Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mormons excommunicated me for racial views - but I have no problems with Romney's Mormonism

Mormonism should not be a disqualifier for presidential candidates. I would never vote for Mitt Romney in a million years, but only uninformed voters would vote against him because of his religion. I say this as an excommunicated Mormon who is now a solid atheist.
Tonight, I am writing about something a little lot different: religion and politics. I knew the attacks against either Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman, on the basis of religion, were just a matter of time. Although I am not privy to the whispering campaigns among Republicans, I am very sorry to see that MSNBC’s The Ed Show started it on the left tonight, as Ed and his guest questioned whether Romney had some sort of residual racism.
Despite my rocky attempts to adjust to the church’s teachings, and my even rockier departure from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints the Mormons I admire the tenets of Mormon life. I found that those tenets of service to others, humanitarian aid, good citizenship, and a strong family life were strong guideposts for the private and community lives of most of the people I knew while I was living among them. A Mormon who tries to live up to those tenets has a strong plus in his or her favor, in my opinion.
I’ve briefly written about my time as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (See After My Attempted Suicides…) I wrote about meeting the missionaries when I was 18 years old, and how one of those missionaries was by my side to help – to save my life? a couple years later, after I attempted my first drug overdose.
In the earlier posting, I was kind of flippant about why I converted, but my decision to join the church wasn’t frivolous. I prayed long and hard about it. Looking back now, I think that after a childhood with a violent and alcoholic father, and after listening to a lifetime of fighting between my parents – as they each constantly accused the other of being insane – I was primed for the lifestyle offered by the Mormons, where strong family support is a preeminent tenet of the religion. I fell in love with the idea of the family we didn’t have.
The problem I eventually found with the LDS Church in the 1970s was with one of their beliefs. Their racial belief.
After a couple of months as a new Mormon in Detroit in 1971, I got engaged to a young man who was on the two-year mission required of all young men who want to progress in the church. I moved to Salt Lake City to wait for him to finish his mission. I tried, I really tried, to fit in to the Mormon way of life. I was attending University of Utah, and I met a wonderful professor, Dr. J.D. Williams, who took me under his wing and helped me adjust to the Mormon customs.
Despite J.D.’s heroic efforts in my assimilation attempt, I was soon in a political tussle with the Mormons. It was very simple. I was appalled to discover that they did not allow blacks to hold the priesthood. That’s not priest as most people know the clergy. In the LDS Church, every “worthy” male is encouraged to enter a sort of civilian priesthood, so that he can conduct the religious rituals of his family, the community, and the church. Most of the Mormon white men walking the streets of Salt Lake City are priests, as is Mitt Romney. For 130 years, however, the Mormons didn’t consider “men of African descent” as worthy to hold the priesthood. See, there was a pre-earth war in heaven between God’s angels, with Satan on one side, and Jesus on the other. According to what church teachers told me, African-Americans were born with a dark skin to show the rest of us that they sat on the fence during that war and didn’t come to Jesus’ side. (They changed that belief in 1978, after God gave new priesthood criteria to the Church prophet. I was just five years ahead of the revelation.)
I argued with local church leaders. Surely they didn’t think that? (Um, did I really think they were going to listen to 21-year-old me, rather than take guidance from their prophet of God? Ah, it was wonderful to be young and omniscient!) They wouldn’t budge, so I asked for excommunication. That’s a major step, the worst punishment, and the leaders in my particular congregation (called a “stake”) told me there was no way they would do that. They wanted to counsel me instead. I didn’t want counseling that sanctioned discrimination, so I wrote a letter (filled with the passion of the young) to the editor of the University of Utah’s student newspaper.
January 26, 1973
Editor,
Of all the communities in this country that I have visited, I’ve never heard as much rhetoric about freedom (alias “free agency”) as I have in this valley.
I was baptized a Mormon two years ago. During that time, I have attended church activities, institute classes and other functions of the church. Also, I have come to the realization that their racist and blasphemous teachings are outrageously false. Yet despite my petitions and supplications, the church refuses to excommunicate me. I have requested a Bishop’s court (the legal procedure for excommunication) but I was told I must rape 40 men and hold up a bank before my request would be considered. And this church passes itself off as being Christian!
I hope this letter is printed so I can declare to the leaders of the LDS Church that I know this is not the church of Christ. I would warn those people investigating the church to remember that as soon as you are dunked in the water (baptized?) you are proclaiming your racist and bigoted attitudes to the world and to God.
Dawn A. Brown
Well. That sure did the trick. I soon received my summons for a Bishop’s court. Two days after my trial, I received the good news. They excommunicated me for apostasy. (Apostasy is defined by the church's General Handbook of Instructions as teaching or following incorrect doctrines or “repeatedly act[ing] in clear, open and deliberate public opposition to the church or its leaders.”) Oh, and also for fornication, a charge they tossed in at the last minute. (I confess, I was guilty on that count, too.)
I’ve had Mormon friends since my excommunication, but I don’t tell them about this. So why should I write about it now? Because, even as an excommunicated Mormon, and even as an atheist, it deeply troubles me when I hear derogatory whispers or ill-informed aspersions about Romney or Huntsman, especially when those comments are coated with toxic "questions" of racism. I totally disagree with most of their political views. I deeply suspect their economic allegiances, and especially Romney’s view of capitalism. I don’t believe in their religious beliefs. But the Mormons changed their old racial discrimination, just as many other social institutions have. I still admire the Mormon tenets that attracted me to the church in the first place: service to others, humanitarian aid, good citizenship, and a strong family life.
I will leave it to Republican voters to determine how much Romney or Huntsman live up to the values espoused by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. But the fact that they are Mormons should not be a disqualifier in anyone’s mind.

Updates, 8/12/2012

Maybe I've been too naive about the lack of Mormon racism, if Dana Milbanks column in the Washington Post (headlined Romney Plays the Race Card in the print edition) is an accurate read of the politics. I still want to believe that the increasing undertow of racist implications is not a result of LDS upbringing or beliefs. I have no trouble understanding the cynical political strategy used by the campaign to elevate the culture wars to a very ugly level but, given the church's history, I am surprised to see Romney do anything that would invite a deeper look into the LDS official tenet of discrimination against an entire race. He is stepping too close to the line.

I've been having a good discussion with ex-Mormons on reddit, expecially regarding my statement about admiring the LDS tenet of humanitarian aid. One commenter directed me to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article, How the Mormons Make Money. It is a fascinating look into the business dealings of the church. This statement particularly makes me retract my admiration of their humanitarian efforts: "A study co-written by Cragun and recently published in Free Inquiry estimates that the Mormon Church donates only about 0.7 percent of its annual income to charity; the United Methodist Church gives about 29 percent." So while Romney cites his 10% tithe as "charitable," it is extremely unlikely that the money actually went to charitable purposes.

If you have an account at reddit, check this digest of black history in the LDS church.

5 comments:

  1. As an LDS member, I thank for your integrity and fair-mindedness in rebutting an inaccurate portrayal of both Mitt Romney and the LDS Church. It's obvious that you have long since come to terms with your excommunication.

    I wish you well wherever your spiritual journey leads you in the future.

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  2. That's a great post. Thank you for sharing something so personal. I'm a Mormon (sort of). I was raised in the Mormon church--born 2 years before blacks could hold the priesthood. I served a mission and I remember that when I taught blacks (pretty often as a missionary in Los Angeles), I always hoped they wouldn't hear of or ask me about that whole blacks and the priesthood thing. I still don't understand it; rather, I have yet to hear an official explanation for it. I believe it was born of racism and then given up when racism became uncool in the states.
    I think your story is fascinating and I believe the more people like you, that share their story with the church, the sooner the church has to face their past and fix the future.
    Anyway, I thank you for sharing this.

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  3. I am LDS, it is my understanding that black men always could hold the priesthood, but none ever wanted to.
    One interesting fact is my church advocates being kind to animals, the United States Human Society had a most interesting article on different religions and how they felt about animals.
    Irregardless of what religion we are, I know if we all lived accordingly it'd be heaven on earth, even for Chimpanzees.

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    1. Would it matter to you if you found out that blacks could not hold the priesthood because of church policy based on doctrine taught by Brigham Young? If it would, then you should ask around and check, because your current understanding that no Black ever wanted it is incorrect (and, frankly, absurd.)

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  4. I hope the Mormons aren't trying to rewrite their history. I was living and studying in Salt Lake, and after finding out that blacks were not allowed to hold the priesthood, I argued - publicly - that it was a racist practice. For more info, you might want to begin here: http://www.pbs.org/mormons/faqs/controversies.html#6

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