Aspiring to Better Behavior

Whether it’s Christian-Muslim conflict in Bosnia or the sight of burning crosses lighting the night skies of the American South … Continued

Whether it’s Christian-Muslim conflict in Bosnia or the sight of burning crosses lighting the night skies of the American South in less tolerant times, history offers plenty of sad examples of ethnic or racial intolerance skulking behind the mask of religion. Some have based their entire religious outlook on the untenable idea of racial superiority.

If God is our Heavenly Father, he is the Father of all of us. But the question is about religious/racial conflict today as it touches on individual Americans and their personal religiosity, so let’s try to focus on that.

Religious belief ought to reduce or eliminate racial prejudice, just as it ought to reduce hate speech, marital infidelity or cheating on taxes. But as with many other things in life, adherence to religious principles is ultimately a matter of personal choice. Whether those religious tenets we embrace are mere guidelines or hard and fast rules to live by comes down to how much we are willing to internalize our own religion.

For me it’s quite simple. My religion requires me and my fellow Church members to aspire to a certain standard of behavior. My Church leaders constantly exhort, encourage and inspire members of the Church to live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Since all of us have our individual agency, we each choose how to apply those principles in practice. We all travel along the same road in roughly the same direction but we are at different places along that road. Some, completely converted to gospel principles, have traveled a good distance and make steady progress. To these people, racial prejudice should be anathema. Others are struggling to get started on the same road. They may be infants in terms of spiritual maturity – still enveloped in the prejudices of childhood or shaped more by environment or upbringing than religious ideals. That’s OK. It’s what church is for – to encourage and lift each person to better behavior, and hopefully sooner rather than later.

In a community of believers, we should build each other. With enough association with other church members and enough examples to follow, an intolerant member might choose to begin to adjust his or her attitude and behavior to what they come to appreciate is more acceptable to God. I see this all the time with people beginning their journey in the Church and struggling with all kinds of issues at first, and I’m sure the same is true for those in some other churches.

Seen this way, it’s easier to understand why a Church member may utter a racial slur. I may not like it – I may detest it – but it doesn’t invalidate my religion. It just reminds me that most of us will always have some growing to do.

Written by

  • Henry James

    Let me, a native born Mormon, point out that the Mormon church, for 130 years, discrimated on the basis of race by denying “black” people, whatever that means, to hold the priesthood, while all Non-black MEN were entitled to do so.God lifted his discriminatory ban in 1978, but it is still an issue that many Mormons and non-Mormons alike are unable to rationalize or excuse.

  • Racial Conflict

    From major corporations permitting their key people to set up a home office to the many people aspiring to own an Internet home business.

  • John D the First

    Henry James! Have you come back to the fold? Or is saying you are a ‘native born Mormon’ another way of saying you were born in the church? It sounds like you are saying you *are* Mormon 😉 Best, Jd1

  • LDS Mark

    Well, I’m not a native born Mormon, but it is obvious to me that the church is growing up in many ways.It is clear that they interpreted scriptures wrong when they denied priesthood to other races.I have grown a great deal after joining the chruch, just as brother Otterson describes, and I am sure there is a lot more growth to come.Mark

  • Mr Mark

    “If God is our Heavenly Father, he is the Father of all of us.”Really?Ever read the OT? Yahweh was the god of the Jews. Period. He had nothing to do with any people that weren’t the Jews, except that he loved to slaughter them whenever possible.Either that, or he WAS their father and just liked slaughtering some of his children.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Hmmm, BYU needed some added talent on their football and basketball teams a few years ago and all of a sudden Mormons accepted minorities in their temples. Strange how some business cults fronting as religions operate!!!Hmmm, the University of Alabama did the same “trick” at about the same time allowing minorities in their university. The power of sports!!!!

  • Roy

    LDS Mark asked:Do you attack your own government the same way?————–Otterson was talking about history. I merely pointed out the history of your Church has some petty bizarre quotations about race, too

  • LDS Mark

    Roy,Good for you!All good citizens should get involved in their government.And yes, those quotations sadden me, but they are not the current positions of the Church of Jesus Christ.Other churches have been a lot worse. I used to be a catholic, and they were way out there in their past. But that is not why I divested from them. They are still a bit off-target.Mark

  • Roy

    Yes, Brother Otterson, “history offers plenty of sad examples of ethnic or racial intolerance skulking behind the mask of religion” JOSEPH SMITH: “Had I anything to do with the negro , I would confine them by strict law to their own species and put them on a national equalization.’RIGHAM YOUNG: “You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable, sad, low in their habits, wild, and seemingly without the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”JOHN TAYLOR 3rd Prophet and President “…after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham’s wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? Because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation a upon a the earth as well as God;.. ” “I would not want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the Negro. “Darkies” are wonderful people, and they have their place in our church.” “Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. “… and they have been ‘despised among all people.’ This doctrine did not originate with President Brigham Young but was taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith …”BRUCE R. McCONKIE The negroes are not equal with other races when the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned…” …As a result of his rebellion, Cain was cursed with a dark skin; he became the father of the negroes”MARK E. PETERSON “At least in the cases of the Lamanites 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 punishment and as a sign to all others. ” If there is one drop of negro blood in my children, as I have read to you, they receive the curse, There isn’t any argument, therefore, as to intermarriage with the Negro, is there? “Now we are generous with the Negro. We are willing that the Negro have the highest kind of education. I would be willing to let every Negro drive a Cadillac if they could afford it.ORSON PRATT “The Lord has not kept them in store for five or six thousand years past, and kept them waiting for their bodies all this time to send them among the Hottentots, the African Negroes, the idolatrous Hindoos, or any other of the fallen nations of the earthSPENCER W. KIMBALL:”The day of the Lamanites in nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. […] The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.”WHITE MORMON MISSIONARY IN CHIAPAS, MEXICO 2007″Of course darker skinned people are marked by God. The Bible says so…”

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    LDS Mark,The Christian sects to include Catholicism are equal in flaws and errors since the foundations of each are based on the mostly mytical OT and the highly embellished NT. e.g.Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley et al, founders of Christian-based religions, also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of “pretty wingie thingie” visits and “prophecies” for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immaculate conceptions).

  • LDS Mark

    Roy,You quoted a missionary who was talking out of context, and therefore it is a bad example:“WHITE MORMON MISSIONARY IN CHIAPAS, MEXICO 2007The missionary had it wrong. It is not in the bible, it is in the book of Mormon. And, God did not mark their skin; they did it to themselves to fulfill his word.There will always be a rogue in any flock that does not properly represent his/her church. Quoting such a person does not support the case. It is true that the church did have racist policies in the past, and that saddens me. Just don’t ignore that through revelation from God, these incorrect policies have been rectified, as brother Otterson has stated in his article.Do you attack your own government the same way? They used to have racist policies, and are working to correct them. Are we being a hypocrite here? Let’s get real here, stop being hypocrites, and stop living in the past.No, you can’t ignore the past, because that past includes that God corrected the problem. Don’t be caught up in a faith/platform of convenience. That is, ignoring what is inconvenient to your cause. That only does you a disservice.That is what politicians do; ignore what is inconvenient to their message.Do you know the definition of “Politics”? Poli: meaning Many, Tics: meaning blood sucking little insects.Don’t be a politician!Mark

  • Josephs Myth

    Brother Otterson’s comments are noble in some respects, a bit patronizing in others.It is generally true that the church of my heritage is today free of official racial bias of the kind that existed by policy and practice, if not indeed by doctrine itself, before the June 1978 announcement (some call it a revelation, though the church itself has never labeled it such) that black males along with all other adult males could hold the priesthood if otherwise worthy.Old notions die slowly however. The underlying scriptural texts have not been rescinded and for the most part have not been authoritatively explicated in a way to strip them of their demeaning racist connotations. This topic is addressed only rarely in conference talks and church publications.My gripe with the church on this point is simply that given the many things it harps on constantly, e.g.:word of wisdom…and many others…… the Church pays remarkably little attention to calling for racial understanding and acceptance, even though it is widely understood that there are large reservoirs of racial prejudice still in place among the membership.Brother Otterson’s notion that that these people will grow in understanding over time and repent of their ways sounds pleasant, if a bit patronizing, on the surface. I wonder why the church doesn’t adopt the same patient approach to its many gay members, who, rather than being indulged and encouraged for long periods of time are subject to being booted immediately for the slightest transgression.When you think about it, Br. Otterson, the inconsistency is glaring!!

  • Sara

    I think the point of the question is how people can be religious and still have racial prejudice, which no one seems to be addressing.Mormons have moved beyond their history of bans on Blacks holding the priesthood, which is hardly to be compared with the racist history of most other faiths. To see what African Americans have to say about being members of the LDS Church, see

  • Sara

    Sorry, that last link doesn’t seem to be working. Try this.

  • Dan

    Strangely, for 130 years our policy was the only thing people and the media LIKED about Mormons. Every other doctrine or pratice was despised, but the ban on men of African decent put us in line with other Christian churches and American politics (You really should look up what ministers of other faiths were saying at the same time. You would be apalled). The ban wasn’t the best thing, but it allowed our survival. I’m glad it’s not needed anymore.

  • Daniel A.

    Unfortunately, there are misunderstandings about the Church’s position in regards to God’s love for all.For The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ doctrine in regards God’s love for all men and women, one must need only open the Book of Mormon to 2 Nephi 26:33: “he (God) 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.”This is what the Church has always taught–found in the Book of Mormon itself. This is what we as members of the Church have always been taught and what we strive to follow; treating all with love and respect as fellow children of God.Hopefully this can help clarify some confusion and misunderstanding.

  • Brady Smith

    This is rich. Otterson’s LDS Church enforced a strict, official policy prohibiting blacks from being ordained to their priesthood for over 100 years! That racism was supported by doctrines taught by the President and other offical leaders of the Church that explicitly said that blacks were an inferior race, created when Cain was cursed for killing Abel. Their leaders taught doctrines that in the “spirit world” before people are born, those who became black people were not “valiant” spirits, and so they got sent to black-skinned bodies on earth.The Mormon racist ban on priesthood was only changed in 1978, but many of the doctrines continue to this day! The Church keeps them hidden so it doesn’t hurt their recruiting. Even after the 1978 “revelation” giving the priesthood to blacks, leaders taught that interracial marriages were not encouraged by God.Otterson’s comments are laughable.

  • J.

    I am constantly amazed at how many people that have overwhelming hatred for this or that: religion, political issue, pick-a-subject/topic, feel the only contribution to a discussion they can offer is their expressed hatred.

  • Jason

    Great post Raymond. You hit it right out of the ballpark!

  • Parker

    To Raymond Swenson,I love the diversity of all kinds within the LDS Church, including as you travel from place to place finding bishops or other leaders (unpaid as you noted) from all professions, many honorable vocations and trades, all walks of life, many races and ethnicities. It is so delightful to learn from so many different people and their cultural backgrounds. This is one of the elements that makes this church vibrant and exciting to be a part of in the 21st century.

  • Paganplace

    Everybody knows that the Mormon church claimed racism against black people was divinely ordained, till the toast and butter flipped. And in many other authoritarian faith communities the reality was way behind the official dogma. It’s not ‘impiety’ that makes racism, it’s often what was considered the *height* of piety, justified by Bibles and prophets and all, until people just learned better and authorities were forced to either stop demanding overt racism, or become irrelevant. So, perhaps, it will be with the Mormons, and others, scapegoating *LBGT Americans* as to be persecuted, ….Or, those ideas are welcome to become irrelevant, if that’s what certain churches choose. Racism, like homophobia, come in this society from conceits that there must be only one favored and righteous way to be. This idea is not only false, but truly weak. Any strength the ‘favored’ class feels to have, even ‘moral strength’ ceases to come from living their ideals, but rather, from unjustly proclaiming ‘Well, someone else is worse,’ …For a while, it allows some self-styled mighty to cover up for not even living up to their *own* imposed ideals, but it can’t last. No matter how many ‘words of God’ you stick on it. It can’t last.

  • Anonymous

    (:>(

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Hmmm, I assume the literacy rate for Mormons during the first 100 years of their existence was 0% or was the Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 26:33: a recent addition???

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    As a Mormon who also is a Japan-born Asian American, I would like to point out a few things:In the LDS Church, there is no professional clergy. The bishops who head a congregation are unpaid volunteers, as are the stake presidents who lead a group of five or six congregations. No black person was ever denied a career as a minister in the Mormon Church, because the church has no career ministers. The LDS Church has sought to bring people of many nations and races into the church since its beginning. In its first year of organization in 1830 it sent missionaries to American Indians. The first missionary to Polynesia was in 1844. The mission in Japan was opened in 1901. If you meet a Mormon man who has served a mission, there is a good probability that he lived and worked for two years among people of a different nation, language and race. That’s a pretty good program for breaking down prejudice, don’t you think? When you teach someone to believe in Christ, pray with them, and baptize them, they become part of your extended family, creating relationships that last a lifetime. When you work alongside missionaries who are from that nation, living with them 24 hours a day, it pretty much erases any prejudices you may have had. An illustration of this is the story of John Groberg, a young man from my home, Idaho Falls, who served as a missionary in Tonga in the 1950s, returned again with his family a few years later, and has become an honored member of that society. There is even a movie about his experience becoming accepted by the Tongan people, titled “The Other Side of Heaven”, which showed in theaters all over the world and is available on DVD. Incidentally, Tongans are often just as “dark” as most African Americans, but they and other “nonwhite” people were sought out by Mormon missionaries for over a century before the 1978 announcement.The Church missionary program actively encourages this kind of international and interracial fellowship in the context of the Gospel. My congregation in Idaho has had resident missionaries from Mongolia and Kenya! Then there is Brigham Young University, a true multi-racial campus. Its sister campuses in Idaho and Hawaii have a “rainbow” student body too. In the BYU-Hawaii student body the “haoles” (whites) are in the minority. The effort by one comenter to besmirch the memory of Spencer W. Kimball as “racist” is horribly misguided. Kimball’s father had served many years as a missionary to American Indians. As a long-serving member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, Kimball put a great deal of effort into ensuring that Indian children had opportunities to further their education, not only in grades K-12 but also at Brigham Young University. It was his knowledge that there were many Mormons with African ancestry already, and his desire to share with them the blessings of priesthood service (remember, no income is associated with being a Mormon priest) that led him, after he became president of the Church, to many days of prayer and finally to the testimony he bore to the apostles that the Lord had directed him to share the priesthood with all faithful Latter-day Saint men regardless of race. When the announcement was made in June of 1978, the people of the Church rejoiced, quite literally. The policy had always created tension against the universal message of salvation offered in the Gospel and the clear duty to seek converts from “every nation, kindred, tongue and people.” If there was any “pressure” on the Church, it was the desire to fulfill God’s commandment.Utah is NOT part of the American South. It was not a place with slave plantations like Virginia, the Carolinas or Maryland. There were no segregated schools. Mormon congregations have ALWAYS been racially integrated, and based solely on geographic boundaries that have to be constantly adjusted to accommodate growth. The largest minorities in Utah are Hispanic, followed by Asians and then Native Americans. Utah never has had a large black population. Nevertheless, from the beginning of settlement in Utah there have been black Mormons. I grew up 50 years ago in a congregation in Salt Lake to which several faithful black families belonged. Even before the policy on priesthood ordination was changed, there were black Americans who joined the Church, such as a US Army paratrooper I helped teach and bring to baptism in Colorado Springs some 4 years before the 1978 announcement. He told me that, after a harrowing experience in which his chute didn’t open, he promised God (very quickly) that he would reform his life and become a Christian. After getting out of the hospital, he visited many churches in that city, which is one of the real centers of Evangelical Christianity in America, but he said that the only church where the people made him feel welcome was the Mormon Church. Many hundreds of people in Ghana and Nigeria had learned of the LDS Church through reading the Book of Mormon and began asking the Church to send missionaries to baptize them. They organized preparatory congregations in anticipation of being able to join the Church. When the 1978 announcement came, thousands were already ready to be baptized into the LDS Church. Today, both Ghana and Nigeria have temples, reflecting the strength and maturity of the Mormons in those nations. Today (2008) over half of all Mormons live outside the United States, and over half of all Mormons speak languages in their home other than English. A third of the people of Tonga are LDS. There are a hundred thousand Mormons in Japan, several hundred thousand in the Philippines, a million in Mexico and nearly that many in Brazil (which includes a large percentage with African ancestry). There are over 250,000 Mormons in Africa, from Mozambique to Cote d’Ivoire, and more in Haiti and Harlem. The Church doesn’t keep membership records indicating any kind of race, but the combined LDS membership of African descent is estimated by some to be approaching half a million. If you are a Mormon in New Jersey or London, your bishop may be a black man. How many blacks belong to the Southern Baptist Convention? Mike Huckabee bragged about integrating his congregation in Arkansas–in 1980! A number of years ago, multiple Grammy-winner Gladys Knight learned that her son and her daughter had joined the LDS Church. She liked what she saw and joined, and was then joined by her new husband. She has organized and led in Las Vegas the Saints Unified Voices gospel choir, made up of Latter-day Saints of all races, whose first record as a group won the Grammy Award for Best Gospel Choir Album. If you want to claim that Mormons are racially prejudiced, you need to remember that you are saying that to Gladys Knight and her entire multi-racial choir. You are saying that to millions of Mormons in Latin America, in Asia, and hundreds of thousands in Africa. You are making that accusation against 13 million people who are far more ethnically and linguistically diverse than the United States of America.

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Or is it simply Mormons increasing the markets for their businesses? Said bishops hold what positions in the Mormon business empire??Bottom line: Mormonism of Moroni was founded by a con man. The con continues.

  • shefali

    For a Good behaviar one cannot depend upon instruction of the preist or pastor or any Church leader. It is the Almighty decides what is Good and What is Bad for the Society. There are many Church Leaders whose bad moral was discovered later. Human can hide his crime and bad moral by way of outwardly good approaches. It is the only Almighty who records every things. That is the reason Almighty created Heavan and Hell. And also God is God, he cannot be considered as Father, you can labelled as Father on literally basis but not on reality. He is the creator, producer, Manufacturer, He is one, cannot beget neither begotten, he is superem, most powerful, all knowing, he is not required to sleep, cannot tired, do not need sex, he is unique and one, there is nothing like him, he is king, he is dictator, he knows the best of best with no deficiancies.

  • LDS Mark

    Daniel in the Lion’s Den: I think you will find that if you look at the LDS church, you will find us very tolerent of other faiths and strive to work with them for the common good.mark

  • Daniel in the Lion’s Den

    LDS MarkThe Mormon Church is very intolerant. If it is not in the Mormon vocabluary, then maybe that is why you are not aware that Mormons are, indeed, very intolerant.Reserveing ultimate truth to your own religious specualations, and then relegating all others to secondary status, and then to be willing to argue and even fight over this superiority to the complete destruction of families and personal ruination of people’s lives, this is what I would call “intolerant.”

  • Daniel in the Lion’s Den

    LDS MarkIs the word “proselytize” in the Mormon vocabulary?

  • Jason in Chicago

    I love being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!My life has been enriched in so many ways as I’ve tried to learn and apply the teachings of Jesus Christ. Among these teachings is that God is indeed our Eternal Father, that he loves each of us individually, and that he provided a way for us to “live after the manner of happiness.” I’ve been taught my entire life (and within multiple LDS congregations across the country) that all of Gods children may be saved through the atonement of Jesus Christ–without respect such insignificant identifiers as color. That we have a prophet that warns and forwarns us; but also inspires us to live better, to treat others with kindness and to look for the best in others. I enjoyed your note Brother Otterson, and look forward to your posts in the future.jason

  • Concerned The Christian Now Liberated

    Jason, Jason, Jason,For added thought, here is what Professor JD Crossan, an On Faith panelist, has to say about atonement theology: (from his book, “Who is Jesus” co-authored with Richard Watts)”Moreover, an atonement theology that says God sacrifices his own son in place of humans who needed to be punished for their sins might make some Christians love Jesus, but it is an obscene picture of God. It is almost heavenly child abuse, and may infect our imagination at more earthly levels as well. I do not want to express my faith through a theology that pictures God demanding blood sacrifices in order to be reconciled to us.” “Traditionally, Christians have said, ‘See how Christ’s passion was foretold by the prophets.” Actually, it was the other way around. The Hebrew prophets did not predict the events of Jesus’ last week; rather, many of those Christian stories were created to fit the ancient prophecies in order to show that Jesus, despite his execution, was still and always held in the hands of God.” “In terms of divine consistency, I do not think that anyone, anywhere, at any time, including Jesus, brings dead people back to life.”

  • Parker

    Daniel in the Lion’s Den,Suppose a group of people has a submarine and knows a storm is coming while all around there are other people in small craft–sailboats, some lifeboats, some very nice-looking yachts, etc. Suppose the submarine has a good periscope as well as good detection systems to detect an early warning of the storm. Would it be intolerant of that group of people to tell as many people as would listen that “there is a storm coming–be careful, and if you want you can get into this submarine (note: not a war sub–a peace sub).”?Have a good day, and perhaps think about it.

  • Daniel in the Lion’s Den

    Churches that practice intolerance of other beliefs as a “nornal” part of their belief system are just automatically going to tend towards racism. It is the mentatlity that they are better than the other churches and the other people. Just a feeling of superiority, which is a part of Mormomonism, as well as many other Christian groups, (Baptists, Catholics, to name only a couple) is the problem. Of course, you never, in a million years, would get any of these intolerant groups to entertain this thought or discuss it intelligengly; that is sort of the definition of “intolerance.”

  • Paganplace

    Well, hi, to you, too, JJ. You named me ‘World-View,’ once upon a time. What, you don’t fancy the view, lately?

  • Paganplace

    He did, you know… All the Pagans, he gave like some kind of Wu-tang names to. It was very charming. Next thing you know, he’s all screaming. Did warn him about it, of course. Bright lights and all. Remember, JJ? What that used to mean?Nothing’s forgotten. It’s OK. Breathe a bit.