Mormonism: A Product of Its Environment


Image credit: Comedy Central

Describing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as behind the times would be to generously euphemize the dark history of the Mormon Church. The church’s constant struggle against progress is futile, as indicated by its constantly changing doctrine:

The two biggest additions to the new edition of Mormon scripture can be found in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, says Givens, a professor of literature and religion at the University of Richmond, and they deal specifically with the church’s original ban on black priesthood ordination and polygamy.

Givens says Joseph Smith himself ordained black members of the church to the priesthood. But after Smith’s death, beginning in the late 1840s, Brigham Young apparently charted a new direction in terms, and began what became known as “the ban,” under which people of African-American ancestry were not permitted to hold the priesthood or to participate in temple ordinances.

“That was a policy that remained in place until 1978. It’s really the albatross around the neck of the church, and it was for many, many years,” says Givens, co-author of The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life.

I think that this new introduction to the revelation ending the priesthood ban is a major step forward in many ways because it acknowledges that the practice may have originated ā€” it seems to me, this is how I’m reading it anyhow ā€” as a matter of error or cultural and historical conditioning rather than as the will of God,” he says. “And that’s a fairly significant statement for the Church to make.

The changes also deal with polygamy. A new introduction included in Doctrine and Covenants, Givens says, declares that “monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless he declares otherwise.

“I think that one could read that almost as an inversion of many Mormons’ historical understanding of plural marriage,” Givens says.

Givens says he believes these additions to Mormon scripture show signs of a more modern Mormon Church.

“In many ways, what we’re seeing with these changes is the privileging of history over theology in some ways,” he says. “It’s a kind of acknowledgement that the Mormon Church is rooted in a past that is replete with historical claims. And it’s a magnificent thing for a church to allow professional historians to have a lead role in the way that scripture is presented and its story is told.”

As is mentioned in this article, it took until 1978 for God to “reveal” to the Mormons that black men were eligible for priesthood (women and transgendered individuals are still quite out of the question). It is also worth noting that the church’s stance on black people prior to 1978 is not part of the usual curriculum for Mormon children, and many older members maintain the old church racism. Matt Dillahunty once spoke of Mormonism and Scientology as the stupidest religions – and how can anyone disagree with him, when these asinine revelations are perpetuated by the church and accepted by its followers? It’s quite apparent that no god ever had a say in such a sloppy religion.

Like most religions, Mormonism is a reactionary virus of an institution, never taking the lead in social progress but instead succumbing when cultural pressures become too great. Fortunately for the secular-minded of us, the church is trapped in a beautiful catch-22: by altering the church’s theology based on societal norms, the church reveals itself as man-made and not God-inspired; however, if the church elects to maintain its antiquated beliefs, it gets left behind as society as a whole progresses towards enlightenment.

When it comes to the extinction of Mormonism, it’s a question of “when” rather than “if.”


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