Published 8th December 2013 https://www.lds.
The denouncement of this policy as underpinned by racism is a very candid move by the Church. Even as recently as February 2012 the newsroom stated that the church didn't know the origins of the Priesthood ban. Indeed when Professor Randy Bott sought to answer questions about this topic during the 2012 presidential election he was rebutted by the church. I was working for his nephew at the time, and this was a huge deal to the family. Professor Bott was head of Religion at BYU, (and former Mission President) he was as knowledgeable as any member could possibly be on this subject. If he couldn't get it right then we all have much to learn.
The essay it very positive and such a great leap forward in our understanding. I applaud it and hope that every member has read and pondered its implications. It is with this in mind that I put my own thoughts to the subject.
Some excerpts worth discussing:
During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. - The essay draws a big line here, that this was not a practise of the Church under Joseph Smith. This has huge implications!
In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter blacks continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.- This seems to say that Brigham Young stopped priesthood ordination and didn't give any reasons, then others later put forth theories. This is not Brigham Young, he stated his conviction powerfully and left you in no doubt that this was the way the Lord felt on the subject.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was restored amidst a highly contentious racial culture in which whites were afforded great privilege... In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that blacks possessed “no rights which the white man was bound to respect. - Nice to have the context but we believe these are prophets of God and willing to stand up to popular belief with revealed doctrine.
In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would “have [all] the privilege and more” enjoyed by other members.- I have issue with this statement, when I tried to follow the reference given it was very difficult to find his actually words. What I did eventually find was him saying yes they would have the priesthood but not until the very end of humanity. So you could equally state Brigham Young said 'black members would not have the priesthood in this life'.
The justifications for this restriction echoed the widespread ideas about racial inferiority that had been used to argue for the legalization of black “servitude” in the Territory of Utah. According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel.Those who accepted this view believed that God’s “curse” on Cain was the mark of a dark skin. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.- This justification was not just societal, it is found in our scriptures; in the Book of Abraham those from 'Africa' where restricted from the priesthood, and God reveals to Abraham that pre-mortal spirits had varying degrees of intelligence. The Book of Mormon is pretty clear that Lamanite skin colour was a sign of disfavour.
1:Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal. Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood. Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood
3:18,19,22 if there be two spirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end... And the Lord said unto me: These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
The Church had always allowed Pacific Islanders to hold the priesthood, and President McKay clarified that black Fijians and Australian Aborigines could also be ordained to the priesthood and instituted missionary work among them.- Is it possible that the people to whom the ban applied became harder and harder to justify?
Priesthood and temple restrictions created significant barriers, a point made increasingly evident as the Church spread in international locations with diverse and mixed racial heritages. Brazil prided itself on its open, integrated, and mixed racial heritage. In 1975, the Church announced that a temple would be built in São Paulo, Brazil. As the temple construction proceeded, Church authorities encountered faithful black and mixed-ancestry Mormons who had contributed financially and in other ways to the building of the São Paulo temple, a sanctuary they realized they would not be allowed to enter once it was completed. Their sacrifices, as well as the conversions of thousands of Nigerians and Ghanaians in the 1960s and early 1970s, moved Church leaders. - Can members lobby for change?
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. - Great statement, but what do we do with our past prophets statements on these issues or our own modern day scripture?
For me this particular essay questions our understanding of what revelation means and how it is applied.
Our claim to revelation is with the express benefit of 'not being tossed to and from by every wind of doctrine' - holding to what God wants above cultural, political and social pressures. But this account seems to indicate that Brigham Young was influenced profoundly by his environment. He could stand up to the United States culture on Polygamy but not on Black treatment?
And what do we do with previous 1978 declarations by the current First Presidencies of the time about this issue?
1949: The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organisation, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: "Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to." President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: "The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have." The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.
1969: (excerpt) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes its origin, its existence, and its hope for the future to the principle of continuous revelation. "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man. Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, "The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God....
[These statements by previous Presidencies are total contradictions of this essay.]
With this essay the church seems to have laid the blame for this departure from God's plan squarely at the feet of Brigham Young but this goes against everything we have been taught about the role of the President of the Church. Wilford Woodruff's reassuring affirmation in Official Declaration 1 cant possibly be true: The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.
Of course the implication is - what does this mean for current positions of cultural, political and social importance? Do we proclaim certain truths now which will be repudiated by future First Presidencies in years to come? Isn't the purpose of a prophet, seer and revelator to advise you on the position God? If we can get this wrong what else can we get (do we get) wrong?
- Prophets are subject to the cultural bias of their day just like everyone else
- Our understanding of revelation by our prophets is going to have to change
- The Church has made many doctrinal alterations
- We can not abdicate our responsibility to seek out truth, to the Brethren
How in a church that prides itself on continuous revelation could we get it so wrong?