The Racialist Churches of Our Presidential Candidates

Imagine if a presidential candidate were to spend their adult life in a church that had a history of racism. The candidate explains, more-or-less convincingly, that they are neither a racist nor a racialist. In fact, few people believe that the candidate is a racialist, despite the fact that they did not disassociate themselves from their church’s teachings.

Imagine also that they looked the other way and feigned ignorance of what their church taught or refused to directly denounce the racist teachings. How would you feel about such a politician? Would you regard them as a person of integrity? Would they be qualified to be the President of the United States?

Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical question but a concern we should have about both presidential candidates—Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

As Andrew Sullivan pointed out yesterday, Mitt Romney “belonged to a white supremacist church for 31 years of his life, went on a mission to convert Christians and Jews and others to this church, which retained white supremacy as a doctrine until 1978- decades after Brown vs Board of Education, and a decade after the end of the anti-miscegenation laws.” Indeed, Sullivan is correct. Romney was well into adulthood before the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed its racist’s  ways and proclaimed that “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.”

Sullivan asks “what did the Romneys do to confront their own church’s non-secular position on the inherent spiritual inferiority of blacks? Nothing, so far as I can find.” That certainly seems to be the case. Like Barack Obama, Romney was a member of a racist church and did nothing about it.

During the 2008 primary and election, Obama believed—as did most of the media—that his biggest problem was his relationship with Rev. Wright. The real concern went largely ignored. Obama’s association with the rogue pastor was forgivable; his association with Trinity United Church of Christ, however, was—and remains—inexcusable.

For over twenty years, Obama and his family were members of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), an apostate, racialist church that makes no distinction between faith and politics. TUCC adheres to a form black liberation theology, a strain of heresy that makes Christianity subservient to a twisted, racialist political ideology. The purpose of Black theology is, as the movement’s founding theologian claims, to make political “liberation” the “central theme of the biblical message.”

As James Hal Cone, the founder of Black theology and a mentor of Rev. Wright’s, once wrote:

Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community. . . . Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.

And in another book, Cone wrote:

For white people, God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ means that God has made black people a beautiful people; and if they are going to be in relationship with God, they must enter by means of their black brothers, who are a manifestation of God’s presence on earth. The assumption that one can know God without knowing blackness is the basic heresy of the white churches.

In 2007 Cone told Jason Byassee, a writer for the Christian Century, that “when he’s asked where his theology is institutionally embodied, he always mentions Trinity.” An example of the influence of Cone’s “theology” can be found on TUCC’s website, under a set of 12 concepts known as the “Black Value System.” The concepts include:

Commitment to the Black Community. The highest level of achievement for any Black person must be a contribution of strength and continuity of the Black Community.

[. . .]

Pledge Allegiance to All Black Leadership Who Espouse and Embrace the Black Value System.

Personal Commitment to Embracement of the Black Value System. To measure the worth and validity of all activity in terms of positive contributions to the general welfare of the Black Community and the Advancement of Black People towards freedom.

This dangerous distortion of the Gospel is the foundation of what Trinity United Church of Christ believes and teaches.

This is the crux of the problem for Obama: Set aside the inflammatory rhetoric of Rev. Wright, even concede that the president knew nothing of his mentor’s hate-filled rants, and you’re still left with the troubling fact that for 20 years Obama was a member of a church that is founded on this racialist theology.

This is the despicable theology that was being preached while Obama was apparently asleep in the pews. This is the divisive teaching that Obama’s fellow church members embraced and spread throughout the black community in Chicago. I have no doubt that Obama is not a racialist and that he has never agreed with the basic tenets of his church. Yet I find the alternative explanation just as troubling.

Obama knew that as a modern Democrat he is not expected to believe—or at least act as if he believes—the teachings of TUCC or any other church. The tacit agreement between Democratic candidates and their voters is that it doesn’t matter whether a politician is a Protestant, Catholic, or religiously motivated racialist since they won’t let their church’s teachings conflict with their political ideology. They may claim to “Pledge Allegiance to the . . . Black Value System” but their true allegiance is to the value system of an irreligious liberalism. Religious language is still welcome if it merely substitutes for a liberal value (e.g., “social justice” used to justify redistribution of wealth). But if the two conflict (e.g., sanctity of life versus abortion rights) then the religious verbiage must be discarded.

“Barack Obama has referred to his faith more times than most presidents ever have, but for many it’s the wrong kind of faith,” says Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners. To be clear, when Wallis is referring to the “wrong kind of faith” he is not referring to Obama’s alignment with a racialist ideology. As long as Obama is using faith in the service of liberalism, Wallis, like Andrew Sullivan, will unapologetically turn a blind eye to the president’s racist associations. (Some people sell their integrity on the cheap.)

But while Democrats can be expected to put ideology ahead of faith, what is the GOP’s excuse?

Unfortunately, Sullivan has a point about there being a “double standard” on race and religion (though not the one he thinks). The same people who chastise Obama for his association with Rev. Wright and TUCC seem wholly unconcerned about Romney’s association with the pre-1978 LDS church. The fact that Romney belonged to a group that espoused such white supremacist teachings is disturbing. But even more disconcerting is that he doesn’t appear to have fully denounced his church’s earlier doctrine. The last time Romney was even asked about it was in interview by Tim Russert in 2007:

Russert: But it was wrong for your faith to exclude [African-Americans] for as long as it did?

Romney: I’ve told you exactly where I stand. My view is that there is no discrimination in the eyes of God and I could not have been more pleased when the decision occurred.

“Why could he not just have said ‘yes’?” asked Sullivan. Good question.

An even better question is why do we have two candidates who belonged to racist churches and no one seems to care?


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  • Timothy Dalrymple

    Yeah, this is one area where I have to criticize Mitt. He should have just done what Huntsman did and say the church was wrong and move on with it. Instead he said what most leaders in the LDS church say when they’re asked about it. They won’t quite say it was wrong, but they’ll say that they’re thrilled it was changed. They’ll also say they don’t really know why blacks were excluded from the priesthood.

    I do wonder, though, whether it’s fair to call the Mormon Church prior to 1978 “white supremacist.” For one thing, there are so many nasty associations with that term that do not really apply here (Neo-Nazis, etc). But for another, complementarians rightly reject the notion that excluding women from the priesthood or the pastorate means that they are male-supremacist. It means that they believe equal people have different roles. Granted, priesthood means different things for Mormons and Catholics/Protestants, and granted as well that there were other teachings that the LDS church has since renounced or reframed. But “white supremacist” seems a bit much on Sully’s part.

    • Douglas Johnson

      Politically speaking, yes. Romney should just have offered up a simple “Yes.” Politically speaking too, when Republicans are asked about a rape/incest exception for abortion, they should simply say “Yes.” I suspect in another 20 years or so when Republicans are asked if their churches were wrong to oppose the redefinition of marriage the correct answer, politically speaking, will simply be “Yes.” And so on. Politically speaking, the right answer is not to take the media’s bait.

      But, I’ll posit, there are better ways to handle this without giving up your integrity. On abortion, for example, you might say something like “you’ve asked perhaps the most difficult question you can put to a pro-life candidate. The difficult questions for pro-choice candidates would be to ask them if they will agree to outlaw third trimester partial-birth abortions, and if they will outlaw sex selection abortions, and if they oppose President Obama’s support for post-birth abortions, and so on. Imagine, if interviewers such as yourself never asked a pro-life candidates the question you posed, but always asked pro-choice candidates the questions I posed. I suspect pro-choice candidates would regard that as an incredible and absurd distortion of the debate.”

      The interviewer’s answer to that would likely be, “so you refuse to answer the question.” To which I would respond, “on the contrary! I want very much to discuss all of these questions and if my opponent will agree to a debate where we can pose such questions to each other (or each pick the moderator’s of our own choosing), well then you already have my agreement to participate.”

  • yankeegospelgirl

    I’m not so sure Obama isn’t a racist. In fact I’m confident of it. He was willing to ham it up to that crowd about Katrina and the government’s “conspiracy” to not provide aid to black people (in that clip he wants everyone to forget now).

    Obama will do whatever is expedient whenever it suits his purposes. Assume the worst and you probably won’t be far off.

  • really

    White supremacist ….Really? The church didn’t teach anything of the sort. If a group was not allowed certain “blessings” (the priesthood) it was because the people of the church and the nation were not ready for it. There was ciaos in the US during the civil rights era…thank goodness it got resolved with the civil rights act but it took several years before this country settled down. The Mormon church teaches that conflict is one of the worst things. This country had to resolve that conflict. Slavery is the darkest part of US history…Jim Crow laws not a good solution. The mormons didn’t participate in slavery and were kicked out of Missouri because they were against it (and the people didn’t like them there). ‘ White Supremacist” is inflammatory on this topic. The church waited till the time was right. We all questioned why.

  • Wayne Dequer

    Given the specific question, I don’t think Romney could have honestly answers “yes” given the following history:
    1830 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized.

    1832 Elijah Abel, an African American, is baptized and given the priesthood in the church. He went on to serve three missions for the church.

    1833 Jackson County Missouri locals issue a manifesto suggestion they drive Mormons from the state. One of the given reasons is Mormons are “inviting free Negroes and mulattoes from other states to become Mormons, and remove and settle among us.” The Mormons are expelled from Missouri.

    1840 People of every color invited to worship at the Mormon Temple in Nauvoo, Ill. “Persons of all languages, and of every tongue, and of every color; who shall with us worship the Lord of Hosts in his holy temple, and offer up their orisons in his sanctuary.”

    1842 Church prophet Joseph Smith writes that slaves should be “brought into a free county and set…free—educate them and give them equal rights.”

    1842 Joseph Smith writes on the subject of American slavery, “…it makes my blood boil within me to reflect upon the injustice, cruelty, and oppression of the rulers of the people.”

    1844 Joseph Ball, an African American, served as president of the Boston LDS Branch.

    1844 Walker Lewis, African American abolitionist and Underground Railroad activist from Lowell, MA, is ordained a Mormon Elder.

    1847 The Mormons are expelled from Illinois and settle in Utah

    1849 Brigham Young states, “The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.” No explanation is given. The “Curse of Cain” was associated with black skin and was used by several American denominations to justify racial segregation and slavery.

    1852 Slavery made legal in Utah. In a speech to the Utah Territorial Legislature Brigham Young reaffirms that blacks cannot hold the priesthood. It is unknown when or why such a policy was put in place.

    1857 Federal troops sent to occupy Utah to quell the non-existent Mormon rebellion.

    1861- 1865 American Civil War. Because of the known difficulties with the Federal government, the Mormons are invited to join with the Southern States but refuse.

    1867 Territory constitution is amended to give suffrage to persons of color. It was ratified by an almost unanimous vote.

    1869 The explanation that black suffering and priesthood exclusion comes from blacks being neutral in an angelic war in heaven is denied by Mormon prophet Brigham Young. Nevertheless, this folk doctrine continues to be taught by many members.

    1879 Status of African Americans debated in Church councils.

    1880 African American Elijah Able denied entrance to Mormon Temple even though he is holder of the Mormon priesthood.

    1885 Mormon scholar B. H. Roberts speculates on origin of priesthood ban by citing several scriptures. This speculative explanation is quickly adopted by many Mormons.

    1912 Mormon prophet Joseph F. Smith again denies blacks were neutral in pre-mortal war in heaven and issues letter on that topic. Nevertheless, this folk doctrine continues to be taught by many members.

    1935 African American Elijah Abel, grandson of the first Elijah Abel ordained in 1832, is ordained an Elder in Mormon Church.

    1940 Issue is studied again in Church councils.

    1947 Issue is studied again in Church Councils.

    1949 Official statement from Church that African Americans may be members, but “are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.”

    1954 White members allowed perform proxy temple work for ancestors of black members who are still not allowed to enter temples.

    1955 Under the direction of Mormon prophet David O. McKay Melanesian blacks are given priesthood.

    1958 Black Fijians are given priesthood.

    1958 Mormon church leader Joseph Fielding Smith clarifies Church’s position on equality stating, “No church or other organization is more insistent than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that the Negroes should receive all the rights and privileges that can possibly be given to any other in the true sense of equality as declared in the Declaration of Independence.”

    1963 Mormon Church leader Hugh B. Brown states “We would like it to be known that there is in this Church no doctrine, belief, or practice that is intended to deny the enjoyment of full civil rights by any person regardless of race, color, or creed.”

    1967 Sociologist Armand Mauss surveys Mormon attitudes about race. Study shows that Mormons were no more likely to give “anti-Negro responses than were the Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, or Baptists.” The survey also shows that the Orthodox Mormons were “consistently less likely to express anti Negro attitudes” than the doubters of key Church doctrines.

    1969 Athletes from the University of Wyoming refuse to play Mormon College BYU. Stanford University refuses to schedule events with BYU. Church puts out statement, “We believe the Negro, as well as those of other races, should have his full Constitutional privileges as a member of society, and we hope that members of the Church everywhere will do their part as citizens to see that these rights are held inviolate.”

    1969 The Church states, “We have no racially-segregated congregations.”

    1978 June, 8—It is announced that the priesthood should be given to everyone regardless of race or linage. The ban is lifted.

    1978 Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie states “Forget everything I have said, or what … Brigham Young … or whomsoever has said … that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.”

    2006 Mormon Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley states, “I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.”

    2012 Mormon Church issues official statement about race. “For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago.”

    “The Book of Mormon states, “black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.”

    “The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.”
    (This timeline is an adaption from the timeline located at

  • JDP

    Maybe I just let people off easy, but I don’t think of religion in the same terms as politics. People are going to have an attachment (well not always, but some will) to the religion they’re raised in even if they find parts of it objectionable. George Romney for instance was a pro-civil rights liberal Republican, does this mean he was contradicting himself through his Mormonism? No, though maybe he criticized church doctrine and I’m not aware of it.

    also, while I won’t say Sullivan never has a point (he is not stupid despite the amount of invective he uses against people who even have minor disagreements with him) him dredging this up is so obviously borne of his desperation at the current closeness of the race, which he sees as a death struggle between the “Christianists” and everyone else, and it all makes you roll your eyes at his “intellectually serious seeker of truth” act after the fact. He did the same thing recently when he said if VA and FL go red again the electoral map will look like the Confederacy, and then took to his blog talking about how the Democratic and Republican parties “switched places” after 1964, using the typical liberal tactic of blaming the loss of the Southern Democrats exclusively on race, as opposed to race + increasing all-around leftism that Southerners never identified with even when they voted Democratic

  • Downtown Train

    Another double standard that I don’t get, is why is Black Liberation Theology is (rightly) condemned by evangelicals for its making faith subservient to racial politics, but the radical “Christian Zionist”/dispensationalist views of preachers like John Hagee and Hal Lindsey get a free pass within the evangelical world? Glenn Beck (a Mormon, not an evangelical) fulminates against black liberation theology at every possible opportunity while at the same time actively promoting Hagee and his views, which place Gentiles (like Hagee himself!) beneath Jews in the grand scheme of things, and seem to contradict what the entire New Testament has to say about the topic (i. e., “There is now no more Jew nor Greek…”, Paul condemning the Judaizers, the book of Hebrew warning Jewish Christians not to feel superior because of their ethnicity, etc.). Hagee and Lindsey are essentially preaching Jewish Liberation Theology, and I don’t see why it’s any less racist than Hal Cone’s views, especially since people like them have been essentially sabotaging the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for decades now by absurdly claiming that “it’s against God’s will to divide the land” (ironic considering that God himself divided the land in the Old Testament to punish Solomon’s sins). It’s actually quite scary to see how much influence these people have with the government (Lindsay apparently had the ear of quite a few people in the Reagan administration, and Hagee started a lobbying organization to promote his views). I understand that it might not be an exact comparison, since Cone’s views admittedly have no parallels (alleged or actual) in Scripture, while Christian Zionists claim they are just following what the Bible says. However, they seem to misinterpret everything they touch; a major example being interpreting Gen 12:3 to mean modern Israel, when in fact it was God speaking to ABRAHAM, who was the father of many nations (Israel being just one, Arabs another according to tradition). If it were to refer only to modern Jews or Israelis it would be addressed to Judah instead (so as not to include the ten lost tribes, who according to tradition were the ancestors of the Samaritans, many of whom later converted to Christianity or Islam and became the ancestors of today’s Palestinians!)

    I’m actually not hostile to Jews or Israelis in any way (I would like to see the peace process succeed so that Israel can live in peace with its neighbors with mutually agreed-upon borders). Also, while there is still some persecution or discrimination against Christians in Israel, they generally fare much better than they do in neighboring nations, which is why the Christian population there is actually growing (rather than shrinking as it is in many other places in the Middle East). So I definitely have to give the Israelis credit for that. But I don’t think the Bible warrants viewing the State of Israel in messianic terms or exalting it as the Christian Zionists do. It’s a secular, sinful nation like any other (including the US), not to mention one that by and large still does not accept Jesus as its Savior, and in my opinion we should judge Jews and Israelis by the same standards we would judge all other people and nations by. To do otherwise, as the Christian Zionists do (anti-Semites do it too, although bona fide anti-Semitism is extremely rare in America today, thank goodness) can only be considered racism, just like what Wright/Cone, and the Mormons pre-1978, preached.

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