One of the thorniest issues in the LDS Church is justifying the past practice of polygamy. In fact, there are 3 Gospel Topics essays devoted to the topic. Dr. Newell Bringhurst and Dr. Matt Harris will critique these essays and tell us the strengths and weaknesses of the essays.
Newell: Gary Bergera wrote the first of the three [polygamy] essays, which deals with Joseph Smith and the origins of polygamy and critiques the way in which the Topics essay on Joseph Smith and polygamy dealt with that issue, and it’s a very balanced essay, I must say. I think all three of our essays, including George Smith’s, as well as my own and Gary’s, we’ve tried to carefully point out the strengths of the essays, the respective essays, as well as the shortcomings.
Gary gives credit to the essay for its frankness, and pointing out Joseph Smith’s controversial nature of marrying younger women, of the polyandry, that is, Joseph Smith marrying women who are already married to other men, as well as concealing the practice from Emma Smith, in the early stages. So, he gives [credit]– but the thing that he really hits hardest on is the selective use of documents in writing the Gospel Topics essays, that the author or authors of the Gospel Topics essays, downplay sources, that are not only unfavorable, but more contemporary to the practice of polygamy during the lifetime of Joseph Smith. One of the real problems with documenting Joseph Smith in the practice of polygamy, is the lack of contemporary documentation for the time that Joseph Smith lived, when polygamy was being practiced. So, the great reliance is on secondary sources and the few primary sources that are available concurrent with the time of Joseph Smith, tend to be critical because throughout his ministry, Joseph Smith continually denied that polygamy was being practiced, saying “No, it’s not being practiced.”
So, that was the real trick is how to handle the documentation. He gets into the issue of memory and selective use of documentation and so on. The thing he really hits the hardest on is two issues: number one, Gary is very critical of the fact that the essay continually emphasized Joseph Smith as a reluctant polygamist, as this guy, that was– there was the angel, holding a sword over his head, commanding him to practice polygamy, and that this guy was really, he just really was repulsed by the idea that– and he [Gary] says that just doesn’t ring quite true. He says there was a deliberately playing down of Joseph Smith, the sexuality, the idea that polygamy was a means of multiplying and replenishing the chosen seed and so on. The other thing he’s critical of, is the downplaying of the theological underpinnings, based on the use of D&C 132. He’s also critical of the fact that some of the most important books are not even cited in the Gospel Topics essay, particularly Lawrence Foster’s Religion and Sexuality, George Smith’s book, Nauvoo Polygamy: But We Called It Plural Marriage or polygamy.
We’re moving on to a critique of the Race and Priesthood essay on the LDS Church website. What are the strengths and weaknesses? Is it a definitive repudiation of racism? Dr. Matt Harris & Dr. Newell Bringhurst will weigh in.
Matt: I want to start with the positive, first, I suppose. The first one is that the Race and Priesthood essay gives Latter-day Saints an authoritative document to wave in the air and say to the brother at Church, “Look, the Church no longer teaches that black people are cursed, or that they were less valiant in the pre-existence.” Before, when some Latter-day Saints would do that, they would get push back, “Who says that? Where?” They just didn’t have anything to appeal to, really. But now you’ve got an official document where somebody can wave in the air at church or anywhere else and say, “Look, this is not what the Church teaches. It once taught this, but it no longer teaches it. So please don’t say that, brother or sister”. So I think that’s really important to know.
Matt: The second thing is that the Race and Priesthood essay talks about it being a temple and priesthood ban. That’s not a small distinction, that it used to be just really a priesthood restriction. But really, it always impacted black Latter-day Saints in their ability to go to the temple. They could always do some rituals in the temple, like baptisms for the dead, for example, but they were clearly forbidden from being sealed in the temple as husband and wife, and also receiving their endowment. So, it is a temple and priesthood restriction. The essay makes that clear. I think that’s really, really an important point to make. The essay also denounces the idea of interracial marriage as a sin. Since I’m into the second book now in Blacks and Mormons, it’s just extraordinary to me how much of the fear of interracial marriage governed the brethren towards their views on civil rights, or whether to have black people, black students come to BYU. Interracial marriage, it was at the bedrock of all of this. Certainly, I don’t want to give the impression that Latter-day Saints and BYU policies were unique, because that’s just not true. Lots of Americans in the 20th century did not favor interracial marriage, and the church was one of them.
GT: Can I pause there, just for a second, Matt? There was an essay by a black member of the church, [Andrew S at] Wheat & Tares , a few years ago. One of the things that he said about the Race and Priesthood Essay was that it’s kind of a Rorschach test. You can read that God was not responsible for the ban, and that it was a man-made thing, or you can also read that it was God commanded. It kind of depends on your purpose. The essay was purposely written vaguely so that it wouldn’t offend either the liberal or the conservative members of the Church. Can you comment on that? Do you agree with that?
Matt: Absolutely. That’s absolutely true. I talked to a couple of people. There are a number of people that participated in this essay. I mean, certainly, you mentioned that Paul Reeve wrote a lengthy draft, and he did. But there were a number of people who weighed in. It was sort of like the Declaration of Independence. We give credit to Thomas Jefferson. But the truth is, if you look at the first draft that Jefferson writes, it gets pretty watered down by the third and fourth draft when the Congress sinks their teeth into it.
Matt: When the document came out, I shared with my brother who was in a bishopric at the time, and I said, “What does this mean to you?” He didn’t read the same things that I read into it. So, your point is well taken. Then I walked through it with him. I said, “Now, what do you make of that paragraph? Read it carefully.” Now, my brother has a doctorate degree, [and] two Masters. He’s a smart guy, and he didn’t read it [the way that I did] on the first attempt. So, I walked him through a paragraph where it talks about the cultural conditions in the 19th century, and his response was, “Okay, I guess I can see your point now”. Obviously, I was influenced by my conversations with a couple of scholars that worked on this. But it wasn’t as clear in its writing as we would like, but that was by design, I think.
GT: That you would like, but the Church leaders were fine with it, right?
Matt: Here’s what I think. I think too often we paint broad brushes with the Church leaders. We say they’re all this or they’re all [that]. That’s just not true. I mean, these guys have different opinions, they have different thoughts and different ideas. That’s not revolutionary on my part. I know that brethren have admitted this over the time. But there are plenty of instances where they disagree.
What are your thoughts on these 2 essays? Do you agree or disagree with Newell & Matt?
I think it speaks volumes that the FP/Q12 all signed off on the “several months before her fifteenth birthday” and “carefully worded denials” language in the polygamy essays. Elder Ballard’s assertion that “we’re as transparent as we know how to be” doesn’t inspire any confidence that the Church will ever be completely candid about anything.
Oh, the humanity!
Any committee document is going to be some form of compromise. That’s on top of the reality that any official LDS discussion of polygamy is necessarily a compromise: The Church can’t flat out repudiate polygamy because D&C 132 is still in the canon and (to put it bluntly) many Mormons still believe in and affirm polygamy. On the other hand, the Church can’t fully endorse polygamy because we don’t practice it, LDS Mormons who do practice it get exed, and (to put it bluntly) many Mormons hate polygamy. That’s the starting point for an official discussion of polygamy. Good luck.
It’s good that the race essay was quite candid about the temple ban (which previously was just glossed over) and the new LDS acceptance of interracial marriage. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of LDS families are grateful the Church was willing to make that positive statement about interracial marriage.
The Race and the Priesthood essay was life changing for me because it demonstrated how we are able to so easily dismiss prophets from the past. And of course, the present will be the past in the future, so who is to say that today’s prophet shouldn’t also be dismissed? It’s just plain logical that if yesterday’s doctrine can be discarded today, today’s doctrine might be discarded tomorrow. And then the question is, do we have to wait for tomorrow? What about personal revelation?
It bothers me that we don’t name names and that the essays often use the passive voice when dismissing former mistakes. But I guess that’s as far as we are willing to go. The main effect that the Race essay had on me was that I lost my trust in past Church leaders. And then in order to be intellectually consistent, I lost trust in current Church leadership. Once that trust is lost, it’s hard to stay on track.
I mean, I guess I don’t understand the criteria they are using to critique or praise the essays. I think theses essays are misleading and go out of their way to present the facts in the absolute best possible light, drawing every inference in favor of church leadership, rather than presenting any kind of balanced or academically rigorous or truthful view of the history. I guess I don’t expect anything otherwise from an official church source but I also am not inclined to give them a whole lot of credit here.
I appreciated that the race essay disavowed theories, but didn’t appreciate the effort it put into situating the Church’s racism with racism in society (as if to try to justify / soften the blow). I appreciated that they at least included a footnote indicating that Brigham Young announced the ban at the same time as Utah legalized slavery (“servitude”), but didn’t appreciate that it was a footnote–seems like they’re trying to downplay a rather obvious connection / problem.
Likewise, with polygamy, I appreciated the open acknowledgement that Joseph Smith practiced but otherwise the essays went out of their way to put the practice in the best possible light (including emphasizing how “normal” it was for women to marry young – no, not at 14 please), to omit certain facts that to me seem pretty relevant to someone trying to understand the church’s practice of polygamy, such as Joseph Smith’s frequent denial of polygamy (and requesting that others deny it as well), and to minimize the negative impact it had on Emma and other church members (sure, maybe she doesn’t have a first-hand account for them to quote, but there are a lot of other sources from which to glean her feelings, including the D&C, that they ignore).
Elisa, while the essays aren’t perfect, they are a giant step in the right direction. Up to now, these issues have been completely avoided, so I think it is important to recognize that step. There was nothing like this prior to 2013.
There may not have been anything like it prior to 2013, but the reason the essays were produced had less to do with candor and, frankly, honesty than than they were a desperation response to the fact that the truth was already out and they had lost control of the narrative.
I mean if we’re going to address the Authorities’ willingness to be transparent, they we might as well be honest about it in the process.
Rick B: Unless the essays are a concerted effort to get ahead of obviously negative information by inoculating members with semi-forthright but still skewed versions of controversial subjects. When church leadership is forced to create these essays because the information is out there anyway, it feels difficult to call them “a giant step in the right direction.” Their hand was forced. Do you expect further elucidations of these issues in additional essays?
As for the value of the essays themselves, I am always taken aback by the tale of the angel with the flaming sword, and not just because it seems absurd to mention such a thing. It also seems like an obvious deus ex machina moment when Joseph could persuade superstitious people to believe something for which they were primed but also for which there was no evidence, either physical or theological. God would destroy his prophet on earth for not practicing plural marriage, especially at that time when it was only practiced by a small group of insiders? What would God’s logic be for such a decision? Yes, it’s mentioned in the OT, but Christ didn’t make it a part of his ministry (always, for me, the tell when it comes to the modern Mormon church and plural marriage).
As for race and the priesthood, the summary is that past church leaders grew up in racist times so their racism was understandable. It seems contradictory to say that AND to argue that the church is led by prophets and revelators who know the will of God. Summary: Brigham Young was racist and maybe so was God until 1978.
Jared’s Brother raises a good point, that it seems contradictory to say that the racism of past leaders was understandable and then go on to say that today’s Church leaders are led of God.
This is how I attempt to square the circle.
In my personal life, and my life in Church Wards and Stakes, I HAVE seen revelation happen—instances when God’s hand was clearly guiding things. I have also seen far too many instances of revelation being claimed, and then it turned out to not to have been revelation after all, but a great galumphing disaster that had bad consequences.
God lets us see through a glass darkly, and sometimes gives us clear glimpses of His will. This is true for regular Church members, and also for the Church’s leaders. The problem is, IMO, a mindset that needs for everything that comes out of a leader’s mouth to be Holy Writ.
SWK remarked that if he did not deal with the issue of blacks and the Priesthood ban, then his presumed successor as Church President, ETB, certainly would not. SWK was struggling with the issue, and that opened his mind.
SWK had a humility that made him open to the 1978 Revelation. It is much harder for God to reveal His Will to emphatic personalities. But it sometimes DOES happen, anyway. Often, it takes a long time to figure out what was revelation and what was personal prejudice.
@Rick B, I get that, and I think it’s important to give credit for progress even if it’s not “enough” for our personal preferences.
But it reminds me a little of when we celebrated that women were finally allowed to pray in general conference. I was happy for a minute. And then I was like, “wait what? It’s 2013?” The fact that such a thing called for celebration was a little crazy and revealed a lot about how little power / authority / influence women have in the church. While I hope celebrating progress encourages more progress, sometimes I worry that giving so much credit to such a deficient and belated step might incentivize continued bad behavior.
“Unless the essays are a concerted effort to get ahead of obviously negative information…”
This comment was unclear to me, but I assume Jared is piggybacking off my comment and this should read that he disagrees with me. Jaredsbrother, Is it true that the church should NOT get credit for putting the essays out BECAUSE you call into question Church leaders motives? Am I reading that right?
If it is right (and I will assume it is for a moment), how would you proceed? Let’s look at the scenario. The Church has ignored problems for years. Why do you take umbrage at the fact that they want to put this out in the best light possible? Are you seriously interested in hurting members testimonies?
Because I think asking Church leaders to say “The Church is false. We’re shutting down. Leaders were racist in the past” as a completely impractical point of view. (I know some people want this to happen, and I don’t know if that is where you fall or not, so please let me know.)
I mean if you’re interested in keeping the good of the church, minimizing damage to members testimonies while admitting that mistakes were made in the past, how would you approach this? Because I find some critics (and I don’t know whether this applies to you or not) are just impossibly impractical on these issues.
I think the brethren walk a tightrope (to some degree of their own making,) and they don’t follow the repentance process at all. They want us to trust them because it makes it easier to lead, but it also creates unrealistic expectations that lead to disillusionment. I think it would be far better to come clean and say something like this. “Racism was wrong. Brigham was influenced by his environment, and inappropriately attributed this racism as God’s word. It wasn’t. It was wrong.”
But the problem arises then, because they have built up the mantra, “follow the brethren” instead of “Follow Christ” that such an admission inevitably leads to disillusionment. Because the way I see it, “Follow the prophet” sets up the disillusionment that so many people see when they see Brigham was a racist. “Follow the brethren” is the problem, and that has little to do with the essays. (Is this why some of you begrduge the essays–errr the brethren?)
Instead, if they changed it to “Follow Christ as we are and we’re sorry that previous leaders were more racist than the current culture,” then I think members can be more forgiving of mistakes leaders make. In that sense, the essays aren’t the problem at all. The problem is “follow the brethren,” because if the brethren aren’t perfect (an impossible standard) then they lose their moral authority.
Still, I’d like to cut them a little more slack than some I can see.
Cursed is he who putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. Church leaders are men. My belief is that when they teach something, I don’t have to believe it unless the Holy Ghost confirms it. If my own spiritual experiences lead me to believe differently than them, I stick with what has been confirmed to me. We are all responsible for our own beliefs and actions.
Rick, really good questions all and I appreciate you laying out the contradictions and juxtapositions the leaders face. You propose a perspective I am admittedly not coming from and so probably fail to appreciate, and you bring the conversation around to the reality-based when it is so often normative.
Does the church deserve credit? I can offer some begrudging credit. They have ignored problems for years because they could. Now they cannot. It’s not like someone marshalled their courage and stepped into the breach. The people who did show courage years prior generally had their lives destroyed or at least significantly shaken up, which is primarily why I can’t applaud the essays with even modest enthusiasm.
That said, you are absolutely correct that they find themselves between a rock and a hard place. I don’t know how I would proceed if I were in leadership. I’m glad I’m not. (Spoiler: I’m not church leadership material.) From that perspective, they may be taking the only available route. However, choosing between fabrications and dissolution of the organization is a false dichotomy. There are gradual shifts to be made, and perhaps the essays is one tactic.
I don’t actually care about destroying people’s testimonies because they are built on sand far too often and you’d have to convince me that the good in the church outweighs the bad. I would certainly be concerned about shattering the lives of good people who still believe in literal Mormon things like gold plates, angels, wooden submarines, etc. I suspect we’re speaking to the same thing. Yes, empathy is required here, which those of us who felt deceived for years sometimes forget, but I think the church so frequently takes advantage of members that I would applaud genuine concern for individual wellbeing. I can join a standing O for that.
To your point, I don’t see any evidence that anyone is trying to lessen the “follow the prophet” mindset. They seem terrified that by admitting fallibility, they’ll destroy the thing that many members actually have faith in. It’s not a house of cards; they can continue this with a smaller organization and declining membership for the foreseeable future. The problems are not produced by the essays or follow the prophet alone; rather, the essays are written in such a way that follow the prophet ( except maybe BY) is still plausible.
I appreciate your response Jaredsbrother. I would like to see “follow the brethren” replaced with “follow Christ” and I think the problems of admitting mistakes of the past would be less jarring among the general membership. I can also how intoxicating it is for leaders, and I’m not immune from it either.
I agree with E. I think far too many people have exported their morality and personal revelation to the brethren. It is one of the mantras in the Community of Christ that admire. Leaders there are trying to make “a prophetic people”, and engage the general membership far more in church revelation than happens in the LDS Church. I think we could learn something from our RLDS cousins.
I agree with what Rick B says “I think far too many people have exported their morality and personal revelation to the brethren.” In Oaks’ address at the Be One Celebration, he clearly specifies that his loyalty to prophets overrides personal revelation. It reminds me of the saying, “Rule #1 – The boss is always right. Rule #2 – When the boss is wrong, refer to Rule #1.” It also fits with Oaks’ admonition that we are wrong to criticize our leaders, even if the criticism is true.
As I’ve mentioned before, I have a daughter who is Black. I took a very deep dive into the priesthood and temple ban long before the essay. I was very happy when it came out. At last, I had something official to read in quorum or Sunday school meetings – in the spirit of gentle persuasion. I was always a bit taken back by people not wanting to give up their favorite theories. Pointing out that “the Church disavows the theories . . .” was quite upsetting for some. I understand why – I had been taught the same for 50+ years.
I did think that phrases like “Brigham Young announced a *policy*” and “a revelation from God was needed to alter the *policy*” were misleading. They were used to cast the practice as a policy, not a doctrine. And certainly not received from God.
There are two official First Presidency statements, one from George Albert Smith and another from David O. Mckay (written to Ernest Wilkinson, then president of BYU at a time of civil unrest). Between the two statements signed by the members of the First Presidencies, were these three expressed concepts: 1- The ban “is not a mere policy, it is doctrine”. 2 – It was “received by revelation”. 3 – “It represents the mind and will of God”. I think these official statements make it hard to cast the policy assertions of the essay as merely putting things in the best light possible.
Also, I may have reached an inaccurate conclusion from the essay that the ban itself was not “of God” – easy to conclude from the “policy” phrases mentioned above. I am quite sure I wasn’t alone in that.
In Elder Oaks’s talk at the Be One celebration, he said, “I studied the reasons then being given and could not feel confirmation of the truth of any of them. As part of my prayerful study, I learned that, in general, the Lord rarely gives reasons for the commandments and directions He gives to His servants.”
This was a bombshell in the Black LDS community. Everyone I talked with, including Genesis Group members (an official priesthood auxiliary for Black members) and on the Black LDS Facebook group, were confused. It seemed pretty clear that Elder Oaks was saying that the reasons given for the ban were not of God, but that the ban itself was God-given, even if He didn’t leave an explanation. At the very least this is unclear – and Elder Oaks has not since said what his intended meaning was.
This is still rippling through the community.
Overall – super glad for the Race and the Priesthood essay. I hope it gets more airtime.
Been There, I haven’t seen the McKay to Wilkinson letter, but President McKay has also been quoted as saying the ban was a policy and not a doctrine. See Greg Prince “David O. McKay and Blacks….” at https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V35N01_157.pdf and the January 1970 SL Trbune article at http://www.blacklds.org/mckay. I suspect many members and Church leaders hang too much on the word “doctrine” and its distinction from “policy”. There may be several special Mormon-speak definitions of “doctrine” that are not general to the English language. Prince is somewhat helpful on what the doctrine/policy distinction was in McKay’s mind. It could be that doing more with the policy/doctrine distinction in the essay would require a separate treatise on the various ways various Church leaders have used those words. Neither the essay nor Oaks’ comments answers all the questions, but the essay is at least a good start.
Wondering, in his book David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, Prince describes President McKay as thinking the priesthood ban should be lifted (although he was opposed to the civil rights movement). He floated the idea of lifting the ban several times but encountered strong resistance from a number of the apostles. It is a bit paradoxical that Pres. McKay’s personal feelings were at odds with seemingly contradictory official statements.
I think Pres. McKay’s statement that the ban was “not mere policy but doctrine, received by revelation and represents the mind and will of God” shows that he saw a distinction between policy and doctrine – or at least makes it understandable that members could assume there was a distinction.
I would guess that if it were solely up to President McKay, that he would have lifted the ban. The time just wasn’t right for the leadership – and maybe even the membership. There were full-page ads in the Tribune in 1978 decrying lifting the ban – and there are elements today that think the ban should still be in place. That’s sobering to me.
BeenThere: I’m writing a book that goes into great detail about how Pres. McKay tried to lift the ban in 1969. He made arrangements to ordain Monroe Fleming, an African American, to the Melch Priesthood. Regrettably, the hardliners put a stop to it. Hugh Brown was crushed.
Been There, Where can I find “Pres. McKay’s statement that the ban was ‘not mere policy but doctrine, received by revelation and represents the mind and will of God'”? So far the internet has not helped. What do you make of his statement that it was policy (changeable by revelation) and not doctrine (unchangeable, in Prince’s interpretation of McKay’s distinction)?
I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but this whole policy vs. doctrine distinction / debate just underscores why the position taken by the essays (and apparently Oaks) is totally untenable. Church leadership would still have us believe that as to certain matters (doctrine) they are infallibly revealing the unchanging mind of the Lord whereas to others (policy) there may be changes. They just can’t let go of that, so they continue the narrative that both the priesthood ban and polygamy were from God, even if some of the reasons given for them aren’t accurate.
I get Rick B.’s point that they are in a really tough spot and they can’t exactly be expected to say something that would seriously undermine the institution they guard. But I still think they could have done things differently in a way that would have largely preserved the institution and in fact given it some breathing room:
-Pres. Young instituted the priesthood ban
-Here is what we know about the context (giving a more full account of the context that describes both the racist AND non-racist attitudes of the day)
-Many justifications were given that are not correct and that we repudiate
-Ultimately, since we are not Brigham Young, it is impossible for us to know what basis he had for the priesthood ban, whether he actually received a revelation from God instituting the ban, or whether he just thought he received one, or something else. It is possible that he was mistaken and that his views and some of the racist views of his day influenced him. It is possible that the ban was God’s will and that we don’t understand why. What’s important to know is that (a) prophets can make mistakes, and we are grateful that later prophets are able to correct those mistakes — continuing revelation means we aren’t bound by previous mistakes; and that (b) whatever its origins, the ban was lifted in 1978, and we are grateful for that.
-What’s also important to recognize is that, whatever the origins of the ban (divine or human), the ban had harmful consequences for our black brothers and sisters and some of those consequences persist today. It is important to take actions to continue to heal from the ban.
To me, that’s actually the only way we can describe the ban with any integrity. Even though I don’t think the ban came from God, even I admit that I cannot re-create what happened at the time and I don’t know what exactly Brigham Young was thinking. And since he’s not around, we can’t ask him. But that cuts both ways and we also shouldn’t assume it came from God. We just need to admit prophets can make mistakes. Because it’s the truth, and the alternative narrative isn’t sustainable or healthy.
I think a similar line of reasoning could be said for polygamy as well where we don’t outright say Joseph Smith was wrong because we don’t and can’t know that, but we also don’t claim to know whether it was from God or not.
Instead, we look at these doctrine / policy distinctions to try to tread around the possibility of prophetic infallibility and we really take it to absurd extremes.
Here’s where the argument that everyone on the planet *was* racist until 1978, so nothing to see here, and oh, by the way, God cares more about not alienating racists than the life experiences of black people, totally falls apart for me (as if that’s not already a tenuous proposition): other sects of Mormonism did not espouse racist policies. It’s not scriptural. It’s not in our roots. It was in the hearts of the Brighamites, and it persisted quite comfortably way past the Civil Rights movement, and it did so because we had Church leaders who were more racist than average Americans, and we had Church members who were willing to follow them like lemmings off a cliff. That willingness to follow bad leader counsel is a big problem, and based on Gen Conf talks is much worse now than then, although I don’t know how much of that is leader wishful thinking and how much of that is the actual temperament of the Saints.
As for the polygamy essay, this feels like a discussion absent female input, and I haven’t met many men who are sufficiently outraged about it. They might agree it wasn’t divinely ordained, if they are willing to go that far, but they aren’t sufficiently revolted at the eternal “reward” for women that reduces the value of women to a fraction of the value of men.
Wondering – I’ll look. I saw an image of the statement and looked a bit before I posted but couldn’t find it quickly.
Wondering – couldn’t find the image, but here are quotes with citations.
“The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said, ‘Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their father’s rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God.’ They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and receive all the blessings we are entitled to’” (Official statement of the First Presidency to BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, dated August 17, 1951, quoted in John Lewis Lund, The Church and the Negro, p. 89).
“The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind; namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of the principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the principle is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood, is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the Priesthood by Negroes” (Official statement of the First Presidency to BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, dated August 17, 1951, quoted in Hyrum L. Andrus, Doctrinal Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price, 1967, pp. 406- 407).
Thanks, Been There, I’d been looking for something later than 1951. I found a discussion of various McKay statements in Lester Bush’s old Dialogue article. https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V08N01_13.pdf Bush also addresses the McMurrin report somewhat differently than Prince did. Bush also reports some dispute with the McMurrin report and notes in his fn 212:
“The remarks were not recorded for several hours after the interview, and the original notes have reportedly been lost. However, Llewelyn McKay has stated that he showed McMurrin’s letter to President McKay, and that the prophet verified the account. See Taggart, op.cit., p. 79, and Salt Lake Tribune, January 15, 1970, ‘Educator Cites McKay Statement of No Negro Bias in LDS Tenets.” There has been no official response by the Church to Llewelyn’s claim; a senior apostle has said privately that the verification came only because of President McKay’s debilitated condition.”
I still think many make too much of incoherent and unexplained distinctions between “policy” and “doctrine” without acknowledging their variety of meanings in Mormon-speak. Elisa’s approach seems much more sensible to me.