A line in the song “I Believe” from the inexplicably wildly popular musical “Book of Mormon” says, ”And I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people!!” The line is a reference to the fact that in 1978, the Salt Lake City-based cult lifted a 126-year-old ban on allowing people of African descent from joining the church in any meaningful way — they could join and tithe, but they were forbidden from taking part in the secret rituals or enjoying the fruits of a righteous life in the afterlife, so why bother.
Cult dogma offered various reasons for banning black people over the years. One of the most popular of these was that Africans were descendants of Cain, whom God had punished by giving them dark skin and, presumably, curly hair.
So what happened in 1978 to change the cult’s mythology about black people? Nothing really. Cult leaders just shook their holy Etch-A-Sketch and voilà:
MORMON APOSTLE BRUCE R. MCCONKIE: There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet.
Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world…. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more…. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year.
Andrew Sullivan connects the psychology behind the ability to abruptly rewrite history at work in Mitt Romney’s campaign: “It doesn’t make a particle of difference what Romney ever said about any of his positions before October 3, 2012. Now get in line. The October 3 debate ‘erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.’”