Media Misses Point on Mormonism: Race and the Priesthood

Media Misses Point on Mormonism: Race and the Priesthood

During Mitt Romney’s first presidential run, he was deeply probed on his religion. Those who call for him to answer the same questions now on how his Mormon faith will affect his time in office do so because they don’t remember he’s already answered these queries. 

They want the rest of us to think he’s hiding something by not responding, or they’re trying to trip him up in his responses. The media must have forgotten there is no religious test for President of the United States under the Constitution.

In December of 2007, Romney appeared on “Meet the Press.” He was interrogated on a host of issues, including but not limited to social issues such as religious liberty, his faith, racism, and abortion. Most questions raised about Romney now, he answered then, as well as in other interviews. Several of these questions he’s answered more fully this time around through the recent series of primary debates. There is no reason for the press to cry foul that Romney doesn’t respond to their accusations and requests; revisiting these issues has little value beyond the political advantage in driving public opinion against the Republican nominee.

Let’s take, for example, the repeatedly raised issue of the history of blacks within the LDS Church. Here is an excerpt from the “Meet the Press” transcript of Dec. 16, 2007, starting right after Romney’s answer about religious freedom, leading into race:

MR. RUSSERT: You, you raise the issue of color of skin. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court, Brown vs. Board of Education, desegregated all our public schools. In 1964 civil rights laws giving full equality to black Americans. And yet it wasn’t till 1978 that the Mormon church decided to allow blacks to participate fully. Here was the headlines in the papers in June of ’78. “Mormon Church Dissolves Black Bias. Citing new revelation from God, the president of the Mormon Church decreed for the first time black males could fully participate in church rites.” 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?”

GOV. ROMNEY: I’m very proud of my faith, and it’s the faith of my fathers, and I certainly believe that it is a, a faith–well, it’s true and I love my faith. And I’m not going to distance myself in any way from my faith. But you can see what I believed and what my family believed by looking at, at our lives. My dad marched with Martin Luther King. My mom was a tireless crusader for civil rights. You may recall that my dad walked out of the Republican convention in 1964 in San Francisco in part because Barry Goldwater, in his speech, gave my dad the impression that he was someone who was going to be weak on civil rights. So my dad’s reputation, my mom’s and my own has always been one of reaching out to people and not discriminating based upon race or anything else. And so those are my fundamental core beliefs, and I was anxious to see a change in, in my church.

I can remember when, when I heard about the change being made. I was driving home from, I think, it was law school, but I was driving home, going through the Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I heard it on the radio, and I pulled over and, and literally wept. Even at this day it’s emotional, and so it’s very deep and fundamental in my, in my life and my most core beliefs that all people are children of God. My faith has always told me that. My faith has also always told me that, in the eyes of God, every individual was, was merited the, the fullest degree of happiness in the hereafter, and I, and I had no question in my mind that African-Americans and, and blacks generally, would have every right and every benefit in the hereafter that anyone else had and that God is no respecter of persons.

MR. RUSSERT: But it was wrong for your faith to exclude it for as long as it did.

GOV. ROMNEY: I’ve told you exactly where I stand. My view is that there–there’s, there’s no discrimination in the eyes of God, and I could not have been more pleased than to see the change that occurred.

Mitt Romney’s positive reaction to the announcement in 1978 was typical within the Church. You may also find reassuring the LDS Church’s official answer regarding the delay in blacks entering the priesthood:

The Church’s position is clear–we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form.

For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.

We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.

There you have it. Mormons don’t know why the restriction existed, but it doesn’t now. Why was Moses directed to have the priesthood restricted to Aaron and his sons in the Old Testament, with only the tribe of Levi assisting them, and without extending the priesthood to any other tribes (see Exodus 28, Leviticus 8, and Numbers 1)? We don’t know the answer to that either. Why was the gospel not preached to the Gentiles until after Peter’s vision following Christ’s resurrection (see Acts 10)? Why was Christ’s earthly ministry restricted to the Jews? There are numerous examples of restrictions of the gospel or parts of the gospel from groups of people in the Old and New Testaments.

During the time of Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the LDS Church, blacks were allowed to have the priesthood. Smith and the Church strongly opposed slavery. The early LDS Church members were driven out of the state of Missouri by murderous mobs and the Extermination Order issued by Governor Boggs in 1838, in large part because of the LDS position against slavery. There have always been black members of the Church, and their numbers have grown worldwide. Racial tolerance has always been a defining principle of the LDS Church. Our fundamental belief is that all people are children of God and God loves all His children and so should we, following the example and teachings of Jesus Christ.

The media certainly will visit this topic again. However, a serious look at the practices of the LDS Church exposes the flaws in their reporting. I’m sure the media will also continue to question Romney’s lack of response on religious issues like this one. I doubt that he’ll answer their queries, since he’s already responded to these questions in the past. Now is not the time for Romney to get caught up defending his religion, being as there is no religious test for office of president of the United States. It is time for him and the rest of us to focus on the real issues we all face together as Americans.