Commentary: Who’s Afraid of Mormons?

With Mitt Romney leading the GOP presidential race, will Blacks harbor prejudice against Mormons, as many other Americans do?

Posted: 11/15/2011 04:44 PM EST
Mitt Romney

With Herman Cain’s run for president flaming out with every new gaffe and sexual harassment claim, and Rick Perry dead in the water after outright forgetting one of his main platforms, it’s looking likelier and likelier that Mitt Romney is going to be the man on the GOP presidential ticket next year. On paper, as an ultra-wealthy and white former state governor, Romney looks a lot like many of America’s former presidents. There’s just one thing: he’s a Mormon.

In its more than two centuries of existence, the United States has never had a Mormon president. And a recent poll in June discovered that more than a fifth of Americans wouldn’t vote for a Mormon candidate for president, on principle. A lot of people seem unnecessarily scared of Mormons. But do they actually have reason to worry?

An article in The New Republic asks directly if the Mormon Church has left behind its racist history enough to be appealing to Black folks. At the start of Mormonism, church leaders were often outspoken in their bigoted views toward African-Americans, and until 1978, Black males were barred from holding Mormon priesthood. In the years since the LDS Church has been quite open about its wishes to distance itself from its racist past, but is it too little too late?

From what writer Max Perry Mueller says, it sounds as if Mormonism can’t escape its racist past so easily:

I’ve also talked to several Black Mormon parents whose children have left the Church because they were teased or called the “N-word” during church activities or even in the sacred halls of the temple. White Mormons, too, have left the Church due to the perpetuation of racist theologies.

Ask anyone living in the South and they’ll tell you: Deeply entrenched bigotry takes a long time to get rid of, and expecting Mormonism to exorcise itself of all its past demons overnight is foolish. What’s also foolish, however, is for people to remain skeptical of every Mormon, including people like Romney, who has said he wept when Blacks were finally allowed to have the Mormon priesthood. Hate breeds hate and fear breeds fear. And even if some Mormons hold on to racist ideology from the past, despising all of Mormonism for their sins progresses nothing.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

(Photo: AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

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