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January 20, 2008


I'm pretty skeptical of the "institutional racism" explanation for the priesthood policy (it's too convenient and it just doesn't fit the facts: if it were racism you'd expect 1.) Chinese members would have been excluded too, 2.) black women would have been denied temple blessings). However, attempts to *explain* the policy may very well have been influence by, and contributed to, racism in the Church.

Your son's question is very interesting to me: "Shouldn't we Mormons be the most tolerant and loving of all peoples?" I was talking with a lady from Utah on the plane recently--I asked her if she was LDS, she said "Not really"--about how interesting it is that so many Utah Mormons forbid their children from dating or being friends with non-Mormons, and what an interesting contrast this makes with the way Joseph Smith lives his life. Of course, tolerance is far from the only issue where we fall short of where we should be (a lady in my Mensa group last week expressed a great deal of surprise when I told her that Utahns are notorious for speeding, not using turn signals, running red lights, etc.), and I think perhaps that's the key. Even though the Church is very old, most members that we interact with are quite young, spiritually speaking. I told my new friend on the plane that I think intolerance is a sign of immaturity: she reacted to that by first pointing out that she'd seen the behavior in stake presidents and bishops. I responded that it's not a sign just of immaturity in the faith, it's a sign of immaturity as a human being. She was really reluctant to pass judgment but eventually allowed that this might be true. As we get older we'll have less of it.

I think perhaps what's happening is that with all the virtues humans need to develop, Church members have so much to concentrate on that they have proportionately less time to devote to learning tolerance. A friend noted yesterday that at his high school, the "good kids" were all really mean and snobbish and the "bad kids" (the ones who did pot, got pregnant, etc.) were really nice and friendly and accepting, which was what drew some people into their orbit. I don't know if you necessarily have to prioritize which virtues to develop first--maybe you can tie them all together--but I'm glad we're studying Joseph Smith these next couple of years because his interactions with people of other faiths are a terrific example. The Catholic priest in Nauvoo, Joshua the Jewish Minister, etc. He treated everyone like a human being, and let his religion inform his treatment of others without looking down on them for not sharing it.

Apologies for a horrifically long comment. :)


Max, black women were denied temple blessings, even all the way back to Jane Manning James. And I didn't live during the era, but from what I understand the racism against blacks was significantly stronger than that against Chinese.

Other than that, I completely agree with your comments about tolerance!

That's interesting. I was told several years ago that black women before 1978 were allowed to be sealed, but that because their husbands were (typically) black and not priesthood holders/endowed it wasn't usually possible. I'm looking for more information, but it seems I was misinformed. Thanks.


Max, I was trying very hard to be opened minded about your comments but just could not get passed your blatantly judgemental attitude.

correction "past" Please forgive those like me who are not memebers of Mensa

I posted this on the AML discussion in response to this post there, but I think it is more appropriate here. Forgive the repetition:


Your discussion with your son is one that I can't yet understand having. Touching and sincere. I haven't seen the film, though I am heartily excited by the prospects. The film sounds far more important than any forays into Mormonized genres I've heard of yet.

I'm troubled and challenged (perhaps for the best) at your notion that institutions can repent as well. While the idea seems sound, and it makes certain things easier (who doesn't have trouble with that part of our doctrinal history), it also suggests that prejudice and the eyes of man directed a major doctrinal sore spot for our church. If its implications stayed with Blacks receiving the priesthood, we might be able to accept that, but in my eyes it has to go further to any uncomfortable doctrine or policy in our history. That becomes frightening to me. It gives me the right to say, "I don't like this doctrine or this policy. It's probably wrong. The church will repent for it later." i.e. they aren't divinely guided.

Have I been too short-sighted on something?

I raise this question, because there are several such "difficult" points in Mormon history that could easily be explained away as "The Church was wrong." The film you discuss seems to bring forth the difficult questions and refuse to give the easiest but most incomplete answers. I can't help but applaud it for that.

when I started writing, I thought that this would be the most appropriate forum for such a discussion, but I am left wondering. I apologize if this wasn't the appropriate way to bring it up.

I am very much looking forward to seeing the film.


I can't tell if you're being intentionally ironic. If so, you have a terrific dead-pan.



I happen not to agree with the "institutional repentance" take, but supposing I did: I don't think that would necessarily imply the things you're afraid of, e.g. "it's not divinely guided." It might just as easily imply that the Lord is expedient at times, more concerned with getting things done than insisting on getting every bit of the form right up front. (I.e. inconsequential mistakes are not necessarily corrected immediately.)

Whether this is actually true is debatable. One thing is certain, though: if the Lord permits mistakes to occur (typos in the Book of Mormon), he will still take responsibility for the results.

"If I do not know the will of my Father, and what He requires of me in a certain transaction, if I ask Him to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in life, or in regard to my own course, or that of my friends, my family, my children, or those that I preside over, and get no answer from Him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me, He is bound to own and honor that transaction, and He will do so to all intents and purposes." [Brigham Young (JoD 3:205,

Am I coming off as arrogant and judgmental here? That earlier comment disturbed me.



There are so many nuances that are difficult to pick up in writing like this, and I'm not sure I understood what your points or intentions were entirely.

I do worry that you might be referring to Blacks not getting the Priesthood for so many years as an "inconsequential mistake." That certainly doesn't go in line with Alma's lesson to his son that "by small and simple things are great things brought to pass."

Likewise, the history of that practice, as I understand it, was riddled with Prophets laboring and beseeching the Lord for that policy to change. Unless those accounts are so slanted as to be false, it makes the issue far more complex than the typos in the Book of Mormon. Your statements go in line with Brigham's statement that there are no perfect revelations because a revelation is only as perfect as the man giving it. I've seen that in the blessings I've given. But that doesn't mean that what did and does come isn't inspired.

It would be too simple a view to say that God was punishing or depriving all men with Black skin> and their families> and the rest of the Church. I hope we will never say something like that. But it is also negligent and simplistic to say that all the Prophets leading up to that decision were racists or simply blinded by the racism in which they were entrenched. Don't we believe that the Lord could have overcome that? I believed He has intervened in more inconsequential matters in my life.

I hope I haven't been argumentative or accusatory (by the way, which earlier comment disturbed you?), but I don't think this is an issue to be so lightly passed over. I admit that it has meaning to me on a very personal note.

I am just suggesting that this is a far more complex issue that we're getting at, I feel. We're trying to describe a sphere with points. It's very hard to do, trapped in one-dimensional space.

could you please tell me when and where this film will be showing in San Diego?


Good points, especially about prophets pleading, etc. I think the specific wording ("inconsequential mistakes") was influenced by 1.) a very cosmic view of what is "consequential" in the long run, 2.) thinking about Joseph Smith ordaining e.g. Elijah Abel to the priesthood 150 years early. I'm not trying to pass judgment on whether that was a mistake or just some kind of exception, but the attitude here is "Eh, what's 150 years between friends?"

I guess it's time for me to post a substantive opinion rather than just commenting on others' opinions: for much of human history, the priesthood was restricted in its dessimination. Not just ordaining to the priesthood (e.g. non-Levites excluded, barring Melchizedek exceptions), but even the receiving of ordinances. Consider the poor deceased Roman who believed the gospel when he heard it and has been waiting for over 2000 years for his baptism! If, for whatever reason, it's appropriate to make many, many people wait, why not some living ones as well as dead ones? If some living people must wait, isn't the most convenient way of signalling that by arranging bloodlines? This doesn't say anything about "valiancy" (Christopher Columbus had to wait at least 400 years for his baptism), and it's quite plausible that some African saints, like that preacher in Nigeria that they tell about in Sunday school, were placed where they were specifically because they were capable of handling the job to be done at transition. Anyway, I don't see the priesthood issue as a group-identity thing at all--it's all about individuals, most of whom I haven't met and don't know nearly as well as Heavenly Father does.

So, yes, in terms of substantive position I agree with you. I think the Church policy was inspired, on purpose, and not because of concern about the opinions of Man (even members of the Church). It's an issue far more consequential than typos in the Book of Mormon (which Heavenly Father is perfectly willing to overlook until they can be corrected by Brethren, perhaps at the instigation of Royal Skousen or whoever :)).


P.S. Trevor: the comment that disturbed me wasn't yours. A poster said that I was blatantly judgmental, and made fun of a social group that I belong to (Mensa). In the context of a thread of tolerance it was wonderfully ironic and may have been a joke, but I couldn't tell and worried that perhaps I genuinely am coming off as judgmental.

Incidentally, I don't think tolerance is the absence of judgment. It does imply respecting the fact that other people's judgment can differ from yours. "I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way." (Joseph Smith)

Gideon, thanks for your generous and powerful review, powerful in large part because you've tuned in to the power of the documentary. Margaret and Darius and others who've been involved have done a remarkable job collecting the material and putting it together to create a finished product of high technical quality (something rather amazing considering how little money they had and the fact that this is pretty much a first effort in documentary making for most of those involved)--and even more than that a product that conveys such a rich and deep sense of the experiences and faith of black members.

Many of those who've seen the documentary, both black and white, have said how helpful and inspiring they've found it. But I suspect not everyone is ready for it. Because the documentary reveals how rough things have been for blacks in the Church, many of whom have been extraordinarily valiant, some people are going to have a hard time dealing with it. The documentary conveys a strong sense of faith and affirmation, but there are a lot of hard things too, and some people will resist acknowledging and experiencing those hard things. Some, on the other hand, may acknowledge the hard things but mix that acknowledgment with anger or harsh criticism. (By the way, as I was reading recently the familiar scriptural passages about the mote in others' eyes and the beam in our own, it occurred to me that the beam referred to may be, more than anything else, lack of charity--a gigantic beam we have to get rid of before we can start picking motes out of other people's eyes.)

Everyone ought to find the documentary troubling. The question is how we deal with being troubled. Are we mature enough, charitable enough, repentant enough--do we have strong enough faith and deep enough humility--to turn those troubled feelings into empathy, determination, and positive changes in attitude and behavior?

That question reminds me of a couple of scriptures I sometimes quote when I talk with students about the value of Shakespearean tragedy (and tragedy in general):

Moroni 9:25: . . . may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.

Alma 42:29: And now, my son, I desire that ye should let these things trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.

Mormon and Alma are talking about somewhat different kinds of trouble: Mormon has written to his son about horrific scenes of brutality and is concerned that a knowledge of such wickedness and carnage not overwhelm Moroni with despair. Alma is telling Corianton not to let his anxiety over doctrinal issues prevent him from focusing on what is most important: repenting and becoming a true disciple of Christ.

Nobody Knows is relevant to both kinds of trouble: how do we respond to other people’s wickedness? how do we respond to our own (which is much harder to see)? And how do we deal with troubling doctrinal and historical questions?

Some have worried about how helpful the documentary would be in setting such troubles in a context that builds faith and inspires charity. But I understand that some of those who have been concerned have concluded, after seeing the completed documentary, that it is powerfully faith promoting. I agree, even while wondering how some people will respond. I was restless during the hours that followed the screening, thinking specifically about a friend who had come and who had left before I had a chance to talk to him. Seeing him the next day, I was relieved to learn he had positive feelings about the documentary. I asked him if he had any thoughts or suggestions. Apart from one segment that had confused him a bit, he said, "No--I just came to learn." The documentary didn't utterly change his understanding and attitudes in one fell swoop. But it opened his eyes to some things he hadn't been aware of, and it was clear to him the film makers had done their homework and knew what they were talking about.

For anyone coming with an open mind, it appears the documentary will at least help chip away at some of the old misunderstandings. I hope that for many it will do even more. I think we need the kind of experience the documentary provides to help us rise to a higher level of discipleship--to go beyond being merely nice and move toward being true followers of Christ. I hope enough of us are ready to respond in this way that the documentary can do the good within the Church that it is capable of, as I believe it will (maybe in some ways more easily) do good outside of the Church. And I hope we can be charitable with each other--I mean especially with fellow members--even if some don't respond ideally.

I think this is a good time to bring in Levinas.

I am Bruce Young's wife. I also make films sometimes and occasionally write books. I love Bruce's comment, because he and I have been on the same learning curve in this issue.

I must say that the power of the documentary is not in explanations it gives for the priesthood restriction (it DOESN'T give any--we avoided that, though we have a few people on tape [which we didn't include in the doc] giving their own views). We do provide a history, but most of all, we provide FACES, especially Black Latter-day Saints telling their own stories. Levinas's powerful philosophy that the human face calls us to responsibility underscores the real substance of the film. If a Latter-day Saint feels threatened by the notion that past teachings about race (or about anything else) might have been flawed, and if they're on the defensive from the get- go, this documentary will not work for them. But if we are really living our religion and truly believe that we are called to comfort those who stand in need of comfort, the film will be a call to compassion and repentence.

As for the San Diego showing, check www.sdbff.com . Keep looking under "program" until they finally get something posted. We understand that we are to be screened on Saturday afternoon (late--probably around 5:00), Feb. 2. I'm getting a little impatient myself because I want to get the word out.

For the Dallas showing, go to www.texasblackfilmfestival.com . We show there on Friday Feb. 1 at 2:00 p.m.

The next Utah screening will be on Saturday March 8th at 11:00 a.m. in Ogden's Egyptian Theater as part of the Foursite Film Festival.


Thanks for that comment. I live in Seattle, but will probably see it if it airs here (or becomes available for purchase somewhere).

If there's a "Notify" list for future distribution/developments, someone is free to put me on it.

[email protected]

I've really wanted to see this documentary, and was sad to miss it. The director, Danor who is a faithful and powerful black Latter-day Saint, is a friend of mine.
I've sought out this issue somewhat. It's important to me. It's important to me to see racism eradicated from the Church. I love what Bruce R. McConkie said after the revelation, to the effect of, forget what has been said or written previously on this subject. Forget all the old justifications. Now we have the word of the Lord.
And I think that's one of the most important things about this issue. When the word of the Lord came down, it reversed over a century of tradition in the Church. Before that we didn't have a bonafide revelation on the subject. Now we do, and I see no reason to go back to the old justifications. Elder Oaks has said in relation to the old priesthood policy that people were wrong to try and give reasons for it, general authorities and lay members alike. David O. McKay said that the priesthood ban was a "policy," not a doctrine. The answer he got when praying about it was, "Not yet." Which indicates to me that timing was an issue (perhaps because of the soon to come Civil Right movement), but I in no way believe the ban was inspired. And I think that is an idea we need to get out of our heads. We inherited the belief from apostate views in Protestant Christianity which had set up the folk beliefs to justify slavery. And sense we were rather apart from the Civil War in the Utah Territory, the Church didn't have to face the issue like the rest of the country did.
For those who ask why the Lord didn't just step in and fix it earlier-- well, that doesn't seem to be his way. "Ask and ye shall receive" is pretty literal. Until we are mature enough to form the questions, he doesn't offer us the answers. Spencer W. Kimball was ready for the answers.

I just talked with the San Diego film festival. They confirmed that showtime will be Saturday, 2/2, @ 5:00pm.
Tickets are available on-line at:
Don't wait -- they've already sold more than half the tickets. The on-line confirmation says that the tickets will come to your billing address but the staff insist that they will be held at Will Call.
You may want to buy a pass; the other films look interesting as well.


Thanks for the most complete review of "Nobody Knows - The Untold Story of Black Mormons" - it is so rewarding the interest and thought this movie is bringing to so many.

Here in the UK I have followed the work of Margaret Blair Young and all her written works and the short movie about Jane Manning James, also Margaret's work with Darius Gray - what real rich Blessings they have brought me.

I can't wait now to see this latest release.


Showing in San Diego: Sold out. They moved us to a larger theater and we filled it. Our generous audience gave us a standing ovation.
Dallas: Not so big a crowd, but a very receptive one.
For me personally: I know the movie so well, but I did tear up as President Hinckley came onscreen uttering those powerful words: "No man who uses disparaging words concerning those of another race can consider himself a disciple of Christ, nor can he consider himself in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ."

THANK YOU all for your support!

I read all three of the Standing on the Promises books and loved them...this has been an important issue to me for many, many years. I just became aware of this movie - any chance it will be in the Phoenix area at all?

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