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Monday, December 10, 2012

Religion Harms No One Part 2 (Racism & the Church)

Religion Harms No One
(Part Two: Southern Baptists, Mormons & Racism)

     Well if you have returned for this second article of Religion Harms No One, I would like to thank you beforehand.  This, the second chapter, will discuss Religion and Racism and how the voice of God says it is okay for you to be a racist.  Hey, idiot bigots, wasn't Ruth black?  And wasn't she one of God's most loved children of the earth?
     You know me, I like to make you laugh, but more importantly, I like to make you think.  Think of these articles as the educated yet non-filtered point of view, glimpsing at the world around us and how it works.  Before reading on, please consider this; my first article was online for five days and reached three hundred views.  This is free speech at work and it is a right that we all have.
     If you have an issue with my point of view, send me an educated retort and you may actually win me over, but you must apply yourself.  If you are an educated man or woman feel free to send me an email at
     I don't really have a problem with individuals and their personal relationships with whatever version of a heavenly father they choose to follow all across the globe for enlightenment.  But I see no need to organize it into a massive political or money laundering beast.  With organization come rules, regulations and a thousand more reasons you cannot share the afterlife with your Lord and Savior.
     My own father dedicated innumerable hours, ridiculous tithes and mission trips to foreign lands to be a part of one particular church and you know what?  He couldn't become a deacon, because he had been divorced in the past.  I'm not really sure, but that seems a little extreme for a man so dedicated to God.
     But to be honest, that is not very surprising to me when this same church was one of those forced to apologize in 1995.  And apologize for what, you ask?  I'll be happy to let you know, but first some public knowledge that you can find on a plethora of websites if you Google it.
     The Southern Baptists are the largest and most reactionary Christian denomination in the USA. They split away from the Baptists in 1845 over slavery, because they thought that slavery was okay. After the civil war, some Southern Baptists founded the Ku Klux Klan. Intense hatred against blacks was to remain the trademark of the Southern Baptists for another century.
    In the 1960s, the Southern Baptists supported segregation laws and opposed the black civil rights movement. In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention issued an apology to all African-Americans and asked for their forgiveness. At the 1999 convention, after SB membership had dropped for the first time since 1926, Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson unveiled a new, aggressive missionary campaign to target the inner cities and minority populations, except gays and lesbians.
    Some see these developments as signs that the Southern Baptists have broken with their hateful past. In reality, though, only the target of hate has changed, from black to gay. Gays and lesbians are now the most favorite hated group of the Southern Baptists, and no annual convention goes by without some major rhetorical gay-bashing. The 1999 convention rebuked Clinton for his declaration of June as gay pride month and the nomination of James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg.
    Many Religious Right leaders are Southern Baptists, such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. The next time you hear these people rant against "moral relativism", remember the appalling moral relativism of their own religion, which only yesterday defended slavery and racism as sanctioned by God.
     It took the Southern Baptist Church as late as 1995 to apologize (that's officially - unofficially, the racism amongst some of its members is not rooted out yet).
     The Southern Methodist Church (the Methodist Episcopal Church, South) was a result of the 1844 split within the Methodist Church. (In 1861, the North Carolina Christian Advocate wrote of "the demon spirit of abolitionism" and how Southern Methodists had "tested it fully, and found it to be heartless, inhuman and Christ less.") Although the factions reunited in 1939 as the Methodist Church, they retained racial segregation. This only ended in 1968 with the merger of the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren Churches.
     America's Presbyterian Church separated in 1857 into two factions: the Old and New School communions. The former were pro-slavery. Then, in 1861, when the entire nation divided into North and South, these two factions of the Presbyterian Church followed suit resulting in a further north-south schism in that year.
     Seeing as how the Southern factions of these Churches were racist, pro-segregation and were all pro-slavery, it is surprising that they should have found any following among previously unconverted, non-European peoples.
Besides organized Churches themselves, famous racist pastors abound, including Pat Robertson barely able to veil his racism, and Fred Phelps.
     In trying to fit Christianity into the pro-human rights attitude of the times, some modern-day Bibles have changed occurrences of "slave" (the correct translation) into the incorrect "servant", whilst other versions have retained the proper translation. Christian Identity and many deconstructionist Christian groups want a return to slavery because they know it is sanctioned by the Bible.
     Another outstanding Southern Baptist pastor, founder of Westboro Baptist Church. This is the infamous man who runs an equally infamous virulent anti-gay site.  He also organizes in-your-face anti-gay protests. See Anti-Gay Church Protests at GI Funerals - Associated Press, Aug 29, 2005.  He also hates Jews and blames them for Christians' deaths throughout history (it's been the other way around, but Phelps doesn't let trivial things like facts get in the way). And like other Southern Baptist Churches, he's famous for his racist views too. Not that he's saying anything Christians haven't been teaching since day one.
Some of his statements:

    "You can't preach the Bible without preaching hatred."

    Being black won't get you to Heaven. But promoting [homosexuals] will take you to Hell.
    -- Nov 1996 Westboro Baptist Church press release

     Southern Baptist pastor Billy Graham is known to have said that the biggest problem for America was the Jews. He has since apologized for his statement. His ministry is also known for their targeted evangelism of ethnic communities. Yet Graham denies targeting communities, even though there are still concerted efforts to do so in his Churches: Jewish leaders were upset about the Southern Baptists' September campaign to pray specifically for the conversion of Jews during the Jewish High Holy Days.
     His defamatory statements regarding Jews include the 1972 taped conversation with President Richard Nixon where he said that Jews have a "stranglehold" on the American media. He told the President:

    "This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain"

    "They're the ones putting out the pornographic stuff."

     But perhaps Graham shouldn't be held solely responsible for this, as most Christians in the US sincerely believe the same. At least Graham has apologized - on the surface. (The pious Catholic Mel Gibson, who in a drunken stupor articulated his anti-Semitic feelings to the police officers who arrested him for drink-driving, also apologized. Christians are embarrassed when their anti-Semitic beliefs become public: like Graham in the case of the taped conversation he thought was private, and Gibson who spoke his mind like people tend to do when they've had one too many. Once their typical Christian feelings are aired thus publicly, they feel they need to apologize, however insincerely, and state they are not anti-Semitic in spite of it all, to regain some of their lost popularity.)
     In the late 60s, Graham was also very certain that the Rapture would happen around 1980 and was very vocal about it. But he was wrong.
     So how do we continue without cracking up into a world of insanity after that smorgasbord of information?  We look at the figures listed above and consider the facts we have listed.  And like I said, you can Google just about all of them and find references to newspapers, magazines and many more articles on these subjects.  Billy Graham, probably one of the most popular guys in all religious circles.
     Well, the thing is, how can we as a normal and sane American society, praise the words and sayings of a man who basically feels the same about our Jewish brethren as a man with a crappy haircut and funny little moustache?  And no, I am not talking about Charlie Chaplin; I am talking about Adolph Hitler.  Of course, good ol' Fred Phelps made the list, but that guy tends to make more lists than Schindler.
     Please confirm for me the ideology behind your beliefs that it is okay to be filled with hatred so strong when you put your faith into a book that does it's best to promote love and peace between men.  And when I say men, I mean all men.  Take for example, the Tower of Babel.  A tower mankind decided to build up to the Heavens so they could sit around and pontificate with God before death.
     And God was mad at this point.  I mean, He was as heated as one can get.  Did He smite them down?  Did He make them all His slaves?  No, he did not.  God filled their minds with different languages and dialects that we know and recognize today and do you know what they were doing at that point?  No, they weren't enslaving each other, they were babbling in tongues that were different from one another.
     I may take the time to target the uneducated toothless rednecks in dirty trailers who blame their downfall on the black society and their lack of work on blacks and Mexicans later, but first I would like to cover some of the facts about the Mormon Church and racism.
     “I BELIEVE that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people,” sings Elder Kevin Price in the Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon.” The line is meant to be funny, and it is — in part because it’s true.
     In a June 1978 letter, the first presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaimed that “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.” Men of African descent could now hold the priesthood, the power and authority exercised by all male members of the church in good standing. Such a statement was necessary, because until then, blacks were relegated to a very second-class status within the church.
     The revelation may have lifted the ban, but it neither repudiated it nor apologized for it. “It doesn’t make a particle of difference,” proclaimed the Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie a few months later, “what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978.”
     Mr. McConkie meant such words to encourage Mormons to embrace the new revelation, and he may have solemnly believed that it made the history of the priesthood ban irrelevant. But to many others around the country, statements of former church leaders about “the Negro matter” do, in fact, matter a great deal.
     They cause pain to church members of African descent, provide cover for repugnant views and make the church an easy target for criticism and satire. The church would benefit itself and its members — and one member in particular, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — by formally repudiating the priesthood ban and the racist theories that accompanied it.
     Mormonism wasn’t always troubled by anti-black racism. In a country deeply stained by slavery and anti-black racism, the church, founded by Joseph Smith in 1830, was noteworthy for its relative racial egalitarianism. Smith episodically opposed slavery and tolerated the priesthood ordination of black men, at least one of whom, Elijah Abel, occupied a position of minor authority.
     It was Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, who adopted the policies that now haunt the church. He described black people as cursed with dark skin as punishment for Cain’s murder of his brother. “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him cannot hold the priesthood,” he declared in 1852. Young deemed black-white intermarriage so sinful that he suggested that a man could atone for it only by having “his head cut off” and spilling “his blood upon the ground.” Other Mormon leaders convinced themselves that the pre-existent spirits of black people had sinned in heaven by supporting Lucifer in his rebellion against God.
     The priesthood ban had sweeping ecclesiastical consequences for black Mormons. They could not participate in the sacred ordinances, like the endowment ceremony (which prepares one for the afterlife) and sealing’s (which formally bind a family together), rites that Smith and Young taught were necessary to obtain celestial glory.
     Of course, while perhaps unusual in its fervor and particular in its theories, the rhetoric of Mormon leaders was lamentably within the mainstream of white American opinion. White Christians of many denominational stripes used repugnant language to justify slavery and the inferiority of black people. Most accepted theories that the sins of Cain and Ham had cursed an entire race. Indeed, those white Americans who today express outrage over Mormon racism should remind themselves of their own forebears’ sins before casting stones at the Latter-day Saints.
     Most Protestant denominations, however, gradually apologized for their past racism. In contrast, while Mormon leaders generically criticize past and present racism, they carefully avoid any specific criticism of past presidents and apostles, careful not to disrupt traditional reverence for the church’s prophets.
     To an extent, this strategy has worked. The church is now much more diverse, with hundreds of thousands of members in Africa and many members of African descent in Latin America. In the United States, not all Mormons look like members of the Romney family: Mia Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants and the Republican nominee for a Utah Congressional seat, proudly states that she has “never felt unwelcome in the church.”
     Nevertheless, regardless of how outsiders would respond (audiences will still enjoy that line in “The Book of Mormon”); a fuller confrontation with the past would serve the church’s interests. Journalists frequently ask prominent Mormons like Mr. Romney and Ms. Love about the priesthood ban. African-Americans, both members and prospective converts, find the history distinctly unsettling. Statements by prior church presidents and apostles provide fodder for those Latter-day Saints — if small in number — who adhere to racist notions.
     The church could begin leaving those problems behind if its leaders explained that their predecessors had confused their own racist views with God’s will and that the priesthood ban resulted from human error and limitations rather than a divine curse. Given the church’s ecclesiology, this step would be difficult.
     Mormons have no reason to feel unusually ashamed of their churches past racial restrictions, except maybe for their duration. Their church, like most other white American churches, was entangled in a deeply entrenched national sin.
     Still, acknowledging serious errors on the part of past prophets inevitably raises questions about the revelatory authority of contemporary leaders. Such concerns, however, are not insurmountable for religious movements. One can look to the Bible for countless examples of patriarchs and prophets who acknowledged grave errors and moral lapses but still retained the respect of their people.
     Likewise, the abiding love and veneration most Latter-day Saints have for their leaders would readily survive a fuller reckoning with their human frailties and flaws. The Mormon people need not believe they have perfect prophets, either past or present.
     John G. Turner is an assistant professor at George Mason University and the author of “Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet.”
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on August 19, 2012, on page SR5 of the New York edition with the headline: Why Race Is Still a Problem for Mormons.
     This coming from a group of people that think if they wear a super duper diaper, they will be bulletproof.  Maybe 50 Cent should have been a Mormon.  But then he wouldn't sound like Ma$e and wouldn't have ever been famous.  The fact that so many of the denominations are comfortable with racism is such a troubling issue still today is proof enough for me that Religion, at least in an Organized sense, does harm far more people than it helps.
     And the saddest part is that many people brainwashed and convinced that these churches are the only way into a Heaven that may or may not exist, they take what is said to heart without question and believe it to be ultimate truth.  How can we ever sustain as a completely equal and satisfied society with these organized hate groups still roaming the lands?  Maybe they don't run out every Sunday with Frankie Joe and Timmy Bob to burn a cross in someone’s front yard.  But they pull off crimes just as twisted behind the scenes.

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