Yesterday, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, along with his wife Janet Langhart Cohen, appeared on the Today Show to talk about their new book, “Love in Black and White.” Being a mixed race couple, the Cohen’s book discusses their racial, religious and political differences. The Cohen’s appearance on the Today Show was to promote their book and talk about the history and progress of racial issues in America.
During the short interview, in the context of how African Americans have been and are now accepted in this country, Matt Lauer asked if the couple thought America was ready for a woman president or a Black president. Secretary Cohen chimed in, “Or, a Mormon.” Mrs. Cohen responded that she’s a “two-fer,” being both Black and a woman; but she intends to vote her interests, not her race or gender. She continued,
“But you mention Mormon. Um, I hate to talk about anybody’s faith, but if you understand the Mormon faith, up until 1978, an interracial marriage the Mormons would have considered a sin; they would have considered me, as an African American, cursed; that God didn’t hear my prayers; that I was inferior…”
At that point in the interview Secretary Cohen reiterated that the LDS position on Blacks changed in 1978 and the Today Show conversation moved on to other things. But for Mormonism the damage had been done.
Tuesday afternoon the story appeared on the LDS Church-owned KSL web site: “Romney’s Faith an Issue on the National Scene.”
As KSL erroneously reported it,
Mrs. Cohen was giving her impression of Mitt Romney.Every time Mitt Romney’s name surfaces on television, radio, the Internet or in newspapers, so does his faith. The experts say it’s because the majority of Americans don’t know what Latter-day Saints believe.
The latest statements about Mitt Romney’s faith came from Janet Langhart Cohen, former television personality and wife of former Senator and Secretary of Defense William Cohen. When asked about presidential candidates, she volunteered her opinion about Romney’s religion.
Actually, Mitt Romney’s name had not been mentioned up to this point in the interview. To me, it looked like Mrs. Cohen brought up Mormonism’s racial past because of the direction the interview had previously taken — that of changes in America’s attitude toward race.
KSL’s story includes some information about 1978 race laws in Utah, stating that interracial marriage was not a sin, rather it was illegal. KSL interviewed “former journalist and long-time Latter-day Saint Darius Gray” for the story. Remarking on the idea that Mormonism taught God did not hear the prayers of African Americans, he said,
“That offends me greatly. God has always listened to everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity or gender, and it troubles me that Mrs. Cohen would have that attitude.”Misinformation about the faith, he says, is surfacing regularly in stories about Mitt Romney’s candidacy. What bothers him most?
“The unfairness of it, and it’s based on ignorance. People don’t know the facts and they are making assumptions. If you’re going to make a statement on national television, get your facts straight.”
What’s so interesting about this is: 1) The Today Show interview was not about Mitt Romney’s candidacy; and 2) Mrs. Cohen pretty much got it right.
I don’t know where the idea about God not hearing African American prayers came from, but the rest of it — that interracial marriage had been considered a sin in Mormonism and Blacks were once believed to be cursed and inferior — has a solid historical foundation in the authoritative teachings of LDS prophets and apostles (for LDS quotes on this topic click here).
I suggest everybody, including Latter-day Saints, follow the advice of Darius Gray when making public statements about Mormonism. On the KSL comment board discussing this story, somebody brought up a passage from the Book of Mormon that, until 1981, said,
…their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people. (2 Nephi 30:6. In 1981 the word “white” in this passage was changed to “pure.”)
Another commenter took issue with the use of “white and delightsome” in this context and wrote,
You shouldn’t be allowed to comment.
“White and delightsome” had to do with sin not skin…
You’re as ignorant as Janet Langhart Cohen who put her foot in her mouth big time.
I would guess that the unfairness of this criticism is based on ignorance. The commenter probably didn’t know the facts and was making assumptions. In order to get the facts straight, Latter-day Saints should know what Apostle Spencer W. Kimball, later the twelfth prophet and president of the LDS Church, said in General Conference in 1960:
“The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos; five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah* are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.”At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl–sixteen–sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents–on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather. There was a doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness.” (Conference Report, October 1960, p. 34 [Infobases Collectors Library ’97])
*The LDS Indian Student Placement program began in 1947. Administrated by the LDS Church, LDS Native American children were placed in the homes of Caucasian LDS families in order to afford them a better opportunity to succeed than they would have on the reservation.