Culture Change and the 1978 Priesthood Revelation: Memoir of a (Somewhat) Radical White Mormon

The following guest post is from Dr. Warner Woodworth.

Latter-day Saints around the globe recently celebrated the 1978 Church announcement regarding the Priesthood being conferred upon all worthy males. For me it’s a time to pause in gratitude, remember that momentous event, and reflect on the days of struggle many of us, Black and Caucasian, went through to achieve a better, more egalitarian society.  I sat in the tabernacle June 8, 2008 with a group of friends—African Americans, Polynesians, and Africans—as we shared recollections and listened to the program.  One conclusion was that the event wasn’t black enough.  We wanted more jumping up and singing, clapping, and a lot more energy.  Said one, “When are you white Mormons going to break out of your stiff culture and let your hearts soar?”

I didn’t have an answer.

The experience brought back memories of the history and LDS culture from decades ago, and I wondered if changes have really occurred in terms of race within LDS society. During the late 1960s-early ‘70s, the University of Michigan where I sought a Ph.D. was a hotbed of activist protests about race in America. The Black Panthers came to speak on campus with their guns and guards. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), formed earlier by Tom Hayden and others at Port Huron, Michigan, spread across the country like wildfire, launching campus sit-ins, marches against the Vietnam War, and combating all forms of racism.

Tom and Jane Fonda came to one of my classes during my Ph.D. work and inspired us to organize a university-wide strike over race issues.  We spent several months planning the strategies and tactics, building collaboration with fledgling Black activist groups on campus and then pushed to shut down the 40,000 student school.  Our efforts were successful and the U. of M. was largely shut down for weeks. In response, the University ultimately announced new scholarships for Blacks, a commitment to hire minority professors, and approval to establish a Black Studies program.  The school became an academic center for fostering Black music, art, poetry, and other cultural expressions.

I was the LDS Institute of Religion Director of a growing Mormon program in Ann Arbor, and enjoyed a certain notoriety for having shoulder-length hair, along with a full beard and moustache during those years. It was good to be a fairly long distance from CES offices in Utah.

These were the days of fighting segregation, of the heroic Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nonviolent push for social justice in our country. With other pastors and ministers in town, I participated in exploring how we as churches should address the problems of U. S. race relations.  We invited minority church leaders to discuss their perspectives on white America.  An organization called the Black Action Movement (BAM) consisting of radical Blacks began to confront religious leaders in New York, Detroit, and even in Ann Arbor.  They had prepared a Black Manifesto and sought to read it in every church of any significant size.  Upon discovering that the Mormon Church of Ann Arbor was on their hit list, we as local leaders decided to preempt their attack because we saw the damage done, the broken stained glass windows, the emotional turmoil caused in other churches BAM had confronted before us.

So we invited them to come and read the Manifesto and confront Mormons about our racist past through an official planned Sunday event.  We spent a week preparing our members to not react angrily or accusingly, although we warned them that they would be attacked and accused by the radicals.  Our concern was not so much the anger of BAM because it was to be expected.  Instead, our concern was with our Mormon congregation–that our members act like Christians in response.  We consulted with Church leaders in Salt Lake City, letting them know what we planned to do and asking if they had any advice.  The Church’s Presiding Bishopric told us that they assumed we would soon be confronted anyway, and that by taking this initiative, hopefully things might turn out more positive than that of other religions.  We told them BAM had broken into other churches and conducted sit-ins until the police came and arrested them, and we asked Salt Lake officials for advice.  We were told to not call the police, but rather to send in the Relief Society with food for those conducting the sit-in, if that were to occur.  There was to be no confrontation.

The big Sunday came and our chapel was packed to overflowing.  Learning in advance of the upcoming event through the grapevine, LDS members came from not only Detroit, but also from Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois.  Some of them from other progressive college towns told us afterward that they fully expected that BAM was going to be ordained to the Priesthood that day in our ward. Instead, we listened as they read the Manifesto and criticized our past. Some of our members asked polite questions while others became defensive and said they weren’t responsible for the racist practices of their ancestors.

One woman stood up and suggested we stop sending our tithing to Salt Lake and instead use our offerings to establish an LDS fund to help provide jobs and education for African Americans in our community.  After considering what to do over the following days, we eventually decided to continue paying our tithing to Church headquarters in Salt Lake, but to also establish a separate Black Action Movement LDS Fund to benefit local minorities.  In the weeks that followed, I took our new BAM friends to several other Institutes of Religion in the region and invited them to participate with us in the BAM Fund, which they did.

During my five years in Michigan, I began training and advising companies throughout the state, as well as labor unions, city governments, and other organizations about how to value diversity, methods for creating improved race relations, and so on.  I carried out action research projects, and with colleagues designed innovative strategies for conflict resolution. I worked to establish systems of joint problem-solving in which Blacks and whites, rich and poor, could begin to understand each other, build trust, and improve the quality of life for all. My partners and I began to see real change—in attitudes, structures of power, and community economic development. These efforts continued for many years after leaving Michigan during which I traveled the country and helped such groups as Ohio Black Muslims gain more equality and economic well-being.

I made the transition to becoming a new professor at BYU, and within a couple years the June 8, 1978 revelation was announced.  I remember tears of gratitude and joy streaming down my face when I heard the news. I ran to a phone and called several of my Black friends. Some whites at BYU were relieved that now the school’s football and basketball programs could return to business as usual rather than be boycotted by other universities. But Church members around the globe, especially in Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil, and those of us Americans who had lived in those countries and knew Latter-day Saints in those regions, had a deeper appreciation for the revelation.  Now all worthy men of every race would have the privilege of being ordained to the priesthood, and all righteous members around the globe could now enter the temple and be married for eternity. Essentially, the Church had reached the tipping point. It was no longer a Utah religion, or even a white American one, but a global organization.

For two decades I have worked with Brazilian business and government officials, NGOs, as well as LDS leaders, to foster the nation’s development.  Most Brazilians are of mixed Black and white ancestry, and I can witness that the 1978 revelation has made a huge impact on the Church’s success in that huge country. Today there are over a million Mormons there, and in just a few more years that number will double, along with growing to 10 temples and 50 some missions.  As near as I can determine, the 1978 decision gave the Church a major new thrust. Without the change, we would still be a much smaller, mostly U.S. institution with little, if any, global impacts.

Through the past 15 years-plus, I have had the wonderful opportunity in Africa to use my business and organizational consulting skills among urban Latter-day Saints in Kenya, and in rural Muslim villages of Mali.  I have worked to establish programs, train and send young college-age Mormons to do village development, build schools, establish microcredit programs, and in other ways empowered the poor of Africa—whether Mormon, Muslim, evangelical, or animist.  I have had the great blessing of recruiting donors who gave millions of dollars, designing systems and building best practices that strengthen family life and move individuals toward economic self-reliance.  All together, we have impacted for good the poorest of the poor in Mozambique, Uganda, South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, and Ivory Coast.  Others of my LDS friends have likewise dedicated years and more dollars to serve the poor of Tanzania, Ethiopia, and so forth.  The restoration of the Priesthood to Blacks worldwide has inspired many of us in our efforts to reach out in a special way and give of our material resources, our personal time, our professional skills, and most of all our deep love for all of God’s children, Black and white.

On the significant day of June 8, 2008, as we commemorated the Church’s 30th anniversary of the priesthood announcement, it was exciting that it occurred during the same time frame that a 46 year-old Black man, Barack Obama, had won the Democratic Party’s nomination for president of the United States.

Yet the thrill of this occurring was diminished a few days later when I learned a white Utah couple, the Lawson’s, of West Jordan, was attempting to make money off Obama’s achievements by designing a sock monkey dressed in a suit with a presidential lapel pin for the candidate. The depiction appeared like America’s Jim Crow culture back in the Southern states of the 1880s when Blacks were depicted as apes. What were these people thinking?  The typical white plea that they were naïve has done little to quell the national uproar. Their “SockObama” toy is clearly a caricature, not just of Senator Obama, but Blacks everywhere who are now offended and see Utahns as a century behind the times.

After massive negative reactions in the media and on the web, the Lawson couple apparently withdrew the product when their manufacturer, Binkley Toys Inc., stopped production. However, rumor has it they are planning a doll re-launch. Whether that happens or not, this episode made me wonder: When, if ever, will Utah project a new image as a more progressive place? We have recently suffered the embarrassing comments of LDS Republican Senator, Chris Buttars, about his view of a disliked law as “a dark ugly thing” What do readers think about these things? Do you see implications for us as a people?

A friend told me we will know that racial culture change in Utah has succeeded when there are Black bishops and stake presidents in the state, not just in metropolitan areas of the East or South.  Another said that these types of crude bigotry are the very image Mormonism projects globally, a comment that hurts me to the core.  It appears that the Church still has a way to go in impacting members’ attitudes about ethnicity.  More importantly, we as Latter-day Saints must change ourselves—our biases, religious assumptions, and our personal behavior.

On the positive side, maybe there is a growing “the audacity of hope” among our members as we face the future. With Obama’s overwhelming primary presidential election win among Utah’s Mormon Democrats last February, perhaps it’s a sign of better days to come. Reflecting on those results, my guess is that not only is Martin Luther King, Jr. smiling down from heaven above. So is Joseph Smith!

57 thoughts on “Culture Change and the 1978 Priesthood Revelation: Memoir of a (Somewhat) Radical White Mormon

  1. 1. I can’t believe there was an “eventually” to your people’s decision to pay tithing. Really?

    2. You know fully as well as every other person in the bloggernacle that the Lawsons are not LDS, and using their story as representative of LDS racism is dishonest.

    I don’t have your bona fides in this area — neither am I as old as you are. I resent your repeated efforts to tar all Mormons and all Utahns with your political brush. Give it a rest.

  2. Prof. Woodworth, I really appreciate hearing this story, and I appreciate your perspective, but I find it truly sad that you seem to have so much hatred for your fellow latter-day Saints. In your world, you are the heroic progressive fighting against an oppressive culture dominated by hateful, racist people. But yet your salary is paid by these people and you have chosen to live among them. I simply don’t get it.

    In the real world, things are not like the silent movies where the bad guys dress in black and heroic college professors get to hang with Jane Fonda and the cool Black Panthers and are clearly just good, progressive people, so much smarter than the retrogrades around them. In the real world, in fact, there are lots of good people who are just trying to live their lives the best they can. And some of them disagree with your politics and are just as smart and knowledgeable (if not a lot more so) as you! What a concept!

    I am certainly glad that the priesthood ban was lifted. But I guarantee you that the prophets were inspired by the Lord (if you read the historical record, that is clearly true) not by some long-haired guy hanging with the Black Panthers and Jane Fonda.

  3. Geoff,

    I missed the “hatred for fellow Latter-day Saints” in Professor Woodworth’s guest post, other than a jab at Senator Buttars. Would you mind expounding on why you consider his post as one of hatred of “these people” who pay his salary?

  4. DavidH, it’s unlikely that we will find common ground on this issue, but for the record:

    1)The Lawsons are not LDS, yet are cited as an example of LDS racism. It is clear Prof. Woodworth is using a broad paintbrush to say, “most Utah Mormons are bigots, and the Lawsons live in Utah and are bigots, so they fit the bill.”
    2)The only sign of progress will be when we have black bishops and stake presidents? Uh, excuse me, does that mean God is a racist for not calling them to these positions? This comment shows a complete lack of understanding of how bishops and stake presidents are called to their positions in the first place but of course implies that the whole process is fraught with racism. I find that incredibly offensive (in addition to being ignorant).
    3)The entire implication of this piece is that “crude bigotry” is not fought by the Church (implying of course that the Brethren must be racist to the core). I find that also incredibly offensive, especially given the many, many comments by prophets opposed to racism.
    4)The only sign of hope in Utah is that a half-black man gets support among Utah Democrats? Wow, so now there is a litmus test of your racism — the only way you are not a racist is whether you are willing to vote for Obama or not? I don’t vote for people based on their race — I vote based on their positions on the issues and their personal integrity. But of course if I don’t support Obama I must be a racist.

  5. The restoration of the Priesthood to Blacks worldwide has inspired many of us in our efforts to reach out in a special way and give of our material resources, our personal time, our professional skills, and most of all our deep love for all of God’s children, Black and white.

    I served my mission in Salvador, Brazil where the majority of the people are of African descent. What a blessing it was to see these Saints embrace the gospel and enjoy full participation in the Lord’s church.

    I am grateful for President Kimball’s dilligence in seeking after revelation to lift the priesthood ban.

  6. Dr. Wordworth has no integrity. He was willing to take his paycheck from the church but not honor his contract. He cared more about how he looked to the world than to his employer. Sad.

  7. Geoff,

    You are right, we do not agree. I still think you are among the kindest and most thoughtful commenters in the Bloggernacle, and that is part of why I was surprised by your categorizing Professor Woodworth comments as “hateful.”

    I do not think it is hateful for a person to wonder why there are not more people of color in leadership in the Church. This position, and others, may be mistaken, but they are not hateful.

    I am even more mystified by Alan May’s allegation that Professor Woodworth “has no integrity. He was willing to take his paycheck from the church but not honor his contract.” These are serious charges. I see nothing in Professor Woodworth’s post that evidences a dishonoring of his contract.

    Finally, Professor Woodworth, congratulations on your courage for posting here. And congratulations to millennialstar.org for inviting a poster who apparently diverges from the norm.

  8. Apparently my last comment was deemed too hot to handle.

    Race and culture are not synonymous or coincident or anything else that suggests equivalence. Modern American black culture is a vile thing that holds blacks back. The Church doesn’t need any of this.

    I grew up in Polynesia. There are many aspects of the culture that linger in their worship, most of them good. There are some aspects of their culture that persist in daily life, frequently not helpful for spiritual progress.

    Likewise white culture has some aspects that are not helpful for eternal progression. But like it or not the Church is a refinement and an “revelatory evolvement” of the best in Western Culture. This revelation is the culture of Christ. This does not include ecstatic sexually charged worship that you can see any day of the week in various black worship services. It doesn’t include charismatic preaching. It doesn’t include raucous music. It is a culture focussed on the family. We have much to do to perfect ourselves. We don’t need the cultural baggage to pull us off the path of progress.

  9. Geoff – I came over here from Julie’s link at T&S, and I’m confused why M* posted this by Prof. Woodworth. If you find it misleading and disappointing, why post it?

  10. ECS, I am not M*, so I don’t get to make all the decisions. :). But even tho I am tough on Prof Woodworth, his post has value and provides a different perspective. Just as Prof Woodworth asks some provocative and challenging questions regarding the Church’s history on the priesthood ban, he also needs to answer some tough questions of his own. His posts show a disdain for Mormon culture that portray a perspective that needs to be challenged imho.

  11. I never knew that describing something bad as “dark and ugly” had any racial overtones. That is a revelation to me.

    “Dark” is used in all sorts of negative things such as “The Dark Knight” (Batman) “The Dark Lord” (Sauron in Lord of the Rings), “the Dark Ages,” “dark times,” etc.

    When did “dark and ugly thing” come to mean a racial slur?

    By the way, I _LOVE_ that part of “send in the Relief Society” (with refreshments of course) to the protestors.

  12. Bookslinger, it wasn’t just that Buttars described the bill as “dark”. A legislator arguing in favor of the bill had described it as an attempt to “split the baby”, whereupon Buttars replied something like “this baby is black. It’s a dark, ugly thing.”

  13. I’m sorry to have offended several readers who strongly disagree with my remarks. I thought I was lauding the historic 1978 change in Church policy, reflecting on some rather unique experiences of the past, and inviting readers to share their thoughts about the current racial situation in the United States in general, or to comment on the Utah and LDS culture in particular. I concluded that we as a people still have a ways to go in changing ourselves, our biases, assumptions, and personal behavior.

    Apparently, I’m the only person needing to do so. I do acknowledge my weaknesses, and will continue personal efforts to repent of my own racial attitudes that probably still creep into daily life from time to time. This problem is still quite prevalent in our culture today, 3 decades after the Priesthood Revelation, and even more decades after the U.S. civil rights crusades began.

    Now to a few specifics:

    Ardis, I was simply describing the range of ward member reactions when BAM spoke to our congregation. The responses were many and much more varied than what I wrote because of space constraints, so I simply mentioned two to convey the mix. These were not “your people,” but a range of active members with diverging opinions. Many were in shock at the accusations made against them, but felt they did have some responsibility for the plight of poor Blacks in their community. Such issues are still debated in Mormon groups today. As to the Lawsons, I didn’t know they were not LDS, but after your criticism, I stand corrected. Thanks for adding new information. My point was that such symbols are an affront to us as a people, LDS or not, Utahn or not. So, does that fact mean their Sockobama dolls are acceptable? If so, you can still order a monkey caricature of Obama at: http://sockpoliticians.googlepages.com/index.html.

    But I ask, does not the widespread media coverage which continues even now, to paint Utahns as naïve and/or bigotted, reflect on our image? Are such criticisms something we should ignore and hope they magically disappear? The Church apparently thinks not, and has begun to try and counter some stereotypes by mounting a number of campaigns over the past year to clarify who we are, what we believe, and so forth. It seeks to differentiate us from accusations made during Romney’s Whitehouse run, the more recent FLDS confusion, etc. Finally, I didn’t see this essay as “repeated efforts to tar all Mormons and all Utahns with your political brush.” Are you from Utah? Did you vote in the primaries? I don’t know about you, but I’m a registered Republican, and was one of the lowly 6-10 percent who actually did vote in our apathetic area. Is being a Republican offensive to you? What should I do instead?

    Geoff B. begins by damning me with faint praise. If you took umbrage with my question as to how we might be better Latter-day Saints, I apologize. The last thing I would have in my heart is “hatred for fellow Latter-day Saints,” or anyone else, for that matter. I’m simply a humble Mormon seeking to build the kingdom and make us better. I’m truly among “the weakest of all saints” (D&C 89:3). I don’t have a world different than yours, and certainly don’t see myself as a “heroic progressive fighting against an oppressive culture.” On the other hand, I think we can improve. I don’t believe that all is well in Zion, and I feel we should each be pushing each other to be our higher, better selves, to “stand for something,” as President Hinckley used to say. Apparently you and I do agree on one thing, that the lifting of the ban was a good thing. It certainly did not happen because of “some long-haired guy,” but occurred, I believe, because of the years of supplication by Saints around the globe, and I count it a privilege to have done so. Those decades of praying for the change was accompanied by the ongoing deliberations of Church leaders, as well as the fact that many Mormons actively labored to eliminate their personal biases so that the acceptance of the revelation, when it came, would be accepted by the majority of LDS members.

    David H., my jab at Chris Buttars was not hatred for the poor guy. He is a rather sad figure who is widely condemned for his bitter attacks on various groups. But from the discussions I’ve had with people about him, even among his colleagues in the state legislature, they are primarily embarrassed by his behavior and the policies he tries to install in Utah.

    Geoff B., you later return and insert a number of inflammatory quotes in your response, as if they are from my text. But, in fact, none are. So who’s twisting the truth? The words about Blacks leading congregations in Utah, as you know, were comments from an acquaintance, not me. Also, having been part of the process as various callings at these levels are made, I do have some experience in this matter. Perhaps you do, as well. If so, no further discussion is needed. But they do not derive from ignorance or offensiveness. You, apparently like me, are also hurt by accusations of Utah’s “crude bigotry,” as another individual declared (again, not me). So it seems there are at least some points on which we may both agree. Finally, just to clear the air, I was not in any way arguing that “the only sign of hope in Utah is that a half-black man gets support among Utah Democrats.” Your “half-black” reference usually only appears on Right-Wing and other hate-filled websites, so I was surprised you would stoop to using such a derogatory label about the Senator. Nor did I suggest that doing so would be a “litmus test” of some sort, or that only by voting for Obama can one show they are not racists. Distortions of what I wrote, and who said what, clearly reveal an attempt to reframe my words and manipulate Millennial Star readers. I would argue they can read and think for themselves. By the way, Obama did pretty much whip the competition in Utah’s Democratic primary last February, garnering 67% of the vote and 14 delegates.

    Alan May, please excuse me for having held a professorship at BYU. I didn’t realize that I was somehow not honoring my contract by writing/reflecting on the 1978 event, and sharing several experiences related to our past as a people. I don’t understand what you imply about taking a paycheck while caring about the world’s view of me (or us?). How have I enjoyed any praise from the world over this matter? This essay is in the Millennial Star, and I would guess few, if any, other religions, especially those of the “world,” follow it closely, or heap praise afterward. It’s also unclear what my integrity has to do with any of this. Does it require one big conformist ideology?

    David H., aloysiusmiller, ECS, Bookslinger and JimD….Thanks for some support, as well as more thoughtful balance about the issues of race and culture. Obviously we exist in the middle of multiple values and traditions of the world, including some which are racially-based and politically skewed. I believe that each of us must seek to move our lives, our families and our religious institutions toward the ultimate culture, that of the Kingdom of God on earth.

    In conclusion, let me simply reaffirm my point which was that I sought for dialogue and ideas about what we as Mormons could do to improve ourselves and our society, to distance ourselves from dwelling on the factors of race and nationality, and to instead move toward the society of Fourth Nephi.

  14. Good post Aloysius. It’s clear that Dr. Woodworth has a deep and abiding love for people of color. It is not only commendable but a central tenet of the gospel of Jesus Christ. My disagreement with Dr. Woodworth is the same objection I have with many so-called progressives (read “liberals”), who say that a type of diversity-driven affirmative action should be applied to all aspects of life, including religion. It basically says that if blacks make up X% of the population, then they should occupy X% of the jobs, X% of church membership, etc. What they fail to consider is that cultural attitudes and practices play a huge part in this equation, yet they tend to ascribe any problems to racism. The fact is, there are some black people I really like, and some I’d rather not associate with. I hired an African American because I felt he was the most qualified job applicant, but I came to realize I made a huge mistake, and it has nothing to do with race. While I think the church needs to reach out and be culturally sensitive, it shouldn’t compromise it’s principles just to be inclusive. If the church were meant for everyone, then we could abandon our standards completely and become the largest and most popular church on earth. Yes, we need to change our biases, religious assumptions, and personal behavior, but let’s get rid of this affirmative action mentality and perserve notion of diversity.

  15. Wow.

    Let me just say I am very surprised at the backlash against Dr. Woodworth. Maybe it’s because I (tentatively) agree with everything he has said (man, I didn’t think I was THAT radical). At any rate, I think he’s being accused of many things that he is not saying.

    Ardis:

    I am especially surprised that the following comment came from you: “I resent your repeated efforts to tar all Mormons and all Utahns with your political brush. Give it a rest.” Wow, that is strong stuff. By your “repeated efforts” comment, though, I’m assuming that you’re referring to other things. I guess I have a hard time seeing how this post, however, deserves this kind of criticism. I see Warner as simply pointing out that we have big problems with racism in Utah and in the Church (something President Hinckley certainly agreed with) — how he is trying to “tar all Mormons and all Utahns” is beyond me. Unfair. Unsupported.

    Regarding the Lawsons, it probably would have been best to say that they were not LDS. But he nowhere was insinuating that they were. He was saying that it reflected poorly on Utah as well as on the Church. Certainly this is indisputable.

    Geoff:

    Your “hatred” comment is also unfair. And unsupported. I did not read any hatred at all in Warner’s post. I, for one, think that I need to change myself — my biases, my religious assumptions, and my personal behavior. I would hope that all faithful Latter-day Saints would agree. News flash: we’re not perfect. Not even close. How pointing that out constitutes “hatred” is beyond me.

    Also, your interpretation of there being blacks in bishoprics and stake presidencies is without warrant. Considering that there are hardly any blacks in Utah, couldn’t we see Warner’s comment as suggesting that progress would be made when Utah is seen as a more inviting place to blacks? And then, it would certainly follow, would it not, that they would be more represented in LDS leadership positions? But you’ve automatically pounced on Warner, attacking implications that were not warranted from his post.

    aloysiusmiller:

    Modern American black culture is a vile thing that holds blacks back. The Church doesn’t need any of this.

    Talk about painting with a broad brush stroke. As someone who has lived among the culture of modern American blacks, I respectfully disagree. Though I will say that SOME things in the culture are vile. I won’t accuse you of making a racist statement, but I will say that a statement like this will be interpreted by many as being racist (or perhaps ethnocentrist, if you prefer), due to its overgeneralizing and stereotyping claim.

    Skaught

    I don’t see Woodworth as making the claims regarding affirmative action that you are accusing him of.

    Conclusion:

    This is my first time at M*, but it appears I’m walking into a volatile relationship with the group and Dr. Woodworth. I do not know the man, but I will say that there are few people who my brother has higher respect for.

    Frankly, I’m disappointed at the low level of constructive dialogue manifested by the comments in this post. I hope it’s not representative of what goes on at M*.

  16. Dennis, thanks for coming to M*. You make some good points. Upon reflection, my comments were probably too inflammatory. I probably could have made the same points with softer language. DavidH, I also appreciate your comments, as always.

  17. Raceculture

    I reject completely any charge of racism. I believe that Western Culture as informed by the revelation of the Restoration is a superior culture and is a part of our endowment to those who accept the gospel. I am not ashamed of our LDS culture and ideals.

  18. Apparently the not equal sign doesn’t show.

    I posted

    Race not equal to culture

  19. Well I don’t normally comment on blogs but I have to say how suprised I am at the comments. It seems that we have a long way to go.

    Firstly I thought this was a very interesting post. It is good to see that so much understanding was shown by church members at that time though like many of you I find it suprising that there was any serious consideration of withholding tithing. I also agree that to describe something as dark is not racist though JimD’s comments go along way to explaining this point but that explanation would have been helpful in the post. The fact that the Lawsons are not LDS should also have been highlighted.

    Like Dennis what suprises me are the tone of some comments. When Chist said that we should love our enemies don’t we need to also apply that injunction to the bloggernacle? We can beg to differ but should be slow to be personally critical especially on a suject as sensitive as race where comments can easily be misinterpreted.

    That means I need to be very careful in what I say to aloysiusmiller who is probably a better person than myself but with whom I have to simply disagree. Comments like “ecstatic sexually charged worship” seem very strong to me. I take it aloysiusmiller that you never have gone dancing, virtually all forms of which have been described as sexually charged. I do find it straange that our form of worship is regarded as the only viable one for after all Jesus did not worship that way or his early followers. Early Christian worship was of course synagogue derived as that was what they were used to, whereas our worship derives from the Methodist and Presbyterian backgrounds of the early members of our church. Our emphasis is on the seriousness of feeling the spirit while african worship is based on the joy that the spirit brings. The major factor in limiting church growth is this desire in the name of oneness to impose mormon culture everywhere in the world. That is a problem because to many of us outside the US it is very hard to differentiate between mormon and american culture. Really is there a difference? Surely if God has chosen a culture to be superior that would be the culture of Christ – Jewish!

    All of us are biased in someway and my bias in this is that I live in the Isle Of Man. I wonder what preportion of the negative comments have come from Utah saints. Some how I can’t see them coming from African Saints but then perhaps the church is still an American one and we are still far from being an international one. My other bias is that I have a Nigerian daughter-in-law. She is my ward’s excellent Gospel Doctrine teacher. Unfortunately I think some of the comments would have made her despair.

  20. Martin, thanks for commenting. I hope you come back and comment on other posts. Please consider the possibility that sometimes comments come across differently in writing than they would in person. I think most of these comments are well-intentioned but not phrased the way they should have been.

  21. Martin,

    More race = culture. Sorry not buying. A member of my quorum traveled to Ghana recently. He was astounded at the reverence and dignity of the worship of Ghanaian saints. He didn’t see any black American ghetto culture. He felt welcome, at home, and he felt their love. The gospel has lifted these people up just like it lifts me up.

    I will turn this on its head. To equate race with culture is racist and demeaning. God created the races long before they created their cultures. There is nothing inherent in one’s race that creates their culture. To do so would be to ascribe the limitations of a culture to the race. Are Melanesian cannibals depraved because they are Melanesian or because they have a culture of cannibalism? I think the latter. Were the Aztecs depraved sacrificers of humans because they were a Mexican race or was it their aberrant culture? I say culture.

    Somewhere in my Viking/Saxon past there was depravity and cruelty. Christianity changed that and the Restoration changes it even more. I am not more or less because I am white. I am who I am because of my culture which includes the Restoration.

    I lived in Appalachia for a few years. I saw a hillbilly culture that was depraved. Converts needed to be raised out of it to progress in the gospel. Mercifully there were no multi-culturalists around to chain these white converts down to their false traditions.

  22. To back up what Aloysius is saying, but phrasing it perhaps differently, there are a lot of African-Americans these days pointing out that a black culture based on separatism and being a constant victim is holding back African-Americans rather than helping them progress. Listen to Barack Obama is his more lucid and honest moments and of course Bill Cosby. There is nothing wrong with pointing out that some cultures will cause people to progress and others to regress. And this has nothing to do with race: it is a cultural issue.

  23. Of all the revelations that have split the church in the past, such as the begining of polygamy, who should lead the church after Joseph died, the ending of polygamy, etc., the one that did not was the lifting of the priesthood ban.

    The Lawsons are an example of how this is really a Utah problem, not an LDS problem. My family left Utah (but not the church) in 1957 and we have seldom been back. At its source is the isolation from the rest of the world. By sending missionaries around the world, the LDS church does a great deal to solve this problem.

    Dr Woodworth is biased in that he looks for racism and sees it everywhere. We believe it to be otherwise so we don’t see the world the way he does. The “truth” is somewhere in between.

  24. Like Julie Smith from Times and Seasons (thank you for the link), I especially enjoyed this part of the post:

    So we invited them to come and read the Manifesto and confront Mormons about our racist past through an official planned Sunday event. We spent a week preparing our members to not react angrily or accusingly, although we warned them that they would be attacked and accused by the radicals. Our concern was not so much the anger of BAM because it was to be expected. Instead, our concern was with our Mormon congregation–that our members act like Christians in response. We consulted with Church leaders in Salt Lake City, letting them know what we planned to do and asking if they had any advice. The Church’s Presiding Bishopric told us that they assumed we would soon be confronted anyway, and that by taking this initiative, hopefully things might turn out more positive than that of other religions. We told them BAM had broken into other churches and conducted sit-ins until the police came and arrested them, and we asked Salt Lake officials for advice. We were told to not call the police, but rather to send in the Relief Society with food for those conducting the sit-in, if that were to occur. There was to be no confrontation.

    I often wonder if the Church could or would exist without the Relief Society. I doubt it could survive without it!

  25. I’m sorry to have offended several readers who strongly disagree with my remarks. I thought I was lauding the historic 1978 change in Church policy, reflecting on some rather unique experiences of the past, and inviting readers to share their thoughts about the current racial situation in the United States in general, or to comment on the Utah and LDS culture in particular. I concluded that we as a people still have a ways to go in changing ourselves, our biases, assumptions, and personal behavior.

    Apparently, I’m the only person needing to do so. I do acknowledge my weaknesses, and will continue personal efforts to repent of my own racial attitudes that probably still creep into daily life from time to time. This problem is still quite prevalent in our culture today, 3 decades after the Priesthood Revelation, and even more decades after the U.S. civil rights crusades began.

    Now to a few specifics:

    Ardis, I was simply describing the range of ward member reactions when BAM spoke to our congregation. The responses were many and much more varied than what I wrote because of space constraints, so I simply mentioned two to convey the mix. These were not “your people,” but a range of active members with diverging opinions. Many were in shock at the accusations made against them, but felt they did have some responsibility for the plight of poor Blacks in their community. Such issues are still debated in Mormon groups today. As to the Lawsons, I didn’t know they were not LDS, but after your criticism, I stand corrected. Thanks for adding new information. My point was that such symbols are an affront to us as a people, LDS or not, Utahn or not. So, does that fact mean their Sockobama dolls are acceptable? If so, you can still order a monkey caricature of Obama at: http://sockpoliticians.googlepages.com/index.html .

    But I ask, does not the widespread media coverage which continues even now, to paint Utahns as naïve and/or bigotted, reflect on our image? Are such criticisms something we should ignore and hope they magically disappear? The Church apparently thinks not, and has begun to try and counter some stereotypes by mounting a number of campaigns over the past year to clarify who we are, what we believe, and so forth. It seeks to differentiate us from accusations made during Romney’s Whitehouse run, the more recent FLDS confusion, etc. Finally, I didn’t see this essay as “repeated efforts to tar all Mormons and all Utahns with your political brush.” Are you from Utah? Did you vote in the primaries? I don’t know about you, but I’m a registered Republican, and was one of the lowly 6-10 percent who actually did vote in our apathetic area. Is being a Republican offensive to you? What should I do instead?

    Geoff B. begins by damning me with faint praise. If you took umbrage with my question as to how we might be better Latter-day Saints, I apologize. The last thing I would have in my heart is “hatred for fellow Latter-day Saints,” or anyone else, for that matter. I’m simply a humble Mormon seeking to build the kingdom and make us better. I’m truly among “the weakest of all saints” (D&C 89:3). I don’t have a world different than yours, and certainly don’t see myself as a “heroic progressive fighting against an oppressive culture.” On the other hand, I think we can improve. I don’t believe that all is well in Zion, and I feel we should each be pushing each other to be our higher, better selves, to “stand for something,” as President Hinckley used to say. Apparently you and I do agree on one thing, that the lifting of the ban was a good thing. It certainly did not happen because of “some long-haired guy,” but occurred, I believe, because of the years of supplication by Saints around the globe, and I count it a privilege to have done so. Those decades of praying for the change was accompanied by the ongoing deliberations of Church leaders, as well as the fact that many Mormons actively labored to eliminate their personal biases so that the acceptance of the revelation, when it came, would be accepted by the majority of LDS members.

    David H., my jab at Chris Buttars was not hatred for the poor guy. He is a rather sad figure who is widely condemned for his bitter attacks on various groups. But from the discussions I’ve had with people about him, even among his colleagues in the state legislature, they are primarily embarrassed by his behavior and the policies he tries to install in Utah.

    Geoff B., you later return and insert a number of inflammatory quotes in your response, as if they are from my text. But, in fact, none are. So who’s twisting the truth? The words about Blacks leading congregations in Utah, as you know, were comments from an acquaintance, not me. Also, having been part of the process as various callings at these levels are made, I do have some experience in this matter. Perhaps you do, as well. If so, no further discussion is needed. But they do not derive from ignorance or offensiveness. You, apparently like me, are also hurt by accusations of Utah’s “crude bigotry,” as another individual declared (again, not me). So it seems there are at least some points on which we may both agree. Finally, just to clear the air, I was not in any way arguing that “the only sign of hope in Utah is that a half-black man gets support among Utah Democrats.” Your “half-black” reference usually only appears on Right-Wing and other hate-filled websites, so I was surprised you would stoop to using such a derogatory label about the Senator. Nor did I suggest that doing so would be a “litmus test” of some sort, or that only by voting for Obama can one show they are not racists. Distortions of what I wrote, and who said what, clearly reveal an attempt to reframe my words and manipulate Millennial Star readers. I would argue they can read and think for themselves. By the way, Obama did pretty much whip the competition in Utah’s Democratic primary last February, garnering 67% of the vote and 14 delegates.

    Alan May, please excuse me for having held a professorship at BYU. I didn’t realize that I was somehow not honoring my contract by writing/reflecting on the 1978 event, and sharing several experiences related to our past as a people. I don’t understand what you imply about taking a paycheck while caring about the world’s view of me (or us?). How have I enjoyed any praise from the world over this matter? This essay is in the Millennial Star, and I would guess few, if any, other religions, especially those of the “world,” follow it closely, or heap praise afterward. It’s also unclear what my integrity has to do with any of this. Does it require one big conformist ideology?

    David H., aloysiusmiller, ECS, Bookslinger and JimD….Thanks for some support, as well as more thoughtful balance about the issues of race and culture. Obviously we exist in the middle of multiple values and traditions of the world, including some which are racially-based and politically skewed. I believe that each of us must seek to move our lives, our families and our religious institutions toward the ultimate culture, that of the Kingdom of God on earth.

    In conclusion, let me simply reaffirm my point which was that I sought for dialogue and ideas about what we as Mormons could do to improve ourselves and our society, to distance ourselves from dwelling on the factors of race and nationality, and to instead move toward the society of Fourth Nephi.

  26. Thanks for your response. I would agree that race and culture are different. I didn’t mean to imply that they were. What I disagree with is the assumption that one culture is inheritently superior to another. We can of course point out that certain cultures may have weaknesses from a moral point of view. Western culture tends to be very materialistic, individualstic, violent and sex orientated – many African cultures emphasise the family, respect and God. All have faults – all have strengths. If we had a Zion culture we could argue that that was superior but do you really believe that we have?

  27. Geoff,

    I appreciate your response. Likewise, I hope I didn’t come off too strong in my comments to you and others.

    I also appreciate your (more nuanced) articulation of what Aloysius has been saying:

    To back up what Aloysius is saying, but phrasing it perhaps differently, there are a lot of African-Americans these days pointing out that a black culture based on separatism and being a constant victim is holding back African-Americans rather than helping them progress. Listen to Barack Obama is his more lucid and honest moments and of course Bill Cosby. There is nothing wrong with pointing out that some cultures will cause people to progress and others to regress. And this has nothing to do with race: it is a cultural issue.

    Of course, what you are saying is not the same thing that Aloysius is saying. You are pointing out a specific black culture of separatism. And I agree with you (though I will say it more than “nothing to do with race”). Aloysius is painting an entire black American culture with a single brush. And I very much disagree with him.

  28. Aloysius:

    I agree with you that race does not equal culture. But this fact doesn’t get someone of the hook from racism (I could care less than to charge you with this, but many many people would), especially when the culture you describe has race as an adjective: black culture. The fact that you use “black” as an adjective implies that race and culture are not wholly unrelated.

    Moreover, the examples you use to describe black culture are offensive (as Martin as said). The problem, Aloysius, is that many people would consider themselves part of “black American culture” but also decry the very things you are decrying. The point: there is more to the culture than you are making it out as. You are giving a caricature of a culture and painting the whole thing in broad brush strokes. You would be wise to more finely articulate your argument.

    I believe that Western Culture as informed by the revelation of the Restoration is a superior culture and is a part of our endowment to those who accept the gospel. I am not ashamed of our LDS culture and ideals.

    I’m not sure if you’re implying that American black culture is not part of Western culture. It certainly is. Which brings up another huge problem in your trying to set apart a black and white culture in America. Does this not itself ascribe itself to the very equations of race and culture that you are decrying? Maybe you need to clarify what you mean by “black culture.”

    Am I reading you correctly?: So far, you’ve identified an American black culture that you say is “vile.” You then have measured this culture against “Western culture,” which is superior to other cultures (including the aforementioned black culture) because it (more than other cultures, presumably) has been “informed by the revelation of the Restoration” — so much so that it is defined by you as “our LDS culture.”

    Well, there’s lots of problems with this, many of which have been spelled out by Martin. That the Church grew out of Western culture is hardly an endorsement of that culture, especially considering that the church barely survived in the midst of it. I reject an equation of Western culture ideals with “our LDS culture.”

    Moreover, if the “Western culture” that you describe can be informed by the Revelation and improve, then how is it not possible that “black culture” cannot also? Do you really think that black members suddenly become divorced from “black culture” when they join the church? No, they stay in that culture and strive to make it better — and there is a whole lot of good that goes on in the urban African American communities in our country. Some of which the Restoration itself is directly responsible for.

  29. Prof. Woodworth, I appreciate your response, and I appreciate your posting here on M*. Your essay hit a few “hot buttons” for me, and as I said my rhetoric was over the line. (As a way of explanation, I grew up in a hippie community and I don’t see the Jane Fondas of the world as the heroic figures your essay portrayed — let’s leave it at that).

    You may want to take another look at the way you phrase things. Your essay says “a friend” was concerned about cultural change in Utah, but you say it’s not your opinion but that of an acquaintance. But of course that’s an obfuscation. You are citing your friend’s opinions as an indication that something needs to change in Utah — otherwise you would cite it. Well, I have all kinds of friends who believe that the Church is not true because they don’t believe in modern-day prophets. Should I cite their opinions as evidence that the Church should stop claiming we are led by modern-day prophets? Only if I am trying to pass off their opinions as my own.

    I have three main problems with your essay: 1)the lionization of 60s heroes who don’t deserve to be lauded (and instead need to be condemned for the violence and moral depravity they participated in and encouraged) 2)the claim that protests by individual Mormons changed the minds of God and the prophet on the priesthood issue and 3)the broad brush with which you accuse Utah (and by extension Utah Mormons) of being racist. If you didn’t agree with the perception, you wouldn’t cite it. But obviously you do agree, and that’s where we part company.

    But please continue to send us guest posts. I promise next time my response will be more measured, although we will probably still disagree on a lot of issues.

  30. Thank you Doctor Warner Woodworth for your measured and humble responses to some of the over the top comments that have been made in response to your interesting post and to Dennis who has made a number of responses that I agree with but in a better way than I probably would have done.

    Thanks too to GeoffB for apologising for some of the strong terminology he used but Geoff I have to say that I still find some of your criticisms are over the top. I have read the post twice and I cannot see where Bro Woodworth says as you claim that protests by individual Mormons changed the minds of God and the prophet on the priesthood issue. I don’t think he suggests that at all and I find it strange that you would suggest he does. As to your objection that he accuses Utah (and by extension Utah Mormons) of being racist I don’t think he says that either. What he does say is that Utah and the church also has an image problem. Surely you are not going to disagree with that point especially after all the material that came up in the media during Mitt Romney Presidential campaign. I have never found any racism in the church in Britain. I am sure there must be some. I also have never come across any in my brief visits to Utah but I have heard enough stories which suggests that because blacks are a small minority in Utah a few people may not be as careful as they should be in their actions and words in dealing with or about race. Surely we can all agree that we need to do better and didn’t President Hinckley talk a year ago about the need for this. My view is that many of the critical comments on this post have been far too strong and certainly would not portray that we aim to be a mixed race church. Are we aiming for that? We certainly are here.

  31. Martin, just one last comment as an explanation and then I’ll stop beating a dead horse. Here is what Prof. Woodworth wrote in his response to me:

    The priesthood revelation took place “because of the years of supplication by Saints around the globe, and I count it a privilege to have done so.”

    Based on this comment and his earlier post in which he discusses the work he did on racism, including a meeting in which people discussed withholding tithing over the issue, I am under the impression that Prof. Woodworth believes there were two main movements regarding the 1978 revelation: 1)that individual members were, through supplication and protest, able to convince the prophet to lift the priesthood ban and 2)that individual members were, through individual effort, able to participate in creating the conditions so that the lifting of the priesthood ban would be accepted by Latter-day Saints.

    In my opinion, 1) is clearly false, and the historical record proves it to be false. If you read about the process that Pres. Kimball went through, popular will and the pressure of individual Mormons had nothing to do with it. However, 2) is probably true, and I would laud Prof. Woodworth’s efforts in this regard.

    If I have misunderstood and Prof. Woodworth is not claiming 1), then end of discussion.

    Regarding the issue of Utah racism, well, I have gone round and around on this now, and I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. That appears to be one of the primary points of his post, that Utah is a hopelessly racist place (except for the shining example of some people voting for Obama,) but that is not the perception you have of the post, so let’s just leave it there.

  32. Ardis, my point about affirmative action may have been too subtle. Affirmative action basically says that because there is racism, society needs to take affirmative action to ensure that the races (i.e. minorities) are represented proportionately. This argument is primarily used in employment, but many extend it to other spheres, including religion. My interpretation of Dr. Woodworth’s article is that the church lacks racial diversity, so we need to be proactive in attracting other races to our faith. In his not-so-subtle way he attributes this to racism, but I think the issue boils down to one of culture. There are racists within the church to be sure, but the church has made excellent progress, particularly since the 60’s and 70’s. In the 1960’s my in-laws had to go to the Los Angeles temple to get married because they were an interracial couple. However, the church has evolved and we have put most of the racial discord and stereotyping behind us. Culture is a different story, though, because culture deals with values and attitudes. My observation is that some cultures are better than others at helping God’s children envision and achieve their spiritual potential. I believe every culture has its detrimental elements, but when considered holistically I think the argument still stands. For example, I don’t think there is much redeeming value in American hip-hop subculture in terms of one’s spiritual progression, but I do think the general culture fosters more opportunities for it than other places in the world.

    To me, the discussion is much more compelling if the focus is shifted from race to culture. Case in point — my wife is bi-racial, but what “race” is she perceived to be? Asian. And what of Barak Obama? It appears that some have forgotten that he is just as much of white racial descent as he is African American. It seems that the ones who like to use race as a distinction (racial minorities, white professors) usually have the most to gain from it. The irony, which I readily admit, is that I too explain these issues within the context of race. I am a product of American culture, and my thinking and language have been shaped by notions of race and culture. That’s why I described my wife as bi-racial, because that’s what our society understands. But I’m trying my best to become more color blind and share the things I’m learning about race, prejudice, discrimination, and bias. It’s a lifelong, continuing education process for which I may never earn a degree. While I agree with Martin that becoming a mixed race church is a worthy goal, it’s important to remember that race is only skin deep.

  33. Not to belabor things, but it may be worth pointing out that “race” is, in fact, a cultural construct, even when we try to strip away the cultural constructs of a particular lifestyle associated with a particular set of physical features.

    We don’t have a “short” race, or even a “red-haired-and-freckled-skin” race.

    Why? Cultural constructs.

  34. Martin you said:

    I disagree most thoroughly. Western culture and Christian culture are superior to barbarian and pagan culture and LDS culture (in the ideal) is superior to both of those.

    The beautiful thing about the gospel is that anyone who repents can access it and its culture and all its blessings without regard to race.

    Dennis

    I guess broad brushes work for both sides. Every discussion on a blog such as these is made up of broad strokes or it turns pedantic instantly. I won’t fall into the trap of nuancing every exception. We all have seen first hand (except Utahns perhaps) a culture of crime, illegitimacy, abandonment, hip-hop, drug abuse, gangs, MTV, charismatic preaching, carnally ecstatic worship, tattoos, bling etc.) that started in the ghetto and now have extended into groups that have historically been advantaged. Of course not every black person is so affected and not every person affected is black.

  35. Okay I don’t know how to use block quotes. My attributions didn’t come across. Excuse me.

  36. greenfrog,

    Not to belabor things, but it may be worth pointing out that “race” is, in fact, a cultural construct, even when we try to strip away the cultural constructs of a particular lifestyle associated with a particular set of physical features.

    Yes! You are exactly right. Which is why it is a problem to try to say that race and culture are two separate and unrelated things (as Aloysius and Geoff have done) as well as to call Obama half black (as Geoff has done). A person can be fully “black” even with a white parent. This doesn’t typically go the other way around, which may seem illogical — but race constructs don’t have to be logical. They simply are. That’s why it is correct to call Obama black, incorrect to call him half black, and incorrect to call him white. It would be correct to call him “mixed” but this would not negate his being black (though it would, in this case, negate him from being white). I think there are definitely historical problems for this double standard, but that’s the way that it is and it’s not something that’s seen as offensive to blacks or whites in general.

  37. Aloysius,

    I guess broad brushes work for both sides. Every discussion on a blog such as these is made up of broad strokes or it turns pedantic instantly. I won’t fall into the trap of nuancing every exception. We all have seen first hand (except Utahns perhaps) a culture of crime, illegitimacy, abandonment, hip-hop, drug abuse, gangs, MTV, charismatic preaching, carnally ecstatic worship, tattoos, bling etc.) that started in the ghetto and now have extended into groups that have historically been advantaged. Of course not every black person is so affected and not every person affected is black.

    This doesn’t get you off the hook of better qualifying what you are saying. It’s not very difficult to say that some things in black culture are “vile.” The fact that you didn’t qualify this communicates something (about what you said, and about you), whether you intend it or not. It communicates that you see the culture in general as vile (minus certain “exceptions”). Even if you were to take the time to note the exceptions, I would still take issue with you because the way you are framing things is still one in which “black culture” (which, still, I’d really like you to define) is basically vile (with some exceptions) as opposed to “Western culture” (somehow apart from “black culture”) is in general good because it, as a whole, has been informed by the Restoration, whereas black culture has not. Perhaps the only way for “black culture” to be informed by the Restoration is for its people to flee from it and join the enlightened Western culture of the gospel. Interesting how those in “Western culture” (once again, please define) don’t have the same requirement. Also interesting how you don’t seem to be concerned about the problematic practices in “Western culture.” Perhaps you seem them as mere exceptions, whereas the problems in “black culture” are the rule.

    I realize that you didn’t explicitly say all that I have said above. But this is how your comments can and will be interpreted, I promise. If this is a misinterpretation, then you ought to take the pains to make this clear. Otherwise, you communicate you don’t really care about communicating what you have in mind. Good communication takes care. This doesn’t get off the hook of making stereotyping claims.

    By the way, to use blockquotes simply put “blockquote” between arrows before the quote and “/blockquote” between arrows after the quote.

  38. Of course not every black person is so affected and not every person affected is black.

    So why have you called it “black culture”? Aren’t you really talking about a specific culture that is more prevalent among poor, urban blacks (and others)? How does such a culture qualify for such a general name as “black culture”? What would you think if someone picked out all of the most disparaging things that are common among whites and lumped them under “white culture”? I would be tempted to call this person racist.

  39. Dennis, We agree. There is no racial culture. Hillbillies and ghetto-ites have a similar culture of moral poverty and sloth. It has no racial component whatsoever. Among both groups we find charismatic and ecstatic worship, gangsterism, drug abuse, illegitimacy, vulgar and sensual music, tattoing the body, piercing the body, sexual perversion, fraud, crime, ostentatious dress, immodesty etc. etc. etc.

    This culture is evil and no aspect of it has a place in the Church.

    The Church fosters a culture of self-control, reason, self-reliance, dignity and reverence in worship, modesty in dress and conduct, chastity, fidelity, family life, respect for learning, respect for progress and achievement, consciousness of good and evil, faith in God, repentance and renewal, respect for hierarchy, opportunity for leadership and communal burden bearing. This Church culture is available to all who choose it. It is a superior culture based on reason and revelation. It is the culmination of the Enlightenment and the Restoration. It is a culture that demands much of us and has huge upside possibilities.

    It is a culture that will save the world.

  40. I still think Aloysius that you paint with too broad a brush. My daughter in-law who as I have said is Nigerian belonged to a Pentecostal church in Nigeria before she converted. That church fostered a culture that emphasised self-control, prayer, reliance on God, joy and gratitude in worship, modesty in dress and conduct, chastity, fidelity, family life, respect for learning, respect for progress and achievement, consciousness of good and evil, faith in God, repentance and renewal, respect for hierarchy, and communal burden bearing. Is that not also the culture of Christ?

  41. “Dr. Wordworth has no integrity. He was willing to take his paycheck from the church but not honor his contract. He cared more about how he looked to the world than to his employer. Sad.”

    I think Alan May, since he refers to personal appearance, might have been referring to BYU’s dress and grooming standards. But it should have been obvious from a careful reading of the post that Dr. Woodworth’s days of long hair and beard preceded by several years his employment at BYU.

  42. There are several things I want to comment on, but will limit myself to one:

    There is no one monolithic African-American (or Black or American Black or however you want to say it) culture, just as there is no one monolithic American Caucasian culture. There are many sub-cultures and many dimensions and many variations along the spectrum in whatever dimension you want to observe.

    When you realize that, you can either assume that Aloysius assumed that there IS one monolithic “Black culture”; or you can assume that he was referring to one aspect or one sub-culture or perhaps what he thought to be the dominant or most populated sub-culture among African Americans. I assumed the latter.

    So I gave Alyosius the benefit of the doubt that he was not painting all African-American culture with the same brush.

    As someone who often interacts with African immigrants, has lived many years in majority African-American neighborhoods, and has worked with inner-city African-American businesses, the many variations/dimensions/spectrums of “culture” have really stood out to me.

    Aloysius had a point (which has often elaborated upon by Bill Cosby, and used to be pointed out by Jesse Jackson in his younger days), and several people here jumped on him because they decided to interpret his words in a negative light and make him an “offender for a word.”

    This topic is just too tempting for many people to jump on their high horse, point the finger and shout “J’accuse!” (or however you spell it.)

  43. It’s quite apparent that the range of views by readers on the topic of Blacks and the Priesthood is considerable. Let me just offer the suggestion by way of clarification that what I wrote was from my personal experience. Apparently Geoff and a few other readers have had different experiences. Fine. I appreciate the fact that Martin, among others, sees what I intended to convey in the spirit in which it was written. My main concern is that a few writers are narrowly referring to a kind of narrow history about racism in the Church, the long history of banning Blacks from holding the Priesthood, and then the later official events of lifting the ban in 1978.

    My own history is just that—my personal experience. It may or may not fit with someone else’s history, or interpretation of events. So please just take this as my experience, not an attack on Utah culture, the white race, the LDS Church as an institution, or subcultures within Mormon society.

    Below are simply several more illustrations of how the change occurred, forces that clearly facilitated the 1978 change to be made, all of which fit within the larger picture of race relations.

    1. First, readers may not be aware of the fact that in the 1960s, the Church struggled from intense public scrutiny over the ban. It greatly damaged George Romney’s presidential race in 1962, as his son, Mitt, experienced the residue of those criticisms during his own recent campaign. At the 1963 General Conference, Pres. Hugh B. Brown, one of the most outspoken liberals among the leaders of the Church, sought to counter our public image, as well as prepare Church members for the ban to be lifted. He read a declaration of the Church’s support for Civil Rights. It was an outright rejection of racism of any kind. Not all Church leaders agreed with him, nor did a number of white Utah Mormons. It was a courageous act on Pres. Brown’s part. Roughly during that same period, he also, in fact, tried to personally change the Church’s policy and eliminate the Priesthood ban earlier, long before the 1978 decree. However, Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve, intervened at the last minute and, with others, forced Pres. Brown to back down. This isn’t in the Church’s official history regarding the Priesthood ban. It is simply one episode that illuminates the fact that there were huge differences and various arguments put forth by the General Authorities over many years. There never was a single view, or one correct “historical record,” for which Geoff seems to hope.

    2. In the pioneering era of the Church in southern Brazil, proselyting focused on whites, most of whom, in fact, were German immigrants. Eventually in the ‘60s, the Church had expanded somewhat further north. In 1967, then Elder Spencer W. Kimball of the Twelve, visited the country. Greatly troubled by the numerous Black difficulties among congregations in northern Brazil, the Brethren were considering shutting down the Church in the country and withdrawing all its missionaries. At least they were preparing to halt its expansion northward. They had no real ability, because of Priesthood restrictions, to operate the organization and staff the leadership of Branches, Districts, and later Stakes. Without the 1978 Revelation, most missionary work in Brazil would have dried up and disappeared.

    3. Additionally regarding Brazil, Pres. Kimball, who had long been concerned about the dehumanizing way Native American Indians were treated in white America, seemed to have a special sensitivity to the issue of race. He spent long hours personally listening to the plight and pain expressed by Black Brazilians, who either had been told to drop their practice of the Priesthood because of likely African lineage, or those individuals were never allowed to receive the Priesthood in the first place. Many other officials were aware of the pathos of those who suffered, but it took a Pres. Kimball with a soft heart to lead the effort to formally change the practice. These years of pain accelerated the push for change. The 1978 announcement simply did not occur in a social vacuum, or one man’s mind.

    4. I recall growing up in Salt Lake where one of my ward members, an older fellow in his 50s, was called in one day and told that even though he had been an active member all his life, going to the temple and serving in Priesthood positions, he would now have to stop. Why? Because although he appeared to be a white individual, someone had felt uncomfortable, suspecting that he may have “Negro ancestry.” There was no evidence, but this individual was ordered to never use his Priesthood again in any way, officially within the Church or unofficially within his family. Over the years, I have heard of many more such cases, probably consisting of hundreds of families in Utah, many of whom ultimately became inactive in the Church. This kind of pain accelerated the change.

    5. I well remember Elder “XYZ” describing for me his shocking experience when traveling to the southern U.S. to preside over a stake conference. The meeting was held in a high school auditorium. When he and the other leaders went up on the stage and sat down, he suddenly realized that the main floor was a sea of white faces. Up in the balcony, however, were dozens of Black families. He asked the Stake President why this practice of segregation was being done and was told that it was the normal situation among Church members in the southern states. Elder XYZ told the Stake President to please invite the African Americans to sit on the main floor with their white brothers and sisters. At first the Stake President refused the request. When he was told again to do it, he responded to the effect that he would do so, but the General Authority from Salt Lake should be aware that the bulk of the membership who were white would then stand and leave the stake conference, and not return. This kind of pain accelerated the change.

    6. Finally, readers ought to be aware that during the 1960s-70s, thousands of Blacks in Africa had learned of Mormonism from media, dreams, and other sources. Innovators from Ghana and Nigeria, among others, petitioned Church headquarters for missionaries. When it didn’t happen, they began forming and incorporating their own LDS churches. This caused great consternation among Salt Lake leaders, who were caught between the horns of a real dilemma. Those years of hot debates among officials over what might have been done are well-known evidence of the power such factors had in pushing for change.

    I could go on and on with many such stories. Collectively they inform us as to forces which propelled the ultimate change in 1978. But the wonderful events of that day did not occur in a vacuum, or a single question, plea, or prayer in the Salt Lake temple. What I was trying to convey was that, like most changes in the Church, shifts occur within the context of culture, and that they are often the accumulation of many small things. “And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things” (1 Nephi 16:29). “Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64: 33).

    I hope these experiences suggest some of the realities within the Church as Latter-day Saints have struggled to deal with these kinds of issues. Thankfully, many of my LDS college students are much more liberated than their parents and grandparents when it comes to racial questions. This is particularly true of those from the East and West Coasts. Perhaps a partial solution is the openness and self-confidence of today’s young who are not threatened by Black progress. They understand the basis of affirmative action programs, the need for a Black student club, even at BYU, and they are certainly more sympathetic to the problems linking poverty, crime, and race as manifest in contemporary America.

    The problem of LDS race relations was, and still is, extremely complex. I hear way too often that Blacks aren’t ready for Mormonism, that their hip-hop culture and gang violence will keep them away from the Church for decades into the future. Yet the data suggest that Black Americans are much more spiritual than white Christians, research which suggests they rank higher in Church attendance, values, and other factors. So we need to confront our own long-held stereotypes, and more fully change our hearts. The 1978 announcement served to raise the bar. But we still need to do our personal part. There is no simple, singular, or immediate solution that will resolve everything with the wave of a magic wand, even a Mormon and/or Utah wand.

    Utah is not “a hopelessly racist place,” but we have a long way to go before becoming a Zion society. The central point of my essay was an invitation to consider what we as Latter-day Saints may do in our own lives, in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our congregations, and the larger society, to build bridges of understanding and overcome the unfortunate biases of history.

  44. Am I the only one who did NOT love the comment about the RS bringing the food? Just for once I’d love to be invited to a ward party planned by men and not be expected to be the wait staff.

  45. Bookslinger,

    Its easy to see black faces living a ghetto culture and conflate race and culture. So henceforth I will distinguish the two. I love the first but utterly reject the latter no matter the race of the person living that culture. I also reject calls for the church to be accepting of ghetto culture. We don’t need ghetto preaching, ghetto worship, ghetto music, or ghetto anything. Ghetto culture is a broad term but it covers hillbilly culture, trailer-trash culture, and any other false tradition from anywhere in the world

    [Aside: I remember one dear old man who was a very prosperous merchant. Late in life, he left a Methodist church that had a significant amount of congregational control. Since he was wealthy he had a lot of power in that congregation. He tried to bring that culture with him to the church. He had to be taught by various leaders that that was not the way our church worked. He learned and he thrived.]

    Since my whiteness and someone else’s blackness are of no consequence to God I also reject formulas that say that race must be taken into account in calling church leaders etc. That is pandering.

  46. Dr. Woodworth,

    Its an ill wind that blows no good. The side benefit of the delay (in granting the Priesthood) is that LDS congregations (unlike most protestant and many Catholic congregations) started out integrated. However, the more we emphasize the differences in the races and the more we mix race with culture the more pressure we put on the church to segregate. Once upon a time that pressure came from white members but more and more that pressure comes from members of color or culture who will not give up their cultures. In many areas of the church we have hispanic stakes and wards. Perhaps 10-15% of the hispanic stake has a language issue. The youth classes are taught in English. When church leader talk about integrating the stakes there is mass hysteria in the hispanic stakes. We ought to be studying John 17 and applying it in our lives. The New Testament says that the body of Christ is not divided. White members who resist people on race and race alone are a very small minority. White people who resist cultures and behaviors that are born of sin and false traditions are hopefully still a majority.

    I live in a stake that has quite a few black members. We have recently had a very fine high councilor who served well. Others have served in ward leadership. These righteous men and women have been well integrated. We also have many black, white and hispanic “converts” who learned of our welfare system. They joined for the wrong reasons. They have not been well integrated. They didn’t leave their sins behind when they joined the church. The members have a hard time accepting them. It has nothing to do with race.

    We do need to be more forthright in teaching people to abandon false traditions and accept all the revelation and the righteous traditions of the church.

  47. Aloysius: (Re your comment of July 3rd, 2008 5:41 am)

    I’m afraid it’s even more complicated and nuanced than what can be distinguished by the label “ghetto culture.”

    I’ve lived in poor areas, on the fringe of what may be called “ghettos”, and have worked in very rough parts of town.

    I’d like to point out that in the poor/ghetto/rough neighborhoods, that the negative elements you are referring to are among the minority.

    It seems as if the majority of residents both suffer from, and get blamed for, the negative behavior and attitudes of the problem-makers.

    Not all culture, preaching, and music in ghettos is bad. There are many people who are just too poor to move out of those areas. Also, due to expansion of poor populations, the “ghettos” also expand, and subsume (take over) the surrounding lower-middle class areas. People who can’t afford to move and start over then get swamped by those forces. The good people in a neigbhorhood can (and most often do) out-number the bad, but the bad elements often hold more sway and have a disproportionate influence in relation to their numbers.

    There are plenty of good people living in blighted areas (ghettos), who go to good churches in those areas, and listen to good music both at home and in their church.

    Often, the bad cultural elements are not passed down from parents to children, but larger forces from outside the family (gangs, popular enterntainers, peers) over-ride the influence of parents who just don’t know how to fight those outside influences, and/or can’t afford to move away from them.

    By the way, “hillbilly” can also be a derogatory term for rural folks. And be careful of the word “trailer-trash”, as some people might think you’re talking about all people who live in trailers or mobile-homes. There are many upscale “manufactured housing” developments and “mobile-home parks” where “trailer trash” is just not applicable.

    Another distinction is between hip-hop and gangster-rap. As I understand it, gangster-rap is usually bad. Not all hip-hop is bad.

    I know it’s hard to craft blog comments so they won’t be misconstrued.

    I _think_ I know which elements you’re decrying, but it’s easy for some people to misconstrue non-specific type comments.

  48. Bookslinger

    A good way to destroy any argument is to demonize an opponents point as a broad stroke and nuance it into nonexistence. Its a typical “leftist” debate tactic to make uncomfortable subjects go away. Since you are not a “leftist” you may be only borrowing it. Or perhaps we have to get up in arms about my use of the word “leftist” or decry the broad stroke I used in choosing such a word and using it pejoratively.

    I call BS. We can all turn on MTV. My kids attend(ed) an urban high school. I spent my mid twenties in Appalachia. I can see the popularization and spread of these cultures all around me. I am not blind. Ghetto, hillbilly, trailer trash etc. cannot be applied indiscriminately but we also know that no one invented these words to describe something that didn’t exist.

    No I don’t believe that living in the ghetto, a trailer or a hillbilly holler force you into some specific lifestyle but I do believe that these words are acceptable shorthands for describing cultures.

  49. Aloysius,

    In my college years, some of my professors (social “scientists”) tried to convince me that I could never really come to any conclusions about anything, because there are always exceptions, extenuating circumstances, perspectives, opinions, nuances, blah, blah, blah. It was very ironic because they clearly tried to promote their leftist conclusions among their students. Maybe I should have gone into the physical sciences because I could have avoided all the subjectivity that the social sciences thrive on. Anyway, I see this tactic used by the left all the time. When you make a generalization, they respond with anecdotes about how their experience is different. At some point we all paint with a broad brush or arrive at conclusions based on the totality of our experience and observations. Our brains were built to analyze/organize data and come to conclusions based on that experience. On this topic I recommend the book “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell — it’s very illuminating. I also find Matthew 7:16-20 and the promptings of the Spirit to be of great help in learning truth.

    Regarding Dr. Woodworth’s conclusion that the church has a long way to go, I have to agree. But I think he, like other professors, has a “glass is half full” mentality and fails to see the incredible progress over time. In general, I think it’s unproductive to allege racism by the church and use guilt and shame as a means to motivate.

  50. As a first time reader of this site I have to say that I have really enjoyed the back and forth. It is fun to see all of our beliefs, egos, mistakes, and even apologies on display. I think that Dr. Woodworth wrote a thoughtful post that was surely not free of his misperceptions of reality but we all suffer from this. However, I thought the spirit in which the post was written together with the responses, shows his love for all of God’s children.
    Having served a mission in D.C. as well as rural Virginia, and West Virginia, I felt myself experiencing every perspective that has been posted. I worked with amazing saints who came from the trailer parks, country, the ghetto, and immigrants from black africa, and the middle east. I also was extremely frustrated by the cultural baggage that holds people back from making positive changes.
    I think I have the problem of being overly sensitive of race. One experience. My first sunday in the mission I went to a dinner at a single black members home in the DC area. The man was a convert from Jamaica, and the ward organist. Having only two black friends growing up, and loving them, and never knowing a black LDS, I was thrilled to meet this man. I was so overjoyed to meet a black Mormon, (let alone an organ playing one!) that I couldn’t contain myself. I think some of my first words to him were,” You are black and Mormon. That is awesome!” Fortunately, this great member had met my type before and could see I was green, and felt my sincere love. To this day, I still love and give the benefit of the doubt to the “others” in our congregations because I hate people to feel uncomfortable. I have now learned that I can still show them I love them in word and deed, but need to let them know with quiet confidence that they fit in.

    Truth be told, a group of LDS professors, and members need to have a symposium on music in worship. That would open a can of worms!! The liberal in me wishes that the culture of sacrament meetings was more flexible, but the 6th generation Mormon Republican,iron rodder in me worries about the risk. Anyone who hears Sister Gladys Knight give a fireside can’t help but wonder about music in worship. Are white Wasatch Mountain Mormons uncomfortable with someone expressing themselves in an animated way? A part of me fears emotions and expression getting out of hand, but right now our 18th century hymns are just not helping us create the most conducive enviornment for growth in some of our members and congregations.

  51. In response to Geoff’s assertion that he disagreed with the professors assertion that..

    1)that individual members were, through supplication and protest, able to convince the prophet to lift the priesthood ban and

    I can realize why that concept can make you uneasy but couldn’t it be argued that they were supplicating and protesting based on the spirit teaching them beforehand that things that they should pray for? While I realize that members do not receive revelation for the church, maybe their petitions created an awareness within the leadership of the church that they needed to give thoughtful and prayerful consideration to the matter. The spirit and tone with which they went about it is important but I don’t disagree that the membership of the church has not effect on policy and revelation.
    Of course we don’t want to cheapen revelation by creating lobbying interests within the church but when issues come up you have to really respect leaders that listen and council with their councils. Then wait for the Lord to push them to act. I don’t believe Pres. Kimball and Wilford Woodruff were simply lobbied to the point of decision in their manifestos but I do believe they were influenced to the point of prayer, and with prayer came revelation and direction.

  52. Junto, You got a point there. I think it could be said that the revelation on the Word of Wisdom came about pretty much because of “lobbying” on the part of Emma, who was disgusted by the tobacco spit on her floor.

    The heading to section 89 says: As a consequence of the early brethren using tobacco in their meetings, the Prophet was led to ponder upon the matter; consequently he inquired of the Lord concerning it. This revelation, known as the Word of Wisdom, was the result.

    I forget where I read (maybe History of the Church) where Emma’s complaint was the motivator of Joseph “pondering upon the matter.”

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