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

Part III

Prejudice, which President Kimball called “thou ugly,” mattered deeply to President Gordon B. Hinckley. He was troubled to hear about anyone being mistreated—and particularly when the excuse for mistreatment was race-based.

Darius Gray was similarly concerned as he received countless calls from men and women all over the United States who were still dealing with the ripples of racist folklore—people whose children were told that they were cursed, or that all blacks had been “neutral” in the pre-existence; white members who pulled their children from Sunday school because they didn’t want them in the same class as a black child; investigators or new converts who were addressed with racial epithets. Darius, in his calling as the president of the Genesis Group (a support group for black Latter-day Saints), told President Hinckley about some of these incidents. He heard later from President Hinckley’s daughter that she had found him pacing in his living room. When she asked what was wrong, he said, “Darius has told me some things, and I am troubled.”

I was moved by this report of President Hinckley’s reaction. How must a prophet feel upon realizing that some he leads are “without affection” for their brothers and sisters? I don’t know what other things happened to lead him to give his remarkable address in the priesthood session of April Conference 2006, but Darius was watching and sobbed throughout the talk. As soon as the session ended, I got a call from a friend telling me that President Hinckley had given a profound talk on racism. Another friend said he was aroused from near slumber as President Hinckley spoke, feeling the spirit of prophecy in a way he had rarely felt it. Armand Mauss called and said, “For the first time in years, I missed the priesthood session. And now I hear that something important happened.” (Since my husband had taken copious notes, I was able to read Armand a close approximation of what President Hinckley had said.) But in taking all of these calls, I missed the one from Darius. I had only his voicemail. He was in tears and could barely speak. He said merely, “He did it. President Hinckley did it. He spoke directly to the issue.”

It was indeed one of the most important talks on prejudice we’ve ever had in the LDS Church and included this provocative, rhetorical question: “How can any man holding the Melchizedek priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for that priesthood whereas another, who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color, is ineligible?” Those words, without any reference to “after 1978” are considered by some to be the final prophetic utterance on the priesthood restriction and everything that came with it.

Of course, not everyone remembers the talk as well as Darius and others do. Yesterday I heard of an incident in Utah where a missionary, part of a senior couple working in a church facility, looked around to be sure no one was listening, and then addressed someone he certainly thought would agree with him politically, and said something negative about President Obama, calling him “that nigger.” Apparently, someone needs to put a little note on some missionary refrigerators: I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Sincerely, Gordon B. Hinckley.

I believe that President Hinckley was moved to speak so boldly not just by what Darius and others had reported, but also (and more importantly) by the Spirit. He, with authority to receive revelation for the entire body of the church, spoke in his prophetic role.

And what about others’ personal revelations?

In 1998, before the exchanges with President Hinckley occurred, Darius received what felt like a flood of knowledge and revelation on the subject of race and the priesthood restriction. He wrote up as much as he could, but did not share it for two years. He waited, praying about how he should proceed. In 2000, he found The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (copyright 1981), which talked about personal revelation and indicated that “every person properly appointed and sustained to act in an official capacity in the Church is entitled to the spirit of revelation to guide a particular organization or group over which he presides” (McConkie 187).

Since Darius was then the president of the Genesis Group, a Church unit to support those of African lineage, he felt that he was acting within those parameters. But he was still careful. Finally, he read instructions in a CES manual suggesting that if anyone believes he/she has received an important revelation which should be shared with the entire Church, they should submit it to those in authority. This kind of correlation is intended to keep self-proclaimed prophets from starting new churches, preaching ideas contrary to true doctrine on the authority of “revelation”, or justifying things not accepted in the orthodox LDS Church (polygamy being the most obvious example).

Darius submitted “Not a Curse but a Calling” to President Hinckley for approval, and asked if he could teach it.

I was in the room with others of the Genesis leadership when Elder Cecil Samuelson entered. Standing before all of us, he said, “President Gray, you submitted an article and asked permission to teach it. That permission has been granted.” We in the Genesis leadership were the witnesses.

This did not make Darius’s inspiration “new scripture” in any way—and he used a disclaimer whenever he taught the document we referred to as NACBAC: “What I am about to share should not be considered scripture, inasmuch as it is not found in any of the standard works of the Church. It is, however, consistent with the scriptures, and permission has been granted by the Brethren for me to teach it.” Nor did he share it capriciously. He held it in reserve and taught it only when he felt that the Spirit was right.

My point is not that Keith Hamilton is wrong and Darius is right—though it’s pretty clear that I side with Darius. The truth is, there is some overlap in what Keith says in his book and what NACBAC says—with the important distinction that Keith believes the restriction was ordained by God and Darius believes it was allowed but not imposed by God.

Just as race has been an invitation to love one another better and with fewer borders—mental, physical, spiritual and traditional—so a difference in opinion invites us to respect one another and transcend our differences to be one in Christ. Though Darius and Keith differ in their opinions of the priesthood restriction, and each believes he has received revelation, they remain friends. Darius performed the ring ceremony when Keith and his wife were married, and Keith has been a great advocate of my work.

Keith Hamilton concludes Last Laborer invoking a traditional Baptist hymn: “This is my story; this is my song.” All of us bring our voices and insights to the church. We do our best to blend and hit the right notes. Sometimes we do it badly and make an entire congregation cringe. Other times, our harmonies seem miraculous, and we wonder if the Heavens themselves might open and send angels to sanctify our efforts and lift our highest notes to just the right pitch. And I think we’re all ready for a bit more soul and at least one good shout of “Hallelujah!”

Comments

  1. Sorry. I didn’t mean to disable comments. Had to rely on a young, brilliant lawyer to take care of it. Thanks, Steve!
    Okay, y’all can comment.

  2. Amen and Halleluah!

  3. Jared T. says:

    Beautiful. Thank you Margaret and Darius. I would very much like a copy of NACBAC.

  4. I’m afraid Darius doesn’t distribute it, only gives it when he feels it’s appropriate. But Jared, if you can catch us at MHA sometime, he could give it to you privately. (He doesn’t release hard copies of it at all.) He is feeling that it’s time to do something with it, but isn’t sure what.

  5. Whitney says:

    Perhaps Darius could share bits and pieces of NACBAC on this or some other blog? I don’t think I will ever have the opportunity to meet up with any of you lovely folks, but I would love to hear more of Darius’s thoughts on this subject.

  6. Wonderful, wonderful series. Margaret, I love your insight and writing. I can’t tell you and the others here how thrilled I am to have found this site. I didn’t think I would ever find a group of church members who think about the doctrines and teachings at the same level and I do. It makes me feel that I may not be an “outsider” in the church after all. Thank you.

  7. When we filmed _Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons_, we filmed Darius presenting NACBAC. We excluded it from anything we would use in the film or special features, but wanted it “in the can.”
    He and I are talking about what the next steps should be. We need to re-publish our books, which we’ve dramatically updated to include the most current research, and we could well use NACBAC as a preface or an accompanying publication. It’s all his call.

  8. Please tell Darius that he is greatly admired and loved by those who have seen the film. I know that he’s a great inspiration to me by his steadfastness in the gospel despite all the difficulties and the many hurts he’s received through the years from the ignorance and fear of other members. So please thank him for me for all that he’s done.

  9. Really appreciate this series, Margaret. Thank you!

    One thing that strikes me now is how little I was struck by President Hinckley’s message in 2006. I have since come to appreciate its significance more greatly, but I also would hope that the fact I initially found the sermon “routine” is some evidence that the old prejudices are really melting away.

  10. Margaret, thank you. Now that I know that this exists, you can bet that the next time I see you all, I will be eager to hear it.

  11. StillConfused says:

    I was always impressed with Hinckley and this gives me yet another reason to be. Bigotry is evil. It also still exists. I have personally heard some horrific bigoted statements by people in authority. Sad stuff.

  12. Matt W. says:

    Can someone link back to parts 1 and 2?

    Darius should submit it for publication in the Ensign, or BYU studies.

  13. huh. Quite a few years ago…almost 16. I remember a fireside. I thought it was Darius Gray. My memory isn’t the best. He talked about he priesthood ban and used the 11th hour laborer parable. I remember the point being we just don’t know why..anyone giving a reason is guessing and highly likely a product of the culture of the time…the very racist culture.

    I was left with the impression that the rationalizations took on a life of their own..become doctrine and part of the culture of the church.

    At the time I assumed the ban was started appropriately-but was meant to be a test and very short lived . (like ending when slavery ended.)
    All of this memory could mean the rationalizations encouraged the ban and it was allowed in the dig your own grave you idiots sort of way.
    I wonder what happened between BY’s quote saying we are all the same blood, to the many other quotes that are so disgusting from BY.
    memories are such weird things.

    I have wondered about the tribe of Aaron having the preisthood and if there was prejudice between the tribes and how the priesthood assignment related to that…it’s interesting to consider how different that would have been if all but one tribe had the priesthood.

    I distinctly remember the Hinckley talk and wishing I were still a missionary in South Africa. I would have wanted to read it in every home…just to make sure it was clear and that the children at least heard and understood, or could begin to.

  14. Brian Duffin says:

    A beautiful and touching post.

  15. Thanks for posting this series, Margaret. Very interesting. I understand and admire the carefulness with which Darius has spoken about and made public NACBAC. I hope, however, that it will receive wider distribution–as you say, maybe as a preface or in an appendix, etc. I’d be interested to read it and I’m sure others would also.

  16. Thanks Margaret. You and Darius are doing the Lord’s work.

  17. This is a wonderful set of posts, Margaret. You and Darius are an inspiration. As a former child of Provo, surrounded by people who looked like me, it mattered not just a little to have a father who was open about paradoxes in church history and culture, open about how much the ban made no sense to him, open about how the wheels of change often move painfully slowly, and open about his belief that his membership was “worth it,” that God was ultimately just, and that progress was happening. This combination of confusion, conscience, reason, and faith are a legacy I hope to pass on to my own children. Bless you.

  18. Latter-day Guy says:

    Thank you, Margaret. I’ve really enjoyed this series of posts. And to cap it all it looks like you’ve roused the ire of R. Gary, so you must be doing something right! :)

  19. Christopher Bradford (Grasshopper) says:

    I attended a FAIR conference 4 or 5 years ago and heard Darius speak of the permission he had received to teach that the priesthood ban was allowed but not imposed by God. When he said this, I was overpowered by the confirmation of the Spirit, so strongly that I sobbed for several minutes. I add my witness to Darius and Margaret. Thank you both for your continued work.

  20. Excellent, Margaret. Thanks.

  21. I thought this would be about the current priesthood/laity restriction along gender lines. The Times ran an article on some Catholic priests ordaining women & married men because that followed their conscience. Of course all parties were promptly booted from the Church, but it made me wish a Mormon, any Mormon, had the cojones to do the same thing.

    Both in the 60s, 70s, and today I see people relying on institutional authority for what by rights should be a Deity-worshipper contract. It’s an interesting linguistic issue: I can say “I ordain myself into the Priesthood” right now. It’s all just symbolic. I think these revolutionaries will be seen in 1500 years as heroes, the way you’d see a reformer like Luther.

  22. I’ve loved this series of three posts Margaret. I think it works as an excellent discussion of the issue and could benefit many. R. Gary’s post is shocking but my sense is that it is a waning attitude. My hope is that the idea of “allowed but not imposed by God” gains greater traction as an explanation for the restriction and that McKonkie’s and Hinckley’s and Holland’s and others’ statements about the speculative reasons given for the ban during the duration of the policy (e.g. fencesitters in heaven) are taken more and more seriously by all members. The point of their statements has been that such speculative reasons were not correct and were born of misunderstanding.

    More importantly, I think President Hinckley’s 2006 talk on the matter should be seriously revisited by the membership at large as I think his statements in that talk are very definitive about whether the restriction was ever truly justified.

  23. Thank you, Margaret. I have enjoyed all of the posts in this series, but this one is my favorite.

    This issue is near and dear to my heart. Please tell Darius how much I love and appreciate the incredible example he has been of Christ-like humility and faithfulness. He is the type of man I aspire to be.

  24. michelle says:

    Margaret, thank you for this. Maybe you can help me understand something.

    “with the important distinction that Keith believes the restriction was ordained by God and Darius believes it was allowed but not imposed by God.”

    I haven’t read Hamilton’s book, but I did read the article, and I come away unsure about where Brother Hamilton falls on this spectrum. He does say he believes it was “the Lord’s doing” but he also uses the word “allowed” as well. “According to God’s wise and just purposes, He allowed the restrictions to be placed upon my people….” (emphasis added) But he clearly talks about that being a trial, an adversity.

    Perhaps you can help me process his position a little more, because I imagine you understand it beyond what I read in the article.

  25. Michelle, in part 1 of the series, I quote what Keith says about the restriction.
    Wow, I don’t know who R. Gary is, but I’ll shoot that blog to Darius. I am so pleased to be “tag-teamed” with Stapley!
    Thanks to all for the comments.

  26. laughing hysterically says:

    “I don’t know who R. Gary is” FTW!!

  27. We enjoyed the series Margaret. What makes this gospel wonderful is that through it you, Brother Gray, Brother Hamilton, and each of us can all have different thoughts, opinions and personal feelings, but still be united as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the Almighty.

  28. Margaret, great series. President Hinckley’s comment in that 2006 PH session, along with his talk announcing the new Perpetual Education Fund, were moments of spiritual confirmation of his prophetic calling for me. Convey my best wishes to Darius, and yourself, for the great work you are doing.

    Sorry you had to learn about R. Gary this way. I’ve disagreed with him over his favorite topic, No Death Before the Fall (hence his nickname, NDBF Gary), but this strikes me as a new low. If he hasn’t seen your DVD, he’s missing out on a great educational experience.

  29. “If he hasn’t seen your DVD, he’s missing out on a great educational experience.”

    Luckily, Margaret’s documentary is being shown on the Documentary Channel tomorrow night!

    http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=217713738249317

  30. #26 – Well said, Sistas. I just wish all of us understood that basic idea – that Zion really is a multi-instrument orchestra and not a piccolo-only group.

  31. I, for example, play the kazoo. And I want at least a small solo.
    Cynthia, thanks for the plug! Big day for us tomorrow.

  32. Wow, I just read R. Gary’s blog and comments. So sad! It takes some effort to recognize mistakes in our past, but presuming to know another’s heart indicates a really sad situation. Darius also echoed that sentiment. That blog has no effect on me. I know who I am, and I know that God knows who I am. I can only imagine what President MOnson’s reaction would be to the accusations in that blog. He loves Darius dearly, and would leap to his defense. And Jonathan, Darius and I both love and admire you.

  33. Thank you so much for this post, Margaret.

    “Yesterday I heard of an incident in Utah where a missionary, part of a senior couple working in a church facility”

    I really hope that wasn’t a temple.

  34. michelle says:

    Margaret,

    I had read part I, and also read his article, which has similar verbiage, but as I said earlier, he also goes on to talk about how the Lord *allowed* it, using a similar word that Darius uses. To me, he may just be saying that “it was the Lord’s doing in that He allowed it.” That to me may be different than “He ordained it to happen.” I’m wondering if his view is more nuanced.

    “We enjoyed the series Margaret. What makes this gospel wonderful is that through it you, Brother Gray, Brother Hamilton, and each of us can all have different thoughts, opinions and personal feelings, but still be united as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the Almighty”

    Love that, Sistas.

  35. Michelle, I think all of our views are nuanced. I would not want to put words into Keith’s mouth, which is why I used a quote rather than my interpretation.

  36. Paul Reeve says:

    Thanks Margaret. I’ve enjoyed all three parts. I still cherish the time in VA when Darius shared NACBAC with me. God bless you and Darius.

  37. sonofmosiah says:

    It’s too bad that respect hasn’t been applied to other situations.

  38. michelle says:

    “Michelle, I think all of our views are nuanced.”

    Agreed. I appreciated hearing a little more about yours and Darius’.

  39. Margaret, you and Darius are both huge gifts to the Church. I’ve been a fan of you two even before I read the first book in your trilogy. Blessings.

  40. I’d love a way to share NACBAC. I’ll be out in Utah in a week or so if there is a chance.

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