President Dallin H. Oaks spoke at the “Be One” celebration of the 40th anniversary of ending the priesthood and temple ban for black LDS.
In his pre-general-authority life, Pres. Oaks graduated from University of Chicago law school in 1957, clerked for the US Supreme Court for two years, and worked in corporate litigation and as a University of Chicago law professor before becoming president of BYU in 1971. He is a very intelligent and competent leader, and I am grateful for his leadership in the church.
From 1968 – 1970, he was on the editorial board of Dialogue, a Journal of Mormon Thought. He must have read Lester Bush’s landmark article published in Dialogue, that Mormon Historian Dr. Greg Prince believes had a significant impact on Pres. Kimball in the years leading up the revelation.
Pres. Oaks at the Be One celebration talked about his feelings about the priesthood ban in the years prior to Pres. Kimball’s revelation.
Why was the revelation on the priesthood such an occasion of joy? As a young man studying and working in the legal profession, I lived in the Midwest and the East for 17 years. The restriction on the ordination and temple blessings of persons of African ancestry—almost invisible to me as I grew up in Utah—was a frequent subject of my conversations in my life in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
I observed the pain and frustration experienced by those who suffered these restrictions and those who criticized them and sought for reasons. I studied the reasons then being given and could not feel confirmation of the truth of any of them.
I determined to be loyal to our prophetic leaders and to pray—as promised from the beginning of these restrictions—that the day would come when all would enjoy the blessings of priesthood and temple. Now, on June 8, 1978, that day had come, and I wept for joy.
Among those who also wept for joy at the priesthood revelation were Dr. Russell M. Nelson and then-deputy commissioner of education Henry B. Eyring. In 1978, both of these men had lived outside the somewhat isolated environment of the Mountain West for more than a total of 40 years. They had also witnessed the pain of this restriction among their associates.
Here are some observations I’m gleaning from his remarks.
- In the years prior to the 1978 revelation, Pres. Oaks disagreed with an important church policy.
- A primary reason for Pres. Oaks’ disagreement came from the fact that he was more familiar with the group of people affected and marginalized. The Utah church and leaders were somewhat isolated from the issue. But since he was working and living among black LDS and non-LDS, apparently this made him think about it more, relate better to the marginalized group, and more clearly see the injustice.
- Other good LDS and future leaders (Pres. Nelson and Pres. Eyring) felt similarly and for similar reasons.
- Pres. Oaks was likely reading Dialogue, A Journal for Mormon Thought, and presumably other non-Church-approved sources to help him determine his position on this issue.
- In addition to his familiarization with the marginalized group, his study of scripture and church history and prayer also led him to disagree with Church policy.
- He studied both the reasons for the ban and the criticisms for the ban, and he came down on the side of the criticism.
- He determined, though he disagreed, to be loyal prophetic leaders and continue to pray for a revelation to be received.
I think this is a pretty good model to show why some LDS could disagree with a policy or doctrine, how to study it out and come to an opinion, and what to do about it. He gives license for members to disagree, implying it is the right thing to disagree in certain cases. The key for doing this as a member in good standing is to pray and hope for change, but do so while staying loyal to the Church. I analyzed what this means in a prior post, looking at many statements made by the brethren, including Pres. Oaks, and determined this general guideline.
- have doubts, questions, disagree
- constructive criticism
- voice opposing viewpoints on social media
- expressing disagreement while maintaining spirit of brotherly love and cooperation
- passing severe judgement
- attacking the reputation of a Church leader
- organized effort to attack the Church
- attempting to manipulate or humiliate the Church into change
- attempting to remove Church leader from office
I read in a recent post that Pres. Kimball consulted with Pres. Oaks in the years prior to the 1978 revelation. I think it can be assumed that Pres. Oaks rightly modeled the “OK” side of how to disagree and express disagreement on the issue. And maybe he was part of the reason for why Pres. Kimball became more active in seeking the revelation and eventually received it.
I think this illustration gives us great hope that the church can and does change on important issues. I can think of a couple areas, female equality and LGBT+ issues, where many people have some disagreement and are following this pattern modeled by Pres. Oaks to be involved in change.
after publishing edit:
I failed to be clear on a few things which I will clarify and hopefully provide a little better insight into my thought process on this post, which many people felt was bonkers.
- Pres. Oaks, with training as an attorney and in public relations roles in his career, is a very precise speaker. He uses words sometimes to convey an idea without committing fully to it. He does this in his talk on several points, causing some to interpret things the exact opposite way. I tend to view things from an optimistic stand point, maybe wishing too hard to hear what I want to hear from the brethren. I think of this as receiving them in “patience and faith”, but others may view it as acting as an Apologist.
- I do not make the point that Pres. Oaks ever asserted that the very existence of the ban ever in church history was wrong. I strongly believe that with his examples of where he was going against the mainstream views of the church, that he was admitting to some sort of disagreement with church policy, either that the ban should be modified, should have been ended a long time ago, or maybe was wrong in the first place. He wasn’t clear, but to me he strongly pointed to the idea that he disagreed. That’s the thrust of the article.
- Pres. Oaks implied in his talk that though he disagreed, he stayed quiet and implied that’s how members should disagree. My intent here was to take the fact that Pres. Oaks disagreed and then pivot that to what other church leaders have said are OK ways to express disagreement. Though I also believe he quietly, behind the scenes, was working to end the ban, that’s not the only way to disagree.
If you are a faithful LDS, and if you have hope that LGBT issues will change, then the priesthood ban is the ultimate comparison. The time period and climate on black LDS issues leading up to the 1978 revelation would be directly comparable to today’s climate on LGBT issues. Any precedents or important events or angles that are relevant to the 1970’s climate would apply or give insight to today’s situation with LGBT. This is why I felt it was an important point to make.