Racism and God
My spirit was broken by the shapes I tried to bend into. The shapes of righteousness and perfection always seemed impossible to achieve. I needed more than anything to feel worthy. Worthy of being good enough to be in God’s presence. However the color of my skin and my Lamanite heritage already proved I was “less” worthy than others at church.
Many people are surprised by my “Lamanite” issues since leaving the church. At times I’ve been actively told I am wrong and that redemption is mine if I would just return and be obedient. Though I found so much beauty in the community, and a number of beliefs which brought me peace, there were also things that stopped me in my tracks. Perhaps it would help to explain some of what Mormon leaders have been taught in regards to various ethnic backgrounds around the world. Elder Mark E. Peterson, who served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, gave the following address in Provo, Utah at The Convention of Teachers of Religion On The College Level. The record of this address is titled, Race Problems – As They Affect The Church. This was given to teachers of religion. I can’t even imagine how many thousands of students were taught this Mormon doctrine in the following years as teachers passed on the theology.
“We must accept the fact of pre-existence, and that in our pre-existence we had free agency. We could be lazy there or we could be industrious. We could be obedient or careless. We could choose to follow Christ or to follow Lucifer.”
“He (God) shows mercy to those who love him and keep His commandments, but visits the iniquity of the father’s upon the children of them “that hate me”.
“…is there any reason why the Lord’s method of dealing with sinners and saints in the pre-existence should be different from his method of dealing with them here?”
“For sins we commit here, we will be given places in the eternal world… all based on our performance here in this life.”
“Is there any reason then why the type of birth we receive in this life is not a reflection of our worthiness or lack of it in the pre-existent life? We must accept the justice of God. He is fair to all. He is not a respecter of persons. He will meet us according to what we deserve.”
“We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Indians, some as Negroes, some as Americans, some as Latter-Day Saints. There are rewards and punishments fully in harmony with His established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, regarding all according to their deeds.”
“The Lord segregated the people both as to blood and place of residence, at least in the bases of the Lamanties and the Negroes we have the definite word of the Lord himself that He placed a dark skin upon them as a curse – as a sign to all others. He forbade intermarriage with them under threat of extension of the curse.”
To put the time frame of this address into perspective, and the influence these teachings had on the modern church, President Thomas S. Monson was 27 at the time of this address. President Russel M. Nelson was 29 years old at the time of this address. These were teachings that current leadership were raised on.
How did Monson view the man, Mark E. Peterson, who taught these things? Monson said the following: “Here and there, and now and then, God makes a giant among men. Such a giant among men was Elder Mark E. Petersen, a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, who passed away 11 January 1984. He personified righteousness, he exemplified industry, he demonstrated love. How he will be missed in mortality! Few men are given the opportunity to influence the Church in the manner Elder Mark E. Petersen influenced it for nearly forty years as one of the Lord’s special witnesses.” (Monson, Thomas S., Mark E. Peterson A Giant Among Men, Ensign Magazine, 1984 March, Web. 2020 June)
“Few men are given the opportunity to influence the Church in the manner Elder Mark E. Petersen influenced it for nearly forty years as one of the Lord’s special witnesses.” The color of the skin humans are born with is believed to be a direct result of good or bad choices from before we were born. Add to that our ancestors which we physically descend from in this life – they are also labeled as having turned away from God in this life. Less righteous before birth, less righteous after birth. Last, as if this was not a large enough weight, those who convert and live righteously will be resurrected white. I can’t help wonder how many other people from various backgrounds have been rejected or viewed as less. My experience is just a small drop in a much larger conversation.
How can the church move into a more racially accepting space in the future without addressing these issues? The far reaching effects have already made it’s way into the threads of Mormonism. Teachings such as these need to be publicly rejected as incorrect if the church wants to move into healing for a better future. Reject ancestral appropriation and reject racist theology. This is not just a discussion about healing the past, it is about creating a better future for children who are developing their identity and sense of self in this world. They should be the focus.
Wisdom from the Iroquois
“In Iroquois society, leaders are encouraged to remember seven generations in the past and consider seven generations in the future when making decisions that affect the people.” Wilma Pearl Mankiller – Cherokee Leader
This blog article was originally posted in Novemeber of 2017. It has been edited and re-released June 2020.
Peterson, Mark E., Race Problems – As They Affect The Church, Utah at The Convention of Teachers of Religion On The College Level. Web. 1 November, 2017
(1954 Mark E. Peterson address located at: http://www.mormonismi.net/mep1954/00.html It can also be found on archive.org and can be downloaded.)
Monson, Thomas S., Mark E. Peterson A Giant Among Men, Ensign Magazine, 1984 March, Web. 2020 June