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LDS Church condemns past racism 'inside and outside the church'

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 29 2012 2:41 p.m. MST

In this file photo taken Dec. 8, 2008, Professor Randy Bott, whose students can report on personal events, applauds an announcement about receiving an LDS mission call.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News archives

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PROVO — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a forceful statement Wednesday condemning racism, "including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the church."

The statement came in response to a Washington Post political story about Mitt Romney's run for the presidency and his faith's former ban on giving black men the priesthood. The story included reported comments from a popular BYU religion professor that included personal speculation about the former ban. Many Mormons were upset by Professor Randy Bott's reported comments and some considered them racist.

"The church's position is clear," LDS Church spokesman Michael Purdy said. "We believe all people are God's children and are equal in His eyes and in the church. We do not tolerate racism in any form."

"For a time in the church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent," Purdy said. "It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding."

Purdy referred specifically to the positions attributed to Bott in the Post article and said those positions "absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

"BYU faculty members do not speak for the church," Purdy said. "It is unfortunate that the church was not given a chance to respond to what others said."

The controversy

Bott said in a class Wednesday that he was misquoted, according to students, but he could not be reached for comment.

The Post article said that Bott explained a "possible theological underpinning of the (priesthood) ban. According to Mormon scriptures, the descendants of Cain, who killed his brother, Abel, 'were black.' One of Cain's descendants was Egyptus, a woman Mormons believe was the namesake of Egypt. She married Ham, whose descendants were themselves cursed and, in the view of many Mormons, barred from the priesthood by his father, Noah. Bott points to the Mormon holy text the Book of Abraham as suggesting that all of the descendants of Ham and Egyptus were thus black and barred from the priesthood."

At one point in the Post story it notes that "Bott compares blacks with a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father's car, and explains that similarly until 1978, the Lord determined that blacks were not yet ready for the priesthood."

The story quoted Bott as saying, "What is discrimination? I think that is keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them, right? But what if it wouldn't have been a benefit to them?" The story continued, "Bott says that the denial of the priesthood to blacks on Earth — although not in the afterlife — protected them from the lowest rungs of hell reserved for people who abuse their priesthood powers. 'You couldn't fall off the top of the ladder, because you weren't on the top of the ladder. So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.'"

Purdy disavowed the comments attributed to Bott and such thinking, the Post reported, is "vile" to Don Harwell, president of Genesis, an LDS Church-sponsored group for Mormon blacks in Salt Lake City.

Harwell told the Deseret News on Wednesday he is comfortable with the church's statement condemning "any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the church."

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