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To this day, churchgoing Mormons report that they hear from their fellow congregants in Sunday meetings that African-Americans are the accursed descendants of Cain whose spirits--due to their lack of spiritual mettle in a premortal existence--were destined to come to earth with a "curse" of black skin. This claim can be made in many Mormon Sunday Schools without fear of co To this day, churchgoing Mormons report that they hear from their fellow congregants in Sunday meetings that African-Americans are the accursed descendants of Cain whose spirits--due to their lack of spiritual mettle in a premortal existence--were destined to come to earth with a "curse" of black skin. This claim can be made in many Mormon Sunday Schools without fear of contradiction. You are more likely to encounter opposition if you argue that the ban on the ordination of Black Mormons was a product of human racism. Like most difficult subjects in Mormon history and practice, says Joanna Brooks, the priesthood and temple ban on Blacks has been managed carefully in LDS institutional settings with a combination of avoidance, denial, selective truth-telling, and determined silence. As America begins to come to terms with the costs of white privilege to Black lives, this book urges a soul-searching examination of the role American Christianity has played in sustaining everyday white supremacy by assuring white people of their innocence. In Mormonism and White Supremacy, Joanna Brooks offers an unflinching look at her own people's history and culture and finds in them lessons that will hit home for every scholar of American religion and person of faith.


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To this day, churchgoing Mormons report that they hear from their fellow congregants in Sunday meetings that African-Americans are the accursed descendants of Cain whose spirits--due to their lack of spiritual mettle in a premortal existence--were destined to come to earth with a "curse" of black skin. This claim can be made in many Mormon Sunday Schools without fear of co To this day, churchgoing Mormons report that they hear from their fellow congregants in Sunday meetings that African-Americans are the accursed descendants of Cain whose spirits--due to their lack of spiritual mettle in a premortal existence--were destined to come to earth with a "curse" of black skin. This claim can be made in many Mormon Sunday Schools without fear of contradiction. You are more likely to encounter opposition if you argue that the ban on the ordination of Black Mormons was a product of human racism. Like most difficult subjects in Mormon history and practice, says Joanna Brooks, the priesthood and temple ban on Blacks has been managed carefully in LDS institutional settings with a combination of avoidance, denial, selective truth-telling, and determined silence. As America begins to come to terms with the costs of white privilege to Black lives, this book urges a soul-searching examination of the role American Christianity has played in sustaining everyday white supremacy by assuring white people of their innocence. In Mormonism and White Supremacy, Joanna Brooks offers an unflinching look at her own people's history and culture and finds in them lessons that will hit home for every scholar of American religion and person of faith.

30 review for Mormonism and White Supremacy: American Religion and the Problem of Racial Innocence

  1. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    "I love my faith community and believe we can do better." (p. 205) It is with this hopeful purpose that Joanna Brooks writes this scholarly, honest history of white supremacy in the mainstream LDS Church. Brooks discusses how the Black priesthood and temple ban morphed from misinformation and folk doctrine into an official policy of the Church, given credibility by the emerging belief in the infallibility of latter-day prophets. Brooks also addresses the history following the 1978 official declar "I love my faith community and believe we can do better." (p. 205) It is with this hopeful purpose that Joanna Brooks writes this scholarly, honest history of white supremacy in the mainstream LDS Church. Brooks discusses how the Black priesthood and temple ban morphed from misinformation and folk doctrine into an official policy of the Church, given credibility by the emerging belief in the infallibility of latter-day prophets. Brooks also addresses the history following the 1978 official declaration that removed the ban, noting both positive steps towards transparency (such as the Gospel Topics essay, "Race and the Priesthood") and instances of "undergrounding" and deflection of the topic. To me, a white, faithful member of the Church who grew up learning the gospel both on Sundays and at home, a descendent of Utah pioneers, Brooks' unflinchingly honest approach was, at times, uncomfortable. We in the Church have been warned against finding fault with our leadership, from local bishops to general authorities. We particularly are cautioned against being critical of prophets. But it seems clear that prophets have made mistakes here, and that Black people in the Church have suffered for it -- and so have white people who showed their dissent. I feel a bit of the danger of dissent even now, as I review this book on Goodreads. I've sat through enough Sunday School lessons and ward council meetings to know how most members feel about people who read "this kind of book," a book about the Church that's not published by the Church (or Deseret Book). I wonder if I have friends who will now question my faithfulness. Brooks addresses this idea in her book, and she gets it exactly right: that some stuff is truly anti-Mormon literature, designed to turn people away from the Church, but other stuff "just [feels] hostile because insular Mormon communities [are] not accustomed to the robustly interrogative quality of normal civil discourse." (p. 181) Brooks also challenges the idea that childlike "innocence" (particularly racial innocence) is morally superior to hard-earned wisdom. The Church's image as wholesome and patriotic seems to excuse the Church as a whole (along with many of its members) from examining challenging issues regarding our faith and our history. That approach may have served us in the past, but here in 2020, that just won't work anymore. We need more study and transparency and vulnerability. I'm positive that the core doctrines can withstand the scrutiny, and that we must confront our history if we are going to heal. I thought the idea of collective vs individual guilt was really interesting and that it definitely applies to racism within the Church and racism in our country. No person alive today instituted the priesthood and temple ban, and so many members of the Church were either not born yet or little children when it was in place. But we still have a collective responsibility to undo the harm it has done. I'm certain it can be done, through charity and humility, because Christ's atonement covers even this. Even though this book evoked some deep emotion (chapter five, detailing events that happened in my parents' lifetimes, broke my heart and turned my stomach), I am so glad I read it. I feel more prepared to challenge racism in the Church. If you're looking for a light read, this isn't it -- but it was so valuable for me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This book blew my mind--it is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in Mormonism/evangelical/white Christian churches and their ongoing racism. Brooks not only offers an incredibly valuable history, but also a theory of white racial innocence an a social contract of the church with American culture and the church with its members that I think hits the nail on the head.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Morgan

    This book is a clarion call to personal (for white Latter-day Saints, at least) and institutional repentance. To read it with humility and openness is to begin. It is an exercise in remedial truth-telling and a careful delineation of precisely how the culture of the church and its hierarchies have resisted real repentance even as they have taken halting steps towards partially acknowledging the truth. Confession without contrition is not repentance, it is just a cul-de-sac of self-shame and retr This book is a clarion call to personal (for white Latter-day Saints, at least) and institutional repentance. To read it with humility and openness is to begin. It is an exercise in remedial truth-telling and a careful delineation of precisely how the culture of the church and its hierarchies have resisted real repentance even as they have taken halting steps towards partially acknowledging the truth. Confession without contrition is not repentance, it is just a cul-de-sac of self-shame and retrenchment to a persecution complex that, if once justified, is no longer serving any useful purpose. The only way out, as Brooks shows with exquisite precision, is to take the next step and tell the whole truth—all of it. And sit with it. And grapple with it honestly and humbly. Brooks helps us to imagine the liberating possibilities of doing so. The double tragedy of slavery in America, like other forms of abuse, is that it has degraded everyone it touched, the abused and the abuser alike. It is time for the white captives of the lies of racism and white supremacy to seek the freedom that Jesus said was found in the truth. Only then can the Saints really begin to live up to their dreams of Zion.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Wick Welker

    Accurate, timely and a needed rebuke to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Brooks does an impeccable job outlining the 20th century history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Days Saints and its grasp on folklore doctrine that preserved white supremacy for years. As a member who clearly still has fondness for the church, she minces no words about the silent agreement between members and leaders to uphold the infallibility of prophetic words, historically and presently, that cre Accurate, timely and a needed rebuke to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Brooks does an impeccable job outlining the 20th century history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Days Saints and its grasp on folklore doctrine that preserved white supremacy for years. As a member who clearly still has fondness for the church, she minces no words about the silent agreement between members and leaders to uphold the infallibility of prophetic words, historically and presently, that create an environment that harms black lives. It is undeniable that despite the original history of Joseph Smith ordaining black people to the priesthood, Brigham Young, a blatant white supremacist, made the overt decision to bar black people from church leadership in attempt to be accepted in mainstream Christianity which is in and of itself a scathing analysis of American Christianity in general. Many church leaders followed the example of Brigham Young as the vile concept of the black curse of Cain turned from speculation to "doctrine" easily through the end of the 20th century. Even today, this concept can still be culturally engrained in some church culture despite the church now denying it as doctrine. As an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I mirror the author's opinion: the church should publically recognize, apologize and condemn its racist history and deny that these racist ideas were anything more or less than the personal racism of its leaders. This is the only way to bring healing and growth for all those involved.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Kordsiemon

    I can't say I loved this book because it was upsetting and painful to read at times, but that speaks to both its informative quality and importance. My only complaint is that it mostly reads like an academic book (to be fair, it is an academic book). But given the importance of the subject matter, I wish that it was written in a more easily accessible manner. As it is, I don't imagine many LDS individuals working their way through it unless they are already interested in the topic and/or are pred I can't say I loved this book because it was upsetting and painful to read at times, but that speaks to both its informative quality and importance. My only complaint is that it mostly reads like an academic book (to be fair, it is an academic book). But given the importance of the subject matter, I wish that it was written in a more easily accessible manner. As it is, I don't imagine many LDS individuals working their way through it unless they are already interested in the topic and/or are predisposed to accept that the Church has some racial issues to work through. That being said, those passages where Brooks writes more normatively are excellent. She's got a real knack for bold language. One of my favorite quotes, regarding the fallacy of prophetic infallibility, provides: "Infallibility kills: it kills the bodies of those marked expendable, it kills relationships with those who dissent, and it kills the souls who suffocate on their own ignorance and privilege. It kills courage, it kills hope, it kills faith, and it kills the kind of historical memory that helps a religious community understand itself and find its next steps towards holiness." All things considered, I highly recommend this book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Excellent and necessary book! Brooks explores how white supremacy became institutionalized in the LDS Church. To justify the priesthood and temple ban on blacks, some Church leaders embraced an ahistorical view of the past, with some claiming God institute the ban since the Church’s restoration, conveniently forgetting that Joseph Smith did welcome and ordain Black men to the priesthood. But white supremacy did not end when the ban was lifted. While it can be hard to read about prophets and othe Excellent and necessary book! Brooks explores how white supremacy became institutionalized in the LDS Church. To justify the priesthood and temple ban on blacks, some Church leaders embraced an ahistorical view of the past, with some claiming God institute the ban since the Church’s restoration, conveniently forgetting that Joseph Smith did welcome and ordain Black men to the priesthood. But white supremacy did not end when the ban was lifted. While it can be hard to read about prophets and other leaders who expressed racist views and supported racist policies, it is important to overcome the dangerous belief in prophet infallibility. Brooks documents exactly why the infallibility myth is so destructive to our faith and community in the context of white supremacy. I especially enjoyed Chapter 5. It was refreshing to learn about Church members who did speak out according to their conscience, refusing to compromise on their belief that God is not racist. Though it was also disheartening to learn how those with more privileged status were the only ones allowed to express dissent without retribution (George Romney, Lowry Nelson, Stewart Udall), which most likely continues to be the case today. There is so much more to be done. Just like with systemic racism in our country at large, we cannot simply move on and forget the past and expect the future to heal itself. We must make formal apologies, learn our true history, honestly admit that we were wrong, and adopt specific policies that dismantle white supremacy and teach antiracism going forward. One of my favorite quotes is from Frederick Douglass: “He is a lover of his country who rebukes but does not excuse its sins.” I think the same could be said of one’s religion. I love my Church, and I don’t believe we should excuse our sins. We need a soul-searching and thorough repentance process. Like Brooks, I believe we can and must do better.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Elisha Condie

    Wow. This book is really important and it should be required reading for us Mormon folks. Joanna Brooks is an LDS scholar who tackles the subject of Protestant religions and racism in America and focuses on Mormonism. And she thoroughly, cleanly lays it all out. And it's pretty damn simple. Joseph Smith (founder of Mormon religion) ordained Black men to hold the priesthood. There were witnesses. When he died and the Mormons moved west, Brigham Young started pushing black members to the fringes. Wow. This book is really important and it should be required reading for us Mormon folks. Joanna Brooks is an LDS scholar who tackles the subject of Protestant religions and racism in America and focuses on Mormonism. And she thoroughly, cleanly lays it all out. And it's pretty damn simple. Joseph Smith (founder of Mormon religion) ordained Black men to hold the priesthood. There were witnesses. When he died and the Mormons moved west, Brigham Young started pushing black members to the fringes. From the pulpit, he declared them a lesser race, he ordained no more men of color to the priesthood. And Mormon scholars like B.H. Roberts began writing articles that surmised that the curse of black skin was a punishment from God. "Robert's systematic "method" in developing this course of study was to frame a lesson plan in a sequence of enumerated points, then provide selected scriptural proof texts for group study. By reading through and discussing together these selected proof texts in a given order, Mormon priesthood holders could develop study habits that joined individual reflection with an orthodoxy conservative pedagogy well suited to a modestly educated but intellectually curious Mormon grassroots, an all-comers way of doing theology that persists in Mormon Sunday schools to this day". (page 67) That ALMOST KILLED me. So they find the point they want to drive home (racism), lay out a lesson plan carefully, add carefully selected scriptures to back it up, and serve it to modestly educated and well meaning, searching members who study it and take it in. And inherently take on these racist views. Our lesson manuals and everything are set up just like this today, which really gave me pause. Brooks explains how the church keeps members under it's thumb by discouraging the use of any outside sources for knowledge - and they certainly do. When you're teaching a lesson I have been advised to use church talks and church materials as my sole sources. This keeps everybody on the same line, with no dissenting voices. And they only started becoming more transparent in the age of the internet when Mitt Romney ran for President and there was a lot of attention on Mormonism and its core beliefs. The chapter on dissidents was both heartening and heartbreaking. I didn't know George Romney (Mitt's Dad) was such a supporter of civil rights and did it despite what the church wanted him to do. Way to go, Romney. I was heartbroken for the local boy scout leader who saw racism in his troop and tried to speak out against it. He lost everything - church membership, social standing, custody of his children. It was awful. I loved every single person who worked behind the scenes, writing letters, saving historical evidence, knowing the church was wrong about denying black people the priesthood, and waiting for it to come to an end. There's so much to say about this powerful book. To me it boiled down to individual people knowing in their hearts what was right and what was WRONG despite what the higher ups told them. And the mistreatment of an entire population of people for so long, who deserve a public apology for the way our church has treated them. Read the other reviews on Goodreads, people have said it way better than I can.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lily

    I could not put this book down. It is essential reading for Protestant white Americans and for Mormons most especially. The national moment requires we no longer act blind, deaf, and dumb to the truths of our collective past. Mormons have a culture of prophetic infallibility that literally kills. What happens when one if those prophets writes the foreword for white supremacist material with a picture of a black man getting decapitated on the cover—still in circulation today—another repeatedly pr I could not put this book down. It is essential reading for Protestant white Americans and for Mormons most especially. The national moment requires we no longer act blind, deaf, and dumb to the truths of our collective past. Mormons have a culture of prophetic infallibility that literally kills. What happens when one if those prophets writes the foreword for white supremacist material with a picture of a black man getting decapitated on the cover—still in circulation today—another repeatedly preaches that it is the role of white men to “rule,” and that black people were so inferior that to kill those who intermarried with them—and their offspring—would be a merciful, divinely sanctioned act? What happens when those prophets reprimand a gentle professor for daring to suggest that we are all equal before God, and that it might not be a blessing to preach white supremacy to communities in Latin America, where white supremacist thought didn’t have as much traction as in the U.S.? The problem of Mormonism’s addiction to white supremacist thought feels almost too deep to be tractable. If it can be overcome, this book is a great start to facing, interrogating, understanding, and correcting the problem. I would have liked to see her deal with the underlying cause of these racist policies and sermons more. Brooks does address the broader social contexts but could have done more to explore how the Book of Mormon, rooted in assimilationist, biological, cultural and color-centric racist narrative, informed the conscience of these white supremacist prophets and leaders. Perhaps there will be a sequel????

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tamsin Barlow

    Working to abandon racial innocence. I was prepared for the worst, but I wasn’t expecting to come away feeling so energized and ready to fight racism in my own thoughts and understandings as well as in the church. Knowing the truth is liberating.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Roo Phillips

    5 stars. Mormon scholar Patrick Mason says that "Joanna Brooks frankly reminds us that white supremacy doesn't just happen. It is created, cultivated, passed on, sanctified, then perpetuated through forgetfulness...This book is strong medicine without the spoonful of sugar-but precisely the kind of medicine that may help effect a cure." I wholeheartedly agree. For people close to Mormonism in any way, this book will give you an accurate look into its racial history, is easy to read, has a hopefu 5 stars. Mormon scholar Patrick Mason says that "Joanna Brooks frankly reminds us that white supremacy doesn't just happen. It is created, cultivated, passed on, sanctified, then perpetuated through forgetfulness...This book is strong medicine without the spoonful of sugar-but precisely the kind of medicine that may help effect a cure." I wholeheartedly agree. For people close to Mormonism in any way, this book will give you an accurate look into its racial history, is easy to read, has a hopeful tone, and I think should be essential reading.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Greg Diehl

    "Modern Mormonism instituted one of the most rigidly enforced systems of racial segregation in the history of American Christianity." Joanna Brooks doesn't pull any punches as she blows the lid off the systemic layers hiding in plain sight within our culture that "sustained" (and to some extent continues to "sustain") many of the facets of a highly intentional effort to "spiritually redline" (my term - not hers) and exclude Black people from the spiritual blessings our theology holds in the high "Modern Mormonism instituted one of the most rigidly enforced systems of racial segregation in the history of American Christianity." Joanna Brooks doesn't pull any punches as she blows the lid off the systemic layers hiding in plain sight within our culture that "sustained" (and to some extent continues to "sustain") many of the facets of a highly intentional effort to "spiritually redline" (my term - not hers) and exclude Black people from the spiritual blessings our theology holds in the highest regard (e.g., temple and priesthood blessings). These systemic layers exist in a myriad of forms. However, I think Brooks does her most effective work in highlighting three particularly pernicious tiers that "caste" (see Isabel Wilkerson's work) the deepest roots of Mormonism's white supremacy in stark relief: 1) Possessive investment in whiteness - the return on this cultural investment is self-evident but rarely self-disclosed. Who is predominantly found sitting in our Utah pews and living in our Mormon neighborhoods? The fruit of the tree doesn't lie. Mormon culture, including the dominant language found in our most sacred text - The Book of Mormon, is nearly obsessed with the idea of equating whiteness with purity. The supremacy of whiteness is essentially engraved on the golden plates of Mormon culture. 2) Possessive investment in rightness - Mormonism is absolutely saturated with a culture of certainty. The language of "knowing" dominates orthodox testimonies, often pushing honest and sincere declarations of faith and belief to the margins. Mix this with #1 above and you have a recipe for a truly repugnant cultural casserole (leftovers still being re-heated and served after 150 years at an LDS chapel near you . . . ). 3) Prophetic Privilege or Immunity - Brooks is masterful in bringing to light the perniciousness of the Church's ongoing dedication to prophetic infallibility. When Elder Bruce R. McConkie can say, "forget everything that I have said . . . We spoke with a limited understanding" in 1978 related to the lifting of the Church's racist restrictions, and still have his quasi-canonical work "Mormon Doctrine" (which dogmatically propounded folklore-based explanations for the priesthood and temple ban) continue to be published by Deseret Book until 2010, there is a bewildering degree of prophetic impunity in play. NOTE - "Mormon Doctrine" still would have been sold up until 2012 had not a faithful African American member arranged to purchase the remaining 515 copies in 2010 to get them off the market. When the Church’s controversial and discriminatory 2015 LGBT exclusion policy was finally reversed in 2019, President Nelson was seemingly able to throw the entire episode into the collective congregations' rearview mirror by referring to the reversal as simply a "revelatory adjustment." Mormon history can thus become whatever the latest Mormon Prophet wants to mold it into. Such prophetic infallibility is what allows ("sustains") the perception to linger that God was somehow behind the priesthood and temple restrictions in the first place. I would invite you to re-read the Church's Official Declaration #2 and consider who is actually being held responsible for the origin of the ban. What I see is another "revelatory adjustment" that does all it can, through the perspective of prophetic privilege (immunity), to pin the (folk) tale on God. I simply can't make this square with the God I worship. God isn't racist - we are. Looking back on this dynamic, LDS historian Lester Bush (whose 1973 essay on the history of the restriction should be required reading for all Mormons - see https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-co...), in a lecture he presented at the Sterling M. McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture at the University of Utah (October 8, 2015) provided the following insight, which I think goes to the heart of one of Brooks' main thesis: "Failure to acknowledge this error (that Brigham Young, not God, was the true source of the ban) leaves the impression that the Church still believes the ban might have been of divine origin even if the explanations were not. That’s a pretty heavy message for the Black Mormon community. Back while the priesthood ban was still in effect, I used to speak to small groups, some with a few or even many African American (and some African) members. I walked pretty carefully through the history, thinking I didn’t want to bruise anyone’s testimony. What I quickly learned was that it was the white members, not the Blacks, who had problems, if any, with the history. The Black view tended to be, “Oh, so it was just a white guy thing. What a relief.” That made sense to them because they assumed racial bias was pretty much everywhere. What they were worried about was that God—not white guys—thought they were less worthy." As an "active" (whatever the hell that means) Mormon "white guy" (again, whatever the hell that means) - this is more than just a thing for me. Over forty years after the lifting of the ban, I find the lack of any genuine institutional apology (or at a minimum some semblance of real responsibility) both embarrassing and repugnant, and the ongoing systemic stench of silence nearly suffocating. Thanks, Dr. Brooks for cracking open a window and letting in some much-needed air.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kayla

    This book is absolutely fabulous. One of the best I've read this year. It's dense and full of primary sources, but it's not too long that it becomes overwhelming. I'd recommend it to anyone who is curious about the history and institutional fabric of the church. All members should read this! This book is absolutely fabulous. One of the best I've read this year. It's dense and full of primary sources, but it's not too long that it becomes overwhelming. I'd recommend it to anyone who is curious about the history and institutional fabric of the church. All members should read this!

  13. 5 out of 5

    David Cook

    BOOK REVIEW – Mormonism and White Supremacy, by Joanna Brooks (11.09.20) This is a painful book to read. Although, there was very little new material the presentation is an honest unvarnished look at an ugly history. I grew up in a home were the issue of “Blacks and the Priesthood” was an open topic of discussion. My father was active in the civil rights movement as the first white member of the NAACP in my hometown of Ogden, UT. He served as a missionary with Stuart Udall, the AZ Congressman, i BOOK REVIEW – Mormonism and White Supremacy, by Joanna Brooks (11.09.20) This is a painful book to read. Although, there was very little new material the presentation is an honest unvarnished look at an ugly history. I grew up in a home were the issue of “Blacks and the Priesthood” was an open topic of discussion. My father was active in the civil rights movement as the first white member of the NAACP in my hometown of Ogden, UT. He served as a missionary with Stuart Udall, the AZ Congressman, in the Eastern States Mission and maintained an active correspondence with him. Stuart wrote a public letter to President McKay in 1967 urging and end to the policy. On my Mother’s side, I come from a long line of pioneer ancestry. From one line she was the cousin of Spencer W. Kimball who performed the marriage and sealing of my parents. On another line we are descended from Abraham Smoot who was one of the first slave owners in Utah, while he was a bishop, stake president and founding president of BYU. He gave his life and fortune to “building the kingdom” yet likewise owned black men and women as chattel. Despite reading his “official” biography several years ago that important detail was left out. I recall incidents of racism in my youth and how much they bothered me. In 1974 a brutal multiple murder in my hometown by black men on white victims created tensions in my high school resulting in a “rumble” between black and white students on the last day of school a few weeks later. As a young missionary in Brooklyn, NY for the first time I was personally confronted with the issue of the priesthood restriction in our proselyting efforts. I heard all the racist apologist “doctrines”, my fellow missionaries used to explain the restriction. Despite hearing them they never felt right to me. I was an obedient missionary to the extreme. Yet on the morning of June 1, 1977 when our ward mission leader called to tell us of the report of the revelation, I immediately called my Dad. He was weeping as he confirmed the change. I, like many others, thought at that time that the work was done. Now I know as racism is having a resurgence in the larger community there is still much work to do both in and out of the Church. So, I approach this subject with a somewhat interesting background and family history. The Church's diversity has emerged almost defiantly from the relics of its racist past. Early Mormon teachings spoke of black people as inferior, cursed by God and unworthy to serve as clergy. Unfortunately, early LDS views were not much different that most of American Christianity. The American church remains predominantly white. But the growth in the Church is not among white cultures. It is in among Latino and Black cultures in Latin America and Africa. To be frank the future of the Church will not look like what my white US coreligionists are used to. Mormonism and White Supremacy, doesn’t plow new ground, but it sure provides an inventory of what an informed LDS already knows. Some I expect will react defensively to this book. Sadly, that will do no good. Collective atonement requires collective recognition and commitment to personal and institutional change. The result is a painful portrait of how white supremacy has been sown in the doctrines of the Church. And although officially repudiated some sins die hard. Brooks explains that one of the duties of racial structures is to build a structure that assuages the guilt of its adherents, removing the immediate morality and ethics of racism from the equation by dictating that God had demanded the racist policy or doctrine. For LDS, we can feel that we are not racists because we do not draw a distinction based on race — God drew that distinction for us, and so we are not individually responsible. There is nothing in the record that supports the idea that the priesthood restriction at the time of implementation was a revelation or remotely God's will. There is plenty in the record noting that it was indeed God's will to end it. President Kimball could have easily made a policy statement to end it. But he knew that for some to accept the change it needed the force of revelation. While serving as an A70 on assignments with the two most senior members of the Q12 I had personal conversations with them about their experiences. Both are now gone. Both were in “the room” when the revelation was received. Both conveyed the power and solemnity of the experience. Both then 40+ years removed from the revelation did not see the original ban as God’s will but as the foibles of men influenced by the society around them. We do a disservice to our leaders when we hold them up to prophetic infallibility. As someone once said - The Catholics have a doctrine of Papal infallibility, but no one believes it. We have no doctrine of infallibility, but no one believes it. The Church has tried to address some of the concerns noted in Brooks’ book. The Gospel Topic essay published in 2013 lays out all the dots and they're easy to connect. There was no mystery about why Brigham Young introduced the exclusion. He said exactly what his reasons were, and every justification Brigham ever gave for the exclusion has been repudiated by the Church. Most significantly, the essay says clearly that the church today unequivocally condemns all racism past and present. If we take this statement seriously, it condemns the exclusion itself, because there's no rational way to see the exclusion as not racist. This is not a history book although it does contain important history. This is a book geared towards awareness and social action. Brooks writes powerfully and convincingly. Yes, the Church has made strides forward. We now partner with the NAACP on the national level for racial equality. More change is needed, and we must work together to get there. Brooks has written a painful reminder of how much more change we need. It is a hard book to read, but her work is needed for this moment.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Brunt

    Brooks definitely lays white supremacy in mormonism wide open in this book. Her chapters outlining dissent on the black priesthood and temple ban were fascinating. They demonstrated almost a 30 year history of increasing opposition to the ban. She demonstrates how this opposition was enacted via direct correspondence with the first presidency, protest and even ordination. Intersectionality plays an important role in determining the response to the dissenting voice with the elite white male mainta Brooks definitely lays white supremacy in mormonism wide open in this book. Her chapters outlining dissent on the black priesthood and temple ban were fascinating. They demonstrated almost a 30 year history of increasing opposition to the ban. She demonstrates how this opposition was enacted via direct correspondence with the first presidency, protest and even ordination. Intersectionality plays an important role in determining the response to the dissenting voice with the elite white male maintaining status in the church, with the less well connected white or indigenous male being excommunicated. I was also impressed with her analysis of the rise of the Church from obscurity into mainstream America and it's collusion with racial innocence. I know that the black priesthood/temple ban was the central issue highlighted in this book, but I wish she had documented more about how the white supremacy affected indigenous/native Americans, latino immigrants populations and also indigenous populations in the broader global church. Maybe this is already documented in her previous book, but I feel the exploration is not broad enough, nor gets to the depths of lingering white supremacy in the church institution today. A centralised hierarchy, a focus on individualism that shifts institutional responsibility to individual choice. A christology that focuses on christ who died personally for me and who will right all wrongs in the next life, absolving me of complicity in societal sin. These need to be addressed in addition to deeper discussions on institutional repentance on the black priesthood/temple ban. White supremacy runs deep, is intergenerational and is erupting as conservative, fundamentalism that is incompatible with the message of Jesus, the way of love and simply is irreconcilable with humanity. I also feel a book on white supremacy and mormonism is not compete without discussing white patriarchal supremacy and the role of men and women in maintaining and supporting it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Ward

    A difficult and impassioned call for institutional and personal repentance. Brooks follows the threads from the LDS church's establishment through the institution of the priesthood and temple ban through the 1978 revelation revoking it, all the while surveying the little choices that privileged white people in the church over black and brown. By highlighting dissenting voices along the way, she underscores that it did not have to be this way, and that it was the explicit and implicit choice to b A difficult and impassioned call for institutional and personal repentance. Brooks follows the threads from the LDS church's establishment through the institution of the priesthood and temple ban through the 1978 revelation revoking it, all the while surveying the little choices that privileged white people in the church over black and brown. By highlighting dissenting voices along the way, she underscores that it did not have to be this way, and that it was the explicit and implicit choice to benefit whites over against blacks in the church that has led to the shameful history of racism. Brooks also interrogates the role that the formal structures within the institutional church played in cementing and perpetuating the ban and the "doctrinal" and ideological justification for it. She argues that the church's position on prophetic infallibility, coupled with repression and ostracization of dissenting voices, served to perpetuate false ideas around the reasoning for the ban. Moreover, in particular the dogged adherence to the notion of prophetic infallibility has made it so far impossible for the church to formally recognize the ban for what it was: a racist policy that was made in an effort to shore up the church's standing with other American whites at a time when the church was itself suffering persecution. She highlights the ongoing struggle with the leaders and members of the church to come to grips with this hard truth, and argues that the only way forward is for an explicit recognition of the nature of the church's historic and ongoing racism, and serious consideration for how to do right by the church's black members in terms of formal steps toward reparation. This is a hard book to read, but is critical if members and the institutional church is to make meaningful reforms in their race relations.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Angulo

    It was an easy read, but it didn't add much to discussion around racism in the LDS church. She took a white supremacy spin and placed the LDS church as a pattern for white supremacy in larger Christianity. Overall, this is a nice summary of other works that should be read (i.e. Paul Reeve's Religion of a Different Color). The audience that Brooks' book is geared to has probably heard most of the stories in this book (though she does add some obscure fighters against racism from the mid-1900's Iv It was an easy read, but it didn't add much to discussion around racism in the LDS church. She took a white supremacy spin and placed the LDS church as a pattern for white supremacy in larger Christianity. Overall, this is a nice summary of other works that should be read (i.e. Paul Reeve's Religion of a Different Color). The audience that Brooks' book is geared to has probably heard most of the stories in this book (though she does add some obscure fighters against racism from the mid-1900's Ive never heard about; 2 stories). It was a bit sensationalized at points (i.e. Smoot/Coltrin power dynamic that i felt had very skimpy evidence to support her conclusion, and the transcription of Donny's interview with Barbara Walters that included a transcription of his physical actions in the interview to draw attention to her argument of the embarrassment and weak foundation of the policy of the LDS church's stance on blacks and the priesthood). With that being said, the history is good, and it reads really well. The timing of its release likely increased its distribution (sold out quickly on Amazon which I've never seen for an Oxford book on Mormonism) and will allow many who have never venturesd into this area of LDS history, encounter some excellent sources, and hopefully, go and read them as well.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    This book is a well-documented history of racial innocence and anti-Black issues in Christianity, and more specifically in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I found the historical research about early Black pioneers and Black members who were ordained to the priesthood by Joseph Smith to be particularly interesting. The issues and differences in fellowship of persons of color (Native American, Asian, Polynesian, South American, African, African American, etc.) from 1830 through 20 This book is a well-documented history of racial innocence and anti-Black issues in Christianity, and more specifically in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I found the historical research about early Black pioneers and Black members who were ordained to the priesthood by Joseph Smith to be particularly interesting. The issues and differences in fellowship of persons of color (Native American, Asian, Polynesian, South American, African, African American, etc.) from 1830 through 2000 raises some interesting issues regarding policies and practices over that period of time. When the Blacks were given the priesthood and the opportunity to participate in temple ordinances in 1978, I had a very close Black friend. I was so delighted for this change, especially for my friend. He is an amazing and spiritual person. There are certainly some aspects of this history that are disturbing but need to be addressed and healed. There were a few parts of Brooks' research that I didn't really find relevant to Christian attitudes about Blacks or racial issues.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    I was 16 years old when President Kimball announced the end of the ban on Black Mormons holding the priesthood. The narrative had been that Black human-beings were not faithful in the pre-existence. Therefore, they were cursed here on Earth, even though no Earth-bound human could remember what they did or did not do in the pre-existence. I recall thinking that seemed very unfair every time I heard it as I grew up. This book described very well the institutionalized racism that existed in the LDS I was 16 years old when President Kimball announced the end of the ban on Black Mormons holding the priesthood. The narrative had been that Black human-beings were not faithful in the pre-existence. Therefore, they were cursed here on Earth, even though no Earth-bound human could remember what they did or did not do in the pre-existence. I recall thinking that seemed very unfair every time I heard it as I grew up. This book described very well the institutionalized racism that existed in the LDS Church then and continues now even after some reforms to expose the historical racism within the Church (and other white, American churches). The prevailing belief that a prophet, pope, or other religious leader is the infallible spokesman for God leaves adherents no room to question practices they may know to be unethical, inhumane, and contrary to the espoused values of the lay membership. I recommend this book as a way to understand how racism becomes a way of being from which unexamined doctrines brook no escape.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    An important work, highlighting the role of American religions in perpetuating white supremacy, from the perspective of Brooks, who is both a member of the Mormon faith and a scholar of gender and race. The book is heavily academic, with lage-long paragraphs and a PhD-level vocabulary. This limits the appeal of the first half of the book, steeped in the historical and academic refutations of what has been presumptively canonized by white religious institutions, inclusive of the LDS faith. The se An important work, highlighting the role of American religions in perpetuating white supremacy, from the perspective of Brooks, who is both a member of the Mormon faith and a scholar of gender and race. The book is heavily academic, with lage-long paragraphs and a PhD-level vocabulary. This limits the appeal of the first half of the book, steeped in the historical and academic refutations of what has been presumptively canonized by white religious institutions, inclusive of the LDS faith. The second half of the book, while still suffering from page-long paragraphs (what do academic publishers hold against pure readability with these absurdly long paragraphs.!), is a fast read, tight, and informative, while not losing its academic rigor. Worth a read for anyone wanting to understand how to do better at dismantling systemic racism, with an interest in LDS/Mormon history, or critical but not heretical examination of the fallacies of men and the execution of Christian gospel.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Russ

    Clear eyed and cogent reporting of white supremacy in the context of the church from early days to the present. Must read for progressive Mormons or really any of the faith who would love to see stronger action and momentum building to undermine white supremacist ideas and actions by coreligionists. The most compelling idea for me was “racial innocence” and how this was brought about and currently maintained.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Well researched and finely written. Joanna Brooks situates the white supremacy in Mormonism in both its historical and theological situations. The chapter that includes rhetorical analysis of statements since the 1978 temple and priesthood ban revocation was phenomenal and gave language to things I’ve noticed but been unable to put into words.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Essential reading for all Latter-day Saints.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Carol Mathis

    Well researched. Every Mormon should read it this book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    G.F. Erichsen

    Members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may find this book a painful read. Brooks, a lifelong Latter-day Saint and scholar perhaps known best for her book The Book of Mormon Girl, quickly dismantles any conception that the Church’s former temple ban on blacks was a mere policy or a practice whose ramifications ended in 1978 when the Church allowed males of African descent to receive the priesthood. Instead, she painstakingly lays out the case that the ban not only was taugh Members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may find this book a painful read. Brooks, a lifelong Latter-day Saint and scholar perhaps known best for her book The Book of Mormon Girl, quickly dismantles any conception that the Church’s former temple ban on blacks was a mere policy or a practice whose ramifications ended in 1978 when the Church allowed males of African descent to receive the priesthood. Instead, she painstakingly lays out the case that the ban not only was taught as doctrine since the days of Brigham Young, but that the ill effects of the pernicious teaching linger on. Brooks' words about the church's history are harsh. But she is not making them as an outside critic, but as one who has been shaped by her faith community, a community she wants to see move forward. Her book makes clear that isn’t going to happen by continuing to paper over the past and pretending that all is well in Zion. I couldn't recommend this book more highly for members of the Church who are willing to be challenged about the Church's history. And those outside the Church who are interested in how racism can implant itself just about anywhere may find this book useful as well.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Noelle

    I think this book is important for LDS people to read to get an overview of the history of racism within the Church - not just individual acts of racism, but the systematic and purposeful exclusion and denigration of Black people within the Church. Even as someone who felt like I was reasonably well-informed on this topic, there was definitely a lot in here that I had not known previously. It is not a super comprehensive history but it hits the highlights, and some particularly disturbing chapte I think this book is important for LDS people to read to get an overview of the history of racism within the Church - not just individual acts of racism, but the systematic and purposeful exclusion and denigration of Black people within the Church. Even as someone who felt like I was reasonably well-informed on this topic, there was definitely a lot in here that I had not known previously. It is not a super comprehensive history but it hits the highlights, and some particularly disturbing chapters of our history. She also relies on and cloaks the research a lot of others have done over the years on this topic in terms that contemporary historians/activists use to define race relations - which may be helpful, but it doesn't feel entirely original. I don't think this book would be particularly helpful for non-LDS people, as it doesn't give enough context on our history and culture to really get an in-depth understanding of Mormonism. One interesting thesis of hers is the way Christianity focuses on individual sin as opposed to collective/generational sin - which gives people permission to absolve themselves of societal issues like racism by believing that they are not personally racist. She also talks a bit about being a person of faith who also wants to hold the Church's institutions accountable to a higher standard, which is a position I deeply identify with.

  26. 4 out of 5

    karl taylor

    This surveys some important history on an important topic, but I really felt like the book would have been better served by including the history from 1830-50, rather than electing to begin in the 1850 era onward. In so doing, it obscures what I think are some key pieces of context on this topic

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cristina Rosetti

    A valuable cultural study on Mormon whiteness and white supremacy that asks readers to interrogate their institution, as well as their own complicity. Timely and sobering.

  28. 5 out of 5

    William

    Joanna Brooks' latest work could not have come at a better moment in history. As the nation (and world) struggles with recognizing and overcoming systemic racism in all of our cultural institutions, Brooks shows how confronting racial inequality begins with asking hard questions, tracing the origins of faulty ideas, recognizing the history of biased institutional practices, acknowledging our participation within such systems, and then finding ways to address the past and make corrections for the Joanna Brooks' latest work could not have come at a better moment in history. As the nation (and world) struggles with recognizing and overcoming systemic racism in all of our cultural institutions, Brooks shows how confronting racial inequality begins with asking hard questions, tracing the origins of faulty ideas, recognizing the history of biased institutional practices, acknowledging our participation within such systems, and then finding ways to address the past and make corrections for the future. Of all the crucial interventions in Brooks' work, I see her effort to raise awareness of racial issues within Mormonism and other Christian denominations as being the most significant. This book contains a lot of history, but it is not intended as an academic history book. Neither is this book a comprehensive "how-to" manual on how to engage in activism. Rather, this book acts as a bridge that connects intellectual reflections on the past with the immediate and necessary dialogue between the present and the future. In other words, before we can make serious and lasting changes to create social justice in our institutions, we first need to be conscious of the full depth of the problems and to become intimately aware of how systemic racism operates within them. And all too often, we are unaware of the pervasive and subtle ways in which racist views, perceptions, and opinions saturate our religious heritage and current practices. We cannot change problems that we cannot see (or do not want to see), and this is the precise location where Brooks makes her intervention: opening the reader's eyes to the ways in which systemic racism developed in the past and continues to operate in the present. Brooks introduces these critical issues to a broad audience, extending the conversation well beyond the boundaries of a specialized (and therefore smaller) readership. Some of the scholarship that Brooks discusses has been available in scholarly works, for example, but the average LDS/Mormon church member still does not know much of this information. What might be old hat for specialist scholars in the field will seem brand new to the average lay member of the church. And this is where Brooks makes a tremendous intervention: she brings together many studies into a single compelling narrative and presents this information in a highly accessible way. Brooks' approach therefore creates a solid foundation of consciousness and awareness for a large audience of readers, who, when fully motivated, have the potential to prompt effective dialogue and positive social change. For members of Christian faiths of any denomination, I would highly recommend this book as an important first step in the effort to educate ourselves about systemic racism, to grapple with its origins and development in our institutions, and to begin the process of change and healing.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    The church’s efforts to improve transparency over the last several years have caused many moments of personal reckoning for me. As more uncomfortable moments in our past history come to light, I’ve had to deal with what they mean and where I place them in my testimony overall (I have a large metaphorical “save for later” shelf). These reckonings have also caused me to think more critically about the differences between “the gospel,” “the church” as an organization, and the “church culture” that The church’s efforts to improve transparency over the last several years have caused many moments of personal reckoning for me. As more uncomfortable moments in our past history come to light, I’ve had to deal with what they mean and where I place them in my testimony overall (I have a large metaphorical “save for later” shelf). These reckonings have also caused me to think more critically about the differences between “the gospel,” “the church” as an organization, and the “church culture” that gets embedded in us, sometimes without us realizing it. These type of reckonings are a good thing - they're part of developing a more mature relationship with the faith that I’ve chosen and to which I’ve committed. Author Joanna Brooks seems to be coming from a similar place. “Because I love my faith community and believe we can do better, I offer our experience to others as a witness and a warning.” So if we love our faith, we must come to terms with the actual existence of racism within the church. I’m not talking about individual racism, though there are heartbreaking incidences of that. No, we need to stop denying/ignoring that systemic racism formed in the early days of the church and affects us still today. If you’ve read the Gospel Topics essay on Race and the Priesthood, you could consider this book evidence that backs up the main thesis of that essay. What Brooks has done is provide specific examples the essay does not, and offers some theories as to how some well-placed individuals’ embedded views of whites as a “chosen” race morphed into “doctrine,” which has since been disavowed by the church. Those specific examples - put in black and white, are really hard to read. I was especially broken-hearted to read the correspondence between the then-First Presidency under George Albert Smith and a man named Lowry Nelson, who knew in his heart that the ban on the Priesthood didn’t align with the gospel he was taught. I have some quibbles with the book: 1) It’s written for an academic audience and thus hard for the lay person to understand at times (I’ve never been one to sit with a dictionary by my side to read a book); 2) I would desperately like to encourage Brooks to hit the Enter key more often; it’s common for her paragraphs to be a full page in length; 3) This book pre-supposes you know the definitions and nuances of concepts like white supremacy and racial innocence. In other words, if you don’t already have a basic understanding and buy-in of these concepts, this is not the first book you should be reading on the subject. This book has given me a lot to think about - prophetic “infallibility” being one of the major ones. I still have my testimony. And I still believe it’s more important than ever to look these things in the face so we can heal these wounds once and for all.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    Brooks examines the history of race and policy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. She highlights the statements and actions of Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets and apostles documenting where racism went from personal feelings of Church leaders to official doctrine. She also documents how the Church manages difficult subjects and controversies in Mormon history. The discussion about insider and outsider communication in the LDS institutional settings was enlightening. She als Brooks examines the history of race and policy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. She highlights the statements and actions of Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets and apostles documenting where racism went from personal feelings of Church leaders to official doctrine. She also documents how the Church manages difficult subjects and controversies in Mormon history. The discussion about insider and outsider communication in the LDS institutional settings was enlightening. She also shows how the LDS church was unexceptional among white American Christianity. And how all churches sustained white supremacy by asking their members to stay silent and not rock the boat. Why I started this book: Mentioned in Beyond the Block podcast, I knew that I want to read more about my Church's stand, past and current stand on racism. Why I finished it: This was a hard but necessary read. And I have further pondering to do about how collective/official repentance would or should work. It's ironic that a Church that has a clear path of personal repentance as taught by President Kimball doesn't have a collective process. Steps of repentance as the perfect, successful abandonment of sin: 1. conviction, in which "the sinner consciously recognizes his sin." 2. abandonment of sin. 3. confession to church authorities and/or other parties wronged by the sin. 4. restitution. 5. keeping God's commandments. 6. forgiving others. To this date, the Church has acted like steps 2 and 5 were enough for the official removal of the Priesthood ban to blacks. And after reading this book, I don't think that it's enough. I also now have an opinion about removing the Smoot name from BYU buildings. When you lie to the prophet, we don't need to honor your legacy. Read-along: Started Thinking About Religion and Violence at the same time, and it was depressing how well these two books intertwined. On the one hand Mormonism isn't the only white supremacist church... and on the other hand we are called to be an example to the world, and a peculiar people. So being anti-racist would be so much better. You know, Christlike. Points to ponder: How can I be anxiously engaged in the work of healing, collective repentance and anti-racism? What is collective repentance? When do I expect it from others and how to I extend it to others? What other issues do I want to claim innocence of? Is change possible from within an institution or does it need to come from without? Would I be courageous enough to be excommunicated for the "unpreached right"?

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