Black Mormons celebrated — some even wept for joy — as their church updated an earlier anti-racism statement Tuesday and pointedly disavowed groups that promote white supremacy.
“It has been called to our attention that there are some among the various pro-white and white supremacy communities who assert that the church is neutral toward or in support of their views,” according to a statement posted on the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ official newsroom website. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
After citing verses from the Bible and the faith’s foundational scripture, the Book of Mormon, the church goes on to say, “White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them.”
Mormons who “promote or pursue a ‘white culture’ or white supremacy agenda,” the statement said, “are not in harmony with the teachings of the church.”
This comes on the heels of LDS officials’ condemnation Sunday of racism in the aftermath of the deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Va.
“People of any faith, or of no faith at all, should be troubled,” read a statement on the official website that day, “by the increase of intolerance in both words and actions that we see everywhere.”
Calling for “greater kindness, compassion and goodness,” that news release resurrected the words of a recent Mormon prophet to reaffirm the faith’s stance against racism.
In 2006, the late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley emphasized that “no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the church of Christ.”
“We reaffirm that teaching today,” Sunday’s statement added, “and the Savior’s admonition to love our neighbor.”
Reactions on social media to Tuesday’s targeted condemnation of white supremacy were largely positive.
Tamu Smith, a black Mormon in Utah County, cried when she heard her church’s words.
“I am overwhelmed,” Smith said through her tears. “For the first time, it brings us out of the margins. For those who have wanted to speak up, this gives them permission. We don’t have to stand alone — the church is now standing with us.”
With these words, the activist said, her church can be “a safe haven for all of God’s children.”
Devan Mitchell of Renton, Wash., also celebrated the move.
“This is what I wanted. Clear, concise and [it] firmly plants white supremacy in the realm of apostasy,” wrote Mitchell, a black Mormon. “I’ve been waiting my whole life for something this strong. I hope it’s followed up on in [the LDS Church’s twice-yearly General] Conference.”
A well-known Mormon in the so-called alt-right movement, however, lashed out against the church’s statement.
“This is a dark day. The day the LDS Church turned its back on its white members,” Ayla Stewart — author of the blog “Wife With a Purpose” — tweeted to her 30,000 followers. “ … I believe God loves ALL his children, including the white ones. I cannot be part of this racism.”
Racism against “white ppl [people] and white ppl [people] only, in the form of denying us our heritage and culture,” she tweeted, “is in direct conflict with gospel of Christ.”
In an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, Stewart said she doesn’t talk to “mainstream media.” Later Tuesday, she tweeted: “I follow Christ, and he loved all people equally, yes, even white people. Christ is not politically correct.”
Even those celebrating the Utah-based faith’s strong words against white nationalists, though, worry that those who need the message most won’t hear it.
After all, in 2013, the LDS Church published an essay, “Race and the Priesthood,” exploring the faith’s now-discarded ban on black men and boys from its all-male priesthood and on females from its temple rituals.
The centurylong prohibition began under Brigham Young, the faith’s second prophet-president, who was influenced by common racial attitudes of the time, the essay explained. The policy did not exist during the tenure of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, who opposed slavery and allowed several African-American men to be ordained.
In short, the ban — which ended in 1978 — appeared to stem more from earthly racism than heavenly revelation, a major change from how many Mormons saw it.
Still, lots of Latter-day Saints haven’t read the essay, don’t know their church abandoned any theological defenses of the priesthood prohibition, and so cling to old ideas.
“At a minimum, the church needs to direct that this new statement,” said Bryndis Roberts, a black Mormon in Atlanta, “be read over the pulpit in every ward [congregation] and branch.”
Given LDS history, “we cannot decry racism forcefully or often enough,” Marianne Eileen Wardle of Durham, N.C., wrote on Facebook. “We have more than 100 years to atone for, and there is no room for equivocation.”