Max Mueller on Blacks and the Priesthood

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Max Mueller, a Ph.D. candidate in religious history at Harvard University, wrote a response (to a recent Washington Post article) for Slate which stated:

For many Mormons, reading Bott’s words was like unearthing a theological dinosaur long thought extinct but suddenly rediscovered in the corner of an obscure BYU office. His positions seem radically out of place in a modern church with an international membership that includes probably some 500,000 Mormons of African descent. The church’s expensive and ubiquitous “I’m a Mormon” public relations campaign has been carefully and deliberately multiethnic; Mormon leaders want the world to view the religion as the diverse global community it has become. Unfortunately, Bott’s beliefs, though arcane, represent a strain of Mormonism that has persisted well past the 1978 revelation.

8 thoughts on “Max Mueller on Blacks and the Priesthood”

  1. Lauren Thorsteinson

    I find it so sad that people, especially a religion professor, still believe that. I had a teacher in Sunday School that taught me when I was about 12, that the reason African Americans couldn’t hold the priesthood is because they were still being punished because they were descendants of the lamanites. I remember feeling very uneasy as I heard it so I went home and asked my parents if it was true. Their reply was so simple to understand, they said “One of the Articles of Faith says ‘We believe man will be punished for his own sins, and not for Adam’s transgressions.'” Obviously the teacher was released from her calling for preaching false doctrine, but it still baffles me that some people actually believe that. I was just googling if Gladys Knight was LDS and stumbled upon this site. I find it very helpful since I have a few black friend’s who always ask questions on racism in the church, and I never know what to say. Thanks to whoever created it!!

  2. Friends in Christ,

    As chocking as his comments may sound, I don’t think we can conclude that Randy Bott is racist: nothing he said, as quoted in the press shows that. Bott was merely explaining/paraphrasing a longstanding, still believed in some quarters. Of course, I wish the Church never had that policy. But, please, let’s not make Bott the Jeremiah Wright of Mormonism. We may condemn the idea that he expressed but let’s remember that they are not things that he’s invented or a personal deeply seated racism towards Blacks. And, as Barack Obama has said in the midst of the Wright controversy, the we must not diswon Bott. Rather, the Church has to own its past as delicate, as it may be to do so. I know that repudiating the ban will retroactively and implicitly be a comment on past prophets. But, hey, prophets make mistakes; we find that everywhere in holy writ.

  3. Let us remember that Joseph Smith testified that “the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” One of the teachings in the Book Of Mormon that we should abide by is in 2 Nephi 26:33 which says, “For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

    The weaknesses of mankind can thwart our goals in becoming like God. Whatever the past may be—let the truth be told-We have living prophets, we have the priesthood of God upon the earth today, We have access to the Holy Ghost through confirmation and the Laying on of hands by Melchizedek Priesthood holders. All men and women—black and white—male and female can partake of all the blessings and ordinances of the Temple of the Lord. It is true! God lives! Jesus Christ lives! They are resurrected with glorified, tangible bodies. The Holy Ghost will reveal them to us through his power. Joseph Smith saw these two Glorious Beings. They are full of Love. The Book of Mormon teaches us of this love. I know it is true. No weakness of man or prophet will stop me from having this knowledge. I get the truth from the ultimate source—God the Father through prayer.

  4. The reason was racism plain and simple. During that 126 years many of the leaders and members couldn’t overcome their own biases and so the false doctrine continued until the people changed enough to allow the Lord to do what He wanted done. Blacks are in no way inferior to or less valiant than whites now or in the past. All people on this earth chose to follow the Savior and His plan or they wouldn’t be here with mortal bodies.
    The sad fact is during this 126 year period the church was ignoring its own doctrine which proved this racist doctrine false. The church has always taught ALL children who die before the age of eight go to the highest degree of glory, the Celestial Kingdom. EVEN black children. Millions and millions of black children have died during that 126 year period. If blacks are inferior and or less valiant how could so many millions of them have attained the highest degree of glory? Makes no sense does it?

  5. The attempts to blame lack of information about black history on the part of students at BYU on the church misses the point. What it shows is that most schools systems have not put energy into teaching black history. I will say the church could do a lot better, but it is not like BYU students have been in LDS run schools from birth. Most came out of public schools.

    In fact, I never heard of the Black National Anthem until I was at BYU, and it was only at BYU where I got Martin Luthor King day as a holiday, never as a public school student in the Detroit suburbs.

    I wish BYU would do more to teach about African-American history. Still Professor Mason’s Civil War History class incorporated the African-American experience.

    The lack of valuing black history is not limited to even just “conservative colleges”. It is rampant in our educational system overall. The attempt to politicize the issue just shows how much some miss what is going on.

    In fact, I have seen lots of racism outside the church. I knew a non-Mormon volunteer at the Family History Center who just died about a year ago who would talk about how Detroit fell because of having a black mayor.

    In fact, Mueller writes a common study of Mormons. Otherizing them as somehow being the problem, but not reflecting that racism is rampant in US culture. Until we accept that fact, we will not be able to adequately combat it in the Church. Yes, it is no excuse, but until we realize it is not special to the Church but deeply present in our society we will not make any progress at eradicating it.

    On the other hand, we need to move away from “everyone is racist”. Everyone may at times be insensitive, but not everyone is racist. That is the same as saying no one is racist. It negates an ability to change.

    Also, being ignorant is not the same as being racist.

  6. The best answer I ever heard to the question of why blacks could not hold the priesthood was simply, “they were not ready”. This calmed any ambiguity or harshness I ever felt toward this issue. A loving God would wait until his child/children were ready. They were and they are and are proving to the world and their race that they stand as witnesses of God, at all times, and in all things, and in all places.

  7. I have had to continually deal with this issue on my mission here in the South laboring among choice spirits of God black and white and i have been studying the history of it since the first concern had and I have come to believe God is not the Author of Confusion, we are and we do a good job of scrabbling up the Doctrine he gives us. Never Ever did God permit this because he felt different about any of his Children but he saw the end from the beginning and knows something we don’t and saw fit to reveal the revelation regarding priesthood when he did.

  8. Becky, the reason blacks didn’t receive the priesthood was NOT because they (blacks) weren’t ready, but rather because the church, it’s leadership, and members weren’t ready. There was never any problem with the blacks. They were entitled to the same rights to the priesthood as any other member, but were kept from it by a false doctrine and racism.

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