Deseret Morning News By Carrie
- More than 25 years after the LDS Church lifted its ban on
priesthood ordination for black males, undercurrents of racism
still run through American society and LDS culture, according
to a local researcher.
Cardell Jacobson, a professor of sociology at Brigham Young University,
has spent much of his career exploring race. He most recently
turned his focus to what minorities experience within their faith
traditions, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Speaking to those gathered Thursday at Utah Valley State College
for the 5th annual Mormon Studies Conference, he was one of several
speakers to address various facets of "Mormonism and Social
Jacobson witnessed the hatred of racism as a white boy growing
up in Bluffdale, where working-class whites openly despised co-workers
of color because the two-tiered employment structure keeping
minorities in menial jobs at Kennecott Copper Corp. was giving
way to social change.
After completing graduate work in North Carolina, where he witnessed
blacks being physically removed from restaurants, Jacobson moved
to Milwaukee to teach. He found that there was little refuge
at church for black Latter-day Saints, particularly teenage boys
who found themselves ostracized when only white boys were ordained
to the priesthood.
Such experiences inform his current work, gathering stories of
minority Latter-day Saints to examine how they incorporate into
Perception problems persist among many white church members in
several areas, he said, including a belief that all blacks are
He told of how Marguerite Driessen, associate professor of law
at BYU, was asked by local church leaders to take charge of the
Young Women's basketball program in her ward. "She had never
even played the game and wasn't interested." Rob Foster,
who played football at BYU-Idaho, told of feeling tremendous
pressure from fans and friends to perform because he was black,
Other stereotyping situations involve interracial dating and
marriage, and using race as the single marker of identity for
minority members particularly for those who live in largely
He told of a pair of LDS missionaries one black and one
white who were horrified when police questioned them as
they tracted in a California neighborhood. A woman had seen them
and called police, claiming the two must be "impersonating
missionaries" in order to gain entry into the homes of residents
for sinister purposes.
The report was based on the woman's belief that blacks were not
missionaries, he said.
Continued references to past LDS statements on race, particularly
in the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie's book, "Mormon Doctrine,"
are also problematic, Jacobson said. He noted Elder McConkie
disavowed his own writings on the subject before thousands of
students at BYU in the weeks following the 1978 announcement
from the church's First Presidency lifting the priesthood ban,
telling them to "forget everything I have said" on
the subject, and noting he wrote what he did "with limited
Yet Latter-day Saints "still quote that book and not his
statement disavowing the book's characterizations," he said.
Even so, he believes church members can work to overcome remaining
stereotypes by emphasizing diversity, providing local church
materials and classroom teaching in various languages, providing
opportunities for cultural sharing, and mentoring new members.
"Whites have to work on whites" in pointing out areas
for change, he said, adding that if minority members complain,
many will discount the message as simply coming from "an
angry black man."
He suggested church leaders at all levels work harder on retention
rather than conversion, provide shadow leadership for new minority
converts, eliminate and confront false folklore, talk about race,
and talk openly about the priesthood ban.