Can We Ask Mitt About Mormonism’s Racist Past?

As the possibility of electing our first Mormon president approaches, the LDS Church’s history on race continues to emerge in voter discussions, leaving the uncomfortable question largely unanswered: should Mitt Romney have to address Mormonism’s racist past? Or perhaps the more fair question to ask, since we’d be hard pressed to find a candidate whose religious tradition doesn’t include some deeply problematic elements, is: What effect has growing up in the LDS Church had on the candidate’s views on race?

Negative attention around the contentious subject of American racism would likely bring unwanted scrutiny to the candidate who could become the first white man to unseat the nation’s first black president. 

The remarks earlier this year by now-former BYU professor, Randy Bott, that African Americans had been banned from the priesthood because they weren’t yet ready for it, brought unsolicited attention to the LDS faith’s racist past, causing a swift reaction from Church headquarters. But despite the Church’s rejection of Bott’s comments, it missed an opportunity to make an undisputed and official apology for its past. 

These are serious issues about which Romney has remained remarkably silent, neither breaking free from his religious convictions nor offering any consolation with regards to the teachings of his faith that could provide a glimpse into his own racial beliefs about black people. Little has been said about his record on civil and social justice, including during his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts. Instead, what we often hear from the campaign on matters of race is a reference to what his father accomplished as governor of Michigan.

But Mitt Romney was 31 years old when the priesthood ban was finally lifted. That accounts for half of his life, including his formative years and well into adulthood. It seems reasonable to wonder whether the Republican candidate received negative messages about the character and disposition of people of African descent, and where he stands on it now.  

Obery M. Hendricks Jr. remarked that, “at no time has Mitt Romney ever publicly indicated that he seriously questioned the divine inspiration of the Book of Mormon’s teachings about race, much less that he has repudiated them.” Although I respect the regard given to our First Amendment and the separation of church and state, the American people have a right to know the totality of the character of the American president, particularly if it effects his/her ability to govern “the 100%” of Americans. 

Darron.Smith@wichita.edu'

Darron T. Smith is a commentator on issues of race whose views have been featured in forums ranging from The New York Times and Chicago Tribune to ESPN's Outside the Lines. He is the co-author of White Parents, Black Children: Experiencing Transracial Adoption and co-editor of Black and Mormon.