No religion should change it’s doctrines based on the movement of the culture it happens to be in. If you watch the video, linked to in the original article, of Tim Russert interviewing Mitt Romney, Russert was asking Romney if he ever questioned how he could be part of a religion that was considered racist. Beside Romney not answering the question, there seemed to be the expectation from Russert (as well as others) that the LDS church should have changed their stance on blacks long before, especially in light of how the country had progressed in the area of race. But that is not a reasonable request for any religion that takes itself seriously. You can’t go to Islam or Christianity and tell the people, “You know, society has changed. We’re in a pluralistic world now, and you need to stop believing your way is the way. You need to change your doctrine to respect that different roads lead to God, or to no God at all.”
The point I’m trying to make is that according to the LDS church, withholding the blessings from blacks was not an issue of the people being racist, or of the people being a product of the culture they grew up in, and if only they would have repented of their racism the LDS church would earlier have started to treat black Americans equally and they would have participated in the church just like any white American. According to the LDS church, the treatment of blacks was God’s will. Therefore it was a part of the religion itself, outside of the dictates of the members themselves. Mormons were simply being good Mormons.
Mitt Romney grew up in the LDS church. He still holds quite strongly to his LDS faith. He was a clear thinking adult before the church lifted the ban. By all accounts I’ve seen or heard, which aren’t many, he was a good Mormon. He even took the position of bishop, a leader of a local stake.
Now it’s time to get real with this discussion.
Andrew Sullivan, in his article for The Daily Beast, calls the LDS church a “white supremacist church.” If you step back from your (possible) knee-jerk reaction to that phrase, and look at what he’s saying, then you may have a difficult time arguing against it. Until the end of the ban in 1978, black American Mormon men were less worthy than white American Mormon men. If you had one black Mormon child and one white Mormon child, and even if it was the case that today that both might be considered worthy, before 1978 only the white child was actually considered worthy and could be ordained and receive certain blessings.
This practice went on from the time of Brigham Young until the 1978 revelation and declaration.4 In any other context, discussing any other topic, we would be talking about the racism going on here. We (who revile and rebuke racism anywhere it rears its evil presence) would be disgusted and wondering out loud where were the protestors. The structure of the LDS church is not that different from the Roman Catholic church. The history of the Catholic church reveals many instances of protest and dissent over doctrines and practices that created change or affected the future of the faith. Where were the John Wycliffes of the LDS church? Where were the Jan Huses? Where were the people who were going to stand up for black American Mormons and call for the church to finally recognize their equality as fellow brothers and sisters?
Well, it all comes back to this fact: God himself instituted this ban. God himself established this racist situation. The leadership of the LDS church (from the president and prophet to the Quorum) over the decades has guided the church and the people through the raging waters of this racist situation. They did their job to the best of their abilities.
4BlackLDS.org has a historical timeline that is fascinating and complex. There seems to be debate over whether or not a certain black American was ordained to the priesthood by Joseph Smith himself.