All God’s Critters: Some Thoughts on the Priesthood Restriction and Differing Opinions

Part I

In the current cover story of LDS Living Magazine, Keith Hamilton tells about his journey as a Black Latter-day Saint—which has been remarkable. The article is based on Keith’s new book, Eleventh Hour Laborer. I enjoyed his book (in fact, I did a blurb for his back cover), though I differ strongly with him on one point. Because we disagree on a key issue, and because he has used some of my writing to support his ideas, I want to be open about where I stand.

Keith claims to have received revelation that the priesthood restriction was ordained of God. In his book, Keith says, “I…know unequivocally that the priesthood and temple restrictions formerly faced by blacks in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were the Lord’s doing. How do I know it? By personal revelation…”

Hamilton agrees with Ron Esplin’s idea that the restriction originated with Joseph Smith in Nauvoo and was consistently applied after 1843 and until 1978. I have spoken at length to Brother Esplin and know his theory. I respectfully take exception to it. In fact, as more research has been done, we’ve learned of several other blacks who were ordained to the priesthood during or after 1843, the most significant being Walker Lewis (ordained in 1843). In March 1847, Brigham Young referenced a possible priesthood restriction and apparently dismissed it with these words: “[I]ts nothing to do with the blood, for of one blood has God made all flesh…, we av [sic] one of the best Elders[,] an African[,] in Lowell, [Massachusetts]. Walker Lewis was that ordained elder. In the same year, William Appleby described Lewis as “an example for his more whiter brethren to follow.” (See Connell O’Donovan’s article on Lewis at http://people.ucsc.edu/~odonovan/elder_walker_lewis.html.) As we know, Brigham Young modified that position once the Saints—including some with slaves—were in Utah. (There is more information on Walker Lewis and other early black priesthood holders in the Special Features portion of the DVD I did with Darius Gray, Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. The documentary will have its national debut on Tuesday, July 26th on the Documentary Channel.)

Brother Esplin’s article suggesting that the restriction originated with Joseph Smith is titled “Brigham Young and Priesthood Denial to Blacks: An Alternative View.” It is an alternative view to the more accepted idea that the restriction came during a time when folklore (the curse of Cain/Canaan) supporting slavery was prominent, and that the common 19th Century view of blacks as “cursed” was imported into the Church by converts who believed it, and that this view of blacks affected LDS policies after Joseph Smith’s time. (Joseph himself was quite radical in his evolving thoughts about blacks, supported abolition, and freely contradicted some common racist ideas of the time.)

Hamilton quotes a poem I wrote for my play I am Jane (about black pioneer Jane Manning James) at the end of his article:

Ours is
Not a curse but a gift t’us,
The best path we could seek
A place where God can lift us
We kneel; our knees is weak

And when one of us is kneelin’,
We understand his fears.
We know what all us is feelin’
We cry each other’s tears.

That’s just what Jesus done
For all us human folk.
He agreed to come get born
To feel ever’ pain and poke.

So’s he could understand us,
What it is to be a slave.
So’s he could get beneath us
And push us outa the grave

Would you rather be the massa
Or the Roman with his whip?
Would you rather nail the Savior–
Put vinegar to his lip?

Or learn the lessons of sufferin’–
How we nothin’ without grace.
Jesus, He give us a callin’
He gifted us our race.

Significantly, the man who speaks those lines in my play is Elijah Abel, who was ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood by Joseph Smith, Jr. and was washed and anointed in the Kirtland Temple. He was not endowed in the Nauvoo Temple; when it was dedicated, Abel had already moved to Cincinnati. By the time Abel arrived in Salt Lake City around 1852, the priesthood restriction was in place, and his petitions for temple ordinances were denied—though he was told that he still held the priesthood.

When I wrote the play and the poem, I was influenced by Darius Gray, who had shared with me his own personal revelation—which differs in two significant ways from Keith’s. Darius titled what he had received “Not a Curse but a Calling,” and stated unflinchingly that he knew by personal revelation that the restriction was NOT IMPOSED by God but ALLOWED by Him, and when it became too much of a burden, it was undone by revelation given to President Spencer W. Kimball—the only person entitled to receive revelation for the entire church. That is the first difference–that Darius does not believe God authored the restriction. The second is that with his intense awareness of Church order and who has or does not have the right to speak for the Church, Darius wrote down the revelation he had received and submitted it to President Hinckley, asking for permission to teach it. (That will be covered in an upcoming post.)

I intended my poem to be time-specific, relating to the challenges Jane Manning James (1822-1908) was enduring and the folklore she heard about race. (As she petitioned for temple blessings, she was repeatedly denied. Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal that this was simply because she was “of Cain.”) I did not intend my words to be a justification for the priesthood restriction. I hope that we rejoice in the doctrine that all are alike unto God, and he denieth NONE that come unto him (2 Nephi 26:33).

Comments

  1. Fascinating, Margaret. Looking forward to part 2.

  2. Thanks, Margaret. Looking forward to hearing about Darius’ letter to President Hinckley.

  3. StillConfused says:

    “the restriction was NOT IMPOSED by God but ALLOWED by Him” — I strongly believe that to be the case. My God is not a bigot, but he also doesn’t micro-manage humanity.

  4. I love what one of my BCC colleagues said: “I’d rather have a fallible prophet than a racist God.”

  5. Its similar to the slavery in the Old Testament – it was not acceptable to God, but it was allowed with specific rules given by Him.

  6. Fan.tastic. Thank you, Margaret and Darius.

  7. StillConused – I don’t think the restriction on the priesthood to blacks makes God a bigot or a supposed white supremacist. Or the church leaders such. If you suggest as much, you have to explain why the following could receive ordinances:
    Arabs
    Chinese
    Pacific Islanders
    Latinos
    Native Americans
    All of these groups were equally opposed by bigots and white supremacists. It’s not clear to me how a bunch of racist men supposedly perpetuating white superiority would be fine with Asians, in a time when Asians were mocked very severely (need we run through the names?) as well as Arabs, etc.

    What I think is interesting is those who seek further light and knowledge on the subject and desire to understand more about God. When you say it’s just a mistake about men, all you learn is that God let’s men make mistakes. That’s a good learning experience for sure, but it’s also clear from the scriptures and history that God has a pattern and timing for a lot of his most important work.

    All you have to do is look into the concept of the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and see how the original house of Israel had the gospel, “lost it” (to to speak) to the Gentiles, the Gentiles had it, and lost it, and then it was restored to them/us and by and large the western world is turning away from it. Now we see the flourishing of faith in Africa and I think one part of the picture is it’s clear the last is now becoming first. I think the western world is indeed (running the danger of) losing it’s “birthright” — in quotes because it’s a “right” if you look at history that has flowed from one group of people to another.

    I don’t think God has to be a bigot to hold something back until the timing is right. If you sincerely believe that he must be a bigot if the ban was his quasi-will (that is, he would always have wanted all to receive the priesthood “now” in a theoretical sense, but sometimes “now” isn’t “best”, just like the gospel, but the timing is important) then you would have to adopt the line of thinking of atheists that says God is cruel and sadistic for allowing children, etc. etc. to suffer so much. If I am wrong in applying that reasoning, please explain how because I really do not see much difference in the reasoning applied between the two examples.

    I’ll just end by saying this… we see contradictions everywhere in the scriptures, in life, in the words of the prophets, we can seek to explain them away and try to have as nice and clean and consistent a notion about God as possible, or we can realize that often we come to know God by living in and struggling through those contradictions. The very first commandments given to Adam and Eve were contradictions after all. I think we can “get by” by explaining away any contradiction and trying to make things nice and consistent. But when we do so, I think we miss out on an important lesson from the growing experience that is a part of this life.

  8. All of these groups were equally opposed by bigots and white supremacists.

    The justifications for the racism and bigotry were different for the different groups though.

  9. MikeInWeHo says:

    It seems to me that the underlying divide here is this:
    Is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints infallible? Can it, as an entity, be in error? Please note that’s not the same as asking whether or not a prophet is infallible.

  10. Ceric, your personal theological proclivities aside, your comment illustrates a profound ignorance not only about the history of race, race relations, and racism in the United States generally, but also of how these things have functioned within the Church. I’d direct you to a mountain of past and current scholarship on the subject, but somehow I don’t think it would be of any use.

  11. I saw an article by Keith in one of the the local papers recently. Probably the Deseret News. I was bothered by it but had no idea that it was the product of a revelation. That perhaps explains his conviction in what I thought was a rather depressing concept.

  12. A fine post, Margaret–just a small point–Keith’s book is actually titled “Last Laborer”

  13. “The justifications for the racism and bigotry”
    So to try to understand your point, they just weren’t spiritually creative enough at inventing doctrines why XYZ skin colors were bad, but they came up with a pretty good reason with black skin color was bad and it stuck? Interesting, if in the extreme the BoM context re: Lamanite skin color is applied it’s basically to also curse/deny blessings to them and their posterity and yet they were most certainly welcomed back into the fold when the time was right (at some point they should not mix, and at another point they live together in the same lands). I think what is most uncomfortable about this is how it was systematically applied in the modern world that we can see. 1000+ years ago, the messiness is obfuscated. 30 years ago, and it’s all front and center.

    I like the statement not a curse but a calling, and I’d go the next step and say it really is both. We read in the scriptures of the cursing of the land, “except ye repent the land is cursed for your sakes.” You could pretty easily substitute blessing for curse in that sense. Something negative happens for our ultimate good, it sounds like. Sounds like the definition of the word sacrifice, or the purpose of the atonement. A curse is defined as, “A solemn utterance to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something.”

    It seems often our blessings become curses to us (based on our actions of what we do with it) and those things which are a curse to us, become a blessing (based on what we do with it).

    I think there is a tremendous amount of intellectual and spiritual talent that gets wasted, when we simply just say that God works with mistaken, fallen men. Not to say that statement is not true, and not to say inaccurate statements weren’t made. I do not dispute that, and I do not seek to suggest infallibility in explanation or in execution of virtually any practice in the church. I think some great reasoning could come out of minds of some of the heavy-thinkers in this blog and elsewhere if the difficult questions were pursued with courage. It may look courageous to stand and say, “the prophets were wrong, plain and simple” but the people who are saying that often expect to say that and say it in many other venues. I think saying “we can acknowledge these faults of the prophets and all men, but when we dig deeper we can see other things going on” not only takes more courage but brings a greater degree of enlightenment. Because you both acknowledge the human failings, but also take into account that God can and does plan an active role in our lives and we can use faith and study to discern these things by the power of the Holy Ghost. Sorry for the long posts, I don’t disagree with a lot of what is being side as fractions of the truth. I think it’s a shame when we simply say, “Follow the prophet, they speak the truth, just do it” just as much as saying, “Well they were obviously wrong and that’s all there is to it, glad we fixed that problem now.” Integrating those two extremes with the guidance of the spirit (at least for me) has brought a lot of personal growth, and I love to read about it from some who have a way with words and research.

  14. JaredT – what have you sought to add to the dialogue with that discussion? You statement reveals your attitude (at this given time at least) to be worse than the straw man you’ve constructed me as being. If you don’t think an apology is in order, at the very least try to re-think your approach to one of adding something and at least try to educate others from your perspective without talking down and shutting them up.

  15. Steve Evans says:

    Ceric, honestly your rationales are familiar, but unconvincing. I have to admit I’d care a lot more about your (long, repeated, heated) comments if you were a black man. Honestly, your analysis amounts to little more than post-hoc rationale for racism. I agree that it often takes courage to stand up for faith and confidence in the Lord’s servants, but you are going beyond even what they have said concerning the priesthood ban, offering speculation as to God’s purposes that He has not seen fit to provide (indeed, even the attribution of the ban to revelation is factually in dispute).

    This is my gentle way of telling you that I think you are horribly wrong, yet horribly right in your motivations, and that you need to step away from the keyboard for a while.

  16. 11 – arJ – the link is here, I googled it after reading your comment, so I thought others might want to see it too

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705371066/Book-shares-life-and-times-of-an-African-American-Mormon.html

  17. Steve – I have not called anyone ignorant, heated, horribly wrong, racist-rationalizer, etc. This seems like the pot calling the red spoon black. Not only does it not reflect the reality of the red spoon, but in someways doesn’t it more accurately reflects the pot? I’ve got no issue stepping away from the keyboard. I was participating in a discussion and presented another, slightly nuanced more side of things. I clearly said I allow for fallibility in both explanation and execution of various principles and programs in the church.

    If you want sound-byte comments without further need to expand on something, I suggest imposing a word limit on the comment box. I’ll sound-off now, hoping to see some bigger commenters than “good riddance” or its about time, because seriously this kind of stuff doesn’t reflect as badly on me as it does on others. I hope I haven’t been insulting to anyone here.

  18. ceric, there’s an Internet meme that goes, “You must be new here”. The topic of blacks and the priesthood has been discussed ad nauseum in the Bloggernaccle (this blog included), and BCC is no certainly no exception. Your ideas aren’t new; they’ve been heavily considered and debated for years. When you feel you’re being dismissed by dismissed with the wave of a hand, you’re missing the first decade of this discussion as it’s played out online.

  19. o_O wow, ladies and gentlemen, and that’s why you shouldn’t stop and start multiple times in a comment without re-reading where you left off

  20. The concept of God specifically banning blacks from the priesthood for a time just seems wrong to me, while allowing the church to proceed in error for a time, in itself a troubling notion, at least preserves the concept of agency. I’ve considered the example of Samuel in the OT when Israel wanted a king, rather than judges, and the Lord acquiesced in spite of the warnings about the problems that would result. Israel exercised their agency badly, and suffered for it. The same argument could be applied here. The problem is that to a great extent, the primary sufferers of the PH ban were black, and the suffering that the church, along with its members, experienced, even in the 60’s and 70’s, was disproportionately less. If there is such a thing as institutionalized sin, then perhaps the white members of the church have something extra to repent of for those 130 odd years that the ban was in place.

    I’m very anxious to hear more about Darius and his experience in your next post, Margaret.

  21. Thank you for this post, Margaret. I also am looking forward to the next part.

    cedric, all I will say is that you are commenting on a post written by one of the LDS Church’s premier scholars with regard to this topic – and also about the contribution of a man who has done more for the Church in regard to race than perhaps any other in our time. That is not hyperbole. Please consider it carefully.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    FWIW I agree with your perspective, Margaret.

  23. Margaret, I am complete agreement with you. This book just came up in one of the comments in a past post of mine about your books over at _A Motley Vision_ ( http://www.motleyvision.org/2010/all-are-alike-unto-god-a-reaction-to-margaret-blair-young-and-darius-aidan-grays-_standing-on-the-promises_-series/#comment-43669 ). I’m so glad that there are people like you and Darius out there who are educating yourselves about the history and then teaching this principle from a faithful perspective. One doesn’t have to be dissatisfied with the Church to be dissatisfied with how race relations were handled in the past. It’s a brighter future when we can face it and then move on.

  24. Bro. Jones says:

    #4 Excellent quote following up a strong OP. Thanks, Margaret. I feel your frustration and applaud the grace you’re bringing to the conversation.

    #11 Part of me wonders (and fears) whether conservative, quasi-official entities like the Deseret News might seize on narratives like Keith Hamilton’s then hold them up: “See, this particular Black member of the Church has only positive things to say and zero criticism of our leaders! Therefore all black members should/must feel this way.” Fortunately we haven’t seen a lot of that, and I hope that remains the case on this and other controversial issues.

  25. We look forward to Part II, Margaret.
    Q: Maybe we just don’t understand the saying, but is the red spoon mad that pot called him black?

  26. I’m planning on posting part 2 late tonight or tomorrow, if that works with the other bloggers at BCC. Darius is, of course, aware of everything I’m doing here. I have read him all three sections and he has modified any phrasing he was uncomfortable with.

  27. So sorry I messed up Keith’s title. I was using an advance copy. Apparently, I didn’t look closely enough at the title.

  28. “I think there is a tremendous amount of intellectual and spiritual talent that gets wasted, when we simply just say that God works with mistaken, fallen men.”

    Well, I’ll agree with ceric on one thing, even if I’m not enamored of his deeper explanation of things — It is easy to just say “Prophets can be wrong,” and then move on, as if that insight, by itself, is all that needs to be said. In reality though, without some additional explanatory framework or theory to explain why Prophets were wrong at a particular time, in a particular instance, the prophetic fallibility line becomes nothing more than a trump card to be played against prophetic authority whenever we don’t happen to like it. And it can be played by both sides of any issue without any limiting principle. It reduces prophetic authority to nothing more than “the Prophet is right when he agrees with me.” Alas, I don’t have a masterful explanation of my own to explain all the Church’s unfortunate racial history. I do nevertheless agree strongly that viewing God as racist for 131 years is a non-starter; totally unacceptable.

  29. ceric,

    You are right in the sense that there are different levels of restriction to different ethnic backgrounds, and those with African descent have had to carry the greatest burden for the cultural ignorance they have had to interact with throughout history, and that has certainly been the case in LDS history.

    Nevertheless, LDS leaders have taught repeatedly these dividing “doctrines” (folk religion really) that all races are the result of “punishments” or curses for our performance in the pre-existance.

    “We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Indians, some as Negroes, some as Americans, some as Latter-day Saints. These are rewards and punishments…” Mark E. Petersen, BYU, 1954.

    Besides restricting the Priesthood and temple blessings to people of African descent, LDS leaders also applied segregationist principles by discouraging inter-racial marriage.

    In light of the lift of the Priesthood Ban, it appears Boyd K Paker did his part in trying to preserve segregationist ideas when he taught the following:

    “We’ve always counseled in the Church for our Mexican members to marry Mexicans, our Japanese members to marry Japanese, our Caucasians to marry Caucasians, our Polynesian members to marry Polynesians. The counsel has been wise.” Boyd K. Paker, BYU, 1977.

    You can turn a blind eye to these vile things, but the truth is clear: LDS leaders do not see races as being equal. This is a fact. They have tried to preserve a white American elite of sorts (note the transition of nationalities to race with the word “caucasian”) and have worked to preserve the folk that demeans any other race besides caucasians. They have constantly opposed dismissing these hurtful statements which in my opinion are full of bigotry and are plainly anti-Christian as they clearly oppose His teachings.

  30. Re: Bro. Jones #24,

    I couldn’t agree more. DN is definitely a manipulative tool of sorts LDS leaders turn a blind eye to.

  31. Oh, Manuel, I have to disagree with you. I think you go too far in stating that LDS leaders do not see races as being equal. I have some association with LDS leaders, and I know that such is not the case–at least with those I know best. It is always dangerous to estimate the size of someone else’s heart by measuring it against how well they adhere to the things we would like them to do or say. I have not been privy to any meetings in which these issues have been discussed. I have no way of knowing if the leaders have “constantly opposed dismissing these hurtful statements” or if the discussion has been more around the lines of HOW DO WE DO THIS rather than SHOULD WE? Pure speculation on my part. The LDS Church leaders I know well are remarkable men, and I unashamedly sustain them.

  32. thenextvinnieVin says:

    I understand that the Aaronic Priesthood manual still counsels against interracial marriage, although its presence in the manual might is possibly due not so much due to racism as to the idea that cultural/economic/social differences are often an obstacle in marriage.

  33. “The LDS Church leaders I know well are remarkable men, and I unashamedly sustain them.”

    Good for you Margaret, that has not been my experience.

    Their opposing to dismiss hurful teachings has been notorious (by people like me I guess). David A. Jackson and Armand Mauss have requested the repudiation of certain specific racist statements, to which LDS leaders have declined.

  34. Left Field says:

    Manuel, I don’t think that’s quite the way Mauss tells the story.

  35. Manuel, I know a little bit more about that than you do. Actually, a lot more. This is not the time or the place for that particular discussion, though. However, be aprised that I will not let this post lead to unfounded accusations against Church leaders.

  36. Margaret,

    I never intended to say I know more than you and I was also not trying to make “accusations.” I am quoting their own words and stating my conclusions. I respect if you believe my conclusions and opinions are misguided, undeducated, or if they lack the exposure that you have, but rest assured, per my experience as a minority in the Church, my opinions ARE NOT UNFOUNDED.

  37. That I can accept and even weep over. I do know that many minorities in the Church feel disenfranchised and ignored. That is a huge concern for all of us, not just the leaders. We all comprise the body of the Church. If we are ignoring or mistreating any member of the body, we will have sad consequences which we might not understand for centuries. The body cannnot say to any of its members “I have no need of thee.” If we lose ANYONE, we all suffer. (And I’ll hit that a bit in the next part of the series.)

  38. Margaret,

    I certainly hope that your interpretation of the past priesthood restriction is the accurate one. I choose to interpret it in the same way you do.

    And I just want to say that I am incredibly grateful for the work you have done over all these years. The church’s past on race issues requires extraordinary efforts to make up for lost time and misguided sentiments, and your efforts in this area have indeed been extraordinary. The church may always be in a game of catch-up on this issue, but at least you’re out there helping it catch up.

    So, thanks.

  39. Thank you, Paul! I believe that we will not only catch up but start leading the way in these issues. There is a convergence of so many things right now, and it’s clear to me that God is bring about a miracle. I just can’t predict how it’ll manifest itself, or even if we’ll recognize it.

  40. Margaret, I always look up to your work as it brings so much sense and sanity to me that I feel is absent inside the actual curricula of the Church. I look forward to part II of your post.

  41. Manuel, I am very aware of you and grateful for you. I have been for years.

  42. Can you clarify which definition of “allowed” you use in the OP? Is it God “allowed” (ie. Permitted, condoned) or “allowed” (ie. Let happen, did not interfere with)?

  43. Let happen, did not interfere with–or you could say God stayed consistent with the “prime directive” surrounding the principle of agency. The YW theme describes this as “choice and accountability.”

  44. D. Michael Martindale says:

    Cleaarly it was “allowed” by God because it happened. But that still leaves lots of room to determine exactly in what way he “allowed” it. He allowed the Holocaust too, but I hardly think he approved it in any way, shape or form.

    Darius’ revelation that God didn’t impose it but allowed it is perfectly consistent with the notion that it was a horrible doctrine and should never have happened, but as with every other trial in life, God allows it because that’s the point of this life–to endure trials and grow from it. But as Jesus said, “Woe unto those by whom the offenses come.”

  45. #28 Aaron I second your point. The two big questions that remain unresolved in my mind are:

    Do we as a church need to repent for these errors in more significant ways than we have had so far to move on?

    How can I understand the sad history of the priesthood ban to help me suss out which of the important current issues where my conscious and major church discourse and policy don’t match?

    I don’t have good answers for these questions at all. On the first, every time I hear the some continuation of folk theories about God authoring the ban or otherwise refusing to admit that we as a church made a mistake it makes me want to say ‘Yes, to expunge this from our culture and rhetoric there needs to be an official statement and acknowledgement that it was of man and not God.’ Yet, there must be some reason and logic for why the leadership doesn’t. I would love to know what it is. It is obviously not my call to make. However, it is almost 50 years since it has been revoked and a wide range of people both in public and private believe God authored.it. If we believe it was a man-made error based on erroneous and awful cultural beliefs don’t we have a responsibility to expunge these beliefs from our community. By not addressing it directly it seems to almost give credence to the God authored view.

  46. I hope the next two posts help a bit with those questions, rah. The one about Darius’s interaction with Pres. Hinckley won’t be until the third part, and we are very careful about confidentiality, so I won’t be quoting any communication between the two of them.
    I doubt I can provide any really good or final answers, only things to think about. I admit that when I read Keith’s testimony that the restriction was authored by God, I felt like Hans Janning in _Judgment at Nuremberg_. In order to show that a Nazi judge was simply acting within the bounds of the law, the defending attorney brings in a young woman to talk about how her relationship with a Jewish man could have been construed as inappropriate and hence illegal. He badgers her until she’s weeping. Then the judge himself, Janning, stands and–against his attorney’s advice–speaks: “Are we going to do this again?”
    My life is so full of good things and also full of some personal and family challenges that I hate the idea of returning to this particular issue. I’ve talked about it so much over the past twelve years. Darius hates it, too. He hates the fact that he still gets calls from black Latter-day Saints who are undergoing appalling treatment and have called him in a final effort to stay in the faith. Sometimes, he feels like his forty-six years in the Church have been for naught, that he has not effected any change, because he’s dealing with the same questions he dealt with in 1964, but now he’s answering them, not asking them. He is true to the faith, but he gets tired.
    When anyone gets a lot of attention promoting a thesis that the restriction was divinely ordained, I feel like saying, “Are we going to do this again?”

  47. re: rah #45,

    I don’t think there is consensus among church leadership that the ban was a mistake. Some do believe this, but I don’t think all of them do. That would be one reason why the church hasn’t issued an apology or retracted past statements of (now) false doctrine.

    The other main reason, as I see it, is that the church wants to save face. Everyone knows that the leaders are humans just like the rest of us, and they say so themselves, but to admit to making such an egregious and unpopular error, and to have sustained it for so long, and to have required a revelation to reverse it… that’s just too much pride to swallow, and it would undermine the mystique of a church that claims to be led by revelation directly from Christ. It would plant seeds of doubt that they wish not to plant. From their perspective, it’s better to say “we don’t know why the ban was in place, but it’s not there now,” than to say “we made a huge mistake, and we’re sorry for it, but Christ still leads the church (we *promise*, really we do!) even though he didn’t lead us to do this, and the church still will never lead you astray, even though I guess we did back then, but not now!”

  48. Margaret, Thank you for this. I love the work you’ve done in bringing these issues to more and more people. I love reading everything you write.

  49. Bro. Jones says:

    #45: Your last paragraph nails it. As a person of color in the Church, I couldn’t care less about an “apology” from our leaders. What I would love to hear is a clear, unequivocal denouncing of racist folk doctrines and beliefs. President Hinckley’s words against racism in general were most welcome, and Elder McConkie’s admonition to “forget” things that were said earlier was a step in the right direction. Yet somehow President Hinckley’s mere offering of his (personal) dislike of multiple earrings now nearly carries the force of revelation, while I don’t hear of any Church leaders crafting new policies discouraging racism among Members.

    On the other hand, similar to the “chicken patriarchy” discussion that has been had in the Bloggernacle about gender in the Church, I’m left wanting some kind of consistency. Even if that means leaders saying, “You know what, we really want to stick to our guns about statements equating skin color and righteousness: Brigham Young and Nephi were dead right and that hasn’t changed. But we’ve been directed by the Lord to change our policies, so we did. There you go: nobody’s wrong, everybody’s just doing what they were told.”

  50. Like Margaret said in #46, I too wish that this issue could be put to rest once and for all, but changes of this type typically take a generation or so to become real, and since 1) the church was a latecomer to the scene, and 2) the leadership of the church isn’t particularly young, we’re still seeing the residual effects of slow generational change.

    But in our church it gets complicated by another layer that slows the process down: the idea that the church is led by revelation. It is logical that if the church is led by revelation now, that it was led by revelation then, and if that’s the case, God didn’t step in to change things, so it must not have been a priority for Him, or He must have had some reason for letting things unfold as they did. Once you assume there was a reason, it’s not a far jump to inventing all the unsavory reasons that have been posited over the years which I don’t care to repeat. People want things to be logical, and they want the church to come out shiny and clean. So prejudices and misunderstandings remain, because people want their church to be right more than they want to fix the issues.

  51. D. Michael Martindale says:

    #45 These questions are difficult only if one desires to maintain the illusion that church leaders cannot lead us astray. That is the top priority in the church–all else is secondary. If that means allowing destructive attitudse toward non-White members of the church to fester, that’s unfortunate but necessary collateral damage.

    This entire issue could be washed away immediately with the simple concession that the policy was born of racism, not God, and if the church would apologize for it and repudiate the racism of the past. But this cannot be done, because that would open a huge can of worms that, if the leadership got this one so wrong, what else have they gotten wrong? And the illusion that they cannot lead us astray goes out the window.

    In any other context on planet Earth, if people admit to mistakes, apologize for them, and move on, such people are considered people of character and courage, and a good thing is considered to have happened. But not in the church. Only in the church is it considered a virtue to never admit mistakes, and only if you’re among the top leadership of the church.

  52. I read Keith Hamilton’s book and it contains his heartfelt testimony which very much impressed me. I urge everyone to read that book. It’s highly entertaining as well as bearing a strong witness for the gospel. Two of the stories I had to put the book down and laugh long and hard as I pictured them. (The one about dunking and his Halloween costume and entrance, for those who have read it.) I still laugh when I recall those. His life story is so awesome, too, and his conversion story brought tears to my eyes.

    I still don’t know what I believe about the priesthood ban. I’d like to think it came out of the false traditions of our society and simple racism by fallible leaders. If that were true then I could believe the sexism and discrimination against LGBTQ members were more of the same. I admire beyond anything those black members like Darius and Keith who remain faithful to the Gospel despite all the difficulties the church and membership have put in their way for all the years they’ve been in the church. They inspire me to tough it out myself, pray for change, and accept that until the priesthood ban against women is someday lifted then I’ll be treated as less than an adult, less than a full person, and somehow have to learn to be okay with that, be able to accept that and still stick around.

    The gospel is worth it. This partnership with a living God is about so much more. Maybe the things we learn by living under the ban are enormously valuable to us, to all of us.

    But I’ll be so glad when it’s over, the racial discrimination and all the other discrimination that still goes on in society and within the church. I hope and pray for that day, and I hope we all join together in repentance and reconciliation with one another soon and truly make an end, truly learn to see one another as the divine beings we all are. Some kind of real and prominent repentance that we in the church as a whole might undertake would be most welcome!

    Margaret, thanks so much for all you do, as well, to bring these issues to the forefront. I love the poem. You too, like Jane, have your gift and calling.

  53. Tatiana, there is so much good about Keith and about his book. I saw a very early draft about a decade ago and told him pointedly that his personality (which is delightful) wasn’t coming through. I was so pleased that in this final draft, his humor shines. The anecdotes, as I say in my blurb, are really entertaining.

  54. Darius has asked me to post this comment for him:
    First to rah: From 1978 to 2011 is only 33 years — not 50, though it may feel that far away to some.

    My heart aches over these matters. They trouble the waters of my soul. My peace escapes me, my joy is far spent. Yet, I know that God lives, that He is in charge, but that He MUST let His children work out their own salvation. What a Masterful, Loving God He is to foster our eternal growth, however difficult we make it to be.

  55. StillConfused says:

    For me, I don’t really care so much when someone screws up if they own up to it. I get really annoyed when people try to make excuses for bad behavior. That is how I feel about the prior church bigotry. Just admit it was wrong and let it go. Everyone can then move on. When excuses continue to be made, the bigotry lives on.

  56. Craig M. says:

    Margaret, I’m curious if you have any thoughts on Elder Sitati’s 2009 Conference address in which he seemed (arguably) to be referring to the ban when saying that “through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed that the determining criteria for the order in which the gentile nations are invited include the capacity to spiritually and temporally nourish the kingdom of God as it is established on the earth for the last time.”

    On a related note (recognizing that you are in no way trying to dictate what the church does or doesn’t do, so I’m struggling to find a way to word this properly), I’m wondering if you would feel satisfied with authorities publicly repudiating the “doctrines” surrounding the ban (preexistence, curse, etc.) without stating an actual reason for the ban? It seems like this could be an uncontroversial “compromise,” refuting the folklore without requiring an acknowledgement or disavowal of leaders’ mistakes.

  57. Craig, he does not explicitly reference the ban, and (surprise!) I agree with him.
    When my father was in Mainland China in 1980, a young man wanted to be baptized. Dad asked for permission and was told that the time wasn’t right. Nothing had been set up to support this eager convert, the Church was not officially recognized there, and he would possibly be in danger. (In fact, he spoke at Tiananmen Square a few years later and then fled for his life, eventually coming to Utah, where he was baptized.) I’ll go into more of this in tomorrow’s post. Clearly, the Church must seek fertile ground and not endanger its converts or its missionaries. The problem is the modus operandi. It is much different to refrain from preaching/baptizing where such is outlawed than it is to exclude righteous men and women from the fullness of gospel blessings so that a particular schedule can be maintained. Those in countries with anti-proselytizing rules are not told that they are cursed or tainted (a concept that will linger for generations if it’s taught). They are simply waiting.
    Of course missionaries do not go to nations that don’t have the structures in place to “spiritually and temporally nourish the Kingdom of God.” We do not send missionaries to preach to Muslims in countries where their conversion could mean a death sentence. And we honor the laws of other lands, and so do not send missionaries to places where proselytizing is forbidden.
    More on that tomorrow.

    As to your second point–interesting. I wonder how that could happen.

  58. Craig M. says:

    Thanks for the response, Margaret. To me the ban seemed to be implied by the context, but I certainly see room for the alternate (and very palatable) interpretation that you suggested.

  59. michelle says:

    Thanks for this post, Margaret. I had a friend read that poem to me this week from LDS Living, so I appreciated you sharing your thoughts about the way you had wanted it to be used.

    As I read the differing views from our African-American saints on this topic, I find myself unsettled with the notion of personal revelation being used to make declarative statements either way. I don’t know that we can fully explain or explain it away without authoritative explanations from the “priesthood line.” I appreciate reading scholarly points of view and also hearing how people feel about it, but I think that we ultimately risk creating more “folklore” (or whatever y’all decide to call it) by being too definitive either way. I do think, as Darius did, we can continue to declare our faith in God. I believe our knowledge about Him and the doctrine of the Atonement are deep and broad enough to accommodate whatever the full Truth about this will end up being. I look forward to the day when we understand it fully.

  60. Darius,

    Your words here cause a deep ache in my heart. I am reasonably familiar with the work you have done over all these years (though admittedly from a distance; I have even met you, though not under circumstances that would allow you to remember me), and I know how indebted we are to you. I’m sorry that it has taken the toll that it has taken. Your efforts have certainly *not* been in vain. I, for one, taken notice of what you have done and I am a better person for it. I know I’m not the only one. And I hope you still find joy in the parts of life that have nothing at all to do with these matters, because there is plenty of joy to be had! I pray that you find it and that you let it calm those troubled waters when you need it most.

  61. michelle says:

    And Darius, reading your words breaks my heart, too. I love what Paul said. I hope you can find peace in the things that bring you joy in the gospel and in your faith in God.

  62. #54

    Darius, yeah it does feel like 50 years away for many that didn’t live through it. :) More accurately, I feel that unless something more substantive is done it will be 50 years out and there will be a large enough set of members that still believe or suspect it was God authored that we won’t be much farther along than we are today. I live in one of the most “liberal” and “educated” university wards in the world and through teaching GD etc I would suspect that if you polled the membership on any given Sunday that 50% would say it was man made decision, 25% would say that didn’t know but that it was possible God authored and a good 25% would say they believed it was God authored. I may even be being generous. When I was teaching the “skin of blackness” scriptures in the BoM (which the manual just pretends don’t exist of course) I basically gave my version of the “I can’t believe in a bigotted God so this must be of man” personal testimony. I had a long line of people that day and the following week or two come up to me and try to explain how it really was in God’s plan or that it could have been or that my view couldn’t square with what was in the BoM or the modern prophets. I also had a long line of people thanking me for being willing to take on the issue and speaking up. If it is like that here I can only imagine what it is like in more mainstream congregations. My feeling is that a good percentage won’t/can’t accept the man driven viewpoint unless it is said specifically and publicly by one of the 12.

    My attitude now is that this is one of the subjects that I am willing to go to bat for at the local level, meaning if I hear people trying to justify it as doctrine that I can’t let it go uncontested in good conscious. The discussion has to be had and people need to hear that the evidence points toward its man made origins. Of course, I try to do this in the most persuasive and least confrontational way possible but it just can’t be let pass. Thanks for all you guys have done to fight this fight. Looking forward to the rest of your posts.

  63. Amen, Darius. Amen. The song of redeeming love is powerful – and, sometimes, it’s greatest power happens within those who previously couldn’t sing it fully. May we reach the point, collectively, where we all can sing it fully, together.

  64. Straight Talker says:

    Good post and comments. I’m old enough to still be angry for having been duped into carrying the church’s water on this nonsense. Fool me once…………………..

    It’s hard to be Mormon.

  65. andrew h says:

    It’s long been one of the hopes of my heart to see Darius called into the Quorum of the 12.

  66. Bro. Jones says:

    #65: Like Sarah, Abraham’s wife, I would laugh with joy and disbelief. Then I’d dance. :)

  67. I agree with ceric…AND Margaret. :)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,475 other followers