Blacks in Mormonism: Tough Questions & Responses with Paul Reeve (Part 6)

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

To listen to the complete episode, visit 

I was talking to a stake president yesterday. He was just saying thanks for this series. It’s been helpful. He said, “My major takeaway as a stake president has been I need to seek consensus more in my stake council as I’m making decisions relative to my stake rather than saying, ‘This is where we’re going. This is how we’re going to move forward,’ instead slowing down a little bit and making sure we build consensus, especially about important issues.” And he said that the feeling has been very different, that feeling of unity and peace and harmony and a reassurance to him that, “Yes, I’m actually being guided by the spirit here.” If there’s ever any question, then let’s counsel about it and make sure that the Spirit of the Lord is in this. And when you get consensus among a diversity of people like that, in that setting, that can bolster your confidence that you’re doing the Lord’s will. I thought that was right on. And I think there are historical examples where the lack of consensus leads, you know, in the opposite direction. And I think the most horrific example is the Mountain Meadows Massacre, where William Dame did call the high council together, and they all said, like, “Hey, if there are travelers stranded, we should go rescue them. That’s the consensus, right? And then it’s after the dismissal of the council that Isaac Haight pins William Dame one-on-one and gets a different answer from him to call out the militia.

So without the mitigating council, right, you have horrific consequences. And I’m also reminded of the entry that George Q. Cannon makes at the end of Brigham Young’s life, where he says that, you know, some members of the Quorum of the Twelve are concerned that Brigham Young sometimes operated outside of consensus. George Q. Cannon, he says, so this is journal entry August 29, 1877. So shortly after Brigham Young died, and Elder George Q. Cannon says, “Some of my brethren,” speaking of the Twelve, “as I have learned since the death of President Brigham Young, did have feelings concerning his course, that they did not approve of it. They felt oppressed, and yet they dared not exhibit their feelings to him. He ruled with so strong and stiff a hand, and they felt that it would be of no use to let their voices be heard. In a few words, the feeling seems to be that he transcended the bounds of the authority which he legitimately held, and some even feel that in the promulgation of doctrine he took liberties beyond those to which he was legitimately entitled.” That’s the quote. 

Now, that’s not specifically about blacks in Mormonism here, but I think that totally applies, and we see a missed opportunity here for the mitigating, I like what you’re saying, influence of a council. If Brigham Young could have just sat down, especially with Orson Pratt and others, and just said, “Here’s what I’m thinking. Here’s my understanding. Do you concur? Do you feel in harmony with me about that? Is this something that we can all agree on and we can move forward in this way? And it’s clear that he did not do that, right? And we have Orson Pratt standing up and opposing him in the legislative meetings. And so, yeah, it appears that there was an opportunity lost there of the power of consensus and harmony in the highest councils of the church. And so that’s the lesson learned, right? That’s something about like, OK, how can we learn from this history to be better, to improve? What are the lessons that we can take away? That’s one of my big takeaways. I agree with that stake president. Let’s just make sure we’re counseling together about our decisions and our conclusions in whatever sphere of influence. We happen to occupy at the time, whether in our own families or all the way up to the leading councils of the church. And I think it’s important to include stake council, not just high council, right? And ward council, right? And listen to all the voices. Give them weight. Don’t be dismissive.

I know there’s so much more to probe, and there’s more questions we were not able to get to, but let me just ask you this last question to bring us home: How can we as Latter-day Saints heed President Nelson’s call to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice?

I think that’s really profound call to action and it means we have to act, and it means, in my estimation, that we can’t become defensive or deny our own racial history. I don’t know as a historian how you root out racism without examining its roots. And I think history, then, can actually serve as a catalyst for greater good.

If we can learn the weight of our own racial history, not deny or defend it, not get defensive, but actually own it. Then I think we can adopt a position of power. We can actually lead out, because we can say, “We engaged in racism and have learned its consequences.” “And now are ready to stand in places of empathy and move forward in matters of racial justice.” I think, what better people than Latter-day Saints to heed his call? I think we should be at the forefront of matters of racial justice. That’s what he’s asked us to do. I hear that as the call coming from the First Presidency. And to do so, I think we have to come to terms with our own racial history, understand its consequences, and then be willing to stand in places of empathy.

That includes listening to our brothers and sisters who might be different from us, who might look different from us, and do so with virtue and holiness—to esteem our brothers and sisters as ourself is the call of the disciple of Jesus Christ, and to esteem our brothers and sisters as ourselves is to recognize that because someone else’s skin color might be different from mine, they might have different life experiences. And rather than become defensive, I need to esteem them as myself in virtue and holiness the Doctrine and Covenants says. That’s my obligation as a disciple of Christ, right? That’s the call of a disciple, and I think Latter-day Saints are primed and prepared, but first of all, we have to own our own racial history with blacks and Mormons, understand its consequences, and like Moroni asked us to do, to use the mistakes of the past to learn to be more wise. And our own racial history can teach us to be more wise on racial matters. 

I think we’re a people who do well when we come together, and the call is for us to, amidst our diversity, be inclusive and unified. That’s the vision of Zion that I believe in.

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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