Romney’s Whitewash

When all the dust settles and the GOP finally accepts the fact that Mitt Romney will be their horse in the proverbial race, their candidate will finally have to deal directly with some of the thornier issues in his personal and professional past. Without Santorum and his fascination with vaginas and anal sex, or Newt with his plans to make Tang our national beverage, the media and the American people may actually expect Romney to answer some key questions. And I have no doubt that pesky Mormon thing will continue to be a focus.

A Mormon president is a curiosity for most Americans. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a relatively short history compared to other churches of its size and with the same sphere of influence. But in that short history resides a long list of unorthodox doctrine and what most would consider to be bizarre practices like polygamy, blood oaths and baptizing dead people. Oh, and there’s that whole racism thing.

Beginning around 1849, it became policy (and essentially doctrine) in the LDS church to deny black male members of the church the priesthood authority. As a primer, the LDS church’s take on priesthood differs from what most of us are used to in mainstream Christian churches. All worthy males above the age of 12 hold some form of the “holy priesthood.” So, technically, a 12 year old boy holds dominion over his adult mother by virtue of his priesthood. This priesthood is important as it offers one the authority to essentially act on behalf of Jesus Christ. Mormons believe the priesthood has great power and most Mormon women see a “strong priesthood holder” as a requirement in their husbands (the priesthood is still off limits to women, so they have to get the power through their husband). Men who wish to attend the Mormon temple, which is where most members believe eternal marriages are obtained (a requirement to exaltation and receiving your own planet to populate), must hold the priesthood. Basically, to Mormons the priesthood is some really powerful shit. It’s a sign of worthiness, strength and acceptance. But for most of the LDS church’s history, black men were refused this “blessing.”

There are myriad theories on why this form of discrimination was baked into LDS doctrine. Based on teachings of LDS prophets over more than a century, the reasons included an inherent immaturity in blacks, the taint of the blood of Cain and a church membership that wasn’t ready to share this blessing with “the Negro.” Even current LDS leadership stated in a recent press release, “It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago.” Given Mormons believe the head of the church is a “prophet, seer and revelator,” I’m a little confused why they can’t get the answer to such a straightforward question. But while the LDS church acknowledges this racist practice that existed for almost 130 years, they in no way, shape or form apologize for it. So, what’s the big deal? I mean racism and organized religion pretty much go hand-in-hand throughout history, right? Most Christian churches have some racist skeletons in their closets from back before we all “knew better,” don’t they? Maybe. But how many actively practiced it until 1978?

That’s right, the LDS church’s racist practice of denying black men (and, by virtue of their ban on interracial marriage, black women) full membership continued until 1978, nearly 15 years after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law. Facing mounting pressure on all fronts, LDS leaders shocked the world and their own membership that year by announcing a “revelation” from God that blacks could now enjoy the full blessings of his kingdom.

So, is Romney a racist? I really can’t answer that question. I’d venture an educated guess that he’s probably not…now. But Romney was an active Mormon and gainfully employed between 1975 (his graduation from Harvard Law and Business Schools) and 1978 (the end of the ban on black males holding the priesthood). And we can assume between Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company (his two employers over those years) he made a pretty decent wage. Given he is a purported “active” Mormon we can also assume at least 10% of that decent wage made its way to LDS church coffers (“worthy” members are required to contribute 10% of their income to the church). So, that begs the question…how many presidential candidates whose pasts include financially supporting racist organizations more than a decade after the implementation of the Civil Rights Act would we normally tolerate?

Romney and the LDS church both maintain they do not participate in discriminatory practices now. They both maintain they believe all people are equal. They both maintain they do not tolerate racism in any form. And I believe them. But the fact is they both participated in discriminatory practices in the not-too-distant past. They did not believe all people were equal 34 years ago. They both tolerated racism in a pretty ugly form; the denial of what black members of their church believed were ordinances required for eternal salvation. Their only explanation is…their god changed his mind.

And in that explanation there is one glaring omission: ”We’re sorry.”

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Photo by Hunter Wolfe