A few days ago, I got an email from a non-Mormon friend with whom I frequently discuss the matter of race in American culture. He asked me about an article in the Salt Lake Tribune headlined "LDS Leaders Haven't Discussed Racial Disavowal."

The article was a correction, of sorts. An earlier news story had reported on rumors that the LDS Church leadership was considering an official disavowal of old racial "doctrines" (like black skin being the mark of Cain). The current article reported that the Church had denied the rumor - there had been no such consideration.

Here's what I wrote back to my friend:

"The Church doesn't actually have to disavow any such statements, because none of them were ever official church doctrine....

"The change in policy in 1978 [extending the priesthood and temple ordinances to all qualified members regardless of race] was a complete repudiation of the only things that the official church had ever said or done about race; as for the unofficial statements of church leaders, those were repudiated, just as unofficially, by some of the same church leaders who had propounded their incorrect teachings (notably Bruce R. McConkie). The dead ones can't repudiate their words, but who needs them to?..."

I explained to my friend why this was a have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife question. To repudiate the false doctrines would be to give them currency and imply that they used to be officially taught. To deny that there was any plan to repudiate those false doctrines would imply that the Church must condone them. The official Church could not win. Mormonism would be tagged with racism either way. We were set up.

My friend took it all in good humor, but this nonstory is worth looking at as an example of how the American press, now monolithic in its domination by politically correct but not terribly self-critical "intellectuals," selectively picks targets, attacks them, and walks away claiming to be impartial. "We just report the stories." Oh really? This was never a story, by any rational standard. The original story was a report of a rumor. A responsible reporter goes to the source or subject of a rumor and finds out if it's true. In the original story, the reporter would have learned that Church leaders had not discussed the matter and therefore the rumor was entirely false. Having found that out, the paper shouldn't have run anything at all because there was no story.

In the American press, however, once one paper has run a story based on a rumor, other papers can run a story about the first paper's story. And since it's a fact, not a rumor, that the first paper ran the story about the rumor, the other papers are not printing a rumor, they're merely repeating it, which is, apparently, OK.

Besides which, it's a fact that the rumor existed, right? So it really was news in the first place, right?

What complicated the Tribune article I read was that the reporter obviously wanted the rumor to be true, and if the rumor was not true, clearly wanted it to become true. Why else would the heart of the story be an explanation of why a repudiation of those old racist "doctrines" was necessary? If one wishes to make the kindest of all possible assumptions, the reporter might easily be a loyal Latter-day Saint who is just as annoyed as I am by the persistence of these racist "doctrines" and wants the Church to put a stop to them.

The trouble is, the article in question is not going to get the Brethren to do anything of the kind, and if the reporter knew anything about Church government and history, that would be obvious. Why? Because the Church does not officially repudiate doctrines that were never officially taught.

Many of those racist "doctrines" were developed to excuse slavery, before the Mormon Church was organized. But Mormons were not slack in developing new folk doctrines with a specifically Mormon slant. And while the "doctrines" thus developed were definitely racist in their result, as often as not they were speculated about by Mormons who were extremely uncomfortable with the racial policy of the LDS Church before 1978 and who yearned for some kind of explanation that would make the policy seem fair or reasonable.

Ironically, this need to resolve moral dissonance (God is always just, yet the priesthood is denied to Africans for no reason but their race; therefore they must deserve it somehow) meant that many whose instinct was to reject racism ended up being among the most resourceful in defending the Church's racial policy by propagating racist theories. But the vast majority of Saints received the 1978 change in policy with rejoicing. A great burden had been lifted, and most of us gladly shed the "doctrines" along with the policy they defended. Yet we had all heard those "doctrines," and they didn't just vanish from our memories. It helped greatly when Apostle Bruce R.

McConkie replied to a public question about such "doctrines" in his own writings by saying, quite simply, that he was wrong. But, just as there are still Mormons who merrily teach the "doctrine" that polygamy remains the true order of heaven, there will continue to be Mormons who teach the "doctrine" that black skin has something to do with the mark of Cain.