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.