On February 25, Scott Gordon president of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) sent out a newsletter to subscribers noting that February is Black History Month. Gordon explained why black history matters, and explained 3 myths about the ban. Just 3 days later, Professor Randy Bott created a stir when he tried to explain why the priesthood ban took place. Bott stated that (from the Provo Daily Herald)
“God has always been discriminatory” when it comes to whom he grants the authority of the priesthood, he said. He quoted Mormon scripture stating that the Lord gives to people “all that he seeth fit.”
Bott compared blacks with a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car, and explained that, similarly, until 1978, the Lord determined that blacks were not yet ready for the priesthood.
“What is discrimination?” Bott asks. “I think that is keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them, right? But what if it wouldn’t have been a benefit to them?”
Bott says that the denial of the priesthood to blacks on Earth — although not in the afterlife — protected them from the lowest rungs of hell reserved for people who abuse their priesthood powers. “You couldn’t fall off the top of the ladder, because you weren’t on the top of the ladder. So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.”
It was nice to see Gordon’s “pre-emptive strike.” Here’s what Gordon said in an email sent to subscribers. (Emphasis mine)
Myth #1: Blacks couldn’t have the priesthood because they had the curse or mark of Cain
This belief was commonly held by many Protestant denominations in early American history. It was often used as a justification for slavery and reached its peak about the time of the Civil War. Many people who joined the LDS Church brought this teaching into the Church with them. Most Protestants later changed their talking points on this to say the children of Cain were wiped out during Noah’s flood, so the cursing came though the flood through Ham. Therefore, the more modern phrasing of this belief is the so-called “curse of Ham.” But the curse of Cain continued to be taught in the then geographically isolated LDS Church.
While the scriptures do talk about a mark being put on Cain, there is no scriptural explanation of what that mark may be or how it relates to the priesthood. One member of my high priest quorum suggested the mark is likely to be male pattern baldness.
There is a scripture in the Book of Moses talking about the children of Canaan being black (Moses 7:8), but there is no given connection between Cain and Canaan. Just because a name sounds similar, doesn’t make it the same.
Even in the Book of Abraham, the priesthood restrictions were not put on “blacks”, but on the lineage of the Egyptian Pharaoh. This was at the time of Abraham, long before Jesus Christ. If you were alive at that time, it is likely you would have been restricted from that priesthood as well.
Myth #2: Blacks were neutral or less valiant in the pre-existence
This terrible teaching was repudiated by none other than Brigham Young himself. Unfortunately, it continued to be perpetuated by many members throughout our history, and even ended up in books authored by Joseph Fielding Smith.
In an interview, apostle Jeffery R. Holland said the following: “One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated.
… I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong.”
For those who are troubled by the fact that explanations given repudiated, we have to look at the words of Bruce R. McConkie, who was originally a proponent of those theories. He said, “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 anymore.”
Myth #3: The best example to explain blacks not having the priesthood comes from the Levites. The Levites were able to hold the priesthood, while others were not. This shows how God restricts people of certain lineages from receiving the priesthood just like he did with blacks.
While it may be true that Levites could hold the priesthood while others could not, it has little to do with this issue. The ancient practice where only one group is able to exercise the priesthood and work in the temple has little in common with modern times when everyone is able to hold the priesthood except for one group. Repeating this claim as an explanation doesn’t provide adequate support for the argument, and the claim completely falls apart when we recognize that Joseph Smith, Parley P. Pratt, William Smith, and Orson Hyde all ordained blacks to the priesthood in the 1830s and 1840s. The explanation is not helpful and can be hurtful.
So why couldn’t blacks have the priesthood? Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “I don’t know what the reason was. But I know that we’ve rectified whatever may have appeared to be wrong at the time.”
Men are slow to change in their beliefs. Even in the New Testament, Peter had to be lifted beyond his prejudice to sit and eat with the Gentiles. I hope we all take the time to familiarize ourselves with this topic and not perpetuate the hurtful and harmful myths that have been repeated for so long.
It is worth an hour or two of our time to read several articles on Mormonism and race, so we can help those around us. It will help us relating to African-Americans who join the Church. It will help us in teaching our children in such a way that they won’t make hurtful assumptions. It will help us in keeping our children from falling away as they learn about this past practice. Finally, it will help us in explaining our beliefs to those outside of our faith. It is not only simply worth our time to learn about black history, it is essential.
President of FAIR
If only Brother Bott read FAIR before speaking to the Washington Post!
As Gordon stated, ‘Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “I don’t know what the reason was.”‘ This just isn’t a satisfactory response, as many people will try to fill in the gaps, such as Randy Bott. Even FAIR doesn’t give a very good answer–they give the party line that nobody knows. So the church has a bunch of unsatisfying responses to the problem. Most people try to speculate, as Bott did, or accuse the church of racism. While Hinckley states that the church has “rectified” the problem in 1978, it leaves a wound to fester uncleansed.
There are many who call for the Church to simply state the obvious: early leaders were racist. Some people think this is a bad idea, because it will undercut the church’s authority as divinely guided. On the other hand, such a response would be welcomed by others as refreshingly candid, and it could lead to more blacks joining the church, and resulting in a net gain of converts.
- What do you think would be the repercussions if the Church stated the ban was racist?
As much as it hurt, I voted, ‘Prejudice, bigotry, or racism are the reason for the priesthood ban’.
I’m sure you know this, but please consider the correspondence in 1947 between Dr. Lowry Nelson and the First Presidency, signed by President George Albert Smith. The First Presidency’s response was in part,
That’s why I voted the way I did. To me, the evidence seems overwhelming. Like Brother Nelson, I do not believe God is a racist. Funnily enough, I can’t seem to be able to find the above doctrinal discussion and President Smith’s testimony about this in ‘Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith’. I’ll keep looking.
‘… and it could lead to more blacks joining the church, and resulting in a net gain of converts’.
Not sure about leading more blacks to join the church. I think it could lead to more people joining the church as a whole. I also think it could lead to less people leaving the church. I know of some that have joined the church only to learn about the Priesthood ban afterwards. They then find that the doctrine is still out there and taught (Prof. Bott, for example). They don’t see things like the FAIR article, but it is easy to find things that BY, BRM, GAS, MEP, et al taught.
UCB – amazing quote. Thanks for adding that. So far, we’re at 100% who view the ban as a byproduct of racism. While it’s early days, I wonder what the result would be if taken to the entire membership. I wonder what it would be if broken out by age. I wonder what it would be if broken out by geography and possibly even by socio-economic strata.
I would love to see this kind of data. I suspect there will be a strong unanimity among bloggernaclers.
What is really interesting is to consider past bans.
E.g. on Moabites becoming part of the congregation of the Lord.
Clear as glass. Ezra and Nehemiah make it a part of their ministries.
But … Ruth was a Moabite. Which means David was. Which means Christ was.
So just what kind of a ban was it? God restored Judah to Israel through Ezra and Nehemiah. But … God also appears to have not minded that David was a quarter or an eighth Moabite either.
There is a lot of that in the Old Testament.
Before we even get to circumcision.
So while Christ stands at the head of the church, we’re lead by prophets seers and revelators and we can’t be lead astray and it can take 130 years or so for things to be rectified! But brothers and sisters we are not wrong about women or gays. It falls kind of flat doesn’t it?
People (Mormons), find no problem seeing dark dark Browns as part of their “race”(?).
Why can they see Blacks in the same way? Black is just a box we put part of the Human race into create a group we can understand (or not understand). ‘Race” is only a set of boxes humans have inside their minds. It (race) is not part of Nature.
You know, President Hinckley’s answer of “we don’t know” really is an honest answer — we really do not know what was inside the heads of early Church leaders, and all the explanations of later Church leaders (such as Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie) were attempts at explaining and rationalizing. Even today, everyone going around loudly claiming prejudice and racism are making the same mistake as Joseph Fielding Smith — they are projecting their own explanations and rationalizations into the heads of early Church leaders. They’re making the same mistake that Professor Bott did, of offering a personal opinion as an explanation for the action of another.
Honestly, we don’t know. The rationalizations of the current crowd are no better or more accurate than the rationalizations of the previous crowd.
So I find “we don’t know” to be an entirely satisfactory answer. Here is the important part: the practice is over. The ban is a piece of history now. There is no “wound to fester uncleansed.” Whatever cleansing that needed to occur has already happened, for those who have eyes to see and a heart to accept.
The words of Hinckley and Holland and some other present Church leaders of “we don’t know” is honest, and is satisfactory to me.
“We don’t know” is a poor a answer. It leave open “God did it”, “GAs don’t speak with God”, or GAs were racists.
“We don’t know” IMO, means we DO KNOW it was one of those three.
“Whatever cleansing that needed to occur has already happened”(Ji). I don’t think so or we would not be still debating it.
All three of your possibilities are your own rationalizations or explanations — your listing cannot be exhaustive.
We’ll never know WHY Brigham Young did what he did unless we can find a medium to channel him, or WHY Joesph F. or Joseph Fielding Smith did what they did — we can know WHAT they did, but not WHY. We cannot see inside their brains and hearts. We know WHAT the previous policy was, and we know that that policy has been changed.
Besides, those old men have been released from their callings, and are moldering in their graves.
Let’s not make a man an offender for a word. Let’s forgive if necessary and move forward. I celebrate that in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today, every man can hold the priesthood and speak in the name of God.
I honestly prefer an honest “we don’t know” to rationalizations and explanations. And the “we don’t know” that President Hinckley and Elder Holland gave us are honest statements, in my belief.
“Those old men have been released from their callings, and are moldering in their graves”.
No, Thomas Monson is still with us.
Well gang, I “broke” the unaninmity of ascribing the PH ban entirely on racism. It’s something that would have been revealed. Else, if the LDS of some 150 years ago were merely following the contemporary social custom, they’d have denied membership outright to blacks as did virtually every white-dominated denomination at the time.
It appears that those that consider BY and similar to be “racist” have already judged them guilty, and by their own current standards, applied with a manner that would have Roland Friesener and Andrei Vishinsky shrieking with laughter from Hades. I accept GBH’s statement of “we don’t know” as meaning that the Savior didn’t see fit to explain Himself (D&C 1:38). Everything we add, mine own addled views included, is mere conjecture, not fact.
It is interesting to me that the arguments used historically to justify keeping blacks from various blessings are quite similar to the arguments used today regarding women, gays, etc. There are scriptures quoted and emphatic statements that things will NEVER change and etc.
Bob, careful–you’re coming off as a curmudgeon.
“We don’t know” may be satisfactory to some (such as ji), but it comes off as unsatisfactory to most. I think the evidence is quite strong that racism is at least a partial answer (if not more.) However, it doesn’t seem to explain everything.
I’ve been reading “Lengthen Your Stride” by Edward Kimball. The CD version has much more information and footnotes than the print version, and when discussing the priesthood ban, there is some really awesome stuff. But even in the print version, there is some cool stuff. On page 200 of the print version,
So, this does seem to discount racism as the only factor. It seems quite odd that it was African ancestry, rather than skin color, was the disqualifying factor. We know that the Curse of Ham/Curse of Cain were significant reasons that early church leaders (such as Brigham Young) justified the priesthood ban, even if FAIR wants to call that folklore now, or that early leaders spoke with “limited light and knowledge.”
But I am curious what others think. If the church made a statement that African ancestry was used to justify the ban (even though it was unjust), what effect would that have on overall membership numbers?
FireTag has said that in regards to growth in the Community of Christ, positions on doctrinal matters had no effect on church growth, but did affect “who” joined the church. In the case of ordination for women, it allowed more liberal members to join, at the cost of losing conservative members, but had no net effect positive or negative on overall numbers.
While I think this reasoning is interesting, and certainly could apply to conservative/liberal membership in our church, I think that an apology could have a net positive effect of encouraging black people to join. Our church is under-represented by black members in the U.S., though obviously in Africa, black members make up the majority.
What do others think? Will admitting a racist past help/hinder/do nothing in regards to overall church membership?
Apologies – I meant Roland Freisler (d. 2/3/1945). Gawd, my recall is failing…someone get Arnold Schwarzenegger out of the memory Chair, I need a refresher!
I realize that many want our leaders to be more enlightened and in touch with God than the rest of humankind. But what you see in the ban is a pretty standard 1800s view of race.
Just about everyone who wasn’t a WASP was considered inferior at some level until they fully assimilated into the population. Unfortunately, those who looked different have had a much harder path than the rest.
I think “we don’t know” is an acceptable answer. Is there anyone here who has never used that term when they didn’t know how to answer a question posed to them.
Unless the answer is hidden in the bowels of the Church Archives, the real answer might not be known. Just like the date of the MP restoration is not known.
Which to me is why the Church may not be able to apologize. If we don’t know why it was there in the first place, what good does an apology do?
Which is also why I think Joanna Brooks is wrong.
I think that it is pretty clear that the ban was originally started because of racism. However, I also think it is clear that later on, much of the reason for keeping it in place was because it was assumed to have come from revelation.
Jeff wrote: I realize that many want our leaders to be more enlightened and in touch with God than the rest of humankind. The thing is, that’s exactly what they calm to be but apparently they are not!
#14 Jeff: I realize that many want our leaders to be more enlightened and in touch with God than the rest of humankind. But what you see in the ban is a pretty standard 1800s view of race.
I’ll give you that for BY and his contemporaries in the 1800’s. However, when McConkie and others are coming up with what they consider actual scriptural justification for the ban up into the 1960’s and 1970’s, that argument doesn’t work for me anymore. When society is protesting BYU for the ban, yet Church leaders are suggesting it’s God’s will to keep it in place, I’m not sure you can blame it on a “pretty standard view of race” any more.
All in all, I don’t really understand it at all. But then again, I don’t truly understand polygamy or many of the other things that were a part of the early Church.
#14 Jeff: I realize that many want our leaders to be more enlightened and in touch with God than the rest of humankind.
Isn’t this essentially the definition of being a prophet or apostle?
The freeing thing about realizing that change affects who, not how many, joins the church is that it allows you to concentrate on following Christ as best you can. The idea that human prophets are infallible — somewhat like baseball players, they don’t bat .500 and are actually likely wrong much more often than right — is probably a more important “ban” to correct than any individual manifestation of error. Let’s try to get our batting average up to .300 instead of justifying ourselves staying at .240, and do that while acknowledge that our leaders are better hitters than we are over a season.
Even when we see them strike out, we still have the responsibility to step up to the plate and produce ourselves.
I voted its racist. Oh and as to myth #1 the mark, besides having no scriptural basis for linking it to skin color, wasnt even the curse, the mark was actually meant to protect Cain
Under Cover Brother, I added a blockquote and some formatting to make your quote easier to read-I hope you don’t mind, but it is a very interesting quote. (Do you have a source?)
In light of the comment in “Lengthen Your Stride” also attributed to George Albert Smith, does that change your opinion at all?
I have to agree with Mike; yes it probably was standard fare for the 1800’s thoughts on race, but one would have hoped that Bruce R. McConkie in 1970 would have been more enlightened. At least we have the famous McConkie quote mentioned in the OP, but he still didn’t change his book called Mormon Doctrine on this topic, so I don’t think he gets a free pass either.
FireTag, I must say that this is one aspect of the CoC that I find exciting–the ability to apologize for past wrongs. I was greatly impressed with Pres. Veazey’s statements condemning past wrongs by Mormons in relation to the problems in Missouri. The CoC doesn’t have the stain of racism since they never had a priesthood ban, though like the LDS Church, they didn’t actively seek black converts either. On the other hand, I think it’s pretty cool that they have a black apostle, as well as female apostles. See http://www.cofchrist.org/council-12/
Many ball player do hit the ball 700%-800% of the time. They are just thrown out, or the ball is caught.
Myth #3 is interesting to me. It was pointed out to me that Official Church website says
It seems that FAIR is not in line with the church website there, and in fact, the church website seems to agree with Randy Bott’s conclusions, despite disavowing them.
Where is Correlation when you need them? On this issue, I am siding with FAIR, but one can easily see why Bott thought his explanation was in line with the church.
” one would have hoped that Bruce R. McConkie in 1970 would have been more enlightened”.
Thomas Monson was an Apostle ten years longer than Bruce McConkie.”
Bob, what’s your point? Has Pres Monson been spouting “Curse of Cain” doctrine lately that I’m not aware of? Did TSM write Mormon Doctrine?
Please don’t assume we know what you’re talking about when you just throw out a phrase. Has Pres Monson said something incendiary on the priesthood ban lately?
There are 2 different meanings of “we don’t know”, which lead to totally different thinking.
On the one hand, “we don’t know” means that the leaders truly don’t know what the purpose or mind of God was in instituting the ban. For many, this certainly would be an acceptable answer since God’s ways are not our ways, and God doesn’t seem to like to reveal his thinking on things, just the directions to go and do.
On the other hand, and what I find incredibly unacceptable, is that (reading the whole quote from the church hersself), no one knows who, when or how this “doctrine” came to be. This is an astonishing statement if you think about it. It means that there was no solid revelation or direction anywhere for this policy that can be specifically pointed at, which became doctrine for over 100 years! Yikes! So the question is, what other “deep” doctrines that affect us day to day are just “hearsay” that nobody actually “knows” how they came to be? How did the Word of Wisdom, for example, go from being given not by commandment or constraint to becoming one of the key tests of temple worthiness? How about the change of tithing from 10% of excess to 10% of gross?
Things also get just as murky on the other end, where Bruce R claims that things changed with the “revelation” on the priesthood. So is an Official Declaration a revelation or just a policy direction? I don’t think that I see “thus saith the Lord” on the OD.
This second “We don’t know” is totally unacceptable to me. I would like to think that God does speak to the leadership of the church, and we are told that the prophet will never lead the church astray and we should follow, but if a living prophet is more important than a dead prophet, and he repudiates the dead prophets doctrine, then God is a changable God and we are in the realm of circular logic.
To me, this all just shows that we are led simply by men doing the best they can without any more inspiration than a Methodist minister (see the testimony of JFS at the smoot hearings to understand this one).
“However, when McConkie and others are coming up with what they consider actual scriptural justification for the ban up into the 1960′s and 1970′s, that argument doesn’t work for me anymore.”
Well, sure on one level, I agree. But what it appears like is this self-perpetuating thing that had no real explanation so they try to explain it in such a way that up until the 1960s, the members are buying it.
But we know from some accounts, that some leaders felt much stronger about it than others. And DOM was even trying to change it.
What is remarkable to me is that if you had some GAs that felt strongly the ban should stay, when SWK announced the change, they all fell in line, No defections.
…if a living prophet is more important than a dead prophet Then Thomas Monson is more important than Christ!?
Howard – lay off the syllogistic reasoning. No, “Tommy Boy” WORKS for Christ. It is understood that when TSM speaks prophetically that he is acting as the Lord’s mouthpiece. Following the LIVING prophet means that we aren’t bound by the words of a dead prophet if his living successor has supersede him. Of course, like the punk group ‘Romeo Void’ described a girl ‘in trouble, His death was a temporary thing.
Paolo, you said it well on things like WHEN did the WoW become a commandment, etc, as being poorly documented. This has been a peeve of mine.
I suspect that no answer would satisfy those that carp and criticize about the PH ban. With thru snotty attitudes, they deserve no response anyway l.
#27: Jeff What is remarkable to me is that if you had some GAs that felt strongly the ban should stay, when SWK announced the change, they all fell in line, No defections.
I agree with this. I do think that, ultimately, all our church leaders have the same ultimate goal.
Douglas there’s nothing wrong with using syllogistic reasoning it prompts people to think something we’re encouraged not to do once the prophet has spoken.
We DO have the stain of racism, and sexism, and are still struggling with gender questions. We haven’t even begun to RECOGNIZE what else may be out there in the future as we begin to interact with many more cultures. (We have been asked to pay special attention, for example, in our prayers for our congregations caught on the front lines of the Christian-Muslim violence in Africa.)
If the Restoration had gotten things right from the beginning, we’d probably have the converted Lamanites running things by now and have another 2/3rds of the BofM to study. 😀
We just got used to the idea in the mid-19th Century that you could build a dissenting community among the church members and survive to do good if you recognized that your conscience would not let you “follow the prophet”.
– Gordon B. Hinckley stated, “I don’t know what the reason was” …
That really is unfortunate. If only there was someone who could “see” what the real reason was and then “reveal” it to us somehow. Having a person like that around would really be handy and dare it say it…profitable. I would be willing to listen and follow his counsel.
Howard – I am incredulous, sir. Your response is tantamount to saying that intellectual dishonesty is OK if it serves a “noble” purpose. As I recall, some LDS leaders have been (wrongly) accused of “lying for the Lord”.
That’s funny! But unlike the intellectual dishonesty of lying for the Lord my comment was clearly paradoxical. Hum, could that be what they were doing with the monogamous portrayal of Joseph?
You and others would like to bury this in the past: “No one knows what theYou and others would like to bury this in the past: “No one knows what these old men were thinking”.
S.W.Kimball was an Apostle for 35 years before 1978. Sitting next to him for 15/17 years (before 1978), were the likes of Packer, Hinkley, and Monson. They must have talked about the Ban__THEY KNEW!
(There, you are making me sound like a curmudgeon again).
Douglas and Howard:
Hmmm. I thought I just wrote a post about “noble cause corruption” last Saturday which is still on the front page. 😀
Did SWK, Hinckley, Monson, McConkie, and the other GAs discuss the PH ban? Undoubtedly. And though I can’t speak for them, I’m certain that if they felt that the Lord would allow it to be lifted, they’d have been more than glad to do so and rid themselves of a thorny issue.
Since we don’t know WHY, we can but accept or reject that it was the Lord’s will. I have no interest in justifying it to mean-spirited twits that look for excuses to carp and criticize. If you don’t accept that the leaders have been and continue to be inspired, then have the integrity to resign your membership and go away. The Lord does not excuse Himself before the world; neither should His servants in the course of doing His work.
“Mean-spirited twits”? Wow, that is kind of harsh, isn’t it? You need to turn that frown upside down buddy.
I like inspired it seems to fit a lot better than prophet seer revelator does.
#38: Douglas Did SWK, Hinckley, Monson, McConkie, and the other GAs discuss the PH ban? Undoubtedly
Yes – they did. It is talked about in Kimball’s biography. It is talked about in McKay’s biography. They all talked about it and had reasons for perpetuating it.
But ultimately, McConkie summed it up best when he said, “We were wrong”. And that’s basically it.
I’m hardly mean-spirited, I am just wondering. Is that wrong? I thought we were under the mandate to examine and test for ourselves if things are true. (unless of course, it doesn’t seem true, and then we need to pray about it to get the same answer the brethren did)
As to your comment about it being the Lord’s will; how can you KNOW it is the Lord’s will when NO-ONE (from the church’s own statement) can say how or when this became doctrine? Does that sound like anyone…anyone(?) know that it’s the Lord’s will? Then you had McConkie and JSF making crap up to try and justify it, and then it now becomes folklore?
It’s clear from the statement that no-one at the top even knows how this happened. Think about this!!
This is not mean-spirited. It’s called using my God-given brain to think this through.
Considering all the issues that keep cropping up about this it seems remarkable that we have had no word from God (via President Monson obviously) to clarify this confusion about why we had a priesthood ban on some races.
God is not the author of confusion, therefore the fact it is confusing seems to be good evidence that its not from God in my eyes. But it does make me wonder… it seems strange that God can reveal exactly how long skirts should be, but is silent on matters that (at least to me) seem more important.
Bob, your snarkiness is a bit tiring, and the false accusations are tiresome. You’re new here, and so I’m sure that you don’t know that I have written EXTENSIVELY on the priesthood ban. I’m not trying to hide anything. I’m doing the opposite–I trying to bring it into the open. Click here for a list of posts I have written concerning the priesthood ban. If you want to post snark, please go somewhere else. We’re trying to have good conversations here, and you’re not adding to that. This is a topic that it’s very easy to take pot-shots at the church, and I encourage everyone to try to avoid that. I think the ban was wrong, but I’m not trying to take pot-shots at the church.
FireTag, I’m sure the stain of racism is everywhere, but with 100 years of ban, the stain seems bigger in the LDS church. It’s really something that the church needs to come clean on, and quit hoping that people will just forget about it.
To make my position clear, racism was obviously a large factor in the ban, even if church leaders are uncomfortable admitting that fact. It seems quite clear to me that we do know “when” it happened: 1847, though Ronald Esplin says it’s closer to 1843. Either way, we know the ban originates to the 1840s. Despite the church’s assertion that “we don’t know”, I’d say there is pretty convincing evidence that we know the decade, and I lean toward the 1847 date more than the 1843 date.
Why the ban? Well, I think that church leaders were uncomfortable with some inter-racial marriages that occurred in the 1840s. They didn’t want such marriages to be solemnized in the temple, so Brigham Young, Parley Pratt and others developed a rationale behind the Curse of Cain/Ham doctrine. Knowing that Joseph Smith was against inter-racial marriage, I’m sure they felt Joseph would have concurred. Others such as John Taylor speculated about not being valiant in the pre-existence.
Now, the church can say that is speculation on my part, but I think the evidence is pretty convincing. The church still has a problem with inter-racial marriage, though they have softened considerably in the past 30 years since the ban was rescinded. If racism is wrong, inter-racial marriage shouldn’t be a problem either. As MLK said, we should be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin.
I will stop my comments__Blog. But I ask others to review my comments and see where I have attached the church or made false accusations
Your #44, IMO, IS a “pot Shot” at the Church. But again, I will let others deside
Bob – I don’t see #44 as a pot shot at the church or anyone else. MH is citing actual reasons and evidence and calling his conclusions his own. A pot shot is when you use cheap tricks or name calling to make your opponent look bad. I don’t see him engaging in that with the church (or even opposing the church in any way). What happened, happened.
Having said that, Bob, I don’t personally find your comments on this thread tiresome, too snarky or whatever. It seems MH takes exception to you lumping all the Q12 into one group, but I think your point is valid that these topics have been discussed by them. We don’t know each and every one of their stances – I’m sure there’s diversity of opinion among them.
Can’t we all just dial it down a bit and get along?
#47:Hawkgrrrl, Thanks for the comment.
“I think that church leaders were uncomfortable with some inter-racial marriages that occurred in the 1840s. They didn’t want such marriages…” (MH) To me, that’s a pot shot, or more than what I have said.
Since you didn’t ask 🙂
1) Many on this blog use euphemisms, I try not to, but use direct statements. But they are called snarks. If my facts are wrong ,tell me. If my logic is wrong, tell me. But don’t call them attacks, or call me names (mean-spirited twit, curmudgeon).
2) I do not like coming to bat knowing I am going to get a different ‘strike zone’ than others.
3) I don’t like being told “have the integrity to resign your membership and go away”.
#42 (Paolo) – you weren’t the one I had in mind as a “mean-spirited twit”. In fact, if you recall my other posts, I agreed with your observations about the paucity of documentation on important topics. There’s NOTHING wrong with asking questions and digging deep and I hope to be helpful in your quest.
#44 (MH) – you might have something with this idea. Just supposedly what led to the WoW was Emma Smith ragging on dear “Brother Joseph” about having to clean up the spat tobacco juice and pipe ash left after a session of the “School of the Prophets” (alledgedly the Brethren in those days. Likewise, BY’s distaste over William McCary might have motivated him to “inquire” (one could argue that Brother Brigham had made up his mind already). Naturally it would have been vacuous then as it is now to condemn an entire race over the misdeeds of one nutjob. And even if BY is getting genuine revelation to restrict the African lineage from the Priesthood, it begs the question of why didn’t the Lord do the same to Brother Joseph over Elijah Abel!
No amount of scholarship would ever sort this mess out. Actually, in a way I do agree that “racism” was a factor. Not that the Church leaders of that day were overtly racist FOR THEIR TIME. In fact, BY blasted the maltreatment of blacks and said that whites would be condemned for it. Still, the treatment of Africans in the USA was carrying the “tradition” (or peculiar institution, if you will) that had persisted at least since the heydey of the Roman Empire (and likely long before that!). Was this an outcome of what either Cain, or Ham did? Not necessarily, since slavery was a common condition that befell other peoples as well. It should be noted that blacks simply weren’t accepted as entirely human by whites in the early days of the Church in American society. The “racism” on the part of BY and his cohorts merely reflects long-held attitudes of their times and society. Sure, they’d be considered bigots by today’s standards, but that’s irrelevant. I suspect that it’s the hard-heartedness of the white American society in general, and the obvious influence it would (and did) have on the predominantly white LDS membership that would preclude blacks from being fully “integrated” (no pun intended) into the church. Now, it’d be alright to extend baptism and even proxy sealings for blacks who had been slaves and/or free servants and were considered like family members in their white households. And sad to say, it did take until about 1970 or so before things really began to loosen up. I recommend for viewing, if you can get it, a copy of the classic “Watermelon Man”, so aptly portrayed by the (unfortunately) late Godfrey Cambridge. It shows not only how far things had come since slavery days, but even how far we’ve come since then!. Based on this, though I for myself am not terrifically happy about my African brethren being excluded from the Priesthood and Temple blessings until shortly before I joined the Church, yet I’m satisfied that the Lord knew then, as He does today, what He’s doing.
BTW, those who follow UFO stories may recall the story of Barney and Betty Hill. Mrs. Hill was portrayed by Estelle Parsons, who had played the wife in “Watermelon Man”. Barney Hill was portrayed by James Earl Jones. Get the picture? Some think that negative societal reaction to the Hills’ interracial marriage (the encounter is supposed to have occurred in 1961) produced a psychotic episode wherein the Hills believed that they’d been abducted by aliens.
#21 MH – Source is Mormonism and the Negro. Lester Bush is the original source (as well as The First Presidency and Doctor Lowry).
Lengthen Your Stride – ‘Does it change your opinion at all?’ Sorry – no. The time-frame was 1948. What else was happening during that time in their own backyard? ‘Utah joined the nation in segregating blacks in hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, bowling alleys, etc., and in otherwise restricting their professional advancement in many fields. ‘. Also, ‘… between 1945 and 1951 the Utah legislature killed public accommodation and fair employment bills on at least four occasions.’ (Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview – Lester E. Bush)
I have to look at the evidence at that particular time-frame and to me it does not stack up in favor of being less racist. I am interested in whether it changed your opinion.
#26 Paolo – regarding the Word of Wisdom, there’s a couple of interesting Dialog articles titled, ‘The Word Of Wisdom In Early Nineteenth-Century Perspective’, written by none other than Lester E. Bush. Also, ‘The Word Of Wisdom: From Principle To Requirement’, by Thomas G. Alexander. Hope these help.
Bob, if you’re interested, email me at mormon heretic at gmail dot com. I’d rather focus the discussion here on the ban.
Under Cover Brother,
I always thought that the ban was “skin”-based. I think that allowing some black, non-African people the priesthood was one of the first openings towards softening the ban. Until I read “Lengthen Your Stride”, I wasn’t aware that ANY group of blacks held the priesthood. So I do think that GA Smith could be credited for a softening that many are unfamiliar with. In the McKay biography, McKay further softened the ban by killing the requirement that members in South Africa had to trace their ancestry to Europe. I believe McKay also allowed blacks to do baptisms for the dead that they had been previously denied. So there were some things happening prior to 1978 that aren’t generally talked about. Of course, these are baby steps, and I’m glad that the floodgates were opened to blacks in 1978.
I think we shouldn’t assume that prophets/apostles aren’t thinking about these issues, even if there are no public pronouncements. It is apparent that GA Smith and McKay were thinking about these issues much sooner. From President Kimball’s remarks about Indians, he was a strong critic of racism of all kinds. On the other hand, apostles Benson, Peterson, and Lee seemed to be well-entrenched in segregation and were anti-civil rights. The apostles do their best to be unified, and don’t spout disagreements publicly. We shouldn’t assume that silence indicates advocacy for a certain position. They have strong opinions on these subjects just like we do and when there is a disagreement, I think it is easy to fall back on “We don’t know” as a response. Once there is unanimity in the quorum, I think they will jettison the “don’t know” response. I agree with those that it sure seems like a long time coming.
Thanks, MH. I appreciate your responses.
I personally think the ‘I don’t know’ response from the brethren has the potential to cause issues further down the line. I will continue to trust them in the responsibilities they have and support them in the tough choices they now have to make.
But what a mess. I was listening to the Mormon Expression podcast about the Adam-God Theory and how the brethren dealt with it then. Sounds similar to this in so many ways.
The absence of a revelation to institute the ban seems obvious. The timing of the end of the ban seems inexplicable. Is anyone who is blogging on this thread who lived during the SWK presidency disbelieving that he received revelation to end the ban? Yes we might wonder why we only have an OD and not an actual new section of the D&C. Yes we know that SWK made a comment that if he didn’t do something about the ban that he knew his successor wouldn’t do it. But does anyone doubt the integrity of SWK to the degree to think that he would feign a revelation and enlist the Q12 in perpetuating a feigned revelation to end the non-doctrinal ban?
#53 – OF COURSE SWK didn’t feign a revelation. As I’ve posted before, the attitude of the Brethren seems to be that they didn’t care to continue the PH ban for quite some time before it was lifted, but felt they had to receive the “go-ahead” via revelation. I trust that whatever their own personal experiences, feelings, and prejudices (and any of the GAs then as well as now will readily admit that they’re not perfectly or always in lockstep with each other as men) that the then First Presidency and the Q12 were in tune with the Spirit of the Lord enough to know when and how to proceed. Certainly far better than I’ve ever managed in 33 years of Church membership, I must admit!
As I’ve posted ad nauseam, methinks it was as much a matter of the predominantly white membership being in a position where the overwhelming majority of them by 1978 weren’t comfortable with the PH ban. I’m not sure that even a third of the then members would have expressed the same feelings in, say 1958. So who can say what blessings were thus withheld due to this
hard-heartedness of the Church populace?
MH, I will use your baseball comparison to illustrate: imagine MLB with Josh Gibson, “Cool Papa” Bell, and Satchel Paige (in his prime, not as a 42-y.o. rookie), amongst others. That’s why I thank not only Branch Rickey but also the ultimate maverick owner, Bill Veeck, who in 1942 attempted to buy the financially ailing Philadelphia Phillies and stock them with Negro league players too old for the draft. The baseball lords went [crazy] (edited by MH for inappropriate language) but saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall. Else, it might have taken until about 1960 for the “color barrier” to be broken (then no Don Newcombe, Minnie Minoso, Elston Howard, Willie Mays, Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, Frank Robinson…).
I would like to see the number of Blacks who recieved the Pristhood in 1978. I would think that would give us an understanding of how big an event it was.
What I find so interesting is that people fail to see that most, if not all revelation is received as a result of questioning and prayer rather than as spontaneous events out of nowhere. So, if you think that DOM and SWK were petitioning the Lord for a change in the ban, the answer would come as result of that effort, not when SWK was watching an episode ofthe Rockford Files.
As for baseball, one could imagine that baseball owners might have cared about civil rights, but they were business people and the black players were good for business.
#56 Jeff: …if you think that DOM and SWK were petitioning the Lord for a change in the ban, the answer would come as result of that effort…
I actually agree with this. The question is whether they would have even been asking the question if it wasn’t for “pressure” on them (from outside the Church, from members inside the Church, from whatever). If people never even talked about blacks and the priesthood, would DOM / SWK / others even have asked the question spontaneously?
The answer to that relates to our roles as members in the Church with current issues. Do we, as members, passively accept the status quo and just assume that revelation for change will be a “spontaneous event”, or is there a role for us to bring up issues in hopes that our leaders will “petition the Lord for a change”?
“If people never even talked about blacks and the priesthood, would DOM / SWK / others even have asked the question spontaneously?”
It’s an excellent question, and I do think that the “outside” pressure was and should be a factor. many sections of the D&C reflect this very thing with certain members asking Joseph to inquire “of the Lord.”
And I really have no problem with the idea that members have that same ability to ask the leaders to petition the Lord for an answer.
The question is: if that happens, ar the said members satisified with the answer.
Just like your open canon post, I think we need to see more responsiveness to the real concerns of members.
Love to see that addressed in GC.
Bob – so would I like to know how many African brethren were waiting in the wings back in ’78. I’ll wager less than 200. Of course, far more nowadays.
Jeff – to think that MLB owners actually worried that neither fans nor players would accept black ballplayers. The fact is that Negro Leagues had even more white fans than blacks. TyCobb notwithstanding, baseball tends to recognize achievement above the superficial.
Douglas, it was FireTag that introduced baseball to the converstion, not me.
MIke and Jeff, I heard President Veazey speak at the MHA Conference in Independence 2 years ago, and spoke to him after. One of the things I admire about the Community of Christ is that they have a push to “create a prophetic people.” Rather than have a top-down approach to revelation, they openly discuss revelation for a long time before voting to sustain it before the general membership. And when they vote, it isn’t a rubber stamp like it is with the LDS church. Members pray for months and debate whether a revelation should be canonized. I really enjoyed watching the latest canonization unfold–it was truly striking how much trust they put in their membership in discussing and sustaining a revelation.
It is obvious that Joseph went to the Lord many times about revelations over earthly matters. It certainly seems that the heavens have closed quite a bit since then, and it takes someone like President Kimball to open the heavens again. I wonder if we have another Kimball in our midst, and don’t know it yet.
MH, it’s interesting that you mention Kimball opening the heavens. I actually received revelation from the Holy Ghost that President Kimball was a prophet of God. I also received a revelation that Benson was a prophet. After Benson came Hunter. In his case, the Spirit told me that he was “an apostle” of the Lord. I thought that was strange, but I accepted it. Then Hinckley became president and I didn’t get any revelation concerning him. Nor did I with Monson. So I never testify that President Monson is a prophet of God, because I don’t have such a testimony. But I will testify that Joseph Smith, Kimball and Benson were prophets.
I suspect that there are, or will be, many prophets among the current LDS, but they have not, as yet, been called by the Spirit to prophesy to the people. I don’t expect a lone prophet to show up on the scene this time around, like what happened with Joseph Smith, but instead I expect a barrage of prophets, the Spirit inspiring many people over the same period of time to stand up among our congregations and prophesy.
Great Post, thanks. What reference do you have that the church is still taking issue with inter-racial marriage? Is it that there has been no official retraction made of historical statements or is there current print?
I think it was a complex combination of, racism, blind obedience & protectionism. I don’t understand what started it because from the initial statements of BY, he seems fairly harmless but within a short period of time it all turns into the unchristlike belief system, that not only brought about the priesthood ban, but the temple ban also.
Kimball, great question. Margaret Young and Darius Gray put together a DVD called Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. It is an outstanding film, and I highly recommend it. (Young is an adjunct English instructor at BYU.)
They interview a black woman who has done some modeling and acting. The church was looking for some couples for a photo shoot of some kind. She brought her white husband, but was excluded from the photo shoot because the church did not want to promote inter-racial couples.
I’ve also heard various reports about this on the internet. The current Aaronic Priesthood Manual on LDS.org, Lesson 31 “Choosing an Enternal Companion” has the following quote:
For me the key was in the GAS quote in #1 “never questioned by any of the church leaders.” I’m reminded of Abraham, who walked with God before he went to Sodom and had the audacity to question, even negotiate with God *on behalf of others.* To me it’s been finally settled as a matter of “not commanded in all things.” When we had a prophet who questioned and was willing to negotiate with God, audacious as that was, we had a reversal and an opening of the heavens that was recently discussed somewhere in the bloggernacle by Elder Perry in a visit to someone’s ward. That God sometimes waits for us to gird up our loins and have the confidence to question him, to really be an advocate instead of assuming we know or assuming he’s going to beat us over the head with something, sits better with my interpretation of the training of a servant in the allegory of Zenos. By the end, he’s negotiating with God too on behalf of the vineyard. It seems to me, as Christ is an advocate with the father, we should learn to be advocates for each other. Perhaps in future issues it won’t take us nearly two centuries to figure that out.
Thanks for the suggestion, I have ordered a copy of Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. I’m saddened that the Church is printing quotes of this nature.
I notice that the quote is pre-1978, I think it is a statement that is a product of it’s time.
Fortunately the Churches position on Interracial Marriage, does not seem to have been taught very well in my ward at least, as there are a number of interracial relationships that exist within the ward.
It’s just a great big bowl of Fruit Salad hehe
Bonnie, interesting comment, but I must say that I disagree with the statement that the doctrine was “never questioned.” In a MOrmon STories interview, Greg Prince said that about a decade after David O. McKay was ordained an apostle, he first learned about the priesthood ban.
Perhaps it is a semantics argument, but McKay did question President Grant about it, though he apparently accepted the status quo without advocating strongly for a repeal. (By the say, I have a really long post about the priesthood ban from a few years ago that contains the quote above.) I do think we ought to question more. I loved your reference to Abraham bargaining with the Lord.
MH – Oh I definitely agree that the doctrine was questioned by many, including prophets and apostles. I was simply quoting the FP in the blockquote in #1. It’s that idea – that we have to earn the right (mantle), and wear it with humble confidence, to engage the Lord in a longer conversation – that I think many people miss, jumping right to obedience without searching in their own prejudices to be absolutely sure of their interpretation. Elder Scott’s “is there more” is a perfect example of cooling our jets and getting the whole story before we make assumptions (“personal bias” as you astutely note in that great article you linked.)
I’ll chew on the issue of Joshua also misinterpreting the command to slaughter, as I think our record is so sketchy and has been filtered through way too many people to yield much definitive historical or sociological truth. The fact remains that the Semitic peoples have long been warlike and flash from heights of worship to depths of depravity and have a whole boatload of prejudices themselves, so whatever God said to them would have fit them in their time, however it was potentially misconstrued. I really enjoyed all of the material you gathered into one place. Also loved the closing quote about discreet revelation and its uncommonness, even in our own lives. My peace boils down to: after a spiritual childhood of instant obedience, an adolescence of clarifying questioning, a young adulthood of disciplined service and sacrifice, we enter a spiritual middle age in which we have earned the right to have long conversations with God. As I think this revelation exposes, however, we will only be clear and truly understand God if we question ourselves as much as him. Abraham, again, is the great example, with his “hineni” directed to God in the sacrifice, to his son as they climbed together, and back to God when God called to him to stop. The cool thing about Abraham here is that he never stopped *listening* and kept right on questioning. In all fairness to previous generations, it is much easier for us to embrace that ideal in our present culture than it was for them in theirs.