Mormonism, Blacks and Me, 1964

In June, 1964, I was called to be a missionary in the Franco-Belgian Mission.  I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually immature at the time.  For example, I grew 2 inches during my 2-and-one-half years in Europe.  And emotionally, I was a mixed-up kid.

Spiritually, I was also a mess.  I was the product of a very liberal Ward in East Lansing, Michigan (The conservatives didn’t get control of the Ward until after I left.) headed to a mission field dominated by conservative Mormons. 

The issue with Blacks not being able to hold the Priesthood was a problem for me, but not enough of one to kill my commitment to Mormonism.  I certainly didn’t believe in the curse of Cain or Ham.  To me, Genesis was a metaphor for unenlightened shepards.  Certainly not something to be taken literally.

Five months earlier, in 1964. LDS Apostle Delbert L. Stapley wrote a letter to then Michigan Governor George Romney, an active Mormon and a past Stake President.  Elder Stapley was concerned about Governor Romney’s participation in the Civil Rights movement.  Here is the gist of the letter:

  • “After listening to your (Romney’s) talk on Civil Rights, I’m very much concerned.  Several others have expressed the same concern to me.  It does not harmonize with my own understandings regarding the subject. . .”
  • “. . . remember what happened to three of our nation’s presidents who were very active in the Negro cause, I am sobered by their demise.”
  • “It is not right to force any class or race of people upon those of a different social order or race classification.  People are happier when placed in the environment and association of like interests, racial instincts, habits, and natural groupings.”
  • “I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas.  In my judgment, the present proposed Bill of Rights (Civil Rights Bill) is vicious legislation.  There needs to be some modification.”
  • “Now, don’t think I am against the Negro people, because I have several in my employ.  We must understand and recognize their status and then, accordingly, provide for them . . . (and then the letter gets a lot worse)”

Elder Stapley and I were members of the same church.  In fact, Elder Stapley was in a high leadership position in my church, yet he was oh so wrong in so many ways:

  • The Lord didn’t punish President Lincoln with a death sentence because of his desire to end slavery.
  • The Lord doesn’t micromanage things here on earth.
  • The blacks don’t bear the curse of Cain or Ham or anyone else.
  • The Civil Rights Act is not a “vicious act.”

The exclusion of Blacks from the Priesthood led to serious discrimination on the part of LDS Church members, and the vestiges of this discrimination linger to this day.  This situation needs to be admitted and resolved.  The curse needs to be lifted, so to speak.

Additionally, we Mormons should have learned from the Priesthood/Black experience.  Yet the church continues down the same path today with the gay/lesbian community.  “When will we ever learn?” 

By the way, Governor Romney stayed active in the Civil Rights movement.  And Elder Stapley went along with the eventual lifting of the Priesthood ban.

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8 Responses to Mormonism, Blacks and Me, 1964

  1. Lyle says:

    Your account of Elder Stapley is similar to what other apostles have said from time to time which ended up being incorrect. Bruce R. McConkie is another one who comes to mind. Weak, infallible, imperfect, yet still the Lord’s servants. (I’m still trying to grapple with Elisha getting mad at a bunch of kids for mocking his bald head so he summons a couple of bears to attack and kill them!)

    It was and is widely acknowledged that those in Church leadership are mere mortals. They are brilliant, wonderful people but are susceptible to error like everyone else. Joseph Smith himself admitted to this many times. Bottom line: the Lord chose THEM to lead the Church, not you or me.

    I like Pres. John Taylor’s prayer which I memorized and I repeat it often:
    “O God, lead me in the right path;
    O God, preserve me from all error;
    O God, I am a poor, feeble, weak, erring human creature, surrounded with infirmities.
    I need Thy help all the day long.
    O God, help me.”

    Next, your comparison of civil rights of blacks to gay/lesbian lifestyles is incorrect in my opinion for the following reasons:

    1. There are thousands of EX-homosexuals and EX-lesbians. I’m personally acquainted with two. There are no examples I can think of who are ex-black. The former is a changeable behavior, albeit difficult for many, impossible for others, but do-able for a small minority. Being black is immutable on the other hand.

    2. The radical homosexual agenda has been labeled the #1 threat toward religious liberty in the country today. Their appeal for “tolerance” is for one-way tolerance: tolerate them, don’t tolerate religion and Christians. I have dozens of examples proving this. They are seeking for special, elevated rights and protections above and beyond anyone else. It is a “hate crime” to attack someone because they’re gay; it is not so if you’re a Christian who is attacked. They seek 1st Amendment rights for themselves but want those same rights for Christians to be suppressed. (Google Crystal Dixon and Matt Barber and read their stories for starters.)

    3. To promote homosexuality is to also endorse homosexual acts. The unmistakable, clearly defined moral standards the Lord has established, The Law of Chastity, is ridiculed and trashed in the homosexual agenda. If you’re a Latter-day Saint who upholds moral standards, you’ll have to select one or the other. You can’t have it both ways.

    4. Perusing the cdc.gov will quickly inform the reader at how incredibly diseased and self-destructive the homosexual lifestyle is:
    a. 1 in 5 men who have sex with men in 21 U.S. cities has HIV; nearly half are unaware.
    b. the rate of new HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men (MSM) is more than 44 times that of other men.
    Also, the New York Times stated that a male teenager entering the homosexual lifestyle today has a 50% chance of getting AIDS by the age of fifty. Real facts like this are damning; there’s no wiggle room.

    5. And last but not least: “Gay activism, not scientific evidence, has influenced nation mental health organizations regarding homosexuality. By a vote of 5,854 to 3,810, the American Psychiatric Association eliminated homosexuality as a diagnostic category from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) in 1973, making it the first time in the history of healthcare that a diagnosis was decided by popular vote rather than by scientific evidence.”
    – A. Dean Byrd, PhD, MPH (2008) Mormons and Homosexuality, p. 13

  2. roger hansen says:

    Lyle, thanx for your comment. My original point is: that the LDS Church ban on Blacks having the Priesthood led to widespread discrimination by its members. One example of this is the letter written by Apostle Stapley to Governor Romney. As you pointed out, there were other Church leaders who had similar views. Vestiges of that discrimination exist to this day, and this is a problem that needs to be resolved ASAP.

    For me, the issue with both Blacks and gays is a civil rights issue pure and simple. No analogy is perfect, but this one is not far off.

    The problems we are having with the issue of homosexuality are, in part, related to the age of our leaders. By grandfathers, who were about the same age as Apostle Stapley, would have agreed with some of the points made in the Romney letter. My father, on the other hand, would have disagreed with all points in the letter, but he struggled with the issue of homosexuality. He was somewhat estranged from a granddaughter who is lesbian. Myself, I feel that I’m more tolerant on most civil rights issues than my father was, and my kids are more loterant than I. So, I’m saying you are fighting a losing battle. Mormon youth are going force change, or the Church will lose it young members (something that is already starting to occur).

    As for your specific points: (1) these numbers have no meaning to me (your two examples could be bisexual). It is generally agreed in the professional community that it is almost impossible for homosexuals to change. And requiring them to be celibate is not the answer. (2) for me, this is just paranoia; there is a radical component of any movement. The vast majority of gays just want to be granted their basic civil rights. (3) the gay rights movement has no effect on the Law of Chastity. (4) Mormons overuse prescription drugs, etc. does that mean that they should not have their civil rights? (5) I think you will find that the preponderance of evidence indicates that gay tendencies are hardwired and not subject to change.

    Today’s LDS leaders are falling into the same trap that their predecessors did over 50 years ago.

  3. buraianto says:

    HIV will be curable someday. Soon, I hope.

  4. susan says:

    Lyle,

    I read your response to Roger’s blog last week. I waited until today to reply. I wish to reply to your numbered reasons comparing the civil rights of black to gay/lesbian lifestyles:

    1. There are thousands of EX-homosexuals and EX-lesbians. You are personally acquainted with two. There are thousands of EX-mormons, EX-catholics, EX-atheists, EX-heterosexuals. All have become an “EX” for one reason or another. All have that choice. Your point of changeable behavior is logical, but your example of “no examples of ex-blacks” is sarcastic and ridiculous.
    2. Believe it or not, Lyle, not all homosexuals are “radical”. Many are wonderful Christians and others who have been blessed to be a part of our lives. Many live normal lives, laugh, cry, attend church, ski, swim, sing, cook, and live their lives as well or better than you or I. To label them “radical” and a “threat towards religious liberty” is judgemental and homophobic. What are you afraid of? How do you know that your neighbor is not gay? How do you know that the woman or man that participates in church with you is not gay? What are you afraid of? Hate crimes exist for a variety of reasons. Why should it not be a hate crime to attack someone that is gay, as well as a hate crime to attack a Christian or anyone else that is “different”. Your comment asserts that only people who attack “gays” are punished. You can Google search all day and find differing views on the subject. You and I have differing views.
    3. You can have it both ways. Just because I am a Latter-Day Saint, and I embrace gays as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, does not make me nor them immoral. It is not up to us to judge or label them accordingly.
    4. What about the thousands and thousands of people who are HIV positive and did not contract that disease through homosexuality? What about those gay couples who live their lives in a monogomous relationship? What if you had to be a caregiver to someone close to you, or (gasp?) a family member who had AIDS?
    5. The American Psychiatric Association did the right thing in not labeling homosexuality as a way to diagnose a gay as “diseased” or “wrong”. Thousands of suicides have resulted in someone who was taught that being gay was “perverted” and that by being labeled as such, you were on a one-way street to hell.
    The LDS Church and some other religions are now tasked with accepting ALL who wish to be members. It is up to a fading generation to change things. What will you do, Lyle, when the church makes that announcement one day in the future, that gays are fully accepted as part of the LDS Church? Just as mentioned by Roger in his blog, another generation was in no way ready to accept blacks, BUT IT HAPPENED. It will happen again. How will you change your mindset? How will you handle a loving gay couple on the church bench in front of you? How will you change your attitude? In my opinion, it takes a generation to change. The up and coming younger members of the church will show that this is much ado about nothing. I will be ready with open and willing arms for the day when ALL are welcomed into the church, gay or straight. Until that time, it is up to me to love everyone to the best of my ability, without scorn or judgement.

  5. Lyle says:

    Dear Roger,
    Thanks very much for your reply. If you don’t mind, I’d like to flesh out, even clarify some of the points I brought up and your responses to them.

    1. The reason I bring up homosexuality and the blacks is because radical gay groups are always comparing their cause to the blacks’ civil rights struggles. To me they are not the same. I’m not trying to be sarcastic nor silly in using this comparison. With regards to immutability, one is a state of being; the other a changeable behavior. I hasten to emphasize that I do acknowledge the great difficulties associated with SSA. Most homosexuals are not interested in changing their lifestyle and/or sexual orientation. That’s fine. However, some do. And in my book, if some of them can change, more deliberate efforts ought to be expended in helping more of them change. Elder Oaks says that “homosexual feelings are controllable.” On the other hand, being born and dying as a black man is not a controllable condition. Therefore, there is no valid comparison to be made between the two.

    2. Please note that I deliberately used the term “radical homosexual agenda” which does NOT include all the peaceful, kind, wonderful gay people you describe. You were mistaken to imply that I included them in the radical element. I refer to the ilk of Dan Savage, Joe Pervis, and many other rabid, radical anti-Christian type-radicals. Anyway, please do not confuse the fact that I am targeting the radicals only.

    3. I’m not sure how much, if any, research you have conducted on the subject of the radical homosexual agenda. Perusing the archives of sites such as aftah.org and massresistance.org will enlighten you on how serious a problem it truly is.
    Next, I’m confused by your declaration that we can have it both ways, i.e., the radical homosexual agenda can be embraced simultaneously with the Law of Chastity. The former embraces sexual relationships with dozens and even hundreds of partners. In the Lord’s Law of Chastity, sexual relations are reserved between one man and one woman in the bonds of marriage. Perhaps you can clarify this for me.

    4. You will note that I am not referring to HIV/AIDS amongst non-homosexuals. The topic at hand is the inherent self-destructive of radical homosexuality. For Latter-day Saints and any Christian for that matter, its important to vigorously oppose gross, immoral behaviors yet at the same time protect the status that EVERY person has as a beloved son or daughter of our Heavenly Father. As a whole, we fail miserably on this point.

    5. I’ve often wondered why there isn’t more discussion in the Church about homosexuality and lesbianism. After all my studies, I would venture to answer my own question this way: Pres. Faust said it best when he stated that knowledge of sin tempteth to its commission. The curious youngster who starts inquiring about homosexuality will soon open up a Pandora’s box of the most filthy, vile behaviors imaginable to the human race as he learns all he can about the subject.
    As I launched my research after the Prop.8 debacle even I was utterly shocked and grossed out at what debauchery is widely accepted under the umbrella of homosexual behaviors. When they speak of “perversion” that word is true and accurate. “Anal sex”, “rimming”, “sadomasochism”, and many other terms associated with radical homosexuality soon become the norm because we want our children and grandchildren to be “tolerant.”

    I believe you are incorrect that the “fading generation” will give way to a more permissive, accepting younger generation in the Church by accepting gay behavior. Reading up on the subject by Church leaders (in this case, Oaks and Wickman – http://newsroom.lds.org/official-statement/same-gender-attraction) is quite enlightening.

    The principles of the Gospel are not up for a popularity contest. While attitudes, perceptions, and opinions may change and/or be wrong, the words of modern prophets have left no room for imagination as to what is expected by the upcoming generation. The Proclamation on the Family, the Strength of Youth pamphlet, and dozens of other documents are crisply clear on what the Lord expects with regards to the Law of Chastity.

    Roger, do you think the Law of Chastity is of God? If so, are some members of the Church exempt from keeping it?

    Thanks for your time and attention to this.

  6. roger hansen says:

    The vast majority of professionals believe that homosexuality is genetic. And that it is generally destructive to try and change them. Of course, there are exceptions.

    Having said that, the Law of Chastity is LDS Church doctrine. But what is a gay person to do if we don’t let him/her marry? I don’t buy the celibacy solution. For me, love is a major part of the human experience.

    My issue with the LDS Church response to the gay/lesbian issue is that for me it closely mirrors the black situation of years ago. I know you don’t buy this comparison, but I do. I’m 66 and I lived through the black experience. The LDS Church’s teachings about the blacks led to many incidents of discrimination (and even hatred). And I see the same thing happening with gays today. National opinion polls show that attitudes toward gays are slowly mellowing with time. I firmly believe that at some time in the future, the LDS Church will change its attitude toward homosexuality (just as it did with the blacks).

    Just as friendly advice, I would suggest that your obsession with the radical gay agenda is misplaced. The vast majority of gays just want to live their lives in peace and have the same rights that heterosexuals do. And that’s all I advocate. And an increasing number of LDS Church members (like Marie Osmond, Harry Reid, Steve Youngs’ spouse) are moving to that opinion. Particularly as they find out that their children, relatives, friends, neighbors etc. are gay.

    Elder Oaks was educated as a lawyer, and not as a biologist. He can just as easily be wrong as Elder Stapley was.

  7. Doing research and came across your blog. I recommend that you see the film which Darius Gray and I made called _Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons_. Our website is a bit outdated (we’re taking care of that), but is here: http://www.untoldstoryofblackmormons.com . The doc is under contract with the Documentary Channel for the next eighteen months, and will be broadcast again on Oct. 18th. I also recommend the website http://www.blacklds.org

  8. rogerdhansen says:

    During my Mormon mission (1966), I was called to serve in the city of Metz, France. In the small Branch was a Canadian soldier (Caucasian) who had married a lady from Czechoslovakia. The wife (also Caucasian) had a child that was partially Black. The married couple wanted to have the baby sealed to them in the temple. If my memory serves me right, permission was denied because of baby’s genetic heritage. I hope someone can tell me that my memory is in error.

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