Race and the Church

My name is MollyBennion and I am looking forward to posting occasionally with other Dialoguers. New to blogging, I am enjoying your world. By Common Consent drove home its advantages of immediacy, honesty and insight in this last week’s discussion of the Seattle sex abuse judgment. Thanks J. Stapley for starting an enlightening and important exchange.

Another equally painful social issue is on my mind of late. I have a good friend, a black Mormon man in his early thirties, impressive on every front, a man of deep testimony who is questioning continuing in activity in the Church because of persistent racism. Even a recent bishop told my friend he bore the mark of Cain and its inherent inadequacies. Testimony is not an issue for him; the issue is can he bear and should he be asked to bear the weight of Mormon folklore?

Arguably Dialogue’s proudest moment came in publishing Lester Bush’s seminal article on the history of blacks and the priesthood in 1973. We have also published many other articles on that and related subjects. One of our board members, Armand Mauss, has been a leader in research and argument. I have long loaned Lester and Armand’s book, Neither Black Nor White to members who express an interest in our history. (The black teenagers I have taught (way too few, of course) seem always to reach a point where they must know and they can find no one to help them.) Stirling Adams, who joins our merry band of bloggers recently published an excellent book review/essay dealing directly with the contrived and unconvincing arguments based on Ham and Cain in BYU Studies. We don’t lack for information. Yet the folklore persists.

I remember exactly where I was when the revelation hit the airwaves in 1978. I also remember dissecting the Church’s public statement in the New York Times and grieving as much over what was not said as I rejoiced over what was. I almost did not join the Church over this issue. Ultimately I was so convinced the so-called Negro doctrine was just a misguided practice, hundreds of years old and widely believed without revelation or rational righteous argument, and so convinced the God of Mormon theology could not be a respecter of persons, that I believed the priesthood would be extended to all. The truths of the gospel compelled me over my cultural objections. Those truths remain compelling, but most of my cultural objections remain as well. What I didn’t anticipate was the Church’s continued silence over the folklore which lives on to reassure racists and torture our black brothers and sisters.

My questions to you are 1) What do you think most Mormons believe about racial differences and doctrine? 2) What can we do to educate and sensitize Church members who hold to racism? 3) Would you join me and many others in reassuring any black members among you that you do not think them innately cursed or inferior in any way and in speaking up whenever and wherever we hear the folklore presented as fact or doctrine?


  1. To answer your questions, I think most Mormons haven’t thought through all the implications of our beliefs. Race is one of those areas.

    For example, the revelations clearly teach that all who die before reaching the age of accountability will be in the Celestial Kingdom. You don’t have to be too aware of the news in the world to know that the continent with the highest infant mortality rate is Africa. And it isn’t much better in Asia or the Indian subcontinent, who number in the billions.

    Put two and two together, and the number of people in the Celestial Kingdom with dark skin will almost certainly be larger than those of us with blond hair and blue eyes.

    I remember the day the Revelation was announced. I was new on my mission, attending my first baptism, held at the mission home. I never would have imagined seeing my mission president, a portly man, dance the way he did when he told us.

  2. I recall being confronted on this issue during my mission. I served in L.A. and this night we happened to be in the Rosa Parks bus/train station in the heart of Watts. We were approached by a black man who lobbed a clearly rehearsed diatribe denouncing the LDS treatment of blacks and impugning the integrity, and sobriety of Noah (An argument that was clearly based on the “folklore” you speak of). My response was that I did not agree with the biblical version of the Noah/Ham story, nor did I attribute the withholding of the priesthood to the curse of Cain. Hearing this derailed his lecture and actually opened up a rather thoughtful discussion which left both of us feeling edified (a la the promises contained in D&C). I also talked to him about my own personal opinions regarding the reason for the priesthood witholding which I’ll keep to myself for now unless anyone voices interest in hearing it. I will, however say this, I believe that trials of the black mormons are more aptly described as “victims of circumstance” rather than “victims of a bigoted church”

  3. 2. Ask racist Mormons who bring up the “curse” of Ham (and Pharaoh in the Book of Abraham) who Ephraim’s mother was.

  4. Jonathan Green says:

    Ronan: Been there, done that. Sadly, they will tell you all about the semitic Hyksos dynasty.

  5. Welcome to BCC, Molly. I think most Mormons viewed the 1978 announcement as a change in practice but not a change in doctrine. As such, most Mormons felt no need to update their racial beliefs, which were composed of a mixed bag of doctrinal justifications that had grown up around the priesthood ban. And it’s those holdover beliefs that fuel persistent (if sporadic) examples of Mormon bigotry that we keep hearing about.

    The solution, I think, is for LDS leaders to clearly repudiate the lingering doctrinal justifications for the now-abandoned practice. I suspect they don’t do that because they think it would create more problems than it would solve. In other words, they don’t think “Mormons of color” are really in any distress, and they don’t want to offend those Mormons who still hold racial beliefs but don’t want to have their racial thinking corrected. Maybe they should just take the risk of offending a few bigots in order to finish the job started in 1978.

  6. J. Stapley says:

    Wow, thanks for this post, Molly. In gospel doctrine a couple of weeks ago I got up the courage to respond to the question, “what does the 1978 revelation on the priesthood give us?”:

    I said that it allowed us to put away the racist folk beliefs that have kept us from being the christians that we aught to be. There was not a single look of displeasure…though I didn’t look too close.

    I have heard that there was an internal drive to repudiate these false teaching, but that it was leaked to the media and got squashed. Is that true?

  7. Aaron Brown says:

    Ryan said:
    “I will, however say this, I believe that trials of the black mormons are more aptly described as “victims of circumstance” rather than “victims of a bigoted church””

    I’m not entirely clear what to make of this comment. If you’re trying to say that the historical priesthood ban and/or Mormon ignorance towards blacks is NOT so much a function of the deep-seeded racial bigotry of Mormons, as much as it is the “circumstance” of Mormon theology being what it was for so many years, I suppose I agree. (Armand Mauss has a relevant article here). The Church was not “bigoted” (look up the technical meaning of that word, to understand my point) in that it had a perfectly calm and logical world view that it propagated (albeit a repugnant one, in my view), and many members of the Church, even if they didn’t like the Church’s racial teachings, felt an allegiance to the views of the leaders that propagated them. Many members of the Church found themselves in the “circumstance” of having to defend this repugnant belief system, and many black members found themselves in the “circumstance” of having to endure it. A tragedy, all around.

    But maybe I’m not understanding your point …

    Aaron B

  8. Aaron Brown says:

    J. Stapely said:
    “I have heard that there was an internal drive to repudiate these false teaching, but that it was leaked to the media and got squashed. Is that true?”

    J. Stapely, Armand Mauss talks bout this in his book “All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage.” Also, the Ostlings talk about it in “Mormon America: The Power and the Promise.” Also, Armand Mauss discusses this, in response to a question of mine, here: http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=734 (See question #8)

    Aaron B

  9. I remember talking about this issue in seminary–yes, I am old enough that the ban was still in place when I was in high school. Our teacher taught us that some people justified the ban through the PofGP passages, and some justified it on other grounds. He didn’t hold much credence in any of the folklore reasons. His conclusion was that he really didn’t know, and hoped that it would change soon.

    I remember hearing in my childhood that a reporter once asked Pres McKay when the ban would change. If I remember correctly, his answer was “Not in my lifetime, and probably not in yours.” I used to think that was pretty harsh, until I learned from the new bio that he had prayed and asked about lifting the ban, and was pretty much told to quit asking.

  10. Aaron Brown says:

    Dave, I agree with your comment almost wholeheartedly. I say “almost” because while I also would wish for a formal repudiation from the LDS Church, and I think you’re right that the Church thinks doing so will cause more problems than it will solve, I suspect the offense the Church is trying to avoid isn’t only to a few, lingering racist Mormons. I suspect the stakes appear much higher to Church leaders, in that large numbers of non-racist Mormons don’t want to hear formal repudiations of ANY statements by past LDS leaders, since such repudiations might violate certain popular theological assumptions about the necessary continuity of LDS leaders’ authoritative pronouncements over time.

    Aaron B

  11. Dave: “I suspect they don’t do that because… they don’t want to offend those Mormons who still hold racial beliefs but don’t want to have their racial thinking corrected.”

    Maybe, but I doubt that they are all that afraid of offending bigotted members. More likely they’re afraid of casting any negative light on former bigotted leaders. (It’s also possible that some of the current leaders have some bigotted feelings themselves….after all, many of them are over 80 years old.)

    But I basically agree with you, Dave. The leaders seem to judge that the old attitudes should just fade away with time, and hopefully be forgotten, rather than confronting them directly and raising all sorts of uncomfortable questions about church leadership.

  12. I see Aaron beat me to it, rendering my comment superfluous.

  13. Aaron Brown says:

    My answers to Molly’s questions:

    (1) I don’t know what “most” Mormons belief about racial differences and LDS doctrine. I would really like to know. My sense is that a significant minority hold to the “curse of Cain” or “fence-sitters in the Pre-existence” theories, while the majority (particularly those below a certain age) don’t know anything about the racial aspects of Mormon theology (I understand the desire to pejoratively label it as “folklore,” but I think this tends to obscure the fact that the sources of these beliefs over time have not exactly been non-authoritative).

    (2) What we should be doing to educate and sensitive racist Mormons is help propagate the writings of Bush, Mauss, etc., so that the fallacious rationales of the past are exposed and repudiated.

    (3) Yes.

    And in case anyone was wondering… No, I don’t have enough to do at work today, thus giving me time to author half the comments in this blog thread. :)

    Aaron B

  14. FYI, Signature has made the entire text of Neither White Nor Black available online at the Signature Books Library.

  15. Hey Molly, don’t know if you remember me, but I’m pretty sure you taught Relief Society when I lived in the Seattle North Stake. (Susan Malmrose)

    I was excited to learn you were going to be posting here, you’re one of my favorite teachers I’ve had at church.

    As for your questions:

    1) What do you think most Mormons believe about racial differences and doctrine?

    I’ve never really talked about it with Mormons other than my in-laws, mainly because I don’t associate with many outside of church.

    2) What can we do to educate and sensitize Church members who hold to racism?

    Point it out when you see it. Share experiences you’ve had about it. I don’t know if you remember, but I once helped organize a fireside in Seattle for Darius Gray and Margaret Young to speak at (really all I did was put them in touch with the stake president). I remember being somewhat shocked at Darius’s experiences with racism that he shared.

    3) Would you join me and many others in reassuring any black members among you that you do not think them innately cursed or inferior in any way and in speaking up whenever and wherever we hear the folklore presented as fact or doctrine?

    Yes. After moving away from that Seattle ward, I was in a suburban ward full of white middle class families, in an area that actually had a very diverse population (Kent). A black woman and her teenage son moved into the ward. She was welcomed with open arms and really genuinely fellowshipped in a way I’ve never seen before. I was impressed with the members of the ward who went out of their way to make sure she felt welcome and a part of the ward family.

  16. Molly,
    I don’t think you’re going to get a very good answer to #1. Unless someone has the results of a study all you’re going to get is anecdotes and personal experiences. In addition, no bigot is going to get on here disagreeing with you and express his own bigotry.

    #2 is the $64,000 question isn’t it? For the reasons Ed and Aaron stated above I don’t know if there’s anything more we can do than continue to educate, continue to call people on their bigotry, continue to build a culture in which racism doesn’t exist. I don’t know if there’s a magical solution under a rock somewere that we haven’t thought of. It’s hard work.

    #3 of course. I have to admit, though, that the “doctrine” isn’t really preached here (in Brooklyn) being that our ward is half-black. Even if someone wanted to teach it I can’t imagine it wouldn’t gain much traction.

    Oh, and welcome to BCC!

  17. Elisabeth says:

    Hi, Molly – thanks for this post on a very compelling subject.

    1) I’m not sure how pervasive racist beliefs are among LDS members, but – given past history – helping our brothers and sisters of color feel loved and respected (without being patronized) is certainly a challenge.

    2) White Mormons should look at Mormons of color with a great deal of respect. Would YOU have joined the church after reading the overtly racist statements from Church leaders (including prophets)? I think I would have been too easily distracted by the fear and animosity expressed by many Church members towards blacks that I probably would not have been able to feel the Spirit in a way that would have moved me to join the Church.

    3) Yes. This issue arose in my Ward a few years ago when someone brought in the Mark E. Peterson BYU speech to show a few of our black members during a Gospel Essentials class. Needless to say, most of us were horrified and tried everything we could do to explain to the black members that this was not doctrine and that we loved them and wanted them to be a part of our community. Unfortunately, they stopped coming to Church soon after this incident.

  18. Here’s what I meant by victims of circumstance rather than victims of a bigoted church:

    I believe that the ban on giving the priesthood to blacks was the only way a young, widely misunderstood church could hope to gain acceptance in a racist america. It is naive to believe that the church didn’t have enough discrimination to face without additionally flying in the face of the common race opinions of the day. The lifting of the ban came about shortly after a successful civil rights movement brought much of the country to its senses. In keeping up with the times, the fledgling church was able to gain wider acceptance and enough of a foothold to start opening it’s arms to all people.
    In short, black Mormons were denied the full blessings of the gospel until they could bring about change in the consciousness of the nation. At that point, the church was quick (and I mean quick in the grand scheme of things) to respond and restore blessings that had been withheld previously.
    In my opinion, this also explains why several black members of the early church were able to receive the blessings of the priesthood although generally it was denied.
    Another way of looking at it is, on an airplane they tell you in the case of sudden cabin pressure changes to strap your o2 mask on before you help your child. Why? bcause if you work on your kid first and don’t get the job done before you pass out, you both lose. Like wise, the church needed to take care of, or establish itself before it could make itself available to all people in spite of whatever localized persecution is prevalant.

  19. Ryan, I think such a hypothesis is quite unfounded. It places blame on african americans for not changing things earlier. Tough stance. The more persuasive argument, to me, from the same data is that the Church was simply as racist as the rest of the US (and moreso than many christian ministries).

  20. “It places blame on african americans for not changing things earlier”

    My apologies for mispeaking, I can see where you got that from my comments although it was not my intention nor was it the main point I was getting at, namely, I believe the national backlash against the already controversial church would be intense and destructive to missionary efforts both at home and abroad.

    “the Church was simply as racist as the rest of the US (and moreso than many christian ministries).”

    That’s a pretty bold statement considering the “Christian” nature of the KKK which I don’t recall the church ever supporting.
    Either way I don’t suppose that my interpretation of that history is any more “prove-able” than yours.

  21. “the Church was simply as racist as the rest of the US (and moreso than many christian ministries).”

    I can see this line of thinking and partially agree. However, why then did we allow blacks to even be baptized but not receive the Priesthood–so we didn’t appear TOO racist and separate ourselves from groups like the KKK? I don’t get it.

  22. As a followup to my comments (and hopefully to add some weight to what has heretofore been basically a shot in the dark theory)

    I was recently reviewing another Blog whose discussion right now is focused on the practice of Polygamy. It is an interesting lesson in the retracting (or in this discussion, the enacting) of a policy to alleviate societal or internal pressures. There are actually a few more examples of this in church history, some common ones being
    Polygamy (or more accurately Polygyny), consecration, Temple ordinance processes (a big change happened recently of course) and I am sure there are many many more that aren’t coming to mind right now.
    Would I like to live consecration right now? Absolutely. Can I? No. Why? The weakness of men. What does that make me? A victim of circumstance.
    One day however, when the world is living a bit more righteous-ly-er. I will be extended the full blessings of the Law of Consecration.

  23. Ryan, that analogy could be easily construde as quite offensive. You can’t live the Law of Consecration because you are weak, therefore blacks couldn’t have the priesthood because they were weak? I’m not trying to extrapolate here; this is just my at-face-value reading of your comment.

    You are correct that the Church has accomodated a great bit.

  24. The idea that blacks were not ready for the priesthood and the idea that the church was too racist are equally offensive. The only fact we have is that we don’t know. Thus, any assumptions about what is true and what is not true are fallacious.

  25. The last couple of comments address the issue of the origin for the priesthood/temple ban. People differ over whether there was an appropriate justification for ban initially, and over when it started (though most historians consider it to have been initiated by BY after Joseph’s death).

    But, it seems like no matter how we differ as a community on the above questions, we ought to be able to reach agreement that the racial folklore some Mormons used to justify the ban is factually wrong.

    I suggest each of the following examples of racial folklore (all from the current version of McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine) are teachings that we should be able to figure out how to completely eliminate from within our community:

    1. Cain and Ham were cursed with black skin; the curses were passed to their posterity, and all black Africans are descended from Cain and Ham.
    2. Dark skin results from a curse from God in response to sinful behavior (with the assumption that the curse is passed genetically to children).
    3. God created caste systems and racial segregation.
    4. Behavior in pre-existence explains why people are born into a specific race or caste.
    5. Marriage between blacks and persons of any other group is condemned by God.
    6. Blacks and other non-white persons are physically and spiritually inferior to whites.
    7. Priesthood and temple blessings were withheld from blacks from the beginning of time until the 1978 revelation.

    None of the above teachings are found in the Bible or other Mormon scripture. Instead, each was developed as either an interpretative gloss to scripture or an extra-scriptural invention (a Christian Targum?), long after the relevant Biblical texts were written–and in justification of a social and economic context that relied on the enslavement and segregation of black Africans.

    For me, Molly’s recounting of her friend’s experience is a reminder that the task of eliminating these teachings from our religious community is still in the “To be completed” column.


  26. I was studying for final exams at the end of my first year of law school, living on the south side of Chicago (is there, really, any other side?) in June 1978. What a blessed day that was!

    Perhaps I just grew up in a broad-minded household, but the only time I ever heard the “fence-sitters in the pre-existence” canard was in the context of a repudiation of it. I just figured that if anyone back then really believed it, they were just unreconstructed reactionaries. Or ignorant. Or bigots.

    Regarding previous leaders’ statements (whatever they were–I don’t carry around in my declining memory a record of them) isn’t Elder McConkie’s statement enough? You know, “forget everything you heard before, it was based on the lesser light we had then.”

    I have no idea why the ban. I don’t stay up nights worrying about it, anymore than I stay up nights wondering why only the Levites had the priesthood under the Mosaic Law, and only the descendants of Aaron could be priests.

  27. I see where Ryan is coming from, and I tend to agree. In the example he gave it isn’t because *he* is weak that he doesn’t live the law of consecration, it is because the members of the church as a collective unit and the world we live in prevent that through the widely accepted attitudes about money and work. So even though individuals are worthy and ready they still can’t pull it off.
    I’ve always seen that as the reason the priesthood was witheld. Even though black members were ready, willing, and worthy, the society that existed at the time wasn’t ready. The world had to change first. The law of Moses is, perhaps, a better example of the society not being ready to live a higher law, and being given a lesser law in its place.

  28. I don’t buy Ryan’s theory at all. Society wasn’t ready for polygamy, but the saints still lived it for quite some time, in spite of the revulsion and derision it brought down upon their shoulders.

    Honestly, the only explanation I can buy is that our leaders aren’t perfect. They are human, with mostly human understanding and biases, mixed with some divine revelation. BY was a racist – his talks and speeches from the time leave no doubt about that. Most people were at that time in our history.

    I would rather believe that BY was a racist (although needed by the Lord at that particular time in order to keep the church together) than to believe that God was/is racist. It’s just pigment, and I have no doubt that God is color blind in that respect.

  29. I agree with Sue (and disagree with Ryan). To me the idea that the priesthood ban was necessary to “gain acceptance in a racist america” is crazy. Even if you buy the highly dubious proposition that the ban was instituted in order to “gain acceptance” from the world, the ban persisted far past the point when it could have served that purpose, and instead was a big embarrassment for the church. It continues to be an embarrassment today.

  30. Stirling (#25), there are many church teachings and practices that can’t be found in the standard works. Would you say they are all just “folklore?”

    Furthermore, your list isn’t even accurate…numbers 2, 3, and part of 1 are found in the standard works.

  31. “Society wasn’t ready for polygamy, but the saints still lived it for quite some time”

    But it was withdrawn as a result of the harm it threatened to bring to the very existence of the church.

    “I would rather believe that BY was a racist than to believe that God was/is racist.”
    I am not suggesting God is racist, I’m suggesting that he knew exactly how a racist nation would persecute a church that embraced such an anti-social tenet.

    Furthermore, To suggest that every single prophet from BY all the way up to Kimball (who consequently would have been telling quite an elaborate lie regarding his wrestling with the Lord on the matter instead of just declaring the unrighteous nature of the doctrine) was nothing more than a racist with no regard to the extensive scriptures declaring the Lord’s love for all His children, His stated disrespect for persons, etc… is rather dubious.
    Why is it so difficult to believe that men who, themselves suffered immense persecution and prejudice were likely to sympathize with the injustices blacks were faced with?

  32. Mark B., I agree with your comment #26 that the 1978 McConkie talk was a productive step (“…Forget everything that I have said, or what …whosoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation…”)
    But oddly, his teachings of racial folklore (summarized in #25 above) are from the version of his book that he revised the following year in 1979. It’s those teaching that continue to be distributed in your local Deseret Bookstore today. Do they have a continuing effect? I regularly (every couple of months on a discussion like this, or in personal conversations) either hear someone cite Mormon Doctrine as authority for the racial folklore or hear of a black member of the church who is assaulted with the racial folklore taught in that book. Molly gives an example in her initial post: “a recent bishop told my friend he bore the mark of Cain and its inherent inadequacies.”

    So, while like you I don’t stay up nights worrying about the priesthood ban, I think we should both be working late to ensure our religious community isn’t hostile to any group of individuals because of false understandings about “race”. And though we are improving as a community (see Mauss’s All Abraham’s Children and Smith/Bringhurst’s Black and Mormon), we still have a stretch to go before we are fully welcoming to blacks (see the same books for that point, and the example of Molly’s friend).


  33. “the ban persisted far past the point when it could have served that purpose”

    I mentioned earlier that in the grand scheme of things, the revelation really didn’t come much longer than the peak of the civil rights movement (Civil rights act was signed in 1968 followed for several years by significant advances, the PH announcement was made in 1978) 10 years is not much time at all. Honestly, I am still in shock that it’s already been almost 10 years since I graduated High School..

  34. Stirling, your comment did not go unnoticed. Thank you for the reminder.

  35. Reading this interesting post, I couldn’t help but fantasize about some future bloggernaclites discussing Women And The Church. Imagine it’s 2050: “I was on my mission in Pyongyang when I heard news of the revelation concerning women in the priesthood…” But I digress into a mine field.

    How blessed we are to have a church which by revelation can change in very profound ways, put mistakes behind, and move on to an ever increasing fullness of the truth! How sad that as a people we can’t yet bring ourselves to just say “That practice was wrong and we abandoned it.” I don’t think the membership is ready for such candor yet, which is sad.

  36. Aaron Brown says:

    Just to echo what Stirling said, and contra Mark D., it isn’t plausible to read McConkie as repudiating the theological justifications for the priesthood ban. At most, he was repudiating his (and others’) strident claims about WHEN the ban would be lifted (i.e. not in his lifetime). Acknowledging you misjudged the timing of the ban’s lifting is not the same as disavowing the elaborate racist rationales that were invoked to justify or explain the ban in the first place.

    With Ed, and contra Ryan, I don’t buy the claim that 1978 came quickly. The ban persisted so long in Mormonism as to be a controversial embarrassment. If God was trying to time this in a way to synchronize it with evolving American norms, He should have hired a different consulting firm, cause it didn’t work. :)

    With Sue, I think the historical LDS experience with polygamy belies any claim that the Lord just needed to take the heat off the Church that would have inevitably come from being more progressive on this issue. The practice of polygamy almost led to the utter destruction of the Church.

    Also, it’s hard for me to take seriously any explanation about the cause of the ban that doesn’t at least confront squarely Brigham Young’s blatant racism. Even if I grant that God’s project with His Church entailed not granting the priesthood to blacks until late in the game, I find it hard to believe that Young’s personal racial views weren’t a major causal factor in how the ban developed. I just can’t believe that was an irrelevant factor.

    All that said, Ryan is right to point out that unless you believe a lot of subsequent prophets were liars (which I don’t) or were confused about how to seek, receive or interpret their revelations (which would raise some pretty major theological problems, given how frequently some of them apparently sought divine guidance on this question), it is difficult to just casually dismiss the ban as wholly the product of racist old curmudgeons leading the Church.

    Aaron B

  37. “But it was withdrawn as a result of the harm it threatened to bring to the very existence of the church.”

    But God instituted polygamy knowing that it would be met with revulsion. It was something that at the time of its institution, was not accepted by society at the time – indeed was completely unacceptable. The race issue is different – it was an evolution of thought that gradually came to be unacceptable. At the time that BY and others spoke, what they were saying was somewhat acceptable to most of the people of the time. Even one generation removed (my in-laws for example) it is common for members to have some racist thoughts and attitudes, so yes, I can believe that many of our leaders since BY have also been racist. Many of their speeches bear this out. Besides, God apparently didn’t feel that it was unacceptable for JS to give Elija (forget his last name) the priesthood.

    In your scenario, God responds and commands his people according to the peer pressure or ridicule they may face. I can’t see anywhere in the bible, book of mormon, or anywhere else, that God said – “you know what, that thing I asked you to do? It will probably make people hate and persecute you, so, um – don’t worry about it. Here, go beat up some Samaritans.”

  38. Aaron beat me to it and said it far better.

    But Aaron, I would ask regarding this comment:

    “it is difficult to just casually dismiss the ban as wholly the product of racist old curmudgeons leading the Church.”

    How do you explain it then? It is a subject that picks at me.

  39. Molly Bennion says:

    Ed, your comment confuses me. I cannot find solid issue with Stirling’s 1, 2 and 3 in the scriptures. For example,I don’t see a description of the mark of Cain, a mark which was to protect him, not punish him. I’m intrigued with the interpretation that the word Cain refers to metallurgy and that he may have been a travelling metal worker with burned and sooted hands. All speculation from the language. We Mormons are too quick to shun higher criticism of the Old and New Testament while some of our scholars reach awfully far to use particularly creative exegesis to support the Book of Mormon.
    I sent my DNA to the National Geographic/IBM genetic project and they connected my mitochondrial DNA to an African group 50,000 years ago. Makes me feel a warm and fuzzy part of the entire family of man.
    A fourth question of course is what to tell my friend to convince him to stay active. Fruits for his soul, service to render to others, yes, but he asks in return how much pride is healthy? Will we allow him a modicum of black pride before we deem him too proud to take the arrows?
    Susan, thank you. I needed that. Just recently a group of sweet young things have complained my classes add too much information and ambiguity to be spiritual.

  40. Aaron Brown says:

    Sue — I was not necessarily trying to suggest that racism was not a (or THE) principle original cause of the priesthood ban. After all, given so many other strange pronouncements by Brigham Young back in the day, it wouldn’t exactly be unprecedented to say that Young just missed the boat, as he did (theologically) on various other things (from a modern Mormon doctrinal perspective). It is trickier, however, to dismiss the views of numerous successive prophets, many of whom seemed to believe that the ban truly was divinely sanctioned (even if they didn’t claim to know why, and even if they held differing views on whether it was a “doctrine” or “policy,” etc.). And this brings me to the question you’re asking …

    I reject the notion that the ban’s continuing existence was a product of “racist old curmudgeons leading the Church,” at least near the end, for at least two reasons. First, how various leaders grappled with the ban is fairly well-documented historically (See the new biography on David O. McKay, and — from what I’m told — the new biography on Spencer W. Kimball as well). Whether one agrees with the religious claim that LDS leaders really are inspired or not, it is hard, I think, to dismiss these leaders’ apparently sincere concerns about this issue as a false pose designed to cover their supposedly “true” nefarious racist intentions. The available documentation suggests otherwise. Second, I just find a different explanation more plausible. Whether one accepts Mormonism’s truth claims or not, there’s no denying the powerful assumption in Mormonism that the leaders of the Church don’t make mistakes of this magnitude. To jettison the priesthood ban, in light of prior prophetic and apostolic claims that it would not be jettisoned, was a BIG deal, and had the potential to raise very troubling theological questions about the nature and authority of Mormon prophetic pronouncements. Even if we put to one side the idea that God had his own reasons and timetable that we just don’t understand, and choose to look at the issue from a purely “secular” standpoint, I believe that one has to recognize that certain theological imperatives would have dissuaded Mormon leaders from daring to lift the ban, even granting the seemingly morally compelling reasons for their doing so. In short, the desire not to set a troubling precedent and potentially precipitate a crisis of authority strikes me as a more persuasive explanation for foot-dragging on lifting the ban than does good, old-fashioned racism.

    Aaron B

  41. Lest you think racism is a thing of the past in Our Lovely Deseret, check out this article from today’s tribune:

    Utah Developer Pulls Racial Data from Site

  42. Stirling,

    I realize this morning that my line about not “stay[ing] up nights worrying about [the ban]” sounds different from what I had intended. I agree completely with your final paragraph, that we should strive to rid our community of racism.

    If we still have a copy of Mormon Doctrine around, it’s been relegated to a dusty box in the cellar. If I find it, I’ll burn it.

  43. We Mormons are too quick to shun higher criticism of the Old and New Testament while some of our scholars reach awfully far to use particularly creative exegesis to support the Book of Mormon.

    But these are not equivalent groups. An average LDS, if they even know anything about source criticism, may reject it, but in my personal and academic experiences, those scholars whom you suggest are over-reaching in their support of the BoM do not.

    In any case, since your point has to do with philological issues, I don’t see the purpose of either invoking general LDS ignorance of the technicalities of biblical studies (after all, they’re ignorant of the technicalities of many other fields) or taking a broad swipe at anonymous scholars whom you euphemistically criticize. I agree that LDS could do a much better job in actually *studying* scripture, but I think you’re over-reaching in your supporting point.

    As to the original point, some scholars have made metallurgical connections with Cain’s name. Other scholars have made different proposals, and as far as I am aware, there’s no scholarly consensus on the question. It may or may not be relevant.

  44. Space Chick says:

    Ryan, I have the same suspicions as you regarding the survival of the early church if the leadership had made a point of treating all our brothers and sisters equally regardless of skin color. I think it would have inflamed many nonmembers against the church even more.

  45. So is the the priesthood “ban” on women purely because we have sexist leaders?

    Consider the can of worms to now be open.

  46. Can closed.

  47. Curses J.! Foiled again.

  48. Molly,

    Stirling flatly asserted that his “folklore” doctrines are not “found in the Bible or other Mormon scripture.” But there are several scriptural passages that do indeed seem to teach some of these doctrines. You may be right that with effort some of these can be explained away, but my point is that the scriptural basis for the “folklore” doctrines is stronger than for many other teachings of the church that few people would consider to be folklore.

    Here are some references for some of the things Stirling described as “folklore.” Please understand that I’m not in any way advocating a return to racist attitudes.

    Moses 7:22
    And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.

    2 Nephi 5: 21-22
    21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of eblackness• to come upon them.
    22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.
    23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done

    Alma 3: 7-8
    7 And their brethren sought to destroy them, therefore they were cursed; and the Lord God set a mark upon them, yea, upon Laman and Lemuel, and also the sons of Ishmael, and Ishmaelitish women.
    8 And this was done that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions which would prove their destruction.

    Abr 1:24
    24 When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.

    Ezra 9:2
    2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.

  49. Molly Bennion says:

    Evidence is mounting that we all began black Africans. Should that be the case, consider the ramifications. We can no longer assume curses are black or that black is more than figurative or that black skin is exclusively the domain of the cursed or that a curse of blackness was more than a relatively brief local event in man’s evolution or that all cursed for whatever iniquities are somehow related. And we need no longer explain mistakes of our leaders. Papal Infallibility has nothing on us. Old and New Testament prophets can make serious errors and remain the Lord’s annointed. Today’s prophets must be perfect lest we lose our faith. What’s wrong with us? Molly

  50. Ed, yes, those passages are in our canonized scripture. They are difficult, but yes, they are there.

    But talk of Cainites, Lamanites, Hamites and Gentiles having a “curse” (I’m not sure the Ezra example is too relevant though) seems, to me, to be completely irrelevant to the priesthood ban.

    The priesthood ban was on black Africans. The notion that Africans are descendants of Cain or Ham is complete hogwash (as Molly points out, we are all descendants of Africans!); Africans are not Lamanites; we (non-Jews = who Ezra is talking about) are all Gentiles–are white non-Jews “cursed” too?

    So how these scriptures justify the ban, I don’t know. Any tortured justification using these scriptures is folklore indeed.

  51. Ed, in #30, you asked how I define “folklore.” With regards to racialist teaching within Mormonism, I’m using it to refer to extra-scriptural stories or interpretations that are factually incorrect and were developed to explain societal phenomena (in this case, the phenomena being the relatively recent institutionalized slavery of black Africans, and the resulting societal segregation and discrimination).

    David Goldenberg, in The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, writes that that in the context of racialized readings of the Bible, both biblical and extrabiblical sources have been misinterpreted “ultimately due to an assumption that the way things are now is the way things were in the past,” failing to realize “our perceptions of the Black have been conditioned by the intervening history of centuries of Black slavery and its manifold ramifications”

    That error occurred among many 18th-20th century European and American Christians when they utilized misinterpretations of the stories of Cain, Ham, and Nimrod to justify their slavery and segregation (ignoring other stories, such as Moses marrying an Ethiopian). We Mormons, understandably, made the same mistake in the 1800s because we forged our religion in a place and time when these folk stories were commonly accepted. But, as we move into the 21st century, the practice, is much less understandable (IMNSHO).

    If you mean to suggest that the scriptures you cite offer valid scriptural support for withholding priesthood and temple blessings based on race (or for teaching that blacks are cursed or otherwise inferior, etc.) we could share our differing viewpoints (perhaps offline?). I suspect instead you just mean to suggest that within our canon there are texts that could be reasonably used to offer some support for our racialist beliefs/practices. I do concede this point, with the reminder that, for example, Abr. 1: 24, can only be read as supporting a priesthood/temple ban on black Africans if one first adds many assumptions that aren’t stated in the text.

    You are correct that that I overstated the case in my #2 by stating there is no scriptural support for a teaching that “Dark skin results from a curse from God.” I should have written instead that “There is no scriptural support for a claim that the dark skin of black Africans results from a curse from God.”

    The reason for this clarification is that some Saints read the BoM as teaching that God turned the Lamanites’ skin dark as a result of their wickedness. That is not my own reading of the text, but I grant that some people read it that way. For a couple of articles on this topic, see John Tvedtnes, ‘The Charge of ‘Racism’ in the Book of Mormon ‘, The FARMS Review 15, 183–198 (explaining many BoM uses of “dark” and “light” as symbolic, and suggesting that where a BoM writer meant to describe an actual difference in skin color, the change may have occurred due to intermarriage with other peoples); Douglas Campbell, “‘White’ or ‘Pure’: Five Vignettes.” Dialogue 29 (4) Winter 1996: 119-135 (interpretating color references to “white” and “dark” or “black” skin in the Book of Mormon as metaphors used to describe levels of purity–not as literal (and inaccurate) descriptions of skin color).

    If this topic interests you, for an analysis of the symbolic use of references to blackness, darkness, and whiteness in early Christian literature, see Gay L. Byron, Symbolic Blackness and Ethnic Difference in Early Christian Literature (London: Routledge, 2002).


  52. I don’t believe that most white Mormon’s give it a lot of thought. They are ignorant to how offensive this folklore is. Missionaries teach it, members of the Church teach it.

    When Bruce R. McConkie said,” Forget everything I have said, or what…Brigham Young…or whoever has said…that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with limited understanding and without the light knowledge that now has come into the world.”
    That statement should have been enough. Apparently it wasn’t. The publishers of _Mormon Doctrine should in respect for that good man take out the offensive comments from that book. My personal belief was that the members and leaders were unable to just say “We don’t know.” So instead they repeated the American folklore/nonsense that had existed for generations in our country. Brigham Young didn’t come up with the “one drop rule” those laws were already in the South. The Southern Baptist Convention was formulated because of these beliefs. Unfortunately the Church as a whole in the 20th Century in an effort to excuse themselves; converted the populace into believing false doctrines that now need to be eradicated from our culture. It is time for the Church to quit owning these beliefs and put it them where they belong with the history of the USA.
    For example:
    “But around here once you have a drop off Negro blood that makes you all black…”
    _ To Kill a Mockingbird_ by Harper Lee

    “Well after he was elected Captain, they elected as first lieutenant an individual of doubtful blood by the name of Hannibal Hamlin, being a descendant of the generation of Ham, the bad son of old Noah, who meant to curse him blue, but overdid the thing and cursed him black.”
    _Company Aytch_ (H) by Sam R. Watkins (Confederate Soldier) first published 1882

    We need to inform ourselves and speak up. I have been shocked as I have attempted to educate others that some otherwise very intelligent members of the Church are teaching this nonsense. We need to teach the Youth to do the same thing. Bear in mind unless the Leadership of the Church is more direct in teaching otherwise as my mother has said, “Sometimes people have to pass away for change to happen.” Armand Mauss wrote an article _Dispelling the Curse of Cain, Or How to Explain the Old Priesthood Ban Without Looking Ridiculous_ This is a good place to start.
    Thanks Molly for bringing up this topic.

  53. Many of Joseph Smith’s teachings were remarkably enlightened on this issue. I have heard it said that the early church stance on this was really a practical response to the political situations of the day, and that the Church may have suffered even more if it had been branded pro-slavery. I have always assumed that much of the “folklore” that developed over the years was simply after-the-fact justifications for a clearly un-christlike doctrine. Is there any historical support for this?

  54. I agree for the most part with Stirling and Ronan’s most recent posts. The scriptures I cited did not necessitate the priesthood ban. In fact the ban didn’t make sense even on its own terms, since I agree we all have some black ancestry. However, saying these scriptures are “irrelevant” to the ban is overstating the case. Of course examples of racialist ideas in the scriptures are relevant to justifying a racialist policy.

    My main disagreement was with Stirling’s assertion that all racialist ideas are merely folklore because they have no support in the scriptures. This is wrong both because the scriptures contain racialist ideas and because many core church teachings have little or no support in the cannon. I’m not sure either how to reconcile those scriptures with our modern ideals of racial equality and integration.

    Furthermore, the interpretations of modern Biblical scholarship mostly don’t apply to the Mormon scriptures, which contain most of the verses I cited above.

  55. Yes, as is well known Joseph Smith ordained at least one black man as an Elder and a Seventy. Also, Joseph Smith ran for president on a platform that advocated abolition of slavery.

    This is yet further evidence that Ryan’s thesis about the reason for the ban doesn’t make sense. How could it be that God insipired Joseph to publicly advocate abolition(!!!), an incredibly divisive and explosive topic in 1944, and then later inspired Brigham to discriminate against blacks in order to gain public “acceptance” during a time when the Mormons were pracicing polygamy(!!!), even though the policy on blacks was probably virtually unknown to anyone outside of Utah?

  56. ed said:
    “… and because many core church teachings have little or no support in the cannon.”

    This is why I also don’t like to use the term “folklore” in the sense that Stirling advocates. I think that “folklore” sounds like “silly stories that get passed around and that have no support in any Mormon authoritative source.” But many of the early leaders of the Church who espoused offensive and silly justifications for the priesthood ban certainly do constitute “authoritative sources.” I’ll grant that they’re not “canonical,” and I’ll further grant all the arguments that one might care to make as to their fallibility, being products of their time, etc., are true and important. But I think calling these teachings “folklore” serves to obfuscate an important lesson about the problematic nature of prophetic truth claims, given that many listeners will hear “folklore” and assume that “No Mormon prophet ever would have said something like that … it was just the members!”

    Aaron B

  57. Ed, in #54, you mentioned that “the scriptures contain racialist ideas…I’m not sure either how to reconcile those scriptures with our modern ideals of racial equality and integration.”

    Based on my readings of scholars of ancient scriptures, I suggest that what is modern is not “ideals of racial equality and intergration,” but the exact opposite.

    We easily assume that racism has historically been the norm, because it has been the norm for the last several centuries in Europe and America. But, if I may refer to Goldenberg’s (very good book) again, some of the specific questions he looked at in his exhaustive research were “How did biblical-era Jews view black Africans?” and “What was the attitude of biblical and early post-biblical era Jews towards dark skin color in general?”

    He concluded there is no evidence that biblical and post-biblical Judaism saw “anything denigrating in African origin or in miscegenation, ” and reported that “Apparently Kushite [assumed black African] ancestry did not matter one way or the other.” This follows Frank Snowden’s conclusions (among other places, in Before Color Prejudice), and for we Mormons, is a reminder of Hugh Nibley’s similar findings in Abraham in Egypt.

    There, in the subchapter entitled “No Prejudice,” Nibley discussed whether there existed in the Abrahamic era a prejudice against skin color. He concluded there was not: “In the drawings and texts, which are numerous, the proportion of black to white seems to follow no pattern but that of a society in which the races mingle freely and equally.” He agreed with Heinrich Brugsch that in records of the “four races” of the period and geography (Egyptian, Asiatic, Black, European-Berger), there was not “the slightest indication of race distinction.” From reviewing numerous royal portraits and royal mummies, “from the earliest dynasties right down to the end,” Nibley determined that if black skin “did not prevent one from becoming pharaoh, neither was it a requirement. There was simply no prejudice in the matter.” He concludes the subchapter with the statement that in the Abrahamic era it is “clear that there is no exclusive equation between Ham and Pharaoh, or between Ham and the Egyptians, or between the Egyptians and the blacks, or between any of the above and any particular curse.” Abraham in Egypt, 585-587.

    This takes me back to the Goldenberg quote that in the context of racialized readings of the Bible, both biblical and extrabiblical sources have been misinterpreted “ultimately due to an assumption that the way things are now is the way things were in the past,” failing to realize “our perceptions of the Black have been conditioned by the intervening history of centuries of Black slavery and its manifold ramifications.” The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, 7.

    The point being that people of our era mistakenly assume people have always had the negative racist attitudes about black Africans that we find in Europe and American from the 1600-1900s.

    As a side note: You mentioned that “Furthermore, the interpretations of modern Biblical scholarship mostly don’t apply to the Mormon scriptures, which contain most of the verses I cited above.”
    Why not? You referred to Abr 1:24 which mentioned a “Ham” and a “curse in the land.” The only way one gets from there to viewing that scripture as support for a temple/priesthood ban unique to black Africans is to adopt the slavery-era Christian creative additions to the biblical story of Ham.

    Stirling Adams

  58. Both Aaron and Ed have suggested “folklore” isn’t a good term to describe these past racialist teachings.

    I agree it has problems, but I haven’t hit on anything better. Any suggestions?

    I use “racial folklore” to try to describe teachings that are:
    1. Developed to explain why one ethnic group has a preferred or unpreferred place in society, or as a justification for social or religious practice that would otherwise contradict community values(such as restricting temple blessings from one ethnic group).
    2. Factually incorrect
    3. Either never were (which is the case for some of these teachings) or are no longer officially taught as church doctrine.

    Although, perhaps the last element shouldn’t be included. If the “British Israelism” taught frequently by the Saints in the 1920-30s (that the white European Saints were literal Israelites, of direct-and for some, pure–descent from Ephraim) were taught today as official doctrine, I would still want to categorize it as “folklore.”


  59. Ian M. Cook says:

    For what it’s worth, has anyone heard of the Genesis Group? I stumbled on it a while ago. I wasn’t aware that it existed.

    It’s an officially sanctioned group specifically geard towards black members of the church.

  60. Ian M. Cook says:

    Sorry forgot the link.

    Genesis Group

  61. To further everyone’s research on this topic, in Volume 801, Spring 1973 of Dialogue Journal, Lester Bush wrote a wonderfully insightful article called Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: A Historical Overview. Thoughtful responses are given by Gordon Thomasson, Hugh Nibley, and Eugene England. You can read the entire collection of articles on the website beginning on page 11.

  62. “How could it be that God insipired Joseph to publicly advocate abolition(!!!)”
    an incredibly divisive and explosive topic in 1944, and then later inspired Brigham to discriminate against blacks in order to gain public “acceptance”

    Actually much of my research shows that an abolitionist platform was a rather common and although divisive, a politically intelligent manuever. The support for the abolitionist movement was clearly strong enough that it sparked the separatist attitudes that led to the start of the civil war. Post abolition however, white america had sadly settled into what it felt was a satisfactory compromise in segregation. Ta-dah! we have a third rail issue the church would have been suicidal to touch.

  63. Aaron Brown says:

    And for those who don’t have the time or inclination to read Bush’s lengthy article, his follow-up piece in a 2003(?) issue of the JMHA is even more fascinating, and starts out with a brief but thorough synopsis of the 1973 article.

    Does JMHA have articles online that one can link too?

    Aaron B

  64. Aaron Brown says:

    Actually, now that I think about it, I think it was a 1999 issue of JMHA.

    Aaron B

  65. I’m a mom to two Black sons through transracial adoption, so you can imagine this is somewhat of a pet issue …

    1) What do you think most Mormons believe about racial differences and doctrine?

    Most Mormons don’t think about it. They don’t have to — their circle of friends consists of ward members who are very much like themselves in age, class and race. When they do think about it, they usually turn to McConkie rather than to a source like Bush and Mauss (which I read soon after we adopted our first and appreciated very much), or to what their parents taught them rather than what makes sense and is right and true. Not what I wish for, but I think it’s the general practice out there.

    Just two weeks ago in my parents’ Utah ward of mostly fifty and sixtysomethings, I heard the good old Seed of Cain theory. I let it slide, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say. I will protest briefly that my reasons for that were complex … being a visitor there and not wanting to stir the pot for my parents who have enough to deal with already in various issues with theb family and the Church, stuff like that.

    I also think that it’s very hard to educate someone who is not looking for education. And a lot of people just aren’t.

    2) What can we do to educate and sensitize Church members who hold to racism?

    Wait for them to die? That’s sort of a joke, but I think that time passing and the arrival of new generations is the surest force of change. There are a lot of Black kids adopted into Mormon families now. How will that change the landscape?

    If the incident from a couple of weeks ago had happened in my own ward, I would have spoken up. Obviously I cannot allow that kind of attitude to fester in the place where my beautiful brown kids go to worship and learn about the gospel. And when friends ask me, I regularly refer them to Neither Black Nor White. (I’m very glad to know about the online version; thank you!!!)

    However, the foremost thing that would help would be a current, clear, straightforward statement from Church leadership unconditionally repudiating the false doctrines and folkloric racism that exist among members of the Church. For most Mormons it is not enough to have a great article or book published by Dialogue or Signature. However good the material, the source is suspect to them. I’m sure that’s not news to anyone here.

    Several years ago I heard President Hinckley on Larry King referring to the priesthood ban. His exact words were, “That was in the past, and that was a mistake.” I wish he would say it in General Conference.

    Genesis is fantastic. We used to attend when we lived in Salt Lake. I wish the Church could find a way to help that group expand its influence, not just among Black members but among all members.

    But that’s all wishing and hoping for intervention from places of power. You asked what we can do. I think the number one thing we are not yet doing is to stop being afraid. Too often I hear any conversation about race reduced to whispers. People are so afraid of giving offense that they lose any chance to interact with and learn about their Black brothers and sisters. If we have a question, we should ask it. That’s what children do when they see my family. (“Why is your mom so white?” “A light person … and a dark person?”) I think it’s wonderul!

    3) Would you join me and many others in reassuring any black members among you that you do not think them innately cursed or inferior in any way and in speaking up whenever and wherever we hear the folklore presented as fact or doctrine?

    Yes. Maybe even in my parents’ ward full of crazy old white people. I can and should do better.

    And please tell your friend not to give up. My kids and their peers need him his peers as strong members of the Church to show them that it can be done. Having a role model might seem like a cheesy idea to some people but it means a great deal to kids. They watch, and they notice people like themselves … or the absence thereof.

    One day I was perusing a Conference issue of the Ensign while a friend’s African-American son (also adopted transracially) looked over my shoulder. We looked at the pictures of the General Authorities and I told him that someday Heavenly Father might ask him to serve like these men — a fondly held wish of my heart! “No,” he said. “Nobody in here looks like me.” :`(

    Thanks for the chance to rant. I apologize in advance for typos. The comments are slow and I tried to proofread, but I can’t guarantee I caught everything!

  66. Shoot! All that bold! Sorry!

  67. Stirling, the problem with calling these teachings “folklore” is because it only becomes apparent in hindsight that the teachings are folklore. There are likely current teachings that will eventually prove to be folklore by your definition. I suppose that’s ok, but when I hear the work “folklore” it implies not just whether the ideas are correct but how they are transmitted and received.

    Regarding ancient ideas about race: that’s a very good point. I think you are right that black-vs.-white racial thinking is modern. Although the ancient Israelites apparently placed great importance on their ethnicity, which in some ways was seen like a large extended family (e.g. the “seed of Abraham”), they weren’t biologically much different from their idolotrous neighbors anyway. It is interesting that the more modern ideas about race seem to be much more strongly reflected in the Mormon scriptures than in the Bible. It’s as if the Mormon scriptures provide a modern racialist gloss to the Biblical accounts.

  68. That Lester Bush article in JMH was outstanding and fascinating. It looks like the Journal doesn’t have their articles online yet, though I understand this is forthcoming.

    I think my biggest problem with the race issue is that it highlights that some Church members are so desperate to not say their leaders are wrong, that they’ll defend anything, regardless of how ridiculous. God a racist? No problem, as long as we don’t have to say men like Mark E. Peterson, Harold B. Lee, Ezra Taft Benson, Bruce R. McConkie, etc. weren’t the racist men they really were. Ironically, the doctrines aren’t even Mormon; the Church has an out with this – they could just say that leaders like Brigham borrowed popular theology at the time, and that he never claimed a revelation on the subject.

  69. Ryan, blacks have been ordained as ministers in many other denominations throughout American history. It didn’t kill Methodists, why should it have killed the Mormons?

    I just find it hard to believe that if those crazy 18th century Mormons, way out in Utah, had decided to let their black members hold the priesthood and go to the temple, that anybody outside of Utah would have even noticed, let alone that it would have been “suicidal” for the church.

    Of course a century later the outside world did eventually notice the policy we adopted, and then it was an international embarassment. And don’t you find it odd that the leaders like BY justified the practice in terms of a “curse” without mentioning more pragmatic concerns about outside attitudes?

  70. I wish we would make a repudiation of the old doctrine. Its really painful. Most of the people I worked with in South Africa were either black or mixed race. A couple have even served missions.

    I am wondering what to make of Acts 10 in all of this. When I was on my mission in Africa and we would get asked about the priesthood ban I would pull out Acts 10 and Peters revelation and compare it to Kimballs 1978 revelation

    Any comments?

  71. “some Church members are so desperate to not say their leaders are wrong, that they’ll defend anything, regardless of how ridiculous.”

    You couldn’t have hit the nail more precisely on the head. You have accurately described an example of not speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed. I guess the difference is whether or not an individual perceives this attitide to be a virtue or if we feel that keeping temple covenants is a luxury we can afford to disregard if it clashes with personal opinions on what official doctrine ought to be.
    I think this argument reinforces the point Molly and those who concur with her are trying to emphasize, namely, let’s put criticism of church leaders aside because it does nothing to help increase our faith. Rather, let’s focus on eradicating the terrible attitudes that have torn at the church long past their time. Perhaps making that our goal, instead of finding ways to place blame on leadership would be a good way to make us all a little more Christ-like

  72. “blacks have been ordained as ministers in many other denominations throughout American history. It didn’t kill Methodists, why should it have killed the Mormons?”

    Don’t dispute selectively. I clearly stated that the church was too young (especially as compared to the methodists who were rooted in mainstream America and didn’t suffer anywhere near the persecution the early church suffered) to add more controversy than it already had.

    “let alone that it would have been “suicidal” for the church.”

    You’re correct, “suicidal” was an overstatement. More accurately: missionary work, official recognition, persecution abatement, etc.. would have been severely damaged which in turn would have had far-reaching consequences for the growth and establishment of the church.

  73. Aaron Brown says:

    Puh-leeeeez, Ryan. Give me a break. First of all, whatever “not speaking evil of the lord’s anointed” might mean, I think it’s a bit much to argue that it requires looking anywhere and everywhere but at our leaders for an explanation of some unfortuante past practice, theology, etc. You might as well adopt an “Our leaders are always infallible” attitude, or a “let’s say our leaders are always infalliable even though we know they’re not” policy.

    I suppose if you don’t want to focus on possible causal explanations for the ban, that’s your prerogative. But that IS what many of the rest of us are doing, rather than disregarding covenants that clash “with personal opinions on what official doctrine ought to be.”

    “…let’s put criticism of church leaders aside because it does nothing to help increase our faith.”

    Well, for a lot of people, even acknowledging that there have been unfortunate racial implications of Mormon theology and racist attitudes in Mormon culture does nothing to help increase their faith either. So maybe we should just stop talking about this subject altogether? Or maybe this is the wrong time to be invoking the “faith-promotion” canard, given how difficult ANY discussion of this issue is bound to be for faith.

    One of the necessary steps in “eradicating the terrible attitudes that have torn at the church long past their time” is having honest discussions about the origins of these policies, even if those discussions are sometimes necessarily going to be speculative. By foreclosing any critical discussion of the role of the historical LDS leadership with respect to this issue, you are potentially shutting the door on the possibility of grappling with this issue in a way to help us all get beyond it, and for what? So that you never have to think negative thoughts about any Mormon leader. I think you’re prioritizing the wrong principles here, and are not doing the Church any favors.

    Aaron B

  74. Guys ever heard of the AME. There is reason why blacks have their own Christian denominations. They were not accepted in the white congregations.

    Sunday is still the most segregated day in America. Come on down South and y’all will see.

  75. Ryan: “missionary work, official recognition, persecution abatement, etc.. would have been severely damaged ”

    Well, if you keep saying it, it must be true. You might try to provide some evidence, if you can find any. (For example, that other churches suffered when they admitted blacks.)

    Until then, I’m inclined to believe that the long run damage done to the church’s image by imposing the ban and keeping it in place for so long is much, much worse than any damage that the ban may have averted.

  76. I can’t get my mind around the logic behind the argument that “The exclusion by Utah Mormons of blacks from temple blessings and the priesthood was justified because it made the church more palatable to the rest of America.”

    So instead of trying to address that claim, let me throw out another idea. The 1850 Act creating the Territory of the State of Utah allowed only “free white males” to vote. In a speech to the Utah Legislature in which he successfully lobbied/demanded slavery be legalized, Brigham cited this restriction in telling the Utah Legislature that because Islanders, Indians, Africans, and Asian Jews (those “that come from Asia, that are almost entirely of the blood of Cain”) were excluded from voting or holding government office, they also should be excluded from full church participation, and vice-versa. Among other comments on the topic, in that speech he said, “I will not consent for one moment to have an African dictate me or any Bren. with regard to The Church or state government.”…
    “Suppose that five thousands of them come from the Pacific Islands, and ten or fifteen thousands from Japan, or from China, not one soul of them would know how to vote for a government officer, they therefore ought not in the first thing have anything to do in government affairs.”…
    “No man can vote for me or my brethren in this territory who has not the privilege of acting in church affairs.”
    “If the Africans cannot bear rule in the Church of God, what business have they to bear rule in the state and government affairs of this territory or any others?”

    With that in mind, an application of Occam’s razor might suggest: The civil rules prevented non-whites from voting (thus preventing them from participating fully in the benefits of the civil society). The civil rules allowed slavery of one ethnic group. Mormon religious rules created at this same time replicated these civil rules. These religious rules prevented non-whites from participating fully in the benefits of the civil society, with a specific focus on one ethnic group.

    I should tighten that argument up but my daughter is asking me if I’ll play soccer with her in the living room, and I do know the right answer to that question.

  77. Hey Ana, thanks for your comments. I have nephews that are half-black (actually, part black, white, Japanese, native American, and um…German–and oh, wait, they’re actually great-nephews) and always figured I’d adopt or at least foster parent some mixed kids myself, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m sure as time goes on “rainbow” kids will just be more and more common.

  78. Why the ban? I don’t know exactly. There are possible reasons as the “folklore” attests to the possibilities.

    Was there a ban from God? Yes, absolutely.

    How can you say that when there was no revelation on the subject? Because there wasn’t a revelation that said it was wrong, at least not until 1978. The few blacks who were given the Priesthood to the contrary, it was not even commonplace with Joseph Smith. There is the Spirit of the Law and the Letter. Joseph was more of the Spirit kind of person and BY more the Letter. Even with the lift it didn’t say it was wrong, only no longer a ban.

    I believe the “folklore” was actual doctrines of the Church. Mostly because I believe in prophets and not liberals. Not saying that prophets can’t be wrong, but I don’t believe God stays silent on matters that hurt his church unless there was a compelling reason to stay silent. Or, a compelling reason to not stay silent on something, like polygamy, that might hurt the church. when I say hurt the Church, I mean that the world would look down upon in such a way to cause impediments to growth and freedom. God is not a coward or give in to popular opinions. Until you explain God’s silence on something as serious as Priesthood, the power of God, all your protestations come off as Monday morning quarterbacking.

    Turst me as a believer in some of the “racist” doctrines of how to change perceptions. Answering the question of God’s silence is paramount. For us, Scriptural hints (even if YOU see these as unsupportable) and no early rejecting revelations spells indorsements. Secondly, all your hopes of a firm statement of the LDS Leadership changing minds and hearts of those who believe in at least some of the “folklore” is doomed. It will be seen as a political smokescreen for convenience sake. If it came WITH the ban revelation, that would have been acceptable.

    I just find it interesting that no one here has considered that the ban was real and from God. Most of the arguments come down to “because its racist” as pointed out by the same people a very modern idea. If you read the Scriptures it is clear there are priesthood bans. Maybe they don’t have to do with racism, but they definantly have to do with something. To “win the hearts” of “racists” like me you need to do more than point fingers and name call. Also, you need to do more than prove what the scriptures don’t mean. You need to prove what the scrptures do mean. You need to show respect to those who your words make into second class citizens and followers of “false traditions.” You need to stop approaching it like University professors and start looking at it like Saints. Stop quoting history and start quoting Scriptures and Prophets that prove your points. Only then will your efforts be taken seriously.

  79. Ryan, you have been too kind to me but with an explanation I hope we are not that far apart. I do believe we are still dealing with these issues largely for the mistaken statements of past leaders and the absence of a clear statement disavowing the same. But I do not think I am guilty of speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed for saying so. Like you, I take my temple vows seriously. Speaking evil is to me very different from suggesting a leader has been wrong. I think speaking evil is to speak lies about or to seek to cause harm for harm’s sake. Unless we believe our leaders are perfect (and beginning with Joseph Smith who told followers if they wouldn’t expect perfection of him, he wouldn’t expect it of them), many have forthrightly reminded us they are not perfect. I see nothing wrong with suggesting leadership error got us here and leadership can get us out. We cannot dictate that leadership of course and I think it only respectful we voice our disagreements appropriately in select forums, classes, letters and among ourselves. Picketing the Church Office Building won’t cut it. That in mind, you rightly conclude I am suggesting we clean up our own attitudes and actions, but we may also continue prayers and discussion for a public repudiation from the Prophet. I have only love and respect for the good men who struggle with their own humanity to lead us as closely to God’s will as they can. I have no desire to undermine their dignity or authority.

  80. Ryan,

    Church members aren’t as dumb as you seem to think they are. If you repudiate, or even hint that past explanations for the ban are off-base, they will, shocking though it may seem, make the connection. You’re saying past leaders were wrong. “But, but, but, Brigham said, Joseph Fielding said, Bruce R. said, Mark Peterson said…” It’s one thing to just let something fade away by ignoring it, which seems to be the current approach; it’s another to directly address it and face the past. The problem, of course, with trying to ignore the issue and hope that it will go away, is that Mormons search for answers. I remember on my mission, if I couldn’t find an answer from today’s leaders, I’d go hunt elsewhere. Discovering books like “Answers to Gospel Questions” was like a gold mine. I had my answers. Too bad some of them sucked, like what it has to say about black Church members.

    As for “speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed,” it’s been abused so often as to make it so subjective that it’s worthless to discuss. It’s used as ammo by those who hear things they don’t like to bludgeon those they disagree with into silence. Why not just come out and say, “I don’t like what you’re saying, it makes me uncomfortable, and I don’t want to have to address your concerns, so I’m just going to attack your faith and try and label you so I can discredit you to others without actually having to deal with what you’re saying.” It’s pretty much the same, and it’s what you did with your lame-ass comments about temple covenants.

  81. jayneedoe says:

    One of my proudest moments as a parent came when I met my daughter’s two roomates. She had been living with them for about two months, and I was surprised to see one of them was black.

    I am militantly opposed to racism and bigotry and have raised my daughter to share these values. Consequently, an individual’s race is a total non-issue with her, and it hadn’t even occurred to her to tell me Lisa was black.

    Compare this to my TBM mother who insisits “I’m not racist, I just don’t like the things they do,” and calls one of her co-workers “the black lady Yvette.”

    She’s been this racist her entire life and she’s justified it with the ban, believing, to this day, Africans were cursed by God.

    I know this isn’t relevant to the Church’s stance, and I am no longer a believer, so this isn’t an issue I have to struggle with. But I just wanted to point out that it is possible for people to be color-blind.

    I truly could not have been prouder of my daughter.


  82. jayneedoe says:

    I just read my last post and realized my first paragraph could be misleading.

    I was surprised my daughter’s roomate was black only because my daughter had not told me.

    And once again, I am very proud it never occurred to her to tell me.


  83. JetBoy, in #78, what do you mean when you write, “I believe the “folklore” was actual doctrines of the Church.”

    Do you mean you believe, for example, that Cain and Ham actually were cursed with black skin?
    Or, do you mean that those teaching were “actual doctrines” of the church because they were taught for a time? Do you think the teaching is factually correct, or that it was correct in its time and is no longer?

    Your approach sounds similar to that of First Presidency Member George Q. Cannon. The First Presidency Minutes show that In August 1900 the First Presidency was asked by a South Carolina mission president about what to do about “a village of negroes who were members of our Church. Two of the males had been ordained to the priesthood” by the missionary who had baptized them. GQC told the other FP members that “President Young had held to the doctrine that no man tainted with negro blood was eligible to the priesthood…President Cannon read from the Pearl of Great Price showing that negroes were debarred from the priesthood[remember, that’s a “folk” interpretation, the text doesn’t say that]… “

    But, for Church president Lorenzo Snow, this was not a settled matter. He wanted to discuss it with the full quorum.
    The minutes read: “President Snow intimated to President Cannon that this was one of the questions which it was understood would come up before the Council of First Presidency and Apostles for discussion the first time there should be a full attendance. “

    Check out GQC’s response:
    “President Cannon remarked to President Snow that as he regarded it the subject was really beyond the pale of discussion, unless, he, President Snow, had light to throw upon what had already been imparted. “
    “Brother [George F.] Gibbs now reminded President Cannon that President [Joseph F.] Smith had on a previous occasion related something going to show how the full blooded negro came through the flood which had not to his knowledge appeared in our records, and suggested that President Smith be asked to repeat it.
    Upon being invited to do so President Smith said that he had been told that the idea originated with the Prophet Joseph [Smith], but of course he could not vouch for it. It was this: That the woman named Egyptus was in the family way by a man of her own race before Ham took her to wife, and that Cainan was the result of that illicit intercourse. [could we agree this is folklore?]
    This subject was now dropped without President Snow intimating that the subject would be further considered. “

    I read this instance, given the similar lobbying efforts by GQC on the ban in other FP meetings before and after this one, as possibly being an example of GQC talking the President of the Church out of his (the prophet’s) desire to reconsider a racial ban that at that time had not yet been crystallized into a rigid, universal rule (especially for persons who were regarded as of mixed-race heritage). From my reading of the FP minutes, it’s seems that if GQC and Joseph Fielding Smith had not consistently lobbied in these types of circumstances to continue a teaching held by Brigham Young, the racial ban might have never been solidified (particuarly not in its form of applying to any one with “one drop” of “negro” blood), and it might have merely been another fleeting doctrine taught by BY that has no general acceptance in the church today.

    Una lastima.

  84. IIRC, the recent McKay biography shows that McKay was an apostle for 15 years before he knew that the church had a formal “policy” (his understanding) about withholding the priesthood.

  85. You keep putting in the words “folk doctrine” as if repeating that phrase will impart it as reality. Well, lests just say that it has yet to be proven that is nothing more than your own “folk doctrine” that it is not a true teaching. The text, by the way, never says anything until the interpretation is made. When it comes to Scripture that job is the responsibility of prophets and not linguists or professors.

    I believe that the “blacks not holding Priesthood because they are decendants of Cain” to be actually and continually an unbreakable doctrine. It is supported by Scriptural exegesis of the prophets over time, specifically as relates to a small section of the Book of Abraham. Regardless of what you might think of people like me, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Blackness as a sign of spiritual darkness or a dislike of people who are not white. It has to do with a very specific ban that God, through his Prophet Brigham Young as seemingly taught by Joseph Smith and upheld by prophets since, had instituted. Discussion doesn’t make something a non-doctrine. God and his prophets (including Snow) had ample time to clear up the “false” teachings as they had with BY’s other so-called theological mistakes (lets not forget that those “fleeting” doctrines are still alive and well in some places even among those who are quick to dismiss the race teachings. Its more politics than religion). President Kimball said the “ban” was lifted in his revelation, and not that it was wrong. You can wish for some clear prophetic denouncement of the very authoritative teachings on the subject all you want, but the time for such possibilities has past for those who hold to Revelation.

    My advice is, get over it as your stuck with it as long as you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

  86. Jettboy, President McKay, himself, stated that the priesthood ban was not a doctrine of the church, but merely a policy. Care to reevaluate you comment in that light?

    Moreover, you state the Brigham was “seemingly taught by Joseph Smith.” I would appreciate your evidence for this statement.

  87. Jettboy, you’re coming across like a racist blockhead. You say “blacks not holding Priesthood because they are decendants of Cain” is an unbreakable sciptural doctrine. But it obviously isn’t unbreakable since it didn’t apply in Joseph’s day and it doesn’t apply in our day. And Stirling’s patient explanations show it’s not scriptural either. I think you’re just a little behind the curve on this one.

    I agree the “folklore” label can be problematic, but it is a particular problem in the race and priesthood question because LDS leaders (1) never clearly articulated the basis for the priesthood ban, and (2) never clearly explained the basis or doctrinal implications of the abandonment of the ban in 1978. What is clear is that that absence of official comment has allowed racist “folklore” to remain as the working worldview for too many Mormons. I don’t see how they can take the big step of reversing the priesthood ban but not do the straightforward cleanup work of clearly repudiating the racial doctrines (“folklore”) that flourished in its shadow.

    FARMS uses the same folklore distinction with the LGM (although I don’t believe they use the term “folklore” for traditional Mormon beliefs). They portray the Hemispheric Model, embraced by Joseph Smith and most Mormons since, as folklore because they see it as not supported (or at least not required) by a careful reading of the Book of Mormon. Same thing here: Stirling is explaining how the priesthood ban is not, in fact, supported by a careful reading of LDS scriptures.

  88. Jettboy,
    One would only have to “get over it” if there was a doctrine of prophetic infallibility in the Church. I’m not aware that there is one. This being the case, people can believe that the priesthood ban was a flawed policy, but still be happy to be a member of the Church.

  89. Although I haven’t taken the time to sort out all the issues and determine anything more than a general stance toward the ban, I would like to submit one thought that’s crossed my mind.

    We may not know all of the reasons for the initiation of the ban, but I think we can understand (at least in part) the difficult situation in which subsequent Church leaders were placed.

    We Mormons tend to hold strongly to the ideal that all of our leaders’ actions and teachings should perfectly fit into one big harmonious puzzle called the Gospel, which has been directly revealed by God to his servants. Unfortunately, we seldom make allowances for the natural frailties and limited knowledge of these mortal men.

    With this ideal in mind, I imagine it would have been difficult for post-Brigham leaders to initiate any change without disrupting the idea of continuous, harmonious revelation. Even if they had doubts about the ban’s correctness, it would have been difficult to make amendments without seemingly discounting Brigham’s prophetic role. Additionally, assuming that the policty was inspired, leaders may have had some doubts about whether or not they could change the policy without offending the God who supposedly inspired it to begin with.

    Members (leaders and general membership alike) may have adopted an attitude toward the ban similar to the attitude commonly employed toward some elements of the Endowment ceremony: “I don’t understand it all, but I have a testimony of Church and this gospel, so it must be true.” Essentially, the ban may have been accepted on the basis of faith in our past leaders.

    If, by chance, the ban was not inspired to begin with, then I’m not trying to justify it’s continuance for so long. Nor am I trying to vindicate leaders for not making a needed amendment to Church policy. It simply crossed crossed my mind that, if post-Brigham leaders did entertain doubts concerning the Priesthood ban, they would have had to grapple with some difficult issues and considerations, which may be partially responsible for the hesitancy to initiate change until 1978.

    I’m not offering any solutions per se. But I do believe that it would be beneficial for the general Church membership to come to grips with the imperfections of our leaders. We should be comfortable with the idea that sometimes even those at the top of the totem pole make mistakes. Then we wouldn’t feel the need to explain away uninspired practices.

  90. Frederick G. Willaims says:

    Steve and Ronan—I appreciate your response to Jetboy—except the persistence and prevalence of his approach has made some of us NOT happy to be members of the Church.

    Call me weak or whatever—finally it becomes just too joyless.

  91. What Steve said.

    Plus, we’ve gone beyond Molly’s complaint here. In a sense we should take President Hinckley seriously when he says the ban “is behind us.” There was a ban once. There isn’t anymore. Hallelujah.

    The problem is that the ban was NEVER officially explained, which leaves many Mormons of all stripes feeling that they need to explain it. This is where folklore arises. So we end up piling on the misery of many faithful black Saints (who are already puzzled as to why God prevented them from enjoying the priesthood because of the colour of their skin) by telling them all manner of fantasy-folklore-rubbish. Best to keep our mouths shut.

    With that in mind, I’d like to pose a difficult question. What would better help a struggling black member on this issue? To say:

    1. You have the curse of Cain, mate, get over it. (Er, NO!)
    2. Former church leaders simply laboured under some of the racist notions of their time. I’m sorry. We’re not perfect.
    3. We have no idea why God instituted this ban.

    It just dawned on me how paternal this all sounds. Are there no black Mormons reading this blog? If so, please comment! (If not, well, I wish we could remedy that.)

  92. Jonathan Green says:

    (OT: Frederick G., if you’re using a pseudonym, you might want to consider a new one; FGW IV has been a mission president and teaches at BYU, and FGW V…well, I don’t know what he’s up to right now. If it’s you: Hi, how ya doin’? If it’s not you: you might want to look for a new pseudonym, just to avoid confusion.)

  93. Jettboy, you’re coming across like a racist blockhead. You say “blacks not holding Priesthood because they are decendants of Cain” is an unbreakable sciptural doctrine. But it obviously isn’t unbreakable since it didn’t apply in Joseph’s day and it doesn’t apply in our day.

    Its was doctrine in at least Brigham Young’s day, it is doctrine NOW. The POLICY related to it has changed, but the doctrinal reasoning has NOT! Polygamy, for instance, is still a doctrine where the policy is for the most part no longer fuctioning. It is just interesting how so many here are making excuses and not approaching the question: What if the “Blacks cursed as to the priesthood through lineage of Cain” doctrine were not a mistake?

    I am not denying that the priesthood can be given to everyone at this time. I am not arguing that anyone is less of a person than another because of the ban. What I AM saying is that your making assumptions that are tenuous at best to somehow make the Church look good for PR purposes. I have the words and actions of Apostles and Prophets with divine authority to back me up in the officiality of both the ban and the major reasoning. All you have is the “fallibility theory,” that even prophets and apostles after the ban have not even mentioned. And I suspect, unlike anyone here so far, the reason is that the doctrine remains true where the practice is no longer in force.

  94. Ben S., thanks for your reference in #84 to the McKay biography. I had read that chapter but not picked up the point you made. During half-time at a child’s soccer game I re-read it. The following is from p. 74 of Prince’s David O. McKay biography:

    “The origins of the policy are obscure, but postdate Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founding prophet. Fn57 When the main body of Mormons moved to Utah in 1847, the LDS Church entered a prolonged period of isolation that kept race relations on the back burner. By the turn of the twentieth century, when David O. McKay became an apostle, few Mormons were even aware of the policy. Indeed, McKay himself did not confront it for another fifteen years.” [Then, Prince quotes McKay recounting his asking President Grant in 1921 if a faithful black man in Hawaii could be ordained to the priesthood.]

    When Prince writes, “McKay himself did not confront [the racial ban] for another fifteen years,” it’s not clear to me that he means to convey that McKay wasn’t aware of the ban, or just that he didn’t run into a specific situation where the ban affected someone he knew personally. I’d like to follow up on that point as it would a pretty interesting detail if a 20th century apostle could not be aware of the practice for 15 years of his ministry.

    Prince continues:
    “The policy remained an obscure issue for another two decades, until in 1947 the First Presidency instructed Heber Meeks, president of the Southern States Mission, to investigate the possibility of proselytizing in Cuba. Meeks wrote to his friend Lowry Nelson. Lowry nelson, a sociologist at Utah State Agricultural College (now Utah State University[Nelson had also taught at BYU]) who had spent a year studying rural life in Cuba: “I would appreciate your opinion as to the advisability of doing missionary work particularly in the rural sections of Cuba, knowing, of course, our concept of the Negro and his position as [to] the Priesthood.” Fn59 Nelson was stunned by the letter and wrote in response: “Your letter is the first intimation I have had that there was a fixed doctrine on this point. I had always known that certain statements had been made by authorities regarding the status of the Negro but I had never assumed that they constituted an irrevocable doctrine.” Fn60

    Consider the above information, with a Mormon sociologist, and perhaps an apostle (this needs verified with Prince, it seems unlikely) not being aware that the ban was an official continuing doctrine, consider the 1900 George Q. Cannon/ Lorenzo Snow dialogue noted in #83 (along with similar First Presidency meetings around that time period), and consider that Armand Mauss, in All Abraham’s Children, describes Joseph Fielding Smith as “codifying” the “rather disparate Mormon racist teachings that had accumulated up to his time.” (p.29). Mauss is referring to JFS’s book The Way to Perfection written in 1931 when he was church historian and an apostle.

    With the above in mind, I think I need to reevaluate my previous assumption that the racial ban had been a firm policy since Brigham Young’s time, particularly with respect to its application to people who were not considered “pure negros.” To do that, I wish I could ask google to quickly review all the First Presidency minutes from 1848 to 1948 to find instances when the question of race was dealt with.
    I do have a note that in 1902 the Joseph F. Smith First Presidency faced a question about whether a man who was “1/8th negro” could receive the priesthood. Apostle John Henry Smith is quoted as having “remarked that it seemed to him that persons in whose veins the white blood predominated should not be barred from the temple.” President Joseph F. Smith “gave it as his opinion that in all cases where the blood of Cain showed itself, however slight, the line should be drawn there; but where children of tainted parents were found to be pure Ephraimites, they might be admitted to the temple. This was only an opinion, however, the subject would no doubt be considered later.”

    Anyway, thanks again Ben. S.

    Stirling Adams

  95. Stirling,

    I believe that Greg Prince was more explicit about McKay not knowing about the ban in his podcast interview with John Dehlin, that you can find here. That may be what Ben was thinking about.

  96. No, Jettboy, it’s not doctrine now and it never was, that’s the whole point: it was folklore cooked up to explain a practice for which there was no clearcut doctrine. But I can’t think of a better illustration of why LDS leaders really need to make a clearcut and public repudiation of LDS racist folklore than your comments. Your mode of thinking — plus your resort to SHOUTING when confronted with opinions outside your narrow doctrinal comfort zone — has “Mormon fundamentalist” written all over it.

    The term “Mormon fundamentalist” generally applies to those who reject the 1890 Proclamation but it applies equally well to those who reject the 1978 Revelation. So innocent visitors to this site ought to be notified that the LDS Church has spent the last hundred years excommunicating folks (including a couple of apostles early in the 20th century) who think like Jettboy. He gets to express his opinion (a mark of the tolerance and longsuffering of those running this blog) but don’t think it is an opinion that any living LDS senior leader would endorse.

  97. Thanks Ed (#95) and Ben.
    I just listened to the post. Here’s the part you refer to.

    Greg Prince [at about 8:00 into the podcast]:
    “[The race-based priesthood/temple ban] was not a discrete revelation, it was a policy that was instituted, probably in response to something going on in the local environment. I’m not sure of that…”

    “It became accepted as doctrine the longer it remained in effect. So by the time you got into the 20th century everybody just assumed that this was based on revelation, that it was doctrinal, that it wouldn’t change.

    John Dehlin: “I’ve also read that it really didn’t come up very much.”

    Greg Prince: “No, it didn’t. David O. McKay was called to be an apostle in 1906. He recorded later that the first time he became aware that this policy even existed was on his trip around the world, which was in 1921. So he’d been an apostle for 15 years, didn’t even know there was a policy. And if he didn’t know, you can imagine what the level of knowledge in the general church membership.”

    Mormon Stories # 004: Gregory Prince, David O. McKay and the Blacks/Priesthood Issue” , 22 Aug 2005 20:47

  98. My answers are:

    1) I think too much of mainstream LDS culture is based on worldiness, and, as you put it, folklore, and, unfortunately, the bible, and all of its errors. Too many mainstream Saints spend so much time trying to validate Latter-day Scripture by forcing comparisons of the Book of Mormon to portions of the Bible, in spite of the fact that we don’t believe that the Bible was translated entirely correctly.

    They spend too much time trying to equate the “curse” of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon to the “curse” of the descendants of Cain in the Bible, instead of doing just the opposite, and extrapolating the truth about the “curse” of Cain from the “curse” of the Lamanites, and how it was just plain a change of skin color.

    Else, how could Ham have found a daughter of Cain worthy enough to have accompanied him in the ark? Couldn’t he have found a more skin-color-worthy non Cainite? Apparently not. Because only the eight of them (who hadn’t been translated with the City of Enoch) were worthy enough to have faith in Noah’s prophesy.

    So, this daughter of Cain had to have been pretty worthy, in spite of her skin color, whatever that color might have been.

    Joseph Smith never taught that anyone should be treated that way. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    2) First, we can ask them to read 1Ne 19:23, and then open to the scripture known as the 2nd Article of Faith, and then then ask them to liken that scriputre unto us: that just like we are not responsible for any of Adam’s transgressions, nor any of the tresspasses of our own earthy fathers, grandfathers, nor other forebears, the same is and always has been true for all of Heavenly Father’s children (our brothers and sisters). Never has God attempted to hold anybody accountable for any of their parents’ or grandparents’ etc., transgressions, not even any of the so-called descendants of Cain and/or Ham. Then, we can remind them what it says in 3Ne 11:29 about anything causing Contention is of the devil. Then, we can remind them to seek their own answer directly from the Lord, as our dear Brother James wrote in chapter 1, verse 5.

    And that’s just for starters.

    We can always throw in the Second Great Commandment, and “As I have loved you, love one another” and “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me” and ask how any of those can be accomplished with even an inkling of racism?

    3) Each and every day, yes, I will, I have, and I do.

    Ryan: In spite of the plausibility of your argument, I don’t buy it. Here’s why: D&C 26:2. The lack of common consent by the membership over the treatment of members of indiginous African descent left the leadership in a quandry of either disciplining the many or depriving blessings to the few. It’s obvious which was chosen, but I don’t for a moment believe that Brother Brigham couldn’t have spoken up about it from any of his many more occasions than he did in their behalf, instead of adding fuel to that particular fire, fledgeling church or not. I believe that the bigoted church members outnumbered the fewer who were being discriminated against.

    The church has no business trying to find acceptance among the peoples around it. It has the business of teaching the priniciples of the gospel, and especially teaching people to repent, which for a hundred and twenty-nine years, it’s leaders were not doing enough. In fact, many of its leaders engaged in the perpetuation of that particular problem.

    Was it a sin to deprive anyone of the priesthood while adhering to the Lord’s command of common consent? I don’t think so, but, I do think that any flavor of racism was and is a sin, albeit one of those fabled “little white sins”, which we needed, and still need to repent of, collectively.

    Me, I’ve been repenting of things all my life. even a few things that were not intended to be racist, but as soon as it was pointed out to me that it could be misinterpreted as racist, I quit doing and saying them. So I place myself squarely in the middle of the group in need of repentance.

    Mark B:
    Levites were not the only tribe of Israel who could hold the Priesthood. Elijah was not a Levite, yet he held (holds) the Priesthood. Lehi and Nephi and many of their posteriety held the Priesthood. The Levitical Priesthood, however, was and is the Temporal priesthood, whereas the Priesthood after the order of the Son, a.k.a the Melchizedek Priesthood, was and was always supposed to be available to all worthy males of appropriate age, throughout all of the days of the earth.

    Andermom: When have any of the other principles of the Gospel been forced to await rest of the world to change? How is that in keeping with the Savior’s suggestion that his followers become the light of the world.

    The only truly plausible explanation is that upon the death of the Prophet, the Saints who survived him, who had not learned enough about the Prophet’s life-long ministry to teach everybody how to become a prophet for themselves and receive inspiration of their own, in their struggle to find a leader to show them the way, became bogged down for 129 years by striving to follow those leaders rather than learn to find Wisdom in the same way Joseph had been doing all his life.

    It was the membership of the church that had to change, not just the world.

    What’s sad, very very very sad, is that in that particular instance, it was indeed the world who changed first, which was by no means a bad thing, but it occured in the wrong order.
    Amen, Sue.

    Sorry Ryan, but Polygamy has not been abolished. It is still practiced by members in good standing in the Church in parts of the world where it is still legal. It is just not taught from the Pulpet during General Conferences anymore, because of our renewed belief in the 12th Article of Faith, which is the point that President Woodruff was trying to get across, but which he and the Brethren knew would not be an easy pill for many of the more stiffnecked Saints to follow, without sugar-coating it with that explanation.

    Why else do you think the Articles of Faith have become so integrated into Primary lessons over the past few generations. I’ve heard too many people tell me that they had never even heard of the Articles of Faith until they went on their missions and read the book by Elder Talmadge. I sure don’t remember them even being mentioned in Sunday School before Primary became the Children’s portion of the Bloc Meeting schedule. Yet they’ve been around ever since the Church was headquartered in Kirtland.

    It’s that too many Saints DIDN’T believe so many of those items which began with “We believe”.

    “Furthermore, To suggest that every single prophet from BY all the way up to Kimball”, Just for clarification, Ryan, how many prophets have there been since Joseph Smith? A baker’s dozen? A few more? How about hopefully thousands of people receiving prophecy and revelation of their own, like me. I don’t even pretend to receive any prophecy or revelation for anyone who is not a member of my stewardships, but I do seek and receive inspiration in everything, and one of the things that I can testify of is that racism did exist in the Church, and still exists, and still exists within my stewardships, and it is my responsibility to let my light so shine, and show as many as will follow me, the way toward living the Second Great Commandment.

    Quite frankly, folks, I don’t know but that I, my very self, am not the prophet responsible for bringing about the 1978 announcement.

    I became a Deacon in 1977, and a member of the Deacons Quorum Presidency the same week. Shortly afterward, it was on the news that a member from Portland, Oregon, had been excommunicated for baptizing a black man in his swimming pool and ordaining him at water’s edge to the office of Elder. In our next meeting with our branch presidency, I asked what was so wrong with that.

    My parents had always taught me to shun anything that even appeared to be racist, and in my opinion, the world’s formost anti-racists were my two grandmothers, who both consciously mingled with friends, neighbors, and even strangers with at most negligible regard to race, nationality, or color.

    So, to me, the explanation given me by the branch counselors and quorum advisors just did not sit well with me.

    I got much more than an earful from everyone except the Branch President, who, in a personal interview shared with me his tesitimony that the ban was not right, and asked me to pray about it.

    So, I prayed, and I wrote letters, to each of the General Authorities, bearing that portion of my testimony, based very strongly on the 2nd Article of Faith.

    The only indication that I have that my efforts might in any way have tipped the scales, is somthing that I might just be mis-interpreting, but, in every other instance to my recollection that something big has been announced from Salt Lake, it’s always been on the news and a week or so later the local leaders have gotten a letter about it.

    For me, the 1978 declaration was announced not over the news, but my Branch President called an emergency Priesthood meeting, and read the letter that is now called “Official Declaration 2” in the Pearl of Great Price, at least a full week before it got into the news.

    I let out “It’s about time!” and almost got my head ripped off and spit down my throat by some of the branch leaders.

    It was that touchy!

    It might have been something else that tipped the scales, and not me, my prayers, nor my letter, but, with at least two prieshtood holders praying for it in my branch, I know I wasn’t alone, but I know we were in the minority, and I sure came away with the feeling that there is no such thing as a lowly deacons quorum president, who exercises his power to call upon the ministration of Angels.

    “Moses 7:22 … Had not place among them” does not mean that they would not have been welcome had they chosen to be among them, just like Ham’s wife obviously found place among the prophet of her day and his family.

    “2 Nephi 5: 21-22″ again, the Curse of Cain should be compared to this, not the other way around, especially the part where it says ” save they shall repent of their iniquities.”

    “2 Nephi 5:23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. ” and just as soon as they repented, they would be just as blessed. Just like Abish was able to teach to her followers with a litte help from the self-exiled crown prince of Zarahemla.

    “Alma 3: 7-8” is the exact same thing. But Abish and her father had begun the work necessary to bring about the repentance of an entire people.

    Who do you think was one of the “mothers” of the Stripling Warriors who had taught their sons to be so steadfast in the Gospel?

    “Abr 1:24 … and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.” Again, what curse? Just the curse of skin color, nothign else.

    “Ezra 9:2” is about the princes of the survivors of the destruction of Jerusalem in Babylon, who took wives of the daughters o the lands of Babylon and Persia and those other Middle-Eastern countries. So it is not about those lands where the rumored descendants of Cain and Ham dwelled.

    Anybody who reads the whole Law of Moses, can learn that ANYONE can be adopted into the House of Israel, since it has no mention of skin color, just the requirements for marrying into the House of Israel, for both women and men.

    Ham’s descendants included.

    I know of none from the New Testament, just the old testament, which everybody includng King James’ tranlators know is not a perfect translation, and had undergone many revisions and deltions before the original James’ Gang got hold of it. so any biblical reference you have can be discounted simply for being from the bible, as it most certainly will not hold up to the principles taught in the New Testamant, nor in 3rd Nephi.

    Any references in the Pearl of Great Price shold be compared against the Book of Mormon, then ot the New Testament before attempting to use the Old Testament to explain them—after all, the Books of Moses and Abraham were brought to light to clarify the old testament, not the other way around.

    Ronan: The priesthood ban also applied to the Australian Aborigine (sp?)

    J.A. Benson: Our missionaries make a lot of ignorant mistakes. I have a Jewish wardmember who just about called it quits one night when one of the sister missionaries informed her that they had been called to teach the Gospel to all the Gentiles of the world, just like her!!!!!!!!!

    So many people misinterpret the injunciton to not speak evil of the Lord’s annointed in this way.

    Who is the Lord’s annointed? I’m one of them. I’ve been one ever since I was twenty, and heading out on my mission. On my mission I was surrounded by them. Both Men and women. when I became a District leader, some of the people in my stewardship were the Lord’s annointed. Nevertheless, it became my duty to call some of the Lord’s annointed to repentance.

    The first one on my mission was my first Senior Companion, who was doing a LOT of things wrong, who, on the night before he left me decided that perhaps he should give some of my suggestions a try, and he wound up becoming the Assistant to the President.

    Later I became a district leader, and I found myself needing to counsel some of the elders into changing some of their ways. Each and every one of them was among the number of the Lord’s Annointed.

    I later found myself in the position of needing to utterly disobey my district and zone leaders. News of my disobedience reached the word of Elder Ballard, who, after interviewing the lot of us, thanked me, and got my companion to apologize to me, and those three leaders I was disobeying got sent elsewhere.

    It started, however, when I was a Deacon, as I described above.

    Speaking evil against the Lord’s Annointed has nothing to do with calling your leaders to repentance when needed, and when done properly.

    And, the truth is never evil.

    As President Hinkly has mentioned, whenever possible, it should be done with tact, but, as Nephi teaches us, just becaue it hurts our feelings doesnt make it evil, it just means that our guilt is getting in the way of our acceptance of the truth. (1Nephi 16:1-2).

    Even President Hinkly has Home Teachers. Why? Among other reasons, to call him to repentance when necessary.

    Someone needed to call Brigham Young to repentance on a few things a lot earlier in his career. Some tried. Some got excommunicated. Perhaps they merited it for other reasons. Perhaps not.

    Me, I’ve been corrected numerous times by people in my various stewardships: deacons in my quorum, children as a primary teacher.

    I firmly believe that even when they are wrong, I need to hear out their complaint, because if I’m not wrong, I will never be able to correct them, without understanding what it is that they feel the need to complain about.

    That’s why, in my primary classes I abolish the “raise your hand” and “wait until called upon” rules, because sometimes, that’s too late for them to help me perfect my lessons.

  99. Jettboy, is it just a shocking coincidence that Protestants believed the same things about Cain, Ham, Noah, etc long before Mormons enumerated the “doctrine?” Care to tell us why it’s a doctrine? Where did Brigham claim a revelation? Is it written down somewhere?

    In other words, just because you believe something, doesn’t make it true. Some of us need a little bit more than you temper tantrum over people believing things you don’t like.

  100. John Kane says:

    I have long believed a version of Ryan’s theory so thanks for sharing Ryan. But my take on it is that God implemented the ban for the Church to avoid the scorn of its own members, not so much the rest of America.

    Clearly early Church members were not perfect. No mortal is. These men were living in a different time when different attitudes prevailed. Simply put, the membership wasn’t ready.

    So it may have been a combination of the racism held by people like Brigham Young, and God’s knowledge of such racism that added up to a temporary ban. When the bigotry of the members had decreased to an acceptable level, the ban was no longer needed.

    Not all Church doctrine came at once. It was a building process. We still build today. If this were not true, why wouldn’t I just receive my endowment when I turned 12?

    It is not a testimony breaker to believe certain Church leaders were not perfect. It often amuses me when an opponent of the Church will attack an act of Joseph Smith as if it proves the Church is false. Of course it only proves that God is an understanding one who is quick to forgive when the right steps are taken.

  101. Frederick G. Willaims says:

    Bob–you are right about the world getting it right before the Church managed it. In the David O. McKay biography–DOM and The Rise of Modern Mormonism. The authors apologize for DOM by saying that he was a product of his time and place and therefore his racial attitudes were determined by his Wasatch Mountain upbringing and that his pathetic efforts to open up the Church to a degree on this issue were somehow courageous–when compared, I guess to Harold B. Lee panic-struck at the prospect of his granddaughter getting engaged to a black student at BYU or Ezra Taft Benson’s fulminations about the Communist-inspired civil rights movement. Let’s look at a contemporary of DOM—Harry S Truman, US president from 1945-1953. Truman was born in the former slave-holding state of Missouri–and often times spoke of himself as having “southern sympathies”. Yet he had the foresight and the gumption to integrate the US Armed Forces and to support a civil rights plank in the 1948 Democratic Platform—a full 30 years before Spencer Kimball’s priesthood declaration.

    Jonathan–I’ll keep the psuedonym. Frederick G. Williams saw it all and still concluded it was madness.

  102. Hey Jettboy, hey Bob, living prophets trump dead prophets. That’s what we mean by true and LIVING church. If you can’t get your minds around that, please stay away from my kids.

  103. To address the problematic term ‘folklore’:
    If we were to use the term ‘popular belief’ instead, we might convey the same sense of alternative discourse (as opposed to authoritative statements, or perhaps as opposed to true revelation). However, the term ‘popular belief’ has the advantage of including leaders, as well as the main body of church members.

    (When I attended the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society this fall, a number of the presenters spoke passionately about their abhorrence of the term ‘folklore’ as it is used in this post. But what to do about it? Even professional folklorists cannot come to a concensus regarding a better term.)

  104. Sorry Ryan, but Polygamy has not been abolished. It is still practiced by members in good standing in the Church in parts of the world where it is still legal.


    This is simply not true. Even in countries where polygamy is legal, to be accepted for baptism a person must agree to live monogamously in order to be baptized, even if they are already married to more than one wife.

  105. Wow, talon, I can’t believe you went all the way through that comment. That has to be the longest comment I’ve ever seen in the ‘nacle.

  106. Church leaders can be mistaken and imperfect, yet still receive revelation from on high – I agree.

    But if the doctrine on the priesthood was just folklore gone wild; merely the product of rampant imperfection among early church leaders, then it would not have merited a church-wide Official Declaration, nor inclusion in the cannon of scripture. There has to be some threshold of infallibility to the gospel, and the process of revelation. The big deal President Kimball made about changing the policy is our first clue.

    Another big clue is the passage in Abraham 1:21-27, where it says: “Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood”

    I don’t know how anyone can rationalize away the fact that according to LDS theology, the Lord unambiguously stated that those of African decent were not to be ordained to the priesthood prior to 1978.

    There are, in my opinion, plenty of un-inspired explanations for why this commandment existed (McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, for example). But it was a commandment from God nonetheless. You don’t see any Official Declarations regarding the repeal of the Adam-God theory, or some other nutty BY quotation…

  107. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    You don’t see any Official Declarations regarding the repeal of the Adam-God theory, or some other nutty BY quotation…

    but no BY quotation or theory ever started such a huge problem in the church. and yes I do think it was a problem. I don’t know much about anything. I was born 10 years after the fact, but that’s my .000002 cents on the subject.

  108. according to LDS theology, the Lord unambiguously stated that those of African decent were not to be ordained to the priesthood prior to 1978.

    Knarfo, show me where the Lord stated this.

  109. Ann 105:

    I didn’t read the whole comment…I only read as far as that statement and I realized I had read enough.

    “And lo, this shall be given unto you as a sign of their wackyness; they shall type long and rambling comments in the ‘nacle, professing the virtues of secret polygamy, and calling zone leaders to repentance with righteous zeal.”

    Talon 3:16

  110. RE: “This is simply not true. Even in countries where polygamy is legal, to be accepted for baptism a person must agree to live monogamously in order to be baptized, even if they are already married to more than one wife.”

    How would that be enforced, and isn’t that rather cruel and unusual? If they’re married, they’re married, so they should be able to live together and man and wife.

    On that same note, if two gay members are married (that is, in countries and/or state[s] where it’s legal, they don[t get excommunicated, do they?

  111. How would that be enforced, and isn’t that rather cruel and unusual? If they’re married, they’re married, so they should be able to live together and man and wife.

    It is enforced just like any other aspect of morality is enforced in the Church, through pre-baptism interviews, and after baptism by continuing interviews with Priesthood leaders (Temple recommends, etc.)

    And yes, I think you could call it cruel (I believe David O McKay used that exact word when informed of saints in Nigeria who had returned one or more of their plural wives to their parents homes in order to be accepted for baptism). But the fact of the matter is plural marriage is not the practice of the Church anywhere on earth, even in countries where it is legal.

    On that same note, if two gay members are married (that is, in countries and/or state[s] where it’s legal, they don[t get excommunicated, do they?

    I do not know the exact Church policy on this, but I would guess that the answer is yes.

    Sorry for the threadjack.

  112. Knarfo, in #106, your statement that “the Lord unambiguously stated that those of African decent were not to be ordained to the priesthood prior to 1978” is preceded by your quote of Abr. 1: 27 (“Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood”). So, I assume that text is what you view as the “unambiguous statement.”

    I grant you that many Mormons have viewed that verse as supporting the priesthood ban. But, consider the following:

    1. The scripture makes no reference to skin color or Africans. What it does is refer to the “loins of Ham,” the “blood of the Canaanites,” etc. To get from those references to a conclusion that this is talking about black Africans, you have to cross a bridge built with assumptions that Ham was cursed with black skin and is the ancestor of black Africans–“folklore” developed thousands of years after Genesis 9 was written.

    2. Think about the phrase “those of African decent.” What does that mean?
    If a female African slave has a child with her white slave master, is the child of African descent, or of European descent? What if a person is “1/16 African” and 15/16 European, what is she? In America, when determining “black” lineage, we’ve followed “hypodescent.” That is the practice of determining the lineage of a child of mixed “race” ancestry by assigning the child the race of her more socially subordinate parent. Under a rule of hypodescent in the United States, if one of the eight great-grandparents was black, the person was classified as black, even if the person’s seven other great-grandparents were considered to be all white or of seven different races.
    The American hypodescent rule developed in the colonies in the 1600s in response to the American context of slavery: a mixed-race child was likely to have a mother who was a slave and a father who was a slave master or owner. The hypodescent rule defining the mixed-race child as black was economically advantageous to the dominant slave-owning class because a black child became valuable property of the slave mother’s owner; a non-black child would likely not have been considered property. In its most extreme form in the United States, hypodescent came to be a “one drop rule,” meaning that if a person had one drop of black blood, she was considered to be black.
    But, in the Old Testament (and in almost all other Mormon contexts), descent was determined patrilineally (following the father’s line). Therefore, what it meant to be “of African descent” wouldn’t have meant then what it means to you now.

    3. Moses is reported in Numbers 12 to have married an Ethiopian woman. In the subsequent verses the Lord says Moses is so faithful he speaks to him “mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches.” There is no indication the Ethiopian wife (or any possible offspring) were subject to religious restrictions.

    4. The scripture you cite is set in Old Testament times, yet your statement says: “The Lord unambiguously stated that those of African decent were not to be ordained to the priesthood prior to 1978.” Based on what Christ was up to in the New Testament, wouldn’t he have done away with any lineage-based restrictions? In fact, in his Mormon Doctrine entry “Birthright,” McConkie stated “The right to hold the Levitical Priesthood anciently was limited to the sons of Levi, who gained their priesthood prerogatives by birth. In the meridian of time our Lord altered this system and spread this Aaronic order of authority among worthy male members of the Church generally.” [Though McConkie missed this point] this scripture seems to directly contradict a claim that blacks never held the priesthood. Were there “blacks in New Testament lands? An express example was the story in Acts of the apostle Philip being sent by an angel to baptize an Ethiopian. Also, the Acts report of the day of Pentecost shows a broad multi-ethnic multi-national scope.
    Then, in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, there are numerous (dozens) statements describing the universal nature of the gospel, and none limiting priesthood or church blessing based on race.

    5. Hugh Nibley specifically disagreed with your interpretation of the text. In Abraham in Egypt he concluded that priesthood participation was not denied in the Abrahamic era on the basis of being black; instead, “What was denied was recognition of patriarchal right to the priesthood made by a claim of matriarchal sucesssion.” In several places in the book he emphasizes race was not a factor in the Book of Abraham 1:25-27 priesthood story, stating, typically, “In all of this, please note, there is no word of race of color, though that has been the main point of attack on the Book of Abraham by the enemies of the Prophet.” (Nibley, Abraham in Egypt, 530, see also 428, 528. (Nibley failed to note that until 1978 many Mormons interpreted that verse as describing a restriction based on skin color).

    6. Church Historian Leonard Arrington wrote that “A special committee of the Twelve appointed by President McKay in 1954 to study the issue [of the black priesthood/temple ban] concluded that there was no sound scriptural basis for the policy but that the church membership was not prepared for its reversal… “(p. 183 of Arrington’s Adventures of a Church Historian;” p. 80 of Prince’s David O McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism)


  113. It’s just speculation on my part and I’ll freely admit it, but sometimes I think the priesthood ban for Black people was more of a punishment for the non-Black members of the Church. Taking the long view, no one will be denied the full blessings of the gospel on any basis othern than personal righteousness. At least in theory, the injustices of that period can be rectified through proxy ordinances which can then be accepted by anyone who wants to accept them. So who were the real losers there for a few generations? Could it have been the non=-Black members of the church, who would not see what God’s family really looks like and therefore missed a lot of chances to learn and grow with and serve and love people who didn’t look like them? The one thing we can never get back is time.

  114. Hi,

    I have enjoyed reading some of the comments in this discussion, and some comments were not so enjoyable. I am not of African descent, but when I was growing up in Utah, the children would call me the n-word. (sorry, I refuse to type out such a loathsome word) I do have good friends who are of African descent who joined the church and this topic can be difficult to discuss. I have often found myself trying to come up with decent answers for family and friends questioning my belief in a church that had such a ban. For anyone interested, here is a website dedicated especially for black lds members. http://www.blacklds.org/


  115. Bobert (to distinguish from other Bobs) says:

    Ana: I agree with you whole heartedly, that a living prophet trumps a dead prophet. However, I also believe that personal revelation trumps any other living prophet, regardless of the level of that prophet, for personal growth.

    However, this does not mean what I think you think it means.

    I’m not going to try to set policy for my stewardships that contradict any of the policies of my Primary President, my Quorum leadership, my Bishop, my Stake President, my Area President, the Quorums of the Seventy, the Council of the Twelve, nor the First Presidency, until I get permission to run with it from whoseever policy it conflicts with.

    The only time I did buck the system, was that time while on my mission when the DL an ZLs had my companion and me doing some things that I felt were very unmissionary-like, and in exchange, were letting my companion do some things that flirted with breaking rules that would send him home—or worse.

    I wrote three letters to the mission president about it (which were handed in to the DL, as per policy), but did not get any kind of reply back — not even a note telling me when he’d make himself available for me to give him a very expensive phone call.

    I finally made up my mind that I had to disobey the D&ZLs, which I knew might get me reprimanded, and I prayed about it, and got a very resounding “yes” answer.

    So I did.

    Two days later, instead of simply receiving a pretty expensive phone call, our entire zone was invited to do three days of much more expensive travelling to attend a zone conference where Elder Ballard was going to be, who was in the country for another conference, not to tour the mission, but he allowed the local missionaries to put on a zone conference which he attended, and he invited us, too, rather last minute.

    My companion and I were placed on the very end of Elder Ballard’s rather lenghty list of appointments and interviews before he was supposed to jet off to some other part of the world.

    He decided to stay the night and catch a later flight.

    Again, he thanked me, got my companion to apologize to me, and the D&ZLs didn’t even take the train back to our zone with us.

    That’s the only time I’ve ever outright directly disobeyed any of my living leaders.

    All the rest of the time, any time my own revelation has conflicted with an existing policy, that policy got changed before I began implementing the things that I had learned by revelation.

    That is, after all, the way the Lord’s church is governed.

    I have no idea why that one guy in Portland Oregon bucked the system by baptizing and ordaining the guy of Indiginous African descent, but based on the end result, he might very well have been inspired to do what I had done on my mission, just on a much much much larger scale than mine was.

    Talon: In a country where polygamy is legal, in order for a polygynous male to be interviewd and baptized by full-time missionaries, he has to agree to live monogamously.

    Any polygynous male who agrees to that condition is clearly not living polygyny that might be considered celestial in any way, shape, or form.

    Any polygynous male who does not agree to that condition, but who is persistent with his investigation to where he obtains an interview with the Mission President, will wind up being interviewed by a General Authority, who will make the determination as to whether or not to proceed.

    Polygynous males are not the only ones who get to use that method of being interviewed for baptism.

    All genealogically-docummented Israelite, and anyone who has ever killed anyone, or who has ever been divorced, too.

    FrankO: Two things: First: What Stirling said.

    Okay, actually that was second, because the following explanation is what I wrote first, before reading Stirling’s concise response. So, for those of you who would like to skip lengthy replies… feel free to. Otherwise, the following is a more-detailed explanation of what Stirling said, albeit without the benefit of me ever having studied Hugh Nibly. This is something I learned on my own.

    Abraham 1:21-27 is not talking about your everyday flavor of Melchizedek Priesthood (and no, I don’t mean that simply because the term hadn’t been thus coined yet).

    There is a difference between someone to whom the priesthood is a priviledge (a.k.a. me) and someone who has a legitimate right to a specific office of the priesthood.

    One such lineage-driven right to the priesthood is mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants Section Thirteen: “… until the sons of Levi do again offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.”

    When I was ordained a Deacon, I received the PRIVILEGE to exercise this office of the Levitical Priesthood, only because there were not enough literal genealogy-documeted descendants of Levi in my locality (none, to be exact).

    When I was ordained a Priest, I received the PRIVILEGE to exercise this office of the Levitical Priesthood, only because there were not enough literal genealogy-documeted descendants of Aaron in my locality (none, to be exact).

    For a worthy descendant of Aaron or Levi, it is not a privilege, but rather a right.

    Similar to the fact that any worthy first-born descendant of Aaron has a RIGHT to exercise the office of Bishop (D&C 68:14-21), and to do so without the encumberance of counselors.

    It should be pointed out that although Moses was the prophet in his day, and he was by birth a Levite, neither he nor his sons nor their descendants had any right to exercise the office of Priest as did the descendants of Moses’ older brother, Aaron, even though it was Moses who ordained Aaron to that office in the first place.

    The “Right” to the priesthood that Abraham was talking about was his own Patriarchal right to the Priesthood, which passed from Noah to Shem and on down, and finally rested upon Abraham.

    Abraham was not saying that Pharoah could not hold the priesthood as a matter of privilege (like me), but that Pharoah was not of the lineage that would have given him the RIGHT to the priesthood, like Abraham.

    It should also be pointed out that Abraham learned about this right to the priesthood from his prophet, a guy by the name of Melchizedk, who, like me, did NOT have the “RIGHT” to the Priesthood, but, who had the PRIVILEGE of bearing it, but unlke me, had the authority to confer the priesthood upon Abraham, as Melchizedek had been ordained to be a High Priest after the order of the Son of God (not to be confused with being a high priest after the order of the Sons of Aaron).

    So, even though Abraham’s linear priesthood had not been conferred upon him through Terah, who also had a RIGHT to it, but who was not worthy to hold it, much less confer it, Abraham did receive it, from Melchizedek.

    Had Pharoah been worthy, and had Pharoah been a High Priest after the order of the Son of God, Abraham would not have made that distinction.

    And, the Lord stated no such thing. All such statements were stated by the leaders of the church, some such statements being issued by the president of the church himself.

    D&C 1:38 notwithstanding, just because a man who is recognized as a prophet says something does not mean that the Lord also said it.

    D&C 1:38 shows a monodirectional relationship. When the Lord says something to his servants (of which I am one) and a servant repeats the Lord, it is the Lord speaking. But, when the servant is speaking something that he had not been told by the Lord, D&C 1:38 does not apply.

    And, finally, Frank, The Adam-God theory is not just a nutty quotation. It is a surprisingly comprehensible explanation of the relationships of both linear priesthoods as well as the linear aspect of non-linear priesthoods, which in this world began with Adam.

    Brigham Young was (and is) a Prophet of God. He received the “Adam-God theory” from on high. Just because he lacked the verbal capacity to explain it “in a nutshell” does not make it just some “nutty” statement.

    It has taken me more than two decades of more than just attending-my-classes study of the Gospel and the Priesthood, to gain my current understanding of it, but it does indeed make complete sense.

    But, I have to admit that the first time I heard it, from the ex-latter-day-saint family of a girl I was very seriously dating before my mission, I, too, thought it was more than just a little bit nutty.

    That said, although I believe Brigham Young was a prophet, I do not believe that his policies on ordination were all based upon prophesy.

    Ann and Talon: By way of apology, I would refer you to something that Brigham Young started saying about the time that he’d learned what the Press had done with his attempt to describe the linear priesthood relationship we have with Adam, which the press mis-understood, mis-interpreted and mis-quouted, and demanded of Brother Brigham “A nutshell version”. Ever since that fiasco, whenever anybody criticised his lengthy replies as being too lengthy, and would again demand a nutshell version, he would say “Anything that fits in a nutshell belongs there” (which by the way, is where the term “nutty” comes from; anything that sounds nutty to you is something that you should crack open the right book and study up on the whole discourse).

    Ana: I like your “punishment for the non-Black members of the Church” suggestion. I’d never looked at it that way, but that is a good way to describe it. I would describe it as the Lord’s way of depriving the Saints of blessings so as not to be holding them so accountable to the higher law, but, even that, in and of itself boils down to a softened form of punishment.

  116. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    umm. quick question. are you suggesting that if there were lots of “levites” in my ward I’d not get the priesthood? explain please.

  117. I just find it interesting that no one here has considered that the ban was real and from God.

    This was an interesting post from Jettboy.

    From a scriptural perspective, God did ban “somebody”; however, as with many things in the Old Testament, the reason for it is unclear.

    I cannot explain the motivation or reasoning behind it, as I don’t know why it is there.

    However, what we DO know is that Joseph Smith DID ordain a black man to the priesthood. Yet, Brigham Young, all of a sudden, sets this policy. No public revelation as to “the change”, nothing in General Conference for sustaining, just BOOM… and that was that.

    Looking at some of Brigham Young’s writing about blacks, it seems pretty clear he didn’t “like ’em”, and the rest is history (literally).

    And… it seemed to “fit” America’s lack of acceptance for black people.

    Yes, I am glad it’s over, but I wish that we could have been more loving when it was really needed, and quicker to let go of past beliefs that, in our hearts, we know did not come from love, but rather an acceptance of the status quo.

  118. However, what we DO know is that Joseph Smith DID ordain a black man to the priesthood.

    Can someone provide a reference for this? Thanks.

    Stirling, thanks for taking so much time to make your point in #112. I remain un-convinced. Some reasons why:

    1. The scripture makes no reference to skin color or Africans.

    It does make reference to Pharoah, who was African. I’m not referring to race or skin color. He lived in Africa, and his descendents formed a major culture on the continent.

    2. Hypodescent. I can conceive of uninspired church leaders erroneously following hypodescent theory in determining lineage. But that fact does not necessarily disprove the notion that the original commandment, to ban the priesthood from those of a particular heritage from Africa, was inspired.

    (By the way, I personally don’t subscribe to the theory that the ban was due to some innate unworthiness on the part of those banned).

    An imperfect application of the hypodescent theory to determine lineage does not necessarily result in a different determination than if it were made patrilineally.

    3. Moses being married to an Ethiopian wife is a moot point. She would not receive the priesthood by virtue of her gender. Nor do we have any evidence in the scriptures that her male sons were ever ordained.

    4. Your point about Christ’s direction on the priesthood seems quite plausible, until considered in context with latter-day revelation. Since the Lord forbade ordination of African bretheren to the priesthood in our dispensation, your point about the changes that took place in the meridian of time remain assumptions, not conclusive evidence.

    In fact, since Heavenly Father only directed the Apostles to preach the gospel outside of the house of Israel after Christ’s resurrection (Acts 10), this would indicate to me that He intended a gradual roll-back on the restrictions of the priesthood, which would be consistent with a ban lasting into the latter-days.

    5. I am sympathetic to Nibley’s apologetic approach to the topic, and I am intrigued by the semantic argument he (and Bobert, above) make regarding ‘right’ and ‘privilege’ to the priesthood. However much I respect Nibley as a scholar, I am still quite comfortable with his theories being trumped by divine proclamation.

    Only two commandments (to date) have merited a full-blown Official Declaration to be amended to our cannon of scripture. Polygamy, and the rights to the Priesthood. This was not some embarrassing correction to administrative procedure being quietly passed down the chain of command, or appearing suddenly in the latest update of the General Priesthood Guidelines.

    This was a joyous proclamation to the entire church, and indeed the world, that the heavens were not closed, that God still spoke to his servants on the earth, and that a big deal had taken place – – one of the oldest commandments on record was being revised to allow all worthy male members to be ordained to the priesthood.

    6. Arrington’s quote contradicts itself; on the one hand you have a select group of prophets, seers and revelators stating (reportedly) that they can find no sound scriptural basis for the ban. But then they turn around and say that it is the Lord’s will that the ban remain in place. Only one of those conclusions can be considered inspired. I am persuaded that it was the latter.

    Bobert – in #115, where you are making a case around the lineage-driven rights of the priesthood, the evidence you present seems to indicate to me that it is referring to the lesser, or Aaronic priesthood, and became an issue only after Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, many years after the original ban was placed on the descendents of Pharoah.

    I’m not sure why God chose to be selective in whom He would ordain to the priesthood. It seems perfectly conceivable that, as President McKay’s special council pointed out, “the church membership was not prepared for” African bretheren to preside over them. But it remains clear to me that this was indeed a commandment received from on high.

  119. John Kane says:

    However, what we DO know is that Joseph Smith DID ordain a black man to the priesthood.

    Can someone provide a reference for this? Thanks.

    Just Google Elijah Abel.

  120. “Elijah Abel, the only colored man who is known to have been ordained to the Priesthood, was born July 25, 1810, in Maryland. Becoming a convert to ‘Mormonism’ he was baptized in September 1832, by Ezekiel Roberts, and as appears from certificates, he was ordained an Elder March 3, 1836, and a Seventy April 4, 1841, an exception having been made in his case with regard to the general rule of the Church in relation to colored people. At Nauvoo, Illinois, where he resided, he followed the avocation of an undertaker. After his arrival in Salt Lake City he became a resident of the Tenth Ward, and together with his wife, he managed the Farnham Hotel in Salt Lake City. In Nauvoo he was intimately acquainted with the Prophet Joseph Smith and later in life was the special friend of the late Levi W. Hancock. In 1883, as a member of the Third Quorum of Seventy, he left Salt Lake City on a mission to Canada, during which he also performed missionary labors in the United States. Two weeks after his return he died, Dec. 25, 1884, of debility, consequent upon exposure while laboring in the ministry in Ohio. He died in full faith of the Gospel.” (Historical Record 3:577)

  121. The previous post quoted the Historical Record as stating that Elijah was the “only colored man who is known to have been ordained to the Priesthood.”

    That was probably a common assumption some time back, but it is incorrect. Here is a more detailed (and likely incomplete) list of “black” persons that received the priesthood up to 1936.

    1836: March, Elijah Abel is ordained to the office of Elder.
    The wikipedia article on Elijah is one of the best quick resources for info on him.
    A pseudonym-toting commentator asked for a cite to the proposition that Joseph himself ordained Elijah. As far as I know, the WIkipedia article is assumed to be accurate when it says Joseph “probably” ordained Elijah. I don’t know if there is a solid record of who ordained him. But, it is clear Joseph knew and approved of the ordination. Here’s one example, from Elijah’s “Elder’s License.” It reads:
    “To Whom It May Concern:
    This certifies that Elijah Abel has been received into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, organized on the sixth of April, in the year of our Lord, one thousand, eight hundred and thirty, and has been ordained an Elder according to the rules and regulations of said Church, and is duly authorized to preach the gospel agreeable to the authority of that office. From the satisfactory evidence which we have of his good moral character, and his zeal for the cause of righteousness, and diligent desire to pursuade men to forsake evil and embrace truth we confidently recommend him to all candid and upright people as a worthy member of society. We therefore, in the name, and by the authority of this Church, grant unto this, our worthy brother in the Lord, this letter of commendation as a proof of our fellowship and esteem, praying for his success and prosperity in our Redeemer’s Cause given by the direction of a conference of Elders of said Church. Assembled in Kirkland, Geauga County, Ohio, the third day of March, in the year of our Lord, one thousand, either hundred, and thirty-six.
    [signed]Joseph Smith, Jr.
    F.G. Williams, Clerk”
    (I haven’t viewed this original document or a copy of the original, but I haven’t seen anyone contest its validity).

    1836: December, Elijah Abel is ordained to the office of Seventy.

    1836, December. Joseph Smith Sr. Church Patriarch, gives Abel patriarchal blessing. Bringhurst writes that the blessing:
    “…proclaimed Abel was ‘ordained an Elder and annointed to secure thee against the power of the destroyer.’ In this blessing were apparent allusions to Abel’s unusual status as one of Mormonism’s few black members. In contrast to his white fellow Saints who were often declared descendants of a particular biblical lineage-usually Joseph or Ephraim-Abel was not assigned such a lineage. Instead, he was proclaimed “an orphan.” Finally, this blessing promised, “Thou shalt be made equal to thy brethren, and thy soul be white in eternity and thy robes glittering.”
    See Bringhurst, “Elijah Abel and the Changing Status of Blacks within Mormonism,” in Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confornt the Race Issue in a Univesal Church: 133-134. online here.

    1844: Walker Lewis, a black man from Lowell Massachusetts, is ordained to the office of Elder by William Smith, the younger brother of Joseph Smith. See Bringhurst, online here.

    1846: William McCary, a black man is ordained to the office of Elder. (http://www.blacklds.org/history.html ) Bringhurst, online here. I don’t know if there are firm records of this ordination.

    1900. November. Elijah’s son Abel ordained an Elder.
    (http://www.blacklds.org/history.html ) I don’t what the primary source for this is. The Elijah Abel monument at the Salt Lake City Cemetery may confirm this. See Arave, Lynn. “Monument in S.L. Erected in Honor of Black Pioneer.” Deseret News, September 29 2002. article here.

    1900. In South Carolina, an Elder Bond ordained as Elders two Negro males that he had also baptized. Apparently many in the “village of negroes” had also joined the church. Saturday Aug. 18, 1900 First Presidency Minutes, recounting letter from president Ben E. Rich, South Carolina Conference President. (George Albert Smith Papers, Marriott Library, UoU; I haven’t seen the originals of these minutes). The meeting minutes report the question being asked of whether anything should be done about the ordinations, but the portion I’ve read do not include any decision to take action.

    1934. July. Elijah Abel (son of Enoch) ordained Priest http://www.blacklds.org/history.html. I don’t what the primary source for this is. The Elijah Abel monument at the Salt Lake City Cemetery may confirm this. Article here.

    1934. September Elijah Abel (son of Enoch) ordained. Bringhurst writes, “such historical information is acknowledged on the monument erected for Elijah Abel and dedicated by Elder Ballard.” (citing to Arave article).
    1936: Two LDS priests in Hawaii, William Pakale and John L. Pea were “recently … discovered to be one-eighth negro.” Regarding baptisms and ordinances performed by the two men, the Council of the Twelve decided that Apostle George Albert Smith would attend the next Hawaii stake conference, “with instructions that in the event he should find that a considerable number of people are involved, we assuming the authority was given to those brethren to officiate in these ordinances, that ratification of their acts be authorized. In the event he should discover that there are only one or two affected, and that the matter can be readily taken care of, it may be advisable to have re-baptism performed.” Council Meeting minutes, January 25, 1940, in Adam S. Bennion Papers (I haven’t seen the originals of these papers or the minutes).

    2005. Due in part to new mathematical and population modeling regarding the concept of “Most Recent Common Ancestor” ( Rohde, Olson, and Chang. “Modelling the Recent Common Ancestry of All Living Humans.” Nature 431: 562 – 66), and in part to the explosion of genetic and genealogy research over the last 20 years, including researching mother-to-mother ancestors using mitochondrial DNA and father-to-father ancestors using portions the Y-chromosome, an increasing number of people are suggesting that everyone alive today may have “black” ancestors from the fairly recent past (perhaps as recent as 2-3000 years ago). That is something Nibley told Lester Bush in 1976, “we all have Negro blood”-there was intermixture everywhere.”
    Ironically, this may also mean we all have the “blood of Israel” (at least in the sense that it may be likely all humans alive today have at least one direct ancestor that is from the family of “Israel.” That is different than whether each human alive today has any genes remaining from the genetic contributions of that ancestor).

  122. Mel Tungate in his Chronology Pertaining to Blacks and the Priesthood briefly discusses whether Joseph Smith was the person who ordained Elijah.

    There, Mel he writes:

    “Mar 1836 Elijah Abel ordained an Elder (Eunice Kenny says by Joseph Smith Jr. in _My Testimony of the Latter Day Work_, ms. In LDS Church Historical Department, although she wrote this four decades after the ordination, and Abel did not cite Joseph Smith as having ordained him in his defense against the later challenge to his status). The certificate of ordination was dated 3 Mar 1836. Newell G. Bringhurst (_Saints, Slaves and Blacks_, p. 60) notes that certificates were sometimes delayed, so the ordination could have been sooner than this, but Abel is still listed among the recently licensed elders in Jun 1836 Messenger & Advocate, 2:335).

    Mar 1836 Elijah Abel given a Patriarchal Blessing by Joseph Smith Sr. No lineage is declared, rather, Abel is proclaimed “an orphan” (this phrase may have been meant literally). Patriarchal blessing states, “Thou shalt be made equal to thy brethren, and thy soul be white in eternity and thy robes glittering.” Sometime in the Kirtland era, Abel is washed and anointed in the Kirtland Temple by Zebedee Coltrin, who would much later remember having never had “such unpleasant feelings.”

  123. However, what we DO know is that Joseph Smith DID ordain a black man to the priesthood.

    Can someone provide a reference for this? Thanks

    My apologies, as I can NOT find a reference for it.

    I have read what I could on this subject, only to find that it is agonizing.

    I am not going to pursue the history of this anymore, as I’m sure it would be both frustrating and ambiguous.

    I do feel, however, that it is important to follow the golden rule (treat others the way you want to be treated). I say this because I would rather “err” on the side of goodness, as, ultimately, I will be accountable.

  124. For anyone needing references/historical background on the subject of black Mormon pioneers, or a wonderful reading experience please consider the _Standing on the Promises Series_. This three part saga is authored by Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray published by Bookcraft. Historical references are included at the end of the chapters. I found these books to be truthful, moving, and very informative.

  125. Stirling told me about this blog, and I’ve been the various reading comments. I have not done a careful read of all of them. I appreciate J.A. Benson’s recommendation of Darius’s and my work. I just got off the phone with Darius, and we talked about a few things on this blog. Our overall impression: Good arguments, but for us, these issues have long since transcended argument. They are life issues for us. Our trilogy tells amazing stories of Black pioneers (and actually goes up to 2002). Guess how many of those pioneers’ descendants are currently members of the Church? ONE! Green Flake has a great great grand daughter who JOINED the Church two years ago. ALL OTHERS (and the descendants probably number in the thousands) left the Church, including the descendants of Jane Manning James and Elijah Abel. (And yes, there IS documentation that his son and grandson received the priesthood.) Is anyone on this list Black? As I was talking to Darius, I quoted the words of Abinadi when he chastized the priests of Noah for knowing the commandments but not having them “written in [their] hearts.” For Darius and me and our many friends in Genesis and elsewhere, the issues you’re discussing have faces. We know a remarkable woman who was called a “nigger” in the temple. We have friends who have been told they were “less valiant” in the pre-existence than whites. Darius himself has been called the “N” word a number of times, and been given the left-handed compliment, “You’re a credit to your race.” Of course, in Old Testament times, the concept of race was non-existent. The OT prophets spoke of lineages and nations, not race–and most of the people mentioned in the scriptures were similarly pigmented, darker or lighter depending on where they lived. We are imposing a modern construct on an ancient world. And those of us who live with these issues in a lively way–recognizing racism as the inevitable legacy of early LDS teachings (common to the 19th Century)–find it hard to simply argue whether Elijah Abel was an octoroon or a full “negro,” and whether it was Joseph Smith who ordained him or someone else. I am very capable of arguing all sorts of points–I saw a number of errors on Mel Tungate’s site when I pulled it up–but I am really tired of arguing. People I love, and who God loves, have not been given the balm of gilead. The revelation of 1978 does NOT speak for itself or this blog would not have proceeded as it did. Darius and I have now heard from descendants of Len Hope, Jane James, Elijah Abel, and Green Flake. All could tell stories about their families and why they chose to leave the faith. I find it not silly but heartbreaking that anyone would suggest that Mormons needed to practise discrimination because America was racist. I seem to recall that Mormons were not doing a lot of things in the traditional ways. Polygamy, one of the “twin relics of barbarism,” as it was termed, was hardly embraced by Americans. Somehow, we manage to excuse the ways we departed from “acceptable” culture and to justify some unthinkable acts and attitudes–which are still infectuously with us–by stating that the rest of America set the stage and we merely played the safest roles we could. No, I think God must weep over what we did and how we still argue the points that keep us from truly living the greatest commandment.

  126. I won’t delve into any of the doctrinal/procedural aspects of this. I only want to offer an anecdote.

    My family history dates back to very early Church days, culminating in Utah, but I was born and grew up in the midwest, very much a religious minority. I later went to BYU, left temporarily for an internship, returned, then ended up in TGSOT (neither south or west nor southwest). I say this only to illustrate that I’ve not been living under a rock in a secluded environment.

    Honestly, in my 30+ years of living, I have never heard one of MY Church leaders express a racist opinion in the Cain/skin-color-as-a-mark/priesthood/inferiority opus (I have heard the issue discussed in a historical context, but never in a sense that they agreed with old racist opinions).

    My father was an inner city university professor, with many minority students, and he frequently expressed frustration at what he called the “I’m a victim” mindset that many of them held, but from a priesthood/religious aspect, he was extremely outspoken in his love for all. When a high school friend asked me about the relevation, my father’s take was that the old policies were based on the incorrect frailities of older leaders, and that it didn’t reflect what God felt, and that Pres. Kimball was settings things right, after receiving revelation from the Lord (but he didn’t excuse the preveious Church leadership that espoused these opinions). I asked my other leaders about this, and that was their stance as well — in the mid-1980s.

    I would have been 8 when the revelation came out, and so maybe I just “missed” out on the earlier years, but since I became of my religious surroundings, I’ve never heard racist comments from my immediate leaders. And I was at BYU for several years! [You’d have thought I’d have heard it there.] No, the only racist comments have been spoken by other members (a great deal who were raised in Utah), and none of them have ever been called into leadership positions. In fact, when a student in a BYU ward made a lightly racist comment in a sunday school class, he was immediately and forcefully rebuked by our bishop who was in atttendance.

    I’m sure I’m a vast minority, but maybe it shows that the Church is becoming color-blind (slowly, over time, as these things generally pass). To my children, the issue of race seems completely non-existent.

    I’m not naive in thinking that racism in the Church doesn’t exist (a friend served his mission in Oklahoma and Arkansas and tells horrifying stories about the small towns there). I’m just saying that I personally haven’t experienced an openly racist Church leader. Maybe that time will come, but hopefully not.

  127. I’m glad to hear about a bishop who would rebuke someone for making a racist comment. My experience, probably because of the work I’ve done with Darius, brings me into close contact with many people dealing with the omnipresent folklore. I have never heard a church leader suggest that past leaders were wrong and President Kimball simply set things right. Consistently, I hear justification of the past teachings and a suggestion that the policy came by revelation to Joseph Smith. (Some of the folklore has been repeated on this blog.) Darius and I worked on our books for five years. There was NEVER a time when we were working at his home (he was serving as the Genesis president at the time) when we were not interrupted several times by phone calls from Blacks trying to hold onto their faith in the midst of mistreatment, or by caucasion parents of adopted Black children trying to get themselves back to church after hearing whispered comments like, “That kid must have been really bad in the pre-existence. Look how dark he is.” (I’m not making this up.) I have gotten to hear the stories first hand, and I have become sensitized to a more covert kind of racism where Blacks are treated as exotic creatures mercifully permitted into “our” temples DESPITE their questionable lineage, or where stereotypes are quietly accepted. (“Well, we preached in a predominantly Black area, so most of our investigators were just interested in Church welfare.”) I am intensely aware of the damage _Mormon Doctrine_ continues to do. One of my husband’s students wrote in his class journal LAST WEEK that the book’s false teachings comprised one reason he didn’t think he could remain in the Church. (This was a caucasion student.) I hope it doesn’t sound too arrogant to say that I’m on the front lines, and what I see and hear is probably different from what others in different places see and hear. Right now, Richard Dutcher, Alex Nibley and I (with Darius Gray as creative consultant) are making a documentary about the issue. We are aiming to be balanced, but also to show the faces and hear the stories of faithful Black Latter-day Saints who are still waiting for “the long promised day” of full fellowship with the Saints. If you want to know more about that project, e-mail me personally at Margaret_Young@byu.edu. As far as the “I’m the victim” attitude, which is the addendum to the “white guilt” argument–I’d refer to King Benjamin’s discourse on beggars. I’ve read a bunch of books by Shelby Steele, whose ideas about white guilt initially intrigued me. The more I read, the more disgusted I became. I found logical fallacies throughout, and regret that his writings have become an easy out for those looking for a convenient exit from very real issues. I find much more of interest in the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” in South Africa, headed by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. I learned of it, interestingly, when I looked up the article President Hinckley quoted during the last General Conference. If you look up President Hinckley’s talk on forgiveness and follow the link to the article about the kid throwing the frozen turkey through a car window, you’ll see the T&R Commission mentioned. Do a google search on it. I find the aims and methods of Mandela and Tutu to be exemplary. Maybe even a good model for us.

  128. During my growing up years I witnessed racist attitudes very similar to those experiences as told by Darius A. Gray in the last book of the _Standing On the Promises Series: The Last Mile of the Way_. That book brought back to my mind difficult memories. Thank you, Margaret for your wonderful books. I have become a big fan.

    Since that time I believe progress has been made, BUT we have so very far to go.

    Two cases in point: I live in the Southeastern United States. Most of the members of our ward are not native southerners. The subject of blacks and the Priesthood came up for my son’s early morning seminary class. There were two members of the class who are African American. The old traditional folklore was given as reasons by the students in the class. We found this to be troubling. First of all the kids that were expressing these viewpoints were not old pioneer stock, but children of converts. Second they were not embarrassed to express these opinions in front of the two African American kids. They honestly did not understand what they were saying was offensive. The class bothered my son all day. He did not speak up as he felt unprepared to debate the issue. When he came home he called his teacher up and expressed his opinions and offered to teach the class the next day. The teacher agreed. He used Armand Mauss’s book to teach the lesson. He reported back to us that most of the class looked blankly at him. However the teacher and the African American kids he could tell were listening and taking it all in.

    Only a few months ago I had a discussion with an Institute teacher who teaches this folklore to her adult Institute class. After telling her that the false doctrine that she teaches is American folklore and citing examples she told me, “They (meaning the Americans in the 19th century) learned it from us. She refused to see that this folklore is not Mormon doctrines, but rather old segregationist doctrines.

    As long as this nonsense continues to be taught to the next generation of members it will be a stumbling block not only for us, but in spreading the gospel to African Americans.

  129. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    quick question. I’ve been reading a lot about it and I can’t find out what Ephraims mother being Asenath has to do with anything. is she a descendant of Ham? an answer would be greatly appreciated.

  130. Sultan of Squirrels says:

    I ask because of comment 3

  131. IF blacks were “cursed” as to the priesthood because of their “Hamite” lineage, then so is Ephraim, whose mother, being Egyptian, was alo “Hamite.” Which means 90% of the Church is cursed.

    So if that’s one’s logic for the ban, it’s faulty.

    Note: I do not actually subscribe to all this Hamite lineage stuff, but for people who do, Asenath is a problem. (Unless you weave some fantasy that she wasn’t Egyptian, but that seems unlikely for the daughter of the priest of On.)

  132. I think the ban was all about racism. I think had Joseph Smith lived, he would have not banned blacks at all and it would be a moot point.

  133. #130 asks about the relevance of Asenath, who is mentioned in #3-4.
    Briefly, Gen. 41:45 says that Joseph married “Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On” and that Asenath was the mother of Ephraim and Manasseh. (Gen. 41: 45, 50-52; 46: 20).

    Why is that relevant?
    Nibley, in Abraham in Egypt, wrote that Asenath, as a daughter of the priest of On, was “of the pure line of Ham… the mother of our own vaunted ancestor Ephraim [many white Mormons think of themselves as literally descending from Ephraim].” (581-582). Nibley emphasized that the story of Joseph and Asenath’s marriage “explains the mingling and reconciling of the blood of Ham with the blood of Israel.” (id.) He believed Egyptians in general could be described as “plainly of mixed race, including black elements,” (571) but he did not consider any of Cain, Ham, Egyptus, Canaan, or Pharoah to be the primary ancestors of blacks. (578-587);

    Lester Bush, in his Journal of Mormon History article “Writing ‘Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview’ (1973): Context and Reflections, 1988, ” recounts his 1976 conversation with Nibley on this:

    He does not think the blacks are related to Cain, or the early Canann, and probably not to Ham, Egyptus, Canaan or Pharaoh. He’s unsure but would guess now that Brigham Young was “wrong” relating blacks to Cain. He said–“we all have Negro blood”-there was intermixture everywhere. I asked about the accounts of the early patriarchs marrying apparent blacks. He exclaimed yes[.] I mentioned Moses–Yes. But the real “irony” was Joseph marrying a daughter of the priest of On–who he says by definition had to have been a Hamite–and their sons were Ephraim and Manasseh, who[m] we are all so proud to claim. He said it was as though the Lord was trying to tell us something.” (emphasis in original)

  134. My dad has a belief that “had Noah’s sons all married within the house of Israel as they were commanded to do then there just wouldn’t be any black people.” I don’t agree with this for many reasons, but does anyone know where he got this idea?

  135. But, as Jonathan points out in 4, those interested in viewing Ephraim as having a “pure” lineage have suggested a resolution to the Asenath issue in Gen. 41: 45, 50-52; 46: 20.

    The early 1930s seem to me to have been the zenith of Israelism and British-Israelism within Mormonism. And during those years, the problem of Asenath’s lineage was addressed at least three times in the church’s official genealogy class lessons published in the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine (managed by apostle Anthony Ivins, apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, and Archibald Bennett).
    One of these lessons quoted The Heritage of the Anglo-Saxon Race, a work by British Israelist author M.H. Gayer, which argued Asenath may have been a “Shemite princess, not an Egyptian.” Lesson 3, Ut. Gen. Hist. Mag. Vol. XX, 1930, 129-130. The other quoted Egyptian scholar Archibald H. Sayce as saying that Potipher “may have been merely a Semite in an Egyptian Dress.” Lesson 10, Ut. Gen. Hist. Mag. Vol. XX, 1930, 141. Sayce is a surprising guy to see quoted. He was one of eight scholars whose letters criticizing the Book of Abraham was published in F. S. Spalding’s 1912 book Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator. Sayce called the Book of Abraham an “impudent fraud.”
    Then in the October 1932 issue, as part of the “The Story of Our Race,” lesson series, Mormon geneaology students were instructed to copy word for word into their lesson notebook the full 156-word quote from “The Heritage of the Anglo-Saxon Race” speculating that Asenath’s father was not a Hamite.
    As recently as 2001 a Mormon author has similarly recast Asenath’s lineage so as to preserve a claim that the ancestry of Northern European Saints does not include Ham. See John P. Pratt, “Jacob’s Seventieth Descendant,” Meridian Magazine, October 9, 2001, http://www.meridianmagazine.com/sci_rel/000818answer.html (speculating that Asenath was not Potipherah’s daughter, but the illegitimate or orphaned child of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah).

  136. Andermom (#135),
    Israel (neé Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebecca), came after Noah, so Noah’s son’s couldn’t have married into the House of Israel. But, your father’s statement is likely directed at Noah’s son Ham. Your father (like mine) may have read and accepted Bruce McConkie’s or Joseph Fielding Smith’s speculations that Ham had married a woman who was a descendant of Cain. Those men also speculated that Cain’s descendants were “black.”

  137. Soggy Bottom Boy says:

    Bruce McConkie’s or Joseph Fielding Smith’s speculations that Ham had married a woman who was a descendant of Cain. Those men also speculated that Cain’s descendants were “black.”

    Is it me, or have these two numskulls got us into more trouble with the counter-cultists than anybody else? Except mabye BY.

  138. I’d avoid using such a derogatory term. (Though McConkie’s rhetoric took that approach, see his Mormon Doctrine entry calling the minds of people who believed in evolution “weak and puerile” (‘66 and later versions) and “scrubby and groveling” (1958 version)).

    I recently had a couple of Seventh East Press and Student Review issues scanned and OCR-ed as a test for putting all issues in an archive of searchable pdf files (a la BYU Studies & Dialogue (and soon, the Journal of Mormon History)).

    In the 7EP sample I ran across this relevant tidbit in the “Campus Chatter” column from the 18 Jan 82 issue:

    “The published talks of the 1979 Sperry Symposium contain the following sentence in the biographical paragraph for Elder Bruce R. McConkie: ‘All his life he has manifested a propensity for the Scriptures and an unusual understanding of Church Doctrine. (p. 17)’”

  139. Dave Johnson says:

    I don’t think we should be too critical of McConkie (I recognize, as pointed out above, he could be very free with his own severe criticisms).
    For my tastes, his version of Mormonism didn’t capture some of the essential benefits of our religion (he whittled away at eternal progression and didn’t seem fully convinced of the possibility of repentance in too many circumstances), and he spent too much effort retaining our worst thoughts (hyper-exceptionalism (including racial superiority), blood atonement…).
    But, I think his mix of fundamentalist Christianity and 19th century Mormonism, was, in fact, an authentic (if unfortunate) form of Mormonism. Though the theology of Joseph Smith and his written outlook was generally progressively liberal, there were authoritarian actions and some teachings in the early Church that planted the seeds for the fundamentalists among us (George Q. Cannon, Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce McConkie, …) to later tend and harvest.
    Yes, McConkie confused arrogance and a lack of doubt (or deep thinking) for rectitude. But, his negative (IMHO) theological influence is more than just an fundamentalist aberration that by circumstance (his daring and his status as Joseph Fielding Smith’s protected son-in-law) became a dominant theological tendency.

    BTW, I don’t think this is a thread jack, because McConkie, Smith, and Cannon, and their fundamentalist attitudes toward race and past teachings, were important pieces of our story of “Race and the Church.”

  140. Larry Ogan says:

    Racism, no matter were it orginates, is an ugly sin. Our Savior commanded us to love one another and died to save all people. He didn’t say in any of the scriptures “love your neighbors except for the blonde people and the freckled face kids or any other person differnt from ourselves.” We should love our black brothers and sisters the same as any of our other brothers and sisters. Maybe for now we should give them a little extra love just to make sure they know we care.

    Any Latter Day Saint who maintians a rascist attitude in this life will not end up where they expected to on the other side. We can intellectualize about racism all we like but it doesn’t change the fact that racism is hate and is evil. Any religous person who continues this practice is denying the love of Jesus Christ his great atonement for all of us.

  141. I just found this page, so hope my thoughts speak to the issue (I can be inappropriate at times). As I read through all of this I remembered Gene England’s essay, “The Mormon Cross”,in Dialogue, about his personal difficulties with the doctrine before the revelation to President Kimball. If you haven’t read it, I think it is also in one of his collected essay books. I miss his writing–concerns with poverty,etc. I also remember Hugh Nibley’s thoughtful comments in Sunstone before the revelation, reminding and really chastising (like he always did) the non-African men in the church reminding them (D&C 121) that it was Amen to the priesthood power of any man who even thought about priesthood in a way that meant they were better than any one else or that it was thought of pridefully, or in any other way than the job of being the servant of everyone else. He also said the actual mark of Cain, if we read the scripture correctly, was to be a blessing… that it was somehow to be seen in order to protect Cain.. I’m not sure of that but I think it’s worth some contemplation on what that could mean. I was on my mission when I heard the news of the revelation… It was like the world was renewed and blessed… I was so excited I just had to run around outside my house and jump for joy and look for anyone I could tell, it is still a high point in my life. I couldn’t even contain the joy, the Spirit was so strong confirming the truth and our church’s evolution. Before that, I thought as did Nibley, that the earlier doctrine was really a test for the non-Africans, and if I could really understand God’s Will on it, that it actually said nothing at all negative about the Africans… That it was about us–we were the ones who needed to repent, and need the time to get to a level of spirituality where we could become equal with them–and my experiences with both African-American churches and Africans still makes me think that and question if we are even close… I love dancing and clapping and putting my whole Soul (Spirit and Body=Soul) into worship like the services I’ve attended… Sometimes I struggle with staying awake in LDS services(we still don’t bring the body part of the Soul equation to services)… I just hope that we haven’t exported the incoporeal Wasatch spirit of praise and worship to African congregations or to congregations in America with soulful African-Americans–what a loss if we have.. We need to evolve there still.. I do play Gladys Knights new LDS album in my car, just to inspire hope of it…. I remember how my wife and I used to have to sneak past all of the temple workers when we went to the Temple to find a place, so we could dance around in the Temple when the Spirit was so strong and called for Soul level worship. Anyway, thanks for the topic, all of your great contributions, hope mine aren’t too inappropriate, and as we think of Reverend Martin Luther King this month, and of all of the racism, oppression that still exists… I pray we remember his dream and God’s plan and move forward in the Church and in our world to more of God’s Image of His Children–exalted, noble, saved for the last days–the best for last (Saturday Warrior, right?)black or red or yellow or brown or white… brothers and sisters literally, all with our lessons… and eternal glory and lots of dancing ahead if we get it right. Amen.

  142. What you will find in talking with many BYU religion professors (and with some white Baptist ministers) is the idea that Asenath was Hyksos. Very unlikely, since the Hyksos left the Egyptians in their religious places and Asenath was a daughtter of Potipherah (notwithstanding some Jewish Apocryphal literature listed as LEGEND, which attempts to diminish Asenath’s differences from the Semites). I have an important question, though. Gospel Doctrine classes recently taught a lesson called “Thou wast chosen before thou wast born.” In a class I attended, the lesson veered into teachings about valiancy in the pre-existence and suggested that our “station and circumstance in this life” was a reward or punishment for our pre-mortal behavior. I heard of other classes that went that route also–though a few brave souls spoke up. Did anyone on this blog find that lesson being used to validate the idea of valience in the pre-existence determining our race, economic status, or access to the gospel?

  143. Margaret, I think there are many shades of foreordenation that could be construed to affect ones station in life. That is not to say that there aren’t distorted foreordaination theologies floating about.

    I think it is reasonable that God is cognisant of our indavidual situations, even to the extent that our race, family and consequent social situation was determined by God.

    One could make the case that a Zimbabwaian is statistically more likely to accept the gospel than say a frenchmen and that consequently frenchmen are less valiant, but I don’t think extrapolation makes sense in this topic.

  144. The times they are a changing.”

    A letter I wrote to Dennis of “Genesis” (SLC) back in Sept. 2005 after reading his experience as a Black Mormon:
    It is wonderful and amazing how the Lord ministers to each one of us and then connects us all together. I truly enjoyed your story and life and rejoice in the great blessings God has given you and your eternal wife. It has touched my heart deeply. When he opens our eyes, hearts and minds to his greater love and mercy we can truly forgive the sinner within and then go on and forgive those who trespass against us. Forgive me for preaching, but like you I feel the words you write on a deep level that I judge no one and rejoice in the stories of the converts. While on my mission (Northern California 6/72-7/74) I learn many hard lessons from the saints. Being a new convert, a New Yorker and a former “wanna be hippie” my status among the Elders was very low. However, as you know being low in the gospel works in your favor in the eyes of the Lord. As a youth in my life I always looked to the Black people around me as the more humble and spiritual ones. I read a book once “Black Like Me” written by a white man who injected himself with a dye to look black who moved down south during the 50s or 60s to experience first hand how blacks were treated. I guess my becoming a hippie was a way of taking the low road to find out how it feels to be misunderstood and looked down upon. I went to answer the call of Jimmy Hendrixs. I wanted to be experienced! Now thanks to the Lord I can say “I Have!” During my first month out on my mission in the Sacramento area my companion and I baptized a black man. This man John had great faith and joined the church before the ban on the priesthood was lifted. I was overjoyed in this blessing to know and bless this man who was lowly in heart, but rich in faith. I know the Lord lives and his church is truth, but as you know the members are many times not true. It has always been easier for me to love the sinner (especially those who repent), than the saint ( who thinks he has done no wrong). However, over the years the Lord has increased my love, patience and understanding to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile and love the saint like the sinner.

  145. Enroute to the Church Office Building, I heard KALL radio’s inital broadcast re: The Revelation (… er, polciy change). Rushing in to break the news, I found Leonard and the rest of the crew celebrating (well …). My only crack at the church history hall of fame instantly evaporated, but boy were we happy. PS you probably don’t know me, Molly, but I’m a great fan. Thanks to you and who-the-heck is to be blamed for this resource. A blogging neophyte.

  146. Check out Jim Beardall’s Gospel Doctrine lesson 12 on a google. He quotes Mark E. Peterson suggesting in very convoluted logic that Asenath was definitely Semitic–and brings up the priesthood restriction in the process. That is as of today, March 19, 2006.


  1. […] IMO, fertile, native narratives tapping directly into pro-creative, pro-active “Choose ye this day” rhetoric aren’t forthcoming fast enough. Miscarrying, cuckolding language of “This is the only way” narratives abound. We LDS aren’t always discerning enough to recognize the invading rhetoric of parasitic ideologies; sometimes we take them underwing and raise them as our own (like this one). Also, we aren’t producing enough native narratives of the “Choose ye this day” variety to meet the needs of people within and without the church searching for viable and possibility-laden language. Stories merely reinforcing cultural boundaries won’t do; they won’t matter to others in the way that stories reinforcing others’ cultural boundaries don’t matter to us. We need to produce original stories in the root meaning of “arising, appearing, coming into being.” Truly original narratives open possibilities for development: they multiply and replenish agency, not just for humans but for other species living on Earth. […]

%d bloggers like this: