Race and the Spencer W. Kimball Manual

In future historical treatments of Spencer W. Kimball’s ministry, race will almost certainly be seen as a central theme. Indeed, perhaps the single most influential act in his religious life was the elimination of Mormonism’s ban on priesthood ordination and temple ordinances for people racially conceptualized as being of African descent.[1] The most recent addition to the Mormon canon is the official statement, by Kimball and his subordinates in the First Presidency, granting priesthood to black men, and access to temple ceremonies to black men and women. Beyond this major change in church racial policy, Kimball’s life also incorporated other important racial themes, including his racially-defined special ministry to the Lamanites (i.e., Native Americans and Polynesians), and his famous teachings on avoiding interracial and inter-cultural marriages. In light of the centrality of racial themes to Kimball’s life and ministry, we might expect race to play some role in this year’s priesthood/Relief Society lesson manual on his teachings. Are we to be disappointed in that expectation?

For the most part, yes. The series of “Teachings of the Presidents” manuals has consistently struggled to find a way to address controversial themes or historical evolution within the church. See, for example, my earlier remarks on last year’s Wilford Woodruff manual. Race in Kimball’s life, like polygamy in Woodruff’s, is such a central theme that it would be astounding if the manual managed to disregard it completely. (In Edward L. Kimball’s 2005 partial-life biography of Kimball, for example, at least 6 chapters focus on racially-related themes.) Yet the manual comes very close indeed to deleting race entirely.

The manual twice discusses Kimball’s role in ending Mormonism’s racial priesthood and temple restrictions. The most prominent of these two mentions is in the introduction to Chapter 22, “Revelation: ‘A Continuous Melody and a Thunderous Appeal’.” One paragraph provides a description of the racial ban:

Throughout [Kimball's] service as President of the Church, he received revelations to guide the Saints. The most well known of all these revelations came in June 1978, when the Lord revealed to him and also to his brethren in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that the blessings of the priesthood, which had been restricted to some, could now be available to all worthy members of the church (see Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declaration 2). (pg. 238)

This paragraph is written in a vague enough way that it might easily be read as claiming that Kimball’s revelation had opened the way for the priesthood ordination of women. After all, priesthood blessings other than temple attendance were available in roughly the same ways to black church members before 1978 as they are to female church members today: they could receive the blessings of having someone else administer to them. Obviously, however, this is not the intended meaning.

Instead, this paragraph attempts to grant historical importance to the 1978 revelation and policy change while simultaneously providing the least possible information about the pre-1978 policy that was changed. The motive for this verbal furtiveness is at least somewhat unclear. Many members already know that black church members were denied priesthood ordination and temple ordinances before 1978. For members who do not know, the manual’s ambiguous statement will almost certainly create enough curiosity to drive them to find out. What, then, is the reason for this circumlocution, other than perhaps a persisting discomfort with our racial history?

Members curious to discover who, exactly, was denied priesthood blessings before 1978 can find an answer within the Kimball lesson manual, but they will need to turn to the less-read and less-taught “Life and Ministry” material in the manual’s prologue. There, inside an extended quote from a 1988 article by Gordon B. Hinckley, we may read:

“The question of extending the blessings of the priesthood to blacks had been on the minds of many of the Brethren over a period of years. It had repeatedly been brought up by Presidents of the Church. It had become a matter of particular concern to President Spencer W. Kimball.” (pg. xxxiii)

So, readers can learn who was denied priesthood blessings, although no information is available about any practical or doctrinal components of this racial policy. Yet the fact that even this relatively uninformative, indirect statement is contained in the manual only serves to heighten our perplexity about why the above-quoted statement in the lesson on revelation is so obscure. If it is okay to mention, in the prologue, that blacks were denied priesthood ordination and temple attendance, why is it not also acceptable to explain this in the body of the text?

Other dimensions of Kimball’s racial world view are more thoroughly suppressed. Kimball, as mentioned above, saw himself as having a special mission to minister to Native Americans and Polynesians, who he thought of as Lamanites. In the words of the manual, “[h]e was an eloquent voice for their interests both in the senior quorums of the Church and among the membership at large. He decried all racial prejudice and oppression of the poor” (pg. xxiv). Omitted without discussion are the racial components of Kimball’s conception of the Lamanites, perhaps most evident in the following famous quote from his October, 1960, General Conference address:

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today…. The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos, five were darker but equally delightsome The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.

At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl–sixteen–sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents–on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather….These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.

The manual’s failure to discuss these attitudes may be an attempt at retraction-by-omission on the part of the church. Nonetheless, Armand Mauss’s work on Mormon concepts of race suggests that attitudes, like Kimball’s, that tend to suggest some link between skin color and righteousness are not yet extinct in the church. Hence, there may be reasons to prefer a straightforward discussion of these ideas and the reasons that the church is trying to move away from them.

Similar remarks might be made about the manual’s omission of Kimball’s well-known and oft-repeated council against interracial marriage. A representative example is the following 1959 quote, which I was taught repeatedly in Primary and as a teenager in Sunday School:

The interrace marriage problem is not one of inferiority or superiority. It may be that your son is better educated and may be superior in his culture, and yet it may be on the other hand that she is superior to him. It is a matter of backgrounds. The difficulties and hazards of marriage are greatly increased where backgrounds are different. For a wealthy person to marry a pauper promises difficulties. For an ignoramus to marry one with a doctor’s degree promises difficulties, heartaches, misunderstandings, and broken marriages.

When one considers marriage, it should be an unselfish thing, but there is not much selflessness when two people of different races plan marriage. They must be thinking selfishly of themselves. They certainly are not considering the problems that will beset each other and that will beset their children.

If your son thinks he loves this girl, he would not want to inflict upon her loneliness and unhappiness; and if he thinks that his affection for her will solve all her problems, he should do some more mature thinking.

We are unanimous, all of the Brethren, in feeling and recommending that Indians marry Indians, and Mexicans marry Mexicans; the Chinese marry Chinese and the Japanese marry Japanese; that the Caucasians marry the Caucasians, and the Arabs marry Arabs.

Some interesting dissenting voices notwithstanding, most observers follow Kimball’s verbal cue and interpret this and related advice as involving racial categories that ought to be kept distinct. Kimball’s argument, of course, invokes the difficulty of cross-cultural marriage, but the opening and closing sentences of this quote frame all of the intervening discussion of culture and class in an explicitly racial frame. Kimball’s understanding of race in quotes such as this seems entirely devoid of the recognition that race, class, and culture are not synonymous. Given modern American conceptions of race as primarily involving obvious physical features, people of very different races can share a class and cultural background, while people from the same race may be quite different in class and culture.

Furthermore, the church seems much less concerned about cross-cultural, cross-racial, or cross-class marriages in 2007 than it may have been in 1959. Once again, the absence of this material from the manual may be an attempt at retraction-by-omission. Yet, quotations from Kimball on the desirability of intra-racial marriage are current enough in the church that I was, as mentioned above, taught lessons from them in more than one ward. So, for the sake of minimizing confusion and disorder, there may be some reason to wish that the manual had instead included the quotes and a discussion of why the church has chosen to move away from the council contained within them.

What the Kimball manual intends to do, it obviously accomplishes: there is ample material here for a year of priesthood and Relief Society discussions. Furthermore, the book’s failures with respect to what might now be seen as somewhat more controversial aspects of Kimball’s life and ministry are not unique; the church as an institution seems to lack a sense of how to address these components of our doctrine and history. Here’s hoping that the lesson manual committee finds a clearer solution to these dilemmas next year.

[1] The phrase “people of African descent” is often used in Mormon discussions as if its meaning were unproblematic. Of course, this is not the case. One major objection relates to the biological and anthropological evidence that all homo sapiens originated in Africa; in other words, there may be some reason to believe that we are all “of African descent.” Other dilemmas include the meaning of “African” and the meaning of “descent.” What parts of the African continent are “African” enough to fit in the category? People who live on the part of Africa associated with the Middle Eastern culture region are typically not described by Mormons as being of “African descent”; nor are South African Boers. These outliers strongly suggest that “African” in this Mormon phrase is merely a code word for “racially black.” With respect to “descent,” Mormon concerns have always addressed only people who were “known” to be of black descent. For a very long time indeed, the Moors played a prominent role in the life of the Iberian peninsula and other parts of Southern Europe, and as a result it is quite difficult to believe that any particular Southern European individual is entirely free of black ancestry. Yet Mormons did not deny priesthood ordination or temple ordinances to Southern Europeans. Hence, “descent” has often simply involved the possession of physical traits conceptualized as markers of membership in the “black” racial category.

Comments

  1. What the Kimball manual intends to do, it obviously accomplishes . . .

    Bingo. This isn’t a history course. Every omission you mention makes good practical sense given that the manual isn’t intended to educate the membership about Church history and changes in Church policy and teaching. It’s for teaching Gospel principles. Given that the manual isn’t intended as a survey of the life, times, and impact on the Church of President Kimball, I don’t think the omissions can be construed as an attempt to pretend that certain things didn’t happen or as “retractions-by-omission.”

  2. I was going to say what Tom did, but he did first. I don’t love the way the manuals try to homoginize the prophets without giving a picture of what each prophet’s emphasis was, but anybody (at least in the English-speaking world) who’s interested in Pres. Kimball’s views on race can find the same sources you did. These views have minimal salvific significance. The effect of repeating them in a manual, however, would effectively reiterate them, giving them a certain amount of credence-by-repetition (in a church-sanctioned manual, no less). I would be surprised if you, I, or the current leaders of the Church wanted people to think that interracial marriage, for example, was an important and forbidden church doctrine.

  3. I question how “current” Kimball’s 1959 position on intra-racial marriage actually is in the 2007 church. While I can remember hearing that view while growing up in the church during the late 1980’s, it was never presented as any type of authority and was, rather, seen as pretty anachronistic. I admit that there are probably a few individual church members out there who, in their heart of hearts, are racist but to say that this view holds any sway outside of some miniscule fringe/old-timer subset of today’s church population is overstating the case.

  4. ed johnson says:

    I think Tom’s right.

    But then, why even have manuals based on the presidents of the church at all? What’s the point?

  5. Tom and Sam, I appreciate your comments, but I find myself in passionate disagreement. The manual does present itself as a source for history. The biographical overview and historical information at the front of each chapter play that role. Furthermore, the ambiguous and incomplete contextual information regarding the priesthood ban signal that the manual’s editors recognized the need to offer some historical explanation — although they simultaneously chose to do so in a perplexing and uninformative way. In a manual that often provides content celebrating Kimball’s virtues, it’s a missed opportunity that the manual chooses to largely omit his role in transforming Mormon racial views.

    Furthermore, I think that racism is directly relevant to salvation. Racist views contradict the New Testament gospel message; as such, teaching us to move away from them is just exactly an instance of “teaching Gospel principles.”

    warno, I suggest that you read some of the available social-science literature on racial views in Mormonism; the psychological and social-scientific literature on racism in America more generally might also be helpful. Suffice it to say that the evidence strongly suggests that racism is anything but confined to a miniscule fringe.

  6. J.- The Manual, at it’s very begining under “Historical Summary” notes:

    This book is not a history; rather, it is a compilation of gospel principles as taught by President Spencer W. Kimball. The following chronology provides a brief historical background of his life and a framework for his teachings. It omits many significant events in both Church and secular history. It also omits many important events in President Kimball’s personal life, such as the births of his children.

    On this Chronology is does however include:

    1978, June 8 With his counselors in the First Presidency, issues a letter announcing a revelation making all the blessings of the priesthood available to all worthy members, without regard for race or color.

  7. Matt, the note you refer to was added to all manuals since the Brigham Young material. Its purpose was to respond to the controversy regarding that first manual rewriting Young’s life and teachings to make him look like a monogamist.

    However, the statement also explains exactly why the silences I note above are actually relevant: they’re really important for understanding Kimball’s teachings. Please also note that your quote from the chronology doesn’t say anything about who was denied the priesthood before 1978. It’s incomplete and probably confusing for anyone who doesn’t already know — and for those who know, why not say?

  8. Not to hijack this thread, but I’ve always been interested in why black women were denied access to the temple. Since there’s no priesthood involved, I’ve never understood the barrier.

  9. J.,
    I find I have to respectfully disagree with you. The biographical overview and historical information in each chapter contextualize (whether well or not, in my experience, fluctuates wildly) what will follow.

    And I didn’t say that racism wasn’t relevant to salvation, only that repeating a leader’s racist statements in a church manual didn’t serve any salvific purpose.

  10. Excellent analysis of the new manual. I have to admit that as much as I am fond of SWK, the first prophet of personal memory, I’m anticipating very boring priesthood lessons from this manual. I suppose it’s an inevitable consequence of 1) correlation; 2) a worldwide ministry; and 3) the church’s authoritarian structure, but I wish the manuals (both SS and PH/RS) could be more interesting and provocative. The institute manuals are more interesting, so I think the Church has the capability.

    Is it defying the Brethren to teach controversial lessons from bland source materials?

  11. Mogget, great question. There are a lot of possible answers, although none are official. One is that the priesthood ban may in fact have originated in a misunderstanding of a decision by Joseph Smith to deny blacks access to the temple, an interesting theory advanced by the wildly problematic Equal Rites by Clyde Forsberg. A second possible answer turns on the fact that temple ordinances, especially the endowment and the various anointings, were conceptualized in the 19th century as a kind of priesthood. A third possibility is simply that we’ve been linguistically inaccurate in discussing the ban, and that the racial policy simply had two unrelated components: a priesthood component and a temple component.

    Sam, you’re right — the historical information is intended to provide context. The manual includes chapters on revelation, in which the reversal of the racial ban is central contextual information, and on Kimball’s views regarding marriage, for which the interracial stuff is critical contextual information. So the manual gives itself a task of providing historical context for the lessons that it really doesn’t satisfactorily achieve.

    Correcting or explaining a move away from erroneous statements that might lead people to have views that the church now sees as sinful and undesirable may well serve a clear salvific purpose.

  12. BTD Greg, no. It’s taking the one talent you’ve been given and turning it into a dozen. :)

  13. Mogget: Not to hijack this thread, but I’ve always been interested in why black women were denied access to the temple. Since there’s no priesthood involved, I’ve never understood the barrier.

    This is, perhaps, a threadjack, but many would disagree with your characterization of the Temple. E.g., the names of the sacred vestments.

  14. “BTD Greg, no. It’s taking the one talent you’ve been given and turning it into a dozen.”

    Ha! That’s all too true. The one talent I’ve been given is to stir up controversy.

  15. J,

    Your writing, research, questions, and desire for clear thinking are a constant enjoyment to me. Thanks for this.

    On the need to explicitly clear-up past teachings: I know why we avoid this. It’s because they often embarrass us, and so retraction-by-omission seems like the easiest route. That may be, but as Kevin has recently noted, it will not stop people being disturbed by these teachings when they find them. Because of our own embarrassment we are allowing many Saints (especially blacks) to have to deal with these questions on their own. This is unfair. It may indeed have salvific ramifications for such people. It also displays a singular lack of courage.

    All that said, I have no idea how I would go about making explicit retractions in something like the SWK manual. As Sam suggests, you might end up with people arguing in favour of the previous position!

    “all the blessings of the priesthood available to all worthy members, without regard for race or color.”

    This is deliciously vague. What races? What colors?

    (Sorry, can’t engage further. Bed time in Europe.)

  16. “That may be, but as Kevin has recently noted, it will not stop people being disturbed by these teachings when they find them. Because of our own embarrassment we are allowing many Saints (especially blacks) to have to deal with these questions on their own.”

    Indeed. When we fail to explain difficult issues from our past, we are giving anti-Mormons a nice, effective weapon to use against us: “I know more about your church than you do!” It’s pretty disheartening to find out that most of the time, they do. I made a point of teaching about the Moutain Meadows Massacre to my gospel doctrine class last year (following the accepted narrative provided in “The Gospel in the Fullness of Times”) for this very reason.

  17. However, the statement also explains exactly why the silences I note above are actually relevant: they’re really important for understanding Kimball’s teachings.

    Again, I don’t think the purpose of the manuals is to get a good handle on President Kimball’s teachings in general. It chooses 24 (I think) Gospel topics and mashes together a bunch of relevant SWK quotes. Whether or not that’s a good way to teach Gospel principles is another topic. It’s definitely not a very good way of teaching about President Kimball himself and the institutional Church under his leadership. But again, it’s not the manual’s job to address those subjects. Criticizing it for not doing something it’s not intended to do doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    I can understand why the failure of this series of manuals to thoroughly address historical issues might be frustrating for those who think the Church should be doing more in that arena. But it doesn’t seem like the leadership thinks that’s an important thing to do. Or, at least, that it’s something to which in-Church instruction time should be devoted at this time.

  18. J. – I disagree, and feel the inclussion of these items which are of intense interest to you would really only serve to muddy the waters in such a concise little text formulated for teaching us how we should be and praising SWK, not what we should believe or what Spencer W. Kimball believed.

    However, we are given leave by our authorities to include whatsoever we desire in our meetings, so if you wish to bring these topics up, I am sure you will have the opportunity to.

    Personally I think the Church would be ill advised to waste energy or paper producing any form of “statements by SWK that are not Doctrinal that the Chruch is frankly embarrassed by.” section in a book.

    Recently a post here was presented on the Presiding Patriarch. Do you feel it should or should not be relevent to wade through Patriarch Smith’s racial feelings in that context?

    Personally, I am for leaving it alone witihn the general text.

  19. Something that has become clear to me as the Presidents of the Church manuals have come out is that the manuals are definitely *not* about what the former Presidents of the church emphasized or taught. They are about what our current prophet and those who serve with him want taught. This makes perfect sense, really. But it would be much more straightforward to instead have each Sunday be a “Teachings for our time” lesson instead of pretending we are studying the teachings of past prophets. I assume it is an attempt to make the gospel seem “unchanging” and the prophets teachings seem consistent etc, when in reality the highly censored and filtered nature of the manuals has highlighted to me how little is unchanging, and also made me grateful to actually have a current, living prophet who has the authority to help us apply those truths in our day.

  20. Gina, I think your comment is correct regarding the marginal social issues like blacks & the priesthood, but is pretty incorrect overall. On the themes set forth in the manuals, SWK and the other prophets have indeed taught along the lines the manuals indicate. The level of filtering on selected materials is actually pretty low.

  21. Steve (20),
    Rereading my comment I think I sound more extreme than I feel. I agree that it is mainly in the social issues that the omissions are blatent or even significant. Concerning issues of salvation there is much that is unchanging, and no doubt they were the main focus of each of our latter day prophets’ ministries as reflected in the manuals.

    But the overall structure of the manuals, choosing small snippets from long lectures, etc, does not give one a good sense of the unique focus or context or sometimes even the purpose of the comments of the former prophet. This is, I assume, intentional, and reflects the hope of the curriculum committee that the emphasis of our discussions and classes are those of our current prophet and present-day needs and concerns. I don’t argue with this. I would rather, personally, have discussions in that context.

  22. According to “Lengthen Your Stride”, the continuation of Edward Kimball’s biography of his father, President Kimball softened his stance on the marriage issue later on. There is a touching anecdote in there about a personal meeting he had with the first black sister missionary to serve after the 1978 revelation, after she had returned home and fallen in love with a white man, where he gives his blessing to her proposed marriage.

  23. Sorry, but one more question for Mogget’s interesting threadjack. Could a black woman marry a non-black man in an LDS temple pre-1978?

  24. Thomas Parkin says:

    I have some serious doubt that 35 minutes we spend lessoning in priesthood is the best, most effective place to broach these subjects. I tend to agree with the first couple posters: it just doesn’t seem to me that this would easily find placement within the scope of a lesson manual. Not, at all, that they shouldn’t be broached. (Neither do I beleive that the absence of these subjects in any given place is tantamount to official stonewalling.) I think we are right to hope that the church will address this history in a comprehensive, if non-binding way, in some other medium.

    (really, racial proclivites and polygamy ARE the big two – but one can forsee a time when there is great openness on any subject – I beleive there is a lot of evidence that we are collectively moving in that direction. My father is currently working in the Church History Library there across from Temple Square. He has shared with me anecdotes that we both find very heartening. My father – and in fact that whole side of the family – is, in the very best way, open, though, perhaps, congenitally suceptible to heresy … *cough*. And I take his encouragement to be especially encouraging.)

    ~

  25. I don’t think anything any of the brethren taught about race prior to 1978 should be taught in priesthood or RS, so I applaud the preparers of the manual in that respect (if someone wants to study “Mormon racial history” there are plenty of other available sources). The 1978 revelation changed everything with respect to race, and brought us closer to the following scripture from The Book of Mormon (the most correct of books, especially after we purged “white” before references to “delightsome”): “For…the Lord…inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile (2 Ne. 26:33).” The more 2 Ne. 26:33 gets taught in our priesthood and RS classes, the better.

  26. skip, I think you’re right that the new doctrine places us in line with the scriptures and that the old policy was in conflict with multiple statements from several of our scriptures. Making statements like the one you urge without explaining what is being corrected, though, doesn’t do the work. People who hold to beliefs grounded in the old racial policy find excuses to continue with (and sometimes teach) those beliefs, and failing to be direct and specific allows that. President Hinckley’s statement last year against any continuation of the old racist folklore that, for some people, served as a justification of the priesthood ban was a good start. One way of addressing the issue in the manual could have been simply reprinting that statement in the context of a brief discussion of the pre-1978 policy.

    Thomas, my big worry is that the current position for many Mormons is that each and every venue is not the place to talk about these issues.

    Joanne, no, pre-1978, black women could not receive temple ordinances, regardless of the race of their spouses.

    Steve, I can’t believe that you called the generations during which a huge chunk of humanity was denied priesthood ordination or temple ordinances, not to mention the racially-based beliefs (of various kinds) that often persist today among the Saints marginal social issues. How many people need to be affected for the issue not to be marginal? Obviously more than millions; the old policy almost entirely prevented missionary work in the Caribbean and Africa. Or — and I know you didn’t mean it this way, but it’s a kind of unfortunate choice of words — which people would the issue have to affect not to be marginal? Really, I think that our great grandchildren are likely to see the racial transformations associated with Kimball as the story of 20th-century Mormonism; they seem likely, after all, to live in a substantially African church, no?

    Matt, come on, man. Talking about Kimball without squarely addressing race is like talking about Lincoln without discussing slavery. Patriarch Smith’s major historical legacy doesn’t directly involve racial issues; Kimball’s ministry and legacy in the church obviously does.

    Tom, at least two of the topics the manual does choose to address involve racially-related themes in Kimball’s life. His discussions of marriage and his comments on revelation both implicitly involve racial themes. Choosing those topics, but leaving out the race-related stuff, is a kind of statement by omission. If they had instead confined the manual to gardening and lengthening our strides, it would be a different — and even stranger — story. But they didn’t; they chose racially-related lessons but finessed the race.

    BTD Greg, I agree. The church needs to find a voice for addressing these issues.

    Ronan, much love, man!

  27. cchrissyy says:

    “the blessings of the priesthood, which had been restricted to some”
    “The question of extending the blessings of the priesthood to blacks had been on the minds of many”

    An interesting way to phrase things. It sounds as if a sick black man couldn’t ask for a blessing, not that he was prevented from bearing the priesthood himself.

    And if “being denied the blessings of the priesthood” is synonymous with “not being ordained” Then modern women are “denied the blessing”, which is perfectly contrary to recent conference talks saying that though only men hold the priesthood, everybody is blessed by it just as much.

  28. “I admit there are probably a few individual church members out there who in their heart of hearts are racist, but to say that this view holds any sway outside of some miniscule fringe/old-timer subset of today’s church population is overstating the case.”

    President Hinckley seemed to feel it was a fairly serious issue when he spoke about racism in the priesthood session in April. Racism still seems to unfortunately be fairly common in my parents generation. I am often horrified by the things I hear people say.

  29. Sorry to be a bit off subject, but does the SWK manual include any excerpts from his “False Gods We Worship” or “don’t kill the little birds” talks? Unfortunately, I’m guessing “no”, since it seems that as an American Mormon culture, we still cling tightly to our “war is the answer” and “hunting is fun” mantras. Besides the 1978 revelation, for me I think those are two of the most significant cultural pronouncements/applications of gospel principles of SWK’s presidency.

  30. A total tangent, ultimately meaningless to the whole discussion, but…regarding your comment on the Moors in Spain: yes, there were Moors of black African descent (both thanks to merchants from the gold trade out of West Africa and thanks to the slave trade which was alive and well throughout the Mediterranean of the middle ages including slaves from Sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe among others). But by and large the Moors of Spain were Arabs, Iberian converts to Islam, and Berbers. Mostly folks whom our rather crude modern and not-so-modern American conceptions of race would consider “white” in one form or another.

  31. Steve Evans says:

    Jay, marginal social issues? Fine — chalk it up to a poor choice of words, and strike the word “marginal.” Sheesh, touchy….

  32. Steve Evans says:

    BTW, and don your asbestos underwear…

    [fireball-inducing comment edited at author's request]

  33. they chose racially-related lessons but finessed the race.

    No, the lessons you’re referring to are about the principles of revelation and marriage. Revelation and marriage, per se, are not racially-related. And I don’t see how knowing all the historical details is important to understanding those principles. The historical details would be important in understanding Spencer W. Kimball’s ministry and the changes in the institutional Church under his leadership, but the focus is on the principles, not the history, the man, or the institution.

    It’s true that the manual uses President Kimball’s experience with the priesthood revelation to help contextualize his teachings and it’s true that it refers to his experience using vague terms. But I don’t see how doing so gets in the way of teaching the principle of revelation. To the contrary, I could see how it might help focus the instructor on the principle rather than the historical details and possibly prevent instructors and participants from going on tangents about possible justifications for the ban and other such things that don’t help with understanding the principle of revelation.

  34. I agree that this would have been an ideal opportunity to renew in print and in a Churchwide lesson the Church’s commitment to racial equality and the (till now implicit) jettisoning of past racialist teachings. I continue to believe that this would be salutary for the Church, and I join with JNS’ disappointment that, apparently (I have not read the manual), this opportunity was passed up. (Harmful racialist folklore does continue to circulate on a more than aberrational basis; I heard it taught more than once in gospel doctrine class during the year just ended.)

    I disagree, though, with the suggestion that the appropriate way to disavow past teachings would be to quote prior opinions of President Kimball that are untrue and do not represent the current position of the Church. I think it is generally enough that the statements are not in the correlated manual–particularly had this been joined with clear statements of the current Church position and general disavowal of any pre-1978 opinions.

    Similarly, when it comes time to print the teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, I think it will suffice for the correlation committee to leave out excerpts from his political speeches given at general conference, or his 14 point of following the prophet, or his BYU talk condemning food stamps. I do not think we need a specific disavowal.

    I have heard and understand the criticisms of the Brigham Young manual for essentially ignoring polygamy. On the other hand, I agree with the decision to leave out excerpts of Adam God, blood atonement, and other spurious teachings that do not represent the current teachings of the Church.

    Yes, this means we do not get the full scope of the then-teachings of prophets. But we do get those of their teachings which have, in a sense, stood the “test of time.”

    And I continue to hope that someday something will happen to quash the racialist folklore that continues to percolate and get passed on.

  35. I had planned on looking through the manual to see what it said about race and the priesthood restriction. I guess I don’t need to look now.
    Last week, our RS had its first SWK lesson: the preface. The teacher emphasized the counsel to not bring any materials into the lessons other than what was in the manual itself. My initial reaction was not good, but the more I thought about it, the more I was persuaded that this particular manual could bring back all of the folklore attached to the priesthood restriction (not that it has ever gone away…), so maybe the counsel will serve as some protection. (But I’d bet my dog that the folklore will find its way into more than a few classes.)
    Of course, the elephant is still in the living room, whether we talk about it or not.
    A few basics, which most at BCC already know:
    Elijah Abel (probably bi-racial) was washed and anointed in the Kirtland Temple, was not in Nauvoo when the endowment was given, and was denied further temple rites once he got to SLC. (This was after Brigham Young had declared the restriction.)
    Jane James (black) performed baptisms for the dead in the SLC temple (she was given a recommend to do so) but was never allowed to receive her endowments. She approached several Church presidents requesting full temple privileges. Wilford Woodruff’s journal states that he blessed her but told her he could not grant her desire, becaise she was “of Cain.”
    Jane Harris Dykes (from Africa) was declared to be of the tribe of Ephraim in her Patriarchal Blessing, and on the strength of that she was endowed–though she is the one exception.

  36. Steve Evans says:

    Sometimes I write stuff that comes out wrong. A shorter and less inflammatory way to say it would have been that I agree with Jay except that I think you need to do more to emphasize that the Church’s current policy is a great thing.

  37. Steve–we’re told that the policy “speaks for itself” and any discussion of racial issues is thus invited into oblivion (or correlation). Yes, a policy of inclusion is a good thing, but the foundation (past teachings/beliefs) which upheld the priesthood restriction is still in place, having never been undone–as we’ve discussed over and over in the Bloggernacle.
    If the Declaration II speaks for itself, what does it say (other than the obvious)?

  38. Steve Evans says:

    Margaret, all I can say is that I personally believe you’re mistaken (A) as to the priesthood restriction being in fact founded on certain past teachings/beliefs (such as Seed of Cain theories), and (B) as to such ‘foundations’ still being “in place, having never been undone.” From what I have read and seen, they never were in place, not really, nor were they (according to the Church), the reason for the priesthood restriction.

    So, I guess if we have fundamental disagreement as to those things, then I am not sure we can really get anywhere.

  39. Don’t these manuals generally stick to the words of the prophets themselves spoken officially while they were prophets? (This isn’t a rhetorical question…I really don’t know.) So the statements made by SWK in 1959 or 1960 would not be included anyway? And the same would be true of ETB’s communist rants, perhaps?

    I few years ago, I believe there was a letter urging members not to quote General Authorities without their permission and to be generally careful about recording the thoughts of GAs ‘off the record.’ (If that’s a misrepresentation of that letter, I apologize.) It makes sense to me: with the growing number of GAs, increasingly distant from SLC and perhaps without sufficient training, may make off-the-cuff statements that reflect their own preconceptions and attitudes, or might be taken out of context. Recently an area presidency member, as an aside in his talk, complained about the fuss his children’s school made when he took them out of school to come to our stake conference with him. An unwise member could then turn this into a church policy about the rights of parents to deny their children an education. Likewise, I heard a GA tell us the seventh seal had been opened in a Sunday School class. You think that someone would have mentioned it somewhere else, that’s all I’m saying.

    Here’s my point: I would like the church to issue a similar guideline for how we should treat the utterances of prophets and apostles of the past, and include with it a doctrinal explanation of the nature of revelation, individual cultural influence and leadership that explains those guidelines. In my own mind I can work this out, but it would be nice to have it be official.

  40. Steve Evans says:

    Norbert, the answer to your first question is no, not necessarily.

  41. UnicornMom says:

    Although it would probably be a good idea to train the members on how to deal with racial history concerns, I hardly think that the Priesthood and Relief Society manual is the place to do so. It is not a missionary tool.

    It is also easy to forget that everyone was racist up until around the time that blacks were given the Priesthood. Could it be possible that the reason they were not granted the priesthood was not because they weren’t worthy, but because the other members of the Church weren’t ready?

    It never ceases to amaze me how many people know better than the Church leadership.

  42. I would conclude that Margaret is pretty confident that race folklore will make its way into lessons, or else her dog has just torn up something really valuable.

    On to other matters: I know a man who was bishop of a BYU student ward in the early 1970’s who told me that he issued a limited use recommend to a black man. The instructions about men/boys being ordained to the priesthood before doing temple baptisms were not as clear then as now.

    The man went to the Manti Temple (which suggests that it was before Jan 1972), the temple workers fell over in shock, called the temple department in SLC (or somebody), who ultimately said it was ok, and the man went into the temple and did baptisms.

  43. Could it be possible that the reason they were not granted the priesthood was not because they weren’t worthy, but because the other members of the Church weren’t ready?

    UM, no. There’s no point speculating why the ban existed as we already know the answer, and it isn’t the one you just suggested.

    Mark B.,

    That story just makes me feel ill. To have people fall over in shock and panic when confronted by another human being who carries the burden of their racial folkloric hogwash is just awful. We cannot say it often or loud enough: this was a horrible policy.

    I am glad the church has forsaken its sin. Perhaps it is time to confess it too. But I fully understand how difficult this is going to be.

  44. Oh, Ronan, you’re being a little simplistic. Both of your explanations can hold simultaneously and may perhaps actually be true. How often does God let us persist in idiocy recognizing that we are not yet strong enough? More often than we confess, I think. The unprepared church model need not imply that the policy was somehow God’s wish for humanity.

    The level of presentist indignation is a bit strong in this thread every time it comes up. For a person now to maintain this policy deserves every vituperation available to us. Our culture has matured to the point at which racism is unjustifiable and heinous. For our predecessors to have held such views deserves some awareness of the exigencies of alien culture.

    The racial restriction was a horrid and malignant idea by any current standards (these are my standards), but they made a certain sense at the time for complex cultural reasons. We could wish that a perfectly white culturally isolated church that left America 15 years before the Civil War recognized racism as a sin in the late nineteenth-century, but we would be disappointed.

    This presentism is the flipside of the hagiographic approach: both (one negative, the other positive) are attempting to impose on the past the vision of the present. So I’m willing to embrace an approach that says “racist folklore must end” (and that should probably be included in the manual–perhaps Alvin Dyer would be the right scapegoat, as he was the one in my memory who most aggressively advocated the view, sparing some of the others, or maybe you could spin Elder McConkie’s apology this way) and “we thank God for revealing to Spencer Kimball the fundamental unity of the human family.” I think that dwelling on President Kimball’s paternalistic benevolent racism specifically will only weaken the strength of the revelation, so I don’t know that I would add it.

  45. UnicornMom says:

    There’s no point speculating why the ban existed as we already know the answer . . .

    Oh? Please . . . enlighten me. I’m afraid I missed this in my religious education. (I don’t mean that sarcastically – I truly don’t remember any definitive reason being given for the priesthood to be withheld from blacks.)

    Sam – thanks for elucidating the concept I was trying to convey in regards to holding the past up to our understanding in the present.

  46. “Although it would probably be a good idea to train the members on how to deal with racial history concerns, I hardly think that the Priesthood and Relief Society manual is the place to do so. It is not a missionary tool.”

    I don’t mean to pick on this comment, but just use it as an opportunity to discuss something that has been mentioned by several commenters. If not in PH/RS, then where? How and when will average members of the Church get the opportunity to learn about and discuss the Church’s racial history? While I agree with most of what has been said about the manuals’ purpose in teaching gospel principles, it seems to me that the Church is awfully gun-shy, almost to the point of ingeniousness, about addressing sensitive issues.

  47. UM,

    I am sure that someone more fully versed in the policy (Margaret?) can provide a long list of facts and figures. Suffice it to say, I think that for the best part of a hundred years there was no doubt in the body of the church why this policy existed. And this was a view held and taught by many prophets and apostles.

    Ban=curse. Any attempt for us to reposition the ban is utterly disingenuous.

    At no point did God say to Brigham Young, “don’t let the blacks have the priesthood because you whites can’t handle it.” No, BY — completely sans revelation — instituted the ban because he was a racist. Now, we may believe God let him make this error, but that’s another thing altogether.

    Now, Sam, I do not condemn Brigham for this. Born in the right age, I would have been a slave-holding polygamist for sure (like Abraham), among myriad other vices we now know to be vices.

    The trouble is, the folklore lingers, my friend, in every Mormon home with a copy of Mormon Doctrine in it. And there are far more homes with MD than their are Saints who know about McConkie’s retraction. The retractions have been a lot quieter than the confident proclamations that made them necessary.

    There have to be ways to sensitively deal with this other than just silence. Stark admissions in the SWK book may not be the right forum, but what do you suggest?

  48. This is simply part and parcel of the knee-jerk reaction Church leadership almost always has toward non-transparency, non-disclosure, and whitewashing over any uncomfortable facts. The Church’s reaction to almost any uncomfortable line of question is now, and always has been “No comment.”

    The main idea is that such things are not deserving of a response and the focus should be directed elsewhere to what we see as more central aims and truths of the Restored Gospel. There’s also a feeling that if we simply “ignore” our critics, they will be marginalized or lose interest.

    This strategy has served us well enough, as it has served large corporations, and national government.

    But these days of “no comment” are long gone. Information and full disclosure reigns supreme today.

    These days, “no comment” is as good as a death sentence. Because the moment you say it, everyone will immediately assume the worst. They’ve been saying this in professional publications for business lawyers for some time now:

    You never, EVER say “no comment.” Not unless you want to tank your client’s share values, forfeit the hearts and minds of the public, and make your client look like a cantakerous little troll who is annoyed that people won’t allow him to lie cheat and steal unchallenged.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. That’s the image you create when you aren’t forthcoming in modern society. And that is increasingly the image that the LDS leadership is painting in the minds of many people today.

    Non-disclosure simply doesn’t work anymore and it’s time for the LDS leadership to stop doing it.

    Just freaking tell the true history!

  49. Unicorn Mom: I don’t know how old you were, but I was an adult way back in 1978. (I even baptized a black man in 1975 and had the frightening and humiliating experience of trying to explain to him that he could not hold the Priesthood after his baptism). It is simply not true, not even close to true, that everybody was racist until blacks were given the Priesthood. The priesthood ban was so embarrassing and controversial precisely because most of the rest of the world had figured out long before that these racist ideas were wrong.

    Nor is it true that the Church was not ready before that. The Church members accommodated the new policy without any difficulty at all in 1978 and they would have easily done the same much earlier. To the extent that people weren’t ready, it was precisely because their leaders had filled their heads with nonsense. Do you really believe that Mormons were somehow less ready than the members of virtually every other Christian church who had either never had such racist policies or who had renounced them years earlier?

  50. Ronan,
    That’s disingenuous–the folklore does not linger in my home, although we have a copy of MD. I inherited it by marriage, and I think my wife got it from her mother, who collects every book on the Church she can get, be it from DB, FARMS, or UIP.

    I don’t tend to enjoy these threads, because the underlying assumption seems to be that, with a few enlightened exceptions, Mormons are ignorant racists who cling to unenlightened views unless and until the Church tells them otherwise. There may be such people–there probably are–but, in my experience, they are not the majority. The majority are intelligent, well-meaning people who can think for themselves, and do not think as a lowest common denominator. I guess that’s my problem–in attacking the racist institutional church, a LCD strawman is set up and knocked down.

    That’s not to say there isn’t stuff that the Church and the members could, and perhaps should, do, just that I don’t recognize the world in which Ronan and J. and Margaret are situating the debate. My experience doesn’t include people spouting off racist theories, ergo, I don’t consider attacking such (generally ignored and disbelieved) theories to be a priority.

  51. Count yourself lucky, Sam. I wish we could do a poll among members:

    “Why were blacks denied the priesthood?”

    My experience tells me that a majority of those with any clue (i.e. those who know anything about it) would mention the curses of Cain/Ham and the Book of Abraham. That’s not to say that members today think that blacks were cursed, just that they are aware of the rhetoric and doctrinal explanations.

    Are you suggesting that the majority of rank-and-file members who know a thing or two about the ban would say, “we have no idea why”? That’s simply not my experience. But, oh well. (Actually, I have noticed recently a move to plead ignorance, but it smells like PR to me.)

    I teach Seminary. When we do OD2 what shall I tell my students if they ask why this ban existed?

  52. “I don’t tend to enjoy these threads, because the underlying assumption seems to be that, with a few enlightened exceptions, Mormons are ignorant racists who cling to unenlightened views unless and until the Church tells them otherwise. There may be such people–there probably are–but, in my experience, they are not the majority. The majority are intelligent, well-meaning people who can think for themselves, and do not think as a lowest common denominator.”

    This is a very good point. I certainly don’t think that Church members are generally ignorant racists. To the contrary, I think that most LDS are very anti-racist. I do think, however, that Church members tend to be a little bit ingorant of some of the more difficult aspects of their own Church’s history, and I think a little bit of guidance would do a world of good, even if that means admitting that some of our former leaders held racist beliefs that were contrary to gospel principles.

  53. Ronan: Actually, you may want to check your copy of Mormon Doctrine, but the latest addition, so far as I know, only includes the text of OD-2, and no references to any “curse.”

    Anyway, as the Manual is Teaching of SWK, can anyone bring up positive quotes of SWK on Interracial-Marriage, Race, etc.?

    I mean, the quotes we have are the ones we DON’T want to teach our children, so why on earth would we put them in a manual who’s main purposes are to:

    1.) Teach to Love and Honor the Prophets.
    2.) Teach correct Gospel Principles.

    ???

    So, are there any quotes from SWK in valid useable sources we do want included on this topic that weren’t? If there are, produce the quotes. If not, then it’s beyond the scope of the book and they did write to exclude bad quotes.

    Why would the Church undermine the authority of the positive quotes by the inclusion of negative ones in this format?

    That said, I will say I wish there had been a better treatment of the events surrounding the revelation on the priesthood in the preface, but I can understand the decision to go with a quote from the current Prophet of God, as opposed to a larger narative in this format and with these constraints.

  54. The Journal History account of 13 February, 1849 is the earliest record of the ban.

    Asked what “chance of redemption there was for the Africans,” Young answered that “the curse remained upon them because Cain cut off the lives of Abel…. The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.”

    There may be an earlier intimation too:

    William Appleby made the following journal entry while travelling in New York 19 May 1847: “In this Branch there is a coloured Brother, An Elder ordained by Elder Wm. Smith while he was a member of the Church, contrary, though[,] to the order of the Church on the Law of the Priesthood, as Descendants of Ham are not entitled to that privilege …”

    (Sources, Lester Bush)

    Honestly (honestly!) I am not trying to think the worst of people, it just seems to me that from the origin of the ban until the mid 20th century, the ban was inextricably linked with Cain/Ham. We have moved on from that and I’m glad. But there’s a whiff that still lingers and I think it needs burying once and for all.

  55. Ronan,
    You may be right, but in my experience, the majority of people I know would probably answer “We don’t know.” When I angrily accosted my dad on that point in high school (probably 10 or fifteen years ago), that was the answer he gave me, and, while a faithful member of the church, he’s not tied into church history (i.e., he wasn’t remarkably aware of Joseph Smith’s polygamy until he read Rough Stone Rolling after I recommended it to him). So, at least in my experience, that’s what the general answer is, and it predates any bloggernacle/PR thing.

    BTD Greg,
    I agree that some guidance would be good–the “I don’t know” answer, while it’s the best I can do, is unsatisfying on several levels. I’m not sure, though, what the best place/way to address it would be. I don’t think the Presidents of the Church book is right (just based on its genre and style), but I admit ignorance as to what the better place is.

  56. Can I clarify whether Sam B and Sam MB/smb are different people?

  57. Ronan,
    Yes we are.

  58. (different people, that is)

  59. Matt,

    I understand that later editions of MD have removed some of the racial stuff. I do not have the latest edition to hand (1993?), but my post-1978 edition still has gems like:

    s.v. “Caste System”:

    Caste systems have their root and origin in the gospel itself, and when they operate according to the divine decree, the resultant restrictions and segregation are right and proper and have the approval of the Lord. To illustrate, Cain, Ham and the whole Negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so that they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not inter-marry….

    OK, so no mention of the priesthood ban (a cold comfort), but one doesn’t have to be a genius to connect the dots elsewhere:

    “We know the circumstances under which the posterity of Cain (and later of Ham) were born with the characteristics of the black race.”

    “Ham was cursed, apparently for marrying into the forbidden lineage…Ham’s descendants include the Negroes, who were originally barred from holding the priesthood but have been able to do so since June, 1978 .”

    So, blacks are descendants of Ham, Ham was cursed, and blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood, ergo blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood because they carried the curse of Ham. How else do we read this other than ban=curse?

    Is this stuff still in the very latest MD?

  60. UnicornMom says:

    If not in PH/RS, then where?

    The church is possibly shy about addressing sensitive subjects, for whatever reason. However, Priesthood and Relief Society are not (speaking in the general) appropriate venues. They are primarily intended (I believe) as places to discuss doctrine and salvation. Specifically that may change, and it is up to the RS presidency and the teacher to feel out when/where and how those things should and can be discussed. Placing such a topic in the manual would probably unwise, especially since there are still people with blatant prejudice, and there is no telling who is going to teach in Church. I don’t think the Church is gun-shy in making statements in their proper venues (ie. over the General Conference pulpit.)

    Ronan –

    Ban=curse. Any attempt for us to reposition the ban is utterly disingenuous.

    This attitude could have been why the “Lord let it happen.” VERY little revelation has been given out of the blue – the asker has to be spiritually and mentally prepared. Even the difficult doctrine of plural marriage came from a question asked of the Lord by Joseph Smith. It took him quite some time to become prepared to the point of actually living it. The Lord usually does not force Gospel principles down the throats of His people.

    The retractions have been a lot quieter than the confident proclamations that made them necessary.

    Is this because the retractions were quieter, or because the reactions to them were less? Most of the retractions I’ve read were quite straightforward and bold.

    Gary – that’s why I said “around the time.” I am well aware that by the time the declaration was made there was a much less prejudiced feeling – however, it was relatively new and most people (especially in the older generations) were still quite racist.

    The Church members accommodated the new policy without any difficulty at all in 1978

    Not true – some still had quite a bit of difficulty, and it probably would have been more earlier. I think this is a “trust the Lord’s timing” situation. Only He can truly know the balance of people’s hearts. There are still quite a few people (and churches) who haven’t “renounced” those policies. Try Southern US or South Africa, for example.

    Matt –

    Why would the Church undermine the authority of the positive quotes by the inclusion of negative ones in this format?

    Not to mention the inclusion of the negative quotes could easily be miscontrued as a current endorsement.

    And – assuming that Cain’s children were denied the Priesthood, that merely puts the restoration of the Priesthood to the Blacks in the entire framework of “the restoration of all things.”

  61. UnicornMom says:

    That was probably one of my most long-winded posts ever written.

    I apologize!

  62. Oh, and there’s the stuff under “Races of Men” about “racial degeneration.” Still there for all to enjoy at Deseret Book as far as I’m aware.

  63. UnicornMom says:

    And Gary – I’m obviously not old enough to have lived through all of that – I just turned 28 two days ago. Perhaps that is partly why my perception is different.

  64. UM, this thing about “Cain’s children” is a non-starter. As JNS points out in the post, trying to link, via “blood,” a modern race with some distant ancestor is madness. If some bloke called Cain existed several thousand years ago, we all carry some part of his blood. Thus we are all cursed, not just sub-Saharan people with black skin.

  65. Ronan: When I get home from work, I’ll do a search for it on my digital copy in Gosepl Link.

    I’m not a proponent of MD(It is too one-dimensional), but I was really just checking to see if “the folklore lingers” in your home.

    As for teaching OD-2, On this one I’d say my opinion is that racism was the reason for the priesthood ban in my opinion and leave it to them to deal with the depth of it on their own. For the other views, I might mention the folklore as commonly accepted at one time, maybe have the Darius Gray Quote about Melchizedek “hanging with the brothers”, the Elder Ballard Quote from the Elijah Abel Marker dedication about missionary work going to Africa, and definitely the Genesis Group statement which denounced the folklore. (I was attempting to link to it, but can no longer find it online. That is bad, IMO, it should always be on the GG website.)

  66. Matt,
    Please do. Search under negroes, caste systems, and races of men and give us the latest version.

  67. Very interesting thread. Having read all of it, I remain where I was at the beginning:

    1) All prophetic discourse is historically conditioned.

    2) Original sources are required for much serious work.

    3) Interpretation requires extensive familiarity with all forms of context.

    Very interesting project to work out the “identity” of the implied author of the thoughts in our study guide this year.

  68. UnicornMom says:

    Ronan – I guess what I’m trying to indicate is the why not the “why”. The Lord’s purposes, not the people’s. The belief that they were the blood of Cain was obviously the stumbling block they used to justify racism, but it was probably not the eternal “why.”

    And, if there was a more eternal reason, then it is part of the “restoration of all things” since they now do hold the Priesthood.

  69. Interesting post. I know this is a difficult topic for many to deal with. So far as the idea of…

    cain = dark
    delightsome = light

    How do the polynesians fit into this. They were able to hold the priesthood prior to 1978. I have not yet heard mention.

    Speaking of the repeal the book Our Heritage touches the topic and quotes SWK on the subject of the decision on OD-2..

    “I prayed with much fervency. I knew that something was before us that was extremely important to many of the children of God. I knew that we could receive the revelations of the Lord only by being worthy and ready for them and ready to accept them and put them into place. Day after day I went alone and with great solemnity and seriousness in the upper rooms of the temple, and there I offered my soul and offered my efforts to go forward with the program. I wanted to do what he wanted. I talked about it to him and said, ‘Lord, I want only what is right.’ ”

    What do you think his attitude on the ban was in the first place?

  70. I do not believe God had anything to do with it, UM. That is where we part company and is why I probably have nothing more to say…

    …other than, I do not believe we should make God responsible for Brigham et al’s racism. I also believe that the 1978 revelation was exactly that, a revelation from God.
    Shalom.

  71. UnicornMom says:

    *sigh* I didn’t say that I believed that God had something to do with it – I said IF He did, THEN . . . .

  72. Ronan,

    I too believe God had nothing to do with it, and was resting upon the et al.

    If you notice the bold in my post above SWK realized it was a readiness issue. Does that mean the Members were not ready for it. Some not all. The younger generation was a bit more progressive and ready for it I’m sure than older generations.

  73. President Kimball’s statement likewise indicates that he thought God had nothing to do with it except as a matter of waiting it out.

    The identification of the group identified as “us” and “we” in the first few lines is key to understanding this. Is it the church leadership? Or the general membership? Whoever it is, President Kimball seems to think that the change waited on their willingness to comply, not God.

  74. I don’t think we’ll find a satisfying repudiation of the “folk doctrines” around the priesthood ban until we find a way to deal with the fundamental racism of the Book of Mormon narrative–as long as we maintain that God at one time used dark skin as a curse for unrighteousness, we are well and truly stuck. We would have to develop a much more sophisticated interpretive framework for the BoM (even Nephi was susceptible to the temptation to explain what he saw by reference to racist notions in the culture of his time and place…). Hermeneutic shifts on that scale tend to take a VERY long time.

  75. Sam B said “… the majority of people I know would probably answer “We don’t know.””

    The reason people answer this way on this topic is because they don’t know how to reconcile their congnitive dissonance. They know racism is wrong. They know that there is probably no such thing as a “curse of Cain”. However, They know the Prophet speaks for God. Hence “I don’t know”

    People can maintain their ideas of what a Prophet is and answer “I don’t know”. Some prefer to do mental gymnastics and figure out why God would inspire the Prophet to implement racist policies. Or they have to modify their understanding of what a Prophet is.

  76. UnicornMom says:

    Kristine –
    The dark skin in the BoM used as a curse has nothing to do with African blacks and the priesthood.

    Moreover, an actual reading of the BoM as a whole would show that it wasn’t about racism, it was about righteousness, as the Lamanites at several points were more righteous than the Nephites and only once does it mention that their skins became white as a result. It is quite possible that after the initial cursing, the term “white” vs. “dark” as relating to skin color was used symbolically.

  77. I think you’re probably right Kristine.

    The Book of Mormon stuff does make it hard to really put down a firm repudiation of the “Mark of Cain/Curse of Ham” stuff. “Dark and louthsome”….

    Gee, don’t we have a fun religion?

  78. Mogget, Kimball’s attitude about whether God was waiting for us or vice versa is quite different from the attitude that Greg Prince has documented David O. McKay as having expressed. McKay privately described having several times prayed to change the policy, and having been told by God that he shouldn’t ask any more. Harmonizing Kimball’s position — and that of many Mormons who want an inclusive racial theology — with that of McKay and some more racially conservative Mormons seems difficult at best. Available possibilities include: (a) that some dramatic objective transformation happened between McKay’s life and Kimball’s, which seems difficult to sustain since it was a very short time window, or (b) the conclusion that McKay didn’t pray with, as the saying goes, “real intent.” It’s thus perhaps best to avoid drawing conclusions on this matter.

    On the other hand, the beginning of the policy is equally ragged. Ronan provided early quotes on the policy, but it wasn’t really formalized until the last quarter of the 19th century. In the meanwhile, at least some black priesthood holders were allowed to operate in their priesthood capacities.

    Furthermore, as is well known, no revelation was ever provided as a basis for the policy. So it had a messy start, an ending that is difficult to understand rationally, and a lack of authoritative basis throughout. Nonetheless, there were, as Ronan notes, clear teachings offered by leaders at all church levels explaining how the priesthood ban might be connected with our scriptural narrative — and the cultural weight of the ban by the 1960s and 1970s was immense, as is that of any equally stark dividing line between an in-group and an out-group. In the face of all of that, I think Spencer W. Kimball deserves a lot of recognition for having the courage to pray vigorously enough to enable the priesthood revelation, to work with his colleagues until they reached the same conclusions, and to move forward with the most dramatic change within the church in decades. I find it disappointing that the manual failed to provide such recognition; celebrating God’s hand in all things need not be incompatible with praising the virtuous and heroic acts of our predecessors.

    Ben #69, it’s important to remember that the priesthood ban wasn’t about “dark” skin, it was about racial “blackness.” The ban obviously distinguished between “black” people and “Lamanites” from Central or South America, for example. The “black” category isn’t solely about skin color; modern American constructions of that racial category also rely heavily on facial features and hair. Some people classified as “black” because of such features, as well as cultural and family heritage, can be found who have lighter skin pigmentation than some people classified as “indigenous Americans” or “Lamanites.” Skin pigmentation isn’t the only issue here; racial concepts matter, too. This further troubles the nature of the priesthood ban, of course; why would a divine and eternal theology demand that priesthood be allocated on the basis of 19th- and 20th-century American racial categories?

    (The perplexity of racial categories is also raised by the “Non-Arab Arab”‘s comment above. Many of the Moors were indeed not “black,” although many of the non-black Moors were from parts of Africa, especially North Africa. So why weren’t those African-based Moors African enough to be counted as African? Because our lineage categories aren’t really based on systematizable things like geography and skin pigment. They’re just cultural. In further response, I want to thank N-A A for the clarification and note that I didn’t intend in my footnote to imply that all Moors were racially black; all that’s really needed for my point to be made is for at least several hundred blacks to have been among the Moors. Clearly, there were a lot more than that.)

    Kristine, good point. Hermeneutic shifts take even longer if we refuse to talk about them, though.

  79. UnicornMom,

    It is refreshing to observe that the dark-skinned Lamanites were sometimes more righteous than the light-skinned Nephites.

    But what about the text itself might signal that a statement on skin color is symbolic rather than literal? And is it not still racist to claim that light skin symbolizes righteousness?

  80. JNS #78, some “real objective transformation” DID happen between DOM and SWK – JFS and HBL died. With unity in all things a requirement of the Twelve, it seems to me that God got things done as quickly as he could have. It’s not impossible that the only way to avoid a schism was to wait until these two very conservative senior apostles were dead.

  81. J. Nelson said

    it’s important to remember that the priesthood ban wasn’t about “dark” skin, it was about racial “blackness.”

    That was my point in questioning the ideaology of

    cain=dark skin

    I agree that this curse of cain had little to do with the priesthood ban. It was an attempt to provoke a searching of one’s thought and feelings.

  82. I can understand that perhaps the leadership were not ready because of the many teachings by so many of them about lack of valiance in the preexistence and the curse of Cain. It is hard to do an about face and admit that what you and others you have sustained as prophets, seers and revelators were teaching was just wrong. However, the notion that church members in general were not ready sooner to admit their black brothers and sisters to full fellowship strikes me as just crazy. We had the scriptures. We knew that God was no respecter of persons. We knew that racism was wrong. This was not 1858 for heaven’s sake.

  83. Hey all.

    Couple of comments.

    I plan on fully discussing the ban in my capacity as a EQ Instructor this year. We had a black male TR holder give a talk assigned by the bishop concerning the ban a couple of months ago. The SWK manual is just a guideline for lessons as far as I am concerned. I teach whatever I feel like talking about to be frank.

    Somewhere up there Boers are mentioned. I served my mission in South Africa and can speak to the topic. Afrikaners and other South African whites were suspect racially by the church prior to 1978. In order to be ordained a white South African had to prove his ancestory off the continent of Africa. This was the result of a portion of Afrikaners having some non white ancestory. I have heard first hand stories of white men desiring to be ordained and being unable to prove racial “purity” being denied ordination. Missionaries were also cautioned not to teach either the Xhosa or Zulu people or the Cape Couloreds (mixed race)

  84. Gary,

    I don’t believe anybody’s purpose here is to call out any generation as racist or not. There is not a set line if you were born before X date you are a racist after x date you are not. That type of reasoning has not and never will work.

    I agree with your arguments. However, the statement is not a panacea for the racism/priesthood in church question. There are too many levels and facets to consider. What I think or what you think is not relatively the thoughts of everyone at large. While as we in 2007 are have progressed closer to a unified people there still exists large gaps. Other wise there would be no need for the talks from GBH in general conference on this subject.

  85. UnicornMom says:

    And is it not still racist to claim that light skin symbolizes righteousness?

    I don’t think so, at least not in this sense. Half of the Lehites (or more) were cursed as a result of the unrighteousness of their fathers. Therefore, the “curse” of darker skin became a symbol of unrighteousness to the Lehites. I don’t think the BoM prophets ever said that people were unrighteous because of their skin color (correct me if I’m wrong.) Quite the contrary, even the early ones (Nephi, Jacob) lamented that their brothers’ children “languished in unbelief” – indicating that it was a failure on their parents’ parts to teach them God’s principles, not something inherent in their skin color.

    It is an interesting possibility that, like most of God’s curses (thorns and thistles?), it was done for the sake of the “cursed.” Like the allegory of the olive tree, God was trying to preserve the “tame fruit” to himself, separating the two peoples so that he could keep the gospel alive among the Lehites in a way that did not happen among the Israelites. As a result, the Lehites were ready for the coming of Christ – the Israelites were not.

    As such, the “curse” could have been to reinforce a cultural division, rather than being about the pigmentation itself. With skin color, there was an immediate and obvious difference between the two halves, creating a complex contrast between the righteous and the wicked, whichever the skin color of either of the two groups at the time. That contrast existed until some time after Christ’s birth, when the Lamanites and Nephites united against the Gadianton robbers. Once their cultural separation was abolished, so was their (symbolic?) tonal difference. I think the BoM never mentions the skin color difference after that; the Lamanites and Nephites post-Christ were not necessarily tonally different – only different in beliefs.

    However, the notion that church members in general were not ready sooner to admit their black brothers and sisters to full fellowship strikes me as just crazy. We had the scriptures. We knew that God was no respecter of persons.

    Do you think the people of the Church in general were completely ready to embrace the notion of blacks with the priesthood when the leadership didn’t? I don’t buy that.

    Perhaps I am wrong – perhaps the people then were so righteous, they were just waiting for their sinful leaders to come around to the “right way” of thinking. If that was the case, it obviously changed, because it certainly isn’t the case now.

  86. Ben, you say, “I agree that this curse of cain had little to do with the priesthood ban.” I’m not sure I agree with that statement. We need to distinguish between (a) any actual curse which might have been placed on any actual person named Cain, which can’t possibly have had any connection with the priesthood policy, and (b) the 19th- and 20th-century ideas among Mormon leaders about who Cain’s descendants were and what curse they were under as a result of their conceived ancestor. It’s my sense, from having read a lot of the existing 19th- and 20th-century sermons by church presidents and general authorities accounting for the priesthood ban that curse of Cain (b) had a lot to do with the ban.

    bbell, what you’re describing in South Africa with respect to the Boers is a policy that, according to the Prince biography of McKay, was changed under McKay. That book claims that, during the last decade or so of the racially-based priesthood ban, people didn’t have to affirmatively prove non-African ancestry unless their “blackness” was somehow evident on physical inspection.

  87. UnicornMom #85, your comments are interesting and thought-provoking. When you ask whether the church was ready to embrace blacks with the priesthood, I have to ask, when? During much of the 19th century, the church did just fine with accepting at least a few black men who held priesthood; some (although certainly not all) early members were even distinctive for their anti-racist and anti-slavery positions in their 19th-century context. But if the membership resisted this idea, isn’t that what leaders are for — to push them toward righteousness? Instead we see a pattern of leaders publicly explaining and reinforcing the ban through at least the 1950s, and of resisting some members’ efforts at easing or removing the ban through the early 1970s. Some members were obviously ready much earlier than the church as a whole. Others may have faced a trial of faith — but surely not as much of one as when polygamy (which was taught as necessary for exaltation even after it was ended as a practice of the church) was ended.

    If you look at the leadership’s decision-making during the McKay and Kimball period, there is a lot of evidence of pressure from “liberal” rank-and-file Mormons to end the ban. Most of the pressure to keep the ban, by contrast, came from Harold B. Lee, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Bruce R. McConkie — as Ann noted above. So the historical record seems to suggest exactly that the people were just waiting for the leaders to come around.

  88. J.

    I agree, once again what I said and meant was little, not nothing to do with. There most certainly is a connection, I am trying to argue there is always more than meets the eye.

  89. Spencer W. Kimball said:

    “…We had this special prayer circle, then I knew that the time had come. I had a great deal to fight, of course, myself largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life till my death and fight for it and defend it as it was. But this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it.” (Deseret News, Church Section, January 6, 1979, page 19)

    I thought it might be an interesting suplement to the current general discussion.

  90. JNS,

    I think your right. I have heard three stories from older South Africans and they all occurred in the 1950’s and 1960’s. If I remember correctly McKay made a trip to South Africa? in the 1960’s? If so this trip would have put him in contact with leaders who were implementing the crazy policy and probably served to convince him to relax it a bit.

    Sometimes there would be no male priesthood holder who could prove his lineage off the continent in an entire branch. In one case the mission president called a branch president and ordained this man a DEACON and made him BP. Later this deacons son was a Mission President in North America

  91. UnicornMom says:

    #87 – That was, to an extent, my point. Some members were obviously more than ready, others were obviously not. Both instituting the blacks/priesthood issue when they did and not instituting it until they did were trials of faith for the parties involved. I suppose I’m trying to say that it’s impossible for us to see the intricacies of the eternal tapestry from where we sit – that there was, evidentally, a reason that it happened when and how it did. It’s awfully difficult to judge a situation like that, and rather hypocritical to point the finger, since there are things we all do that are less than righteous.

    I still doubt that the membership, as a whole, was more righteous than the leadership, as a whole. Perhaps it was more important for the Lord to have unity in His Apostles than to have the blacks have the priesthood right then. There are a multitude of possible reasons. The point is they have it now, for whatever reason.

  92. UM: Do I think that the membership as a whole were ready much earlier to embrace black Priesthood holders? Absolutely. Overwhelmingly. In fact, I don’t think that there ever was a time when they were not ready. I have no doubt that if our leaders had never instituted a ban on blacks holding the Priesthood, it would have never been an issue. (That is not the same as saying that there would have been no racism–clearly there would have been.) But I must protest your snide characterization that my position implies that the members were “waiting for their “sinful leaders” to come around . . .” I don’t for a minute believe that our leaders were sinful people who hated blacks. I do think that they had been taught and genuinely believed racist nonsense, and that they genuinely believed that blacks were cursed by God. It is difficult to retreat from that position as a leader when fellow Apostles have been teaching those ideas to the church at large, and even more difficult to retreat from positions which you have publicly taught.

  93. UnicornMom-

    I still doubt that the membership, as a whole, was more righteous than the leadership, as a whole.

    I think the difference here is the idea of leading and following. The general membership could concievably be ready to passively accept a drastic change as instructed by the leaders long before those same leaders feel ready to take the active role of organizing and spearheading that same change without either group being significantly more or less righteous than the other.

  94. To me, the fact that ordinations for the dead can be performed for blacks denied the priesthood in life suggests that the church makes no real claim to the validity of the policy. But why not just come out and say it?

  95. MikeInWeHo says:

    How many centuries did it take for Rome to say “The church was wrong” about Galileo, the Inquisition, etc? I think it might be asking too much to expect the Church as an institution to apologize for the priesthood ban, even if many in the current leadership believe it was just plain wrong the whole time. It’s extremely difficult for any institution claiming even a degree of infallibility to apologize for past policies. That’s very threatening to the whole edifice. The ambiguous explanations currently provided seem to leave interested people twisting in the wind a bit, though. I predict we’re about a generation away from an apology.

  96. Ronan, I=smb, as you have noted. I agree with you largely, though my point is that this explanation of ecclesial immaturity is not unreasonable on face, nor does it imply that God was the author of the doctrine, but I think it does provide a way to allow for a living church to grow just as we grow spiritually. In this view, the racism was a sin that God slowly purged from the Church, as quickly as it could tolerate it. He continues to purge it from the church, and the 1978 revelation is the clarion call for all of us individually to enact a vision of human equality and tender regard.

  97. Interesting. I haven’t checked this blog for several hours. (I’ve been meeting with two Black men–my co-author and another young man who’s directing the documentary I’m helping to produce.) We spoke about what the documentary needs to do to be TRUE and FAITHFUL. We bore testimony to each other–not by plan, but just as we talked and began structuring the footage (all filmed now). Both of these men, one quite a bit older than I and the other quite a bit younger, have been hard hit with the folklore. Both, however, are absolutely devoted to the LDS Church. Neither is bitter towards Brigham Young or any other Church leader.
    Here’s my observation: This blog started out as a discussion of the SWK manual and the rather obvious glossing over of the race issue. By comment 94, the conversation has gone right back to the priesthood restriction itself. (I’ll take whatever blame for that you want to give me.)
    What does this indicate? To me it says that this issue STILL MATTERS to us. It matters more to those of us who confront it daily. That includes me. Because of things I’ve written or produced, I get called on A LOT by people (usually African Americans) who are struggling with the idea–presented in some class or manual–that they were somehow “cursed” either because of their lineage or because they didn’t behave well in the pre-mortal life.
    My co-author and I met last week with a wonderful man who’s in a bishopric, but whose father is convinced that he could only be LDS if he was also an Uncle Tom. Why would this man want to talk to us rather than to his bishop or some religion professor? I would guess that it’s because he knows we know the history, we tell it truthfully, and we still BELIEVE in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. He needed a space where he could ask important questions without feeling like an apostate.
    Ronan, as a seminary teacher, will have to deal with the history too. I certainly had to when I taught Spanish Institute. (Some of my students had been told that they too were “cursed.”)
    For those who don’t have to deal with the issue as frequently as others of us do, WONDERFUL! There are many ways for all of us to serve.
    I personally feel that I have a mission call which involves race issues. Others will have different mission calls, and my issues will not be on their radars, just as theirs might not be on mine.
    Ultimately, though, the aim is not to debate, but to grow and change. If God can use me in any small way to heal wounds given long ago, or to reclaim the posterity of the wonderful Black pioneers I’ve written about, I am ready to serve.

  98. Margaret, I totally agree with you. I just do not agree that the quotes JNS sited above need to be addressed in any way in our priesthood manual. I think that would be an error.

    (As an aside, the awesome article denouncing the folklore seems to have been removed from the Genesis Group website. Any chance of getting it reposted there?)

  99. I agree that there are other, more appropriate forums for addressing some of the really tough questions. (JNS cited several quotes, and I’m not sure which you’re referring to.)
    I do want to state unequivocally that I do not believe the Priesthood restriction was changed because of pressure from liberal Mormons. I believe Lester Bush HELPED inform the Quorum of the Twelve of the issue’s actual history (score five points for _Dialogue_, where his seminal article was published), and I know for sure that my dear, dear friend Marion D. Hanks had a profound effect, as did (maybe more than anybody) Hugh B. Brown. But I absolutely believe that what Spencer W. Kimball claimed he experienced–an actual revelation–really happened.
    There is no record at all of any revelation putting the priesthood restriction into effect, just BY’s words taking the “cursed” nature of Blacks for granted. But Pres. Kimball and all of those who were present with him in the temple report June 1, 1978 as a day of Pentecost. I believe them.
    Matt W.–We’ve had several “awesome articles” denouncing the folkore. I suspect you’re referring to one authored by Pres. Don Harwell. I would have to ask his permission to post it on BCC. However, you can find it in the archives of the newsletter.
    http://www.ldsgenesisgroup.org .

  100. JNS, I am not sure I agree that Bruce R. McConkie (and Joseph Fielding Smith) held up the change in policy/revelation. But I do think Harold B. Lee’s views did.

    Leonard Arrington’s book indicates that during the months before President McKay’s death, the Quorum of the 12 voted 11-1 in favor of removing the ban. As I recall, Harold B. Lee was the sole dissenter, who prevailed on his Brethren that a revelation would be required.

    The McKay biography also indicates that, among the Brethren, Elder Lee was a strong supporter of the ban. I do not recall strong evidence that Joseph Fielding Smith or Bruce R. McConkie were, inside Church leadership meetings, proponents of continuing the ban.

    Joseph Fielding McConkie has stated that when President Kimball invited his Brethren to share their views about the priesthood ban, Elder McConkie prepared a memorandum to President Kimball presenting scriptural reasons why the ban should be lifted. http://www.meridianmagazine.com/articles/030606hallelujah.html

  101. Will you take the manual at its word, and send your suggestions to the committee who at least claim to be interested in ways it could be improved?

  102. Dear Correlation Committee:
    Could we please have a lengthy lesson on the history of the Curse of Cain idea and why it’s inconsistent with true LDS doctrine?

    Actually, if I were to request something of the committee, I’d ask that racism be directly addressed in the manual, as it was indeed a very important issue for SWK. In April 1954, he addressed the following to an anonymous person who had complained that an Indian “squaw” was in the temple:
    “And now, Mrs. Anonymous, when the Lord has made of all flesh equal; when he has accepted both the Gentiles and Israel; when he finds no difference between them, who are we to find a difference and to exclude? Have you read the scriptures? Have you felt the magnanimity of the Savior? What a monster is prejudice! How many of us are guilty of it? Our expressions, our voice tones, our movements, our thoughts betray us. Why will we hiss? When will we cease to spurn? When will we who think we are free of bias purge from our souls the prejudice we possess? Mr. And Mrs. Anonymous: I give you nations who have gone through the deep waters of sorrow and anguish and pain. I bring to you a multitude who have asked for bread and have received a stone, and who have asked for fish and have been given a serpent. This people ask not for your distant, faraway sympathy, your haughty disdain, your despicable contempt, your supercilious scorn, your arrogant scoffing, nor your cold, calculating tolerance. It is a good folk who ask for fraternity, a handclasp of friendship, a word of encouragement.”

  103. That last post by Margaret was quite poignant. That quote from President Kimball was vintage President Kimball. I loved him and believed him to be a good and kind man. I believe that our other leaders were also good and kind men. But the best of us can sometimes get trapped by received dogma. False ideas can cause us to act and think in ways that are wrong, not because we are unrighteous, but because we have adopted some false premises. The “curse of Cain” is one such idea. If you grow up believing that because prophets taught it, it is very difficult to reject later in life. This reminds me of a quote, the author of which I don’t recall: “Good people will do good things, bad people will do bad things, but for good people to do bad things, well, that takes religion.” When our attitudes and actions are based on received dogma rather than on sound moral principles, good people can do bad things.

  104. Lonny Mower says:

    I thought for sure, given then number of commenters, that someone would have suggested that the 1978 revelation was perhaps facilitated by a call from the White House. Given Jimmy Carter’s views on global civil/human rights, perhaps he thought that there was no better place to set an example for the world than by effecting change in his own country, beginning (continuing?) with the LDS Priesthood policy.

    If such a call/follow-up legal action did take place, it’s not likely that the Church would admit to it. Is there someone from the Justice Department/Carter Center who could comment?

    My intent is not to threadjack, but to simply see if U.S.politics/civil rights might have been either a trump card or just the final straw, or a non-issue.

  105. MikeInWeHo says:

    What do you think the Church would be like today if the priesthood ban had not been lifted?

  106. UnicornMom says:

    #93 Starfoxy:
    That is a very good point and quite possibly part of the reason the Lord did not give the revelation sooner. It does not, however, mean that “the membership as a whole were ready much earlier to embrace black Priesthood holders” than the leadership, simply that it was a matter of implementation and logistics.

    Margaret – I’m not sure if you were the first to bring up that the ban has no claim on revelation, but I think that is a very good point.

    I also don’t think that the Church has ever claimed “infallibility”, only claimed direct revelation from God. On the contrary, the leaders admit to being fallible. Unfortunately, fallible humans are what the Lord has to work with.

    DISCLAIMER: The following is a discussion and is not a comment on my beliefs. I’m not saying it is true, it is just another interesting possibility that ought to be elaborated on:

    It is in the PoGP that Ham’s children were denied the priesthood because Ham disrespected his priesthood. Let’s assume that IF this was a reason for blacks to be denied the priesthood, it had nothing to do with their personal worthiness any more than the righteous Lamanites were unworthy because of their skin color. Perhaps the Lord was just waiting until the right moment to restore to them their lost birthright as part of His complete restoration of all things. (That would suggest that there are probably still more things to be restored, but that is an entire other discussion.)

    Additionally, simple denial of the Priesthood to one group or another is not a declaration of worthiness. Historicaly among the Israelites everyone who was not Levite was denied the Priesthood. God was hardly saying that the entire rest of the tribes of Israel was unworthy. Holding the Priesthood is not a mark of Divine approval (a common misconception that leads to a great deal of misunderstanding about the Priesthood.) It was promised to the tribe of Ephraim that they would bring the Gospel to the people of the earth in the final dispensation. The Priesthood is, in part, the authority to administer the Gospel ordinances. Perhaps the ban on blacks holding the Priesthood was to allow Ephraim their chance to fulfill scripture in proclaiming the Gospel. Once the Gospel was established and the people were ready the Priesthood authority was extended to those of other tribes/races in order to further the work beyond Ephraim’s immediate influence.

  107. Great quote, Margaret. What was the context for it?

    Remember Mike Wallace’s interview with President Hinckley (was it 1997)? People used to love the fact that Pres. Hinckley nodded his head when Wallace listed cola drinks among the substances Mormons do not consume. But no one ever seems to quote Pres. Hinckley’s answer to the blacks/priesthood question. He said: “That’s the way the church leaders at the time interpreted the doctrine.” Brief but candid.

  108. Thanks Joanne for reminding us that President Hinckley did not claim that the prior withholding of priesthood/temple blessings was instituted or directed by God. When Wallace began pointing out some prior statements and teachings of the Brethren, President Hinckley did not try to defend it, but emphasized that he hoped this chapter was “behind” us. I offer no defense either.

    I agree with Gary, and disagree with UnicornMom, with respect to the racial attitudes of the Church membership at large, compared to the Brethren’s, in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, with this modification:

    In our Church structure, ecclesiastical agenda-setting (read: “what matters are brought before the Lord”) and decisionmaking reside in the senior (read “older”) members of the First Presidency and Quorum of 12.

    In the 1950s and 1960s, Church members of my generation (baby boomer) and our parents’ generation strongly supported the civil rights movement (among the baby boomers, even in the South (where I was born), the support was overwhelming).

    However, I think this was not the case for Church members of our grandparents’ generation (who were born toward the end of the 19th century)–which also happens to be the generation of the senior Brethren of Church leadership at the time. That is, I don’t think the senior Brethren were far out of step in their racial views from Americans, or Church members, of the same age. In fact, individuals like President Kimball and Brown probably had among the most enlightened racial views of their generation.

    One other evidence of the LDS racial attitudes, at least of the boomer generation, was the election by the BYU student body of a black African American as student body president several years before the priesthood ban was lifted. It is hard to imagine a firmer vote “with one’s feet” than that (except for those who chose to leave the Church, as many did, to protest or in disillusionment with the priesthood/temple ban).

  109. I do not recall the election of an African American as BYU’s studentbody president until Rob Foster was elected back around 1999. Have I missed some history somewhere?

    Context for President Kimball’s quote: General Conference. (He was then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve but was not yet president of the Church, for those of you too young to remember.)

    Happy Martin Luther King day to everyone at BCC. I e-mailed my students “Letter from Birmingham Jail” for their edification. (It’s easily found on a google searcy.) I will be participating in the only thing BYU does to celebrate MLK Day–the candlelight Walk of Life. Other Utah campuses (UVSC, U of U, USU) are doing MUCH MORE. I hope that very soon we will join them in a larger celebration.

  110. Mike #105, I don’t know what the church would be, but I know I never would have been baptized while such a ban was in place.

  111. Left Field says:

    Margaret, the election DavidH is referring to was actually of a studentbody vice-president elected in 1976, not a president. The name Stevenson sticks in my mind. The event is referenced on page 162 of Neither White nor Black.

  112. I apologize for the error in 108, he was indeed elected as student body vice president no president. (Apart from the general principle that nostalgia makes the past better than it was), I think I promoted him in my mind because he was the ASBYU officer who extended the “call” to me to sit on some sort of library committee when I was a student there. As I recall, he is one of the black Latter-day Saints interviewed in the movie Lives of Service which the Church produced in the 1980s, in part, to help become legal again in Ghana.

  113. Interesting to note that during the 60’s, Martin Luther King said something similar to the following on several occasions:

    “The most segregated hour of the week is 9:30 on Sunday mornings” (referring to the “mainstream” churches that maintained separate congregations). Our church at least has generally always tried to do congregations geographically, and most of the ethnic, language, or national identity congregations I have been aware of have not been successful. It would seem that there is much to be gained by the non-homogenized nature of most of our congregations. That being said, geographic boundaries almost always seem to create at least one ward in every stake that is economically more advantaged than the others. :)

    MLK also singled out the Southern Baptist clergy by telling them that in terms of racial equality, they were the taillights instead of the headlights.

    I also have an observation about the many explanations that have been given about the policy of denying blacks the priesthood. It is interesting that in recent training about the new Handbook of Instructions, it is emphasized that church policy is derived first from doctrine, then principle, and finally policy. No doubt that the explanations about the denial all seemed to work backward, creating “principles and doctrine” from a fallacious policy that look pretty silly in retrospect, as they obviously contradicted much of scripture and the teaching about the nature of God, and our relationship to him.

  114. ed johnson says:

    UnicornMom, the idea that there are some people today who are descended from Ham, and other people who are not, and you can tell the two apart by skin color and facial features, is just plain silly.

  115. Ronan, I am not sure if the version of MD in GospelLink is the current version, but I can only assume it is. That said, it does contain all the references you referenced above, including ones for Race, Caste Systems, that Black people are not Gentiles, Ham, Cain, etc. It merely reminds me that one of my greatest desires is to revise Mormon Doctrine to really be Mormon Doctrine.

    However, It did make me turn to the POGP and look at the verses in Moses and Abraham where this policy comes from. Those verses are much more problematic to me than any entry in MD. I would appreciate an article from anyone giving an alternative for them which uses a plain reading.

  116. Matt W–just out of curiosity, why do you think the PoGP verses generated the priesthood restriction? Are you referring to “Pharoah, being a righteous man, but cursed as pertaining to the priesthood…”? What’s the link to the restriction? (It is true that Pres. McKay said the PoGP contained the only scriptural reference to the priesthood restriction he was aware of, but so many assumptions need to be made to get from Pharoah to everyone of African descent.) And how do we deal with others who, by the “one drop” theory, would also be of African descent–Rahab, Aseneth (I don’t buy the idea that she was Hyksos), maybe Melchizedek, etc. If we’re looking at supposed Hamitic lineage as a reason for denying priesthood, Jesus Christ would also have been restricted.
    P.S. The plan at Deseret Book is apparently to let _MD_ go out of print and replace it with a multi-authored book about doctrine.

  117. It is somewhat confusing. Moses 7:22 has the non sequiter “seed of Cain” who were “black” as being excluded from the Gathering by Enoch of Adam’s posterity (However, this may be a misrepresentation, as Canaan is spoken of earlierm and Cain suddenly pops up after not being mentioned since Moses 5 and Canaan has already been connected with “blackness” where as Cain was only connected with a “Mark” of unknown type. Of course, this is further confused by the fact that Canaan was orignally writen in the JST as Cainan, who was a son of Enos, son of Seth, so there is much confusion here.) Then we have the Canaan and Egyptus thing in Abraham 1 which you reference with Pharoah being “cursed pertaining to the priesthood.” along with Canaan being Cushes brother and Cush meaning “black”, but then Moses married a Cushite (and didn’t he marry an Ethiopian too?), so, I dunno. It is complicated and definitely is hard to see where the cultural priesthood ban ties in. I rescently learned it did not originate with LDS, as Christianity, Judaism and Islam all had variations of it as early as the 6th century CE. It may just have been a cultural error that was never repudiated by revelation from God and thus continued for sometime. That is my opinion anyway.

    RE MD going out of print and being replaced. In my mind. Hasn’t this already been done with Encyclopedia of Mormonism being the replacement?

    Personally, unless the multi-authors are Apostles, and the new book is title “Mormon Doctrine” I don’t know if it will be able to supersede BRM’s version. It is a dream of mine to see a “Mormon Doctrine: Revised and Updated” which has all the same headers but they just say: “No revelation on that.” or “Doctrine unknown at this time.” next to all controversial bits about race, evolution, etc.

  118. I think that we need to stop promoting the false doctrine of “seed of Cain” and “drop of Negro blood”. This is not our Gospel. These doctrines were taught by the Baptists and others a hundred plus years ago. These doctrines are what slave-owners promoted to justify slavery. This nonsense did not originate with us. It is baffling to me that the churches that authored these ridiculous false notions have removed themselves from them. We, who should have known better, adopt this false doctrine and make it our own.

  119. I had always been very uncomfortable with the fact that the blacks were denied the priesthood, up until my mission several years ago and an experience which changed my mind. The whole scenario shifted for me and I began to realize the question wasn’t whether “the blacks were being denied the priesthood” as much as it was “the whites were denying themselves the opportunity to teach their brothers until they (the whites) pulled their collective head out (of the sand).”

    I was teaching in an Eastern bloc country. It was slow going and the church was continually on the verge of being thrown out of the country. Missionaries were accosted in the streets–even the sisters.

    There were two main ethnic groups there–the one which held the political power, and the underdogs–the gypsies. Not suprisingly, the smaller group was often more receptive to the gospel than the larger group. Imagine our sadness when we were counselled to stop teaching the gypsies and to focus on the larger, prominent ethnic group. If a gypsey came up to us and asked us to teach him, we could do so–and this happened–but otherwise we needed to focus our efforts on teaching the main ethnic group. As I have thought about this over the years, I find that I understand better and better the reasons for this particular mode of teaching. I’ll try to outline them below.

    1. The ethnic and political majority needed to accept the gospel first. We could have baptized all of the gypsies and the country would still not have accepted the church, and would in fact be even more opposed to it. The work could not be done on the basis of “let’s baptize all of the gypsies and let the Lord take care of figuring out how we will be allowed to stay in the country.” Although the church is God’s church, He gives us much leeway in figuring human things out by ourselves–including political messes people have created for themselves over hundreds of years.

    2. The gypsy minority was socially oppressed in many ways–poor schooling, predudice, and historically based hatred. Most beggars we saw on the streets were gypsy. Without ascribing blame or fault, both groups needed to change and develop.

    3. Also, the economic needs of the gypsies would have completely overrun the ability of the church in that country to help support them. Even with help from the global church, there would be a generation of people in one country who were entirely dependent on the church for economic support.

    4. The members of the church who were of the majority ethnicity hated the gypsies. Even the “strong” members confided in us that they would leave the church if gypsies started to join.

    The church simply had to grow in numbers, in charity, and yes, in political influence, before the gypsies could be taught. The majority members themselves had to be able to accept that group, nurture them in the gospel, and forget their own hatred before proselyting could take place.

    So what’s the correlation between my mission experience and the experience of the church from the time of the Civil War until President Kimball? It seems to me that the fact that black members were denied the priesthood says more about the MAJORITY members and the pervasive brand of bigotry in the USA than it does about members “of color.” When the revelation on the priesthood was made known, many white members of the church reacted by leaving the church and decimating wards and branches, especially in the south. Imagine what might have happened to the church in that area if that declaration had happened earlier–before the civil rights movement and the groundbreaking work of MLK–whose heritage we rightly celebrated yesterday.

    Of course, we might consider some of President Kimball’s comments to be outdated, ill-informed, and even condescending. But we must remember that just like Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie (two church leaders who were wont to say things we might consider in poor taste from a racial or ethnic viewpoint) President Kimball was a good man–not a perfect man, and perhaps not a man who fully understood the reason why he was prompted to do certain things. But he did them. And under his eadership, the church was prepared for extraordinary growth.

    And what has been the fallout of all of this? Discussions like these, of course, which are natural and helpful, but also the undeniable fact that the church is growing outside of the USA faster than ever before–and its members are of every race, nationality, and color.

  120. HGB: What evidence do you have for your statement that many white members left the church, decimating many wards and branches. I have never heard of that before, and I guess I am a bit skeptical.

  121. Kevin Barney says:

    Vignette from my church’s services this past Sunday:

    Two black women are confirmed, having been baptized the previous day.

    Three black men are ordained to the Aaronic priesthood.

    We’ve got work to do, to be sure. But it is also true that we’ve come a long way, baby. God bless SWK.

  122. Amen to that, Kevin. For people who haven’t read it yet, I can’t recommend vigorously enough the chapter in Edward Kimball’s biography of SWK (linked in my post above) on people’s reactions to the priesthood revelation. Similar material is available in other places, as well. Various sources describe the experience of the revelation itself as a day of Pentecost; reading others’ responses to the change makes me feel that such a description must be right.

  123. HGB,

    I concur with Gary’s observation. I do not know anyone who stopped attending church because of the 1978 change in practice. I do not doubt that there are some individuals who did, I simply do not know any; moreover, I have not heard of any branches or wards being “decimated” on account of the revelation–in the south or elsewhere. (Conversely, I personally know more than a few (including some relatives) who stopped attending church, many never to return, on account of the church’s priesthood/temple restriction before 1978.)

    On the other hand, had the change in practice occurred in the 1950s or 1960s, at a time when some saints (including some leaders) outspokenly were troubled by the civil rights movements, it might have been that some wards and branches would have been “decimated,” although I think those hypothetically decimated units would have been largely intermountain west units.

  124. Kevin Barney says:

    I was on my mission in 1978 in Colorado. Our mission was on the edge of the Bible Belt and included parts of Kansas and the Oklahoma panhandle. I never saw or heard of anyone in our mission whose reaction was other than sheer joy.

    The only negative reaction I had any knowledge of was the full-page advertisement published in the SL Tribune, with the names of 500 Saints who opposed the revelation. I suppose some or all of them then left the Church, but that was a very minority reaction in my experience.

  125. I stand corrected. My theory was based on faulty data. I went online and read a lot about the reaction to the revelation–and you are right, it was almost universally accepted. But still, 15 years earlier the process would have been much harder, which was my point, anyway. It was the “white” church that had to prepare itself for the full acceptance of the black population. Ideas which today make us scream discrimination were held even by church leaders. And I’ve seen that same situation replayed, not between blacks and whites, but between an ethnic majority and a minority–and that process, the ability of the majority to grow enough in understanding and charity to receive the minority, was the reason for the post.

  126. I have spent the day attending wonderful events at UVSC celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. The keynoter, Vincent Harding, referred to King as “an inconvenient hero,” and talked about how King’s prominence in the Civil Rights movement was not not according to his own plan. He had intended on living quietly as a pastor.
    Does God really wait for his people to mature before giving them greater light and knowledge? Does He wait until a new revelation is “convenient” according to the understanding of the majority?
    Obviously, the Israelites were prematurely liberated from Egypt, because they showed themselves unworthy of the Promised Land. But does that mean that God had erred in giving them an opportunity before they were ready for it? And would subsequent generations have been ready had not their forefathers wandered for 40 years in the wilderness re-learning their relationship to God and to each other?
    Did God wait to tell Paul to preach to the gentiles until a convenient time? The answer is obvious.
    The Sermon on the Mount gave the call to full brotherhood, as did many of Christ’s parables. It seems quite limiting to suggest that because some people of the 18th and 19th centuries were not ready to live the full gospel–available from the time the Bible was available–God waited for them to grow up.
    The restoration itself is a signal that God was ready to shed great light upon the earth. But today, in 2007, We struggle with a very bad image in regards to race. (When Dr. Harding told his colleagues that he was going to lecture in Utah, the response was, “Can anything good come out of Utah?”) Might we be much further down the path if we hadn’t shackled ourselves with the wicked traditions of our fathers and believed every implication of what Jesus said? Every implication of our own scriptures?

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