The Long Promised Day: Why the LDS Church Priesthood Ban is NOT a Hammer for Your Liberal Wedge Issue

[Cross Posted from Sixteen Small Stones]

Those who disagree with the the LDS Church on certain policies and positions, especially its stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage, but also on various other policies that clash with current liberal cultural trends, often cite the Church’s former Priesthood Restriction as a precedent for the church to make further changes to accommodate their views.

In fact, for many of them the Priesthood Ban has become a useful hammer that they employ to drive their agenda. It has become a kind of folklore for heretical members of the church that is used to prop up and justify their agitation for change and rejection of prophetic authority.

The folklore goes something like this:

“Brigham Young, the second prophet and president of the church, was a terrible racist and instituted a church policy that banned black members from being ordained to the priesthood. Many doctrinal and scriptural justifications were given for the ban during the subsequent decades, but it was really only based on the racist notions common to the culture and religions of the time. In the years leading up to 1978 when the ban was finally ended, many good members of the church, including general authorities, were troubled by the restriction and questioned its origins, and some righteous souls even publicly agitated for it to end. In response to the growing challenge from members and the success of the Civil Rights movement the church lifted the ban and admitted that the scriptural and doctrinal justifications for it were wrong.”

Much of the time this narrative is taken for granted and the argument is simply made by referring to it, like this: “Just like the Brethren were wrong about the priesthood ban, they are wrong about homosexuality, and will eventually change and disavow the previous doctrines.”

This appeal to the priesthood ban as a precedent for additional changes leaves out a couple of key details that undermine the parallelism to these modern trends.

From the very beginning of the priesthood restriction, Brigham Young himself prophesied that the “time will come when [black members] will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of and more.” (February 5th, 1852 Speech before the Territorial Legislature). Subsequent prophets reiterated this prophecy that eventually the Lord would lift the ban and the priesthood would be bequeathed to all. Many of them didn’t believe it would happen until the Millennium, after Jesus returned.

In addition to the prophecies, we have very solid historical examples of black men being ordained to priesthood offices by the prophet Joseph Smith himself before the priesthood restriction was declared by President Young.

These are essential details. The disagreement in the decades culminating in ending the restriction was about the the validity of the reasons that had been suggested for the restriction, or whether or not blacks really were descended from Cain or Canaan, the proper time frame for lifting the ban, and whether it could be ended without an explicit revelation. But the idea that the priesthood could be and would be extended to blacks at the proper time was not in dispute. That is why in Official Declaration 2, in which the end of the restriction was announced, President Kimball specifically refers to these prophecies when he says they are “Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us…” and says “the long-promised day has come…”

It is this concept of an explicitly “long-promised day” that is missing from the appeals for additional changes in the church to accommodate modern sensibilities. Putting  aside controversies about whether or not the priesthood restriction was a mistake or an inexplicable decree from the Lord, the priesthood was always supposed to be extended to black members eventually.

A similar example of a “long promised day” is the extension of the gospel to the gentiles by the prophet Peter. Jesus himself had prophesied that the gospel would eventually go to the gentiles, both before His crucifixion and then again after His resurrection. So when Peter received his vision and then extended the gospel to Cornelius the Centurion and his household, upon whom the Holy Spirit had fallen, it fulfilled the earlier prophecy. Putting aside controversies over whether gentile converts needed to be circumcised, the gospel was supposed to be extended to the gentiles eventually.

There is no “long-promised day” prophesied by latter-day prophets and presidents that preceded us to which one might appeal for same-sex marriage. Neither are there solid historical examples of Joseph Smith approving of or sanctioning homosexual relationships in the way that there are of extending the priesthood to black members.

For these reasons lifting the priesthood ban is not really comparable and cannot be legitimately cited as a good precedent for new changes through agitation and public pressure by liberal members of the church.

For an excellent, faithful perspective on the priesthood ban, check out Thirty Years After the Long Promised Day: Reflections and Expectations (PDF) by brother Marcus H. Martins, who was the first black LDS member to serve a full-time mission after the restriction was ended.

[Before commenting on this post, please be aware that Bite the Wax Tadpole principles apply. Thanks.]

44 thoughts on “The Long Promised Day: Why the LDS Church Priesthood Ban is NOT a Hammer for Your Liberal Wedge Issue

  1. Good post. When I converted to the church in 1963, I was concerned about the ban, but was assured the day would come. When it came, it was met with tears of joy. It is important to remember the we have always been an integrated church. Charges of racism are greatly exaggerated. Homosexuality and same sex marriage will never be sanctioned by the church.

  2. The case for the LDS Church changing things is always over stated. There are de-emphized, temporarily prohibited, expanded, and re-interpreted teaching and doctrine. Nothing I have read indicates a complete 180 has ever happened other than in isolation of related material.

  3. J. Max, a brilliant post.

    I was in the MTC when Elder Martins and his family arrived for training. I had the privilege of speaking with Elder and Sister Martins on a number of ocassions. What a beautiful example of a couple with faith and the desire to serve the Lord, regardless of priesthood restrictions. My heart leaps for joy knowing that the Lord has extended these blessings to all worthy members.

  4. I join the chorus of praise. Well done, sir! I’m tired of how the Murmurnaccle has framed the entire priesthood ban issue; your essay is a valuable step in the direction of reclaiming the issue and framing in properly in the context of the “long-promised” priesthood expansion.

  5. This post’s argument that everyone always agreed that blacks would eventually get the priesthood is a serious historical falsehood and represents the problem with apologetics as distortion of the past and failure to grapple with the problem as it is, as if a temporary ban somehow avoids the problem of a ban at all. While we can argue that there are problems with the parallel between the priesthood ban and the ban on same sex relationships, this does not preclude the argument that the church can and does change doctrines, nor does it answer the question of whether a change in doctrine is the right thing.

  6. TT, Jmax provides some pretty specific examples to back up his claims. I notice that you provide none in your comment. Unless you can provide any examples, I will assume you are providing a “serious historical falsehood” of your own.

  7. Remlamp,

    I’m not sure where you would get the impression that I am saying that. Clearly there were strong racist elements to the justifications offered by Brigham Young and many others for the Priesthood Restriction (especially when subjected to modern standards).

    TT, please remember that comments that are simply contradictory or that imply dishonesty on my part are not welcome. See the Bite the Wax Tadpole manifesto linked at the end of the post. If you want to make polite comments that presents additional historical information that should be considered that may modify my presentation, please do so. Otherwise, BWT.

  8. Geoff B,
    Since all I need is one example to disprove the assertion: “But the idea that the priesthood could be and would be extended to blacks at the proper time was not in dispute,” I will point out that this claim was highly disputed by providing the full quotations that JMax excerpts.

    “When all the other children of Adam have the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity.” (JD, 2:142-3 (December 3, 1854). The prospects seemed equally remote in 1859 (JD, 7:290-1), and 1866 (JD, 11:272).

    This difference is not insignificant from what JMax implies. To say that such a change could never occur until every other non-black person received the priesthood is not the same thing as saying that there was some time in the future that BY envisioned a revelation would change the Church’s policy. This statement was quoted in the official Church position in 1949 under the idea that blacks would not receive the priesthood until every other male had first. Yes, such a position envisioned it, but not under the circumstances of a revelation, but rather in the context of the Millennium. While JMax suggests, “Many of them [e.g., Church leaders] didn’t believe it would happen until the Millennium, after Jesus returned,” it is more accurate to say that, “of those few statements where a Church leader actually speculates on the future of the policy before the 1950′s, ALL of them believed that it would happen at the end of time.” There is no evidence that anyone before the 1950′s expected that a revelation WOULD come that would change the policy of the Church and to imply otherwise is simply not accurate.

    The fact is that very, very few statements about the future of this policy can be found among Church leaders, and when they do appear, they are citing BY. Those who defended a hardline version of the policy took it as a matter of fact, not a temporary restriction. By 1912, The First Presidency wrote in response to an inquiry about the nature of the ban, “You are referred to the Pearl of Great Price, Book of Abraham, Chapter 1, verses 26 and 27, going to show that the seed of Ham was cursed as pertaining to the priesthood; and that by reason of this curse they have no right to it.” (emph. mine, Letter of January 13, 1912, from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to Milton H. Knudson, in the Bennion papers.) The First Presidency could write as recently as 1947, “From the days of the Prophet Joseph until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel” (First Presidency letter (from Presidents Smith, Clark, and McKay) to Lowry Nelson, July 17,1947,)

    The burden of proof is on JMax to find evidence that every Apostle who ever taught about the ban did not dispute that it would be changed. After the 1950′s, some started to suggest that there would be a time when revelation might bring about a change. Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1963: ” “Such a change can come about only through divine revelation, and no one can predict when a divine revelation will occur.” (Look, American Magazine, Oct 22, 1963, p79). This represents a radical reinterpretation of what BY said, and suggest an intermediate stage before the actual ban was lifted. During this intermediate stage, largely under the influence of H B Brown and David O. McKay (though they had their differences), the doctrinal basis of the ban was undercut, but it was believed that a revelation would be needed to change it. This reflects a rejection of BY’s teachings on two levels, that the curse of Cain was the cause of the ban (not to mention the “preexistence hypothesis that the Pratts introduced), as well as the Millennial expectation for when a change might occur.

    For a more responsible history, see https://www.dialoguejournal.com/2012/mormonisms-negro-doctrine-an-historical-overview/

  9. This difference is not insignificant from what JMax implies.  To say that such a change could never occur until every other non-black person received the priesthood is not the same thing as saying that there was some time in the future that BY envisioned a revelation would change the Church’s policy.

    TT, the things you cite are disagreements about timeline and doctrinal justifications. Exactly as I said. They are exactly about when the “proper” time would be and the conditions that must be met first. But the fact that it would eventually be extended to them when the “proper” time and conditions (whatever they may be) were met was not disputed.

    There is simply no analogue for same-sex marriage.

  10. I’m going to bed and won’t be able to monitor and respond to comments until tomorrow. In the mean time I am turning moderation on for all new comments on this post. Thanks.

  11. I agree with JMax’s argument that blacks and the priesthood is not analogous to same-sex marriage. Implicit in the priesthood ban was the understanding that someday, the priesthood would be given, whether in the Millenium or sooner. But there is no such understanding with homosexuality. There is no understanding that “someday” they will be allowed to marry in the temple.

    However, I can see how TT gets distracted by JMax’s apparent defense of the inspired nature of the ban using selective quotes by BY. But at it’s root, the argument works whether or not the priesthood ban was inspired or not.

  12. One of the problems with debating topics like this is the muddy definition of what doctrine is. The minemalist defition is that doctrine is that which is canon. If we take this position, As Lester Bush did in famous 1973 article on the ban, then the ban was only policy, not a part of the official canon of the Curch. On the other hand, the extension of the Pristhood to blacks now is part of the canon (OD 2).

    One could make a similar argument for same sex marriage, as we do not have a specific part of the canon barring gay marriage. “The Family: A Proclamation to The World” is not yet canon and does not specifically say “no gay marriage.” The condemnation of homosexual behavior, especially found in Leviticus 18 and 20, suffer from being part of the 613 mitzvot of the Old Testament, which we believe that we are not bound to obey any more. The closest we come to a canonical ban on such a marriage is from Paul in the New Testament (see Roman’s 1:26-27).

    I am not sure, however, that in todays climate, such a basis for supporting same sex marriage would hold much water. It would seem to be only the verbal machininations of the proverbial “Philadelphia Lawyer.”

  13. JMax,
    The point is that the idea that this policy could be changed by revelation IS the major doctrinal change. Not all church leaders or members thought it could be changed at the end of time, and no one believed it would be changed before that.

    Whether this is a perfect analogy to same sex relationships is not really my concern. I’ve agreed it is not perfect and suggested alternative grounds on which that issue be evaluated.

    The issue is whether your own reconstruction of history is somehow less of a piece of “folklore” than the straw person argument you think you demolish.

  14. Thank you for posting this. I’ve been privately arguing this same thing, tentatively and carefully, for some time, but now I can just send people the link.

  15. IBK,

    I’m familiar with the line of thinking you have outlined. However, it is tangential to the topic of this post. The post is specifically meant to address the priesthood ban comparison.

    Canonical prohibitions are certainly debated. It is hardly surprising that we find no explicit prohibitions against a modern innovation such as “same-sex marriage.” But there are plenty of prohibitions of lasciviousness, whoredoms, and fornication, under which homosexual acts could have been included.

    The fact is that there is not a single example of an unambiguously homosexual relationship which is approved either in the canon or the restoration (unlike polygamous relationships, of which their are multiple unambiguous canonical examples practiced by individuals considered to be both righteous and wicked).

    The priesthood extension can appeal to restoration examples of ordained black members and prophecy. There is no appeal to the restoration for the acceptability of homosexual behavior. In fact we have the excommunication of John C. Bennett in part because of homosexual acts as a negative precedent. And there are no prophecies that one day same-sex couples will be allowed (even in the millennium or at the end of time).

  16. TT, while this is all an interesting diversion, it’s asserting too much to say that “no one believed it would be changed before [the end of time].” Of course one will find varying positions and sympathies, and in some settings it might be helpful to assemble them…but not here. Similarly, an interesting case could be made as to just how racist Brigham Young’s views were in comparison to contemporary religious leaders, but that too falls short of the point.

    The burden isn’t actually on JMax to “find evidence that every Apostle who ever taught about the ban did not dispute that it would be changed.” There’s sufficient to show what was or was not known, and to cast reasonable doubt on an unequivocal timetables theory–in terms which cannot be carried over to the homosexuality agenda. Perhaps Pres. Kimball was referring to a different stack of evidence when he alluded to pleading on behalf of a people on account of “promises” made by preceding prophets; if cast in such stark terms as those isolated “declarations,” more like exclusion than promise, why plead at all?

    I will merely cite two instances which I happen to have on hand of presidents of the Church, acting in their office, who envisioned the long-promised day without drawing the prohibiting line on this side of eternity. “On one such trip, a very extended excursion to Florida, President Joseph F. was accompanied by his wife Julina Lambson Smith and his daughter Emily Jane. She recalled:

    “‘Moma & Papa at the rear of the train. Pres. Smith usually had his own car as they traveled on the railroad. . . . President Smith invited the railroad porters into his car to kneel and have family prayer with his family. They loved Pres. Smith. He admonished them to live their religion and some day, probably not in their life time or his, but some day those who lived worthily would receive the priesthood.’” (Richard Neitzel Holzapefel and R.Q. Shupe, Joseph F. Smith: Portrait of a Prophet [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 2000], 183-184)

    November 16, 1972 press announcement by President Harold B. Lee: “It’s only a matter of time before the black achieves a full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we’re just waiting for that time.” (L. Brent Goates, Harold B. Lee: Prophet & Seer [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1985], 506)

  17. Great comment Kristopher. You may also want to mention President McKay, who also pled with the Lord to change the priesthood policy but was told it was not yet time. So far, we have Joseph Smith ordaining blacks and President Young, President Joseph F. Smith, President McKay and President Lee saying they would eventually receive the priesthood, with President Kimball finally getting the revelation. In addition, we have every GA since then recognizing the policy change as revelation and accepting it. There are probably other prophets from BY’s time on who may or may not have made public their feelings on the matter.

    The history backing up Jmax’s take is so far pretty solid.

  18. TT,

    You’re still stuck on arguing time frame and conditions.

    “…the idea that this policy could be changed by revelation IS the major doctrinal change.”

    No, it isn’t. It’s simply a change of time frame expectations. The idea that the current, living prophet could receive a revelation that changed the understood timeline may not have been expected before 1950, but it certainly was well within accepted doctrine of prophetic authority as well as restoration era and canonical precedent.

    Let me point out too, that during Brigham Young’s presidency, with the relatively recent Utah War and Civil War, and building conflict with the U.S. government over plural marriage and the perceived Mormon threat to civilization, many members, including Brigham Young, likely thought that the apocalypse was imminent. So, in his mind saying that blacks wouldn’t receive the priesthood until the Millennium was a much shorter time frame than it is for us. If he expected that the Millennium was only decades away, then the idea that the priesthood would be extended in about 100 years would not have contradicted his expectations. He was wrong about the time line.

    “no one believed it would be changed before that.”

    I think you know that this is probably an exaggeration. Lorenzo Snow was expressing to the rest of the twelve some doubts about the whether the explanations for the ban were founded in revelation or in personal opinion as early as August 1900. Surely there were some people who were at least agnostic about the timeline before 1950.

    “The issue is whether your own reconstruction of history is somehow less of a piece of “folklore” than the straw person argument you think you demolish.”

    I don’t think it should be necessary to point out to a scholar like you that the term “folklore” describes how the information is used and propagated. Folklore can be true, false, or incomplete.

    My point was to show that, contrary to how it is often employed, the priesthood ban is not analogous to the kind of changes being called for and does not provide a precedent for them. You have at least partially conceded that fact.

  19. Kristopher,
    I will once again try to state more clearly what I have said in my comments thus far: I am not defending the use of the priesthood ban as an analogy for same sex relationship.  Personally, I don’t think that it is entirely irrelevant (if one does not restrict the rules of the analogy so tightly as JMax does), but I don’t think the best arguments for same sex marriages rely on that particular precedent.  Instead, I want to focus more specifically on JMax’s rendering of the history of the ban and the history of its expected overturning.  
    I have suggested that there is no evidence before the 1950′s that any Church leader expected that it would be overturned in this age by a revelation.  You have offered a remembrance of Emily Jane Smith recalling a private conversation when she was a child.  When was this recollection recorded?  Is there any corroborating evidence?  There are lots of reasons that this particular recollection may not be reliable (second hand, in the interest of redeeming JFS’s reputation, not consistent with his known teachings during his life), but if I had to bet it was first recorded sometime after 1978, right?  Can you provide more information?

    As for the HBL quote, that falls well after the timeframe I suggested for when such statements start to appear.  This doesn’t back up JMax’s point, but rather mine.

    I have offered a schematic way of thinking about the history of the ban, as imperfect as it might be.  First, in the early stages Church leaders saw the ban as a result of the mark of Cain, preexistent valiance, or related to the PoGP.  Most said absolutely nothing about a future time when there would be no curse. Some thought that at the end of time the “curse” would be lifted.   In the second stage, in the 1950′s and later, church leaders began to deny that there was a “curse” (though many still taught it) and to suggest that a revelation might some day change the “policy” about the priesthood ban.  This is a massive shift that reverses the two central points of the earlier ideas, that a “curse” was behind the ban (not a “policy”) and that a revelation could change it (rather than letting the course of time/punishment bear out).  In the final stage, the time of the actual end of the ban in 1978, the fundamental premises of the second stage were fully accepted.  I am suggesting that the reversal of the ban actually built on the earlier changes in evaluating it, thus setting up the change.  We should look to the time period in the change in doctrine in the 1950′s and 60′s, not just 1978, for a more accurate framing of how the change came about.  That is to say, a serious, critical look at the doctrine, its historical problems and injustice, were what precipitated the revelation, not a mere difference of opinion about “timeframe” as JMax is asserting.  

  20. The analogy applies, as TT has hinted at in his last comment, in that it manifests a response at many points to cultural assumptions and forces at play in wider society. The reliance of BY and many others since on erroneous biblical interpretation (i.e., the “mark of Cain” = black skin) is one example of this; another is the lifting of the ban after, and in response to, the civil rights movement.

    Polygamy is similarly construed: the restorationist impulse of Joseph Smith caused him to look to relationships in biblical culture and to propose them through revelation as a norm, when originally they were not theologically-sanctioned but rather culturally-based practices. In other words, God never “instituted” polygamy anciently; he worked with it. And, just like with the lifting of the ban, the renouncement of polygamy was a response to very definite cultural forces (and, to my knowledge, it wasn’t foreseen the way J. Max asserts for the lifting of the ban, especially given the ambiguous status of the manifesto).

    These are apropos because they reflect cultural origins and responses. I don’t mean to be deterministic, but rather to say that the working out of these issues did not happen in a vacuum. It’s true that no historical provisions anciently were made for legalized homosexual, lifelong relationships, but this is true of most human population groups until quite recently. It is only in the context of recent sociocultural acceptance of such that the question can be realistically entertained. And that’s where the analogies are useful, because history shows with these examples that things once thought to be fundamental, such as priesthood and rules governing sexual and marital relationships, can indeed turn on their heels.

  21. “a serious, critical look at the doctrine, its historical problems and injustice, were what precipitated the revelation, not a mere difference of opinion about “timeframe” as JMax is asserting.”

    TT, is your primary concern that you read my post as a rejection of the idea that the questions raised about the origin of the priesthood ban and the doctrines suggested to justify it in the decades leading up to 1978 played no role in bringing about the change?

    I suppose you could reach that conclusion if you misinterpret the word “folklore” to mean “false” rather than as a description of propagation and use.

    You’ll notice that I did not attempt to contradict the folklore as presented except to say that it was incomplete and that the missing factors were essential in a way that disqualified the priesthood restriction as a precedent for same-sex marriage.

    As I mentioned in my previous comment, questions about the priesthood restriction had been building since at least as early as 1900, and the question came up repeatedly between 1900 and 1978 among the brethren. Whether the public pressure from intellectuals actually “precipitated” the revelation is debatable. If it is important to you that such be the case, then believe what you will. (It seems a little much to spend time trolling other people’s posts to make sure that they believe it too.)

    The point is that, regardless of the role public questions about the ban may or may not have played, the idea that the priesthood could and would be extended to blacks eventually was not at issue and when the change came it had ample precedent, unlike the modern crusades for change in the church. That difference is essential.

  22. Jupiters Child,
    this is primarily a conversation between people who believe in Mormonism and in the possibility of revelation and doctrine as more than just superstructure pasted on to underlying social factors. If you believe, prima facie, that the Church is just going to conform to the culture with a few decade’s lag, than naturally its of little to no interest whether the priesthood ban has a doctrinal history at all similar to the doctrinal history of opposition to same-sex sex and perforce gay marriage.

  23. It seems to me that one of the biggest points that is missing from comments like jupiterschild and others is: is there any possible path we can see to use the priesthood ban to compare it to SSM? So, we have shown conclusively that 1)blacks were given the priesthood in the mid-1800s 2)that even when they were not, BY looked forward to the day that they would be given the priesthood 3)other prophets also looked forward to the day they would be given the priesthood 4)prophets actively prayed for this to take place 5)all GAs and nearly all members rejoiced when it happened in 1978.

    In contrast, there is no evidence of 1)SSM ever being given any consideration ever among the Brethren 2)ever be prophesied to take place 3)ever being considered in the temple. In fact, all indications from temple ceremonies are that SSM has no place in the celestial scheme. In addition, we have a fairly recent doctrinal statement (the Proclamation on the Family) and very active Church activity against SSM. While the Church was not involved in the SSM legalization efforts in Maryland, Maine, NY, etc. there has been no change in the Church’s official position on the issue.

    We can all agree that the Church has taken very laudable steps towards pointing out that SSA is NOT a sin and has taken great steps toward encouraging individual bishops and members to be more gracious and accepting and loving toward ALL of God’s children, including those with SSA. Instead, it is same-sex sexual activity that is a sin, according to the Church. Given that legalizing SSM would necessarily sanction same-sex sexual activity (which the Church considers a sin), we see the following that would need to take place for the Church to make the same changes in SSM that has been made on the priesthood ban: 1)Complete rejection of Biblical precepts on same-sex sexual activty 2)complete invention of a new policy that was never prophesied ever by any prophet 3)complete rejection of temple policy 4)complete reversal of Church activity against SSM 5)complete rejection of the Proclamation.

    If we compare the two situations, a change that was prophesied and prayed for and supported by past prophets, and a change that was never prophesied and would be a complete reversal of Church policy, it is easy to see why one took place and the other almost certainly will not.

  24. I think only time will tell how this plays out. It is only a matter of time before same sex marriage becomes legal in all 50 states. Soon after that the church will starting getting a lot of pressure to change its policies regarding homosexuals. Colleges will boycott athletic games against BYU just like Stanford and other colleges did prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban. BYU could become in danger of losing its tax exempt status and possibly the church itself. I believe that the state department threatened to try to do that last time around. Losing tax exempt status would cost the church millions if not billions of dollars each year.

    It is clear that the church has softened its rhetoric about homosexuality over that last few years. It is possible that within the next 5-10 years that rhetoric could continue to soften to the point some of the brethren make comments that would open the door to a revelation being possible and then a few years after that OD3 gets published and everyone claims what a great day it is.

  25. TT and J Max,

    A couple of points and suggestions:

    Jmax: “But the idea that the priesthood could be and would be extended to blacks at the proper time was not in dispute”

    TT quotes BY: “When all the other children of Adam have the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity.” (JD, 2:142-3 (December 3, 1854). The prospects seemed equally remote in 1859 (JD, 7:290-1), and 1866 (JD, 11:272).

    I note here that there is no essential conflict. J Max is factually correct and in comment #17, TT even agrees with him main thesis.

    TT, I get the feeling that what is concerning you is that you wish J Max would have pointed out that there is a change in this still, namely that the priesthood ban was lifted before BY suggested it would be. However, I would point out that for J Max’s point, this is irrelevant. It’s up to you to make your own point out of this as you see fit according to your religious beliefs. J Max would be diverting to a new point if he brought this up. There is always “more than can be discussed” so one has to decide what points are relevant.

    However, J Max, I think this is a good chance to improve through outside criticism. You can easily change your quote to “But the idea that the priesthood could be and would be extended to blacks at the proper time was taught from the beginning, though they may have gotten the time of the lifting of the ban wrong.” This changes absolutely nothing in your argument and does not weaken it at all. (A point that TT should have noticed.) Yet it fully addresses all of TT’s points.

    Also, TT, a phrase like “was not in dispute” is usually treated as somewhat hyperbole. People say things like that all the time (“organic evolution is not in dispute.” “It is not in dispute that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy”) when in fact there is simply no such thing as “not in dispute” 99.99% of the time. It is usually (and I’m sure you do use it this way yourself, so be consistent) taken to mean something pretty similar to my suggested rewrite based on your criticism of the sentence.

    So while I think you are factually right, I think you’re also being somewhat unfair. Certainly the current wording doesn’t imply that J Max was claiming he can “find evidence that every Apostle who ever taught about the ban did not dispute that it would be changed.” I certainly didn’t take it that way, and frankly I doubt anyone that wasn’t politically motivated to look for any possible problem would notice it.

    That being said, J Max, he’s right. I recommend you fix the problem and go ahead and strengthen your argument.

    I also wanted to comment on the core argument J Max demolishes that you keep calling a straw man. First of all, you explicitly agree that J Max is right that this argument the post demolishes is no good in comment #17 (unless used as one part of a much larger argument. More on that later.) So let’s keep in mind the basic common ground here.

    To call it a straw man implies that no one actually uses this argument. But I’ve personally witnessed something pretty much exactly like this argument many times without the slightest hint of nuance different then the very way J Max outlines it. (I have even pointed out the problems with such arguments and had a chance to see reactions from people.)

    My guess here is that what you are really trying to say is that this argument is wrong and you agree with J Max on that. But that there were still changes in teachings (such as time of the lifting of the ban) from what was originally said and that therefore a far more nuanced argument – one very much unlike the one J Max demolishes – could be made for the LDS Church to change it’s mind on homosexuality via revelation. In fact, I suspect you have a specific argument in mind. Perhaps something along the lines of a recent Dialogue article that I’m sure you’re more intimately familiar with than I am.

    Since I don’t know the future, I won’t dispute that point. What I will say is that you are wrong to pretend like J Max was making any argument beyond the one he stated he was making. I simply do not see where J Max even pretends to make an all encompassing argument against every conceivable possible argument in favor of the Church changing to accept homosexuality. And I think you are forcing meaning J max does not intend because of your own biases towards this subject. (Note: we’re all bias. I’m not trying to be insulting here. Though you can take my words as you wish, I am simply being realistic about how people read into things based on their personal values and beliefs.)

  26. jupiterschild,

    Your analogy to polygamy depends on setting up your own opinions as authoritative. You say “God never ”instituted” polygamy anciently” (with scare quotes!) and you declare unequivocally that polygamous relationships were “not theologically-sanctioned but rather culturally-based practices.” In other words, you start out with the presumption that God would never institute or sanction polygamy, and interpret the polygamy changes in that light.

    The Book of Mormon clearly establishes a framework in which God can permit or prohibit polygamy as needed. Laying aside arguments about the speculations by the early Brethren that the practice should be the norm, the Book of Mormon framework had already established a clear precedent for permitting or proscribing polygamy if commanded by the Lord.

    There is no similar scriptural framework to which homosexuality and same-sex marriage can appeal. So it isn’t really comparable.

  27. Thanks for your observations, Bruce.

    “though they may have gotten the time of the lifting of the ban wrong.” I thought that this was pretty clear from my post when I mentioned that they thought that it wouldn’t happen until the millennium, and I alluded to disagreements about the “proper time frame”, but if you think it would be helpful to emphasize it, then I can modify the post.

  28. “Many of them didn’t believe it would happen until the Millennium, after Jesus returned.”

    Yep, you have a point J Max. You did mention it. I guess I missed this. I stand corrected.

    I think you could still benefit from this change though: “But the idea that the priesthood could be and would be extended to blacks at the proper time was taught from the beginning” instead of “not in dispute.”

    The problem is that there is an underlying and non-stated message that both you and TT have, though opposite ones.

    Though your post does not try to be an all encompassing argument against the Church ever accepting homosexuality, it’s probably a fair guess that you are writing this because you are not sure it’s possible for the LDS Church to change this doctrine and stay rationally coherent. Therefore, TT is *reading in* this unstated intent and taking issues with it rather then with what you actually said.

    Likewise, TT talks as if he is just bring up a few little historical points that are relevant because you failed to give all the necessary facts (a standard approach to such an argument). But we all know that he’s really making an argument in favor of a specific doctrinal view point that he personally holds that he’s not stating it. And we are reacting to what he hasn’t said as much as what he has said. (This is yet another example of why I am morally opposed to the hidden beliefs strategy. It destroys the possibly of real intellectual interaction and therefore the possibility of real rational criticism.)

    It’s human and normal to ‘read through’ like this and none of us can really help it.

    But it’s also a waste of time in my opinion. TT is right that this post by itself isn’t an all encompassing argument and frankly thats really the only salient point he’s made. But it was one that I feel was worth bring up.

    He simply can’t take an argument like this at face value any more than I recommend we take his arguments at face value. He is really (whether he realizes it or not) trying to move the discussion to a threadjack about how it’s still possible that maybe the LDS Church could accept homosexuality, even given the fact that you are right on all your points. But he doesn’t want to say that outright.

    And, given his own beliefs and views (or what I must assume they are given his own writings), I don’t blame him either. Taking the time to bring up these various points as a sort of ‘seed’ to other possible and more sophisticated arguments is probably exactly what he should be doing to advance his own

  29. Dear all,
    I don’t have a ton of time, and getting into this conversation while I was on my cell phone was probably not the greatest idea. I will just respond to a few points and then get back to work.

    JMax 22,
    The only evidence you’re citing for the idea that before the 1950′s church leaders believed that a revelation could lift the ban is an uncited assertion about President Snow. As far as I can tell, Pres Snow had asked some questions about precedent and the basis of the doctrine, but never actually did anything to change it. Perhaps I’ve missed something, but this is a far cry from believing that the doctrine could or would be changed.

    JMax 25,
    “TT, is your primary concern that you read my post as a rejection of the idea that the questions raised about the origin of the priesthood ban and the doctrines suggested to justify it in the decades leading up to 1978 played no role in bringing about the change?”

    No, my primary concern is that you chastise proponents of SSM for offering a faulty history of the priesthood ban, and then yourself offer a faulty history of it. My issue is not with the role of value of intellectuals “pressuring.” It is just that I don’t think there is some unbroken continuity that connects BY and OD2. Rather, OD2 and the doctrinal changes that precipitated it are a rejection of BY. To say that the only difference between them is with respect to “timeline” is a serious misinterpretation.

    Adam G,
    Jupiterschild believes in Mormonism too. And I don’t see him making the argument you attribute to him. Rather, he is seeking to explain why arguments about historical precedence may not be useful in this context. If you want to suggest that we not be allowed to think about how modern culture affects Church doctrine by defending the divine origins of BY’s statements on race, I think we’d all be interested in hearing it.

    Geoff,
    “is there any possible path we can see to use the priesthood ban to compare it to SSM?”
    You and JMax answer this question in the negative, as far as I can tell, because you believe that SSM lacks precedent in LDS tradition. (Whether this assertion is true would be a threadjack, and when I tried before to address this by linking to an article, my comment was deleted, so I won’t address that question here). I think that this claim begs the question: Is historical precedent the necessary precondition for new revelation? That is, are new revelations bound to only reveals things that have been known at some point in the past? To me, it seems an awfully strange historical and theological claim to make about the value of historical precedent in receiving new revelation. If Elijah Abel hadn’t received the priesthood, would we have not be able to receive the revelation we did? If BY had not believed that God would lift the curse of Cain, would we not have been able to receive more revelation on this matter? That seems to me a rather problematic assumption about how new revelation comes about.

    Bruce 29,
    The difference between BY and OD2 is not simply about the timing, but a fundamentally different understanding of the nature of the ban. I am objecting not only to the false historical claim that all church leaders and members accepted that the “curse” would be lifted at the end of the millennium, but also to the assumption that it was considered a “curse” that would be “lifted” was shared by church leaders after the 1950′s. Everything about 1978 and BY is different, not just “timing.”

    Bruce 32,
    I admit that I can’t follow your logic of all the subtexts that you think are at work here. And I’m not sure about whether to be offended by the “practicing-but-non-beleiving” label. I certainly don’t identify with it.

    I will once again restate that I am not particularly interested in whether the priesthood ban is a valid analogy to same sex marriage. It is not an argument that I have ever advanced myself, and I think that it is of limited value. That doesn’t mean that I think that it is of no value, and it doesn’t mean that I accept the premise of JMax’s challenge to it that all doctrinal changes must have direct historical precedent (as you know, these “precedents” were dismissed as accidents by advocates of the ban, not evidence for future change–how these events should be interpreted is not a self-evident fact). My main concern in this thread was to challenge JMax’s historical assertion that there was a clear historical precedent for change in the 19th c. The precedent he is citing in terms of an expected change in policy wasn’t until the 1950′s. How we tell this story is important to me regardless of its connection to arguments about SSM.

    And to all a good night…

  30. “My main concern in this thread was to challenge JMax’s historical assertion that there was a clear historical precedent for change in the 19th c. The precedent he is citing in terms of an expected change in policy wasn’t until the 1950′s.”

    Well, Joseph ordained a few blacks to the priesthood. Brigham Young stopped the practice. To me, this is clear evidence that to the 19th century LDS general authority mind, things could and did change, often without warning. Let’s think about it: BY highly regarded Joseph Smith, to the point of extreme adulation. For BY to change a practice of Joseph Smith would have been momentous.

    To anyone privy to the change, it would have been huge. I would submit that “changes in policy” have always been part of the fabric of Mormonism. It was there from the very beginning. It is here today. It’s part of our Articles of Faith. “We believe…that God will yet reveal”.

    I believe that notion that change couldn’t happen is overstated during the post-Young pre-McKay period.

  31. Adam G: “this is primarily a conversation between people who believe in Mormonism and in the possibility of revelation and doctrine as more than just superstructure pasted on to underlying social factors.”

    I believe in Mormonism and in the possibility of revelation, both. My comment was 1) about the role of cultural forces and 2) about the possibilities of comparison, which I take as the purpose of the OP. (To wit: J Max: “There is no similar scriptural framework to which homosexuality and same-sex marriage can appeal. So it isn’t really comparable.”) Of course it is comparable. Apples and oranges are comparable. I certainly think that the comparison is one that needs to be done carefully, and I appreciate this chance to talk about it. I see the comparison’s value as being more complex than J Max’s apparent interlocutors and than J Max’s rebuttal.)

    I don’t think it’s all superstructure pasted onto social factors. Joseph Smith’s way of restoring, for example, is unique and not reducible simply to cultural forces. But it would be silly not to think that society played a crucial role in delimiting parameters, or that Joseph Smith (or BY, or …) didn’t respond thereto. In some cases, like polygamy, it seems to me that it was assumed by JS and contemporaries that it was a practice instituted by God, and not simply one that was part of the culture.

    I should have said, along with my comment, that I do not intend this to deny the possibility nor power of the concept of revelation. Rather, I want to situate it within (and not simply to reduce it to) its own time.

    RE: “If you believe, prima facie, that the Church is just going to conform to the culture with a few decade’s lag, than naturally its of little to no interest whether the priesthood ban has a doctrinal history at all similar to the doctrinal history of opposition to same-sex sex and perforce gay marriage.” I’m not sure what you mean, because I think it would be the opposite: that if the case were so reduced, it would be of great import what happened in 1978.

  32. J Max (30),

    “Your analogy to polygamy depends on setting up your own opinions as authoritative. You say “God never ”instituted” polygamy anciently” (with scare quotes!) and you declare unequivocally that polygamous relationships were “not theologically-sanctioned but rather culturally-based practices.” In other words, you start out with the presumption that God would never institute or sanction polygamy, and interpret the polygamy changes in that light.”

    They weren’t meant as scare quotes any more than my use of quotes above to cite what you said; I meant it as a quotation of the thousands of times I’ve heard it described thus. More important, mine is not an opinion. It’s a conclusion based on the fact that there is not a single text in our canon that describes the ancient institution of polygamy. I would love for someone to produce or even interpret a text that shows the institution of polygamy and not simply the reference to it as a cultural practice. Where does God establish it? Where does he say “from this day forth, you shall take for yourselves many wives.” He might legislate it, but that’s not the same as instituting it.

    I should ask it a different way: how do you see polygamy (or the Ban, or the Manifesto) as *un*related to its cultural environment?

  33. I don’t have much of a stake in this fight (really). So, I’m just going to throw this out there and ya’ll can respond if you feel like it. Supposing J. Max is wrong and a doctrinal shift that makes SSM legit comes down the pike, will it be possible to find historical precedents for it? The answer is probably yes (Mike Quinn’s work might get a reassessment (deserved or no) or David and Jonathan’s relationship might be held up as an example). I’m not saying that I think David was gay or that Quinn was right (I don’t currently believe either), but it is possible that my opinions might change if the revelation demanded it. In that light, if SSM came, then it wouldn’t be remotely surprising to see the Priesthood Ban and the SSM Ban coming up in the same sentence, would it?

    Of course, it’s all hypothetical (and a bit silly), so who knows…

  34. TT,

    Thanks for clarifying your concerns. If I am distorting the history, it is not intentional. I agree with you that before 1950 most people treated the ban as functionally perpetual (the millennium being practically a mythical future period) and that it was a major change.

    “I think that this claim begs the question: Is historical precedent the necessary precondition for new revelation? That is, are new revelations bound to only reveal things that have been known at some point in the past?”

    I don’t have a position on whether precedent is _required_ for “new revelation”. But can you point me to some examples of major changes in the church that have no antecedents upon which they build? Especially examples in the post-Joseph Smith era?

    Regardless, many proponents of Mormon SSM themselves indicate that THEY believe that precedent plays a significant role because they try to draw comparisons to the priesthood ban, which is obviously an appeal to precedent by definition. My point is simply that the precedent they cite itself appeals to additional antecedents and that similar antecedents for SSM are non-existent, so it is not a valid precedent for SSM.

    Even if I conceded all of your arguments about the history, the argument I am making in this post still stands.

    Regardless of whether in the minds of the church the priesthood ban was functionally permanent, prophesies that it could be and would be lifted (even if it was in the far, practically mythical, future) existed. There are ZERO similar prophesies that indicate that homosexual relationships may someday be acceptable.

    Regardless of whether or not the ordinations of some black members while Joseph Smith was prophet were regarded as mistakes for many years, there are still ZERO examples of Joseph Smith accidentally sealing a homosexual couple, or even accidentally speaking approvingly of their relationship.

    And because the priesthood ban was lifted with an appeal to these antecedents, it is not itself a good precedent to appeal for additional changes.

    John C. seems to think that if a revelation were to come changing the church’s position, we would be able to successfully find antecedents to justify it by reinterpreting scripture about Jonathan and David, etc.

    That is hypothetically possible, but not plausible. And it certainly doesn’t give any justification for actually agitating for such a change, or grounds for declaring that the Brethren are wrong about the current policy.

  35. jupiterschild said “More important, mine is not an opinion. It’s a conclusion based on the fact that there is not a single text in our canon that describes the ancient institution of polygamy.”

    Now we are getting off onto too much of a tangent. Your insistence that God never instituted polygamy anciently implies a rejection of Joseph Smith’s declaration that God did so in the canonized Doctrine and Covenants. Your opinion that Joseph’s revelation was wrong is outside of mainstream Mormon views and represents the kind of questioning of the foundational claims of Mormonism that is not welcome on this blog. So we’re going to drop it.

    Regardless of whether or not the Lord instituted polygamy anciently or whether he merely tolerated it as a cultural practice, there are ZERO similar canonized examples of God unambiguously tolerating homosexual acts as acceptable behavior, or permitting homosexual practices in order to accomplish a greater good.

    So neither the extension nor the subsequent prohibition of plural marriage in the early church are a good precedent for SSM, which has no scriptural or Restoration antecedents.

  36. The thing about belonging to a church run by revelation is that it is theoretically plausible for the Church to change positions, of course. Latter-day Saints in the 1830s and 1840s were constantly getting surprising revelations (move to Missouri! Go on a mission and leave your family behind! move to the Rocky Mountains! Consecrate your time to build a temple!). So, it is easy to see why people who want the Church to change its position on SSM come up with reasons to support such a change.

    As I say in comment #27, a change on SSM would involve a change as radical as the Church suddenly deciding that premarital sex is no longer a sin. And given the importance of gender roles in the celestial scheme, it would, as I say, necessarily involve a complete change of our understanding of the role of husband and wife in the eternities. The evidence clearly shows (in my opinion) that this ain’t gonna happen. There is nothing wrong, however, for “hoping” for such a change as long as it is not accompanied by assuming that you know better than the Brethren. And if you want to take comfort in the Church’s history of doing implausible things in the past, hey, I personally have no problem with that.

    Personally, I am impressed with those “liberal Mormons” who oppose the Church’s position on SSM but still find a way to support it because they support the prophet. I am thinking of many liberal Mormons during the pre-Prop 8 days who said they had real problems with putting up a pro-Prop. 8 sign or calling their friends, etc, but *they still did it* because it is what the Church believes in. That, my friends, is faith.

  37. Geoff,
    Being one of them liberals that you describe, the taste of what I did is still like ash in my mouth. But I’m grateful for your support.

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