Race and the Priesthood
by Viliami Pauni
December 6, 2013 a link to a Church web page appeared in my Facebook news feed that dealt with “Race and the Priesthood.”1 I stared at the link and hoped. As I read through it the first time I was deeply moved. As I read through it a second time I was a little surprised at how honest and forthcoming the Church had been with its history. I sat back and took in what it all meant. I smiled and even let go a few tears. I was content with the issue, if only for a moment, as is so often the case with spiritual matters.
In the coming days there will be those who dissect the article; analyze it; criticize it; devalue it; disparage it; and eagerly dress it down. To be sure, I have my own criticisms but they lack depth and weight. The following are a few highlights and observations:
“There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.”
This for me is one of the articles most important statements. It indirectly calls into question the origins of the ban. It shifts the focus from Joseph to Brigham on whose shoulders I think all the blame is to be placed. This is not to say that Joseph never said or acted in ways I would consider racist; what I am saying is that he didn’t start a practice/policy/ban that would negatively affect an entire race of people for more than 100 years.
“Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.”
I’m grateful that those members who have for decades supported mind bending explanations for the ban, will finally have to shut up! I really feel this way. I think many of us do. How these ridiculous theories did not set off alarms in their brains is beyond me? I’m hoping that the aforementioned members will also concede that every statement made by a church leader, including prophets and apostles, is not necessarily doctrine and need not be embraced without reflection.
In June 1978, after “spending many hours in the Upper Room of the [Salt Lake] Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance,” Church President Spencer W. Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received a revelation. “He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come.”
Gordon B. Hinckley goes on to share, “There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. . . . Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing. . . . Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same.”
I believe a revelation was needed to end this policy even though revelation had no part in its beginning. I also believe very strongly that a revelation from God is exactly what was received.
Throughout the Church, attempts have been made to justify and explain behaviors, beliefs, and practices of the past, and rightly so. Why wouldn’t they give it a positive spin? Only a fool would think the Church should be limited to presenting historical factoids without interpretation and context. The article was sufficiently thorough, given its length, and contained the expected apologetic responses. It is what most of us expected. To be frank, I’m just happy the Church put their laundry in the street and did their best to explain how it all got dirty.
Here are my two major complaints. First, is that this “official statement” was buried in the Gospel Topics section without any links or pointers anywhere.2 Second, is that there was no apology. I knew the latter was never going to happen.
As I’ve said before, I understand that the Church is not in the history business; it’s in the business of spreading the gospel, however, as long as it uses its own history in the presentation of the gospel it has the responsibility to do so with integrity and honesty. What was presented by the Church is not part of our oral history. It cannot be found in our curriculum. It is not part of our missionary discussions. It is not part of our institutional memory. It needs to be.
Finally, let me say a few things about the Brethren. It is my opinion that each and every one of those men is motivated primarily by love. It is preposterous to think they privately seek to destroy, lay waste, or oppress the membership of the Church. And although destruction may occasionally be the outcome of their actions, I have never believed it was their intent. They are a multi-generational group of men who see the world through multi-generational lenses. These lenses often refract light in different ways resulting in a myriad of colors and perceptions. This is to be expected when dealing with the finite and the fallible. Thankfully, there are moments when the lens of faith allows these men to see things as they really are.
I know it’s rude to add anything after saying “Finally” but I do wish the Brethren would take their present speed of action and triple it.
1To read the Church’s article referenced to in this blog post, please click here.
2As far as I can tell the article in my News Feed was three steps away from a source at the Maxwell Institute who appears to be the first to post it on Facebook.
Wow! Well done! Thanks for taking time to write this. And for keeping it brief – a rare talent. God bless. Happy Holidays.
I’m over 50 and I don’t have to shut up Viilami; I think that was very rude. One article doesn’t end the whole issue even if you want it to; sorry.
For years and years a leadership with a prophet at the helm stated that this was doctrine. You cannot square that with a few words about how it is today.
The Book of Mormon is racist. Books of Abraham and Moses are racist. If they don’t vanish down the memory hole, neither will the racism.
Jean, of course there are racist themes in the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price – exactly like there are racist themes in the Bible, both Old and New Testament. If they are ancient records, literally or even fictionally, and if they deal with multi-ethnic themes (which they do), it would be a red flag for them not to reflect the racism of their time.
I am happy we have a statement that makes it clear prophets and apostles are not infallible – that every word the utter is not dictated by God. Further, I am happy that this now can be applied to all of our scriptural canon – that we can move away from viewing our uniquely Mormon scriptures as our own versions of the Protestant inerrant Bible. I don’t want the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham scrapped; I want them understood better – and placing racism squarely in the realm of limited mortal leaders does just that.
I agree; there are racist themes in all of our canon that will still make us uncomfortable despite this recent forthright statement against racism. But this statement wonderfully explains what is right and what is wrong…and that there is nothing right about racism. To me, it is evidence that just because you can find something in the scriptures does not make it right, but I guess that is just my opinion. I just think that much evil can be justified using the scriptures and that was one principle I drew from the article, as it illustrated an example of how this happened in the past.
The church is in the history business. I spent two years there as a missionary. The information there is phenomenal, cared for, and used.
Great post. I was pretty excited when I read the church post yesterday. No–there wasn’t an apology…yet. And maybe I don’t need one.
I will say that I don’t believe anyone needs to shut up. The point is that, those of us, who believed the ban was born of racist biases only, should no longer be pressured to shut up.
Fantastic. I think that is a great point. However, in order to be true to the moment and authentic in my expression, the “shut up” was appropriate.
I get that, Man. I’ve had many of those moments where I’ve thought the same thing.
On this one, I’ve had many years to think about it, and for many years I was already convinced it was a racist policy, rather than a divinely inspired doctrine. So, my first reaction was to rejoice in that I can now claim, with some authority (wait–isn’t that how we got into this mess in the first place? 😉 ) that the ban was racism, and wasn’t inspired, and not be shouted down or belittled by my friends and family who place more faith in the GAs than I do.
Anyway, I really like your blog. Thanks for sharing.
By “moment” I’m referring to the purpose of the post; which was to communicate my first thoughts, feelings, and overall experience with the Church statement.
With all due respect….they were not “theories” that were advanced. There were many many leaders of the church from apostles to prophets that declared it doctrine. What does it mean when a prophet declares something doctrine and then many years later the church comes out and says that those other prophets were all wrong? At what point then can the leaders of the church be trusted if at any point they can come along and declare that a doctrine from the past is no longer doctrine. Hooray for the church disavowing the racist behavior….but they still didn’t apologize for anything…and the same way they treated blacks is the same way that gays and lesbians are treated. How could the prophets and apostles be so very wrong for so long and proclaim to have revelation from god? He sure works in mysterious ways doesn’t he?!?
Exactly Garrett. I’m not rejoicing in their admission – it means that we all were racists by going along with it and making excuses for the doctrine. I’m ashamed and that is why I find ‘shut up’ inappropriate. I shut up for way too long and I’ll likely be shouting ‘fraud’ at the top of my lungs as I’m loaded into the oven at the crematorium.
I have a voice now!
This is more like it.
Great thoughts. I think I get your point and all I can really say is that the leader, general authority, apostle, or prophet was wrong. Dead wrong in this case.
If something can’t be reconciled with the principle and virtue of love then it’s wrong.
Hi Jean. I think Shut Up is an appropriate response to those who want to continue to use hate speech disguised as doctrinal theories about the origin of the ban.
“I believe a revelation was needed to end this policy even though revelation had no part in its beginning.”
It was not a policy. It was church doctrine, as evidenced by two official statements by two different First Presidencies confirming it as such. People need to stop pretending that it was merely an errant statement from a fallible prophet leading to some non-doctrine-based policy. It was an errant DOCTRINE that dictated discriminatory policy, and that (I believe) stemmed from Brigham Young’s interpretation of racist scriptures (namely 2 Nephi 5:20-24, where a ‘skin of darkness’ is directly linked to iniquity. So if you were born black, and black=sinful, then it’s only logical to assume that your sin must have taken place in the pre-existence, right?)
I welcome honesty from the Church, but there’s no denying they’ve stopped short of total confession here. The members have to fully confess and make reparation – the Church never holds itself to those standards.
If I gave you a quote from a Church President saying it wasn’t a doctrine would that cancel out one of the other statements you mentioned?
Also, is there anyway you could provide links to the First Presidency statements so I can make sure we’re talking about the same ones.
This is more like it. This response is spot on.
I agree with your assessment of Gina Colvin’s post. That is why she has written for us twice!! Ha. She is a smart, shoots from the hip, LDS scholar. Wouldn’t it be great to be in one of her Gospel Doctrine classes?
By the way, she loved Viliami’s post.
Viliami this is so good I could kiss you!
I also realized that this wasn’t the apology many of us have been waiting for. I never have really witnessed the Church apologize about anything…I have only heard of individuals who have apologized for their own words or actions. I guess the question that I have is, is it reasonable for the Church to make an apology on behalf of its predecessors? I guess maybe if there are any living GAs that have said racist things, an apology for that would be nice…but I just don’t really expect President Monson to apologize for President Young and any others who have any need to…it seems more like something to receive directly from them in the afterlife…I hope my question makes sense
Thank You Brother Hamilton! <3
At this point it’s not about any one person apologizing to another. It would simply need to be an instituional apology. It’s a moot point anyway. Risk/reward ratio doesn’t favor an apology from the Church.
Regardless of the ban, as it is called, I am still curious as to why God gave the priesthood to the Levites (Kohanim) – and the other 11 tribes were not ? – – was that racism, or was there another purpose? I am also saddened by what the American public was like during the 1800’s – there was a period of time when Mormons, Indians and Blacks were used for target practice, and it was legal. If the priesthood was extended to all during that time, how much more bloody would our 19th century have been? Mormons were hated enough then, small wonder how much of a holocaust could have erupted if the priesthood were extended to all. Perhaps it was not that the church wasn’t ready for that step, I wonder if the entire u.s. wasn’t capable of handling such a thought. Anyone remember how horrific it was for the first black representatives in congress? how they were maligned and lampooned mercilessly? (what about the white league, red shirts, the jim crow laws, kkk?)…just a thought
very interesting; well-written, good.
I didn’t think you were telling those of *us* who believe that the ‘ban’ was founded on racism . . . to shut up, but those who supported institutional racism.
I don’t see anything wrong with that.
I have lived through racism and experienced the pain of it–
on both sides, but mostly on the side that has fought it and fought it and tried to walk the walk and not just talk the talk, and I’m not, ha, 100% white–
Ah, the stories that could be told; there will be a time when more of *us* can openly share our family experiences.
In the meantime, I am sad that so much information was withheld for so long–
and I am grateful that the dark curtain was lifted in 1978–
and I know that sometimes good men can come from bad men; I don’t assume Heber C. Kimball was part of the racial problem, though I have read that Parley P. Pratt and Brigham Young were–
but whatever his actions, Kimball (the old Kimball) didn’t fight it, and his grandson, Spencer, did–
Hurrah for Spencer!
@Jesse, yes, things were very hard in the 1800s and have been up until recently. I have wondered the same thing about that, but it couldn’t have hurt the church in UTAH to allow the blacks to have the priesthood; I just don’t think it could–
Only the Levites had the priesthood; all the others didn’t; there was a majority without it, not a minority. That does feel different to me theologically–and rationally.
Evil men still try to divide *us* with race–
There are few things more beautiful than when races meet in fellowship and brotherhood–
Meh. We should simply do what is right and let the consequence(s) follow. That’s what Jesus did.
If you don’t think these Mormon scriptures would be considered extremely racist to any objective observer, you’re not objective, you’re racist.
“…the Lord shall curse the land with much heat…and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.” (Moses 7:8)
“And Enoch also beheld …the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it were the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not a place among them.” (Moses 7:22)
“Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land. The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden. When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land…” (Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 1:21-24, 26c)
“…he [God] said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou was chosen before thou wast born…And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate…” (Abraham 3:23, 26)
“…after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.” (I Nephi 12:23)
“…Behold, they had hardened their hearts against him…wherefore, as they were white, and exceeding fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them. And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their sins.” (2 Nephi 5:21-22)
“And the skins of the Lamanites(4) were dark…which was a curse upon them because of their transgression against their brethren…therefore they were cursed; and the Lord God set a mark upon them. And this was done that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that thereby the Lord God might preserve his people…” (Alma 3:6,8)
“And then shall they [Lamanites] rejoice…and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people” (2 Nephi 30:6, 1830, 1920, and 1977 editions)
Who told you they weren’t racist? Much of what these scriptures communicates would qualify as racist. I don’t get your point. In the case of the Nephites, if you’ve read to the end of the BoM, you’ll see that as a result of racism, violence, pride and so forth, the whole Nephite civilization was destroyed. I’d say the moral of the story is not to be racist.