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social sciences

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Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons)  
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In 1904, the Church officially prohibited plural marriages world-wide. However, polygamy is still practiced by some Mormons, especially those who belong to smaller sects, most of which also profess a deep belief in an eternal family, which begins with the God-ordained marriage of a man and woman, and continues even after death.

Another controversial issue within the LDS Church has been charges of racism. The Church teaches that black people are descendants of Cain, who killed his brother Abel, and of Ham, who was a slave. They bear the "mark of Cain" as a curse upon them. Until 1978, black men were not allowed to become LDS priests, even in the Aaronic Priesthood, which is the lowest rung of the hierarchy, to which males are generally admitted at the age of 16.

Sponsor Message.

The Mormon holy book The Pearl of Great Price explicitly prohibits the admission of blacks, including someone who has a distant ancestor who was black, to the Priesthood, and several passages of The Book of Mormon are self-evidently racist. Moreover, Church leaders routinely made racist pronouncements as late as the 1950s and 1960s.

However, the racist policies and pronouncements of the Church came under concerted challenge during the 1960s and 1970s. Sports groups threatened to cancel athletic competitions against Brigham Young University and anti-racist religious groups promoted boycotts of Church businesses and Utah tourism.

In the face of this pressure, LDS leaders announced that they had received a revelation from God. On June 6, 1978, the prohibition against the admission of black males to the priesthood was lifted.

Mormons and Homosexuality

Homosexuality is not mentioned in the uniquely Mormon holy books, and there is some evidence that Joseph Smith himself was accepting of same-sex sexual relationships. Moreover, Church President Joseph F. Smith (1899-1964) allegedly engaged in homosexual relationships, and so may have Evan Stephens (1854-1930), director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and author of many Church hymns. According to a recent book by D. Michael Quinn, the Church accommodated homosexuality until the 1950s.

In the 1950s, however, the LDS Church embarked on an anti-homosexual crusade that reflected the McCarthy-era hysteria regarding homosexuality. Not only did the Church vigorously reiterate its prohibition against same-sex sexual activity and depict homosexuals as moral lepers, but it also adopted the view that homosexuality was the result of faulty parenting and, in effect, blamed parents for the homosexuality of their children.

Pamphlets published by the Church from the 1950s through the 1970s routinely described homosexuality as abnormal, as a perversion, and as a sin worse than incest or murder. Some in effect justified gay bashing. A President of the Church is reported to have said of homosexuals that "it were better that such a man were never born."

More recently, however, Church policy toward homosexuality has shifted slightly. Now statements about homosexuality and homosexuals are more likely to be cloaked in a veneer of compassion; bald statements of condemnation are rare. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has, in effect, adopted a policy similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church in which orientation is ostensibly regarded as neutral, but homosexual acts are considered evil. Hence, the Church now does not excommunicate individuals with a homosexual orientation if they do not act on their homosexual desires.

In 1998, President of the Church Gordon B. Hinckley issued this statement: "People inquire about our position on those who consider themselves so-called gays and lesbians. My response is that we love them as sons and daughters of God. They may have certain inclinations which are powerful and which may be difficult to control. . . . If they do not act upon these inclinations, then they can go forward as do all other members of the Church. If they violate the law of chastity and the moral standards of the Church, then they are subject to the discipline of the Church, just as others are."

However, in a religious community that values stereotypical gender roles and large families with many children, even celibate gay men and lesbians have limited acceptance. As often occurs in patriarchal cultures where women are largely invisible, gay men face more direct persecution within LDS society, while lesbians can often remain more easily closeted.

people also challenge strict Mormon notions of gender roles, and Church leaders have condemned sex reassignment surgery.

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