Origin of the Priesthood Ban for Blacks

With the LDS Church releasing commentary on Race and the Priesthood, it has become fashionable to believe someday a full apology will be given that a ban was ever instituted. Most Mormons say we don’t know why or when the ban was first instituted, questioning if it was from God or man. The prophets, the arguments go, were wrong. The problem with these lines of thinking is that the record indicates the why and when does exist, even if existential questions remain.

Since the start of Mormonism, written records have been an important part of the religion. A few revelations, such as D&C 47, instruct individuals to write and collect records as a testimony. Researchers have noted the amount of history and biography available for research. Very few religious organizations have as much of a paper trail to read. Although not everything was written down to substantiate, it doesn’t matter if a person agrees with the attribution of the divine hand of God. There is a lot to sift through and examine for each facet of development.

The Priesthood ban for blacks is not without its own records. Probably the best study of the issue is from Chapter 4 of Neither white nor Black, an article written by Lester E. Bush, Jr. Despite the introduction that claims he refutes the orthodox explanations of the origin of the ban, his findings actually substantiate that a well recognized ban did exist. It it true that some of the more “folk doctrine and history” are seriously questioned. The clear line of authority for its beginnings remain intact, even with some inexplicable twists and turns.

For a complete understanding of where and when the ban developed, it must be acknowledged that it didn’t come from Joseph Smith. That seems to be the major roadblock to accepting it as a genuine authorized policy. Although still having the prejudices of the time, he was progressive in treating blacks as worthy of equal treatment. That isn’t to say he was an abolitionist in the strict sense of the word. For him masters still had claim to slaves even if ideally all men should be free. This was consistent with the New Testament “hands off” approach to the currently reviled institution. In the Church during his life blacks had no Priesthood ban or any restrictions. For those who insist that the ban was wrong and without authority, this would be the end of the argument. Yet, the Church he founded believes in a continual line of prophets and revelation. His words and teachings might be the first and most scrutinized, but not the last.

Restrictions on who can hold the Priesthood are found in the Bible, as often referenced. For millennia the only authorized Priesthood holders were the sons of Aaron (Ex. 28:1-4), with members of the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:5-10) assigned to assist in the work. The authority given them became known as the Aaronic and Levitical Priesthood. Paul in the New Testament explains that Jesus Christ was given a higher Priesthood (Heb. 7:11-14), known as Melchizedek after a great Old Testament figure. Lineage promises and responsibilities are still important in LDS doctrine with Patriarchal blessings assigning who belongs to what tribe of Israel. Although of mostly a personal nature, it is assumed that the blessing given by Jacob to each of his children (Gen. 49) continues to apply.

It is therefore probable that Priesthood restrictions could exist for a tribe not included in the lineage of Israel. During the life of Jesus, he commanded his Apostles not to preach to the Gentiles (Matt. 10:5-6) and reluctantly helping any who requested assistance because of their faith. After his resurrection he gave the missionary commission (Matt. 28:19) to preach all people. Regardless, there remained confusion on the issue (Acts 11:1-3) of letting the Gentiles join the Church. Peter, the head of the Church, didn’t use moral or scriptural evidence to persuade them the missionary commission was in force. He explained a revelation he received (Acts 11:5-11) that told him God made the spiritually unclean Gentiles now clean.

Brigham Young was, like Peter, the head of the Church from near the death of Joseph Smith until 1877 when he died. His position as Prophet gave him the authority to teach doctrine and receive revelations for the church membership. By the time the Saints reached Utah there was already a known restriction on blacks receiving the Priesthood. Because of the few blacks who did have the Priesthood, there were questions similar to modern times if it was policy or doctrine. William I. Appleby wrote to Brigham Young asking, “if this is the order of God or tolerated, to ordain negroes to the Priesthood and allow amalgamation. If it is, I desire to know it as I have yet got to learn it” (Journal History, 2 June 1847). The first known response by Brigham Young to the question comes in an 1849 response to Apostle Lorenzo Snow where he states the curse of Cain prohibited blacks from receiving the Priesthood until a later date.

A letter response and subsequent teachings are not enough to establish a divine providence on the issue. However, during 1852 there was a discussion of Utah Territory law in relation to slavery. Brigham Young testified as the Territory Governor what he thought about blacks and slavery. What he said blurred the line between prophet and secular authority. There was no question in the address that he thought both the earthly and spiritual condition of the blacks came from God because of the Curse of Cain. First explaining that all people have been slaves since Adam and Eve, he then says, “If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the priesthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them, until the residue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings . . .” He goes on to emphasis, “a man who has has the African blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of priesthood; Why? because they are the true eternal principals the Lord Almighty has ordained, and who can help it, men cannot.” (see Wikisource for citation).

The record is strong enough for Lester E. Bush, Jr.to write:

While it will be seen that the Church eventually abandoned a number of Young’s contentions, and though one hesitates to attribute theological significance to a legislative address, were this account to be unequivocally authenticated it would present a substantial challenge to the faithful Mormon who does not accept an inspired origin for Church priesthood policy. That such statements exist and have not appeared in previous discussions of this problem, either within the Church or without, is an unfortunate commentary on the superficiality with which this subject traditionally has been approached.

Though it is now popular among Mormons to argue that the basis for the priesthood denial to Negroes is unknown, no uncertainty was evident in the discourses of Brigham Young. From the initial remark in 1849 throughout his presidency, every known discussion of this subject by Young (or any other leading Mormon) invoked the connection with Cain as the justification for denying the priesthood to blacks.

The January 1852 journal entry of Wilford Woodruff recording Brigham Young’s words to the legislature is more explicit, “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot hold the Priesthood, and if no other prophet ever spake it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ.” These words from either source come very close to “thus saith the Lord” language that many associate with revelations. At no time, as Lester E. Bush explains, does Brigham Young attribute the source of the ban coming from Joseph Smith. He takes full responsibility as prophet and person. Later testimony to the contrary are probably confusing Joseph Smith’s agreement that blacks are of the lineage of Cain through Ham with the ban itself.

Perhaps it’s still possible to believe that Brigham Young was wrong in his declaration that the ban was a revelation from God, but the record remains. It is a far different position to take than saying no written or historical trail exists. Denying the providential origin because Brigham Young made the statements as governor doesn’t help alleviate the evidence. Ancient history and Scriptures do not always separate the ecclesiastic from the secular authority; a recent strict notion. He acted as a prophet, spoke as a prophet, and was a prophet even while holding the governorship. He stated as much in the delivered speech.

For generations after few questioned the divine origins of the ban, with prophets upholding it as fact. Not until the mid 20th Century did widespread doubts again occupy the concerns of Church members and leaders. What happened was lost to time with both critics and apologists saying “we don’t know why” as an argument for retaining or dropping the Priesthood ban. President David O McKay, more than any other Prophet before him, came the closest to changing or getting rid of the ban. There are many hints in letters and personal discussions that he thought it was a practice rather than a doctrine, with a letter sent to Dr. Sterling M. McMurrin used as proof. Despite that, his own thoughts on the subject were personal rather than authoritative. Ironic considering that is the main contention with the origin.

That isn’t to say President McKay thought it could be changed without formal revelation. He did act on the side of mercy when individual cases were brought before him where lineage wasn’t considered clear, but he said only God could change the policy. His prayers about lifting the ban were unsuccessful and often he said, “I haven’t had an answer.” (Marion D. Hanks, interview by Gregory A. Prince, 27 May 1994). It is reported that after going to the Lord numerous times, President McKay said he was told by revelation, “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.” (from “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” by Gregory Prince, pg. 104). Years later President Spencer W. Kimball received that sought after revelation in 1978 lifting the ban and allowing the Priesthood to any worthy males.

Why the Lord kept the Priesthood from blacks during part of the Restoration might remain a mystery. What can be known is that Brigham Young in the 1840s and 50s taught that it was a divine decision based on the lineage of Cain. Prophets after him might have tried to explain in more detail the reasons, but without actual divine approval. Those who wish to put the folk doctrine that came from it on the same level as the Priesthood ban itself are on unstable ground. A flat apology that rejects the whole might hide, but it cannot eliminate, the history.

51 thoughts on “Origin of the Priesthood Ban for Blacks

  1. As I have read about it all, I believe it began with brother McCary, who established his own town near Winter Quarters and sought white wives in amalgamated polygamy (whites and blacks intermarrying). Some of the Brethren searched the scriptures and read into them the “curse of Cain” and determined this as their revelation that banned the priesthood.

    I believe Brigham Young to be a prophet, but also believe he was a product of his times. He speculated on a lot of things: blood atonement, Adam-God, polygamy required for exaltation, etc., which ended up not really being doctrine or revelation, but his understanding of doctrine and the teachings of Joseph Smith.

    I do not believe the Church needs to apologize for something ended decades ago. It is enough the Church has acknowledged that there was a need to lift the ban, and we need to discard old reasons that were based on faulty readings of the scripture..

  2. After much thought on the subject, and a thorough study of writings or Joseph Smith and the referenced “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism”, I have come to recognize that Brigham, certainly a human prone to error and misunderstanding (I’m sure I don’t have to get into examples on this forum), let his personal biases cloud his view. In his defense, he often stated that he was not a prophet, as was Joseph, but a caretaker (that final word is mine). The number of blacks in the Church and in the Utah area, let alone most of the West, was pretty low, and the issued was a relative small and minor one. “Everyone” believed that blacks were inferior to whites, including most if not nearly all blacks, at least into the turn of the 20th century. Even the “intelligencia” took that position. Segragation was the order of the day (was it not Woodrow Wilson who re-segregated the military?).

    Later on, when the issue of universal worthiness to hold the Priesthood began to be more of an issue, there were plenty of reasons that even Pres. McKay did not get the desired revelation. Some were with respect to timing (the Church still struggles with this). George Romney’s announced candidacy for the US President happened at one of those times. If Pres McKay announced at change at that time, the media would be all over it as a concession to public outcry. There were many others. Probably of greater impact were the personal biases and statements by General Authorities regarding the practice of not confiring the Priesthood on those of Black African descent. When the time came, some of those most prominent leaders died unexpectedly early, resulting in Pres. Kimball (who had been on death watch a few times much earlier) to ascend to become the President. The Lord was protecting the “good names” of those brethren who were otherwise good leaders, faithful and reliable, even to the point where they needed to receive the blessings that come with the calling.

    My 2 cents, anyway.

  3. rameumptom, I believe Brigham Young was a prophet of God, but I also believe that the Priesthood ban and the reason for it (curse of Cain) came directly from God to him as a prophet. How much he was a “product of his time,” is irrelevant or too easily dismissive. At best it means how he said it would not be how it would be said today.

    Not only do I believe that the Church doesn’t need to apologize for something that ended decades ago, but that doing so would be an abuse of history and the prophetic calling. The point of this post is that we know the who, when, and even generally the why of the Priesthood ban. Details might still be in doubt, but I believe it is clear that Brigham Young was within his right as a Prophet (both morally and authoritatively) to issue the ban. There is even a “thus saith the Lord” declaration in his officialization. It can’t get much more clear than that.

  4. I am not aware of Brigham Young ever saying he was not a Prophet (although he certainly didn’t see himself on the same level as Joseph Smith). The examples I provide in the OP even report he called himself a prophet by implication. I am aware that he allowed for human weaknesses and the questioning of his teachings, but not at the expense of the truths that were divinely revealed to him. The Priesthood ban is one of those truths (even if seen as a policy, although personally I believe it as doctrinal). Don’t confuse the speculative doctrines that later surrounded it with the ban itself. The pedigree, as I try to show here, is more clear than many assume.

  5. Wow, jettboy. It takes a special kind of contortionist to read the recent LDS.org article — with its denunciations of all the folk doctrines, as well as its explanation of the racist society in which Brigham lived — and walk away with the view that the ban wasn’t an error. Wow.

  6. I don’t see the ban and the “folk doctrines” as the same thing. They are separate issues. I do wonder if you read the OP and have any comments about it or just me.

  7. Well, yeah, BY clearly believed in the Curse of Cain. But the new Church statement says, “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse.” This clearly indicates that the current First Presidency says that BY’s understanding was wrong. Why should we want to defend something as coming from God, when current prophets say it is wrong? Continuing revelation, it is a feature of our system, not a bug!

  8. Andrew H, i don’t see that statement as saying the ban itself was against God’s will. It literally disavows only _theories_ about the connection between black skin and divine disfavor or curse, not the ban itself. You seem to be saying that the ban is equivalent to a disfavor or curse. What if the ban was NOT a “disfavor or curse” ? The recent statement does not require that the two things be equated.

    The church walked right UP TO the line that many people would like to see crossed, but it did not cross it.

    So, technically, Jettboy has a point. Not that I necessarily agree or disagree with it. But according to this recent church statement, if you parse it carefully and don’t read anything into it, the ban continues to be separate from _theories_ that were put forth in the past to justify the ban.

    The recent church statement still seems to be crafted with enough wiggle room that people can read into it what they want, either way. Whoever wrote it is a master wordsmith and a consumate diplomat.

    I agree that this statment goes _further_ than past statements. But it still doesn’t cross the line and say that the ban was in error, or that BY was wrong in instituting the ban.

    The best or most explanation that the church has ever given for the 1978 revelation and change is “the time had come.”

    According to my understanding of how God operates, He is not obligated to explain himself. All we have is the Savior’s promise that all of the gospel, and all of the mysteries, and all of the hidden things will be revealed during the Millennium. So for those of us who demand answers to all our questions, the best way to get those answers is to be worthy to endure the 2nd Coming if we are alive then, or to be worthy to be resurrected the day of the 2nd Coming.

  9. Jettboy: I hear you saying church leaders knew what they were talking about when they described the priesthood ban as a “divine decision based on the lineage of Cain.” I wonder if their notions of race have been superseded by scientific findings.

    How does your argument square with modern science and other elements of LDS theology?

    Can we use modern genetics to test your argument about the priesthood ban? Are you saying modern DNA tests could be used to detect descent from Cain? Or would you argue DNA tests not sensitive to detect the hypodescent, or single drop, that Woodruff talked about?

    Do LDS concepts about Israelite descent and adoption complicate your argument? If African Americans received patriarchal blessings before 1978 that said they were descended from Cain, and after 1978 their patriarchal blessings declared their lineage in the House of Israel, are you saying the DNA of LDS Blacks changed and they were no longer descendants of Cain?

  10. “Whoever wrote it is a master wordsmith and a consumate diplomat”

    Truth. (And I agree with your comment in toto, Bookslinger.)

  11. “I wonder if their notions of race have been superseded by scientific findings.”

    Yes, I would say that is absolutely true like it would be for any person living in the 19th Century.

    To answer your questions in the last paragraph, I think God’s notions of lineage are much different than ours or sciences. Could all of the pre-1978 blacks be adopted into one of the Houses of Israel? My opinion is you bet! Does that mean that the ban could have never existed? Again, my opinion is yes! The “single drop” thing I think was one of those “folk doctrines” that was under the discretion of the Prophet who was leading. Some were more lenient about it than others. In the end, no blessing will be lost in the Eternal scheme of things.

    So whence the ban? This gets into the territory of “who knows” other than that it was of divine providence related to some kind of notion about the Curse of Cain. To go outside of that is treading on speculation. Bookslinger is correct that the statements comes close to crossing the line without actually stepping over (unless you really want it to that it seems most people do).

    “I hear you saying church leaders knew what they were talking about . . .”

    What you should be hearing me say is that, regardless of if they knew what they were talking about and they might not have been compared to our current understanding, the ban was a divine revelation by God to Brigham Young related to the Curse of Cain. That is all I’m saying in a very long and sourced way. I tried to show there was a “thus saith the Lord” quality about its existence that can’t be easily dismissed with a simple “they were wrong?” How do we know it is not our current understanding that is wrong (speaking of the ban itself and not theories developed about it)? I just don’t find all arguments to the contrary very convincing after more than 100 years of its existence and documentation.

  12. Well to get technical here in the church’s position it disavow what By said. Meaning it does not consider itself responsible for BY and it does not support what BY said. That could be a pretty slick way of saying, BY could be right but it’s not a position we want to be responsible for – ie there is no need to argue over the lineage of Blacks one way or another. It’s not a debate the church wants to be a part of.

    In a sense the church has tried it’s hardest to do just that with plural marriage in the topics article. It only references an actual revelation on plural marriage via a short Footnote while going to great lengths to teach and cite reasons for single marriage.

    I do not disavow either of the above techniques of the church because they are focusing on what matters in the here and now without wanting to drag up the past which doesn’t contribute to changed hearts and the progression of those who otherwise struggle for obvious reasons on this.

  13. I think there are sometimes tactical “revelations” such as “get off your horse, NOW!” right before a pack is about to slip, causing the horse to rear and fall off the cliff (an actual example from the record, by the way).

    Tactical “revelations” are context specific, and if the entry conditions had been different due to prior choices being different, then there would never have been a need for the tactical revelation in question.

    A major problem I see wit the priesthood ban was all the folklore that was created to explain why blacks could not have the priesthood.

    I propose that events during Joseph’s life could have occurred that would have made it very difficult for Brigham to make the decision he did. We then would have traded the priesthood ban we know with an unknown set of circumstances that might have, in their way, been worse. But we shall never know.

    At least in the hear and now we can stop being idiots and cease teaching all folklore claiming there is some inherent flaw in some subset of our brethren due to the color of their skin.

  14. What bothers me is the reference to Cain who lived before the flood and not to Ham. These are old arguments with little infusion of additional knowledge much less revelation. If Egypt was settled by a decendant of Ham and Joseph married an Egyptian princess then aren’t the decendants of Ephraim decesndants of Ham? I am a Mormon. I have heard all the arguments but none seem satisfying. I simply accept that all worthy males can receive the priesthood. I can’t wait for the day when we really can interview Brigham Young.

  15. @Stephen Todd

    My understanding is that at the time of Joseph the rulers of Egypt were the Hyksos who were cousins of the Israelites and not true Egyptians (thus explaining why Joseph was able to rise to a position of such prominence). They had overthrown the true Egyptian pharaoh a and taken control. Later the true Egyptians retook the kingship (the pharaoh who knew not Joseph), kicked out the Hyksos and enslaved the Israelites. So, the woman Joseph married was not a true Egyptian.

  16. I understand that BY was prone to be quite boisterous at times and pretty strong willed. He had a very different personality than more modern president’s of the church. It would be interesting to see how many times he invoked the Lord and over what subjects and opinions he did so. I’m confident none of the current leadership feels comfortable to take the kinds of liberties Brigham did in his speech… nor to lead thousands of green wanderers into the wilderness and settle a desert.

  17. Re: Hyksos

    This is from the Bible Dictionary under the topic “Egypt”:

    The pyramid builders, who reigned at Memphis at least 3,000 years before Christ, were followed by a series of princes who reigned in Thebes. This is known as the Middle Empire. Then came a time of decay and foreign invasion, when the land was conquered by the Hyksos, or Shepherd Kings, who ruled for about 500 years. They probably came from the East and opened the way into Egypt for various Canaanite tribes. It was under the later Hyksos that the Hebrews settled in Goshen. The powerful princes of Upper Egypt struggled against the supremacy of the Hyksos, and the final stroke was dealt by Ahmes, founder of the 18th dynasty, about 1700 B.C., who drove out the Hyksos with great slaughter and inaugurated the New Empire. The Israelites, hated because of their close relations with the shepherd race, were forced into the service of the conquerors; “there arose a new king over Egypt which knew not Joseph.”

  18. Jett,

    The Biblical restrictions for priesthood or (in the NT) gospel preaching, is not the same as what happened with the priesthood ban from Young to Kimball. To be clear, the ban was against the fuzzy category of men described as black/negro/sub-Saharan African. And the complete mess of verification for the restriction came to a head when the Church started venturing into places like Brazil. Again, every racial category of men under heaven were permitted to receive the priesthood except for a small slice that looked to be sub-Saharan African.

    The Levite restriction was a small slice of men of one tribe who performed priestly functions while everyone else did not. AND, its very likely that it was a direct result of their zealous devotion to God in Egypt and during the Exodus.

    Jesus limiting his ministry mostly to Israel (a small slice of the entire world) is entirely consistent with the arc of the narrative of the children of Israel.

  19. The difficulty with such discussions, and there are many of them nowadays, is that only opinion is allowed to be expressed in public discourse. It is hazardous – indeed potentially illegal – to express the other side of the discussion. Public discussion of this issue is therefore, at present, necessarily a unilateral pseudo-debate; it is indeed a trap, with only one possible winner, and that winner cannot be CJCLDS.

  20. The Church recognizes there was a ban that could have been ordered by God. However, research into it by Pres McKay, Pres Kimball and others did not bring up any specific revelation.
    Instead, it is believed that Brigham Young and others “read into the scriptures” a mandated ban. They saw in Abraham that Pharaoh was cursed according to the priesthood, and in the Book of Moses that the Canaanites were cursed, as well. Putting this together, BY and the people of his day assumed this was a revealed command of God preventing blacks from the priesthood, which conveniently would allay their fears of amalgamation or worse: temple marriages of mixed races. Later prophets would try other reasonings, such as those in the premortal existence who were not valiant received the curse (we’ll be reading the sanitized writings of one who taught this in the new 2014 PH/RS manual).

    The reality is this: we do not know why there was a ban. IOW, we do not know if it was by an actual revelation OR if it was read into the scriptures as an ancient revelation needing to be restored. We DO know that the reasons given are all a bunch of baloney. When BYU Professor Randy Bott tried to resurrect the curse story in 2012, the Church quickly shot him down. Do we really need to have Jettboy resurrecting such a thing (if I’m reading him right), which modern prophets have discredited? Is having BY be infallible so very important that we are going to allow the curse stories to continue, even after modern prophets have rejected them?

    The Canaanites (those cursed by Noah), who were believed for centuries to be blacks, we now know by archaeology to have been of Arabic descent. The stories we read in the Bible, Books of Moses and Abraham, and the Book of Mormon about curses and dark skin, etc., are suppositions given by ancient people to explain the situation they find themselves in. But these stories do not necessarily hold up to modern science or evidence.

    We need to get away from the fallacy that our prophets are perfect and infallible. We also need to embrace the idea that they are called of God, and try to teach us the best they can, given their own weaknesses. It is okay to say that Brigham Young was wrong on some things. Sandstone does not turn into granite. Blood atonement is wrong teachings, as it suggests that Jesus’ atonement is not infinite and all powerful, contrary to scripture. Brigham Young’s Salt Lake Valley was a vaccuum, where he could say whatever thought popped into his head. Most things were exactly right, but when he was wrong, he really went off the reservation sometimes.

    Why do modern prophets not speculate? Because they were burned so many times in the past that sticking to doctrine just makes so much sense. We don’t need Elder McConkie tell us to forget the past things taught on the ban, because we now have a new revelation. Instead, we can rely on modern prophets to give it to us according to actual doctrine.

  21. Regarding blood Atonement, I frankly don’t understand much on what was really meant. Blood seems to be pretty interconnected wit. Atenement. We hear it every Sunday. In the BoM we read about blood crying up for the earth. Joseph talked the same about blood spilled for caYou’ll note in each of these instances we submitted after threat of considerable government pressure. ital crimes. Even old testament sacrifice was obviously tied to blood. We may not understand or be able to fill in every idea that was tried to be conveyed. But plenty of authorities after BY referred to a concept of blood Atonement… I frankly don’t understand it all and as its not taught I’m not worried about it.

    I think we like to collectively run away from things as a church that gentiles use as a club against us. From polygamy, to blood to curses, oaths, etc. The blood Atonement issue came up frequently during polygamy trials, citizen disenfranchisement issues, and elections..

  22. Huh… That comment got totally jumbled thanks to a strange bug in the tablet keyboard… “you’ll notice….” should be at the bottom, not sandwiched in between capital crimed

  23. Jettboy: ” I also believe that the Priesthood ban and the reason for it (curse of Cain) came directly from God to him as a prophet”

    If you really believe that then you are out of step with God’s current living prophets. You might want to spend some time in serious self examination.

  24. Geoff J, I have been thinking of a way to respond, but I’m at a loss for words. Not sure what you mean by me not in step with the current prophets. Have they said for certain it didn’t come from Brigham Young (or any other past prophet for that matter) as a revelation? Have they included the curse of Cain as part of “folk doctrines” that are wrong?

  25. Jett, I don’t see the term “folk doctrine” used. The statement is much more direct.

    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.

  26. I can agree with all that, but there is more than skin color associated with the curse of Cain.

  27. Jettboy, I appreciate your effort to answer the questions, but you still haven’t addressed it fully, as best described by rameumpton above: “Is having BY be infallible so very important that we are going to allow the curse stories to continue, even after modern prophets have rejected them?” If this is not your aim, then you are just coming across as someone who wants to uphold disavowed racialist ideas.

  28. *sigh* If anyone read the OP, I’m not sure many understand unless its just a matter of easy dismissal. This doesn’t have much to do with prophetic infallibility, or scientific and moral thoughts on race. No doubt BY was wrong on lots of things he taught. His very concept of the (practical) reason for the ban was probably off, and I said that somewhere else. I also already mentioned that it has to do with spiritual understanding of lineage (and not blood, skin color, or DNA) that the LDS have, and still used today in patriarchal blessings as prophetic assignments. I will admit to the negative consequences of the ban.

    Probably the closest to touch on what I am talking about comes from the quote, “It would be interesting to see how many times he invoked the Lord and over what subjects and opinions he did so.” In other words, does invoking the Lord have no authoritative meaning? To bypass the argument sure to come, there hasn’t even been the argument used that it was a revelation for then and not for now, with him getting the details wrong (that I embrace). No nuanced approaches, just the response has been he was wrong about the whole thing and that settles it.

    The next quote that comes closer to what I ultimately wrote about said, “I think we like to collectively run away from things as a church that gentiles use as a club against us.” Sure, we must acknowledge the fallibility of prophets, but to what end and how much? It seems we are doing more lets wipe the slate rather than line upon line learning. We didn’t have light and knowledge before the ban lifting, the saying goes (yes, I am aware of who said it), but no one from either side wants to explore how we could have gotten so far off track and how that relates to our understanding of prophetic authority. When you ask the question, how can you tell the difference between the wrong and prophetic? The orthodox says, “I don’t know, but I know the Lord loves me and here is what current leaders say.” The liberal says, “Exactly. That has been my point from the start. Lets vote.”

    What one person here said somewhere else about current prophets, I quote for past ones as well, “What I’m weary of is lip service to the idea of prophets, but then dismissing whole swathes of their teachings as the philosophies of man.” Again, that doesn’t mean that everything they say was correct or prophetic, but we don’t even give them a hearing even when they invoke authority.

  29. Thanks for this Jetboy. I’ve been worried that the Church would be able to get away with a disavowal that didn’t address specifically what is doctrine and what was misguided theory. Your apparent unwillingness to give up on a racist God has given me hope that a second “manifesto” on race and the priesthood will be needed to convince the faithful that the Church really means it. I only hope that the Church’s next statement includes a straight forward acknowledgement of wrong doing and an apology consistent with the steps in the repentance process.

  30. “Your apparent unwillingness to give up on a racist God ”

    Wrong again. Its my unwillingness to give up on a prophet’s words for social convenience at the expense of a diminished definition of prophet.

  31. I’m curious. When the church says it disavows racial theories, does it disavow that aspect of the BoM? (not confusing them with Cain, but clearly there is a racial element there).

    Further, I’d being a descendent of Cain beyond the pale? Did he have descendants? Not that I think I have to take it literally… But I’m personally not so uptight about blessings and cursing as I think we as a people and often individually act in a way that turns a blessing into a curse and are blessed or preserved as a result of what you might call a “curse”. (not channeling witchcraft voodoo here)

    I think the problem progressives have and that allows the Grey area to exist is the church has millions of members who don’t pay attention to a press release, who don’t view a quote here or there a decade ago as a disavow a of prior actions, etc. If the church does have a clear position on a specific teaching it would seem nice to go into some depth on the topic in a conference address. Not a one line “some leaders have made mistakes”. It is an issue worth fleshing out as far as inspiration etc goes.

    The trouble is that going down that road naturally undermines the current words being spoken, or at least potentially does so. Because there is nothing to stop a another reinterpretation and disavow all of any particular subject a decade or two hence.

    With revelation we really find ourselves between a rock and a hard place! (pun intended)

  32. Jettboy,

    Here his what the Church and its leaders say today: “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”

    Here is what you said: “I also believe that the Priesthood ban and the reason for it (curse of Cain) came directly from God”

    So you are preaching that the false “curse of Cain” excuse for the the priesthood ban came from God. The current brethren beg to differ. Thus you are out of step with them.

  33. I should add that if your main argument is that Brigham Young emphatically taught the “Curse of Cain” nonsense as an explanation for races being different you are on especially shaky ground. Brigham was wrong on that. Just like he was wrong when he claimed emphatically that Adam was really God the Father who came to earth to take on a body.

    Further, it has been mathematically demonstrated that based on the years Cain would have lived, every human on earth is a descendant of Cain. We all have Cain’s blood in us. This is equally true of Abraham and lots of other ancients. I posted on that some time ago. See here: http://www.newcoolthang.com/index.php/2005/04/blood-of-israel/57/

  34. I kind of agree with Geoff J on this issue, but I would like to make a few points.

    I think the points Jettboy is trying to make are:

    1)The church does not need to apologize for the priesthood ban.
    2)BY whether right or wrong did mention the curse of Cain.
    3)There is some record as to when the ban started.
    4)Subsequent prophets supported the ban (including Pres. McKay).

    Jettboy is not saying he supports the ban but is simply explaining that the curse of Cain was mentioned.

    The Church did NOT ever apologize and say that the ban was “wrong.” This leaves open the possibility that the ban actually was from God, especially because the Church never says it was not. I think the only sane explanation we can come to is: we simply do not know why the ban was instituted. But the good news, which we should all be emphasizing, and I emphasized in my original post on this subject, is that we have the Church completely rejecting racism of any kind.

    Liberal Mormons are going beyond the mark to claim that the Church has said the ban was not from God. The Church did NOT say this. But if Jettboy is saying he believes the curse came from God because of the curse of Cain, I disagree, and I think he is wrong. Let’s let Jettboy respond without the “lynch the Mormon heretic” atmosphere that some liberal Mormons would like to promote.

  35. I think people miss the point that even if the ban was completely due to racism, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t “come from God” because of racism.

    Probably one of the reasons this is such a hot topic is because it gets to the very fiber of our relationship to God. It is not that far off the “can a righteous God allow evil” debate that has been going on for ages between far better philosophers than anyone here.

    Imperfection is not necessarily unrighteous. But if we truly contemplate that, it can get pretty scary. So we fight against that idea from both directions: that God could not possibly allow fallibility in the direction of the Church, or that such fallibility could not possibly be righteous. I personally believe that God works in the substrate of the human soul. He is able to work perfection from imperfection, divinity from fallibility.

    In short, I don’t think He’s as worried about this issue as we are. There is plenty of time for “being right” in eternity. But this life is for dealing with being wrong, imperfect, and ugly, for realizing that right, perfection, and beauty can be worked from it. It’s for learning that essential understanding to realizing our potential to become like God.

  36. We do know why the ban was instituted. It was based upon doctrine that was explained clearly by Brigham Young. The 1949 Statement by the First Presidency also grounds the ban firmly in doctrine. There is no evidence that doctrine developed in an attempt to explain some mysterious revelation that restricted the priesthood. The ban was implemented as a natural extension of the doctrine. Now the Church has disavowed the doctrine. The only logical conclusion is that ban itself has also been disavowed. I can’t understand how clinging to a divine origin of the priesthood ban makes the disavowal any less damaging to past prophets who, for 150 years, taught false doctrine.

  37. Thank you Geoff B. for the list. I would amend number 2 by saying that BY mentioned the curse of Cain (however defined) as indispensable for the reason the ban was instituted. This leads to number 3 that regardless of the questions associated with it, there is a record of when and who if not why.

    I believe, if the records can be believed, that the ban came from God. That the curse of Cain is the basis of the ban cannot be refuted. Again, we can’t know what that means. As I have said before, blaming it on skin color was more than likely wrong even if for a biased society it made things easier. Slavery most likely had something to do with how it happened. Lineage is a far more important factor. Also, it would have been temporary for both individuals and the full lineage. If I am wrong with this, so be it.

    But, this isn’t about what I believe, so much as what we do know. That we know far more than not knowing anything. My question then becomes, especially for Geoff J, if the ban started by BY was wrong, was the revelation to Spencer W. Kimball to extend to all worthy males required? Could a similar commentary on Race and the Priesthood that stated, “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,” have been all that was necessary in 1978 or before?

  38. That the curse of Cain is the basis of the ban cannot be refuted.

    And this is why disavowing all theories for the ban (as the Church has done) is the same as disavowing the ban itself. Its only as the theories started to become untenable (especially after 78) that we started saying “we don’t know”. BY and others did not do this. For them, the theories are what spawned the ban – not the reverse.

    As for Kimball feeling a need for a revelation, it appears that the ban being lifted was a much more controversial proposition within the Church at the time. (for the same reason people grapple with it today ie. it calls into question the validity of prophetic direction) I can see Kimball thinking the ban was not God’s will but still needing a witness of it.

  39. Wasn’t the idea that black people are descendent of Cain a more recent idea (early Protestant)? This was already part of the cultural milieu and was used to justify slavery. Perhaps BY bought into this false idea.

  40. “Its only as the theories started to become untenable (especially after 78) that we started saying “we don’t know”.”

    The theories became untenable precisely _because_ of the revelation of 1978. A new revelation calls for serious change — you cannot put new wine into old bottles. Folks get this reversed all the time — they think that the untenable theories led to Kimball seeking a revelation. Kimball spent years in meditation on this issue, and he waited for over four years _after_ becoming president of the church before he started spending extended time in the Holy of Holies.

    In short, everybody here just reads their pet theories into this issue, instead of just keeping to the facts: there was a ban instituted, and by revelation that ban was rescinded. Why we insist on complicated it, I have no idea, unless folks have ulterior motives. I, for one, am tired of this issue. I dearly wish we could move on and talk about something more interesting.

  41. Jettboy: That the curse of Cain is the basis of the ban cannot be refuted.

    Exactly. And they church officially disavows the curse of Cain theory. Because it is a false doctrine. Just like Adam-God is a false doctrine.

    My question then becomes, especially for Geoff J, if the ban started by BY was wrong, was the revelation to Spencer W. Kimball to extend to all worthy males required?

    Obviously President Kimball and his predecessors didn’t feel comfortable making an executive decision on the matter. So President Kimball went to God and God basically said “Yep, dump that policy ASAP”.

  42. ‘So President Kimball went to God and God basically said “Yep, dump that policy ASAP”.’

    Except… how do we then explain Pres. McKay not getting the same answer even earlier?

  43. “there was a ban instituted, and by revelation that ban was rescinded”

    I like that view.

  44. Steve F. I like that too and is the whole point of the post. There is no need for the counter-explanations and especially any apology that creates their own unnecessary problems.

  45. Jettboy wrote: The orthodox says, “I don’t know, but I know the Lord loves me and here is what current leaders say.” The liberal says, “Exactly. That has been my point from the start. Lets vote.”

    What one person here said somewhere else about current prophets, I quote for past ones as well, “What I’m weary of is lip service to the idea of prophets, but then dismissing whole swathes of their teachings as the philosophies of man.” Again, that doesn’t mean that everything they say was correct or prophetic, but we don’t even give them a hearing even when they invoke authority.[unquote]

    So, because you are worried that BY was wrong on a dozen issues (from thousands of discourses and decisions he made), you are going to say he received the “curse of Cain” or at least the ban via revelation: even when there is no evidence of an initial revelation? You are feeding the non-believers and liberals who would have us vote on doctrine! Your answers are unclear, fragmented, and seem like you are fully supporting the curse story.

    This goes in its own direction than what the modern prophets are telling us. And that is a big issue for me: many members think that the deader the prophet, the more accurate the prophecy. I disagree. Even Brigham Young would tell us that the modern prophet is more important than all of the dead ones put together.

    You’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest, where on other sites and Facebook they are calling all of us permabloggers at M* extreme radicals, and using your posts as example. Guilt by association. I believe you are free to post what you will, and there are some good posts you do. This, however, is not one of them. Some, like Geoff B, have tried to comment to turn this to something nicer than it seems, but you keep twisting it back to an extreme. I’m not sure you realize you are doing it, either. It makes it sound like you are questioning the current Church statement, which disavows all ban stories, including the curse, and trying to rationalize it back into the mix. Either you are using your words poorly, or you are saying something contrary to the Church’s statement.
    I agree that the Church does not need to apologize for past statements. However, I disagree that we need to defend those past statements.

  46. Jettboy, I have to say I agree with Rame’s statement above. I would ask you, as kindly as possible, to remember that M*’s policy is to always support the Church. The Church has disavowed past racist theories for the priesthood ban, and I think we members should also do so.

  47. To end this, the final point is: The ban and everything associated with it is wrong. End of discussion.

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