Sunday, May 24, 1998

Mormon Plan to Disavow Racist Teachings Jeopardized by Publicity
By LARRY B. STAMMER, Times Religion Writer

The president of the Mormon History Assn. said Saturday that it is less likely that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will disavow 19th century teachings that linked African American skin color to Biblical curses because of publicity about that possibility.

Armand L. Mauss said he believes the top leadership of the 10-million member church may worry that they would be seen as bowing to public pressure if they made such a disavowal in the wake of news stories about secret deliberations on the issue. Mauss, who is among those who for several years have been privately seeking such a disavowal, said an article in The Times last week that reported on the efforts may thwart them.

Mauss said the church's Committee on Public Affairs, which is considering the issue, was going to make a recommendation to top church officials, known as the Frist Presidency.

Sources close to the sensitive deliberations told The Times that a statement would be issued as early as next month, the 20th anniversary of the landmark 1978 decision by the church to admit all worthy men to the priesthood, regardless of their race or color.

Mauss, who has written papers for church officials outlining the history of the teachings and offering a rationale for repudiating them while still upholding basic Mormon doctrine, said he would not have done so unless he was encouraged by church leaders.

A source told The Times that although the publicity had momentarily put discussions on hold, it was possible they would resume.

Keith Atkinson, a spokesman for the church in Los Angeles, said Saturday he could not comment on what the church may or may not do.

But he said he believed the church had already disavowed the teachings when it admitted men with black African ancestry to the priesthood in 1978.

Also Saturday, two more Mormon historians joined Mauss in calling on the church to disavow its legacy of racism. They noted that although blacks are now admitted to the priesthood, the underlying theology--particularly discourses and statements by past Mormon leaders on the curses that helped justify the former ban--continues to be widely circulated within the church.

The latest to issue such a call were Mormon historians Lester E. Bush Jr. and Newell G. Bringhurst, who on Friday was elected president of the association.

"Church leaders simply were mistaken in accepting and teaching the notion that blacks had any known relationship to Cain, Ham, Egyptus or any other biblical figure," Bush wrote in a paper delivered here Saturday before the historical association.

Copyright Los Angeles Times


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