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Is Being Black a Disadvantage?
by W. John Walsh
Do Latter-day Saints believe being black is a disadvantage? One of your Church leaders Joseph Fielding Smith said "There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less." (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.1, p.61)
First, let's quote a little bit more of President Smith's statement for context:
We are the children of God. He is our Father and he loves us. He loves all men whether they be white or black. No matter what their color, no matter what the conditions under which they were born and reared, the Lord looks upon all his children in mercy and will do for them just the best that he can . There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less....Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency. (Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., Doctrines of Salvation, Vol.1, p.61)
Doctrines of Salvation was originally published in 1954. When President Smith made this statement, Blacks faced great disadvantages in the United States. Segregation was widespread and Blacks did not enjoy equal opportunities with whites. President Smith condemned this condition when he said:
No church or other organization is more insistent than THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints, that the Negroes should receive all the rights and privileges that can possibly be given to any other in the true sense of equality as declared in the Declaration of Independence. They should be equal to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." They should be equal in the matter of education. They should not be barred from obtaining knowledge and becoming proficient in any field of science, art or mechanical occupation. They should be free to choose any kind of employment, to go into business in any field they may choose and to make their lives as happy as it is possible without interference from white men, labor unions or from any other source. In their defense of these privileges the members of the Church will stand. (Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.2, p.185)
Therefore, we know that President Smith believed that Blacks were loved equally by God and that discrimination against them was wrong. For a better understanding of President Smith's specific comments in relation to why individuals are born into situations of great opportunity and others are born into situations of comparitive little opportunity, let's summarize some of the key points in the doctrine of foreordination:
"Foreordination is the premortal selection of individuals to come forth in mortality at specified times, under certain conditions, and to fulfill predesignated responsibilities....While each of these selections is ultimately based on the omniscience and foreknowledge of God, several factors may influence one's earthly circumstances. Foreordination comes as a blessing or reward for premortal righteousness and valiant commitment to Jesus Christ. Birth into the house of Israel and heirship to all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are often seen as the birthright of dedicated souls (see Eph. 1:4-5; Rom. 9:4). These rights and blessings may still be obtained by any and all who elect to receive them, whether in this life or the next.....Through faithfulness on earth, whatever one's premortal foreordination or prior covenants, one may, as Paul taught, become "adopted" into the favored lineage....Many, that is, may be foreordained to high missions in mortality, but may, through sin and rebellion, fail in their foreordinations and give up their blessings. Obedience to the covenants and ordinances of the gospel is a primary factor in determining ultimate election to the chosen lineage.....Latter-day Saints further believe that the times, places, and circumstances of birth into mortality may be the outcome of former covenants and decisions as well as that which would be best, in divine wisdom, to provide both opportunities and challenges for the individual's growth and development. Additionally, foreordination may also be based on God's own purposes and plans to bless all of his children. The specifics of these factors remain unclear. As a result, a person's premortal character can never be judged by his or her present station in life. Some of the most bitter and arduous circumstances may be, in the perspective of eternity, the most blessed, and perhaps even the situations that men and women elected and agreed to enter. Foreordination does not preclude the exercise of agency. Foreordination is a conditional preappointment to or bestowal of certain blessings and responsibilities." (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, emphasis added)
Without a full understanding of this important doctrine in LDS theology, one could misinterpret President Smith's comments. As President Smith said, despite the advantages or disadvantages that are correlated with the culture in which a particular child of God is born, "Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation."
(See Blacks home page; Response to Criticism home page; Accusatory Questions home page)
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