If I could ask them one question . . .
Black Lives Matter, Special Edition
If I wanted to encourage thought and try to understand devout believers better, I might ask:
“Since Black Lives Matter,
why don’t we renounce Mormonism’s racist past starting with Brigham Young?”
Things to consider:
- Brigham Young became the leader of the Mormon Church when Joseph Smith was murdered, and the Church now has three universities that bear his name. But, in case someone isn’t aware of Brigham Young’s racism, here are a few of his teachings.
- “He [Brigham Young] described black people as cursed with dark skin as punishment for Cain’s murder of his brother. ‘Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him cannot hold the priesthood,’ he declared in 1852” (The New York Times, see also The Teachings of President Brigham Young Vol. 3 1852–1854, p. 48).
- “Young deemed black-white intermarriage so sinful that he suggested that a man could atone for it only by having ‘his head cut off’ and spilling ‘his blood upon the ground’” (The New York Times, see also The Teachings of President Brigham Young Vol. 3 1852–1854, p. 49).
- “Young believed the curse [curse of Cain or curse of Ham with resulting black skin] made black people ineligible to vote, marry white people, or hold the priesthood” (Wikipedia, “Black people and Mormonism”, see also The Teachings of President Brigham Young Vol. 3 1852–1854, pp. 43, 44, and 50).
- “In an 1852 sermon, Mormon leader Brigham Young said blacks were better off as slaves because they were incapable of ruling themselves” (Chicago Tribune, see also The Teachings of President Brigham Young Vol. 3 1852–1854, p. 28).
- “In an 1852 speech, described himself as a ‘firm believer in slavery’” (Newsweek, see also this transcript).
- Should anyone have put their faith in Brigham Young? If not, then why is his legacy of racism supported by the Church in many ways including the universities named after the man? Isn’t it time to say we care so much about our brothers and sisters of color that we demand the Church’s universities be named for something or someone more worthy of an institution of higher education? Isn’t it time to topple the statues of Brigham Young at those universities, the Utah State Capitol, and wherever else they may be? Isn’t it time to apologize for the racism of Brigham Young?
- Do we put up with the racist legacy of Brigham Young partly because we think a sacred text so perfect it cannot be questioned? The Book of Mormon teaches that dark skin was given to Native Americans as a curse and a way to bring about segregation (Alma 3:6-10), so maybe that tends to normalize racism for believers?
- Or, do we fail to renounce the legacy of Brigham Young because we put our faith in the arm of flesh? The Book of Mormon extolls the faith of one woman in the words of Alma as greater than any faith among the Nephites during the 500 years prior (Alma 19:4-10), but her faith was all about faith in a mortal man, so maybe that discourages calling out a leader’s words because of “faith?”
- Regardless of the reasons, isn’t it time to say we have faith in something better? Is our faith strong enough to choose the right, regardless of the consequence? Can we really say we think black lives matter if we enshrine mementos of honor to Brigham Young?
If this doesn’t seem to make sense, it might help to consider the roots of the problem of systemic racism, but I’m not the best person to explain that. Here’s a video by Trevor Noah
that does a much better job of explaining than I ever could.
If I could ask them one question, Index