Thursday, 6 February 2014

Race and the Priesthood

With this essay on Race and Priesthood the majority of the membership could see that that Church was doing something remarkably different. Articles, new-stories, blogs and pod-casts popped up everywhere seeking to make sense of a very different way of talking about this challenging issue in our past.

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:

The structure and organization of the Church encourage racial integration. Latter-day Saints attend Church services according to the geographical boundaries of their local ward, or congregation.  By definition, this means that the racial, economic, and demographic composition of Mormon congregations generally mirrors that of the wider local community - Latter Day Saints are fortunate particularly in the United States to not have the racial segregation other churches have on a Sunday morning. 

Despite this modern reality, for much of its history—from the mid-1800s until 1978—the Church did not ordain men of black African descent to its priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple endowment or sealing ordinances. - It is really good that the Church acknowledges in this essay that the ban affected black women as well as men. I worry that when we talk about this issues that we dismiss it as 'just the priesthood' but this meant Celestrial Marriage was unavailable to these families which is huge in our understanding of what is important in this life.

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.

1:25-27  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.  26 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.  27 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... 19 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 22 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;

2 Nephi 5:21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly 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. 22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities. 23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.
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? 

Concluding Observations:

  • 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?


  1. Professor Bott was not the head of either religion department at BYU (there are two), and was well known for offering his opinions or speculations as The Gospel Truth. He was not "as knowledgeable as any man can be on this topic" because it was painfully obvious from his comments that his preconceived notions hadn't been updated in decades. I wonder if he even knew about early black saints like Elijah Ables.

    I realize this doesn't mitigate much of what worries you about the fact that such a well-respected man can be so totally wrong, but it does represent a nuance that I think is important for your post here.

    I also think it bad readings of scripture to take three scriptures from different contexts in different books and mash them together and then assert that "the justification is found in the scriptures."

    I don't mean to criticize much, just to offer a small bit of nuance. I agree whole-heartedly with much of your pain and confusion on some of these issues, and also agree completely with your final concluding observations, that we can not abdicate our responsibility to seek out truth to the brethren. I wish you all the best in searching out the Truth, and in serving the people of your stake in New Zealand.

  2. Thanks for your comments Carl.

    Facts are important and I should have qualified Professor Bott.

    I also agree that it is not fair to mash seperate scriptures together - I was merely pointing to the idea that the essay made it seem like these prejudices came solely from outside the church when our unique scripture seems to offer the most compelling source. :)

    1. I won't disagree with that, though it might be a chicken and an egg question to consider whether the scriptures influenced the culture or the general American culture influenced the readings we LDS got from our scriptures.

      Best of luck to you in all of this. As I said before I am sympathetic to much of the pain that goes on with the discovery of these "new" facts. I consider myself lucky that I was "inoculated" by discovering them early, and from official (enough) church sources that I have largely avoided much of the pain and heartache that comes from discovering them later in life.

      This blog post from a few years ago seems to largely sum up a few of my major thoughts on the issue of how to discover such things, and why they are so hard to discover:

      I wish you all the best, and look forward to continuing to read your blog as you continue on your own journey. I've a few blog posts on my own blog that might be of use to you, and would love to hear your thoughts on them. Just go to my blog and look up "Mormon." You'll find them floating around.


  3. Ganesh: I am going to give you my response to a similar question that I received just the other day.

    In the earliest church the question of whether gentiles needed to abide by the Law of Moses and, e.g., be circumcised, was a central and for many years an ongoing challenge. As you know there were at least two church counsels in Jerusalem addressing the issue (as we know from Acts). You also know (from Galatians) that Paul publicly confronted Peter because Peter initially accepted that gentiles needed to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses. When Peter refused table fellowship with gentiles in Galatia (a part of the Law of Moses) Paul wrote that he wished Peter would slip on a razor and mortally kill himself (we get a much more restrained translation of Galatians in the KJV). Peter clearly led the saints astray -- at least for awhile -- regarding whether Christians needed to follow the Law of Moses.

    Moreover, it is difficult to imagine a more central or far reaching change than the shift from the Law of Moses as God's binding law to the undefined praxis of the law of love taught by Jesus. There is every indication that during his mortal ministry Jesus observed the Law of Moses as it was observed by non-Pharisees outside of Jerusalem. The earliest Christians known as the Judaizers clearly saw the shift away from the Law of Moses as precisely the kind of contradiction of prior teachings that you claim never happened before.

    What this teaches is that leaders of the church can temporarily err in both doctrine and practice while they consider certain issues when their failure to grasp God's word and revelations is based on prior cultural prejudices. I do not believe that God can just override the noetic structure of persons to form beliefs in them that he would like because the creation of our noetic structures necessarily is a free act. It may take awhile for God's revelations to get through to them.

    Now to the nub of your concern about Church leaders admitting that prior leaders were wrong about Blacks and the priesthood. If have understood you, this is your concern in argument form:

    (1) The LDS prophets have declared in official declarations that true prophets cannot lead the Church astray. (Note this is incorrect: it was merely in Wilford Woodruff's comments about the mainifesto that this claim was made; not in the Manifesto itself)
    (2) Teaching by some LDS prophets that Blacks cannot have the priesthood is leading the Church astray.
    (3) Therefore these LDS prophets are not true prophets.

    Here is what I suggest the instance of Peter leading the early Christians astray for a period of time teaches us:

    (1**) The LDS prophets cannot lead the Church astray permanently, but only for a temporary period while certain issues are worked out.
    (2**) The LDS prophets taught for a temporary period that Blacks could not have the priesthood.
    (3**) The temporary period during which LDS prophets erroneously taught that Blacks could not have the priesthood is consistent with (1**) and with the fact that God cleared up the error by revelation.

    Here is essential truth that must be remembered: We are all at different spiritual levels of understanding and light. That means that I might grasp things you do not and vice versa. It also means that as I grow what I previously affirmed given the level of light I had then would need to be seriously modified or corrected given my new level of understanding and light. It is not that what I "knew" previously was wrong as much as that I did not have the perspective necessary to grasp it more fully, to express it more accurately or avoid tensions with what I have later learned. That is just inherent in the notion that we grow in truth, light and understanding over our lives.

    It follows that not only can you and I have spiritual experiences that seem inconsistent with one another, but I can have a later revelation or insight that can be inconsistent with what I previously had revealed to me given my level and capacity of understanding.

    1. Blake I appreciate your thoughts and reasoning. I understand that that statement in OD1 was part of the talk, but we have cannonised it making it in effect scripture.

      The problem with your justification is that this error spanned 126 years (till 1978) or 162 years (till now with a fuller explaination) this is most of our church history. You are comparing that to Peter/Paul which was perhaps a decade. Christ would then seem a very poor adminstrator of His church if he let error go on that long. Under that timeframe a person would be better to go off his own conscience than to follow the prophet!

    2. Ganesh: I would like to give a bit more perspective about the time frame of the priesthood limitations. The priesthood was limited to just Levites for over 1,000 years (or at least 500 years depending on your view of textual history). The issue regarding the status of the Law of Moses continued in the early church for well over 30 years -- and beyond in many areas where Christians resided for an 200 years.

      I for one have never felt like I could dictate to God how quickly he has to right all wrongs. Whether 30 years or 100 years, the notion that no prophet would lead his people astray is not accurate. It is just a matter of time.

      The Church has not canonized Wilford Woodruff's statements. No one voted accepting it as such. It was included much later as informational background only.

      I suggest always following your conscience.

  4. Ganesh,

    Many folks have encountered these types of contradiction. It wouldn't surprise me if these are part of the mists of darkness spoken of by Lehi. They were painful to me and left me angry. Over the years I've come to accept them for what they are: Just the way life and the Church are. It is better to know and see the truth, even if it isn't what you wish it is/was.

    For many a book by Denver Snuffer, who himself was excommunicated for speaking such truths, has helped see and accept the truth and the Church, even if the latter is not as spotless as we would wish. The book is titled Passing the Heavenly Gift. Perhaps it would be best read after reading his first book, The Second Comforter.

    May the Spirit guide your steps and thoughts.

    Been to New Zealand once. Beautiful country.


  5. Thanks Steve.

    I have not read much of Denver's work but people speak very highly of him. I will check it out!

  6. It is odd that the Church itself is causing these problems for you and others. Of course the Lord has promised that hidden things would be revealed and it wouldn't do for His Church to be exempted. It caused me so much pain and anger. It was a partial cause for my divorce from my wife of 30 years. However, I would do it all again because of what has come since. My 2nd wife and I are like soul mates, reading each other's thoughts from the beginning.

    I hope you don't cut yourself off from God. So many seem to do that. Perhaps it's like Lehi finding out the iniquity and untruths of his leaders and church. Probably made him cling all the tighter to what he knew was true and good and desirable.

  7. Blacks were denied "blessings" tied to the priesthood and temple ordinances for such along time 120+ years and all the prophets went along with it as coming from "their God" and the Church being one that the Savior restored and "leads" . My opinion is that they were missing nothing as all this can only be a delusion as I don't see "my God" operating this way.

  8. Ganesh,

    I will have difficulty communicating how excited & relieved I was to find your blog. You speak my heart, my anguish and concern. You have asked my unspoken questions. In doing so you have lifted my isolation. My reaction when I read the Church’s “Race and the Priesthood” essay just a couple weeks ago was a combination of “Well it is about time!” and “Oh @!&%! what!?” It was like being trapped in a car following a terrible auto accident with the crumpled metal which had injured me also mercifully applying pressure needed to keep me from bleeding to death from my wounds. Then when help arrives, I realize that their efforts to free me and save my life could also just as easily kill me!
    The reality of my fear does not involve an auto accident, but the collision of decades (I am 53 and a life-time member) of belief of what I have been told was true with the recently disclosed facts that it was not so. How do I reconcile that?
    I served a mission in Alabama from 1979-1981 just after President Kimball's "Revelation" allowing Blacks full fellowship. This whole idea has never set well with me. I personally rejected all the standard explanations that were usually given by leadership and members alike to explain something that just did not make any sense. I even came up with my own explanation which I proposed to my investigators who were black and who pressed for an explanation. I suggested that there were many Spirits in the pre-earth life who were thrilled about the Plan of Salvation in general, but feared they would not be able to live up to the higher accountability of holding the Priesthood of God. So they actually asked for there to be a way provided that they would not have to carry that burden of greater accountability. In His mercy, God directed those spirits into bodies of the black, African Race and had his Prophets make sure their request was honored. In 1978, all those spirits had been sent to earth and passed on, so the restriction was no longer needed. Yeah, I know…but to me it was more compassionate than anything else that was being proposed. How much easier it would have been to say, “Our church was caught up in the racism of the day just like most other institutions. It was wrong, and we are sorry.”

    Bro Don Braegger
    Utah County, Utah

    1. Hi Don, glad I could be of help. As I have published this I have come to know that there is a huge group of people who have been unsettled by this 'revelation' For me it has been a rollercoaster of emotion.... and boy what a ride.... but I am glad, suddenly lots of things make sense.


  9. Ganesh,

    Had to break into Two posts because of length...

    This is all still new and uncomfortable to me. We are taught that to question the Brethren is to step squarely on the path to apostasy. I am strengthened by my personal relationship with God which helps me break free of the mind games of the imperfect Modern Mormon Church and people in it. I will not be one of those that chooses to throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak and turns against God crying “If it is all not true, then none of it is true!” (This too, is an ingrained teaching meant to encourage total commitment to the Faith, which does not leave any room for the gray areas which are life.) That being said, the teaching that “God will never allow his Prophet to lead The Church astray” is such an engrained, integral part of the LDS faith, that by my no longer believing this I fear the breathings of my fellow Saints and family members (especially my wife) on my neck as they sit and wait for any opportunity to have Priesthood leaders hold a Court of “Love” (right!) to help me get back on straight and narrow path and away from the Large and Spacious Building and Satan’s grasp on my soul.
    I have had the following thoughts come into my mind which have offered some solace: "Perhaps God allows His Church and the leaders in it to utilize their free will, just as He does with me as an individual. After all, for God to handle His relationship with The Church in the manner which most LDS faithful believe (i.e. every program, doctrine or teaching comes straight from the mouth of Christ to the ear of the Prophet, thus The Church will never make a mistake) would be nothing less than fulfilling the plan of Satan and covering it with the robes of the Holy Priesthood.
    Blessings on your journey through this time of questions and wonderings. Thank you again for your support offered through this blog.

    Bro Don Braegger
    Utah County, Utah

  10. Ganesh

    This post will need to be broken into 3 sections due to its length.

    1st Post
    My take on the blacks and the Priesthood issue is this. There has been much in depth research on the origins of the teaching and I think the latest Official Declaration 2 says it all “Church records offer no clear insights as to the origins of this practice”. The nub of the problem the church has had (and is now having) is that a few of the brethren (and I think it is important to point out that the statements by apostles on this subject between the time of Brigham Young and 1978 are very few) have speculated as to the reasons why when the reality was/is – we don’t really know why.

    It is however easy to see how the various speculations came to enter into the LDS cultural lexicon. The ‘mark of Cain’ reason gave rise to a few variants on this namely the ‘less valiant spirits in the pre-existence’ belief held by some. It is vitally important to note that this view of blacks being inferior because of the curse of Cain was a widespread belief across all Christian religions in the US in the 19th century from the Catholic Church, mainstream protestants like the Methodists, Episcopalians (US Anglicans), Presbyterians, Lutherans and Baptists to all manner of evangelical churches and all their varieties. Such beliefs were widespread and gave the supposed moral even scriptural backstop and buttress to such perverse practices as slavery, the Jim Crow laws in the South (laws that segregated almost all aspects of public life relegating blacks to inferior places and facilities) and the infamous Supreme Court Dred Scott decision valuing the life of black man at 2/3rds that of a white man and that even a freed slave could not be free. It is vital to point out that the Church’s opposition to slavery was out of sync with many of the established and newer religions of the day – Joseph Smith campaigned for President in 1844 on an anti-slavery platform and the Saint’s opposition to slavery became one of THE most important flashpoints with the residents to Missouri that led to the constant forced migrations north inside of, and the eventual expulsion entirely from, the state of MO.

    We know that Elijah Ford was a friend of the prophet and was ordained to the priesthood but it’s fair to say that the issue was not at the forefront of Joseph’s worries given all he was attending to with the early restoration period and the constant expulsions and migrations. So few blacks had joined the church in the early years that the issue had little scope for becoming a flashpoint. This changed when the Saints moved west and were able to consolidate and expand under Brigham Young. President Young clearly set in motion the precedent that temple and priesthood blessings could not be extended because a black sister he was close to visited him often on the issue. Even then when pressed by her, Brigham was at a loss to explain and stated that in the fullness of time these blessings would be restored.

    What happened after that I believe owes more to cultural norms and a fear of contradicting a prior prophet than any set in concrete doctrinal position. We have to assume that Brigham’s private comments when faced by the distress of a dear friend feeling discriminated against, are a pretty good indicator of the baseline position. It is very easy to extrapolate from that the ‘curse of Cain’ argument because, at the time Brigham Young was the prophet, this position was an utterly uncontroversial mainstream teaching by Christian churches in America indeed the only controversy the church brooked at the time on this issue was that it was too LIBERAL in favour of blacks in its well-known opposition to slavery.

  11. 2nd Post
    In my opinion, as time went by, Christian opinion on blacks began to change and the Church, closeted as it was for decades in Utah and the LDS settlement corridors stretching from its heartland, did not. The Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War and the abolition of slavery were all seminal moments in gradually leading a change in attitude amongst white Americans towards the status of blacks. Whilst horrendous discrimination towards blacks persisted in the south until well into the second half of the 20th century, in the north in the US, churches were leading the way in changing the way their ministers and pastors preached about how God saw black people. The rise of large black churches in the Free states helped and by the 1930’s many of the churches like the Southern Baptists and Methodists had stopped teaching their flocks that God had relegated the black man to an inferior position in the Bible. As the 20th century progressed, religions who had happily and openly taught discriminatory teachings about blacks, not only reversed themselves but began to be at the forefront of the civil rights movement in attempting to reversed the Jim Crow laws and allow blacks the freedoms (such as voting) that whites enjoyed.

    Meanwhile the church was caught in a time warp on this subject through the first half of the 20th century. The policy was never couched in any scriptural doctrinal way but nonetheless it persisted and occasional attempts were made to explain it and those attempts, which in my opinion, were just some general authority speculations and opinion on the matter as opposed to Moses on Sinai doctrinal pronouncements, nevertheless these speculations gradually entered the LDS doctrinal lexicon and became part of the answers given when missionaries and members were cornered on the subject. The correct answer should have always been “we don’t know except that this is the inspiration we have received on the matter and that in the fullness of time all would be restored”. That is a weak and an inadequate but nonetheless correct answer and the ‘curse of Cain’ answer given when everyone else believed the same seemed adequate enough at the time but became an increasingly isolated and thus perceived as a racist position.

    I also believe that the Presidents after Brigham Young were reluctant to contradict a predecessor. We forget that the early 20th century church was small, isolated, still fragile, financially weak and still facing enormous opposition and massive negative publicity over polygamy even though the practice had been officially abandoned decades earlier. The church culture was insular and still somewhat paranoid about persecution as there were still people alive who had crossed the plains! This reluctance to contradict a previous leader’s pronouncement and isolation from the growing civil rights orientation of most other Christian religions led to inertia on the subject from the turn of the century until after WW 2.

  12. 3rd Post
    President David O McKay was the first prophet to truly internationalize the church. He was younger when he became prophet so had time to implement an aggressive expansion strategy. The growth of air travel and the post war prosperity and baby boom in the US enabled the church to more rapidly expand its global reach. The church finally got serious about establishing wards and branches in remote locations eschewing and actively preaching against the migration to Zion which was still part of the church’s culture all the way up to the outbreak of WW 2. The growing civil rights movement and the international growth of the church were putting the church’s policy towards blacks more frequently in the spotlight. It is hard to know President McKay’s thinking on this matter in the 1950’s but I speculate that he too approached the Lord and was told “not yet” or maybe he was too busy with all the work in the expansion.

    What happened in the 60’s and 70’s is purely speculation on my part but an educated one coming from trying to understand the evolution of the church from its Utah centric culture up until the 1950s and its internationalization that began in the 50’s and accelerated thereafter. President McKay became mentally incapacitated many years before he finally died in 1970 and indeed for the bulk of the 1960’s he increasingly became more of a figurehead who was seen less and less compared to his frantic travel schedule of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. An issue so serious and potentially explosive as the blacks in the Priesthood was not one to be broached and settled by a leader with diminished mental capacity nor by his counsellors. President McKay was succeeded by two church Presidents whose tenure in the office was very brief – President Joseph Fielding Smith was very elderly when he assumed the Presidency and President Lee got sick and died very soon into his tenure so both could be loosely classified as placeholder prophets – again men unlikely to take a big tricky issue by the horns and give it priority energy and attention.

    President Kimball was the first youngish prophet with energy and enthusiasm since the early days of Pres McKay’s Presidency almost 25 years earlier. He had the time and the energy, the issue was now far more pressing and was becoming a stumbling block to the church. Pres Kimball also harboured a soft spot for American Indians and was a lynch pin in outreach to the so-called Lamanite members and likely felt similarly about blacks. Whilst it is easy to say that church succumbed to inevitable political pressure on this issue, I think the process was just that the Lord waited until one of His servants was really ready and engaged to do what needed to be done. The private musings of Brigham Young almost a century earlier had proven to be correct – in the right time all would be restored.

    It is unfortunate that some speculation as to the reasons for this policy came to be seen as doctrine and became the public face of the church’s views on the matter. When one understands where this type of thinking originated, how widespread it was believed and understand some history of the church and its response to difficult matters, it is easier to see why we’ve ended up in the modern day situation of having to explain some comments that many of us made on the matter.

    Like polygamy, I believe this is a hard issue that is one of the trials of faith LDS must endure. There is still an element of faith in this in that the core reasons are still not entirely clear and will not be until the Millennium. I am relieved that my adult life has not been in the shadow of this discrimination and I take heart that it surely has not stopped the spread of the gospel in black Africa where baptism rates must be constrained to not repeat the strain on church ecclesiastical training that was prevalent in the 80’s in central/South America and the Philippines.