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Does Mormonism Have Racist Theology? (Part 5 of 5)

As we conclude our discussion of black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James, we will talk about this question: what role does race play in LDS Theology?  Many black church members have been told they will be white in the resurrection.  Is our theology an example of white supremacy?  Dr. Quincy Newell will answer these questions.

Quincy:  [Jane] was well respected in the community, in part because of her relationship to Joseph Smith. She was one of the last people alive, who had known him in person, and so she was sought out for her memories of the Prophet. And Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral. She was she was celebrated and lauded as an upstanding member of the community, well-respected and to be missed. But, at the same time, one account of the funeral said that Joseph F. Smith talked about how she would receive all of her wishes in heaven, and that she would have a white and glorified body. And that’s not an exact quote, but he did say she would be white.

And, there’s a really interesting aspect to imagining that scene. If you think about Joseph F. Smith standing in front of a congregation that includes a lot of black faces, and talking about how Jane, this respected black woman in the community is going to be white in heaven, that’s all kinds of problematic.

GT:  And I know a lot of people are going to have a hard time with that. Because they’re like, “Well, that’s not racist.”

Quincy:  No, but that’s racist.

GT:  Oh, I know it is. I know I’m going to get comments on that. But anyway, even as late as 1978, I remember President Kimball, who we all laud for this wonderful [revelation], talked about Indians who would become a white and delightsome people. And I know he said that with the best of intentions. And it’s hard, I think, especially for really Orthodox people to say that’s a racist statement. But it’s a racist statement. And so it’s hard because I know a lot of black people, Indians, whatever nationality, have had to deal with this. I hate to call it white supremacy.

Quincy:  It’s white supremacy.

GT:  But that’s what it is.

Quincy:  Yeah, it is.

GT:  And so what can we say to people to get them to understand that that really is racist theology?

Quincy:  Not being an LDS theologian, that is a challenging question for me to answer. So I think there are Mormon theologians who are far more able to address this question than I. But I guess I would start with the idea that the Bible says we are all made in God’s image. I was raised as a Protestant. And so, I think of God as beyond gender, beyond race, not having either one of those characteristics. I know for Mormons, that’s different. But I think that you have to start with the question of, why is the default image of God, an old white guy? Right?

Check out our conversation….

When we say that black people will become white in heaven, is that a form of racist theology?

Don’t miss out other conversations with Dr. Quincy Newell!

316: Jane’s Pioneer Travels to Utah

315:  Jane’s One-Of-A Kind Sealing to Joseph Smith

314: 19th Century Sexual Politics

313: Was Jane a Slave?

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LDS Church in Africa #BlackHistoryMonth

It’s Black History Month at Gospel Tangents.  This is our final conversation with Russell Stevenson and we’ll talk the LDS Church in Africa.  Did you know that Nigerians in the 1960s and even in the 1950s I learned have asked for LDS missionaries to come teach the gospel to them.  It’s pretty surprising that they did this without any LDS presence in Nigeria.  Russell Stevenson will talk more about this in our next conversation.

Russell:  Throughout the 1950s, a number of church leaders are getting letters from various Nigerians across the river in Igboland, elsewhere begging for missionaries, asking for some kind of missionary presence.  The initial response by David O. McKay and others was some level of skepticism.  Maybe they are just looking for an opportunity to make money.  They are just looking for white people to give them business, maybe looking for a new source of patronage now that the British influence was beginning to recede.  By 1960 it was officially turned over to Nigerians.

In 1960 David O. McKay and the First Presidency, they send Glen Fisher, who has once been a mission president in South Africa to see what’s happening on the ground.  Are these potential converts legitimate?  Do they in fact want to join the LDS Church, or are they just looking for some kind of business opportunity?  Glen Fisher returned with a report that was gushing by saying these people are the real deal.  They crave Mormonism.  They crave the LDS Church.

So they go there and they come away with the same conclusion that Glen Fisher had come away with, that these people are the real deal.  They are legitimate.  They in fact crave Mormonism.  In fact Lamar Williams went further.  He said, “Ultimately we cannot keep the priesthood from these people.”  Essentially it’s only a matter of time.

GT:  What year is this?

Russell:  This is in 1961.

GT chuckles:  ’61.  That’s pretty prophetic!

Russell:  Yes.  I should note too, this isn’t the very first time you have Nigerians communicating this kind of thing to missionaries.  We have evidence all the way back to 1950 of a Nigerian reverend approaching missionaries in New York City asking for a missionary presence.  This is all throughout the post-war period.  I’m only talking about the period in which the activity is most sustained.

Find out more about what happened with the LDS Church in Africa!  I hope enjoyed our previous conversations with Russell on Elijah Ables, his mission, the temple/priesthood ban, and his attempts to get his endowment.  Check out all of these episodes for #BlackHistoryMonth!…..

 

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Trouble in Cincinnati: Ables’ Time in Ohio #BlackHistoryMonth

Following Elijah Ables’ Canadian mission, he returned for a short time to Nauvoo where he helped Joseph Smith escape from a mob from Missouri.  Then he went to Ohio and encountered more Trouble in Cincinnati!  Russell Stevenson continues our focus on #BlackHistoryMonth, and discusses some of the race riots and other difficulties Elijah Ables encountered in Ohio.

Russell:  In about 1842, or it might have even been the fall of 1841, there had been a massive race riot break out in Cincinnati between local white workers and the African-American community.  It was quite violent.  Many prominent abolitionists found themselves under fire.  Their homes, their offices, their businesses were all targeted for mob attack, and it’s reasonable to suppose that Rees E. Price would have found under attack as well.

So the fact that Elijah could navigate these white spaces, it tells you he had the skill to be in both worlds.  And yet, in spite of this ability, in spite of this comfortability with white spaces, we know that in 1843, I speculate due to some of these heightened tensions that had developed due to this race riot, that locally, three apostles:  Heber C. Kimball, Lorenzo Snow, and Orson Pratt, they banned Elijah from preaching to people not of African ancestry.

GT:  Ok, so approximately what year was that?

Russell:  Not approximately, it was 1843.

GT:  1843, so he had some restrictions placed on him.

Russell:  Yes.  I can’t emphasize enough, though, it was not a priesthood restriction.  They had the opportunity.  If they wanted to take the priesthood from Elijah at that time, they could have.  That was the perfect opportunity to do so.  They did not.  In the minutes that tell us about this episode, he is explicitly identified as a Seventy and there is no comment made about him losing priesthood, and two years later, there is a newspaper article again referring to Elijah’s workings in that branch where he is also referred to as a Seventy.

Russell also talks about speculation Elijah may have helped with the Underground Railroad to free blacks from slavery!

Russell:  Now did that lead to some sort of collaboration in helping with the Underground Railroad?  That’s a very interesting speculation.  It also goes beyond the evidence.  Trust me, I would love to know that Elijah played an active role in assisting with the Underground Railroad.  We just don’t know that.

Don’t forget to learn more about Elijah’s Canadian mission, and his work on the Kirtland Temple.  Check out our conversation…..