Order a cheeseburger at McDonald’s and it’ll come on a plain bun, unlike the sesame-seeded ones on most of their other burgers. There’s no guarantee, of course, that a stray sesame seed won’t somehow get stuck to the bottom of that cheeseburger.

For most folks that’s not a problem. But for one member of my family, and at least 1.5 million other Americans with a sesame allergy, it could be deadly. That’s why on January 1 of this year sesame officially became the ninth listed allergy (along with milk, soy, peanuts, et al.) included with ingredient lists on commercial food products. For that, thank you FDA. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is how most major bakeries have apparently responded. The ideal response should have been for “Big Bread” (if there’s Big Oil and Big Pharma, why not this, too?) to separate its baking lines so that seeds from one don’t accidentally end up on another.

Instead, it appears many bakers have simply added sesame seeds to the ingredient lists and on the allergen line for most of their products, even if they don’t actually have any sesame seeds, flour, or oil in them. Granted, it’s easier to do it that way. As a bonus, it preempts any future liability lawsuits from people accidentally ingesting sesame. A win-win, at least for Big Bread.

I’m the grocery shopper in our family, so I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the years standing in store aisles scouring fine-print ingredient lists. It seems like every loaf of bread I pick up now, even plain white bread, includes sesame on the back label. And so, instead of helping folks with a sesame allergy, this change actually makes things much more difficult. About the only way now to be sure if the bread is safe is by taste-testing. You can understand the peril. Not quite a win-win for consumers.

Life is unfortunately full of unintended consequences. People and the institutions they’re part of mean well, but what once seemed like a good or prudent idea can turn out otherwise.

For example: In May 1865 Joseph Smith III had been serving as prophet-president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for a mere five years when the church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles came to him with a request. Earlier that year the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which officially ended slavery, had been passed by the Congress and signed by President Abraham Lincoln. By the end of the year, two-thirds of the states would ratify it. And, of course, April brought both an end to the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination. Nearly four million slaves would become free men and women.

The question posed by the RLDS apostles was what to do about possibly ordaining some of those African-American men. While the quorum fasted and prayed over the matter, President Smith sought direction from the Lord. He eventually returned with a document, which they approved unanimously.

It wouldn’t be until the church’s semiannual General Conference in 1878 that the document was authorized to be included in the RLDS Doctrine and Covenants as Section 116. Here’s the full text (the key portion is paragraph 4, in case you don’t want to read the whole thing):

(1) Hearken! Ye elders of my church, I am he who hath called you friends. Concerning the matter you have asked of me: Lo! It is my will that my gospel shall be preached to all nations in every land, and that men of every tongue shall minister before me: Therefore it is expedient in me that you ordain priests unto me, of every race who receive the teaching of my law, and become heirs according to the promise.

(2) Be ye very careful, for many elders have been ordained unto me, and are come under my condemnation, by reason of neglecting to lift up their voices in my cause, and for such there is tribulation and anguish: happily they themselves may be saved (if doing no evil) though their glory, which is given for their works, be withheld, or in other words their works are burned, not being profitable unto me.

(3) Loosen ye one another’s hands and uphold one another, that ye who are of the Quorum of Twelve, may all labor in the vineyard, for upon you rests much responsibility; and if ye labor diligently the time is soon when others shall be added to your number till the quorum be full, even twelve.

(4) Be not hasty in ordaining men of the Negro race to offices in my church, for verily I say unto you, All are not acceptable unto me as servants, nevertheless I will that all may be saved, but every man in his own order, and there are some who are chosen instruments to be ministers to their own race. Be ye content, I the Lord have spoken it.

Although Section 116 is still published in the Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants, it has been widely ignored for quite some time. That may change soon. Delegates at the upcoming World Conference of the church in late April will consider a resolution requesting the First Presidency to move the section to an historical appendix. Only the FP has authority to do that.

This is not the first time Conference delegates have made a similar request. In 1970 an historical appendix was created. It included three sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, all primarily related to the practice of baptism for the dead, which the Reorganization eventually came to reject:

  • Section 107 (LDS Section 124)
  • Section 109 (LDS Section 127)
  • Section 110 (LDS Section 128)

Also included was Section 113 (LDS Section 135), which is a euology for Joseph Smith, Jr., written by John Taylor, the apostle who was injured in the hail of bullets in the Carthage, Illinois, jail where the prophet and his brother Hyrum were slain. No claim was ever made for this document as inspirational in nature, and the 1896 RLDS General Conference seriously considered removing it from the Doctrine and Covenants.

One other section (123), dated April 1894, was also moved into an appendix. It related to numerous issues facing the church and its related institutions. In 1978 the Letter of Resignation by President W. Wallace Smith was added, as well. This marked the first time a prophet-president had not served until his death, which had been the case for his half-brothers Israel A. Smith and Frederick M. Smith, his father Joseph Smith III, and his grandfather Joseph Smith, Jr. That precedent continued in the church for the next two Presidents, Wallace B. Smith and W. Grant McMurray. Stephan M. Veazey has seved as prophet-president since 2005.

A seventh appendix item was later added: the Joseph Smith III Blessing Document. Obtained in a trade with the LDS Church, it was originally believed to be an authentic blessing by Joseph Smith, Jr., designating his eldest son to be his successor as president of the church. However, once it was determined the document was, in fact, a forgery created by Mark Hofmann, the RLDS First Presidency removed it from the Doctrine and Covenants appendix.

Kudos to the LDS First Presidency for initiating the return of the historical document the RLDS Church had given them in trade for the blessing document. Lots of embarrassment all around for that entire episode. Yet another instance where we can thank church historians for thawing relations between the two churches.

The story didn’t end there, however. After considerable discussion at the 1990 World Conference, the First Presidency agreed to the delegates’ request to abolish the historical appendix entirely. The reasons were complex. Much of it centered on delegates’ concern that seekers and new members would be confused about the church’s somewhat checkered nonacceptance of baptism for the dead.

Even well into the late 1800s many RLDS members still accepted the vicarious practice but thought it would have to wait until a temple could be built in Independence, Missouri. Perhaps it was just coincidental that in 1990 construction of the church’s temple in the “Center Place” had begun. From one perspective, anyway, “out of sight, out of mind” was considered the best way to handle the matter.

That brings me to the principle known as “presentism”: using today’s moral and ethical codes (and in this case, theological positions) to judge people in the past.

Certainly one of the most well-known examples of this occurred in conjunction with removal of numerous statues and memorials to Confederate generals and political leaders throughout the South. Keep in mind, those men had, in fact, committed treason by engaging in armed insurrection against the United States and its Constitution.

Yet some folks took that approach a giant step further by questioning the appropriateness of monuments to slave-owning Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Is it really fair, others asked, to judge them by early 21st-century moral standards. Let’s just say: much discussion has ensued.

To return to my previous topic, though, a multitude of questions appear. Were those early Reorganized Church leaders bigots and racists? Did the counsel in Section 116 make it even more likely that segregated congregations would exist throughout the South during the long Jim Crow era? Can racist attitudes, both covert and overt ones among church members throughout the first half of the 20th century, be attributed in any way to this document’s continued presence in one of the church’s books of sacred scripture? Should this section have been removed many decades ago rather than in 2023? Is moving it to an appendix even now “too little, too late,” the right move, or should it be extricated entirely?

I realize that the vast majority of my readership here is connected in some way with the LDS Church headquartered in Salt Lake City. Your church has had its own issues, and I’m not qualified or insensitive enough to comment on them. Perhaps there’s some cold comfort in knowing other churches screw up, too.

  • How can you distinguish between presentism and time/cultural context?
  • Can the easy way sometimes be the best way to handle troublesome issues? Does out of sight really lead to out of mind?
  • Does airing such issues openly always lead to the best outcome?