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SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church responded Wednesday to statements made to the Washington Post by a popular Brigham Young University professor.
In a Feb. 28 Washington Post article, Randy Bott, an associate professor in BYU's Department of Church History, provided what he reportedly believed to be a possible explanation for the church's policy until 1978 of forbidding blacks from holding the priesthood.
"What is discrimination?" Bott told the Post. "I think that is keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them, right? But what if it wouldn't have been a benefit to them?"
Bott reportedly told the Post the ban protected blacks from what the newspaper described as "the lowest rungs of hell," where they would have been sent had they abused their priesthood powers.
"You couldn't fall off the top of the ladder, because you weren't on the top of the ladder," he reportedly told the Post. "So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them."
Reaction from the LDS Church
In a statement issued Wednesday by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Spokesperson Michael Purdy said Bott's statements "absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines" of the LDS Church, adding that "it is unfortunate that the Church was not given a chance to respond to what others said."
"The Church's position is clear—we believe all people are God's children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church," Purdy said. "We do not tolerate racism in any form … We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."
The Church's position is clear—we believe all people are God's children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church.
Bott reportedly told the Post that the Book of Abraham, a text found in LDS scripture, suggests descendants of Egyptus — herself a descendant of Cain, who according to Christian theology killed his brother — and Ham, himself cursed, were black-skinned because of the curse, and thus banned from holding the priesthood.
Purdy said it is not clear why the restriction on blacks holding the priesthood was put in place, or why it was lifted in 1978, but that attempts to explain the restriction should be "viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine."
"The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding," Purdy said.
The Church also posted Wednesday on its newsroom blog a more detailed explanation of the history of the ban and an unequivocal condemnation of "any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."
"The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone," the post read. "The Book of Mormon states, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God.'"
LDS African American experts weigh in
Margaret Blair Young, a BYU professor who has written extensively about black pioneers in the LDS Church, said she's concerned about the impact Bott's statements will have.
"Most people will not know that Randy Bott is an anomaly, and that's the problem," Young said. "I don't know if the Church statement will go as far as that Washington Post article went."
Don Harwell is the leader of the Genesis Group, a monthly gathering of black LDS members, and was also quoted in the Post article. While he admits he is bothered by the professor's comments, he believes a lot of good has already come from the article — in the form of the Church's statement — and hopes those both in and out of the Church will take it to heart.
"It's the first time I've heard the Church step up and say that much — that (racism is) not tolerated," Harwell said. "We don't believe it, we don't practice it, and we're not going to tolerate it. So, to me, it's a big deal."
University officials added Wednesday to Purdy's comments.
"The comments attributed to Professor Bott do not reflect the teachings in the classroom at Brigham Young University," said Terry Ball, dean of Religious Education at BYU.
The university told KSL News Bott was not available for comment Wednesday.
Contributing: Sam Penrod