Saturday, May 26, 2007

MHA: Two American Prophets on the Status of African-Americans

Here is a report from my notes of a session from the 2007 Mormon History Association Conference

Presenter: Newell Bringhurst
Paper:  "Two American Prophets on the Status of African-Americans: The Contrasting Views of Brigham Young and Ellen G. White"

Ellen G. White (Seventh Day Adventist)  & Brigham Young, are on the extreme ends of of attitudes towards race among American born prophets.  Charles Tazz Russell (Jehovah Witnesses) and Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science) fall somewhere in between.

Brigham Young,  was strongly against blacks having the priesthood.  Factors leading to this include:
  1. The  adoption of Book of Abraham as scripture with it's statement - "cursed as pertaining the priesthood" regarding Cain's descendants,
  2.  Temple teachings (although I'm not sure which temple teachings those may be.  Perhaps they have been removed from the temple ceremony). 
  3. The teaching that  Mormons are the decedents of Ephraim.  Priesthood came by linage and blood.
  4. Increased Mormon anxieties of linage degradation, a common theme among western settlers.  This included sexual anxieties regarding black & white races mixing.  A law in Utah Territory provided a $500 to $1000 fine & up to 3 year imprisonment for white & black intermixing.  Brigham Young taught the only form of repentance for such was beheading & spilling of blood.
Pratt, in Winter Quarters, quotes the Book of Abraham as teaching about blacks for the 1st time.  It was used against a man who slept with a black woman, with Pratt saying he had been polluted with the blood of Cain. Brigham Young said he would have had  killed an inter-racial couple except for their living close to gentiles who presumably could protect them, or object.

At least 3 African Americans met with violence from white Utahans during Brigham Young's administration.  Blacks could not hold office or vote.

Ellen G. White. took over after William Miller's prophesy failed in 1844.  She never held an official position, but her 53 books were considered inspired, but never canonized and she further expanded the doctrines of Miller.  She adapted a millenarian attitude, fostered in part because of the slavery issue in the U.S.  She considered the civil war as a punishment by God for slavery and thought that would bring an end the U.S.

She was an abolitionist.  In part due to her outreach to blacks, the 1880s saw the church's membership double.  She had contradictory attitudes towards blacks.  She hoped missionary work in the south would grow their membership.  But she felt many blacks were ignorant and sinful, who were descendants of Ham.  This thinking was similar to Joseph Smith's  & Brigham Young's, but she did not associate Cain with blacks.

The 1890 saw a 2nd missionary campaign and  55 public schools were opened for blacks.  Her movement initially resisted Jim Crow laws, but later she reluctantly segregated their congregations. 

In 1908, the LDS church adopted a resolution NOT to do missionary work among blacks, while in 1909, the Adventists adopted a resolution TO push missionary work among blacks.

It is possible that Ellen G. White may have had black ancestors, which could have influenced her attitude.  Today, 1/3rd of Adventists are black while the LDS church had virtually no black membership until after the 1978 revelation.

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