SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A year after Mormon leaders published a landmark essay on the church’s past ban on blacks in the priesthood, some members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say race seems to remain a taboo topic.
Amid a nationwide uproar over race and police use of force, black members of the church say they want to talk about the issues with members of their faith, but it’s tough.
“We can’t talk at church about Michael Brown and other unarmed black men being shot by police,” said Kevin Mosley, a retired Pennsylvania state trooper and LDS convert, “because it’s so hard for members to talk about race at all.”
The Mormon church has its own fraught history with race. It barred men of African descent from its lay clergy until 1978.
Last December, leaders posted an online essay that offered the most comprehensive explanation of the issue yet and marked the first time that church leaders officially disavowed the ban.
The essay said that while black men were ordained into the church during its early days, Brigham Young enacted the ban in 1852 during an era of great racial divide that influenced early teachings of the church.
The article made clear that church leaders today condemn all racism and don’t believe old theories that people with black skin are inferior to others.
But the essay didn’t spark more discussion of race within the LDS Church, members told the Salt Lake Tribune this week.
Instead, the topic seems to be doubly taboo, said Rosalynde Welch, a writer who lives outside St. Louis and attends a majority white Mormon congregation.
“There’s a strong taboo against addressing controversial topics across the pulpit in LDS chapels, especially a topic on which our own history is vexed,” she said. “Because there is so little consensus among white St. Louisans on the causes and solutions to class- and race-based inequalities, virtually any statement on the topic will be controversial to some members of the congregation.”
The reluctance seems to cut across political ideology, said Janan Graham-Russell, a graduate student in religious studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
“I have been astounded at the silence that is coming from the Mormon conservative base, but also from Mormon progressives,” she said.
The relative silence on the issue could also be because the essay didn’t get wide publicity from leaders or pulpits. Members, especially young missionaries, may not even know about the history of the ban, and that can be a problem, said Tamu Thomas-Smith, co-author of “Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons.”
“It is embarrassing for outsiders to know more about our history than we do,” she said. “We always have people with one foot in the church and one foot out because we don’t talk about it. And if they find it on their own, they often leave — and take others with them.”