A must-read statement from the Church on “race and the priesthood”

Please read this marvelous statement here.

Some key excerpts:

“In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter blacks continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.”

And,

“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.23

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is “no respecter of persons”24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: “[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”2

All I can say is, “Praise the Lord!”

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

70 thoughts on “A must-read statement from the Church on “race and the priesthood”

  1. “In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would “have [all] the privilege and more” enjoyed by other members.8″

    Surely this should have been a key excerpt as well? Here Brigham Young is clearly stating that priesthood privileges would be obtained at a future day.

  2. Brigham Young taught that Africans would only be able to receive the priesthood after everyone else had received the priesthood (“the last of the posterity of Abel”) and after the “redemption of the earth”. Brigham Young stated that “in the kingdom of God on the earth, a man who has the African blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of priesthood. Why? Because they are the true eternal principles the Lord Almighty has ordained.” It’s a little disingenuous/revisionist to interpret this as BY teaching that “at some future day” the priesthood could be extended to Africans, so I can see why the speech was not quoted. I am okay with Brigham having been wrong. It does not shake my testimony to acknowledge errors in previous teachings. Pres. George Albert Smith taught against interracial marriage. I am in an interracial marriage that many members of the church including its leadership would have condemned 50 years ago. But I still know the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and I don’t worry about the fact that people in prior days were not as enlightened. God loves his children and we should too. The fact that it has taken humanity this long and we are still not colorblind is a sad reality that permeates all aspects of life, even religion. Our job is to live as an example and persuade others thereby, and to admit and move on from past mistakes.

  3. The problem is that by fostering the notion that the Church was “wrong”, or that Brigham was “wrong”, it simply gives powerful ammunition against those who believe with every fiber of their being that the Church is wrong on gay marriage. The structure crumbles. People are free to pick and choose whatever thing tickles their political or social fancy, because, hey!!, the Church is just wrong on “this issue”.

    Rather than clarifying anything, it makes it more likely to encourage the political agitation that we see from the usual suspects.

  4. “The problem is that by fostering the notion that…Brigham was ‘wrong’…”

    But he was wrong on this issue. Completely and entirely. We run into more problems trying to whitewash our history than we do in admitting that leaders have, in the past, made mistakes.

  5. Thanks for posting about the new “Race and Priesthood” text, by the way. I first read the old text about a year ago, and was thinking it was horribly outdated. There’s lots in the new text that’s great to see addressed. Our Sunday School class discussed blacks and the priesthood a couple of weeks ago and I mentioned that blacks had held the priesthood in Joseph Smith’s day. I don’t think anyone believed me–and now I can just point them to this article on lds.org.

  6. This means that John Taylor was “wrong”, Wilford Woodruff was “wrong”, Lorenzo Snow was “wrong”, Joseph F. Smith was “wrong”, Heber J. Grant was “wrong”, George Albert Smith was “wrong”, David O. McKay was “wrong” (despite the fact that he prayed for a revelation on the issue and was told to stop asking), Joseph Fielding Smith was “wrong”, and Harold B. Lee were all “wrong”.

    This means that most of the Latter Day prophets were “wrong”, a conclusion that I reject because I know better.

    I’m sorry, but distilling the issue down to a simple “they were wrong” ignores the nuances of history and the documented facts that these issues were debated and prayed over for decades.

    We are told not to provide reasons for revelations. I think it is a part of wisdom for us to give prophets the benefit of the doubt on issues of grave importance.

  7. “I don’t think anyone believed me–and now I can just point them to this article on lds.org.”

    Almost everybody I know at my ward down here in the enlightened state of Georgia know about Joseph Smith ordaining black men to the priesthood. I’m sorry, but this issue is not a serious issue for folks outside the Utah Beltway.

    By the way, it’s actually been on the church website since March.
    http://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/od/2?lang=eng

  8. Ronald S, I don’t think we can positively say that BY was “wrong” on this issue. For whatever reason, it was official Church policy not to give blacks the priesthood from 1852 to 1978. I find the policy inexplicable, but I also find the policy of only giving the priesthood to Levites in 1000 BC in explicable. I don’t know why it was done. I cannot explain it. Implying that it was “wrong” means that BY deliberately lied or created a policy that contravened the will of the Lord, which the new statement does NOT say (btw). Regarding George Albert Smith and interracial marriage, this was NOT official Church policy, as far as I am aware. If you want to say he was wrong speaking out against interracial marriage (not Church policy), you are on safer ground than saying BY was wrong on blacks and the priesthood (was official Church policy).

  9. I’m stating that he was wrong about blacks not receiving the priesthood until everyone else had.

    And yes, I do believe every prophet that’s lived on the earth has been wrong about something or another. It’s called being human. President Uchtdorf stated recently that leaders in the past have made mistakes. That doesn’t mean they’re not receiving revelation–it just means they–like every prophet in the New and Old Testament–are imperfect.

  10. ” I do believe every prophet that’s lived on the earth has been wrong about something or another. It’s called being human. President Uchtdorf stated recently that leaders in the past have made mistakes.”

    Tim, this is a complete twisting of Pres. Uchtdorf’s statement, and you know it very well. There is a difference between a prophet being wrong on, for example, his secular predictions or perhaps yelling at his kids or not being perfect 100 percent of the time and a prophet being wrong on *official Church policy*. I am open to the possibility that BY could have been wrong on some of the things he said about blacks and the priesthood and many other issues. Was he wrong on official Church policy in the sense that he deliberately adopted a policy that was not the will of the Lord? I simply don’t buy that.

  11. What’s interesting about the new “Race and Priesthood” text is that previously it was very short and included a section on how only the Levites in the Old Testament held the priesthood. That reference to the Levites is nowhere to be found in the new, rather extensive text–and the absence is rather interesting.

    As far as the policy to enact the ban goes, no one living knows why it was done. We do know Brigham Young was a prophet of God–but we also know that Brigham Young was less progressive in his treatment of blacks than Joseph Smith was. Perhaps he did receive revelation on the matter, or perhaps his prejudices led him to believe he’d received revelation. Notice that in the many, many paragraphs the church has recently put out, the ban is never referred to as “revelation.” It is instead referred to as merely a “policy.”

  12. Here is Elder Uchtdorf is context. Hopefully I will never have to read again at M* that Elder Uchtdorf said prophets make “mistakes” and imply that he is saying prophets make mistakes on *official church policy.*

    “And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine.

    I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.

    In the title page of the Book of Mormon we read, “And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God, that ye may be found spotless at the judgment-seat of Christ.”6

    This is the way it has always been and will be until the perfect day when Christ Himself reigns personally upon the earth.

    It is unfortunate that some have stumbled because of mistakes made by men. But in spite of this, the eternal truth of the restored gospel found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not tarnished, diminished, or destroyed.

    TIM, READ THIS PARAGRAPH. As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and as one who has seen firsthand the councils and workings of this Church, I bear solemn witness that no decision of significance affecting this Church or its members is ever made without earnestly seeking the inspiration, guidance, and approbation of our Eternal Father. This is the Church of Jesus Christ. God will not allow His Church to drift from its appointed course or fail to fulfill its divine destiny.”

    http://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/come-join-with-us?lang=eng

  13. From what we know of history, Brigham Young was absolutely correct when he said, “Africans would only be able to receive the priesthood after everyone else had received the priesthood,” because by the time of the revelation in 1978 there was no other peoples who had the restriction. Jesus Christ has already redeemed the Earth with the atonement, so that quote is a moot statement (although I doubt that is what he said to begin with). Brigham Young and all other prophets up until Spencer W. Kimball restricted the Priesthood to blacks and that is good enough for me.

  14. To my mind, whatever spurred Brigham Young to institute the policy is more or less irrelevant. The elephant in the room is that, whatever the ban’s origins, God owned it the minute He said “no” to President McKay’s request for permission to rescind it.

  15. The Lord wanted the Israelites, come out of Egypt, to come and claim the promised land. The Israelites chickened out and didn’t want to do it, so the Lord made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years. After all the people who could not accept the possibility of entering the promised land had died out, then and only then did the Lord decide it was time for the new generation to cross the Jordan River and do what the Israelites had been intended to do at first.

    The wandering in the desert was the will of the Lord. The crossing of the Jordan was also the will of the Lord. I think that maybe the priesthood ban, and its revocation, follow this pattern as well.

  16. The text from the statement: “After praying for guidance, President McKay did not feel impressed to lift the ban.”

    So if I pray and I don’t get an answer, does that mean God is telling me no? Of course not. I highly doubt even the prophet gets an answer to every question he asks the Lord, and the lack of an answer can mean any number of various things.

    Even had God said “no,” that doesn’t mean God owned the initial decision. It could merely mean that God wanted a less racist membership and leadership–one significantly less racist than the leadership that instigated the ban–before ending it. Or it could have meant any number of other things. My experience is that when God does give a direct answer, he isn’t in the habit of explaining why.

  17. “The text from the statement: “After praying for guidance, President McKay did not feel impressed to lift the ban.””

    Actually, if you read Gregory Prince’s biography of David O. McKay, “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism”, it wasn’t as simple as Pres. McKay not feeling an impression. Page 103 of the book details the *many* times that Pres. McKay prayed for direction on the issue and on page 104, tells how Pres. McKay told some church employees that he was not “going to do it again”. They asked him, “Do what again?”

    He then responded: “Well I’m badgered constantly about giving the priesthood to the Negro. I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. The last time I did it was late last night. I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that the time will come, but it will not be my time, and to leave the subject alone.”

    This happened around 1968-1969.

    http://www.amazon.com/David-McKay-Rise-Modern-Mormonism/dp/0874808227/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386471393&sr=1-1&keywords=david+o.+mckay+and+the+rise+of+modern+mormonism#reader_0874808227

  18. I like the article but it partially strikes me as a modern, more liberal form of apologetics. It’s as if it tries to do that liberal thing of “creating a space” where members can disavow the policy was ever connected to anything God willed.

    Footnote 23 kind of shows this. It links the statement that church leaders today condemn all forms of racism past or present. The space this creates is that a policy which is based on race is racism, and therefore church leaders condemn those put and kept the policy going.

    Of course the Footnote linked to a talk which condemned actual racism as we view it – harboring uncharitable thoughts and actions based on a person’s race (well really we all should condemn that race involved or not).

    Still I do think the article is a good resource. I just also hope it can be a salve to those who truly struggle in their faith on this issue rather than a stick to beat the church with or a constant hope that maybe XZY policy could change and should be ignored. Just as Elder Uchtdorfs words are taken out of context we can also count on this to be softly abused. A small worry in the grand scheme of things but it’s sure a nuisance to have our brothers and sisters turn prophetic words against themselves as justification for their “faithful” unbelief.

  19. @Geoff B. regarding the long Uchtdorf quote (particularly that important final paragraph)…

    “earnestly seeking the inspiration, guidance, and approbation of our Eternal Father” =/= receiving inspiration, guidance, and/or approbation

    Were Brigham Young et al. wrong in denying priesthood to blacks? I don’t know. The church hasn’t admitted to being wrong in this, at least. Was he right? That I also don’t know. The church hasn’t claimed that stance, though, either. Capisci?

  20. Who is it from church public affairs that has authority to disavow statements said by apostles? Do apostles have authority to disavow the claims of other apostles? And more importantly, if Stephen L. Richards, for example, made claims about the pre-mortal life that are bunk, why should we believe anything else he said, since he’s proven to be an unreliable source? And if being an apostle wasn’t sufficient to keep many apostles from believing and teaching falsehoods, why should we believe any of them? Is it possible for us to claim anything more credible for church authorities than, “the teachings of the apostles are true, except when they’re not”?

  21. ” Is it possible for us to claim anything more credible for church authorities than, “the teachings of the apostles are true, except when they’re not”?”

    The onus has always been on *us* to verify the word of the Lord. The burden is on the listener to verify the truth of anything that is taught to us by any general authority. Ideally, we are supposed to ponder the teachings and then let the Holy Ghost testify to us of their truth or verify their falsity.

    That being said, I’m sure you’re aware of Joseph Smith’s famous dictum: A prophet is a prophet only when he’s acting as such. We have no infallibility dogma in our church.

    That being said, there are a lot of things that the church public affairs office doesn’t want to get into. When’s the last time you’ve heard a detailed talk given about our premortal existence? We don’t really get into doctrinal waters anymore. I don’t know, perhaps there is a reason for that.

    At any rate, Stephen L Richards, whether or not he erred on the priesthood ban doesn’t change the fact that he didn’t err on the doctrines of faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, or his testimony of the living reality of Christ. I am pretty darn sure he got those right. And those are the most important things of all. Am I right?

  22. As I mentioned on BCC, if you’re going to say that leaders were wrong about the restriction, I don’t see how you can not say that they are currently wrong for the restriction by gender.

    I’d love to see an argument that holds up.

  23. jpv,

    Because that would be a logical fallacy to insist that just because the leaders were allegedly wrong on a priesthood ban ipso facto *must mean* that they are wrong on another, unrelated issue.

    Otherwise known as “circular reasoning” or “begging the question”.

    http://www.logicalfallacies.info/presumption/begging-the-question/

    When you’re ready to lay down your presumptions, you might learn something new instead of reading into the priesthood ban your own personal political conceits.

  24. Interestingly, some of the people who most loudly denounce the priesthood ban as manmade due to the fact that its origin can’t be traced to any publicly available revelation; are the same people who denounce polygamy even though it [i]could[/i] be traced to a publicly available revelation.

  25. jpv, just in case you do not understand why that is a logical fallacy, let’s look at the following.

    “Bob thinks 10+10 equals 25. Bob also thinks 8+8=16.” Bob can definitely be wrong about the first but still be right about the second. Bob is not, ipso facto, wrong about everything if he is wrong about one thing.

    It also seems wise to recognize they are two separate issues. And, lastly, it would be wise to recognize that the Brethren have spoken on these issues pretty clearly, and, as always, our best move it to follow the prophets.

  26. I am curious how others interpret the statement in a couple of different respects. For many years Church leaders taught that black Africans were descendants of Cain and that descendants of Cain were not allowed to hold the priesthood (and therefore neither men nor women of that descent could be endowed or sealed). In other words, while realizing that Joseph Smith allowed some blacks to be ordained, those ordinations were exceptions to a proscription of ordination that began with Cain. The 1949 First Presidency statement quotes Brigham Young’s reference to the ban applying to blacks who were descendants of Cain. The 1969 signed two counselors in the FP but approved by the 12 quotes David O. McKay as stating that the ban is traceable to the pre-existence and implies that it began there.

    Questions: Do the disavowals means that the Church does not teach that black Africans are descendants of Cain?

    Do the disavowals mean that the Church does not teach that the ban existed from the time of Cain until 1978 (with the exceptions of those ordained in Joseph Smith’s time)?

    Both the 1949 and 1969 statements both say that the bans were directed by God (although the bans described were assumed to have existed since the time of Cain). Apart from the question whether the bans were “right” or “wrong”, does the Church teach that the bans were directed by God from 1852 until 1978?

    FWIW, I take the statement to mean that the Church now teaches only that the ban existed from 1852 till 1978, and does not teach that black Africans are descendants of Cain. Also that the ban is not traceable to anything done or not done or the way it was done or not done by black Africans in the pre-existence. And also that the Church does not teach that God directed the bans. But I may be wrong.

  27. I’m well aware of question begging and it’s nice to see it used as it should be instead of when raising the question should have been.

    Towns, I believe you’re the one that presumes too much of what I do or do not believe. I’m not saying if leaders were wrong on X they were wrong on Y. I’m saying that because the reasons are related, not because of what leaders said.

    Nobody is engaging the argument that all the reasons for the ban being “wrong” will equally apply to women and the priesthood. e.g. consider Elijah Abels and the quorum of the anointed, the verse in the Book of Mormon quoted says “black and white” also says “male and female”, etc.

    But, ultimately, all the reasons for why people are considering it “wrong” or a mistake are because it’s considered racist, how is this any different than the female priesthood ban being considered sexist?

  28. To keep the conversation going: I think it is a question of expectations, of standards if you will. What standard do we set for a prophet? Got to do this, because there are all too many who claim the mantle. In this instance, one of race, we must first ask ourselves “is God a racist?” That is, does God apportion His favor solely based on skin color? If we answer yes, then sure, His prophets may well proclaim a priesthood ban based solely on the color of one’s skin. If we answer no, then God would not actively or passively allow such a ban to be promulgated in His name.

    An topical example: A man comes to me and says he is a spokesman for Nelson Mandela. I have no reason not to believe him. But then, among the otherwise fine council he offers me, he tells me not to hire anyone of Asian descent. Whoa! Deal buster. Why? Because I have a conception of Nelson Mandela and apportioning favor or anything else based solely on skin color is not part of it. For me, this man is not a spokesman for Nelson Mandela and can never be: He misconstrues the whole life work and passion of the man.

  29. The church likely avoided the levitical priesthood because it was an apologetic defense for what they did not want to defend but rather move on from.

    But let’s consider that in abstract from race. Why was it OK that only a select few of the faithful could administer in ordinances? We have this on record both ancient and modern. I think this must be explained first and foremost, and you’ve got to do it without dismissing the practice.

    Personally, I think it had to do with the dichotomy o f government vs.
    personal roles and responsibilities. Our conceptions and indeed personal demands and expectations of priesthood have evolved

  30. And just to follow up. That evolution, or even the line upon line of new understanding or growth does not mean the prior state was wrong or unacceptable, but rather a precursor to something better. Why not just give us the final “line” from the outset if that’s the “ideal”? That would rob us of growth the God intends for us to experience both personally and generationally along the way.

  31. DavidH, I think the Church statement answers your question:

    “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form”

  32. It seems to me that whenever this topic comes up people don’t ask one very logical “if” about the priesthood ban. The “if goes like this: If a black man were given the priesthood before civil rights was written on the heart of our nation, and he was called to serve as a bishop or stake president over a completely white congregation, how long would he have lived?

    Before civil rights any black man placed in a position of authority over a white man had to walk a very fine line if he wanted to keep his skin. It would seem to me that any hypothetical pre-civil rights black bishop would not be able to fulfill many of the bishop’s rolls due to the attitudes that existed about race relations during that era. Rolls such as tithing settlement, church disciplinary action, calling the conjuration to repentance, and so on.

    And if we assume the white congregation accepted the black bishop’s calling, would the neighboring non-mormons? Any white man supporting a black man in a leadership roll faced almost as many problems as the black man himself did. And non-mormons would be happy to have another excuse to persecute mormons. So if a ward did accept a black man in such a leadership role, the ward members would probably become targets along with the black bishop.

    It feels like people just say “leaders in the past should have lived up to our more modern attitudes” without thinking about the problems of applying modern ideas of race too the world of yesterday.

    Basically, knowing what I know about history and asking those kind of questions, I really can’t think of a place in the world before civil rights that
    a) the church could legally go and
    b) didn’t have major race relation problems

    So I personally feel God played it safe with the priesthood ban to keep any of his black children from being lynched for answering a call too leadership. In all honesty the thing that is embracing is not the priesthood ban itself, but all the strange ideas that latter church members came up with as “explanations” for President Young putting the ban in place.

  33. Brigham Young speculated on many things. He was trying to develop reasons for the things occurring in the gospel, particularly in the insular Great Salt Lake Basin. That he was “wrong” on a handful of things, out of the hundreds of things he spoke on over several decades, is quite remarkable.
    That the early Saints did not understand critical thinking, psychology, history, archaeology, linguistics, etc., as we do today, we can understand how Brigham Young would “liken” the scriptures unto his people of his day. Even Brigham understood that he did not always speak the mind of the Lord.
    That the reasons given for the ban “worked” in their day meant that there was no reason to question the assumptions being made.

    So, it isn’t that Young or others were intentionally trying to deceive anyone, or that being “wrong” on occasion is necessarily a bad thing. It means that we have continuing revelation, which allowed Pres McKay to partially lift the ban, and Pres Kimball to fully lift the ban.
    The Church’s statement is an excellent statement. It recognizes that speculation led to a traditional thinking that was not supported by revelation. It also recognizes that continuing revelation has moved us beyond this issue, and we just now need to convince those still wrapped up in the old traditional flag, to remove it and begin to see what modern prophets are teaching us.

  34. JPV,
    The ban on women receiving priesthood is a different issue. There is evidence of men receiving the priesthood in the past (Elijah Abel, or in the Bible). There is no evidence of women receiving the AP/MP, though there is evidence of women receiving much power from God.
    That women DO hold the Patriarchal Priesthood in conjunction with their husbands, shows that there is a priesthood they receive in the temple. Somehow, there is also a connection between motherhood and priesthood, regardless of those feminists who want to reject that concept. God’s greatest power is to create, and women are given that power – basically a form of priesthood power that women receive without a required ordination. However, the creation of the eternal family DOES require ordination/ordinance.
    Whether God someday gives women THE priesthood, or A priesthood that is different than what they already receive, we do not know. And the prophets have to work with what they already know and/or understand. If the Lord ever does command a change, then the prophets will say what Elder McConkie said after the 1978 revelation on priesthood: forget everything previously said on the matter, as new revelation trumps everything else.

  35. One more thought.

    Is the entire Old Testament null/void/wrong, because Christ fulfilled it? The Mosaic Law and circumcision were given as “eternal covenants” by God to Israel, yet they were done away in the resurrection of Jesus. Was it all “wrong”?
    Is “eye for an eye” wrong/bad because we now are to “turn the other cheek”?
    Were the teachings of Jesus to his disciples to only go to the House of Israel suddenly “wrong” because God told Peter to baptize Cornelius?

    Our old beliefs on the “why” of the priesthood ban ARE wrong. That does not mean the ban itself was wrong or bad. It just was.

    Is God a racist? By whose standards are we measuring? By man’s mortal and temporary ruler, or by God’s eternal yardstick?

  36. From the text:

    The Church was established in 1830, during an era of great racial division in the United States. At the time, many people of African descent lived in slavery, and racial distinctions and prejudice were not just common but customary among white Americans. Those realities, though unfamiliar and disturbing today, influenced all aspects of people’s lives, including their religion.

    In 1850, the U.S. Congress created Utah Territory, and the U.S. president appointed Brigham Young to the position of territorial governor. Southerners who had converted to the Church and migrated to Utah with their slaves raised the question of slavery’s legal status in the territory. In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would “have [all] the privilege and more” enjoyed by other members.

    If a believing Mormon can read these statements from the Church website and not conclude that church members, including divinely inspired leaders, are not subject to the ideas and culture of the time and place in which they, then I give up. If they can only live in a vacuum or become failed prophets, then I don’t have the stomach for it anymore.

    It boggles the mind that we can give all of the ancient prophets the benefit of time and place – whether its Paul and slavery or Moses and genocide – but not in this dispensation. That’s too close to home. That’s to threatening to our previously conceived notions of what a prophet looks like.

  37. “If a believing Mormon can read these statements from the Church website and not conclude that church members, including divinely inspired leaders, are not subject to the ideas and culture of the time and place in which they, then I give up. If they can only live in a vacuum or become failed prophets, then I don’t have the stomach for it anymore.”

    Christian J, talk about your straw men. Who exactly is saying this?

  38. Is God a racist? By whose standards are we measuring? By man’s mortal and temporary ruler, or by God’s eternal yardstick?

    Rame, one way is to use scripture – particularly the BoM, D&C and PoGP. Its why accepting the ban as deeply flawed was never a problem for me. Because it flies in the face of the modern canon. (not to mention the NT).

    What troubles me about ban rationalizations today, is that they are almost always coming from a fear of disrupting a specific definition of what a prophet looks like. The more I read from ancient and modern scripture and learn of the men leading the Church since JS, the more diverse and nuanced picture I get. That BY was influenced by the racial culture of his day, does not make him any less like Moses or Jeremiah or John – It makes him more like them.

  39. Geoff, I read the statement the way you do on my questions. I think it withdraws any teachings by anyone that black Africans are descendants of Cain, or that before 1852 there was ever a restriction on priesthood/temple blessings based on a person’s being a black African/descendant of Cain. But I don’t want to over read the statement.

  40. Christian J. says: “Rame, one way is to use scripture – particularly the BoM, D&C and PoGP. Its why accepting the ban as deeply flawed was never a problem for me. Because it flies in the face of the modern canon. (not to mention the NT).”

    Actually, the ban is in complete agreement with the modern canon, particularly the Pearl of Great Price. And the Book of Mormon says a skin of blackness is a curse from God.

    The article says: “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

    Does that mean they denounce the Book of Mormon? Do they denounce the Pearl of Great Price?

    “Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth….from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land….Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry;”

    Maybe Brigham Young wasn’t a racist. Maybe he was just following the scriptures given to him by Joseph Smith.

  41. I think the problem is I, for one, don’t have the hubris necessary to measure the flaws of past prophets, nor the energy necessary to chew over issues that have long been dealt with.

  42. Christian J –

    “That BY was influenced by the racial culture of his day, does not make him any less like Moses or Jeremiah or John – It makes him more like them.”

    No one disagrees with this. He was undoubtedly influenced, which was why, some would argue, he looked at the policy he felt inspired to put in place and came up with justifications for it.

    I completely understand the point some of the more liberal/progressive leaning members (and even increasingly conservatives ones too) are making. But I disagree with it, because they can’t possibly know and in making those pronouncements they are passing judgement on individuals and an issue that have ZERO ability and authority to pronounce judgement on.

    Isn’t that what it comes down to? You are advancing a personal theory that no other authority in the history of the church has advanced and expecting everyone to agree with you.

    I think its just as likely that there is a lot of nuance to this issue that can’t possibly be teased out in a world of racism, hurt feelings, incomplete information, etc.

    One thing is for sure, if you try to pass judgement on this issue as though you really understand who was right and wrong in all the particulars you’re the one making the mistake.

  43. nate, all mentions of “blackness” you’ll find in the Bible have nothing to do with race. If the BoM is truly an ancient document – descended from the Israelite tradition, then its not unreasonable to assume that Nephi and others were not seeing skin color change in the sense that we might think today. If the BoM is 19th C. fiction, then of course all bets are off.

    But, even if my first point holds, I agree that BY certainly took the BoM passages to justify a theology of race-as-curse. I would argue that he misunderstood the text though – evidenced by the fact that Joseph Smith ordained black men without a hiccup.

  44. No one disagrees with this. He was undoubtedly influenced, which was why, some would argue, he looked at the policy he felt inspired to put in place and came up with justifications for it.

    chris, why are you able to accept that BY used popular ideas from his day to justify the policy, but not able to accept that he used popular ideas of the time to birth the policy?

    My own guess is that it conflicts with your idea of what a prophet looks like. And if that is the case, where does that view come from? Because I look at scripture and modern history and I see a wide variety of definitions of a prophet of God. All I’m doing is allowing that scriptural and modern history to teach me what prophets *do and say*. I’m completely against creating a round hole of prophetic expectations and then trying to cram in the square peg that is the historical record.

    For me, this is actually the path of non-judgement, because it allows me to appreciate prophets for who they were and what they did and not what my modern sensibilities allow them to be.

  45. Christian J, the real issue is not the Book of Mormon, but the Pearl of Great Price, which makes it perfectly clear that the seed of Cain was cursed with blackness, and that they became a race of people, and that this curse was carried into Egypt to the Pharohs, through Ham, making them ineligible for the priesthood, according to Abraham, as translated by Joseph Smith

    So what exactly happened to the seed of Cain, this race of blacks that made up ancient Egyptians? What happened to that curse that Abraham mentions, and their ineligibility for the priesthood? When did God remove this ancient curse, if not in 1979? Did Jesus remove it? Did Moses remove it? How did Brigham Young “misunderstand” the text, when applying it to modern blacks?

  46. Sure it’s possible. I’m not advocating something I lack revelation to teach. Others are OK doing that.

  47. See here is what bothers me. The concern is not providing gentle ways of building faith for those who have personally felt the worthless-inducing sting of racism.

    No, it’s about winning a rhetorical war with people who are shown to get their facts wrong (relying on a topical guide posting compared to generations of authoritative statements).
    From the slctrib
    ” “Make three-by-five cards of Friday’s church statement on race. Edit carefully if you need to. Laminate it, and keep it handy —in a purse or wallet,” Young, who co-produced a documentary on blacks in the church, wrote to her Facebook friends. “We are now empowered to answer folks who perpetuate old justifications for the priesthood restriction in ways they won’t argue with. We are the messengers to give wings to the statement.”

    See that… They’re messengers to those who (now) presumably error in doctrine. Not those who we’d invite to join us.

    I’ve never once in my life heard these justifications she needs to clip the Wings of, but I read about it all the time be people sowing dissent. Now I know such and such was said, and some who read and find out these things ought to know this new “statement”. But the point here is not to win the debate…

  48. nate, I’ve only read Brigham Young’s reading of the BoM passages. I don’t know of any instance of BY using the BoA to justify the policy. (he likely did at one point, I don’t know).

    I admit you have a point though. Mormons take the BoA seriously as scripture, so it needs to be taken seriously for that reason alone. For my part, the document continues to baffle me. I can’t even say that I know what it really is. I would go on, but I’m certain no one else around here wants to hear my thoughts on the problems with the BoA.

  49. Chris, simply winning a debate is not a good aim in my view. Rubbing it in people’s faces is un Christ-like. Gently reminding them of official statements is spreading truth.

    I would ask you to put yourself in the shoes of a black man or woman in the Church, who has and maybe even still had to endure falsehoods related to their place in the family of God. Because of their ancestry or skin pigmentation no less. Why is that not a great evil that we need to eradicate from our communities? I plead with you to believe those who say it still happens in the Church today. Its deeply hurtful and, because the statement is likely not going to be read by millions of Mormons who don’t use the internet, I don’t understand the fundamental problem with lovingly spreading it far and wide.

  50. Christian J, what we’re all dancing around is Woodruff’s semi-canonized statement to the effect that the Church leadership would be removed from their places before being permitted to “lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”

    One, or two, or five apostles teaching a questionable idea? We conservatives can handle that. But twelve apostles, plus a first presidency, all institutionalizing a policy that was not only contrary to the will of God, but affirmatively harmful to the souls of men inside the Church and out? It’s precisely because we understand the magnitude that such a “mistake” would be, that we simply cannot believe the Lord would allow it. References to Paul’s position on slavery are inapposite. Paul merely accepted the social status quo and chose not to rock the boat. Young, by contrast, changed the status quo. The Lord’s failure to remove Young from his position for some twenty-five years after the change was made–and His apparently explicit instructions to McKay to leave a stripped-down version of the policy in place–would seem to indicate that either Woodruff was wrong or that the Lord did not share the modern Mormon Left’s position that the priesthood ban had (in Woodruff’s words) “[led] the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”

    That, methinks, is why some people are so desperate for Young to be wrong on this issue. Because if Young’s wrong, then Woodruff’s wrong; and Monson and the current Twelve might be wrong, and thus everything–everything–the Church is, or stands for, is up for re-negotiation.

  51. Christian J –
    I communicated poorly, or you misunderstand me. I have served along side and been served by wonderful brothers and sisters of African decent. I know how they personally feel the sting of racism all around them. I love them and every so often I know they struggle on this issue, and to a person everyone of them that I know basically came to this conclusion on their own and put the issue back on the shelf. So I have no doubt this topical guide update would be well received — and still induce other questions that still require putting the issue back on the shelf.

    No, the issue I pointed out is how the quote I pasted above specifically had this “statement” being used against those who apparently perpetuate false doctrine. It’s about winning a war against those who err, in some peoples minds. Not helping others to move on.

    I could quite frankly think of 1000 other and better things to carry on a card in my wallet to help others with real life struggles. But for some reason I don’t understand there is an internal war among some people in the church who just get let the issue die. To have our own members bring it up, when really the vast majority of us have moved on is just strange.

    I get it…”someone, somewhere” is wrong. The fact of the matter is, we all have met a yahoo or two in church who is wrong on a lot of things. This article won’t fix that.

    The sole intent of this article should be to comfort those who feel personally hurt by the sting of racism in their own lives and feel confused, and/or betrayed when they thing about this aspect of church history. It’s got nothing to do with proving one side or the other right on doctrinal basis.

  52. “But for some reason I don’t understand there is an internal war among some people in the church who just get let the issue die. To have our own members bring it up, when really the vast majority of us have moved on is just strange.

    I get it…”someone, somewhere” is wrong. The fact of the matter is, we all have met a yahoo or two in church who is wrong on a lot of things. This article won’t fix that.”

    Chris, there is an important reason for this tactic by “progressive Mormons”, and we may as well put this information on the table because it needs airing. Most actual Mormons who actually go to Church know that the average person in their ward is a good person, not perfect, but generally a good person who is trying to do his or her best in a fallen world. This average Mormon spends most of his or her time thinking about his or her job and family and kids and lives a hectic life, worried about money and how to find time to do all the things the world seems to require. This average Mormon is probably conservative politically but is not really that ideological because, let’s face it, this average Mormon spends most of his or her time just worried about putting food on the table. The average Mormon is probably pretty welcoming to most people and doesn’t really care that much about race or sexual issues (things that are obsessions for the progressive Mormon).

    But the “progressive Mormon” must invent a false “average Mormon” for ideological reasons. This false Mormon is a racist, a homophobe, is a sexist and believes Mormon folklore about racist, homophobic and sexist things. The average Mormon therefore must be CORRECTED because he or she is incredibly backward and not nearly as enlightened and sensitive and wise as the progressive Mormon.

    The fact that this progressive Mormon’s view of Church members has nothing to do with reality is of little consequence to the progressive Mormon. They concentrate on the one yahoo in their ward or the one yahoo who says stupid things on the internet or the one racist who lived 50 years ago to justify their caricaturing of their fellow latter-day Saints. Their view of their fellow religionists is therefore one of complete contempt and hatred. This is why the progressive Mormon is almost always contentious and filled with bile: he or she (in his or her own mind) is on the side of the righteous, standing up to the evil average church member who is a racist, sexist or homophobe.

    This background helps explains a lot of the comments you will see on blogs. So, the Church, with this statement, has done a wonderful thing that should help people gain a bit more understanding of the Church’s past with regard to the priesthood ban. Instead of celebrating this, the progressive Mormon must spew hatred and disgust at the average Mormon and anybody who does not live up to the politically correct doctrine of the Mormon progressive. It really is quite sad that instead of celebrating and being positive the progressive Mormon is always negative, always hateful, always contentious.

  53. (To be clear, my comment above is not really aimed at some of the progressives who regularly comment on M*. The comments that make it through moderation are generally pretty good and worth considering and debating. But there are a LOT of comments that get deleted from progressive Mormons who, let’s face it, are truly hateful people. That is one of the reasons they don’t get to comment on M*).

  54. In light of this topic, I had a few thoughts I wrote down earlier, a portion of which I thought I’d share here:

    Will God allow the prophets to lead the Church astray? Only inasmuch as the Church as a whole is already imperfect on a given matter—so that they are not led astray so much as kept astray from time to time suffering the consequences of the bad branches of tradition or a lack of light and knowledge on a given subject that has risen to the top, until the bad fruit has fully ripened and will eventually be broken off and cast into the fire, and this in due time according to and in balance with the strength of the root as the prophets in other areas will continue to lead the way in positive growth that the good branches likewise grow and gain strength over time. The growth of the Kingdom is a process starting from establishment in the midst of apostasy, then to grow all the way to Zion, a process that roots out misunderstandings and errors along the way as the Kingdom progresses in further light and knowledge. Even so, the Lord will not suffer that a people will be led to destruction without warning. If therefore, those possessing the keys of the Kingdom were turn to wickedness and begin leading the Kingdom to destruction, God would either take their life or inspire the righteous among the leadership or general membership if necessary to bring the leaders before disciplinary council to have them removed, as God will never suffer a righteous Kingdom to be led to destruction by those authorized to possess His keys. Rather, it is the wickedness of the people as a whole that can lead a once authorized Kingdom to destruction, and after many warnings from God’s authorized servants, God may eventually withdraw His prophets, His Spirit, and the keys of the Higher Priesthood previous to the Kingdom collapsing.

    So is it theoretically possible that policies or doctrines can be implemented contrary to the Lord’s perfect will in the matter? If we are not yet a Zion people, then I believe it is possible. And if these such policies are made, or doctrines accepted, is it then possible that it is the Lord’s will that the Church endure the consequences of these decisions/policies/doctrines until the time is fully come that the good root and branches are prepared for the bad branches to be fully removed? To me it only seems part of natural process. Was the Priesthood/Temple ban an example of this very scenario? I personally do not know, but it does seem plausible to me, and I would have no issue with finding out this was indeed the case. I served my mission in West Africa, and have pondered these things on many occasions, and what I have learned for myself is that Africans or those of black African descent did not as a people originate from either Cain or Ham, and that any story promoting one or both of these individuals, or any sort of curse as the origin of the African race is entirely mistaken. So I supposed that the ban could have had a God-inspired origin outside of these stories, but inasmuch as the ban was based on this false tradition, I know for myself that it did not / does not accord with truth, and therefore could not have come from God. I see the recent publication of the Church admitting this same thing. But either way (whether born of false tradition or something inspired we may not be aware of), my faith remains and will remain unaffected as I trust God’s ways are ultimately higher than my ways, and that the Kingdom is not and will not be lead into destruction. I know that this is the last time that the Lord has come to prune his vineyard, and the ultimate destination of this Church and Kingdom, the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, is to father Israel, fill the earth, and establish Zion. The truth will go forward boldly, nobly, and independent despite the weaknesses and errors that will be rooted out along the way.

    One other note I’d like to add though, is that mistakes are not justification for public dissent. Prophets and revelation through those possessing authorized keys will always be superior in leading God’s children to happiness than the foolishness of man’s wisdom which is incapable of leading us to ultimate happiness. To me, I find it important to recognize that possible errors made by current prophets are not rightly open to public criticism or scrutiny from faithful members. While private beliefs may vary in diverse ways, public unity is imperative in God’s planned system of collective growth towards further light and knowledge and becoming a Zion people. We will be lead in growth and truth ultimately through listening, pondering, praying, and following the teachings of our prophets publicly revealed through authorized channels and by following the Spirit in our given stewardships thereafter, not through some sort of democratic public debate over the words of our prophets. Thus while having concerns is completely valid, outside of our stewardship we ought to take our concerns privately to those who are in authority, and then leave final decisions to those whose calling it is to make the decisions, instead of making the issue public and setting one’s personal opinion up as a alternate light to the world. Only in this way can the good and bad grow according to the will of the Lord, that His tree will be pruned as He sees fit that we may reach our ultimate destination.

  55. I would just add as an addendum to Geoff’s eloquent analysis of progressive Mormons that they are not really interested in the welfare of the kingdom of God as much as they care about the welfare of their political ideologies and conceits. Conservative Mormons have had to let go of some things that Church leaders said needed to go (immigration is a huge example, for instance). However, progressive Mormons absolutely will not let go of their precious conceits, because, as Geoff indicated above, they are the chosen ones, the enlightened ones.

    I’ve been interacting online with progressive Mormons for quite a while now, and let me tell you, based on my experience: they will lie, spew forth hate, block you for daring to have an opinion that differs from theirs, ban your IP address because they can’t cope with your reasoned logic, etc. They are an ugly cancerous mole on the arse of online Mormonism, and I’m not afraid to state it openly.

    Now, please let me hasten to point out that there are respectful, intellectual, and polite progressives that I’ve interacted with. They exist, and I’m glad that they post here and elsewhere. But they are unfortunately very few compared to the nasty ones.

  56. SteveF, some very interesting thoughts and humble comments. I am much more likely to be persuaded by such humility than the hubris we see from many progressive Mormons on this subject, so thanks.

  57. JimD, I have to say that the people I know who are desperate for Young to be wrong, are already out of the Church. Every single other person I know who struggles with this (including a number of black Mormons) is desperate to reconcile this seemingly flawed and hurtful policy with what Mormons believe is a loving Heavenly Father. Its too bad that some would use this as a weapon. Believe me when I say that many are genuinely searching for understanding and peace.

    I sympathize with the concern that arises based on the Woodruff statement. I really do. Although, its clear to me that he was talking to a specific people about a specific issue (polygamy), I understand the slippery slope that some fear. SteveF, did a great job of explaining the remainder of my thoughts on the topic of leading the Church astray.

    As far as the FP/Q12 endorsing the policy, my understanding of events goes like this: There is no record of the FP/Q12 beginning the policy as a body. That later FP/Q12′s upheld the policy does not mean that every apostle agreed with it – just that they could not unanimously disagree with it. Also, Mckay being told not to lift the ban does not conclusively mean that the the ban was always God’s will in my view.

    What’s interesting about your comment, is it reminds me that every member approaches and thrives in the Church in different ways. For me and many others, believing that God did not institute this ban is actually much *more* faith-promoting*. For others obviously its less. We all do what we need to do, I guess.

  58. Christian J, you said,
    The ban is difficult to reconcile “with what Mormons believe is a loving Heavenly Father”.

    Couple questions…

    Was it God’s will that Adam and Eve Fall? (Never the less I forbid it). – Old Testament

    Or was it a loving Heavenly Father’s will that nails be driven into his son’s hands by the wicked (Nevertheless thy will be done) – New Testament

    Was it a loving Heavenly Father’s will that faithful women and children be thrown into the fire? (The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand). – Book of Mormon

    Is a loving, understanding, forgiving Heavenly Father angry? (Oh, this unbelieving and stiffnecked generation, mine anger is kindled against them.) – D&C

    Answer if you will. Or just take the lazy way of saying the verses (and policy) must be wrong because it doesn’t comport with your understanding. (because of course, naturally, you and I understand all)

  59. chris, I think you’re uncharitably parsing Christian J’s words. He may also be parsing your words in a way that you didn’t intend.

    I think there has been a lot of ‘talking past each other’ going on in this thread.

  60. Not quite sure how I unfairly parsed his words.

    He and others feel it’s hard to justify the policy with a loving Father in Heaven image. I know our Father in Heaven loves us, but I also don’t think my understanding of love with a complete big picture understanding of what’s best for my eternal progression necessitates questions which seem impossible to answer, and answers which deep down seem contradictory at the surface.

    Maybe the “lazy” part was viewed as unfair, but that’s how I view myself.

    The fact that I have arrived at is that this is why these things just can’t be discussed. Hurt feelings, and perceptions of being uncharitable for bringing up hard to bear facts makes us better off for saying the obvious… we don’t know everything and ought to just trust God.

    In a religion where we promise answers, that’s sometimes not very satisfying. The spirit has spoken truth to my soul, however, and although I may not be able to give word to it, the same spirit can speak truth to others. On this and other difficult life questions, we can’t give that truth to each other. We can point the way, but in my experience it’s got to come straight from the source.

  61. chris, Your questions are not out of line and I knew they might come – but did not have the energy to lay out all of my thinking on the matter.

    To summarize the best I can: I know there are innumerable examples of horrendous acts that seem to be in the name of God – from scripture. I know there are extremely harsh examples that we do not understand – from scripture. Things that the Bible or BoM teach that were the will of God – but are hard for us to fathom. But ancient scripture has to be seen as a different animal in my view. There are so many variables that we do not know – author, context etc. The beauty of modern revelation (including the D&C) is supposed to be clarity. Its supposed to boil things down and simplify all the confusion. And the view of God that I read in the D&C and from the living prophets my whole life is contrary to everything I know about the institution continuation and explanations concerning the ban. That’s my own challenge and I don’t think its more enlightened, but its real and faithful.

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