In 2005, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism was published. It is a great book, filled with details and insights into the way our church became what it is today. We learn that during his tenure, President McKay prayed on several occasions for enlightenment concerning the policy which denied the priesthood to black men and temple ordinances to all black people. His prayers apparently went unanswered. We often take that to mean that it was God’s will for the ban to remain in place.
Although that is a plausible explanation (and may be the correct one), it suffers from the weakness of relying on the “God on the telephone” model of revelation, something which both our tradition and our scriptures reject. I suggest that there is another explanation, just as plausible, which accounts for subsequent events and also our understanding of how revelation comes about.
In a recent BCC thread about Official Declaration 2, my co-blogger John Fowles pointed to the recent issue of BYU Studies which contains an article by Edward Kimball. Kimball stated that he is almost certain that his father, Spencer W. Kimball, was influenced by the work done by Lester Bush and published in 1973 in Dialogue. Bush’s work stands even today as a groundbreaking treatment concerning the history of the priesthood ban and the efforts that were made to justify it.
We often say that the prophet receives revelation for the church. Another way of saying almost the same thing is that the church receives revelation through the prophet. We know from our study of section 9 in the Doctrine and Covenants that we can’t get revelation on the cheap. When we pray and take no thought save to ask, we have no reason to expect an answer. It is only after we have done the legwork and the brainwork that our minds are enlightened.
I put forward the suggestion that the church was unable to get revelation on this topic during the presidency of David O. McKay because we, as a church, hadn’t done the prerequisite hard work. I suggest that we owe a debt to Lester Bush and others for their efforts in digging through our history and doing the sort of careful work and clear thinking that enabled our prophet to also achieve clarity on this issue. I think this explanation is justified because it accounts for Edward Kimball’s statement and it also is in harmony with section 9, and with the “line upon line” model of revelation.
I also put forward the suggestion that now is a good time to subscribe to Dialogue, or to give a gift subscription. Which Mormon on your shopping list wouldn’t be proud to have a subscription to the only magazine known to have influenced the most important revelation in the past 120 years?