Setting the Record Straight: Blacks & the Mormon Priesthood

Up until 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon church) restricted priesthood ordination. That’s not all that odd; most religions have some restrictions placed on ordination, such as sex, education, or behavior. But the odd thing about this restriction was that all worthy male church members were permitted to be ordained except those of African origin.

This policy was, and has been, controversial, and led to speculation and false doctrine. If the policy wasn’t inspired, why was it in place? And if it was inspired, why would God restrict a certain race from exercising the priesthood? Some speculated that Black church members were (for some unknown reason) unworthy of ordination. Others speculated that God was waiting for the right time to lift the ban.


Setting the Record Straight: Blacks & the Mormon Priesthood is part of a larger series (Setting the Record Straight) that addresses some of the controversial issues in Mormonism, both cultural and doctrinal. I’ve read a few books in this series, and I’m going to go ahead and say the quality of the book depends entirely on the author; some of them are great, and some of them are not. This one is great.

Marcus Martins, the author, is a prominent Black church member who grew up before the priesthood ban was lifted. He talks about his own bitterness about the ban, as well as his father’s faith that he should live worthy to receive the priesthood as soon as the ban was lifted. He talks about what a privilege it is for anyone to be able to exercise God’s power. He talks about some of the blatantly false doctrine he’s heard as a religion professor, and some of the questions he’s had to answer from people who questioned his faith. He also talks about how strange it was for his family to convert from another Christian faith to one where the White church members often looked down on them for … reasons. Reasons that nobody could really define, but everyone assumed were there.

I think the power of this book is that it doesn’t have answers—and doesn’t pretend to. What Martins does is point out that most of the false doctrine floating around in Mormon circles comes from “finding” answers where there are none. Martins doesn’t know why he wasn’t allowed to hold the priesthood until 1978. He doesn’t pretend to know why. And he still believes this is God’s church. But what he does do throughout the book is show how people insisting on finding the answer (and then imposing their answer on others) led to misunderstandings of doctrine.

I think this is a great book for anyone—regardless of whether you’re LDS or not—who’s interested in learning about other faiths. It talks about how wrong we can be, and how much better it is to admit we don’t know everything. It also has a very forgiving tone; he points out the racism he’s encountered and encourages everybody to be better. He talks about how important diversity of races, cultures, and experiences can be in a growing worldwide church. But he isn’t bitter; he’s just helping to solve the problem. I love his attitude of moving forward, rather than dwelling on pain. ♦


A Few Thoughts About Andrew

A few weeks ago, my little brother Andrew died rather unexpectedly.

I shouldn’t say unexpectedly; we’ve kind of been waiting for his body to give out for the past few years. He’s been in and out of hospitals most of his life. Cardiologists have been impressed his flawed heart has made it this long—even half this long.

Still, that almost made it more unexpected for me. I’ve been living my life with the understanding that Andrew was a medical miracle, that he would stay until he died, and that I had no way of knowing when that was. When he was actually dying, I only really had about two days’ notice.

Mom sent out a text from the hospital (where Andrew was staying, again, and nobody seemed to bat an eyelash, because he’s in the hospital all the time.) Anyway, Mom sent out a text talking about how difficult it was to watch her son struggle to breathe, and she felt like he might not have much time left. She hadn’t slept all night, watching by Andrew’s bedside. I assumed she was overreacting and sleep-deprived, and called Dad to find out what was going on. Dad confirmed what Mom had said, though; Andrew didn’t have long to live.

Ethan came home from work early and drove me down to the hospital, then waited with John while I went up to say my goodbyes. Andrew was ornery, mildly sedated, and unamused by my comments about the cute nurses. Eventually, I got a smile, a hug, and an understanding that he wanted me to go back to Provo. Which I did.

The next morning, my parents gave the okay to take out his IVs. I came back the next day, just to see how he was doing, and walked into the room just as he was taking his last breaths. I stayed to hear my dad give him a final father’s blessing, then to watch him die. It wasn’t as fast a process as I thought it would be, but it was also more peaceful than I had expected.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve been blessed by friends and family willing to help me clean, talk, cry, and laugh. My cousins’ children learned enough sign language to perform a musical number in ASL at the funeral. My aunt and uncle stayed while Andrew died, and then stayed in town throughout the next week. We’ve received a lot of support as a family.

It’s been an unusual grieving process for me; when my cousin’s wife died last year, I had a harder time accepting it. She was young, healthy, and had a husband and child to take care of. My brother, on the other hand, probably took a step up by leaving his body behind. His health was crap, and has been getting worse for years. As his pain levels went up, his personality clouded, and he got crabbier and crabbier. Besides all this, he had special needs, and looking at the afterlife raises interesting questions there.

I have never doubted that there is life after death, or that we will be the same people there (wherever) as we were here. But leaving behind his physical body means, technically, my brother might not have Down Syndrome anymore. I don’t know whether he’s autistic now—I don’t know enough about it to feel out whether that’s a physical-body-only thing, or whether that’s a personality thing. At any rate, I do have a strong impression that he’s much better able to think, function, and express himself now than he has been for the past twenty-four years. I just wish I was as able to listen.

We had a remarkable opportunity on Saturday to meet with a General Authority from the Church, Elder David Warner, who was in town for a stake conference. Apparently, my parents’ stake president told him what we were going through, and how much our neighborhood had banded together around my parents. The two of them arranged to meet us at my parents’ house.

I was expecting to be intimidated, or at least to feel a little guilty. I’m pretty sure that was anxiety talking, though—he introduced himself as “David,” chatted with my parents about favorite cars, and ate cookies while trying to make friends with my son, who was running circles around the room and chattering like a monkey. He asked about my brother, listened to our funny stories, laughed with us, sympathized, and assured us that Andrew was uniquely equipped now, more than ever, to sympathize with people who had led difficult lives. “You have a missionary in the field,” he told my parents,”and you should expect blessings to come to your family as a result of that. Andrew can now share the gospel with those who’ve already died, and he has experiences to draw upon that few others do.”

I was also struck by the reverence with which he looked at my  parents. “You’re doing this right,” he said. “There’s joy in this room. And that means you appreciate the time you were given with Andrew. Don’t feel guilty for being happy without him—he’s still here.” He then gave each of us a personal blessing before leaving us with a smile and a request to stay in touch. Mom, of course, gave them cookies for the road.

I’ve had my faith and my endurance tried over the past few weeks, but one thing I know for certain: God loves me. He loves my brother. And my brother—who is just the same person he was before he died—loves me, too. It’ll take some time before I see him again, but I have no doubt that I’ll recognize him, and we’ll finally be able to sit down and have a good, long chat. ♦

It’s That Time Again!

Time to acknowledge the truth: I read more than I blog. Way more than I blog. So instead of doing a well-thought-out review of all the books I’ve read, I’m going to do the next best thing: a two-sentence review of each. You find out which books I would recommend, and I don’t have to sit here thinking about all the blog posts I should write. Here goes.

Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us
Claude M. Steele
Everyone deals with different stereotypes, and sometimes the best thing to do is ignore them. Good book, but very repetitive.

The Golden Compass Series
Philip Pullman
Great series – I liked the first book best and the last book least, but it’s still worth reading all the way through. Fantasy steampunk science fiction, all wrapped around a non-traditional adventure story.

Lyra’s Oxford and Once Upon a Time in the North
Philip Pullman
Five stars for Once Upon a Time, only three stars for Lyra’s Oxford. Both were good supplements, but Lyra’s Oxford is too short to spend money on.

The Book of Mormon
Joseph Smith, Jr. (Translator)
Five stars in the “spiritual” or “doctrinal clarification” category. Not in the “gripping literary read” category.

The Great Brain
John D. Fitzgerald
Pretty good, pretty funny, occasionally touching. Quick, easy read about a boy growing up in Utah.

The Crucible
Arthur Miller
How did I not read this in high school?! Sinister and amazing.

Eliot Weinberger (Editor)
Collection of international poetry. Wonderful.

Come No Further
Michael Zaccariah
Local author, and you need to look him up. Decent Western for most of the book, but with a mind-blowing plot twist at the end.

Boy: Tales of Childhood
Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is funny, but his fiction is funnier.

The Lottery and Other Stories
Shirley Jackson
This short story collection would have made a lot more sense if I had known the legend of Jamie Harris before beginning. I didn’t, and it was just weird.

Way to Be!: 9 Rules For Living the Good Life
Gordon B. Hinckley
Great religious inspiration for teenagers. Not just for teenagers, though – it got me out of a pretty foul mood.

Strengths Finder 2.0
Tom Rath
Pretty useless if you don’t have the CD. I didn’t have the CD.

The Map of Time
Félix J. Palma
Steampunk, time-traveling, sci-fi, steamy romance. Very well-written, but Ethan had already spoiled all the plot twists for me.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Alvin Schwartz
Super corny scary stories. Absolutely terrifying illustrations.

The Illustrated Man
Ray Bradbury
One of the better Bradbury short story collections I’ve read. Great sci-fi, good horror.

The Words of Desmond Tutu
Naomi Tutu
The only thing this book was missing was more Desmond Tutu. Good inspirational collection, but very short.

The Haunting of Hill House
Shirley Jackson
Possibly the best haunted house story out there. Starts a little slow, but picks up with a vengeance.

The Secret in the Old Attic (Nancy Drew #21)
Carolyn Keene
Classic Nancy Drew. Outlandish mysteries, illegal sleuthing methods, attack-spiders, secret drawers, pretty dresses, and unreasonably-priced antiques.

Jerry Spinelli
Very good story, raising social and moral questions in a kid-friendly conflict. I’m giving this six stars.

The Word of Wisdom
Steven C. Harper
Explores questions about Mormon dietary practices. Well-researched, and taught me a lot of new things.

Island of the Blue Dolphins
Scott O’Dell
An old classic from my childhood. Survival-adventure with a strong girl I always thought was awesome.

Mormons and Polygamy
Jessie L. Embry
Raised a lot of excellent questions, then kind of shrugged and said, “I don’t know – I just have faith!” I expected much better research conclusions from this.

Flawed Dogs: The Shocking Raid on Westminster
Berkeley Breathed
The creator of Opus the Penguin tells a hilarious adventure story featuring a breathtakingly beautiful dachshund and his human girl. Ethan doesn’t understand why I think it’s so funny, but the pictures alone are enough to make me giggle.

There! I did it! So now you know, everybody. My personal recommendations. I’m sure you’ve been waiting for this moment. And just in time for Christmas shopping, too.

Books, by the way, are an excellent Christmas gift. ♦

The God Who Weeps

the god who weeps

I started reading The God Who Weeps for a book club. I didn’t finish it on time, due to a combination of bad time management and the authors’ dense language. But I did enjoy the book and the book club, and I did manage to finish it.

The God Who Weeps, by Terryl and Fiona Givens, is a philosophical explanation of Mormon doctrine concerning God and His relationship to us down here on Earth. It is very thorough, and the language is very academic (which is one reason I had such a hard time finishing it on time for book club). I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s confident with denser material and wants to know more about what Mormons believe. I would also highly recommend it to any Mormon who’s confident with denser material, because it highlights and stresses our ability to have a strong connection with God, even though we’re not perfect.

I feel like there’s something lacking here, however. Everybody in book club said they would recommend it to all their Mormon friends and most of their other friends. I just kind of sat there for a while, and then finally asked, “Am I the only person who has friends who wouldn’t understand a word of this?”

I’m not saying I have stupid friends. I’m just saying that most of my friends – and I – use the words “Taco Bell” more often than we use the word “cosmos.” This book is so academic that I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t consider themselves an intellectual. The writing is about as dense as C.S. Lewis.

On the flip side, I’m not sure how much I appreciated it as an academic work, because the sources were cited poorly. I know I’m being super picky – but I’m a huge stickler on citations, and the authors don’t even specify which quotes come from where – they just have a huge amalgamation of “where we got our stuff” at the back of the book, and you have to go digging through it if you want to find anything specific.

I would still recommend this book – but only to those who are looking for a good, introspective, philosophical look at the nature of God. If you want something just as dense (or denser), but with better notes, history, and citations, read James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ. If you’re looking for something a lot less dense, pick up a copy of Preach My Gospel (the missionary manual), or a Gospel Principles manual. ♥

What Does Google Have Against Mormons?

The word “funny” can have two meanings in American English. There’s “funny: humorous,” that you might use to describe your favorite uncle, your neurotic cat, or a Groucho Marx movie. And then there’s “funny: odd or out of place,” that you might use to describe the suspiciously rank smell that’s developing in your unwashed kitchen sink. Google has done something that matches that second definition of “funny.”

So, here’s a funny thing: when you look up “Mormonism” on Google, you get a definition – much like you usually do when you look something up. Here’s a screenshot:


Here’s the problem: I’m Mormon. And this is false. Like, blatantly false. Last time I checked, I’m pretty Christian. And let me check – nope. No change. Still Christian. But before I blame Google for this, let’s take a reality check here. Google does not personally rule the internet (yet). Google didn’t write this. wrote this. (And they have some doozy opinions on Mormonism.) And, you know, if they’ve got a good enough SEO crew to get to the top of the Google results, good on them.

So I got curious. Who else has made their way to the top of the charts? I did a quick Google search for “what is Catholicism?”

Dictionary definition.

“What is Christianity?”

Dictionary definition.

Hinduism? dictionary.
Judaism? dictionary.
Protestantism? dictionary.
Paganism? dictionary.
Baptist? Wikipedia.
Agnostic? dictionary.
Atheism? dictionary.
Democrat? dictionary.
Jehovah’s Witness? dictionary.
Christian Science? dictionary.

Apparently, there’s enough bad publicity to change the dictionary definition of Mormons… but no one website says enough about Christianity, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Democrats to oust Google’s default definition. Isn’t that funny? ♦

You’ve Seen the Play, Now Read the… Lawsuit?

Thomas S Monson

Tom Phillips, an ex-Mormon from Britain who became disillusioned with the church a decade ago, is now filing a lawsuit against Church President Thomas S. Monson for fraud, claiming that Mormon church leaders have been deliberately teaching false doctrine in order to swindle people out of their money. Here’s the story on USA Today:

Mormon president ordered to appear in British court

I’m not here to  convince anybody to go out and become a Mormon today, but as an active member (who still voluntarily gives 10% of my income as tithes), and having served as a missionary and in local church leadership positions, I’d like to make a few observations:

  • Any contribution given to the Church is voluntary. Phillips stated that paying tithing is “mandatory” in order to remain in good standing – which is true. But let’s talk about that phrase, “good standing.” Falling out of “good standing” does not mean your local bishop is going to take you out back of the shed and box your ears. Being in “good standing” means you are considered worthy to serve in church positions of high responsibility, it means you can be trusted to help serve other members of your congregation, and it is one of the qualifiers for entrance to the temple.Nearly every church position is voluntary. This means that Phillips, who was formerly a bishop, a stake president, and an area executive secretary, was not paid for his service in these positions.The temple is the highest form of worship in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Temples are different from regular churches, which have “Visitors Welcome” printed on the front of the building, and probably won’t turn away anybody unless they walk into the foyer in a Speedo, holding a blow-torch and screaming obscenities at small children.

    Refusal to pay tithes will not result in a church member’s expulsion from either the church building or from membership. In fact, being baptized and entered into church membership only requires a pledge to pay tithing in the future, not an actual history of financial contribution.

    In other words, by ceasing to pay tithes and losing his “good standing” in the church, Phillips lost his unpaid responsibilities in community service, and the opportunity the worship in one specific location, reserved for those living a high spiritual lifestyle.

  • The law cannot prosecute you for believing something you can’t prove – which means that in order to prove the Mormon church was defrauding its members, Phillips would have to prove that church leaders were deliberately distorting the truth in order to secure money. He would have to prove that the church leaders themselves did not believe the message for which they’ve been teaching, living, and working tirelessly for most of their lives.
  • Let’s talk a little bit about church in general. The Mormon church asks tithes of its members. As far as I’m aware, so does the Anglican church. And the Catholic church. Most Protestant churches. Islam. Judaism. Church of Scientology. So why is Phillips so hung up about this church specifically? Let’s be fair here, and sue every religion equally.While we’re at it, let’s take a look at how Mormon tithes are used. Most church positions aren’t paid, so where does all the money go to? Building churches. Building temples.  Funding youth programs, addiction recovery programs, employment programs, education funds, and other charitable causes. Other contributions are often used to help provide food for needy families, and to finance humanitarian efforts. I lived in New Jersey as a missionary when Hurricane Irene hit my neighborhood. Within days, there were truckloads of cleaning supplies and thousands of unpaid volunteers helping people gut their rotten basements and assess the damage for their insurance companies. All paid for by the church.
  • So it looks like Phillips’s main issue here is that he’s concerned about people being convinced to spend their money somewhere they ultimately don’t want to spend it.Now let’s talk about the Superbowl. It costs $4 million to advertise during the Superbowl. And why are companies willing to spend that much? Because they’ll make well more than $4 million dollars from that advertisement. And what kind of things are usually advertised during the Superbowl? Community service? Humanitarian aid? Oh, stop. You’re making me laugh. Everybody knows the Superbowl is about beer, Coca-Cola, beer, Dorito’s, beer, scantily clad cheerleaders, beer, heart-clogging fast food, lager, and more beer.So if Phillips is really concerned about people being convinced to spend their money foolishly, why is he attacking a charitable association instead of an unhealthy tidal wave of adverts sacrificing hapless victims to the rising obesity epidemic?

But I digress. This post isn’t about the Superbowl, or about fast food. It’s about faith. Either Phillips is suing a charitable organization for accepting his donation, or else he feels the Mormon church has lied about doctrine in order to extort him out of his money on the premise of providing salvation.

Which leads me to faith. Faith is the assumption that God knows more about the universe than you do. Which means that a belief based on faith is one that you can neither prove nor disprove on scientific ground: God is better at science than we are. So, as an American, I’m not sure what the British court system is like – but I wouldn’t be surprised if this case is thrown out entirely. Unless there are documents that prove the leaders of the church deliberately misled church members, Phillips won’t have a leg to stand on. Worst case scenario: the church is required to provide documentation of all its humanitarian spending, the news gets a good story, and the public learns a little more about what Mormons believe. I’m alright with that. ♦

The Bigotry Epidemic?

A while ago, my husband wrote an open letter to anyone who had left the Mormon church, asking that they rethink their decision and come back. He didn’t write a full-on sermon, just a general “We need you – please come back” statement. Within hours, he had a slough of angry comments about how naive he was, how offensive his letter was, and generally denouncing him as a bigot.

There were some comments that made a good point. One reader, an ex-Mormon, pointed out that Ethan was getting negative feedback because he only addressed a few reasons people had left the church, and many felt he was over-simplifying their difficult decision. You know what? I’ll take that. That was a respectful comment, and a valid point. What bothered me was the tidal wave of hatred from less respectful readers who seemed determined to make sure the world knew that there was no God, but if there was, He would have sent my husband through Hell seven times already by now.

We did a little investigating, and discovered the high hater traffic was due to a link someone posted on an anti-Mormon site. Apparently, someone was so offended by my husband’s post that, instead of ignoring it, they wanted to make sure the entire world knew about it. The funniest part for us was reading the comments on the anti-Mormon site. These comments can be summed up as:

“Wow. Is this guy really this dumb?”

“Yup. I actually know him personally, and he gives free time to the church, volunteers to help those around him, and does good things without expecting a return. It’s going to ruin his life eventually, and he’ll never be able to hold down a relationship.”

No lie. This was the argument. We thought this was hilarious, especially since we were recently married and obviously very happy with our relationship. I fell in love with Ethan primarily because of the selfless way he treats others. I’m sick in bed as I write this, and he’s been taking care of me all night. I don’t see how that’s going to make me want to leave.

But I digress. The real point of my post is not to complain about the negative response of the masses to my husband’s blog post. My concern goes a little deeper than that.

Why are there anti-Mormon sites?

Because there are anti-Mormons, yes, I know. We all have freedom of speech, and it’s not my business whether you want to believe in the LDS faith or not. But I want you to think about this. If I established an anti-gay site, I would be a bigot. If I established an anti-Hispanic site or an anti-Black site, or an anti-abortion site, or an anti-feminist site, I would be a bigot. By definition, I would. a bigot is “a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group).”

So tell me something. Why is it that if I established or frequented an anti-gay site, I would be (rightfully) called a bigot, while if I frequented an anti-Mormon site, I would be considered an informed individual who asks a lot of questions before becoming involved in something? Why is it socially acceptable for people to blame White Christians for society’s problems, but if I have the audacity to suggest that a Black student should study harder for a grade, I’m discriminating against him or her?

Now, let me clarify: I’m not saying that feminists, Blacks, Latinos, gays, or any group of people is trying to spread hatred. Everyone I know personally – with one exception, who thinks our relationship is doomed because my husband is selfless – would shy away from stupid, demeaning commentary. If they felt I was being a bigot, they would approach the topic respectfully, point out my lack of perspective, and possibly even discuss it with me personally over lunch. Which is why I don’t understand the hatred online. I firmly believe that any two people can treat one another respectfully, if they both set out to see the other person’s perspective.

If the internet is to be believed, we have an unmatched bigotry epidemic on our hands. I simply don’t believe that. I think we have an over-sensitivity epidemic on our hands. I believe there is considerably less discrimination now in the U.S. than ever before – we’re not perfect, but you know, we’re trying.  And there is a difference between disagreement and discrimination. While there is still real bigotry alive and well in the States, I think most of the discrimination incidents we hear about are simply disagreements blown out of proportion. I feel like our real problems will be ironed out a lot more quickly and effectively if we can all stop looking to take offense and start looking to share our opinions without attacking our “opponent”: the stranger who had the audacity to disagree with us on social media. ♦