Reply to Jonathan Decker

Brother Decker:

I considered making reference to your “however, it’s also possible” comments toward the end of your piece. But since I included a link to your piece so that readers could read the entirety of it, I felt that anyone interested could read it and judge for themselves what you said. To be honest, I considered your “is not for me to say” qualification at the end of your piece to be too little, too late. The damage was already done earlier in the piece. And it was the damage you did that I felt cried out for a reply.

To me, the enduring message I took from your piece is contained in the line “as a church we have an unfortunate history of racism…” I think that charge is influenced by the prejudices of our own day.

You went to great pains to build the case that prophets can be wrong, that therefore the withholding of the priesthood was possibly a prophetic error, implied that it was rooted in racism, and tried to make the case that President Kimball was open to such a notion when, clearly, he was not.

As to President Kimball’s words, when I went to his book to see for myself the quote you cited, I was struck by the fact that the next paragraph contained a refutation of the whole premise of your interpretation of what he said. I find that to be very disturbing. Having read that next paragraph yourself, how could you entertain even for a brief moment the idea that President Kimball was “open to the notion that the priesthood ban was a mistake”? It seems to me that you saw what you wanted to see and disregarded the rest. This is one of several aspects of your piece that really bothers me.

You cite Brigham Young’s characterization of blacks, whom he saw as “uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable, and low in their habits, wild and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of human intelligence.” You are certain that those words are evidence of being “influenced by the prejudices of the day.” Moreover, you say his statement “contradicts the Book of Mormon doctrine that ‘all are alike unto God.’ ” Really? Let me counter with a Book of Mormon quote from Nephi as he was shown in vision the descendants of Lehi down through the ages:

            “And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations” (1 Nephi 12:23).

Is there any substantive difference between the words of Nephi and those of Brigham Young? Will you charge Nephi with being influenced by the prejudices of his day? Will you charge Nephi’s characterization of the Lamanites as racist? Did the Nephites, as a people, have an “unfortunate history of racism”? Should the Church refute the teachings of Nephi? Why is it that we can read the harsh words of an ancient prophet such as Nephi from the pulpit and the idea of prejudice and racism never crosses anyone’s mind? But if a modern prophet uses similar words in a more contemporary context, his motives, his decency, and his moral rectitude are impugned.

You insist that the incorrect teachings of earlier church leaders which have been refuted by the Church and by Elder Holland were racist. But I think it is very important to note that neither the Church nor Elder Holland has characterized those statements as racist. You have. But they haven’t. The Church’s statement on racism is:

“We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.”

They do not say that the incorrect explanations of any past leader were racist. Nor did Elder Holland make that charge. Nor, in my opinion, should we.

I agree wholeheartedly with the statement of the Church. I am angered by racism. But I am also angered by the promiscuous use of the charge of racism which is so widespread today, and I hate to see it raising its ugly head in the Church. I don’t know what was in the hearts of those men, but neither do you. Is it not possible that you and others who are making similar charges are influenced by the prejudices of our own day? I lamented in my article that, for some, the charge of racism rolls off the tongue very easily. I know this because I am a constitutional conservative. I believe deeply in the sanctity of the agency of man. Because of my convictions, which I believe are rooted in the doctrines of Christ, I am routinely smeared as a racist by many. I am not a racist. But because of the prejudices of our own day, I must endure the sting of that false charge. Those who judge me a racist because they don’t understand and don’t like my views judge me rashly, wrongly, unjustly. We ought not be guilty of such error, especially with regard to one another.

I quoted in my piece the warning of the Lord to those who judge rashly. If you believe that earlier church leaders would have better served all concerned had they just said with regard to the priesthood ban “we don’t know why,” should you not take that same advice to heart? Rather than imputing racism to men whose hearts you don’t know, wouldn’t we all be better served when commenting on their attempts to “give shape…, context…, [or] even history to it” to say of them “we don’t know why”?

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About John C. Greene

I am a 70 year old businessman in Connecticut and author of "Walking in Darkness at Noonday." I have been a convert member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for half my life. While a member of a rock band in LA in the mid-1970s I became fascinated with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's story of solitary bravery, his exile from his homeland, and his book "Gulag Archipelago." The book had a profound impact on me as it made me realize that there is a vast difference between the land Solzhenitsyn was born to and the land where I was so fortunate to have been born. That was the beginning of my interest in liberty, correct principles of government, and the peculiarly LDS doctrine we call the agency of man.
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