"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

Interracial Marriage a Sin?

by W. John Walsh

o Mormons consider interracial marriage a sin? Why did Brigham Young teach: "Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so." (Journal of Discourses, Vol.10, p.109)

First, the Journal of Discourses is not a source for official Church doctrine (See The Seer and Journal of Discourses). Second, prejudice against Blacks, or anyone else for that matter, is strictly against the teachings of the LDS Church. (See Are Mormons Prejudiced Against Blacks?)

Third, you are quoting this 1863 impromptu discourse out of historical context. For example, in this same discourse (on the very next page), President Young said:

"For their abuse of [the Black African] race, the whites will be cursed, unless they repent." (Journal of Discourses, Vol.10, p.110)

Therefore, it is wrong to take the sentences you quoted as some type of racial intolerance. While Brigham Young was probably influenced by his culture like all men (See Are Prophets Infallible?), it seems a little unfair to accuse a man who said that whites would be cursed for the evils of slavery with hatred towards blacks. So what was Brigham Young talking about?

There are several points to be made about your quote. First, Brigham Young is not even talking about intermarriage between whites and blacks. In 1863, there were few, if any, places where whites were free to marry blacks in the United States. Therefore, President Young is talking about sexual relations outside of marriage.

The strong opposition that Latter-day Saints have to sexual relations outside of marriage is well-known. (See Law of Chastity; Adultery) The General Handbook of Instruction states:

"God's standard for sexual morality has always been clear: 'Thou shalt not commit adultery' (Ex. 20:14). In modern and…ancient times God has commanded all of his children to lead strictly [chaste] lives before and after marriage—intimate relations being permissible only between a man and a woman legally and lawfully married. Accordingly, intimate relations outside of marriage are out of harmony with God's eternal plan for his children. To be morally clean, a person must refrain from adultery and fornication, from homosexual or lesbian relations, and from every other unholy, unnatural, or impure practice"

Since Latter-day Saint men could not legally marry black women, then any sexual relationships between them were strictly condemned.

Please note that President Young refers to a penalty of "death on the spot" to the "white man of the chosen seed" and fails to mention any penalty applying to the black woman involved. Why? There are at least two reasons.

First, when Brigham Young talks about a male member of "the chosen seed," he is specifically referring to a man holding the priesthood. (See Priesthood home page) Any Melchizedek Priesthood holder who engages in sexual relations outside of marriage breaks the oath and covenant of the priesthood and faces automatic excommunication from the Church (See Disciplinary Procedures). In LDS theology, excommunication is a form of spiritual death. As President Spencer W. Kimball taught simply:

"Fornication leads to death." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.271)

Second, while some black women chose to be intimate with white men, many such unions were the result of rape. It was very common for biracial children born in 1863 to be the product of a forcible union. Since President Young does not mention any penalty to be applied to the black woman, it is unlikely that he is talking about a consensual union. While women who consent to sexual relations outside of marriage face Church discipline, the General Handbook of Instructions states "Victims of the evil acts of others are not guilty of sin."

In summary, by taking these three sentences out of historical context, you have twisted their original meaning. President Young taught, and the Church still teaches, that if a priesthood holder breaks the oath and covenant of the priesthood by engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage, then he faces immediate excommunication, or spiritual death.

Epilogue:   In the last few years since this article has been written, I have received several letters objecting to what I have said.  Usually, the objections go something like this:

"Brigham Young was Racist!  Why can't you just accept and proclaim it!   How can you take such a plain and obvious racist statement and try to twist it into something else!  Brigham Young was an evil man!"

My response is normally summarized as follows: 

First, I don't believe that Brigham Young was a racist individual, at least by my definition of the word.  I have read thousands upon thousands of historical records including assessments of his character by those who knew him, both in and out of the Church; multitudes of sermons; personal journals in his own hand, etc.  Given this large background, I feel that I have come to know the second President of the Church fairly well.  I believe the full historical record clearly shows that Brigham Young was a good and noble man who believed that all men are children of God, loved of our Heavenly Father, and blessed in accordance with their personal obedience to his commandments.

On what basis do you claim otherwise? Somebody from a competing faith digs through thousands of documents and produces a few paragraphs which look bad on the appearance level.  Now somehow your so-called 'evidence' is supposed to outweigh all of the other information available? 

It's almost like you are purposely trying to find fault with someone you never met and really don't know a lot about.  In my Church, we try to give people the benefit of the doubt. But then, most people don't follow our standards.

Now as far as this specific article, in your very long response, I noticed paragraphs of empty rhetoric and unsupported statements, but I failed to see any evidence contradicting what I said.  You seemed upset that I made a few assumptions about what Brigham Young meant.  Why, yes I did.  So did you.  See, neither one of us were present when the statement was made so neither one of us really knows, do we?   And Brigham Young certainly isn't here to explain it.

So we both have very limited knowledge about what happened and we both drew conclusions based on this limited knowledge.  You decided that Brigham Young was definitely a racist and there could not be any other possibility.  To be quite frank, I have rarely seen such intolerance and bigotry as that which you have demonstrated.

On the other hand, I started with a different approach.  I said, 'I don't know exactly what happened, but let's see if I could put together an alternative story based on what I do know.  Since I know that during this time period a white person and a black person could not be legally married, I know Brigham Young wasn't talking about sexual relations between two legally married people.  That means fornication.  I know what the Church teaches about fornication:  "Fornication leads to death." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.271).  To me, it seems that President Kimball's statement is very similar to what Brigham Young is reported to have said.   The only difference is that Brigham Young apparently made the comments about particular divisions of the society.  Why?  Prophets normally speak on issues in which the people are having difficulty.  So I start digging around historical data and I find some interesting facts.

I find that, generally speaking, that society was very protective of the virtue of white women.  If a white woman was raped, her family often killed the attacker and faced no punishment.  While technically it was illegal to kill a rapist, no court would convict a white man who defended the honor of his wife, daughter, sister, or mother.   In fact this attitude had prevailed in the United States until only recently.   In my own non-LDS family, I had an uncle who was discovered with another woman by her husband.  Her husband killed my uncle.  The police escorted him out of the state of Texas, but did not charge him with any crime.

Upon further investigation, I found that in 1863 the virtue of black women was not protected by society to the same degree, if at all.  Black men were not given the same prerogative to protect the sanctity of their homes.  Furthermore, people in some areas of the country actually encouraged "virile" unmarried men to satisfy their physical urgings with Black women.  Many people felt such actions would help protect the white population.  To them, Black people were simply animals.  They were not human beings.  Needless to say, the rape of black women was almost never prosecuted.

Now this is the context in which Brigham Young made his statement.  After discovering these facts, Brigham Young's statement could easily be taken as:

'Listen to me, you Latter-day Saints.  You know that premarital sex is forbidden.   In some religions they may make exceptions to sex with black women because they don't consider them to be real people.  But I'm here telling you that if you do such things, you forfeit your crowns of eternal life.  Death on the spot.'

Now, at the end of the day, neither one of us can prove with absolute certainty what Brigham Young meant.  And he's not here to clarify.  What I do know is that my explanation matches with the historical context of the period and all the records about Brigham Young the man.  Your explanation is simply unsupported hate-filled rhetoric.

Now, if you want to continue to hunt through historical records trying to find something with which to accuse men who aren't here to defend themselves, please feel free. At the end of the day, what you say simply doesn't matter. God does live.  Jesus Christ is his Only Begotten Son.   They both appeared to Joseph Smith.  That means The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Kingdom of God on the earth. All your hate will never alter these eternal facts.

(See Blacks home page; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page; Interracial Marriage)



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