Changing one’s mind can be a good thing or a bad thing.
Before evaluating one needs to know (at least!) two things: motivation and the value of the new opinion.
We don’t normally praise a man from moving to a new opinion for bad reasons or for shifting from the truth to falsehood.
His critics oft describe Governor Romney as a politician with no core. Over his long career in public life, which began as a boy on his father’s knee, Mr. Romney has changed his mind. I am unpersuaded he has done so more often than any other political figure. He is a decent man, but not yet a saint: unless you count the Latter Day kind.
It is here that desperate critics have hatched a new way to attack the man likely to be the next President of the United States. With some political risk, Mr. Romney has stayed true to the Church of his fathers: he is a Mormon. This appears to be proof positive that he has a core and will not choose expediently.
“Ah,” the critic says, “but the LDS Church itself is an ‘etch-a-sketch’ church. Look at changes in doctrine like that dealing with African persons in the priesthood.”
Now the critic has an immediate problem since all philosophical positions change with time.
Why attack Mormonism? Since all decent Americans believe that the change on issues like the priesthood was a good one, the criticism is surely not with the change.
The general line of attack is challenge the motives for the change or the reasoning for it. First, the critic argues the “noble” change was driven by a need to increase “market share.” It was a politically or economically motivated shift.
The problem with such a charge is that it will prove impossible to refute. The LDS claims it came as a result of divine revelation, but “hidden” motives are always possible. The LDS community was under pressure to change their point of view, so the skeptic can always claim they did so for ignoble reasons. What is a citizen to do?
He must do to other people what he would have done to him. Motives often are hard to judge and so a veil of charity should be placed over the motives of those groups we might be inclined to attack. What else can we do? The hurricane winds of hatred unleashed by any other course would tear the Republic to pieces.
“But the teachings of the Church are still racist!,” says the critic. “Look at the documents,” he says. “Look at the statements of the founders of Mormonism such as Young.”
A nation whose greatest President was a slaveholder, George Washington, has long learned to judge men by the standards of their times. It is true that the Founding generation of America defended race-based slavery. Many did so on secular grounds and a few on Christian ones. The least religious portion of the nation, the South before the Civil War, kept slavery longest, but most white Americans were infected with racism.
It is our ugly original sin as a nation.
As far as I can tell, and I am no Mormon and no expert, some of the Founders of Mormonism were no better than their times on race. Some Mormons owned slaves. Some Mormons, including important ones like Young, made racist statements wrapped in theology. However, this racism need no more be part of contemporary Mormon doctrine than the precedent of Washington having slaves in the President’s house (which continued for decades) need keep our culture racist forever.
Mormons have moved on. Young could have been inspired in some areas and not in others . . . a distinction Mormon theology made even at the time! If Washington City can still be named for a slave holder, I see no reason BYU must change her name!
As for Mormon Scriptures, reading old documents for a living makes me charitable to them. I do not see any passage in the Book of Mormon that is “white supremacist” by nature. A charitable reading of the text, like that I would give Plato or the Bible, shows alternative readings to difficult passages. It is true that Joseph may have translated the Book with the language of his time, but this language was amazingly elevated for a man of his background and education. In fact, it is amazing to me that the Book of Mormon actually has an elevated view of native Americans, Jewish people, and other persons of color given the period in which Joseph lived.
We must also look at the life of the contemporary Mormon church. It does not show any evidence of being a “white supremacist” movement. In fact, the next few decades should see the balance of power shifting fully from North America to the developing world.
When my grandmother was a little girl, secular teachers told her that African-Americans were inferior. She was taught to pity them and that science supported racism. Only her church softened these claims. Genesis taught her that all men and women were designed from the same original pair. The concept of “race” itself was foreign to Scripture. Her schooling failed her . . . but I do not, therefore, condemn schooling.
Secularists have shaken off their racist past and charity commands we allow them to do so. The eugenic ramblings of Sanger and the white-power rants of Jack London are in the past. I can enjoy “Call of the Wild” in any case.
Mormons must not be held to a higher standard. The Church claims divine revelation clarified old assumptions. Mr. Romney rejoiced in that change. Nobody has charged Mr. Romney with racism . . . and the modern Mormon church shows commendable growth in leadership of color.
In short, as a non-LDS person, I see no reason in Mormon Scriptures or teachings (as defined by the LDS community) to think the LDS church “racist” or founded on racism . . . except by the same accidental historica associations that exist in the American founding.