Saturday, April 25, 2009

An Amazing Lesson on Race: Oh, That We Had Understood and Followed

I was preparing to write a post on fasting for my New Year's Resolution series, but I read a post entitled "Mormon Teachings on Race Relations, 1935" at Keepapitchinin (Ardis Parshall's amazing blog) that I want to use as the foundation for a follow-up to my Repudiating Racism Once and For All post from two weeks ago. I am going to excerpt freely from Ardis' post, with my own commentary following each quote:

"Below is the full text of a lesson taught in the Church’s adult Sunday School classes on August 4, 1935. I do not know the author; the lesson was distributed anonymously with the quarterly “Gospel Messages” leaflet issued by the Deseret Sunday School Union Board, as were all other Sunday School lessons in that era. I haven’t changed a single word, not even the occasional outdated vocabulary."

It is important to emphasize that the following quotes have not been altered at all from when they were published in 1935.

"The problem of getting along with people of different racial origin has been a difficult one of solution from the dawn of history and persists even to the present time. There seems to be some sort of a natural antagonism which exists between peoples of different ancestry. This tendency is stronger when there is a marked physical feature of some sort which distinguishes these races from each other. Thus, the difference in skin color between the white and the black races has always been a barrier between the peoples of these differing colors. The same thing is true in regard to those peoples which we know as the yellow races and the whites and blacks."

This beginning paragraph lays a foundation of "natural antagonism" as the source of racial tension. That is fascinating, since it implies that racism is a consequence of the "natural man" - the enemy of God.

"There has always been a tendency for those of one race to consider themselves superior to people of a different race. This feeling seems as natural as it is for members of most families to think themselves in some manner superior, or individuals to hold similar opinions regarding themselves. Usually, if examined from a purely objective point of view, these claims to superiority are found to be without foundation."

This is an amazing statement for the time - that any feelings of superiority based on race are incorrect and, again, "natural man" tendencies.

"Yet, without the multitude having been aware of the fact, their religion has been used in an attempt to determine a policy in this, as in every other important consideration in life."

Remember, this was published in a General Sunday School lesson - distributed throughout the Church. Wow!

"It is evident that the Jews considered themselves superior to the black people with whom they came in contact, for in their religious writings they tell us how God placed a mark upon the descendants of Cain and his children. And in another place the tradition has the story of the cursing of Ham, the son of Noah. As the result of these cursings, the descendants of these men became dark skinned and the children of Ham were designated as servants to the descendants of other sons of Noah . . . Here we see an indication of an antagonism between the dark skinned and lighter skinned peoples, the latter placing a curse upon the former."


The lesson says that people put the curse on other people and claimed it was of God, NOT that God did so.

"Most of the early Christians were Jews and they brought with them into the new religious group the race prejudices of their own people. Yet Paul explained to them how they had misunderstood their own religion in this regard and he succeeded in leaving the new and growing church the far greater idea of the brotherhood of man in Christ."

This says the expansion of the Gospel by Paul to the Gentiles is a model of how the racial prejudice of his time was overcome - that the prejudice needed to be rooted out by a pure understanding of the Gospel ("good news") of Jesus Christ.

“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26)

"No finer declaration of the brotherhood of man can be found than this. Here Paul says in substance: Jesus has given us a new vision of the universal Fatherhood of God. By faith in Jesus you are all the children of the God of Abraham. More, you are the actual descendants of Abraham and all the promises which God has made to Abraham he makes equally to you. God cares nothing for race, He cares nothing for condition of servitude, He cares nothing for sex. All God is interested in is that you follow the teaching of his son, Jesus."


This statement could not have been worded any more forcefully and clearly.

"Joseph Smith is credited with having said that when a man joins the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that he becomes, by so doing, of the “blood of Israel.” It appears that we are justified in concluding from what we have seen that John the Baptist and Paul and Joseph Smith all saw the great truth that actual physical descent, in other words race, is of no importance in the sight of God."


"The brotherhood of man, as springing from the common Fatherhood of God, is the very essence of Christianity. The teaching of Jesus has no place for race hatred, racial distrust, any feeling of racial superiority. The brotherhood of man transcends all lines of color, of race, of family."

Again, no clearer words are possible.

"Christianity holds within it the solution to all our race problems. That solution rests in the mere application of the spirit of the religion of Jesus to all situations which rise."

AMEN, and amen.

Thank you, Ardis, for finding and publishing this lesson. Please, everyone, go to her blog and read the entire lesson.

Oh, that we collectively had understood and followed its simple message.

16 comments:

Ardis E. Parshall said...

Thanks for spotlighting that 1935 lesson, Ray. It makes a nice counterpoint to the statements of some individuals from the same time.

It also illustrates the reason why our Sunday lessons and Conference talks so often repeat themselves. It clearly wasn't enough for us to hear this lesson once and then implement it forever after. Think how different some things might have been had this lesson, or others like it, been repeated every couple of years from 1935 to the present.

Jared said...

Ray--

It appears you're determined to keep this issue alive. With that said, I would like to ask a question. The Book of Mormon says the following; how do you explain these verses of scripture based on your research and understanding?

21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

(Book of Mormon | 2 Nephi 5:21 - 23)

Papa D said...

Jared,

You are right; I am. Our modern prophets and apostles have spoken directly and forcefully, and it bothers me greatly when I hear members who simply won't accept their words and won't let go. This lesson lays out my general feelings very well, even though I had never read it until I saw Ardis' post.

I see the results of people, in general, and some members, in particular, who can't accept modern revelation and prophetic pronouncements. Also, as you see from the lesson Ardis posted, there never was unanimity among the Brethren as to whether the ban was revelation or simply policy. My previous post made that point clear.

My response to the passage you quote is that the people who wrote the Book of Mormon were human, as well - that the points made in this lesson are profound. (If you didn't read the entire lesson on Ardis' blog, please do.) Even very good, righteous people have a hard time letting go of their prejudices.

Further, based on the demographic statements within the Book of Mormon, I am convinced that the Lamanites intermarried with and integrated into another group of "native" people - just as the Nephites intermarried with and integrated into the Mulekite civilization. It's the only way that the population discrepancies make sense to me. I think the Lamanites mixed with a darker skinned people - and that the Nephites considered them primitive and "loathsome" - just as this lesson indicates about the original Jews' concept of the curse of Ham.

I don't believe the scriptures, even the Book of Mormon, are infallible words dictated word-for-word from God to man (even prophets). Much of what they record is the perspective of their times, especially those things that are more social in nature than religious.

Paul spoke of his beliefs about hair length and women speaking in church; the OT is FULL of cultural dictates and practices; why should the Book of Mormon be any different? I interpret "true" and "correct" in the way it is used in many places in the scriptures ("true" and living church - most "correct" book on earth - etc.) to mean "on target; pointing in the right direction; etc." I believe fully the Book of Mormon is "true" and "correct" in that way, but that doesn't mean there aren't any "mistakes" or "human perceptions" in it. That is made clear throughout it - as prophet after prophet asks us to not judge it to be a thing of naught because of its mistakes and imperfections.

In those instances of the use of color to describe things that aren't intrinsically color-based (like where Mary, the mother of Jesus is described as "white"), I believe it must be understood how many such references are meant - symbolically to mean "pure; without spot or stain". Our scriptures are replete with such references - or, at least, there are dozens of them.

I see two options:

God is responsible, or humanity is responsible. Since I have no problem accepting flawed prophets who were limited by the prejudices of their time, I prefer to think that they simply had their own blind spots, just as you and I have ours. I believe this lesson articulates that very well.

If you are interested, I wrote originally about this issue back in 2007 in a post entitled, "Reflections from a Mixed-Race Family". The url is:

http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2007/09/reflections-from-mixed-race-family.html

Jared said...

Ray--

Thanks for your thoughtful response.

I have a few concerns with keeping the priesthood ban in the forefront.

First, nowadays the brethren do not comment on it very often. There is a reason for this.

Second, there are far more important concerns in our day that need to be kept before our eyes.

Third, it is possible to approach the priesthood ban in such a way as to discredit the Lord's passed prophets, and by so doing discredit all prophets. It's a fine line.

Regarding the verse of scripture from my first comment (2 Nephi 5:21-23). The Book of Mormon holds a special place among our Standard Works. There are many reasons for this. I'll mention a couple that come to my mind:

1. It was provided to us in English therefore lacks translation problems for English readers.

2. The Lord himself has testified to its accuracy. See 3 Nep 23:6-13, and D&C 17:6.

Quick Summary

The Book of Mormon is not subject to the fallibility of prophets to the extent the other scriptures might be. I feel this way because a prophet abridged it and the Lord himself has testified to its truthfulness.

Those who are inclined to be racist do not have a foot to stand on in the LDS church. Those of earlier generation are disappearing as time goes on. They need our love just as much as the blacks did prior to June 1978.

Inviting all members to acquire and grow in their gift of the Holy Ghost will do more to heal racism than talking about racism.

The priesthood ban has been lifted and is history.

Personal note: I respect your perspective though I don't entirely agree with it. Knowing the kind of person you are I'm confident we can disagree without being disagreeable. I'm grateful for this.

This kind of mutual respect needs to be enhanced in the Bloggernacle. Let's keep it alive and pass it forward.

Thanks Ray.

Papa D said...

Jared, I agree with much of what you just said, but I think I need to clarify the "why" of my posts.

I wrote my original posts (the first one and the one two weeks ago) after reading and hearing members give brutally horrid justifications for the ban. The latest one was, essentially, that God knew "their culture" would condemn many of them to become Sons of Perdition - and he loved them so much that he banned them from holding the Priesthood.

SAY WHAT?!?!

That's just a horribly twisted version of the justifications that Elder McConkie said to forget and that current apostles say not to perpetuate.

I write these posts not because I want to dredge up something that is no longer relevant but because it still is far too relevant. (Ask a couple of the black members of my ward how relevant racism still is - not in my ward now, but in the Church generally. Their own experiences would shock you, I think - including a young man who almost caused a riot at church when he told another young man his family were descended from monkeys.) I agree completely that the most disgusting examples are restricted to a very small minority of members, but I'm afraid that many middle-aged members particularly haven't internalized the current messages - if they even are aware of them. They should be aware of them, but I'm not sure how many are.

As to the Book of Mormon, I do accept it as the most "correct" book on earth, but I interpret that to mean in the exact same context in which Joseph's actual words seem to place it. He immediately clarified (I believe) the first statement about its correctness by adding "and people would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than by any other book". I believe it is "the most correct" in that important way - that it will bring people to God in a way that no other can, to a large degree because it will lead to baptism, to the Gift of the Holy Ghost and to the ability to understand and believe what the Bible and modern prophets actually teach.

I just don't believe it has to be "factually infallible" in order to do that, and I believe its authors realized that and begged us not to hold it to an impossible standard - to allow for weaknesses and mistakes and assumptions without letting them detract from its correctness and worth.

Bruce in Montana said...

And of course the other side of the arguement would be to support the founding prophets of this dispensation and suspiciously regard anything resembling a contradition.

“If any man preach any other gospel than that which I have preached, he shall be cursed;”

“How, it may be asked, was this known to be a bad angel? by his contradicting a former revelation.”
(Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 366 & 214)

I wish many tmes that I could go back to agreeing with the mainstream. I just can't.

...my opinion only...mileage may vary

Papa D said...

Bruce, the true irony of this particular issue is that I am advocating going back to the view and practice of THE founding Prophet of this dispensation - since Joseph Smith's words are quoted in the lesson, and since he ordained Black men to the Priesthood (or, at the very least, they were ordained during his life and with his knowledge).

Anonymous said...

QQmore!Laura.

Papa D said...

My youngest daughter (6) just informed me that she typed a comment and that her comment means, "Complain more." (She said it is so she can make fun of me.)

The joys of parenthood! (and, yeah, she knows how to get to my blog - kind of surprising she doesn't leave more comments, the little Twinkie)

Mom M said...

Prejudice is alive and well among us.

It's not just Black vs. White. What about white vs white - the "po' white trash" or the "other side of the tracks"? And Black vs. Black?

In the Dominican Republic virtually everyone who is not "transplanted" has Black lineage to some degree or another. (I didn't know there were so many shades of black until I lived among them.) Yet the Dominican youth seek marriage partners with lighter black skin than their own - even the LDS youth. [I never did figure out the logic behind that one. If A marries B because B has lighter black skin, doesn't that mean that B is "stuck" with someone who has darker skin - and why would they view it as being "stuck"?]

Haitians (the other side of the island) are blacker than black. The two "races" have been enemies for eons and the extreme black of the Haitian skin makes them easily distinguished from the (for the most part) lighter black Dominican. This accentuates the racism among the two Black peoples . . . "I hate you because you are blacker than I; I hate you because you're not as black as I." (The problem between Dominican and Haitian is much more than skin color, but it is a factor in the perpetuation of the hatred.)

That Dominican/Haitian perception lingers even among LDS people in the two nations. Only in the temple did we occasionally see the line between Black vs. Black begin to blur. Even there, it was rare enough that an instance of Dominican/Haitian love brought to the attention of the temple president brought tears to his eyes. His comment: "Only in the temple."

The bottom line is elitism - I'm better than you (for whatever reason). Or, to use President Benson's word, PRIDE.

Why can't we just be brothers and sisters as children of God rather than Black or White, Purple, Green, or Orange???

Papa D said...

Thank you, Mom, for that perspective. It fits SO well the central message of the lesson quoted here - that prejudice and discrimination based on skin color really is a man-made construct.

Anonymous said...

If we'd had correlation in 1935 this lesson would never have been published.

backandthen said...

I love this post.
I have already said on your blog how I have been raised regarding skin color issue and it bothered me much when I was on my mission to hear about the bible justifications for such a point of view. Worse when I talked to my mission president about it and he came up with a good bible scripture about it. I loved (and still do) this man and somewhere I felt that no matter how tender the way he gave me his answer was, he was still wrong.
I don't think I'll get a chance to talk to him again and if I do I hope to talk about other subjects :) but it makes me sad that for some people this is still perfectly logical.

Talking about mixed origins and skin color I enjoyed so much to see the contrast between my little sister who is 100% french, has blond hair and bright eyes and our cousin who is a perfect mix of about everything on Earth with dark skin, pitch black hair and dark eyes.
My cousin is 50% French and: Lebanese, Black, Jewish. Looking at one of her brother I wonder if they don't have a little Asian blood too. Maybe just a drop :)

backandthen said...

Sorry, I forgot to mention that I "enjoyed" so much LAST WEEK to look at the contrast between my sister and my cousin. Beside they are just a year apart. My sister is going on 19 and my cousin going on 20 and they're about the same height.
It was really a delight to look at them and to think that they belong to the same family and even better: to see them getting along so well.

Gail said...

Ray,

Great post, although I think we read it with tainted eyes. Few people ever see themselves as prejudice. If you read comments from the leaders of the time they will call for equal rights for all in one line than say things that smack of clear unadulterated bigotry when looking through our 21 century eyes.

I would like to share two examples.

In 1946 in a talk to the YWMIA conference J Rueben Clark of the First presidency said this:
”We should hate nobody, and having said that, I wish to urge a word of caution, particularly to you young girls. It is sought today in certain quarters to break down all race prejudice, and at the end of the road, which they who urge this see, is intermarriage. That is what it finally comes to. Now, you should hate nobody; you should give to every man and every woman, no matter what the color of his or her skin may be, full civil rights. You should treat them as brothers and sisters, but do not ever let that wicked virus get into your systems that brotherhood either permits or entitles you to mix races which are inconsistent.”

Notice how Elder Clark calls for treating all as brothers and sisters yet teat black brothers very different than you treat white brothers. In the way we think of equality this we would call prejudice, Elder Clark did not see it the same way.

In 1954 in a talk to BYU Elder Mark E. Peterson said:
“[The Negro] is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafĂ© where white people sit. He isn’t just trying to ride on the same streetcar….[I]t appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is the objective and we must face it….Remember the little statement that they used to say about sin, “First we pity, then endure, then embrace.””

I believe Elder Peterson likely would agree with the lesson you quoted. I do not believe he would see his statements as inconstant with civil rights.

In the same way today our leaders and we as a group of membership do not see how our actions in prop 8 are inconstant with equal rights. Notice in every document the church puts out calling to help pass a prejudicial bill they say we should never discriminate. Also, how we ask gay members to be secretive about their orientation, and we can not see how that is discriminatory. I believe at some point our leadership and our membership will be able to see past the blinding prejudice on this issue as well.

Gail said...

Jared,

You may have hit the reasoning of the brethren for not talking about the priesthood ban. If we do not talk about it we will not learn one of the most important lessons from our history. How can we learn that we can still have a testimony of modern revelation even if the Brethren are affected my their own world view?