June 8: Reasoning and Repenting

I once had a co-worker who was an alcoholic, although he claimed to be just a social drinker.  It was only after two disastrous life events that he decided to face the truth, admit that he had a problem, and get help.  As I worked in the office next to his for over a year, I often reflected on the the lesson I learned in Primary about the four R’s of repentance.  The first step we need to take in order to reform ourselves and become better is to recognize that we have a problem.  The second step is to feel sincere remorse for our actions.

In the LDS church, we need to find a way to explain our past and present racial attitudes.   After recent screenings of Nobody Knows, I’ve had conversations with faithful and active LDS members who have advanced three different explanations for our actions leading up to June 8, 1978.  This post will address those explanations and explain why I continue to find them inadequate.

Church leaders at the time were simply part of their surrounding culture.

This is a reason which explains but doesn’t excuse.  When we make this argument we are making a general observation which we also want to use as a means of exoneration.  I think it goes without saying that the society which surrounded the American church and its leaders over the past 150 years was racist, and it should not surprise us to see some of that influence seeping into the church, even at the highest levels.  But the argument ultimately fails because being LDS means that we should separate ourselves from the evil around us and reject that part of the worldly culture which conflicts with the gospel culture.  We simply cannot use culture as an excuse.  For example, consider a hypothetical serial adulterer who takes his cues from popular entertainment.  When he is finally asked to explain his behavior to his bishop, do you think he will get a sympathetic hearing if he claims that his sinful actions were the result of society’s influence and that he should therefore be excused? If you were his bishop, what would you do when he asked why people are making such a big deal of something that is in the past, and can’t we all just put it behind us and move on?

The ban was necessary in order to prevent schism in the church.

This sounds like a reasonable argument.  We need to be unified, consequently we must sometimes be willing to compromise in order to get along.  It would not have done the church any good to break up over this issue, and many people might have left the church.  But then we need to remember that many people did leave the church.  As Tamu Smith points out in Nobody Knows, the cost to black families has been incredibly high, and tragic.  We lost the descendants of Jane James and Elijah Able and other faithful saints.  Do we really want to be known as people who shift the burden for our racism onto others who are innocent?  If we sincerely believe this argument, we are not taking responsibility for our sins.  If this argument is true, we have reinforced our worst tendencies at the expense of our better selves.  If black people had been fully integrated into Mormonism from the beginning, I believe the church today would be less xenophobic, less racist, and more accepting of differences of all kinds.  Win/win/win.

The gospel welcomes black people, but their culture hinders their progress in the church.

I have little patience with this line of thinking, but because this attitude is widespread among us it must be dealt with.  It plays into the hands of culture warriors and people often agree with it without even defining what black culture is.  When we start to get down to details, though, things get ugly fast.  When I asked follow-up questions, I found that the people who make this argument mean that black culture doesn’t fit in with the hard-working beehive model of Deseret.  That is an insulting idea, and one that should not be made by a person who lives in a ward which struggles to get into double digits on hometeaching percentage.  I have also heard objections to the energetic style of worship in black churches, and emphatic insistence that we must maintain our sense of reverence as we currently practice it.

As I think about these three reasons, I don’t know quite what to make of our current situation.  On one hand, we still hear plenty of excuses, and that makes me wonder if we are like my drunk co-worker.  Have we really even figured out that we have a problem?  Do we even notice the damage we have caused, or care about it?  Are we still, even now, trying to blame our behavior on others and make excuses?  In the special features portion of Nobody Knows, we can hear Tamu Smith explain how she was asked to bring her family and be photographed for church magazines.  When the family arrived, her white husband was excluded from the pictures and she was paired with a black man who was a complete stranger.  Even now, decades after the ban was lifted, the Smith’s married-in-the-temple family apparently isn’t quite good enough for us.  If this incident reveals the underlying attitude of the white American church now, shame on us.  We might as well start right now making installment payments on that hovel in the telestial kingdom, because that is certainly where we are headed.

On the other hand, I am very optimistic.  It is possible to envision a time in another few decades where we truly will not notice race.  I love it when a woman who is the great-great-great granddaughter of slaves stands to bear her testimony in our ward.  Instead of addressing the congregation as brothers and sisters, she says simply:  “Good morning, family.”

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Comments

  1. Mark Brown says:

    Astute readers will recognize that this post is about what rank and file members can do. Non-astute readers might want to use this forum as a platform from which to call for actions from church leaders. If that describes you, I request that you find another forum.

  2. There is an inherent tension in this argument. If one sustains a Church leader, then one is passing authority to that person, but not responsibility. Responsibility is an inalienable (non-transferable) duty.

    It is important that remember that Jesus’ atonement is for your transgressions against God and does not absolve you from atonement towards other humans.

    If A is a black person, B is you, and C is the Church leadership, and you trust the wisdom of C, you still owe A an apology for any mistreatment, regardless of why C led you to think it was OK.

    Whether a sheep wanders alone or is led by his shepherd over a cliff, the sheep still dies.
    Mormon rank-and-file owe moral compensation (and an apology) to blacks irrespective of their leadership.

    Calls to action from church leaders is not even appropriate until first you account for yourself. “Sustaining” as a verb is meaningless unless it means, I am lending you my credit card and trust you to use it for my best interests, but I agree in advance to make good on any charges you make, for good or for bad. Disavowing after the fact makes a mockery of your prior oath.

    The bill has come due. You should be glad to pay it, as proof that your sustaining of church leaders was real, and not just fair-weather faith.

  3. Mark Brown says:

    Mormon rank-and-file owe moral compensation (and an apology) to blacks irrespective of their leadership.

    Dan, you are right, and have stated succinctly the precise point I wanted to make. We are moral agents who have the ability to discern the surrounding landscape, and we don’t need to wait to be told to do so by someone in the heirarchy.

    That is what I want this conversation to be about, instead of what the heirarchy should or shouldn’t do. Talking about the leadership can be a cop-out in its own way.

  4. Mark–thanks for this thoughtful post. Do you think there could be cultures in which serial adultery were not considered sinful? Would we expect someone engaging in it to simply know that it was wrong, despite examples of his friends and ancestors? I think there’s quite a gap between adultery and racism. If you have promised to stay true to your spouse and then you violate that, something has to tell you you’re in trouble. At the very least, your spouse will feel betrayed. But the promise to be truly charitable is a bit more ethereal, and (in regards to racism) has been processed through times of segregation, disparate educational facilities, stereotypes and assumptions. Messages which have encouraged racism have permeated America from its beginning–and hence the awful accommodations in the constitution, the Dred Scott decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, etc. And in our religion, you know how thoroughly we supported the priesthood restriction with what we now see as absurd speculations. Would you and I have done better than our predecessors? With what we know NOW, I’d say we would have. But how did we do pre-1978? You and I are both old enough to give an accounting. Did we know enough to recognize and correct our own training in racism? Did we speak up?

    Here’s what Pres. Kimball said in a letter to his son: “Perhaps what the prophet needs is not pressure, not goading, not demands. He needs in every city and place defenders—a million men and women to encourage patience, understanding and faith . . . saying: ‘President, we realize we do not know all there is to be known about this problem.’”

    I’m not offering this as a solution. I think my opinions on the subject are pretty well known. I really appreciate you writing this post this weekend. I hope we continue to talk about it on Monday, the anniversary of the day the priesthood revelation was made public.

  5. Aaron Brown says:

    “Church leaders at the time were simply part of their surrounding culture.”

    These sorts of arguments only work to exonerate if we willfully forget, in the moment we make them, that we’re not just trying to exonerate a church among churches; we’re trying to exonerate what many of us claim is THE TRUE CHURCH. Y’know, the one that God is actually at the head of, the one that He wants all His children to join, the only one with the priesthood keys, the only one lead by THE Prophet on the Earth, etc., etc. I really do think we forget this rather obvious fact in the moments we spew out this sort of pabulum.

    “The ban was necessary in order to prevent schism in the church.”

    Yes, just as it was necessary for God not to institute polygamy in Nauvoo, so that there was no schism. Thank goodness that worked out.

    “The gospel welcomes black people, but their culture hinders their progress in the church.”

    I’ve actually never heard this one. Not that it’s hard to believe it gets entertained.

    AB

  6. Aaron–Christ had to deal with culture and tradition with his own disciples. They had some weird ideas and needed correction. Walking with the Lord didn’t automatically clarify all things. Would that it did. See John 9.

  7. Typically, when I hear the culture argument is more in conjunction with the culture of pocerty than black culture per se, except the unfortunate fact that many blacks live within the culture of poverty. There were some fantastic posts on the culture of poverty here at bcc a while back.

    As for the bit about framing us within our culture, I just did a post on inoculation where I said it is essential we not just own our faults, but declare them as faults and vow “never again!” Sorry, can’t make a link from my blackberry.

  8. Matt W. says:

    Grabbed mt laptop to add a link to my post on inoculation:

    http://www.newcoolthang.com/index.php/2009/06/a-meandering-thought-on-inoculation/1105/

  9. Matt W. says:

    er my laptop, that is.

  10. Not so Astute says:

    I am only a little curious as to the location of M

  11. Not so Astute says:

    I am only a little curious as to the location of Mr. Brown – it appears that he is surrounded by a goodly number of apologists. Living in an urban ward of Chicago, I have never heard of these crutches, nor of any others, nor would they be tolerated in my church setting. The practise of racial discrimination with regard to the priesthood was no more than a reliance on the arm of flesh rather than the word and spirit of God, end of story. So to me, yes, the OP did sound like more of a clarion call to the COB for action rather than a direct call for me to act. I did not come into the church while this was still an official policy. Had I known about it, it surely would have been a stumbling block for my membership.

    I also had the experience of serving as a missionary in South Africa while apartheid was still the law of the land. I served in a ward where baptisms were done in a swimming pool at the home of a member of the bishopric. I need to rephrase that to “where only baptisms of whites were done”. When we had a convert of color, we had to scout out another venue. I could no longer support the priesthood leadership there, and was more than a little vocal about it. Little wonder that I was soon tranferred.

  12. Hmmm. I wonder if I am reading you correctly (regarding comment 3 particularly). Who precisely do you feel owes the black members of the Church an apology? When I imagine myself apologizing to a black LDS person of my generation, it seems fairly absurd. How would that happen? “Hey, I’m really sorry about the priesthood ban, Brother X––even though neither of us had been born when the policy finally changed. I guess what I mean is that I am sorry on behalf of my parents and their priesthood leaders for injustice that happened to your parents.”

    Of course, any racist feelings that I harbor must be quashed utterly. But even then, should I apologize for those that did not translate into action? “I’m sorry about thinking all those horrible things about you, Brother, though until today you couldn’t have possibly known that I felt that way. But I promise I don’t feel like that anymore.”

    Regarding your third point, I am not sure what is meant by “black culture.” However, I can agree with the following:
    “The gospel welcomes [all] people, but their culture [can sometimes hinder] their progress in the church.” So then, yes, to the extent that black culture is indeed irreconcilable with the gospel, that culture would hinder one’s progress in the church. Isn’t that true of all cultures though?

    There is a perfect example of that kind of thing in Tamu Smith’s story at the end of your article: that expression of utah/mormon/whatever culture that thought it was appropriate to prevent an image of a mixed-race family certainly hindered progress in the gospel. It should be apologized for and never, ever repeated. But even then, isn’t it the photographer (and/or whoever was issuing his instructions) that needs to apologize, and not the general membership?

    I do agree that those members who continue to make excuses need to cease immediately. Do you think an attitude of frank abhorrence for the racism in the Church’s past might be a better (and clearer) approach than an apology?

  13. Mark, I don’t think your list of “inadequate explanations” is exhaustive enough to be useful. What allowance is there for ignorance? The serial adulterer in your first example surely he knows he is doing wrong even as he sins because adultery is and always ways plainly identified as a sin. That’s not true for assumptions and attitudes that are so basic to surrounding culture that you don’t even realize you have adopted them.

    When I look at materials produced by the Church pre-1978, especially the earlier we go from 1978, I don’t see much malice. I do see a lot of ignorance, a lack of empathy, an unawareness of the illogic used to justify expressions and practices. Maybe we should have known better (some people did), but I think you have to allow for genuine ignorance as an explanation.

    I was 19 in 1978. I’ve written before of the rush of excitement and spiritual confirmation that yes, this was a revelation, the moment I heard the news on the radio. The rush was all the more startling because this was not a revelation I had sought or expected — it was a bolt out of the blue. It isn’t that I deliberately mistreated the few blacks I knew, or called names or cast stones, but I confess to having a complete lack of awareness of what was going on beyond my personal relationships. I was ignorant. I was unaware. I had been taught not to use certain words, but I had never learned to understand WHY those words weren’t used, and it never occurred to me to ask. I was genuinely ignorant, and none of your dismissed explanations allow for that.

    So if you want to know what I as a rank-and-file member can do, I can become more aware of what was and is, I can become more empathetic, I can examine my own reactions and assumptions and rethink anything that needs to be brought in line with the gospel.

    But I can’t assume guilt for something I was ignorant of, unless I were willfully to remain ignorant.

  14. In 1978 this issue was resolved. I don’t understand why it is such a large issue today for so many.

    I’m old enough to remember that the average Utah member I was acquainted with in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s didn’t think much about the ban on the priesthood. It just wasn’t an issue. We accepted it as the way the Lord established things.

    I was never exposed to racism to any degree living in Utah. I mowed the lawn of a black man who worked at the hotel Utah. He lived next door to me on 400 East. He was known for his phenomenal memory. He would take people’s coats and hats and never used a ticket to retrieve them, just his memory. Went hundreds of people attended a function that took an exceptional memory.

    In the 60’s I spent time in the south and certainly was aware of the civil rights movement. I was astonished at how blacks were treated in the south. I never had a stomach for it and looked forward to the day we’re in now.

    When the revelation in 1978 came I was elated and so was everyone I knew. I picked up the phone and called the NAACP and told them how happy I was about the revelation.

    Those who didn’t live in in that era just don’t have a perspective to talk about it with any authority.

    We were told that the day would come when the blacks would receive the priesthood and that it would need to come by revelation.

    Those who say it was a policy or a cultural thing can’t prove it and apparently don’t believe in the 1978 revelation. It took a revelation to lift the ban, not a policy change.

    I view the revelation has a testimony to the truthfulness of the church’s claim to prophets and divine authority.

    Mark–the three explanation don’t make any sense to me. You’re right, they are inadequate.

    The revelation contained in the D&C dated June 8, 1978 explains the whys and wherefores well enough for those who believe in the apostles and prophets.

    That’s my take on it. I think we should be busy on matters that are important. This is a settled issue.

  15. I’m with Latter-day Guy and Ardis. As a young adult, what ought I to do? What is our burden to repay the errors of previous generations? Of course we need to live properly today, but I don’t see how the past impacts me (yes, I sound like a self-centered twenty-something, and I apologize). I wasn’t even ignorant, I wasn’t alive!

  16. Jared–you are referring to Monroe Fleming in your post. He was married to Frances Leggroan Fleming, a descendant of two important families who crossed the plains with the early Mormons. Neither of the families from whom Frances descended has any current representation in the Church, nor do the Flemings. There is room for repentence there. If any action of ours has caused a soul to leave the Church, there is a call for repentence. If there is anything in print which continues to denegrate Monroe Fleming and his family and any of African descent, there is need to repent.
    If there had been no need for repentence, surely President Hinckley would not have spoken to the issue in the priesthood session of April 2006.

  17. Mark Brown says:

    Not so astute, I live in a city that is 53% black. My ward is 96% white. Yes, we are still paying a heavy price.

    Ardis, I think ignorance is the best, most adequate, amd most likely explanation, and I also agree that no malice was intended, in most cases. The reason I didn’t include it in the list is that it didn’t come up in my recent conversations, that’s all.

    It is possible to sin ignorantly though, don’t you think? I can unintentionally cause great pain to others for which restitution must eventually be made, sometimes with a great deal of effort. (Ask me how I know this.)

    Jared, Thank goodness we have those dirty rotten Southerners to blame. Do you really think this is an unimportant issue?

  18. Mark Brown says:

    Kew, for starters, I think we need to drop the excuses and acknowledge the problem. I can understand that people behaved badly out of ignorance. What I cannot understand is that we continue to try to justify poor behavior.

  19. #16 Margaret–

    I just called him brother Fleming. He paid well and was always a nice guy. We used push mowers in those days and didn’t have air conditioner in our car when we drove to Phoenix in the summer.

    As far as repentance–never crossed my mind. What did I ever have to repent of regarding racism. It never entered my heart.

  20. Jared, your #14 is only a variation of Mark’s third option: Since everything was instantly made all better in 1978, then the only possible reason why blacks aren’t flocking to the Church in number roughly proportional to their share of the population is because of some flaw in their own lives or souls or characters. I mean, if it isn’t our fault — and it isn’t, of course, because everything was settled in 1978 — then it must be their fault. (I cringe at how this comment will be misread.)

    It must be time to stop talking about Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, because that was all settled a long time ago, too.

  21. #17 & 20 Mark & Ardis–

    I don’t feel a need to repent of something I never participated in.

    I never inferred that “it must be their fault”. That thought never crossed my mind.

    I’ve been busy dealing with those things the Lord has given me power to deal with. If the Lord directs my path in a direction that will allow me to have a direct impact on the challenges my black brothers and sisters are experiencing then I will do what I can.

    Mark and Ardis–

    What would you have me and others like me do?

  22. Mark–
    It appears to me that you’re saying that anyone who is a member of the church should feel guilty because they belong to a church that practiced racism. Is this correct?

  23. I don’t know what Mark will say, Jared, but it would be nice if you could admit that there IS still a problem, even if that problem happened to totally exclude you. Your repeated insistence that none of this matters anymore and that we are doing something wrong by even discussing it is part of the problem, though.

  24. Obviously, the ban will always be a part of our history, and history generated interest. But Mark Brown’s post deals with contemporary attitudes more than a historic analysis, I think. When will those attitudes die?

    I wonder if there’s a parallel between Jared’s comments about racism in the Church and calls for reparations for slavery. I’ve never considered myself remotely responsible for anything related to slavery. But I know that my relatives and ancestors have (and had) difficult attitudes toward the ban.

    Is there a time period where members of the Church who didn’t participate in the Church pre-1978 can consider themselves as having no ties or responsibility or interest in the ban?

    Not trying to be snarky, trying to be serious… At what point do we move on and consider the matter settled? We’re 30 years past now, and obviously it isn’t settled. Is it settled at 50 years? 60? When the last church member (of any race) living in 1978 has passed away? Or is it passed when people inside and outside the Church stop talking about it as anything other than a historic event? (Ardis cites the martyrdom.)

  25. (I guess as an example to #24, I believe that my children will grow up with gay marriage in the Church being more of an “issue” than the priesthood ban. Is that because we’ve stopped talking about officially in the Church and they aren’t old enough yet to enter in the conservation on the ban?)

  26. #23 Ardis–

    I currently don’t encounter the problem, but I’m not unaware that there is a problem.

    Yes, I agree there is a problem. If I were black, I can imagine I would have a hard time listening to the Mormon missionaries.

  27. Jared, FYI, Monroe Fleming was endowed in 1978. His wife refused to go to the temple, saying, “I was the same yesterday as I am today. Nothing the Church did has anything to do with me.” Pres. Monson dropped everything he was doing to attend Bro. Fleming’s funeral, but at least one of the Flemings’ daughters (with whom I had lunch several years ago–she is now deceased) remained very bitter about “the way the Church treated” her father. The other daughter has long ceased any association with the church as well. For those familiar with the _Nobody Knows_ Doc Mark references, we have pictures of Frances Fleming as a young girl and then as an older women, both photos with her sister, Thelma. Thelma left Mormonism in the 1930s. She and Frances were the last descendants of Jane Manning James to be LDS. As the film says, Jane has six generations. None of her progeny are LDS.

  28. Emerson says:

    “Those who say it was a policy or a cultural thing can’t prove it and apparently don’t believe in the 1978 revelation. It took a revelation to lift the ban, not a policy change.”

    If you believe this, you should have take this up with David O McKay, who specifically described the ban as a “policy” and not a “doctrine.”

  29. #27 Margaret Young–

    Thanks for the information about brother Fleming. Memory lane is a nice place to visit.

    I have no doubt in my mind that big challenges are compensated for by a loving Heavenly Father.

    Now some may mock at what I said. But for those who have felt the power of God’s love understand what I’m saying.

    The Lord promises that he will wipe away all our tears (Rev 21:4) and that to the extent we have been called on to descend into troubles then that will result in a greater reward (D&C 122:7-8).

  30. I’m really pleased to see this conversation.

  31. #28 Emerson–

    I have Harold B. Lee’s book by L. Brent Goates in my hand. On page 380 says:

    “…President McKay had always reaffirmed, was that the priesthood restriction was not merely a practice or a policy but was based upon a principle handed down by divine order; and that therefore a change could be made only by a revelation from the Lord through his prophet.”

    It would be interesting to know for sure how President McKay felt on this issue.

    The church leaders wouldn’t of had a revelation to change a policy. They could have done that with the same ease of going from a split Sunday to a block schedule.

    If you come up with some additional info I would be interested in seeing it.

    I’m done for now. Good night.

  32. Queuno, what makes MMM settled or Joseph Smith’s polygamy? What makes the existance of Jesus Christ settled?
    Time makes these less settled, not more.

    In the case of MMM I do think it is more settled now that the church has owned it as an attrocity so we can all collectively say “never again”. I think we need something like that for blacks and the priesthood as well. With Elder Holland and Elder Oaks statements, I think that is the direction we are heading.
    Still, I think we have more work to do before any Fanchers join the church.

  33. Emerson says:

    #31 Emerson: See Prince’s chapter on the priesthood ban in his excellent biography of McKay. Especially, see pages 77-78 that describe a discourse McKay gave in South Africa where he specifically used the word “policy” rather than “doctrine,” as well as pages 96-97 where Prince describes a meeting between McKay and McMurrin where the former specifically details why he believes the ban is a “policy” as opposed to a “doctrine.”

    Your quote from Goate’s book–is that a quote from Lee or Goates? If from Lee, that could be because he was often one of the brethren not comfortable with McKay’s efforts on behalf of reversing the ban, or if it is just Goate’s commentary then it could just be a mere assumption.

  34. Jared doctrine means official teaching of the church, policy means official doing of the church. It’s just semantics. To say for the revelation ending the ban to be of God requires the ban to be of God, is like saying the apostacy was commanded by God because the Restoration was of God.

  35. Not so Astute says:

    Mark, given your ward stats, I find the demographics equally troubling. Excluding the “passers through”, my ward has a pretty good mix in comparision. On many fronts I see a tendency to justify poor behavior. In an organization of inspired though fallible men, there definately appears to be a shortage of mea culpas (my bads) out there in relation to the amount of inspiration going on.

    I do see an alternative side to your third comment. While I have not heard of any derrogatory comments on the cultural backgrounds of others, I do see subtle and not so subtle attemps to get converts to conform to cultural norms that are foreign to them. I know of a recent experience of a convert who, after giving his first prayer in church, was told that he did not “pray right”. Sadly, that person never returned.

    Going forward, I think we could all be a lot better hosts in welcoming strangers amongst our midsts. Suits and ties are not prerequisites to worship, but so often they are treated as such. When someone in the congregation shouts out “Amen” in the middle of a talk, isn’t it just good manners to shout out with them? I do. No need to give up your culture, just be a little less ethnocentric and cherish what others have to offer.

    Early on, I used to say that I joined this church inspite of the culture. I am happy to report that after 30 years, there is no lime jello in my cupboard, I have no white shirts, still loathe mediocrity, and have never owned a mini-van. Funeral potatoes, however, are Mormons gift to the world.

  36. Kevin Barney says:

    For those who think the issue was fully resolved in 1978 and don’t understand why there’s anything to even discuss anymore:

    1. The Church’s official explanation for the ban is that “we don’t know” why it was instituted. I personally disagree that this is the wisest choice. Putting on my apologist’s cap, I think a stronger–and more accurate==approach would be to acknowledge that it was a mistake.

    The problem with “we don’t know” is that we’re trying to leave in play the possibility that God really did author the ban. And I can tell you, if I”m a black man and the missionaries want to baptize me and I come to understand this issue, there’s no way in hell I”m joining that church.

    I think the reticience to go my preferred route is that it raises the reality that prophets of God made a mistake, and we don’t like to acknowledge such a thing. But our people already believe too much in a nonexistent prophetic infallibility; I think it would be a healthy for them to realize that when the Church formally teaches prophets aren’t infallible, it really means it.

    2. Yes, the ban resolved the issue of access to priesthood or temple, but the ideas used to support the ban still circulate among the Mormon faithful and have never been disavowed. I can guarantee there are people in my ward, where I’ll be going in an hour and a half, who still believe these things, because no one has ever stood up in General Conference and said they are wrong. The Church has chosen to follow a path of not commenting and hoping that the old ideas just die out over time. This again is grounded in not wanting to undercut the prophetic authority of those church leaders who taught such things in the past.

    So no, the issue was not finally and fully settled in 1978. The Church has made policy choices in dealing with it that ensures that the issue will reamin alive for some time to come.

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    On the culture thing, I agree with Margaret and Ardis. I don’t see acknowledging cultural influences as exoneration, which is I take it the point of the OP, but I do see them as substantial explanation. We are all bound by culture, and much that happens in the Church is culturally conditioned and will look differently in the future when the culture shifts. It is presentist to judge past generations by current enlightenment. The real problem was pervasive ignorance, which required actual information and education to resolve in positive ways over time.

  38. StillConfused says:

    I am not sure about the whole apology thing. I had no involvement with the ban… as a woman I don’t even get the priesthood. I do not attempt to explain it away either. The ban was racist, pure and simple. It took a while for racism to go away. No apology from me on that one. I am happy to apologize for my racism and even the racism of my children (were there any) but I do not find it effective to apologize for the racism of some old dude whom I never even met. That rings hollow.

  39. I tend to stay out of these discussions for good reason. This one appeared at the beginning to be different, because it appeared to be about how individuals could make a difference by examining individual attitudes and assumptions and behaviors.

    Now I wish I had stood by my usual avoidance. After #36 — which starts out as a personal opinion but quickly devolves into declarative statements about church action and assumptions about the reasons behind it — I now look like just another internet liberal falling into line behind settled secularist Mormon opinion regarding the history of the priesthood issue. If I could retract my prior participation here, I would.

  40. StillConfused says:

    Also, what is “black culture”? Is it different from “white culture”? An entire race of people has a culture? I like rap, hip hop, jazz and soul. I eat southern food. I dispise country music and line dancing. Am I black culture or white?

  41. #23 Ardis said: Your repeated insistence that none of this matters anymore and that we are doing something wrong by even discussing it is part of the problem, though.

    In my opinion, the 1978 revelation resolved the issue. It will take time for the blessings of that event to be realized.

    I feel it is unproductive to spend the bulk of our time and energy pouring over the past when we can focus our attention on the future, on the blessings that are available as a result of the revelation.

    Spending time in the past trying to show that the apostles and prophets got it wrong, were uninspired, and etc seems like the wrong direction to be heading. It’s like someone who has been healed from cancer choosing to start a new round of chemo therapy.

    I would like to see white and black brothers and sisters showing true conversion which has the potential to produce results like the 4 sons of Mosiah and others had among the Lamanites (Alma 26:12-13).

    Spiritual power is available to those who are seeking the Lord as the sons of Mosiah did (Alma 17:2-3). I know this kind of Spiritual power is real having experienced it to a small degree myself.

    The history of blacks in the church is young and all kinds of blessings await those who will seek the Lord with energy of mind and heart.

    Having said this, it is not my intent to put anyone, or any effort down. I am suggesting a different perspective and I’m sure there are many others who have a similar view.

  42. #36 Kevin–

    I agree with much of what you said–but have concern with your view on “infallibility”. Just how far can that idea be taken before we begin defining it in a way that destroys our individual faith in the Lord’s prophets?

  43. When is it over? I was in the Marines during the Vietnam War.
    (But not in Vietnam). My daughter -in-law was born North Vietnam at the end of the war. Her father fought for the North. We, as a “family”, have had our conversations on this. For us..the War is over. I love them all.
    The Church ended it’s Ban. The question is…is it’s racism over? I am waiting to see a black Apostle. I am waiting to see more mixed marriages. Then, maybe it’s over.

  44. Mark Brown says:

    The reason I wrote about the 4 R’s of repentance in the post is because I think those steps help us understand when this issue will be behind us. Have we recognized that there is a problem? Do we have any remorse about the negative consequences of our actions? Have we done anything to bring about restitution? These are the steps we teach to Primary children and investigators, and I think our answers to those questions help us evaluate where we stand. A fundamental principle of repentance requires that we experience godly sorrow for our actions, even if those actions were undertaken out of ignorance or by accident. We have to experience regret before we can get to the point where we no longer have regrets. It has been my experience that a good indicator of how repentant a person is can be determined by how quickly they want to skip over the recognize, regret, and restitution parts of the process. It takes as long as it takes.

    Consider the example of a person who inadvertantly causes a traffic accident which takes another person’s life. There was no malice intended, and we don’t need to aggressively place blame, but it is reasonable to expect that the individual will feel some intense remorse for causing the damage. It would be offensive if he just washed his hands of the whole problem and wondered aloud why people keep bringing up something that is in the past, and why can’t they just put it behind them and look to the future. That is all good advice for the survivors, but it is not the place of the guilty party to recommend it.

    Our responses are important, and there is no need to assign blame or make demands on the current church hierarchy. The three explanations in the original post all are examples of a failure of the general membership to look squarely and unflinchingly at the situation.

    The question about what to do about it now has as many answers as there are individual members. For my part, this is what I have decided. My ward building, like most others, is located in the suburbs. When the missionaries find and teach new black members, many of them live a long distance from the church, and public transportation is non-existant, especially on Sundays. I’ve started to leave for church 45 minutes early so I can make the rounds to people who don’t have rides and bring them to church. If this is truly God’s church (and I believe it is), we simply must find ways to serve all His children better.

  45. Peter LLC says:

    I’ve started to leave for church 45 minutes early so I can make the rounds to people who don’t have rides and bring them to church.

    In my experience efforts like this really do make a difference.

    As ward mission leader I was once trying to arrange rides for a new member family with kids and a baby to ease their commute. One of the ward leadership said he’d help this one time, but expected the family to figure something else out for the long term, and that seemed to be the general sentiment–tell them they’ve gotta get their own fish! Never mind they were too poor to pay for a bus ticket; after giving them a hand or two, as a ward, we kind of expected them to just take care of their transportation themselves after a few weeks through some magical means.

    Now I’m lazier and more selfish than most with a lot of sympathy for those who’d rather skip church entirely than give of precious time and share hard-earned talents, but even I was a little surprised at how difficult the ride issue was.

  46. #44: “so I can make the rounds to people who don’t have rides and bring them to church. ”
    Some churches call members for a year or so as “Ministers of Transportation”. I read of one guy ( with a church bus) that picked people up for three different churches that were on the same block.

  47. I’ve been thinking about the church bus issue quite a bit lately. One of my ward’s most reliable picker-uppers is moving in two weeks, and with so many of the other members already giving rides, I’m not sure how things will work out.

  48. By the way, there are a number of members in my tiny ward who spend an hour, or two hours, each Sunday picking up and dropping off other members. The willingness is there, for the most part. The manpower is not. A bus (or at least a large van) would be an incredible blessing.

  49. I agree with the church van idea. In some wards a church van would be very helpful. Of course the church would have to cover the insurance and pay for the gas. Other churches do it so why can’t we?

    As for black culture and white culture. I assure you there is a black culture. A dear black friend who has been a member all her adult life and served a mission in the early 1980’s as did her husband who also is black. THey are stalwart members of the Gospel. She laments joining the church meant they left the black community. Her adult black children do not know what it is to be black. It is a tremendous sacrifice and hard for some to make.

  50. StillConfused says:

    #49. I couldn’t disagree more about the black and white culture. Many of us crackers lose part of our community by joining the LDS church. That is particularly true in the south. I do not believe that that is a racial issue. I have friends, colleagues and acquiantenances in all income strata and of various races. The race does not give inherent cultural properties.

    “Her adult children do not know what it is to be black.” Ummm. I disagree. They are black every day of their lives. They may not behave in a stereotypical fashion that certain types expect, but that doesn’t make them any less black. What in your mind do they need to do to be black?

  51. Kristine says:

    “there is a black culture”

    uh-huh. Just like there’s a “white culture.” Come on!!! There’s a Cape Verdean culture and a Jamaican culture and a Chicago housing projects culture and a Brooklyn Heights culture and a wealthy black students at Harvard culture, and… Consider the possibility that your experience and the report of one black friend does not constitute sufficient evidence from which to generalize.

  52. JA Benson,
    It is a difficult transition for anyone who joins the church. White people leave behind some of their community when joining too.

  53. I kinda understand why it started. Giving the priesthood to someone who isn’t free is problematic. What is also extremely problematic for me is every single day after slavery was abolished that the policy didn’t end. I don’t understand.

    I was 6.

    What are the real options? Go up to every black person and apologize for being a member of a church that 30 years ago had a racist policy? Really? Then I would be looking for color and I don’t like that. Should I honestly say I don’t get it and I don’t know? Is that enough?

    I’ve taught black people angry about this issue. It left me fired up and angry but then what? write an angry letter? to whom? President Monson? God?

    Is it enough to silence offensive jokes and be colorblind myself?

  54. I think we can avoid passing along the spurious theories that were offered as a defense of the prior practice–curse of Cain or Ham as an explanation for skin color or the origin of the withholding practice, conduct in the pre-mortal existence, and the like. Those theories, although no longer in the Sunday School manuals, still continue to be taught and believed.

    This is made a little difficult by the continued publication and sale of books containing those theories, written by people who were or became prophets, seers and revelators.

    While we live in a time when one can believe as a faithful member every thing speculated by those individuals–except the speculation that the practice would not change until the Millennium, when Abel would have posterity. But one can also believe, as a faithful member, that those theories are flatly wrong.

  55. Left Field says:

    Explanation #2 happened to come up in my high priests group in Louisiana today. In the discussion that ensued, two of the oldest and most stalwart members observed that Black members were ordained during Joseph Smith’s life. They specifically mentioned Elijah Abel and Green Flake.

  56. Do we really think these people want an individual apology from every white member of the church? Should the Apostles be apologizing for revelations from God?

    This issue has been hashed and rehashed so many times it might be seen as someone having a chip on their shoulder.

  57. Yeah, what everyone else said.

    This is such a frustrating issue, because deep down in my heart I believe that each person who has commented on this thread could, in turn, wholeheartedly commit to giving more effort at being inclusive, at breaking down destructive ethnocentric or racist viewpoints, and generally just “being better.”

    But despite these efforts, does anyone really expect that our collective pain over this issue as an entire Church membership will be any different a year from now? I honestly cannot envision a day when the bloggernacle–or whatever collective bodies of discussion emerge in the future—will not contain discussions about the Whys/Hows/Whens of the Priesthood ban.

  58. Perhaps you are all being too hard on your forbears.

    If the Priesthood Ban then was anything like the Marriage Ban is now, I suspect that many people of good will then not only thought they were doing the right thing but had no idea that one day their children would look back in shame. It is easy to look back now with 20/20 hindsight on what must have been a difficult concept for them to deal with.

    Of course, I am not black, so forgiveness is not mine to offer. On the Priesthood Ban, that is.

  59. I think we can avoid passing along the spurious theories that were offered as a defense of the prior practice…This is made a little difficult by the continued publication and sale of books containing those theories, written by people who were or became prophets, seers and revelators.

    It wasn’t just books and it wasn’t just “folklore.” For example, this First Presidency statement from 1949:

    The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

    http://bycommonconsent.com/2004/04/21/a-statement-from-the-first-presidency/

    If the current First Presidency believes that the past First Presidency was wrong about this, it would be helpful if they said so. Otherwise, how can you blame members for “passing along” an official teaching that has never been repudiated?

  60. I believe one “simple” action could put this behind us. The leaders of the church need to oficially admit that the ban was a mistake after the Civil War (if not earlier), and that it was given most of its legitimacy by Brigham Young’s errant teachings. “He was wrong, we were too slow to see it, we’re sorry. Any teachings to justify the difference were wrong.”

    But we’re supposed to be focused on what we can do as members in this thread. Well, besides stamping out latent flames of racism where we may find them in church, we should encourage our leaders to help the church move beyond this by writing letters to encourage official action. As an organization, leaders must be involved in ending the residual effects. Until leaders make the move, individuals face the charge of disloyalty (speaking from personal experience) for daring to suggest that the ban was a mistake.

  61. The first thing that popped in my head when I read comment #59 (although I had read it before) was an echo of the Hindu justification for the caste system, where our position here is based upon our prior “life/lives”…

  62. @60: I’m skeptical of your claim that any member risks disfellowship or excommunication over comments or actions related to the Priesthood ban. The previous leadership that instituted and perpetuated that ban was clearly in error, just as the current leadership is clearly confused about how to organize a church that is welcoming and fulfilling to our single and LGBT brothers and sisters.

    Truth be told, they could care less, unless and until their negligence results in an impingement on their own ability to carry on as they always have – in which case the phone will ring, a conference will be held, and we’ll finally receive the further guidance that allows us to navigate this modern world in good conscience.

    Just as previous leaders were wrong about blacks, and failed to recognize their rights to all the privileges of membership, the current leadership is dead wrong regarding the place of LGBT Mormons in the Plan of Salvation. Such a place exists, but in their infinite stubbornness, these so-called leaders refuse to inquire of God as to what that place might be.

    Rest assured that questioning their lack of insight into our present concerns regarding “gender” brings no more risk than questioning their previous errors regarding race. The only question now is who shall stand and be counted among those who rose to the occasion.

  63. @62-
    Well, that is certainly one way of seeing things!

  64. Should we ask for a show of hands as to those that fully sustain the current First Presidency? How about past First Presidencies?

    Maybe we better not.

  65. If sustain means believing every word they speak, count me out.
    Even Henry Eyring disagreed (and quite vocally) with some of his prophet’s words. The members of the twelve themselves had very vocal disagreements about a number of things, and these disagreements didn’t go away when one of them became the new prophet.
    But if sustain means support and obey, then I think you’d see a lot of hands for supporting the current First Presidency. And there’s no point in sustaining past First Presidencies, as they are no longer around.

  66. I believe strongly that some people have chosen “bad” mortal existences of their own accord. I don’t understand the priesthood ban. I don’t even understand why only the Levites had the priesthood long ago. I think this and the LGBT issue are MORTAL problems. I don’t believe it will be an issue eternally. I’m not sure what that means. I do think it is a part of our test to love everyone. Whatever separates us, pits us against each other, places us in some sort of caste system…that all tests our ability to love.

    Of course I also feel the “hindu” caste system was a part of the muslim attempt to destroy Krishna worship, but then I digress.

  67. @62: I never said anyone risks official discipline. I think that one would risk being ill-thought of (even accused of disloyalty, as I have been) for being openly disappointed by our failure to properly apologize and repent as an organization. Not all criticism comes through official channels.

    Where you might start drawing official response is in referring to GA’s as “so-called leaders” and accusing them of “infinite stubbornness.” Just my 2 cents.

  68. Tim,

    I would be, of course, refering to the GAs acting on behalf of the church. This, IMO would include such things as setting doctrine and even policy.

  69. Jason, such distinctive hatred for the leadership of the Church is definitely unwelcome here. Your position is duly noted (as has been many times in the past under different monikers). But if you want to engage in an intelligent conversation rather than just get labelled as a one-note troll, I am sure you can temper your vitriol. But that’s a big if.

  70. But I am a one-note troll. That said, 62 was posted in a moment of pique and under my real name mostly because using my only other moniker would’ve guaranteed that it would never see the light of day here at BCC (a situation of my own making, no doubt).

    And that said, for what it’s worth, I don’t think Chino ever intended to bring hatred into the mix. I suspect that, more than anything, he’s simply temperamentally ill-equipped to deal. In any case, all apologies for Chino and his vitriol aside, I do think my question still stands: if excommunication is no longer an imminent threat, what other excuse do any of us have for not just stating our case plainly?

    Or do we all intend to wait another 20 years from now – after Cleve Jones has joined the church and T&S has done a 3-part series on how awesome he is – before recognizing how admirable we all are for recognizing the righteousness of his cause?

    Where do I sign up to pre-order that DVD?

  71. CS Eric says:

    The OP asks what can we do now. It occurs to me that one of the simplest things we can do is to say that, no matter what happened in the past, blacks are certainly welcomed now. And then to back up those words with actions. Hey, there are times when I’m not entirely convinced that I am welcome, and I’m as blond-haired and blue-eyed as they come.

  72. Bro. Jones says:

    Regrettably this thread has strayed from the OP’s request, which was to focus on what we as members can do, rather than calling on our leadership to take some kind of action. All I would ask (as someone who is both a person of color and who has Black people in his family) is that if you do hear a member of the Church spouting garbage explanations–not even necessarily the 3 from the OP, but “Blacks weren’t ready” or “It says here in Mormon Doctrine that…”–please speak up and refute it. “We don’t know” comes off a lot better than “We do know and we were trying to protect racial purity/superiority” or something like that.

    #66 Uh, what? The Hindu caste system was mentioned in the Rigveda, which was around for almost two thousand years before there even were Muslims.

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