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?