Mormon views on "the souls of black folk"

Was it ever the official view of the Mormon church that black people lack a soul? I know that the Mormons resisted integration and that the priesthood was denied to black people up until the seventies, but was it ever orthodoxy that they were “soulless?”

I just watched a YouTube debate in which Christopher Hitchens states this unequivocally ( at 4:00…

no, they never believed any such BS. From the standpoint of Abrahamic religions all humans have souls by definition. In a sense, the soul is the human. The body (with its skin color and stuff) is just a possession of the soul. An entity without a soul would not be “human” even if it looked a lot like it.

You can have all sorts of rules disqualifying people from priesthood. You can disqualify them for reasons of gender, ancestry, illness, physical injuries, illiteracy etc. None of which have anything to do with having a soul.

Blacks they disqualified for being allegedly descendant from Ham, or something of that nature. So this would be an ancestry based rule.

In the Temple era Judaism people would qualify based on ancestry. Priests had to be lineal descendants of Aaron. And they also had to be free of leprosy and certain physical deformities etc. A whole bunch of HR type rules.

I think the first reply is correct. I live in Utah and I spotted this once in an outdated Mormon book on doctrine in the library. I only skimmed it out of curiousity but your first reply sounds right to me. Since you have only the one response, I comment.

There may be a complicating factor in that I’m pretty sure every male Mormon is technically a member of the priesthood, even young boys at an early age. Being disqualified as priests, as per comment #1, would mean blacks couldn’t join the church in the past. I know for certain that has now changed.

Hitchens is a very bright and interesting guy but he is seriously ill at the moment (throat cancer), and the fine points of a religious doctrine somewhat outside the mainstream are not his field. He’s a rather bitter skeptic, perhaps I should say “acerbic,” having been reared in a very devout Catholic family and lapsed from that faith. I’d trust him more on a point of Catholic doctrine.

Maybe a Mormon will drop by and clear all of this up authoritatively.

Mormons have always believed that all people have souls.

However, Mormons did in fact believe (for about 130 years, 1850-1978) that people of African descent were “less valiant” than whites in heaven before birth and therefore were born into “black” bodies. Blacks were allowed to be baptized, but not be clergy members or indeed full members of the Mormon church. They were not considered eligible for the highest level of Mormon heaven, either.

This all changed by fiat in 1978, and now Mormons pretend they never believed any of that nonsense.

Mormons have never believed that black people don’t have souls. They haven’t even ever believed that black people couldn’t go to heaven or do anything else anyone can do, even if the priesthood wasn’t always possible. One might have to wait, but everything is available to everyone (who has ever lived), in time.

Joseph Smith ordained some black men to the priesthood; the policy was put in place after his death.

You might like to take a look at, which is maintained by black Mormons but is not an official LDS Church site, or Genesis Group is a sort of support group/branch organization.

I feel this statement is a bit disingenuous. Brigham Young taught that blacks would have to wait until after everyone else, plus the resurrection, before they would be allowed to get the priesthood (which is necessary to get to heaven in Mormonism). I mean, they had to wait until after the end of the world! That’s quite a wait.

Also, Mark E. Petersen (notorious Mormon apostle and racist to those following at home) was teaching in 1954 that the best African Americans could ever achieve was to be a servant in the Celestial Kingdom. Now, this wasn’t canonized doctrine in Mormonism (because almost nothing is) but it gives you a good idea what the beliefs of its leaders were at the time.

I seriously doubt that any Mormon of consequence between Brigham Young and David O. McKay believed that people of African descent could ever be exalted to the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom (i.e., go to the highest level of heaven). I’d be happy to be proven wrong, but I don’t think I am.
All this to say: Hitchens is indeed very wrong on this one. I like the guy and love his writings, but he can’t be an expert on everything. He makes several little mistakes about Mormonism in his book “God is Not Great” too. He could have just asked me.

Well that’s not quite exactly right:
“And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham’s wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God.”
President John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 22, page 304

“And if any man mingle his seed with the seed of Cain the only way he could get rid of it or have Salvation would be to come forward and have his head cut off and spill his blood upon the ground- it would also take the life of his children.”
President Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff Journal

The negro is an unfortunate man. He has been given a black skin…But that is as nothing compared with that greater handicap that he is not permitted to receive the Priesthood and the ordinances of the temple, necessary to prepare men and women to enter into and enjoy a fulness of glory in the celestial kingdom.
Apostle George F. Richards, Conference Reports, CR April 1939, Second Day-Morning Meeting

If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the Celestial Kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory.
Apostle Mark E. Petersen, Race Problems-As They Affect The Church, speech at the “Convention of Teachers of Religion at the College Level at Brigham Young University,” Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 27 August 1954.

So blacks are representatives of Satan and marrying one eliminates any hope of salvation. And while whites could go to heaven and become gods, blacks could go to heaven and become servants… I think we can agree that isn’t quite the same thing.

So you two are trying to say that the Mormon belief that Blacks also had souls is actually a belief that Blacks don’t have souls?

Almost correct; every male Mormon over the age of 12 is eligible to be a member of the priesthood, but not being eligible for the priesthood would not have kept blacks from joining the church in the past. For example, the official instruction to missionaries of my era (early to mid '70s, before the priesthood revelation) was that missionaries did not not actively proselytize black investigators, but were welcome to teach and baptize any who took the initiative themselves.

It sounds to me like they’re just saying that Mormon leaders in the past have treated blacks as though their souls are worth less than white and delightsome souls.

ETA: The priesthood ban for black members was lifted in 1978 by Spencer W. Kimball. Yes, blacks could be baptized and be members. But men could not have the (Aaronic – lowest level of priesthood in LDS heirarchy) priesthood conferred upon them until '78. Without the priesthood, blacks could not get into the highest level of heaven – the Celestial Kingdom. Without a priesthood holder, women can’t get to the CK either. Until 1978, black people could not be exalted.

Uh, no. I stated (TWICE!) that Hitchens was absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

I was trying to clarify dangermom’s statement, which I felt was misleading to people who don’t know anything about Mormonism and its embarrassing history of outspoken racism.

Please define “you two”. The people who have suggested in this thread that the mormons believe(d) that black people have no souls are Christopher Hitchens (incorrectly asserting it) and DickP (asking a GQ whether it was really an LDS belief).

And as you are no doubt aware, black people have always had souls in LDS doctrine. Except until 1978, their spirits had been less valiant in the pre-existence and were therefore cursed with a dark skin and were disqualified from receiving ordinances that are required for their salvation. This was repeated over and over from the pulpits by those in the highest authority in the LDS church, and was published dozens of times by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in collections such as Journal of Discourses and History of the Church.

Brigham Young suggested that perhaps someday the Seed of Cain (his euphemism for black people) would be ordained to the priesthood, and on that day the priesthood would be removed from the earth. So if Brigham was a prophet, then Spencer W Kimball destroyed the priesthood.

And Brigham stated that the Law of God concerning the African race is that miscegenation is to be punished by death on the spot.

Brigham also stated quite clearly that every sermon that he preached, if it was then published by the Church, was scripture.

But as far as I know, there has never been an LDS doctrine that black people have no souls.

Assuming I am one of “you two,” absolutely not. Mormons have always believed that blacks had souls. Christopher Hitchens was totally wrong.

In fact some of the beliefs that shored up the institutional racism in the LDS church demand that blacks have souls. For example: In LDS belief all souls had a separate “pre-existence” prior to being born in a physical body. Blacks were born into black families because they hadn’t been as good in this spiritual pre-existence. Conditions of birth are frequently cited as a reward for your faithfulness, or lack there, of in this pre-existence. Born into a rich and influential LDS family? Then you must have been a saint. Born a black woman in the darkest heart of Africa? Then you must have really been a lousy soul before your birth. Likewise you have to have a soul to go to heaven, even if you can’t go the best parts of heaven unless you are there as a servant to a white soul. Heaven evidently being something like a gated community in the '50s; black folks can work there, but never live there.

Cite for disqualification these reasons (which I bolded) specifically for the Mormon church, which the OP was addressing.