SALT LAKE CITY – More than three decades after reversing its prohibition of black priests, the Mormon church has disavowed the ban, saying it was put into place during an era of great racial divide that influenced early teachings of the church.
The nearly 2,000-word statement posted on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ website was the church’s most comprehensive explanation of why it previously had barred men of African descent from the lay clergy. In the article, the church pinned the ban on an announcement from church President Brigham Young in 1852.
The ban ended in 1978, but in the 35 years since then, the church had never given an official explanation for the reasons behind the ban or addressed the once widely held notion that blacks were spiritually inferior, said Matthew Bowman, an author and assistant professor of religion at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.
In the article, posted Friday, the church addressed what has become a sensitive topic for current leaders and the 15 million members around the world.
“The Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else,” the statement read. “Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
Church officials declined comment on the article but said it is part of a series of new online postings to explain or expand on certain gospel topics for its members. Other topics include, “Are Mormons Christian?” and one on founder Joseph Smith’s first visions.
Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University, said the article is the most comprehensive explanation yet about the past exclusion of blacks from the priesthood and marks the first time the church has explicitly disavowed its previous teachings on the topic.