While Mitt Romney, the leading contender for the Republican nomination for president, looks to lock up his nomination during the Super Tuesday Republican primary races, some members of the black community have concerns about Mormon literature that says “dark skinned people” are from “the seed of Cain.” Yet Romney, who has said he is proud of his Mormon faith, said the doctrine in question has not been followed for years and was glad to see the change.
“The quotes (from the literature) are disturbing to read,” said Humphrey Wireko, president of the Ohio Young Black Democrats. “According to (past) doctrine, it is forbidden to have interracial marriages and those that do, will be cursed … Their doctrine said the Negro race is cursed as we come from the seed of Cain.”
Romney has been adamant during this campaign season in deflecting questions about his faith, and focusing on the economy. However, in one interview with NBC’s Meet the Press in 2008, Romney said he stands by his faith.
“I am very proud of my faith and the faith of my fathers,” Romney said. “Well, it’s true and I love my faith. And I will not … distance myself in any way from my faith.”
Still, Romney said he is happy the doctrine changed.
“My opinion is that there is no discrimination in the eyes of God and I could not have been happier to see the change,” Romney said.
While Wireko and other critics said there is a double standard in questioning the beliefs associated with Mormonism compared with assertions made about President Barack Obama’s beliefs, Mormon representatives and Romney himself say the controversial doctrine has not been followed in more than 30 years.
Wireko said Republicans falsely question Obama’s possible affiliation with Islam, and by the same rules, he said Democrats should also consider questioning Romney’s beliefs.
“The Republicans still to this day question Barack Obama’s beliefs,” Wireko said. “But if we ask Republican Party candidates about their religious beliefs they’ll go back and say, ‘Oh, now, Democrats don’t tolerate people’s personal beliefs.'”
Obama has said he is “a Christian by choice.”
Wireko said he is proud of being black and holds nothing against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a religion, but sees these controversial excerpts as offensive toward his race.
Matthew Bowman, a Mormon and a professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, said the doctrine is something Mormon leaders believed in the past.
“The answer as to how authoritative Mormons take these statements to be is ‘not very,'” Bowman said.
Bowman said just like Christians, for Mormons in the 19th century it was common for people in the Western world to believe in such excerpts.
“Many Mormons in the 19th century believed that people of African descent were the descendants of some figure cursed in the Bible,” Bowman said.
Bowman said the policy against interracial marriage lasted until 1978, more than a decade after the civil rights movement.
“Many Mormons felt this way at the time,” Bowman said. “However, (the doctrine) was revoked.”
Tuesday is Super Tuesday, a day when 10 states, including Ohio, will vote for the Republican presidential nomination. Romney will look to lock up the Republican nomination against three other candidates. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and Texas congressman Ron Paul are still vying for the Republican nomination.
The chair and professor of African-American and African Studies at Ohio State, Horace Newsum said past Mormon religious doctrine said, “Blacks don’t have souls, because they were neutral in heaven and cursed to have dark skin.”
“If Mormons want to believe that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, no problem,” Newsum said. “But when they say something of black people or other races, then something is wrong.”
But Margaret Young, a Mormon and English professor at Brigham Young University, a Mormon university, said she agreed with Bowman, and all of her Mormon friends would also agree.
“These are not scriptural ‘verses,’ but culturally-influenced sayings of various church leaders in different times,” Young said.
Bill McKeever, founder of Mormonism Research Ministry, a Evangelical Christian ministry challenging the claims of Mormonism, said “people need to ask themselves if Romney’s Mormonism will affect them personally, and if so, in what way.”
McKeever said it is not rare for Mormons to excuse the comments of their past leaders by classifying them as “speculation or opinion.”
“To imply that the ban on blacks holding the priesthood was mere ‘policy’ is also misleading,” McKeever said.
Jabriel Ballentine, seminarian at Virginia Theological Seminary, said everyone should question the beliefs of all the candidates.
“We might not agree with all of the beliefs of any candidate. However, we must pay attention to the implications of one enacting their beliefs,” Ballentine said.
Despite urges from Ballentine and others, the faith of other Republican candidates have not been questioned as much as Romney’s.
Chris Maloney, Ohio Republican party spokesman, said it “does not question people’s beliefs or faith … (and) does not support any racist tendency or creed.”