Last week a resolution was submitted at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) concerning racist statements in Mormon scriptures. The resolution was not presented by the SBC resolutions committee to the convention for vote. I applaud them for that decision.
Now please understand I am not in any way a defender of Mormonism or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS/Mormons). The resolution that was submitted would have condemned the LDS for not refuting racist statements found in its scriptures. It is certainly true that several places in the LDS Four Standard Works (the KJV Bible, The Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price) contain statements attributed to God the Heavenly Father in which he placed curses on certain peoples and their descendants that included markings of dark or black skin. The people groups so marked included Native Americans (called Lamanites in the Book of Mormon- see 2 Nephi 5) and people of African descent (blacks).
The curse on blacks was based on teachings by some early LDS leaders that all blacks were the cursed descendants of Ham (a discredited theory once widely disseminated in some Christian churches to justify slavery). In the LDS version, they were supposedly cursed by God because of their failures to fight valiantly against Lucifer in the pre-existence War in Heaven. For that reason and for many years, black men were prohibited from receiving the LDS Priesthoods (to which all other worthy Mormon men would be ordained).In the late 1970s changing societal pressure in the United States and in other parts of the world were impacting the then LDS leadership, specifically President Spencer Kimball, his two counselors, and the Council of the Twelve Apostles. For instance it was reported that several American colleges were threatening to boycott Brigham Young University athletics and refuse to schedule games with its teams. Another issue involved the church in some areas of South America, where interracial marriage was common and racial distinctions were difficult to discern. This presented a dilemma to LDS missionaries and leaders in those countries who did not know who could or could not be legitimately ordained.
Spencer W. Kimball
Whatever the reason, on June 8, 1978, the First Presidency of the LDS church announced that a “revelation” from God had been received by Kimball which, once and for all, opened the priesthood to all Mormon men. The Official Declaration presented and signed by the First Presidency stated that “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.” The full Declaration (#2) was ratified in September of 1978 and canonized as LDS scripture in The Doctrine and Covenants.
In my opinion, as far as the leadership and members of the LDS are concerned, that was the end of any and all racist policies or attitudes that may have existed in the church before that time. It is true that the LDS church has never publicly condemned racist statements in its scriptures. Nonetheless, in LDS ecclesiology any supposed revelation given to a sitting President (the “Living Prophet”) supersedes anything written in the scriptures or declared by any previous church leaders. Therefore, it seems to me, for the SBC publicly to have chastised the LDS for its racist past policies or its scriptures would have been about 34 years too late. There are plenty of reasons for rejecting LDS teachings as wrong, but criticizing them about matters which they long ago corrected only makes evangelicals look uninformed and petty. So, again, I applaud the SBC for its wise decision not to go there.