthood Holder — Fair Mormon Podcast, ,

Blacks and the Priesthood- Interview with Max Mueller- Fair Mormon Podcast, ,

Articles of Faith 13: Russell Stevenson FairMormon Conference Follow Up – Coming to Grips With Brigham Young and Race, Russell Stevenson, 0:26:24

Articles of Faith 16: Margaret Blair Young – The Heart of Africa and The Welcome Table, Margaret Blair Young, 0:39:38

Best of Fair 5: A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel, Marcus H. Martins, 0:48:45

FAIR Conversations, Episode 16: Max Mueller, on blacks and the priesthood, Max Mueller, 1:29:51

FairMormon Frameworks 6: Russell Stevenson and “Elijah Ables”, Russell Stevenson, 0:49:22

Mormon FAIR-Cast 42: From Panthers to Priesthood, Ed & Wanda Willis, 1:23:13

Mormon FAIR-Cast 79: Does Mitt Romney belong to a “racist religion”?, Scott Gordon, 0:18:36

Mormon FAIR-Cast 128: Blacks in the Bible, Darius Gray, 0:47:01

Mormon FAIR-Cast 129: Skin Color & Curses, Marvin Perkins, 0:45:47

Mormon FAIR-Cast 130: Equality and Priesthood, Marvin Perkins, 0:27:34

Mormon FAIR-Cast 131: Blacks and the LDS Priesthood, Darius Gray, 0:35:59

Mormon FAIR-Cast 185: Race and the Priesthood, Russell Stevenson, 1:07:40

RiseUp Podcast – From Baptist Preacher to Mormon Teacher, the story of Wain Myers, Wain Myers, 0:36:00

RiseUp Podcast – Having conversations about the history of Blacks and the LDS Church, Russell Stevenson, 0:17:11

Articles of Faith 16: Margaret Blair Young – The Heart of Africa and The Welcome Table, Margaret Blair Young, 0:39:38

pt 1, Dispelling the Black Myth

pt 2, Dispelling the Black Myth

pt 3, Dispelling the Black Myth

pt 4, Dispelling the Black Myth

pt 1, Black Latter-day Saints: A Faith-FULL History

pt 2, Black Latter-day Saints: A Faith-FULL History

pt 3, Black Latter-day Saints: A Faith-FULL History

pt 4, Black Latter-day Saints: A Faith-FULL History

pt 1, On being a Black Man in Zion, 2006 FAIR Conference

pt 2, On being a Black Man in Zion, 2006 FAIR Conference

pt 3, On being a Black Man in Zion, 2006 FAIR Conference

pt 4, On being a Black Man in Zion, 2006 FAIR Conference

Pt 1 Reaching the Black Saints

pt 2 Reaching the Black Saints

pt 3 Reaching the Black Saints

pt 4 Reaching the Black Saints

pt 5 Reaching the Black Saints

LDS Church and the Race Issue: Study in Misplaced Apologetic

2LDS Church and the Race Issue Study in Misplaced Apologetic

3LDS Church and the Race Issue Study in Misplaced Apologetic

The Charge of Racism in The Book of Mormon by John Tvedtnes

Blacks in the Scriptures Blacks and the LDS Priesthood

Mormon Doctrine on Blacks, Race and Priesthood Restriction Explained

Blacks in the Scriptures: Skin Color & Curses

Exciting Announcement From Blacks In The Scriptures

Blacks in the Scriptures: Equality & Priesthood

Blacks in the Scriptures: Blacks in the Bible

Blacks and the Scriptures: Blacks and the LDS Priesthood

Alex Boye- An International Perspective of a Black Member in a “White” Church

A Black Man in Zion by Marcus Martins

pt 1, The Charge of Racism in The Book of Mormon