Reflections on Another Anniversary

Armand Mauss, author of The Angel and the Beehive, All Abraham’s Children, Neither White nor Black, (with Lester Bush) and scores of important articles on many aspects of Mormonism, has graciously agreed to guest post his reflections on the anniversary of OD2.

I appreciated Greg Prince’s post (8 June) reflecting briefly on his association with Lester Bush and on the issue of LDS racial history for which Lester will always be remembered with admiration. Lester certainly did the hard and meticulous work that uncovered that history and revealed the utter lack of a revelatory basis for the long-standing Church restrictions on people of black African ancestry. My own association with the same issue has been more sociological than historical, although I always benefited enormously by Lester’s pioneering work. I have also shared with Lester in the subtle and not-so-subtle consequences of publicly airing issues that many conservative Church leaders (general and local) have wanted to bypass. But that is a subject for another day.

I think Lester would be treated differently today, for it seems to me that we are seeing a partial roll-back of the retrenchment mode so apparent in the leadership culture of the Church after about 1960. In today’s intellectual climate – so obviously shaped by the pervasive internet access to information and conversation – it is futile to try to restrain discourse among the Saints on virtually any topic, and those who are now leading the Church clearly have recognized that predicament and responded with a greater appreciation for its implications, at least in a public relations sense. Candid biographies, such as those by Prince, Kimball, and Bushman, are today treated with official equanimity – or even overt praise in certain official and semi-official quarters. The equally candid Newell-Avery biography of Emma Smith, which brought such censure upon its authors in the mid-1980s, would today have been treated with similar equanimity, as would Quinn’s long Dialogue article on post-Manifesto polygamy. The disclosures in these and similar works are now simply accepted as part of the LDS historical saga by knowledgeable Church leaders and members (even if with a little discomfort for some!).

Yet, we still seem to be trying sincerely to live down the racialist strain in our doctrinal history, along with certain other unhappy traditions. Furthermore, many concomitant issues raised by that history remain unresolved, even if the so-called “Negro Doctrine” itself is eventually forgotten :

(1) In the absence of a formal and public announcement of a divine revelation, how are the devout supposed to know the difference between doctrines originating from heaven and those originating in folklore? There is no clear revelatory origin for either the policy or the associated “doctrines” on the denial of the priesthood to people of black African origin. Yet some of the “doctrines” now repudiated were once promulgated not only in authoritative books and statements by apostles, but even in a 1949 letter signed by the entire First Presidency.

(2) Just from a public relations viewpoint, to say nothing of ethical integrity, what does the Church stand to lose or gain by forthrightly declaring that certain doctrines and policies once common in the Church were erroneous and are to be regretted? We know from the New Testament and from Patristic history that errors crept into the early Church, so why should the contemporary Church be considered totally insulated from human error?

(3) Is there room for scholarship by competent and well-meaning professionals, not employed or controlled by the Church, to analyze doctrinal, historical, and ecclesiological issues, even sensitive ones, without being considered enemies or heretics? Or is any such unsolicited work always to be considered “steadying the ark” or “counseling the Brethren,” even when it makes no demands on Church leaders? Bush, after all (like others of us), never criticized leaders or demanded change. He simply offered an historical analysis in detached, matter-of-fact terms.

I expect questions of these kinds to recur in the future of the Church, as in the past, but I look forward to eventual resolutions of them through enlightened leadership and divine inspiration.

Comments

  1. There are some things we can not explain satisfactorily and there is no use to attempt to explain it satisfactory within certain times and contexts. I’d argue there is no further use to attempt to explain it, and ironically, those who insist we should be flexible in our concept of doctrine or revelation are being just as hard nosed as those who insist we defend the past at all cost. One side is pushing that we explain or defend it, and the other side is pushing that we disavow it. The irony is, neither side needs to push. And if you get anywhere by pushing in that direction you’re probably going the wrong way. Why push at all?

    Just move on. I’d say the same thing to a person trying to explain to a grieving mother and father why their child died of cancer, or experienced an even worse form of suffering. Why attempt to explain it away as if some answer could be satisfactory. If they push you for an answer, what possible good can pushing for a non-answer.

    I would think the “answer” is the same with some issues. I suppose the balancing act is to act with care so that all questions are not just dismissed out of hand. We can thoughtfully consider them, and I’d assume there’s an element of truth in each set of positions. But ultimately, the solution seems to be to focus on Christ with an eye single to the glory of God.

  2. Aaron B says:

    For interested readers, here’s a copy of the 1949 1st Presidency letter to which Brother Mauss refers:

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

    Armand, in response to your #2, I’d say the Church has a whole heckuva lot to lose. Admitting that a prior teaching was erroneous when that teaching (a) was defended as doctrine by senior church leaders; and (b) apparently required a revelation by the Prophet to overturn it, would raise huge, troubling questions in the minds of many churchmembers as to whether the esteem in which they’ve held the teachings and opinions of the LDS hierarchy has been warranted. You and I and a whole lot of other blog-reading Mormons can perhaps find ways to confront erroneous doctrines and still retain some sense of faith. But many in our community have venerated the LDS leadership to such an absurd degree that I suspect the hierarchy dare not address the issue as forthrightly as you would like, and as ethical integrity arguably demands. I suspect many of us will continue to be disappointed as we wait, indefinitely, for a decisive statement from the LDS leadership along these lines. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but the fact remains that many if not most of the Mormons I have known outside the Bloggernacle would have real trouble coming to terms the admission you seek, and figuring out how to integrate it into their network of religious assumptions.

    Of course, I personally would see this “loss” as a “win” for the Church, because (1) not only would it help us better atone for the racial unpleasantness in our past, but (2) it also would help inject a dose of moderation and realism into our views of church leadership, and (3) might even help cure many of us of our slavish devotion to the notion that capital-D Doctrine is necessarily synonymous with capital-T Truth.

    AB

  3. If there were a statement which simply overrode past ideas and teachings and said that those ideas (choose your bit of folklore) should not be taught, might those who venerate church leadership as AB describes simply say, “Okay. The Brethren have spoken” and leave it at that? It happened in 1978, after all. Though a few chose to leave the Church, most did not.
    Btw, I love Armand Mauss. I’d just like to announce that publicly. I recently sent his excellent article found here: http://www.blacklds.org/mauss to a dear friend.
    And to the idea of “Why push at all?” I’d rephrase. “Why WEED at all? Can’t we just ignore the effect of those weeds? Yes, we’ll lose a few flowers, and large patches of the garden will not flower at all because of the weeds, but the idea that the garden is perfect could be threatened if we identified certain plants as weeds and then removed them. And what would it imply about the gardener?”
    I’ve seen too many people stumble over the weeds or become fixated on them to not want those weeds removed quickly. I frame my discussions of race issues firmly in a context of faith, but I value the full beauty of the gospel garden far too much to not yearn for some dedicated weeding.

  4. The church is now very PR savvy. People are employed to say the “right things” at the “right times.” For the church to come out and state that previous doctrines and revelations were based in folklore or opinions formulated from the slave trade would be utterly disastrous for the church and it’s members. This would fundamentally change the way we view teachings of the church.

    The best explanation I have heard regarding this (and it’s probably the most we are going to get) is from the PBS interview with Elder Holland.

    http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/holland.html

  5. Aaron B says:

    Margaret, the article you link to is the most accessible piece on the topic, which is why it’s the best one to share with family and friends, particularly if you don’t think they’re likely to plow through the longer, historical treatments of Bush, Mauss, et al. The Sunstone version is easier to read though. :)

    I may have spoken a bit too strongly when I said we’d all be waiting “indefinitely,” I suppose. I run across tidbits like Bro. Harper’s rhetorical questions in the OD-2 chapter of his D&C volume and think, “Gee, maybe the fact that a DB volume hints at the Ban having a non-divine origin means the floodgates are about to open after all.” But then I think I’m being naively optimistic. Who knows?

    “might those who venerate church leadership as AB describes simply say, “Okay. The Brethren have spoken” and leave it at that?”

    Some would, some wouldn’t, as you suggest. Who knows how this would play out exactly? But the longer the Church waits, the smaller the percentage of members who will still be living who remember the old teachings first-hand. (The younger generation won’t read any of this in their Correlated materials, of course). So if the Church waits long enough, when it finally does make an announcement, the old folks who would be most inclined to react negatively will be dead and buried. Problem solved. :(

    I’d like to think I’m being too cynical. Somebody slap me.

    It is almost 2 am. Why am I not in bed?

  6. Yep, Elder Holland’s interview is wonderful–and I’ve heard him state strongly that the “fencesitters” idea is garbage (though he didn’t use those exact words). He said this at a devotional at the MTC, and I later heard from the missionaries I write to in Africa that he repeated it there. However, that’s not the big one where the folklore is concerned. The curse idea is the biggie.
    Agreed, it would not be wise to diss past leaders. (Note the way _MD_ was removed from the shelves with the “Sales were low” explanation–no mention of how grossly wrong Elder McConkie had been in his discussion of race.) But simply stating that certain things should not be taught does not go all the way to “Past leaders really messed things up.”
    In _Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons_, we do contextualize the restriction (in fact, it’s Armand who provides the context) within its very racist time. But we were very careful to make the documentary something which would inspire and not unhinge testimony. Thus far, with a very few exceptions, viewers have responded fine. Most are relieved to get the history, and find that it fits well into their paradigms.
    Note also that Elder Holland’s words don’t have the power of President Hinckley’s, given that President Hinckley was the Prophet when he spoke in April 2006. Armand has said that one sentence in that priesthood session talk will be as much as we’ll get–but it is a very good sentence: “How can any man holding the Melchizedek priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another, who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color, is ineligible?” It is a very strong statement, and not locked into a timeframe starting in 1978. I’d like to see that one get more press. If you notice how church PR works, they don’t elaborate, they just re-state. I’d love to hear that sentence re-stated many, many times.

  7. Here, Aaron.
    (Virtual slap.)
    You’re welcome.

  8. kailiala says:

    Why can’t the current church leadership apologize to these who were hurt by the effects of this folklore practice? If the United States Government can apologize for putting japanese americans in concentration camps, then why can’t the church apologize publically for this horrendous practice? I clearly remember discussions in my family and in my ward that was very hurtful due to this notion that skin color and ethnicity tagged you a bastard child. It allowed white ward members to be safe – God blessed and loved white members much more than the darker skinned.

    Maybe this is a moot issue for most – but the refusal of the church to apologize for this heinous practice makes me much less trusting of the church leaders. After all, simply saying I won’t hurt you anymore completely ignores the needed healing process of making the injured whole again.

  9. Aaron B., re your comment # 2 in response to Br. Mauss’s point # 2, I am not sure it would be all that disastrous. This situation is very analogous to Peter’s erroneous opinion on eating certain things in the New Testament. Peter, the leader of the primitive Church comparable to a President of the Church in the restored Church made a doctrinal mistake and was corrected by revelation. It’s right there in the scriptures. In the restored Church, the revelation correcting the doctrinal mistake took a lot longer to come. This might well be a result of the different times and the different ways people think and approach faith and revelation in the modern era. Brigham Young had instituted the policy and to question it wouldn’t be proper (this was especially the case where fellow church leaders shared BY’s culturally contextual opinions). But, as with Peter, the revelation did come and, as with the primitive Christians who rejoiced in being able to fellowship with “Gentiles”, all of us as a Church body can rejoice that there is no longer a restriction in place hindering the spiritual and emotional development in the Gospel of a significant portion of the world’s population.

  10. Apologies are tricky things, since they draw attention to the reason for the apology. One very big thing (a continent, actually) will prevent a speedy repudiation or an apology for the restriction and its accompanying folklore: Africa. Word of the restriction and the awful supports which sustained it have not really gotten there. They will, of course, but that hasn’t happened yet in any widespread way. The more difficult issues there, as I understand things, are the perception of the Church as a cult and some cultural traditions endemic to Africa itself, including tribalism. It would be great if the Church were fully prepared for the time when our past is completely known and we had some kind of statement about what our doctrine is and what it is not re skin color/curses. Equally important will be the representation of African faces in our media, publicity shots which show African missionaries teaching white folks (not just visa versa) and presiding at meetings, and obviously the PRESENCE of Africans or those of African lineage in the highest quorums of the Church.

  11. Antonio Parr says:

    The ~institutional~ Church may not offer an apology or explanation in this life, and I defer to the Brethren as to how they should address this issue on a corporate level.

    The Church that consists of a body of believers, i.e., you and me, obviously have different opportunities to address this issue on a one-on-one basis with those whom the Lord places in our paths. In that capacity, I have had absolutleyl no qualms saying “it seems very apparent to me that we were wrong on that one”, with a follow-up that although I cannot undue the past, I very much can play a role in the present and future, and will do my part to reach out with love unfeigned to my wonderful, wonderful black brothers and sister. (By way of clarification, “reaching out” means both teaching and allowing myself to be taught, and both serving, and allowing myself to be served.)

  12. Mark Brown says:

    With regard to Armand’s question # 2, I think that an admission of error is not only desireable, it is inevitable. Yes, it will damage the church to some extent, but I think the damage will be only temporary. Then people will re-orient themselves to the new realities. But the longer this step is delayed, the more damage will be done.

    With regard to the suggestion that we should forget it and move on and not even acknowledge that our action may have been wrong and done great damage, I will note that this approach is opposed to the way the church currently teaches the doctrine of repentance. The first step is an forthright acknowledgment of wrongdoing. The fact that we appear unable to make even that first step is discouraging.

  13. When discussing the ban on my mission a decade ago, a fellow missionary asked, “Well, then why weren’t blacks allowed to have the priesthood?”

    The Church can refute the folklore all day long, but as long as the racist/ialist ban is seen as divinely sanctioned, it will open up a vacuum that can only be filled new with racist/ialist folklore.

  14. Antonio Parr says:

    12. Mark:

    “We” may not have taken the first step, but ~you~ can.

  15. Apologies for past erroneous Doctrine are hard for the One True Church to make. What will we say when gender essentialism becomes as unconvincing and downright insulting as racial essentialism has, when careful examination reveals that gender power imbalances are due to centuries of cultural attitudes rather than divine sanction, when attitudes and policies change but we’re still left with the Church’s history of opposing the ERA (lions and tigers and unisex bathrooms, oh my! Mixing of the races…errr, sexes! A destruction of life and civilization as we know it!) and requiring women’s submission to men’s authority? How we will explain the power that women held in the early days of the church that was later denied to them, especially once they regain that power?
    Will we be able to say, as McConkie did, “Forget everything that I have said,
    or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.”? True, he stopped short of an apology, but do we, as individuals and as a church, have the strength and humility to pick up where he left off, to admit, like some Protestants do weekly, that “we have wounded one another and all creation, by the things we have done and the things we have failed to do”? And if we say it, will we be forgiven? Will we have the strength to forgive our leaders, even when they promulgate hurtful untruths until seventy times seven?
    There aren’t a lot of easy answers here. May God give us all the strength to repent, to ask forgiveness, and to forgive.

  16. #6: “….How can any man holding the Melchizedek priesthood arrogantly assume….”. I have never understood this statement.
    Pres. Hinkley was 66 in 1978. Had he ever says he did not believe in the ‘doctines’ of the ban until that date?

  17. I agree that it is difficult for any institution to apologize for anything.

    In this case, though, I think the question goes beyond apology, but goes to what the Church’s teachings are about the “curse of Cain”, the ancestry of black Africans, whether there is a lie between race/lineage and the pre-existence, and whether, before Brigham Young or Joseph Smith there was a restriction on temple/priesthood blessings based on race/lineage.

    One can believe in all those things, and accept the 1978 change. One can also disbelieve in all those things, and still accept the 1978 revelation.

    I think the reason there has been no clarification on those teachings (and therefore no apology for their having been taught) is beause the Brethren are not agreed as to the status of those former teachings.

  18. We don’t even have to apologize. Why are we perfectly okay saying that BY was just plain wrong on Adam-God, but we fall all over ourselves to defend BY, JFS, BRM, HBL, MEP, et al, on this question? Why is it so easy to say that Michael as the Father of our spirits is false doctrine but so difficult to admit that black Africans as a cursed race is? Utterly boggles the mind…

  19. john f., maybe you are right. I dunno. Like I said, perhaps I am too cynical. I just have a really difficult time imagining many LDS members I have known being able to deal with this well. And I imagine that they and their kind are much, much more plentiful than me and you. But I certainly hope you are right.

    Brad, because very few of us even know about Adam-God; outside of fevered anti-Mormon literature, nobody outside the Church really cares about our bizarre doctrinal evolution, and inside we have an apologetic literature that absurdly denies its historicity, which members can unfortunately turn to. Meanwhile, the Priesthood Ban is widely known outside the Church, and there’s no misunderstanding within the Church about whether the Church had a ban. In short, you’re right that there should be no difference, but I think there is/would be for these reasons.

  20. Amy, your comment brings to mind the same thoughts that I had when Bruce McConkie gave his apology speech and referenced 2nd Nephi 26:33:

    For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he 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.

    If I recall, he even said that he didn’t fully realize all the implications of that scripture, and it’s pretty easy to draw a direct line from “black and white” to “male and female”. I’m pretty sure that is not what BRM intended, but it is pretty easy to see some parallels there. Even the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was looking beyond race to gender issues in the months leading up to his assassination.

    Perhaps that is why an apology has not occurred, as it certainly will be viewed in some quarters as begging a new question.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    I disagree that the Church couldn’t acknowledge the ban was a mistake without widespread destruction of testimonies. It could be done effectively, I think. Imagine Gordon B. Hinckley in his folksy way over the pulpit at GC explaining this. He could have done it well, of that I’m highly confident.

    I agree with David H. that at least part of the reason it hasn’t happened and we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for it is that the Brethren are not agreed on the subject. And I agree with Brad that there is a difference between an overt apology and a simple acknowledgment of error.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    Also, as folks may know, I’m involved with FAIR and Mormon apologetics generally, and to my perception the predominant apologetic for the priesthood ban at FAIR at least is firmly grounded in the scholarship of Lester, Armand and others. FAIR hosts a sister site, blacklds.org, where this material is posted prominently, we have had numerous black speakers at our annual conferences, and we had Armand himself speak to us (which was the origin of the article later published in Sunstone).

    So while I don’t doubt that Lester and Armand and others have suffered for their scholarship in this realm, among contemporary defenders of the faith they are rightly highly regarded as heroic figures. At least I see them that way. That may be too little too late, but my high regard for these scholars and their work is deep, sincere and heartfelt.

  23. I’m of the camp that believes that an apology would not be troubling to members.

    I also can attest that the Church is a very different place now than it was even a decade ago. I do work on what used to be considered very controversial topics, but I have received nothing but support from local leaders and the institutional church (though I also am aware that not everyone has the same experience).

  24. Kevin Christensen says:

    Armand asks:

    “In the absence of a formal and public announcement of a divine revelation, how are the devout supposed to know the difference between doctrines originating from heaven and those originating in folklore?”

    I take heart from this comment on LDS leadership:

    Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
    25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
    26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
    27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
    28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time. (D&C 1)

    With the passing of time, some errors are made known. And sometimes, we get knowledge. If there is a better arrangement to be had anywhere else, I haven’t heard about it.

    Kevin Christensen
    Pittsburgh, PA

  25. @24: “If there is a better arrangement to be had anywhere else, I haven’t heard about it”.
    It’s at the top of you comment: “…a formal and public announcement of a divine revelation, how are the devout supposed to know the difference between doctrines originating from heaven and those originating in folklore?”.
    I don’t see silence and the passing of time as the best way to end misunderstanding.

  26. Glenn Thigpen says:

    There are some things that occurred in the early church where there is not recorded formal declaration. The restoration of the Melchizedek
    priesthood is a big one. So maybe it was not restored after all. That the ban was by revelation was affirmed twice by the First Presidency, once in 1949 and 1969. The ban was lifted the correct way, by a revelation from the Lord. It is my understanding that at least one past prophet had sought the Lord’s counsel in removing the ban but was restrained. The 1969 statement averred that the reasons were known to God but not revealed.
    I was as glad as anyone that the ban was lifted, and supported that revelation fervently. But I also believe that our past prophets were inspired men of God and would have lifted the ban had it been in error or had the Lord ordered it. Brigham Young, recoiled in shock when Joseph unfolded the law of plural marriage, but he was converted very well to the principle. As a man of God and the prophet of God, I do believe that he would have obeyed God if it had been revealed to him that the Nero was to have the blessings of the priesthood. I feel the same to be true for all of the subsequent prophets of the Church. I just do not see any of them disobeying God.

    Glenn

  27. Glenn,
    I assume that by “the Nero” you meant “the Negro.” Just wanted to make sure that I understand your meaning…

  28. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Brad, yes that was a typo. My fingers are sometimes partially dyslexic also. I only use two of them and just don’t know how they can make so many mistakes.

    Glenn

  29. Molly Bennion says:

    3 great questions, Armand. Our leaders have a responsibility to clarify any doctrine or practice bearing error. Truth trumps all. But when we are confused by a doctrine, I believe we can test it against the central gospel doctrines about which there is no dispute and be comfortable the Lord does not condemn us for such considered doubt.
    To admit official error offers many gains. The gains in racial brotherhood are obvious. But we would also be inspired to seek more divine confirmation and revelation and to have a more realistic appreciation for the fallible men who struggle so to do as the Lord would have them do with full knowledge the Lord allows them to work out their salvation too. “Looking through the glass darkly” applies to us all. Perhaps people would gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the atonement in the face of official error; after some initial shock, perhaps most would have greater faith in an institution which would put truth, love, and humility over embarrassment and pride.
    As for the scholar–the humble, honest, admittedly fallible thinker with no agenda but truth–who sets before us his carefully considered findings and views, sometimes challenging and debunking our myths and falsehoods, sometimes unknowingly adding his own, he is a hero in heaven and should be a hero to all. The Armands of the earth are few and precious.

  30. Great questions, Armand. All three of them relate to something problematic within the culture of our church. Specifically, the fact that church leaders do not overtly value the opinions of the members that follow them — this is part of the “steadying the ark” or “counseling the Brethren,” idea that is so pernicious. The tragic consequence of this is that Mormons tent to value each other’s opinions only insofar as they concur with or amplify the opinions of the leaders. This, in turn, makes it difficult for Mormons to practice peer-to-peer loyalty, because interpersonal ties are always trumped by hierarchical ties.

    You’re a sociologist, and I’d love to hear you comment on these.

  31. Glenn, I agree that no prophet would intentionally disobey a clear commandment of God. The problem with this issue is that there was no clear commandment. Joseph Smith ordained at least one black man to the priesthood, and six others were ordained to the priesthood before 1847. Brigham Young was the first to really state anything about priesthood restriction, and his statement[s] were called into question after his death in 1877. John Taylor, the new president, was not sure what the policy was, and called a meeting to get reports on what Joseph Smith had actually said. The reports were contradictory and inconsistent. There was certainly a defacto priesthood restriction then, but, given that there were very few blacks in Mormon settlements, it wasn’t (as Greg Prince puts it) a “front burner issue.” In fact, President McKay was unaware of the policy and its implications even as a young apostle. As prophet, President McKay prayed and prayed over the answer and was NOT restrained from reversing the policy but said simply that “there was no response” to his petitions. Both the 1949 statement and the 1969 one erroneously state that the restriction was ALWAYS the policy of the church. As far as the leaders knew during those years, such was the case. It did actually take scholars willing to do the research (like Lester Bush) to reveal that it had NOT always been the policy of the church (or doctrine, as the 1949 statement says). The fact that President Kimball carefully read Lester Bush’s article is significant. Not only did he “study it out”, consistent with D&C 9, but he asked other members of the Twelve to study the issue as well prior to that great and revelatory day in June of 1978. He wanted them all prepared, intellectually and spiritually, before they attended that momentous meeting in the temple.
    The truth is, our traditions often need correction. Such is thematic in both the NT and the BoM. And we need not only inspired prophets but relentless historians and scholars to point out to us that some of our assumptions are based on faulty premises. We should all be working together in supportive ways–and we do so now better than we ever have in the past.
    The statement of 1949 is particularly unfortunate because it says that the restriction was a “direct commandment” from God and existed from when the church was first organized. When the statement was made, those who composed it were not aware of the fact that the Joseph Smith himself had ordained a black man. Such misinformation is a natural occurance when people rely on memory instead of documented information.
    There is a reason we Mormons depend on record keeping so much. There is a reason we document everything so carefully and value records, whether scriptural or not. This is a gift to the future, to prevent confusion or the perpetuation of any tradition which could be at odds with fundamental gospel principles.

  32. Margaret, while I agree with you’re comment above I take slight issue with the following:

    “As prophet, President McKay prayed and prayed over the answer and was NOT restrained from reversing the policy but said simply that “there was no response” to his petitions.”

    From Greg Prince’s biography (p104) he quotes Richard Jackson, an architect who served around DOM:

    “I remember one day that President McKay came into the office. We could see that he was very much distressed. He said, “I’ve had it! I’m not going to do it again!” Somebody said, “What?” He said, “Well, I’m badgered constantly about giving the priesthood to the Negro. I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. The last time I did it was late last night. I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that the time will come, but it will not be my time, and to leave the subject alone.”

    As someone who thinks the ban was essentially human error, for me, this statement is one of the more difficult ones to reconcile. Any thoughts?

  33. Gomez, I’m aware of the incident reported in Greg’s book. I’ve thought about it a lot. Wish I had a good answer for you, but I don’t. We can never know everything which went through Pres. McKay’s mind, what his process was, what his expectations were, etc. He was the prophet of my childhood and I love him.

  34. Perhaps it just highlights how difficult and error-strewn the process of revelation is, even for prophets.

  35. Antonio Parr says:

    I live in a city that has a majority Black population, and have been asked about the Priesthood ban on many occasions. My standard (and, incidentally, heartfelt) response is that my church is absolutely wonderful, but, because we consist of humans, are not perfect. We were simply wrong on this issue. Mercifully, with this error now behind us, and its remnants fading into the ever receding past, we can focus, unhindered, on our deep commitment to welcoming and serving all of God’s children.

    For those of you who believe that the Priesthood Ban was God’s will until it was removed, how do you respond when approached by Blacks about this issue? (And those of you with convictions about the correctness of the Ban, do you any of you live in African American communities?)

  36. Glenn Thigpen says:

    There are many things which go on behind the scenes with the First Presidency that we just never hear about. I really wish the ban had never been in place, during my life time, or any other time.
    If a Negro were to ask me about it, I could only tell him or her that it is a fact that it was in place until 1978, with a few exceptions, and that it was lifted by revelation. As or the reason, I can only say that it is known to God and has not been revealed. With all of the research that has gone on, that is still the only answer we really have.
    I can point out that after the Children of Israel left Egypt, the priesthood was taken generally from among the people. The tribe of Levi was given the lesser priesthood, and only certain individuals, prophets had the Melchizedek priesthood.
    I can only reiterate at the last, my faith in God that He chooses good, albeit imperfect, men to lead His Church and that He would not allow those men to lead his church astray. Other than that I just don’t know.

    Glenn

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    Antonio Parr, I agree with what you say. From an apologetic perspective, in my view acknowledging the ban was a mistake is by far the strongest apologetic approach the Church could take to the issue. That’s because blacks can understand and forgive it on that basis. All of American society and culture was racist throughout the ban period, so while it might be unfortunate that we didn’t rise above the ambient culture, it is certainly understandable. We as a Church have a lot at stake in high growth areas in the Bronx, Philadelphia, Detroit, Hyde Park, various areas of the south and elsewhere, and I think our foremost concern needs to be for our black people, not the comfort and feeding of our (wrong) notions of prophetic infallibility.

    But if we defend the ban in an effort to defend the church leaders who promulgated and retained it, then we are left with the position that God genuinely intended for the ban to exist. And we get to explain to our black members and investigators why that would be. Does the Church seriously want to put itself in this position? If the focus is on our black members, as it should be, it becomes clear that this approach is a “misplaced apologetic” as Armand appropriately labels it.

    The more recent institutional approach is to punt and take an agnostic “we don’t know” position. I guess that’s better than a reaffirmation that the ban was inspired, but not much. I personally think that acknowledging the ban as human error is the strongest position the Church could take.

  38. Antonio Parr says:

    36. Glenn:

    Couple of things:

    1. “Negroe” is a term that has lost its user-friendliness;
    2. The example you give of the tribe of Levi was a pre-atonement event, i.e., before Christ came and made all things new. Hard to argue that the atonement is infinite and universal while at the same time contending that it somehow wasn’t potent enough to lift a purported curse against a significant segment of God’s children;
    3. The leaders of the Church can be wrong about things, i.e., Adam-God/Blacks and the Priesthood, etc., without the Church losing its authority, i.e., being astray. It is possible to sustain, and recognize the power in, our leadership while at the same time acknowledging their humanity and capacity for human error.

  39. #37: Kevin, ” All of American society and culture was racist throughout the ban period..”. I disagree. History does not support that. That why we had a Civil War, a Civil Rights movement, and members say they cried and danced in the street when the ban was lifted. But indeed, there was a lot of racism.
    “..human error is the strongest position the Church could take”.
    I think WHY they did it would be even a more helpful position than just they were wrong.

  40. Kevin Barney says:

    Bob, by today’s standards even Abraham Lincoln was a racist.

  41. Kevin Christensen says:

    Responding to Bob, asking me again, essentially in the absence of revelation, how are we supposed to know the difference between what is human and what is divine?

    My point was that D&C formally tells us that we should NOT expect to always know the difference because our leaders are human, make mistakes, and that revelation is conditional based on both expedience and asking. So is the real question, “how come we don’t have a Truth Shelf from which nothing can ever be shaken?” D&C 1 tells me that God has NOT promised us that kind of stasis. Experience tells me that we don’t get that from science or scholarship either. I remember Popper’s famous line that “In science all things must remain forever tentative.” Joseph Smith tells me the problem with creeds is that they set up “stakes and bounds to the work of the almighty, saying ‘Hitherto thou shalt come and no futher.'” So idea that we ought to know beforehand what is it that we don’t really know has an inescapable human component. Scott Peck says that “sanity is commitment to reality at all costs.” It seems clear to me that one of the costs is the comfort of absolute certitude. If we can’t have absolute sure knowledge, I think it’s enough, and actually better in human terms, to settle for tentative, “cause to believe” as Alma 32 puts it.

    Experience teaches that a closer look at any topic always brings surprises. Besides the June 1978 revelation itself, and Taggart’s and Bush’s essays I read before, I’ve been most enlightened by Stirling Adam’s in BYU Studies and here, and a few others pointing to books like Haynes’ Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of Slavery and The Curse of Cain: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The thinking that went into the unfortunate policy in LDS practice had a history before it got to us. Calling it a “Mormon practice” can it off from its own history, and undoes our attemtpt to understand and explain it.

    And all of that tells me that it should be fine to take a closer look at anything LDS, and that when I, or anyone far more persistent and perceptive does so, I should expect surprises. But however much my understanding changes, there are somethings that will still be as real before a change in understanding, as they were after.

    FWIW

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

  42. Thomas Parkin says:

    Awesome, Kevin Christensen. I’m right there with you. ~

  43. Armand Mauss says:

    DKL (#30) asks me to comment as a sociologist on the predicament that the expectation for vertical loyalty in the Church (to our leaders) undermines our horizontal loyalties (to our LDS friends). In my experience, the great majority of my LDS “friends” are actually only acquaintances with whom I am thrown together by the coincidence of membership in the same ward (and church) but with whom I have little else in common — rather like people in the same neighborhood.

    These are not the people who help to keep me loyal to the Church. The friends who keep me loyal are those all over the Church with whom I have shared the struggle for reconciliation and understanding in the face of spiritual and intellectual ambiguity all my life. This experience happens to accord with the principle in social-psychology that we come to love what we suffer for (and, by extension, those with whom we suffer), including, typically, our spouses, our children, and our friends in the trenches of life’s realities.

    Except for that DKL comment, I don’t see that any response is required from me to any of the others. Taken altogether, the comments seemed to me to air the issue from all directions thoroughly and thoughtfully. I was duly edified and impressed by the extent and quality of this batch of comments. I count the BCC constituency among my most treasured friends, for you all continue to buoy me up in my own struggle with uncertainty.

  44. #16 Bob…maybe he didn’t ever agree with it. But until all the members of the presidency & quorum can agree, nothing gets changed. Maybe there were others in the quroum who didn’t want it to change.

  45. Glenn Thigpen says:

    #44 Olive … I agree with your assessment on that. However, the 1890 Manifesto was received by revelation, by Lorenzo Snow only, not like the 1978 revelation. It was ratified by the twelve, and then by the whole church, “by common consent” no less.
    I have a feeling that there were many apostles that were ready for the ban to be lifted. It was done in the Lord’s due time.

    Glenn

  46. Glenn,
    You’re wrong about the 1890 Manifesto, on several counts. It wasn’t Snow (it was Wilford Woodruff), and nobody referred to it as a revelation until several years after the fact and a good portion of the folks to whom it most applied (i.e. practicing polygamists) viewed it as simply a smokescreen, a PR document designed to deceive Congress. As for 1978, several apostles fought vigorously against lifting the ban. By the time everybody met together to consider what President Kimball had to present them, the most strident opponent (Harold B. Lee) was dead, and the two living apostles who most vocally supported keeping the ban in place (and the false doctrines used to justify it) were not even present for the meeting. Delbert Stapley was in the hospital and Mark E. Petersen was in Brazil.

  47. Glenn Thigpen says:

    #46 Brad, You are correct about Wilford Woodruff being the president at the time. Wilford Woodruff said it was a revelation.
    As for the 1978 revelation, whether or not any of the Apostles present had been opposing it is moot. They all did come to the same conclusion after the prayer. Do you have any information that it took more than one prayer session that day?

    Glenn

  48. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Mark E. Petersen was in Brazil.”

    Of all places. I’d sure like to know more about this. ~

  49. Glenn, I think it is probably more accurate to say that Woodruff later claimed that the Manifesto was the consequence of a revelation.

    President Kimball worked with the apostles for several years to get them to a point where they could receive the revelation. That those two Apostles who most resisted the idea of change weren’t there for the revelation can be read a number of ways. You might like to read Ed Kimball’s history in BYU Studies.

  50. Glenn, in the New Testament period, Peter was a man shaped by his culture and times. Based on his cultural conditioning and Jewish upbringing, it was inconceivable to him that disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, who had been a Jew, would fellowship with “Gentiles” or share of their food, particularly the meats that were prohibited by Jewish religious law and cultural practice. As a result, Peter proceeded straightforwardly as if this would continue. In other words, he made a doctrinal error based on erroneous assumptions that he was drawing from his cultural background. There is no reason for any of the early Christians or for us in our day to think any less of Peter’s or the primitive Church’s authority because of Peter’s error. It simply happened and can be understood. It has no implications for the validity of revelation or the process of revelation. It took a revelation to correct Peter’s erroneous doctrinal assumption. In his case, the revelation came very quickly and he and the Church never looked back (except of course for Judaizers who persisted in some of the far-flung churches).

  51. Antonio Parr says:

    So many very thought-provoking posts in this thread. Thanks to all.

  52. I like the example that John F. is using in regards to Peter.

    It’s a clear scriptural instance of a prophet and leader of the church being stridently wrong about something and being corrected for it via revelation.

    We don’t love Peter any less for admitting his mistake. He’s a prophet and has had great revelations and can still be wrong.

    This story creates the precedent we need to consider and accept errors that occur in the modern church.

    I love the three points/questions made by Armand Mauss in the post. I think they are penetrating points/questions that lead us to some difficult but necessary roads that we need to travel as a church – both for church membership and for church leaders.

  53. #50: John, what was the ‘culture’ in Salt Lake that the Church drew from, for it’s behavior in the Ban, other than it’s culure? Mormonism has built into it racism (Cain folklore), a belief in devine lineage, and priesthood limiting. The Ban came from this (IMO), not outside forces.

  54. Bob, your comment is incomprehensible so no idea what particular bee is in your bonnet there. But I will say that to me the experience with Peter is analogous because we can look at the early introduction under Brigham Young and others of the policy to ban people of African descent from holding the priesthood based on folkloric justifications adopted from the surrounding protestant culture (e.g. curse of Cain) as a doctrinal error similar to the one made by Peter.

    Perhaps in the “latter days”, i.e. the modern era, a difference in the way people understand revelation and knowledge contributed to the length of time that the policy was in place until it was reversed by revelation. In Peter’s case, his doctrinal error did not last very long as he was set straight very quickly by a revelation in a dream that clarified for him what the right approach would be.

  55. #54: John, sorry if I was not clear.
    (John) “the policy to ban people of African descent from holding the priesthood based on folkloric justifications adopted from the surrounding protestant culture “.
    My point was the policy of the Ban came from the inside of Mormonism, and not adopted from surrounding folklore protestant culture.

  56. My point was the policy of the Ban came from the inside of Mormonism, and not adopted from surrounding folklore protestant culture.

    Although there were distinctly Mormon elements (the crap about pre-existence fence-sitters, for example) incorporated, without the notion of cursed biblical lineages and contemporaneous notions of “race” as, among other things, something transmitted by and contained within blood—both of which originated outside Mormonism—the ban would be utterly nonsensical. Which it was. And is.

  57. The ultimate origins of the ban are easy to pinpoint in the ruminations about race in the broader white, European, protestant (Calvinist) culture of the time period and the centuries leading up to it. Mormons in the mid-nineteenth century who became leaders of the Restored Church were a product of this culture.

  58. Glenn Thigpen says:

    50 John F. …. I could agree with you more fully except for the following:
    Matthew, Chapter 10:
    1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
    2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;
    3 Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus;
    4 Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
    5 These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
    6 But go rather to the lost bsheep of the house of Israel.

    While it is very probable that Peter had the world view of the Gentiles of which you speak, he and the other eleven were up to the time of his vision following the instructions that Christ himself gave them. That was what I was basing my post on.

    Glenn

  59. Wrong, Glenn. The resurrected Christ sent them into all the world. Their post-resurrection mission is explicitly described in the gospels and Acts as to the Gentiles.

  60. Aaron R. says:

    Glenn I think you assume first of all that these texts reflect accuately what was said and not later understandings of the words Jesus spoke. I think that is unlikely. Second, you also assume that Peter et al. perfectly understood what Jesus taught whilst he was teaching and yet the gospels themselves also give clear evidence that they did not understand his meaning at first. I would argue therefore that though these words may have been spoken it still took a revelation for Peter to understand the full implication of them. I actually think John’s example is a rather apt comparison.

  61. Glenn, your # 58 seems to misunderstand my whole point with Peter. In Acts, Peter is determined to shun the Gentiles’ food based on the Jewish dietary restrictions that he grew up with. This was a doctrinal error that was corrected through revelation when Peter dreamed of the unclean meats and God said that he could partake.

  62. Glenn Thigpen says:

    59 Brad, maybe I should change that to read they were following the instructions as they understood them. Else the revelation to Peter would not have been necessary.
    But my original point about the gospel being withheld from the Gentiles (and Samaritans) in general is correct, until Jesus commanded different. Once that command was received, they probably were still only preaching to the Jews in the different cities where they went. Evidently they were not even seeking gentiles in Jerusalem. Immediately after the vision received by Peter he was trying to understand what it meant, when the messengers from Cornelius came to him. It was then that Peter understood the message of the vision.

    Glenn

  63. Glenn Thigpen says:

    61 John F. However, I do not think that the vision was about dietary restrictions at all. See my post 62.

    Glenn

  64. I believe the ban (and other bitter fruits) fit the following from Jacob 5 – and I always frame my own explanation of the ban from the foundation of pruning the vineyard:

    Jacob 5:65-66:

    “And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.

    For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.”

    The bad was part of the vineyard – and the restored church tree was populated by people who brought their bitter fruits to the tree as they were grafted into it.

    Quite simple, imo. We need to admit and address the incorrect traditions of (our own) fathers. We have very strong scriptural support for this position, but it is at odds with human nature to admit it.

  65. Glenn Thigpen says:

    64 Ray… If there were mistakes made, the admission needs to come from the top down, not bottom up.

    Glenn

  66. Glenn, seriously, testimony is not the trump card, nor is a restatement of fidelity to the Brethren. Most of the people at BCC are firm believers in the restored gospel. A good many of us attend the temple with some regularity and answer that TR interview question about sustaining our leaders in the affirmative. Please don’t assume that you’re talking to a bunch of DAMUs. Particularly ironic when you’re addressing Ray, who is LDS to the core.
    Mistakes were made. Of that there really is no question. You might want to do a little reading, and Lester Bush’s work would make a good starting point, as would Armand’s.
    Does the admission need to come at all? There are arguments for both sides. I would suggest that it has already come in President Hinckley’s priesthood session talk of April 2006.
    We realize that this particular issue is not the core of the gospel. Christ and the atonement are the core. But it’s not a bad issue to discuss in 2010 as we become a more diverse church and as we prepare to have some black faces in that “top” section.

  67. Antonio Parr says:

    Most Black people that I know would consider their eligibility for heavenly blessings/fundamental ecclesiastic rituals to be a core gospel issue, because it relates to the question of whether Christ’s atonement is universal and eternal, and whether it is avaialble for them (and their families).

    The Book of Mormon (esteemed as the most correct of all books) teaches us that 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)

    Prior to 1978, and in contradiction to 2 Ne. 26:33, Blacks were not invited to taste of the goodness of the temple and were denied fundamental Priesthood blessings. Not only was this practice perpetuated without scriptural authority, it clearly violated a fundamental passage of our most cherished restoration scripture, i.e., the Book of Mormon. Plain and simple, it appears that we were wrong.

    I, for one, have enough trust in the Lord to not let my faith be shaken by the errors of my leaders, who so courageously agree to accept callings, their personal weaknesses notwithstanding. I will continue to sustain them and pray for them, and be grateful for the sacrifice of service that is so evident in the lives of every Church leader that I have ever known.

  68. Glenn Thigpen says:

    66 Margaret, I was not impugning anyone’s testimony. I have read over the years many articles on this subject. If the ban was the mistake of men, I would like to have some unambiguous word from someone with the authority to say so. What we have right now is indeed contradictory. A case can be made either way, and there will be differences of opinion on this matter until the judgment day, or until a prophet of God steps up to the plate and says either that the ban was indeed a policy of God or it was a mistake made by a prophet of God and perpetuated by all prophets up until 1978.

    Glenn

  69. Antonio Parr says:

    Glenn:

    Didn’t Nephi already tell us that the ban was a mistake?

  70. Glenn Thigpen says:

    I would like for everyone to understand that I know that we can have leaders, good men, who still have flaws, and prejudice can be one of them. I had a bishop once who called me into his office and asked me if I would be upset to learn that one of my teenage daughters was dating a black man. I was a bit taken aback by this, not about my daughter, but by the bishop. He was a man I admired (and still do). He had spent his life in service in the Church as bishop, stake clerk, stake high council member, counselor in Stake Presidencies, etc.
    I simply told him I was more concerned about the type of person that my daughters would date rather than what color their skin was. He admitted that he had not come that far yet. But he had great relationships with the two outstanding young black youths in our ward, both of whom served missions.
    I am pleased with the fact (mustn’t say proud) that I was able to raise my children without prejudice. I am an Eastern North Carolina product and returned here after twenty years in the Navy. I think that military service helped me to see the world with a much better perspective. But I was raised in a really prejudiced part of the country and my parents, who were good people, were also prejudiced racially, although they (and we as a family) maintained good relations with our black neighbors. We had this one family that we visited with in their home and they in ours. I don’t think we had better friends among any of our white neighbors or in the church either.
    I remember feeling so badly when I saw lines for “colored” and “white” at the snack bar at the local drive-in theater. Or when I saw a family being turned away from a local restaurant because of their skin color. But I did not have the courage to say anything about it.
    My biggest problem was when I was made to endure a guilt trip in some of the Navy “Upward” seminars because I was white and that somehow made me racist by definition. Those seminars did more to drive me in the other way than anything else.
    But I managed to overcome that also, because I knew that racism was wrong according to the spirit of the Gospel that I was and am a part of.
    I am a product of a very prejudiced culture, but I do believe that I have mostly overcome that. And I did so without very much help from any of those around me.
    I was elated when that 1978 revelation came to pass.
    I guess this does not answer any questions or make any points for or against the theme of this thread though.

    Glenn

  71. Glenn Thigpen says:

    69 Antonio, I don’t think so.

    Glenn

  72. #65 – That admission has been made – nto as clearly as some would like, but it has been made. I just wish the entire membership could accept that.

    The pruning is on-going, and I’m ok with that – even if I wish on a personal level the root cold handle having it happen at a faster pace. I can wait on the Lord for complete eradication, but I also can assist in the pruning – and the justifications surounding the ban need to be pruned vigorously NOW. Our current apostles and prophets have said as much, and I believe them.

  73. #57: John,
    I don’t think Mormon leaders caught a virse of racism from the surrounding protestants. “Curses” and skin color are large part of the BoM, which predates the 19th C. , as does the Bible.
    I believe the protestants wished to ban the Priesthood from everyone(?)

  74. Armand Mauss says:

    Bob :
    Before you conclude so definitely that LDS racialist thinking was mainly an internal product, I suggest you browse through the following works : Colin Kidd, The Forging of Races: Race and Scripture in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1600—2000 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2006), plus (forgive the immodesty) my own All Abraham’s Children, esp. the first two chapters.

    The traditional American and European Biblical rationales are actually treated in much greater detail in a few other recent works: Stephen R. Haynes, Noah’s Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (Oxford University Press, 2002); David M. Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Princeton University Press, 2003); David Chapell, A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow (University of North Carolina Press, 2004); Benjamin Braude, Sex, Slavery, and Racism: The Secret History of Noah and His Sons (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2005); and Sylvester Johnson, The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth Century American Christianity (Palgrave, 2006).

    As for the references to color in the Book of Mormon, who knows what the Nephite authors intended for them to mean? Their culture was different from ours, so the color references could have been entirely symbolic. Indeed, even in our own culture “black” and “dark” are often used symbolically. And even in the single spot where the BoM refers to the color of skins, we can’t be sure what the Nephites meant. In our culture, when we speak of someone having a “thick skin,” we are not commenting literally. Why must “dark skin” be taken literally? Even the Prophet himself changed at least one of the color references from “white” to “pure.”Remember too that as antagonists of the Lamanites, and as the only authors of the BoM, the Nephites got to say whatever they wanted about the Lamanites.

    Please don’t misunderstand me here: I have no doubt that the early Saints read all such BoM references in light of their own racist traditions, but I don’t think we can yet conclude that such were the meanings and intentions in the minds of the Nephite authors.

  75. I am thinking aloud here–but I think that withholding priesthood/temple blessings was a culturally based practice that might even have been appropriate for the time–just as was the practice of not preaching to slaves without the permission of their masters. Or the practice for many years (until the Benson administration) of permitting men to receive their endowment if married to an unendowed woman, but a woman married to an unendowed man could not receive her own endowment. Or the practice in some parts of the world today of not teaching the gospel to Muslims for fear that if they converted they might be killed or severely injured by others in their culture. Or the practice of not baptising those under 18 without permission of a custodial parent.

    In my opinion, this is what President McKay meant when he referred to the race/lineage practice as a practice–it was not based on an eternal principle, but was done for administrative cultural reasons.

    I think that basing that race/lineage practice on something other than administrative or cultural conformity–i.e., some sort of eternal potentially racialist theology–was a mistake. And I think the Church agrees with this now, because it no longer repeats any of the justifications for the practice previously offered.

    I do think there was an error in understanding of what Joseph Smith taught, and this may be why the practice lasted as long as it did. The 1949 and to a lesser extent the 1969 statement places the origin of the practice with Joseph Smith, and I believe many of the Brethren understood that this origin meant that no change was permissible without something more than a change in administrative o cultural circumstance.

    I believe that Lester Bush’s article, among other things, made it clear to the Brethren that the practice may not have been as firmly rooted in eternal principles, and therefore was subject to change before the posterity of Abel received the priesthood (the time mentioned by Brigham Young and in the 1949 statement).

    I

  76. Antonio Parr says:

    (Independent of any explanation from the Church leadership regarding this painful practice of the past, the Church would benefit from active Latter-Day Saints stepping outside of their cultural comfort zones and finding opportunities to serve with and/or provide service to Black communities. Actions speak louder than words, and displays of love unfeigned will let our Black brothers and sisters know that we are for real when it comes to the great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. Until we are so engaged, silence/apologies/explanations/etc. will be as sounding brass and tinkling cymbols.)

  77. Antonio Parr says:

    ~cymbals~

  78. “As for the references to color in the Book of Mormon, who knows what the Nephite authors intended for them to mean? Their culture was different from ours, so the color references could have been entirely symbolic. Indeed, even in our own culture “black” and “dark” are often used symbolically. And even in the single spot where the BoM refers to the color of skins, we can’t be sure what the Nephites meant. In our culture, when we speak of someone having a “thick skin,” we are not commenting literally. Why must “dark skin” be taken literally? Even the Prophet himself changed at least one of the color references from “white” to “pure.”Remember too that as antagonists of the Lamanites, and as the only authors of the BoM, the Nephites got to say whatever they wanted about the Lamanites. Please don’t misunderstand me here: I have no doubt that the early Saints read all such BoM references in light of their own racist traditions, but I don’t think we can yet conclude that such were the meanings and intentions in the minds of the Nephite authors.”

    Thank you! I feel like I’ve been saying this for a while, as have some others. It’s nice to hear someone reputable agrees with me .

  79. #78: Maybe I am just slow today in understanding this argument: are you saying the Native Americans did not have a different skin color tone from the European White? Maybe it was only a play on words?

  80. #79, he’s not talking about native Americans. He’s suggesting a (roughly/awkwardly translated) Lehite idiom that for representing Lamanites that wouldn’t need to be taken more literally than modern usage of phrases like “thick-skinned” (are we really meant to believe that the muscle tissue of Lamanites was “harder” than that of Nephites?). He’s also suggesting that 19th century American notions of race influenced how readers of the BoM (mis)understood such expressions, in something like the same manner that a species of intelligent life forms with high variability of skin-thickness would misunderstand our idiomatic expressions.

  81. Bob, for a better understanding of just how conceptually nonsensical the Ban was in terms of modern scientific understandings of human biological variability and genetic relatedness, I’d suggest you read this.

  82. Thomas Parkin says:

    “Why must “dark skin” be taken literally?”

    yes! In proximity it also refers to one’s heart being flint. I’ve thought for a long time that the darkness of skins referred to had to do with a darkening in the aspect of the more …. hm … worldly, for lack of a better term on the fly. The opposite isn’t white skin, it is having the image of Christ in your countenance. (see: James E Faust and Ron Jeremy, equally Caucasian.) The idea that one’s heart shows through in one’s aspect is something i believe in.

    (The fact of the language just one more spot where God gives us a stumbling block to our sensibilities. We either engage with reality and our own experience in searching for answers and authenticating our thinking, or we can hunker down behind walls of tradition and depend on authority … like the five foolish virgins, the man with one talent.)

    wheee …. ~

  83. #82: ““Why must “dark skin” be taken literally?”
    I guess because most people found in America in 1492 did have dark skins.

  84. Bob, this isn’t rocket science. There are no physical descriptions in the Book of Mormons of the people in America circa 1492. Descriptions of people with “dark skin” are always a part of Nephite descriptions of what they view as the denigrated or savage culture of Lamanites. And the descriptions change—i.e. the “dark skin” changes—when either cultural practices change or when Nephite attitudes toward the described group change. How comparatively hard was the cardiovascular tissue of Native Americans as compared to Europeans? But, but, but the Book of Mormon says they had hard hearts!!!

  85. Fwiw, my wife and I helped raise a couple of young black men – and I wrote the following post almost three years ago about what that experience taught me:

    “Reflections from a Mixed-Race Family” –

    http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2007/09/reflections-from-mixed-race-family.html

  86. I linked the post above largely because it includes a view of the perpetutation of the “dark skin” mentality in the Book of Mormon – which, btw, disappears totally after the visit of Jesus. That, in and of itself, is interesting.

  87. #84: So_ when did the white the Lamanites get their dark skin, if the Nephites were only referring to the Lamanities dark hearts? Or, are you saying the Native Americans in 1492 did not have a dark skin tone? Or, are you saying the Nephites also had dark skin?

  88. Bob, please read this article:

    http://www.blacklds.org/tvedtnes

  89. Bob, #87, I’m saying that the complexion of Native American groups circa 1492 is completely irrelevant; that we can extrapolate nothing definitive about the objective, comparative skin complexion or melanin saturation of any Lehite socio-cultural group; that we are no more obligated to think that Nephite descriptions of Lamanites have dermatological relevance than we are to think statements about “hard hearts” have cardiovascular relevance; and, finally, that you are either being deliberately difficult or an idiot.

  90. Oh, and that none of this whatsoever has to do with the priesthood/temple ban.

  91. #89: Brad_ “An idiot”?__I will just say good bye.

  92. I was late to this post and conversation, but I must say thank you to all for your comments, and especially to Armand Mauss. This is EXACTLY the kind of conversation that makes me grateful for the BCC community/contributors.

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