Mormon Inquiry

Mormon Inquiry

Race and apology: the example of BJU

According to a recent AP story, Bob Jones University has issued a statement apologizing for its past race policies. Before 1971 it did not admit black students and there was a school policy against interracial dating until 2000. The full document, “Statement About Race at Bob Jones University,” makes interesting reading. Hard to decide whether to cringe or applaud.

On the applause side, BJU deserves credit for updating its policies and, in this statement, actually apologizing for its prior policies.

BJU’s history has been chiefly characterized by striving to achieve those goals; but like any human institution, we have failures as well. For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it.


In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.

The cringing comes for an LDS reader familiar with the history of racial policies in the LDS Church. The policy denying the LDS priesthood to males of African descent was reversed in 1978 and added to the LDS scriptures as Official Declaration — 2 in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is a celebratory document, and perhaps it should be so. But the continuing failure to publish any sort of apology for prior LDS racial policies still grates on some people. The implicit claim — that there was really nothing wrong with the prior LDS race policy — unfortunately supports the persistence of unfounded and offensive racial folk doctrine among the general membership of the LDS Church. It seems like the action of BJU in publicly admitting the error of its prior policy is an example of the right way to fully repudiate such a policy.

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Mike Parker

posted November 25, 2008 at 7:05 pm

If not an apology, then at least an official repudiation of the “blacks are descendants of Cain” folklore.

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Todd Wood

posted November 25, 2008 at 11:28 pm


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posted November 26, 2008 at 9:55 am

While I, like pretty well everyone I know, is at some level uneasy with this topic and wishes the church could have just been on the side of abolition and civil rights all along, I wonder if this line of reasoning does not also mean the church should be apologizing for the Aaronic priesthood being limited to Levites for a long period of time. There are any number of inscrutable and from some perspective distasteful things the Lord has done over time–whether this most recent limitation on the priesthood was initiated by the Lord or simply tolerated, as He often seems to tolerate human stupidity until we become worthy to receive a higher law, I don’t know. Although the veracity of the textual claims of divine approval for plenty of the wacky stuff in the OT is easy to question, the divine execution of Ananias and Sapphira tells me that this is a God perfectly capable of being behind the limitation on the priesthood in this dispensation.

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posted November 26, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Perhaps you are right that God could be behind the policy, I still need a whole lot more evidence than the fact Brigham Young introduced it in some nebulous and a doctrinally suspect manner to convince me personally that God MUST be behind it.

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Seth R.

posted November 27, 2008 at 2:47 pm

I remember reading that the folklore doctrines on the “Mark of Cain” and the “Curse of Ham” that had some vogue in the LDS Church actually originated with Protestants.
I’m almost certain that Southern Baptist preachers used the doctrines to counter abolitionist arguments during the Civil Was period, and I’m pretty sure that it was used to prop up segregation as well.
Anyone have some source material on this?

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