In light of the heat Janet Langhart Cohen is taking for the comment she made on Tuesday’s Today Show regarding Mormonism’s racist past, I thought it might be good to review the definitions of a few labels currently being applied to Mrs. Cohen by many of those offended by her remarks. From the American Heritage Dictionary (online at Dictionary.com):
1. Lacking education or knowledge.
2. Showing or arising from a lack of education or knowledge.
3. Unaware or uninformed.
One who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.
Not tolerant, especially: unwilling to tolerate differences in opinions, practices, or beliefs, especially religious beliefs.
1a. An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.
1b. A preconceived preference or idea.
2. The act or state of holding unreasonable preconceived judgments or convictions.
3. Irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular group, race, or religion.
4. Detriment or injury caused to a person by the preconceived, unfavorable conviction of another or others.
Maybe someone can help me out here. Mrs. Cohen said,
“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…”
How does Mrs. Cohen’s statement exhibit ignorance, bigotry, intolerance or prejudice? As mentioned on Mormon Coffee on Wednesday, everything except the idea that God didn’t hear the prayers of African Americans has been taught by LDS prophets and apostles in the past. So Mrs. Cohen was not ignorant about the issue.
Neither was Mrs. Cohen speaking as a bigot, for she was merely providing historical information.
Neither was she exhibiting intolerance for Mormonism, though she could be charged with being intolerant of Mormonism’s pre-1978 policies regarding race.
Neither was she prejudice in that her statement was not unreasonable or irrational, but was made with consideration for and knowledge of the facts.
What really troubles me about this is that Mrs. Cohen, a member of a race that was spiritually repressed and racially disparaged by leaders of the LDS Church (as well as LDS members) is now being slandered–because she had the nerve to talk about Mormonism’s racist past. Mrs. Cohen, the offended, is now being painted as the offender.
A student at the University of Utah wrote today,
It’s ironic how an educated woman can talk for four minutes about how she’s spent her life fighting stereotypes and ignorance only to have that come out of her mouth. Not only are her statements ignorant, they’re downright untrue. Never has official Mormon doctrine taught that interracial marriage is sinful, nor has it taken the position that blacks are inferior or that God doesn’t listen to the prayers of black people. Janet Cohen, in her staggering ignorance and hypocrisy, might as well have said, “I hate to talk about anyone’s sexuality, but if you understand homosexuals, you know that they spread a lot of AIDS back in the 1980s.”
Here’s the thing. Mormonism has many skeletons in its closet; its racist past is one of them. The LDS Church has whitewashed its pre-1978 doctrines* while believing nobody will be the wiser. LDS members, being true to their Church and wanting to defend it against accusations of what they clearly recognize as un-Christ-like behavior, not knowing any better, weep and lament the “lies” told about the LDS Church. In the process, they become guilty of the very things of which they accuse others.
It seems irresponsible to me for the LDS Church to put its members in this position. In trying to protect and remake its image, it allows members of the Church to falsely accuse and unrighteously judge those who speak an unwelcome truth. A passage from scripture comes to mind, the words of Jesus:
But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:13-15)
This sort of thing makes it hard to see validity in the LDS Church’s claim of being God’s kingdom on earth.
* LDS.org used to have an article posted discussing the “Myth-conception” that the LDS Church is racist with respect to Blacks. The LDS site has recently been redone and the “Myth-conceptions” section is no longer available. My search of the current LDS site didn’t turn up any information dealing with the Church’s pre-1978 position on Blacks. For background and informational purposes, here is the text from the former LDS.org “Myth-conceptions” article:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is racist with respect to blacks.
Until 1978, black male members of the Church were not ordained to the lay priesthood. That position was changed by revelation on 8 June 1978, when Spencer W. Kimball, the 12th president of the Church, announced that the “long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood” (Official Declaration 2).
The Church views all humankind as children of the same Heavenly Father, literally brothers and sisters. As stated by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1987: “We repudiate efforts to deny to any person his or her inalienable dignity and rights on the abhorrent and tragic theory of the superiority of one race or color over another.”
Excellent post, Sharon! I am so glad that you did a follow up to the previous post on Mrs. Cohen’s comments. This brings to light a serious flaw in the thinking of many LDS. Somehow, many Mormons think that one mere revelation, or in the case of polygamy, a recommendation, erases years of indiscretions and absolves them from having to explain contradictory revelations. This is tantamount to an American and a foreigner engaging in a discussion of racism, and the American calling the foreigner an intolerant, ignorant, irrational bigot for noting that racism was a fact of life in America until the late ‘60s. We are glad that there is civil equality in America today, but that does not allow us to forget the injustices of the past. I am particularly angered by the following comment you quoted from the Quorum of the 12 Apostles “We repudiate efforts to deny to any person his or her inalienable dignity and rights on the abhorrent and tragic theory of the superiority of one race or color over another.” Notice, how quickly they take the moral high ground, and call “abhorrent and tragic” that which they themselves preached and practiced for nearly 150 years. One would expect a more humble and repentant spirit. It would have been better to say, “We used to believe that blacks where the cursed spirits of those who were neutral in the heavenly battle. We used to deny the priesthood to blacks because of their skin color. We used to believe that blacks would become white and delightsome when they repented. We used to hold an abhorrent and tragic theory of the superiority of one race or color over another, but now we see that we were wrong.” Sadly, this could never be done because this would impugn the prophets! Aha! That’s the point! To admit to error would bring into question the whole foundation of Mormonism. But if all previous gods were men who changed to God and are still progressing, why should we be concerned about changing revelation? Gods change; truth changes as well. What was once divine and holy is now an abhorrent and tragic theory! To the contrary, Biblical revelation builds line upon line, precept upon precept. It expands kernel truth. The seed of the woman in Genesis 3 expands to the Word made flesh in John 1. Biblical revelation is a straight expanding ray of light! Mormon revelation, on the other hand, makes 180 turns.