Thursday, June 9, 2011

Uncle Keith's Condo

Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the LDS church’s decision to allow African Americans into the priesthood. This is such an important date that Mormons speak of remembering hearing of it the way many folks recount hearing of 9/11 or JFK’s assassination:

“Those who were there for that remarkable day have said that they can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.”
On the face of it this does not sound like a big deal. There are many churches that to this day have not extended priesthood to anyone who does not have proper racial attributes. In most cases when priesthood is extended nobody really cares. I don’t even know if there has ever been an African American priest for a Korean Presbyterian church, and if someone was to set me straight on this I would have to try a little to care. Before Sammy Davis Jr how many Jewish Rabbis were African American? I don’t know.

The reason it is a bigger deal in the LDS church is that receiving the priesthood is essentially synonymous with what “getting baptized” means in many Christian churches. There is a bit of title inflation in the LDS church. What most people would call lay-priests the LDS church calls “Bishops”. What many might call “pope” or “grand-puba” the Mormons refer to as “the true prophet”. Of course as far as the prophet is concerned his words do carry a weight equal to that of the biblical prophets.

So in normal-speak yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the Mormons letting African Americans join their church at all. So, with what the church estimates as six million members in the USA, this is a little interesting.

Still…I would not have known about it if an article in the Salt Lake Tribune titled: “Black Mormon defends priesthood ban 33 years after it was lifted” did not catch my eye.

"They" land in temple square

The article quotes Keith N. Hamilton, an attorney, historian, former member of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, and black man. Keith just wrote a book called “Last Laborer: Thoughts and Reflections of a Black Mormon” that is apparently chuc full of quotables.

“Withholding the priesthood from blacks was part of God’s unfolding plan to bring Christ’s gospel to different groups in a kind of progression — from Jew to Gentile to Americans, then Europeans, then finally to all the peoples of the world.”

it was “no man-made policy, no quick-fix solution to mob threats, nor a policy instituted because some white LDS Church leader(s) had concerns about black-white relations. It was done in the wisdom of God, in accordance with his wise purposes.”

While many American churches were built with the principles of racism serving as strong platform planks the LDS church was not. Before Joseph Smith was run out of Kirtland Ohio for shady dealings and ultra-marital promiscuity, the LDS church admitted African Americans into its priesthood.

Elijah Abel, a freed African-American slave from Maryland, was given the priesthood by none other than Joseph smith himself (in 1836). He rose to prominence in the early rag-tag Mormon church. He became a member of the council of seventy in 1839. As an African-American man in the mid 1800s his missionary work must have most effectively targeted potential African-American converts. Elijah served many missions before died in 1884.

Somehow the LDS church received the message that people with Elijah’s skin-tine could no longer be real members of the church. I wonder what form that divine communication came in?

One of the reasons why the LDS church should be important to Atheists in particular is that one of the front-runners for republican candidate for President of the United States is a Mormon. Mitt Romney also happens to be one of the most vocal anti-atheist candidates:

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. . . . Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."
"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust. We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders.”
"I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers - I will be true to them and to my beliefs "
"The nation does need to have people of different faiths but we need to have a person of faith lead the country."

Romney calls for a faith-test for president; just not a test of his faith. He wants religion analyzed, but only if it is secular humanism.

If Romney (or Huntsman for that matter) were members of a county-club that had excluded people on the basis of their skin color they would be asked about it. If they replied with something as schizophrenically-vacant as “it was a holy and divinely perfect part of god’s emerging plan” we would only stop telling people to not vote for them long enough to laugh derisively.


Anonymous said...

Romney would be a great and prominent member of the inner party. He might even be the one who coins, "War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength."

adult onset atheist said...

All the busy bees know that "Arbeit macht frei"