Missing Church in July

An open letter to my Mormon bishop


Dear Bishop,

On July 2, 1964, The Civil Rights Act officially ended segregation and discrimination based on the color of our skin. The following spring, in General Conference, Ezra Taft Benson warned members about the dangers of going along with the “dangerous” civil rights movement:

“The Lord never promised there would not be traitors in the Church. We have the ignorant, the sleepy and the deceived who provide temptations and avenues of apostasy for the unwary and the unfaithful, but we have a prophet at our head and he has spoken.”

Benson’s warning against civil rights was a continuation of racist beliefs written decades earlier by the First Presidency, under George Albert Smith, who said that if a Mormon hoped for racial equality he had “lost sight of the revelations of the Lord.”

Before that, Joseph Fielding Smith taught that black people were “an inferior race” and that their curse would continue “while time endures” — a belief perhaps initiated by Brigham Young, who taught that God’s penalty for interracial relationships was “death on the spot. This will always be so.”

When our culture began to recognize the nonsense of racism, N. Eldon Tanner declared that there was “really nothing we can do to change” the Church’s position on “the Negro,” declaring it “the law of God.”

Thankfully, God’s laws may be unchanging, but our understanding of them is not. The Church recently approved an essay in which they “unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

Our prophets and apostles were simply wrong about God’s relationship with black people and the moral implications of marriage between races.

In the wake of this month’s landmark Supreme Court ruling, you have been asked by the First Presidency to read a statement reaffirming the Church’s position on gay marriage. Our leaders seem inclined to repeat the pattern established during the civil rights movement and assure us they are “powerless to change God’s unchanging laws.”

There is nothing new or surprising in the wording of the letter you’ve been asked to read, but, as with past statements on race, it perpetuates misunderstanding and reinforces the “otherness” of our gay brothers and sisters. As a father, I hope our church can become a welcoming, safe place for my children to learn from Christ’s loving example within the context of their Mormon heritage. This letter makes that connection less likely.

As a courtesy to me and my family, would you please let me know when you plan to read the letter you received? We are happy to worship elsewhere on July 5 or July 12 if you will let me know which date to miss.

You have consistently shown kindness and patience with me and my family, and I appreciate that. I hope you will discern my respect for you, even when we see things differently.

Sincerely,

Paul Malan


Citations for the quotes are in the notes — Medium’s little “comment” icon to the right of the relevant sections.