F.A.I.R? Anything But…

Anyone following the correspondence between Reachout Trust and F.A.I.R. over recent months will be aware that it has effectively stopped. Back in June, as I finished a 10,500 word response to the president of F.A.I.R., Darryl Barksdale, I felt that perhaps this was getting a little cumbersome. However I could see no way of giving a less than thorough response without risking the accusation of dodging the issues. I needn’t have worried since I was to receive no reply, not even an acknowledgement. The president of F.A.I.R., clearly had no intention of maintaining the standards he demands of his correspondents. Instead the April issue of Apologia finally appeared in June (Difficulties back at FAIR HQ had delayed publication for months. They now seem to be up-to-speed though of course speed doesn’t necessarily signify progress) with the whole issue dedicated to disparaging Reachout Trust as “a ministry established almost solely for the purpose of trashing LDS beliefs”, whose ministry is part of a wider, and thoroughly racist group known as the Christian Church.

The April Apologia is almost entirely a cut-and-paste production with precious few original contributions from Mr Barksdale. This fact, along with the speed with which he was able to put it up on the net after receiving my June 14th email leads me to believe that he had probably read a book about Christian racism (probably Neither White nor Black, by Bush and Mauss, a book he recommends in the article), and couldn’t wait to find an opportunity to throw it in the face of the nearest Christian. I just happened to be the one privileged to be in the right place at the right time. Lucky old Mike!

This looked like the only response I was going to get so I read it carefully and wrote back in August, pointing out how thoroughly dishonest and inaccurate it was. It was a private email affording Mr Barksdale an opportunity to correct the errors he had made. Knowing that he was busy with an upcoming symposium I left it for a month, although given the subject of the symposium, Evidence for the Book of Mormon, I couldn’t see why it should distract him for too long. What on earth do you think they found to talk about for a whole weekend? Answers on a postcard…! Having received no reply I published the email on the Reachout web site, along with the rest of the correspondence and sent it on to several interested parties. This was followed by an invitation to Mr Barksdale to have his own views published on the Reachout web site, unedited, to which we received again no reply.

Before I move on to other things I want to tie up some loose ends and perhaps draw some lessons. I imagine that our friend Barksdale must have been delighted to receive a testimony from a “former anti-Mormon” turned Mormon, confessing to being thoroughly dishonest in the pursuit of exposing Mormon error. His delight must have turned to ecstasy to discover an association with Reachout Trust and, as the testimony was published in the January edition of Apologia, he must surely have considered it a good days work. An anti-Mormon in the bag and Reachout Trust exposed as disreputable.

Imagine his chagrin to receive from that same “former anti-Mormon” a statement making clear that her dishonesty was completely her own, stating “Reachout do not act through hatred and I never indicated to them what I was doing. Please do correct this on my behalf in whatever way is necessary…” Caught off guard, and in a rare gesture of fairness, Mr Barksdale immediately offered to publish the statement, for the sake of clarification, in the next issue of Apologia;

“I was grateful to receive your e-mail which clarified any misunderstandings that may have been put forth in the article we recently published. I fully intend to publish this response in the February issue of Apologia.”

Having been asked to do so by the author of the original article it seemed only fair and even-handed to comply. He clearly , on reflection, thought the offer a little too fair and even-handed and, to date, has not published as promised. I am neither surprised nor particularly disappointed. It does seem unrealistic to expect a totally uncritical pro-Mormon organisation to publish an endorsement of a group that brings criticism to bear on Mormonism. It is, however, indicative of the bind Mormon apologists find themselves in as they try to defend their faith while trying to be “Christian” and fair in dealing with detractors.

Jason J. Barker, Director of the Southwest Institute for Orthodox Studies, Arlington, TX, in a paper entitled Who is the Representative Mormon Intellectual? Assessing Mormon Apologetics, examines the LDS educational philosophy. Whilst recognising that “an increasing number of Latter-day Saints are currently active in mainstream academics”, he goes on to quote Karl Sandberg, a Mormon and a French professor (emeritus) at Macalester College, who observes;

“There are Mormons who do scholarship in all of the various disciplines – they play by the same rules as everyone else, they participate in the same dynamics, and they produce the same kind of knowledge. This is not the case, however, when Mormons do scholarship about Mormonism or directly related subjects.”

Barker goes on to explain that

“The primary reason for this discrepancy…is that Mormon-specific scholarship in the LDS Church is necessarily limited by the boundaries of Mormon orthodoxy and orthopraxy.”

He quotes Sanburg further who elaborates;

“There are prominent examples of Mormon scholarship whose purpose appears to be that of giving scholarly permission to people to believe what they already believed on subjective grounds and of answering and repulsing any perceived attacks on the Church.”

In other words, there are distinct boundaries to Mormon Scholarship as the Mormon Church insists on favouring faith over intellect. Thus, just as a car might be fitted with a speed restrictor, a man may be fitted with a truth restrictor. Getting back to the specific example of Mr Barksdale this means that whilst it is intellectually and morally right and honest to correct the impression given in the January Apologia it is not politically correct or loyal to the church to do so. Orthopraxy defines right dealing or conduct, correct action; and correct action, as defined by their church, restricts the Mormon apologist’s activity and compromises their integrity. That is to say, Barksdale cannot tell the unvarnished truth and remain loyal to his church. Neither does his church expect that he should.

No less an authority than Mormon president-in-waiting Boyd K Packer had the following to say in attacking even professionals as they attempt to achieve impartiality in telling the truth about Mormonism.

“There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”

Note that it is not lies about which Packer is concerned, but the truth. Given the history of the Mormon Church I can well see how “some things that are true are not very useful”. Clearly the message here is that there are things about the church’s history that cannot bear close scrutiny without potentially damaging the faith of its members. I am grateful to Boyd Packer for confirming my observations. The church’s test, then, of whether to tell the story of Mormonism is whether what you tell promotes the Mormon faith and engenders faith amongst it’s members. If the truth does not promote faith then it is best to protect people from it.

This is not a phenomenon peculiar to Mormonism, or indeed to the cults in general, but can be found operating in the life and witness of every Christian who refuses to reflect intelligently on their faith, recognising that, whilst certain truths are indeed inviolable it is often faith alone that makes them “true” in this life and only eternity that will confirm their verity. By the same token much custom and practice, over time, proves provisional and only exists at all by the grace of God as he patiently deals with our muddle-headed humanity. We must learn to be faithful, then, to what we believe whilst holding to a modesty that avoids dogmatism.

We see this “truth restrictor” operating when addressing Barksdale’s specific charge of racism in the Christian Church. Although he accused me of “playing the race card” in our exchanges, in truth, it was he who first raised the issue. Having rated and fumed for four gloriously cut-and-paste pages he finally comes to what he calls “the alleged ‘racism’ in the LDS Church”. The seasoned Mormon-watcher can, of course, see what is coming and he doesn’t disappoint us as he declares;

“…the LDS Church was the FIRST church in America to be fully integrated”

concluding his article by writing;

“…history paints a very different picture from what our detractors present. Even though individuals within the Church, including some leaders, reflected the cultural views prevalent in their day towards other races, the Church has always admitted all races as members since the restoration and organization (sic) of the Church in 1830. Contrary to what our detractors claim, blacks were ordained to the priesthood before the 1978 Priesthood Revelation was received. In 1838 a black member was ordained.”

The question that springs immediately to mind is why, if the Mormon Church has been so racially integrated for so long, was there need for “the 1978 Priesthood Revelation” to which Mr Barksdale so proudly alludes? Why in 1978 did the “fully integrated” Mormon Church allow Negroes to become fully integrated? One might also ask why, in “the FIRST fully integrated church in America”, he can only find one solitary example of a Negro being ordained to the priesthood. Tellingly he asserts that “blacks (plural) were ordained to the priesthood before the 1978 Priesthood Revelation” but then goes on to refer to “a black member” (singular) being ordained in 1838.

His confession that “individuals within the Church, including some leaders, reflected the cultural views prevalent in their day towards other races” is less than frank. This classic example of Mormon doublespeak sees the truth restrictor kicking in again and illustrates that Mormons seem peculiarly capable of holding their leaders up to the world as “prophets, seers and revelators” whose calling it is to “interpret the mind and will of the Lord” while, at the same time, being prepared to dismiss anything they say that is compromising or embarrassing as “private interpretation”. And “private interpretation” seems to excuse anything without at all compromising their standing as “prophets, seers and revelators”. Of course the most inflammatorily racist remarks are to be found both in the pronouncements of generations of Mormon leaders as well as being enshrined in Mormon “scripture”. There is too much of it and it is too all-pervasively insidious to be dismissed as the private views of some culture-bound leaders. In his recommended reading Mr Barksdale himself, would he realise it, brings to the fore evidence enough that this is the case.

The books recommended by Mr Barksdale were not as easy to come by here in the UK as perhaps in the States. Bush and Mauss’s Neither White nor Black is now out of print and so I cannot access what is probably Barksdale’s main, possibly only source. I have managed to obtain copies of The Arrogance of Faith by Forrest G. Wood and Black Power and White Protestants from the British Library. Being library books I have limited time in which to research them, as well as being restricted by an already heavy reading schedule. I have read most of the former but have yet to read the latter. What has been interesting is the realisation that Barksdale has probably read neither but simply quoted them second hand, his probable source being Neither White nor Black. Had he read Forrest G. Wood’s book he might not have been so ready to quote it.

I do not here intend to critique Wood’s book, that being both outside my remit and, frankly, beyond my capabilities. He is clearly an accomplished sociologist whose work merits respect and whose understanding of the issue under consideration, i.e. racism, is valuable. It should be understood, however, that it is written with a positive antipathy towards Christianity. In his preface the author frankly declares that

“The central thesis of this book is that Christianity, in the five centuries since its message was first carried to the peoples of the New World – and, in particular, to the natives and the transplanted Africans of English North America and the United States – has been fundamentally racist in its ideology, organization (sic), and practice.”

Commenting on Christian evangelism Wood declares

“Herein lay the fundamental component of Christian racism; his inherent inability to leave other people alone”.

While recognising the many antislavery protests among Christians Wood refuses to be impressed, declaring that such protests were robbed of their worth by the fact that they were based on Christian principles and prejudices. The point here is that the author’s arguments work as efficiently against Mormonism as against the orthodox Christian faith. Indeed it might be said that if he writes of Christianity with a sneer (and he does) he is equally disparaging of Mormonism, citing it as being at least as culpable in the charge of racism.

On page 96 he writes:

“A more recent example of racist damnation by deity was the teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day (sic) Saints (Mormons) that certain people who at one time had been white – Indians and Africans – had had their skins darkened because of past sins against God, and, accordingly, were not eligible for full membership in the church.”

He then quotes 2 Nephi 5:21-24:

21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.

and references 1 Nephi 12:23; Alma 3:6; and Mormon 5:15.

He goes on to comment;

“Well into the twentieth century, most Americans considered Mormonism a cult whose general influence on American life was virtually no-existent. Since they were confined to an isolated section of the country, the Mormons’ ennobling of their “exceedingly fair and delightsome” fellow saints and, conversely, their condemnation of dark-skinned peoples had little effect on blacks and Indians. But the doctrine’s existence served as a reminder of how so-called curses that had been conceived in less enlightened times could survive as long as enough people believed in them.” (p.97, emphasis in original)

Commenting on the 1978 “Revelation” he writes on page 111;

“Was the world supposed to believe that Mormon president Spencer W. Kimball’s claim to a divine revelation, in which he alleged that God had told him to declare black men eligible to enter the priesthood, instantly eradicated racist thinking and habits among church members?…[The question is] if the insidious blade of discrimination could, for whatever reason, cut sharply in one direction, could it not swing back quietly in another? Such a question assumes that an institution – especially one as comprehensive and influential as a church – that so easily relegated one segment of the human race to a subservient status might not fully escape the inclination to do the same to others. Discrimination easily became a habit. Laws changed and human behaviour evolved; but once a long-established notion became tucked away in some corner of the mind, it was not easily dislodged. Not even by a revelation.”

I have already answered the charge of Christian racism and shown racism to be institutionalised in the traditional Mormon religion. For those with the time and inclination you may follow my remarks on the Reachout web site. Mr Wood and others merely confirm what we all should know, i.e. racism can easily become a part of our religion. Such a development comes, it seems to me, from a strongly fundamentalist attitude that sees all things in sharp contrast, right and wrong; friends and enemies; Zion and Babylon; trustworthy and suspect; “white and delightsome”

(2 Nephi 5:21-24, pre-1981 BOM) and dark and loathsome – black and white. We all must surely “examine ourselves” as the scripture has it, to see if we are in the faith that declares;

“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye [be] Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29, KJV)

We must also repent of our past prejudices before we can legitimately move on to more enlightened thinking and declare “Neither White nor Black”. May God give us grace, Christians and Mormons alike, to repent and move into the light.