|Me with Dr, Cristina Rosetti at Sunstone 2022
The following is the script for my speech entitled "The Priesthood/ Temple Ban in Mormon Fundamentalism Reconsidered" with Dr. Cristina Rosetti at Sunstone Symposium on July 29, 2022 in Sandy, Utah. This is only the transcript for my portion of the presentation. Dr. Rosetti has professionally published her article, and the full audio transcript, including the Q&A will be made available on Sunstone's website soon.
This is a topic that is deeply important to me, and I intend on writing more about it:
Hi, my name
is Moroni Jessop, and I am a practicing Mormon fundamentalist. I’m not a historian. I’m not an academic. I rely on my own personal experience to inform
me. This is the story of how I personally observed racism in Mormon
fundamentalism as it pertains to the priesthood and temple ban, how it affected
me personally, how this concept is now changing and evolving amongst
polygamists. This is my story.
I am from a prominent fundamentalist family – the Jessops – my family was actually
raised in the LDS church, and I spent my first twenty years as a mainstream
member of the Church. However, my father
had fundamentalist inclinations, and the lifting of the priesthood ban in 1978,
allowing all worthy males to receive the priesthood, and all worthy members to
enter the temples regardless of race or skin color, was a proverbial shelf
breaker for my dad. He never entered an
LDS temple again post-1978. My dad
believed implicitly in the teachings of Brigham Young in regard to race.
I do want to
point out that, in spite of his views on the priesthood ban, my father taught
us to avoid racism as much as possible.
He never tolerated racist slurs in his home. Moreover, I grew up in a biracial home. My white father, who served a mission in
Mexico, married an indigenous Mexican woman, my mother. Spanish was the principal language spoken in
our home. This was unusual for a 1970s
At age 20, I
was excommunicated from the LDS Church, along with my entire family, for
believing in fundamentalist principles. My
father encouraged me to move from our home in Arizona to Salt Lake City to be
close to the Independent fundamentalists.
Growing up in Arizona around mostly Chicano culture, I had never really
experienced racism first-hand – until I moved to Utah. Although I met a lot of wonderful people with
the Independents, I also experienced a high level of racism. Mostly directed at people of the black
race. In levels I had never experienced
before. I also experienced racism
directed at me for being Mexican – something I had never experienced. One night, dejected, I called my mother in
Arizona and said to her, “You’re not going to like it here.”
like Mexicans,” I replied.
thereafter, my family and I joined the Apostolic United Brethren, a polygamous
group also known as the Allred Group.
Their policy towards people of other races was less intense. They had a sizeable colony in Mexico, and I
met and married my wife Andrea there, also from a biracial family, half
Japanese. However, the AUB still
maintained a tight restriction about black members joining, and I saw potential
black converts turned away even without baptism. They were told to go back to the LDS
Church. I had no reason to question the
priesthood ban. It was taught by the
early Mormon leaders and by the priesthood council of the AUB. It must be true.
my family and I wound up leaving the AUB and forming a United Order in the
Arizona desert. I got an email from a
man from the AUB. He had taken a
Polynesian wife from New Zealand, and when he went to the AUB leadership
requesting a sealing, he was denied because of the race of his wife. You see, the AUB teaches that the Polynesian
races also fall under the “curse of Cain”, as they call it. I went to my father, my priesthood head and
asked him what I should do,
better leave this one alone, son,” he told me.
After all, who were we to question what other fundamentalist leaders had
taught? So, I wrote this guy back and
literally told him, “I’m sorry, but you have no place among us.”
passed away, but this man persisted and kept pestering me. He said something that finally resonated with
me. “All I wanted from the AUB was righteous
judgment, and they would not give it to me,” he wrote to me. “Where do I go for judgment?” So, I took it
upon myself to judge the situation and invited him out to Arizona.
out for one of our conferences, and when I saw them get out of their car, I
took one look at her and felt an immediate love for her and wondered why I ever
thought there was a problem. Others in
our community had the opposite reaction – they took one look at this woman and
her children and saw “Canaanite”. While
we deliberated, this family moved to Arizona and started attending meetings
with us. It took three long, unnecessary
years. I researched church history and
found that the priesthood had been given to the Islanders from the days of
Brigham Young, and even Joseph Smith. I
even went to New Zealand with this family, got family records from the marae of
the Maori, testimonies from the Hamilton Temple, and even visited an
anthropological museum in Auckland. I
took all my findings, along with church history records and presented a packet
of my findings to our priesthood council.
They turned a blind eye to it.
father-in-law got the idea to do a DNA test on one of the daughters of this
woman. The DNA test showed no
sub-Saharan African markers. The result
was met with skepticism by most of the community. This did not stop the Polynesian daughter
from marrying one of the young men in the community, the sealing performed by
my father-in-law. The backlash was
immediate and startling.
had an attic prayer room where we met early every Sunday morning for the true
order of prayer. One morning, we arrived
to find that our keys would not unlock the door to the prayer room. The locks had been changed without our
knowledge. That’s how we found out we
had been excommunicated. There was no
trial. No letter. Nothing.
Just cut off. I had taught Youth
Sunday School for many years. My wife
had been Primary President for the community for ten years. We weren’t informed. We were just released, and other people
called to replace us. This schism sliced
our community neatly in half between those who accepted Polynesians and those
who did not. I had family members on both
sides. We built another chapel and
started over on our own.
later, a leader in our new community suggested that we do DNA tests on
ourselves, so I submitted my family to ancestry tests. That summer, I took my kids on vacation to Utah. On the way back, we stopped by Rockland
Ranch, the polygamous community near Moab where the homes are blasted out of
the red rocks. We stayed with friends
for the night, and our bedroom was at the back of the cave. The room was utterly black and still, like a
sensory deprivation tank, and that night I had a spiritual experience that I feel
helped me prepare for what was to come.
If I had more time, I would share the experience, but it helped me to
process what happened next.
morning, we drove back to Arizona, and when we arrived, that leader was waiting
on the driveway with a paper in his hand.
My DNA results. I suppose that I
don’t need to say that my results showed what was not on the Polynesian girl’s
results – a healthy dose of African DNA.
I was in violation of the one drop rule. Now, I don’t suppose for an instant
that a small percentage of African DNA makes me black. But for Mormon fundamentalists, it was
enough. I fought it at first. I tossed
and turned that night. My whole life
felt like a lie. After a few days, I
started to remember instances in my life where I had seen evidence of the
priesthood. Some in my family said, “I
know the DNA results are wrong, because I know I hold the priesthood.” My attitude was: “I know I hold the priesthood
even if the DNA tests are right.”
We called a
meeting in our community with all endowed members to discuss the issue of my
questionable lineage. We decided as a
community that I would not be restricted in my priesthood calling until we knew
more. This did not settle well with
some. My wife walked in on the Sunday
School teacher telling my children that, if they lived righteously, maybe in
the next life, they would be eligible to hold the priesthood. We pulled our children out and never
returned. No one asked us to leave or
kicked us out, but I would not remain anywhere my children would be considered
lesser. We have been independent and
alone ever since.
grateful for this experience, because it has taught me something I never had to
considered before. That the priesthood/ temple
ban is not a thing. And it never should
have been. It was a kneejerk reaction by
Brigham Young to Orson Pratt opposing him on the topic of slavery in the 1852
Territorial Legislative Session. I know
that all things in Mormonism are established by the mouths of two or more witnesses,
yet in 1879, we continued the restriction based on the testimony of Zebedee
Coltrin, and his testimony was contradictory and hearsay. I learned that, even though Joseph Smith made
several problematic statements on race, he never preached that black men can’t
hold the priesthood. Even the scriptures
that he produced that we think say that don’t really say that. Joseph Smith knew and sanctioned the
ordination of black men like Walker Lewis and Elijah Abel. Joseph Smith commissioned a mixed-race woman,
Elizabeth Allred, to make the first pair of garments and later sealed her to
her husband in the red brick store. No,
race should have never been an issue. I
am ashamed how we have treated our black
brothers and sisters. How
different things could have been…
I would have
never come to this understanding without a little piece of paper, the DNA
test. I am grateful for this
understanding. Yet the result is – I
have kept myself distant from other fundamentalist groups. Because I don’t know they will react to
me. I have been nervous about this
presentation, because the proverbial cat is out of the bag.
have long clung to this teaching, because they value the words of those who
went before. Brigham Young, John
Taylor. If Brother Rulon said it, it
must be so.
Church might pat themselves on the back for finally ending the ban in 1978, yet
I would argue that they made this change for political expediency only. They have yet to address this topic head-on
and have merely swept it under the proverbial carpet with other verboten
fundamentalists will never reject the priesthood/ temple ban as I have. But with some communities, things are
already changing. In 2022, one
polygamous community I know of has held its own test case on the black issue,
and a result was a young family accepting a black woman as a plural wife. This mixed-race plural sealing has stirred
the waters for sure. But perhaps it
will change the face of Mormon fundamentalism in ways that we cannot imagine.
Hugh Nibley once said that if we believe the same thing five years from now
that we currently believe, we have made no progress. Five years ago, the possibility of blacks
holding the priesthood was unimaginable to me.
Imagine what Mormon fundamentalists might believe five years from now.