Missionary Malpractice per se

I just returned from a Single Adult Conference, where I gave two workshop presentations. My presentations were Q&A sessions, where people could raise any question they wanted about the Church, be it relating to scripture, history, doctrine or practice. The workshops went very well, and I am pleased by the result. My biggest fear was that no one would have any questions, but that was not realized; there were plenty of questions, and we enjoyed a vigorous discussion.

In the course of the afternoon, one of the sisters there was telling me that she lives in an inner-city ward, which is about half anglo and half black and hispanic. She was distraught because they have been losing black members in droves recently. I asked her whether it was the practice to have a frank discussion about the priesthood ban before people were baptized in that ward, and she indicated it was not.

This did not surprise me, because we recently had the elders over for dinner, and they indicated that they were teaching a black family. I asked them whether there was a mission policy about explaining the priesthood ban prior to baptism, and they said there was not, and as far as they knew no one ever raised it unless the person or family raised it first.

I am a big believer in the value of inoculation. Exposing someone to a difficult or controversial issue in a controlled environment, say a church classroom surrounded by people of faith, is always much better than trying to do damage control after someone has learned of the issue from a hostile source.

Generally, the Church isn’t big on the concept of inoculation. Institutionally it seems to prefer the approach of not mentioning problems or difficult issues, and hoping they just don’t ever come up.

I can understand this preference on the part of the Church for a lot of things. But baptizing an American black without first explaining the priesthood ban is in an entirely different class. Because it’s not a question of if, but only when that person is going to learn that prior to 1978 blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood. They will learn this at some point, from some source. That should be a given.

Yes, if you raise the priesthood ban on your own motion, some investigators may decide not to be baptized. That is a risk to the inoculation approach. But many blacks can handle the notion of the ban, if you tell them straight up. What church in America didn’t have racist policies and problems? And if you raise the issue on your own motion, you’ve now inoculated them and protected them from being shocked when Aunt Sally tells them about it later.

But if you fail to tell them about it, the odds are much, much higher that they are going to drop out when they learn of it. Put yourself in their position–wouldn’t you? The feeling of having been deceived is much worse than just dealing with the substantive issue of the ban itself straight up.

I therefore would like to postulate the following principle:

To baptize a black person or family without first having a conversation about the priesthood ban is per se missionary malpractice.


  1. To baptize ANY person, regardless of color, without first having a conversation about the priesthood ban is per se missionary malpractice.

  2. I have to think that this sort of thing (including and especially this particular thing) contributes considerably to the disappointing retention rate church-wide. Perhaps an entire “inoculation” discussion would be in order? Priesthood ban, polygamy, kinderhook plates…

    (Okay, maybe not the kinderhook plates.)

  3. I was also going to bring up polygamy. There are thousands of converts who know little to nothing of polygamy.

    And where does it end? How many other things need to be brought up? I am imagining the dreaded “5th discussion” with the investigator.

    I am also wondering what evidence is there that bringing up the priesthood ban prior to baptism will be more successful?

  4. But wait — we don’t apologize for … oh, never mind.

  5. It is interesting. I’m not sure that when one converts to say, methodism or catholocism you get the litany of their histories. At least, for polygamy, we can point to recent public statements by the President that states that polygamy isn’t doctrinal and the position of the church that section 132 is like the Old Testement as a source for church doctrine.

    OD2 is just fresher and rawer and there isn’t any statements we can point to like polygamy. Morover, unlike polygamy, the priesthood ban wasn’t a sacrement but an accident, it seems. A very sad accident.

    I don’t think potential converts need a lesson in New Mormon History, but I agree with Kevin that African Americans deserve to know from us about our recent history.

  6. I found this site throught the SL Trib for the first time today. I would like to say I agree with teaching black converts about the priesthood ban before baptizing them. However, in the most extreme slippery slope argument I can think of, if an investigator is told everything about Mormonism that they might be confronted about before they are baptized, they might just decide to bail.

  7. Kevin, I reallly like this approach. Often the shock and resulting feelings of loss of trust and confidence are harder things to recover from, then the actual information itself. I would support inoculations for priesthood ban and polygamy.

  8. I have to think that this sort of thing (including and especially this particular thing) contributes considerably to the disappointing retention rate church-wide.

    I agree with most everything that’s been said so far in this thread, but I have a quick question regarding the comment above. How big of an issue is church history for investigators in countries other than the U.S., Canada, etc.? I served in Asia, and the only history concern we really ever had to resolve was polygamy, and that came up rather seldom. Retention isn’t remarkable in Asian countries, but I don’t think it’s because they’re finding out surprising things about church history after getting baptized.

    But what’s it like in other areas, like in Europe and South America? Is a lack of openness about history a major contributor to inactivity problems?

    I would like to say that I really think that these issues should be brought up with investigators prior to baptism, not just for the sake of inoculation, but for the sake of being open and honest about the church we’re asking these people to commit their lives to. But I suspect that there are many, many other variables that, in addition to this, might explain church-wide retention problems.


  9. The converts, and members in general have very little knowledge of Church history. Not much information outside of the SS, Priesthood, and Seminary manuals are available. There also isn’t much interest as it seems to them to be more of an United States LDS history and is therefore somewhat irrelevant to them.

    I also doubt the priesthood ban is mentioned in Africa, whose missions are currently baptizing more than any other in the world.

  10. Left Field says:

    I agree that in the particular case of the priesthood restriction, it would be appropriate to raise the issue. However, missionaries would need to be well trained in how to address the question. As it is, I can imagine missionaries just repeating all the folklore they’ve accumulated on the subject.

    I am less supportive of raising all the other possible issues. If I were considering becoming a Catholic, I wouldn’t hold the priest responsible to give me all the reasons I shouldn’t be a Catholic. He probably wouldn’t be a priest if he thought there were a lot of compelling reasons to not be Catholic.

    If we tell investigators about the top 250 problematic issues, someone will complain that we should have discussed #251. There are issues that some people would put in the top ten that don’t even make my top 1000 list. Some people, for example, get worked up about seerstones and hats. But I can’t see a lick of difference between one stone in a hat or two stones attached to a breastplate. And I really doubt that disinterested parties would agree on which version is supposed to be more embarrassing. Do we need to discuss Zelph? I’ve heard that’s a big issue for some. If those questions don’t come up, I wouldn’t have thought to raise them–not because they are embarrassing, but because to me they are just not compelling issues.

  11. IMHO the rush for numbers is so profound that very few converts are truly prepared for church membership when they are baptized. I think we absolutely should apologize for the less “faith-promoting” history. If we want that investigator to be fully informed of the major change he is about to make in his life, it is dishonest and disingenuous to withhold such information. They have the right to be fully informed. If the missionaries try to shuck and jive their way through their discussions, the investigator has every right to go on to the internet to find out their answers. That’s what I did for just about all of 1996 before I joined the church in January 1997.

  12. a random John says:

    As a missionary I was not properly prepared to discuss this issue. At that point all I knew was the text of OD2, what is in Mormon Doctrine (including the first edition) and some crap about the civil rights movement needing to happen before OD2 could from one of my seminary teachers. Oh, and all the folklore. I had no clue and I was more informed than most. I had never heard of Elijah Abel or any of the history of the issue. My parents are life long active members and had no idea of this history either so I’m not sure where I would have gotten it pre-mission. I was actually told to not ask questions about this very subject in Seminary, and I was even held after class once to be told that certain questions are off limits.

    On a related note, I really wish that once every four years when OD1 and OD2 come up in they allowed discussion of and education on these issues rather than having manuals that direct instructors to dodge questions and simply discuss the importance of the concept of revelation without discussing the issues around the revelations at all. I don’t think that gives a realistic picture of either history or (more importantly) the process of revelation.

  13. J. (#5)

    Can you point me in the direction of statements made by the President of the Church where they state Polygamy is not doctrinal and section 132 has been relegated Old Testament status?

  14. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    Did I miss where you said that the proven reason the people were leaving was due to the ban? There are other reasons that retention may not be stellar, right? Inner-city retention is often difficult, and it’s not just because of racial issues in the Church.

  15. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    Sorry…one more question
    I’ve never heard any definitive statement about the priesthood ban being “an accident.” I don’t think that we can really make an assertion like #5 without such a statement. Am I missing something or is this more your own opinion based on your study of the issue?

  16. There’s a difference between an historical issue that has personal, painful resonance with a convert (an American black and the priesthood ban), and historical issues in general that might someday be of intellectual curiosity to some people.

    I discovered that as a missionary working with a woman from Madagascar. The first visit after her baptism, we found instead of the happy, peaceful woman we had left earlier, an angry, resentful woman who had somehow in the intervening days heard about Mormon polygamy. It turns out it was a very painful matter from her family and cultural background. I had no way of knowing that, and the mission prep can’t be faulted for not warning us (we were in France, not Madagascar, and how thorough can we reasonably expect preparation to be?), but it was a serious stumbling block. Fortunately she was amenable to the idea that if the witness she had received two weeks earlier was genuine — and she granted that it was — anything else could be resolved with patience and study.

    But had we known, I think we could have spared her the suspicion that we were hiding something from her. I agree with Kevin that inoculation in high risk cases is something to think about.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    m&m, you’re right that I don’t know for sure that the priesthood ban was an issue in this ward losing black members by “droves” (her word). But, based on conversations I’ve had with LDS friends who are black, that is the first reasonable place to look for an answer, and when she reported that there was no preparation on the issue pre-baptism, I suspected, and still suspect, that this was a strong contributing factor. Ask your black LDS friends about this; it is so common it is almost a cliche. Black person is baptized with not a word about the ban, black person learns of the ban, black person never sets foot in Church again. Do you know anyone in a place like Atlanta? Ask them about this phenomenon.

    I am suggesting that not telling a black person about the ban pre-baptism is in a whole different universe than not telling an investigator about all sorts of issues of possible intellectual interest. I like the way Ardis framed the distinction I’m trying to make.

    And I agree with several that missionaries would need preparation and training to be able to do this effectively, that most as things stand may well do more harm than good (by recting the folklore they grew up with and so forth).

    Thanks all for the wonderful comments; keep ’em coming.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    Uh, “recting” should be “repeating,” but then maybe that is indeed an appropriate neologism for teaching the old curse of Cain/nonvaliance in the preexistence folklore.

  19. So Kevin, how would you phrase the discussion? And at what stage would you bring it up in the conversion process?

    Ardis’s story has real meaning. ALthough the woman had a serious problem with a past doctrine, she knew the Church was true and came to terms with it. Had the ploygamy issue been raised prior to baptism, I wonder if that same witness would have happened.

  20. Kevin is right. In the modern Google Age how can the Church realistically keep the priesthood ban under wraps? The tech savvy, educated potential converts who ask legitimate questions will certainly be suspicious of the Church not raising the two hot button issues that EVERYONE outside the Church will raise as reasons not to join the Church.

    It’s missionary malpractice per se and certainly against the Church’s own self interests not to discuss blacks and the priesthood and polygamy with potential converts sua sponte.

  21. Jonathan Green says:

    Kevin, there’s a chance that belated discovery of the priesthood ban is not actually the primary reason that black American members lapse into inactivity. Maybe it is, but I don’t think it can be assumed. Is a new member going to be more upset by discovering former beliefs, or by observing current practice? In other words, what I’d want to know about your friend’s ward is not what the ward mission leader and missionaries are doing, but rather whether there are African-American members of the bishopric, quorum and auxiliary presidencies. Are there faithful black members who attend every week and whose participation is not just welcome, but entirely normal? I think people are more likely to be forgiving of past events, but less likely to participate in present and ongoing marginalization. In other words, explaining the priesthood ban before baptism might not do anything to solve the problem.

  22. How big of an issue is church history for investigators in countries other than the U.S., Canada, etc.?

    Great question.

    In Germany, it’s become a huge issue since the Internet. Talking to my friends, matters of corporate ethics and history affect especially Mormon Bishops and return missionaries.

    Before the Internet, only the most inquisitive members would discover historical issues. The cases that I could observe before the Internet were few and they were about the masonic roots of the temple ceremonies and Joseph Smith’s biography.

    With the Internet, there are now dozens every year, which is a lot given that there are only some ten thousand active Mormons in the German speaking countries. Invariably it affects young college educated return missionaries.

    More than half of the Bishops ever called in Cologne and Düsseldorf have left the LDS Church. Cologne and Düsseldorf used to be among the most dynamic units in Germany.

    In Cologne, for example, five young men of my age cohort served missions. Only one remains active. One left when he took up with his wife’s best friend. One went inactive because Church is boring. Two left because of historical issues. I left over the September Six (that’s a total of six because one couldn’t serve due to serious health reasons).

    Bear in mind that being a Mormon in Germany and serving a mission comes at a high price. It cripples your social life and is a career hazard (you may ask yourselves, how many of you would have served a mission on top of the draft).

    On the other hand, joining the Mormon Church is an adventure. It was like a breath of fresh air.

    But adventurous types are more liberal than traditional. We were willing to do anything that the prophet told us to do because we believed the Joseph Smith story literally. We also believed that God would constrain the prophet from unethical behavior. When that turned out to be illusory, we discovered that there was no meeting of the minds. We felt exploited and used.

    There is another common thread that might be more important than the historical issues. Though it took us many years to express it but most of us hated our missions. We left to save the world and returned abused by corporate practices that invalidated the sanctity of the gospel.

    It took all of us more than a decade to figure it out but when we discovered about New Mormon History, we finally knew why we had been to miserable.

    To answer the question, New Mormon History plays a big role in the self-discovery of Mormon leaders in Germany. It would not matter though if Church leaders treated individuals with respect.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    You’re right, Jonathan, that what I’m suggesting is only a start, and in the end it won’t do much good if black converts are not treated well and fully integrated into the life of the ward and stake–including leadership positions.

    (I am biased, but I think my stake is a good example of a nurturing environment. When Dallin Oaks came to reorganize our stake, we ended up with a SP who is anlgo but was born in Mexico and speaks fluent Spanish and is deeply interested in the lives of Latin American Saints, one counselor who is a convert to the Church and a very dynamic guy, and another who is an incredibly spiritual black man from Ghana. Our leadership is like a mini-UN.)

  24. m&m, the Hinckley comment was on Larry King in 1999. When commenting on polygamy he stated:

    I condemn it, yes, as a practice, because I think it is not doctrinal. It is not legal. And this church takes the position that we will abide by the law. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, magistrates in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law.

    The other quote was from a Church spokesman:

    Asking why the church does not still believe in polygamy because it appears in its scriptures is like asking Christians to explain why they discontinued stoning people for adultery.

    As to the status of cain doctrine – there is no statemnet that it was not simply the misfortunate propogation of false doctrine. However, the evidence is overwhelming that it was. Alas, unlike some of Brighams other innovations, this wasn’t labeled as heresy.

  25. I am wondering if then we need to teach our children all of these things too? It seems to me that just as many people who have grown up in the church and then as adults discover things that bother them in the history of the church.
    I know some things roll off my back–because I am used to hearing about them or have come to terms with them.
    But I grew up knowing about Sunstone, Dialogue, MMM, the priesthood ban, etc.
    As some of these things are obsolete in most discussions–is is also necessary to inoculate our own children?

  26. Mark Butler says:

    Just to quibble, I think some are taking President Hinckley’s statement out of context. He implies that, as a practice, it is not doctrinal because it is against the law of the land. We also know that as a practice is not is doctrinal because it is against the law of God to practice it other than when he so commands.

    In other words those persons that do practice it, do so contrary to the doctrine of the Church and the law of God on two independent and binding points.

  27. a random John says:


    Yes you should inoculate your children at an appropriate age. One reason for this is directly related to this discussion: They will then be better prepared as missionaries to discuss such issues with investigators and even members.

  28. You need to be careful with that line of thought, Mark, because, historically, the practice of polygamy was then never doctrinal.

  29. Our church has a problem with candor across the board, not just on this issue, and it certainly contributes to the retention problem. But the biggest obstacle is we’re just not welcoming to sinners, so when the new converts backslide, which all will do, most feel hopeless and alienated at church. I’ve even seen long time memebers chased from the church in this regard, and nobody, including leaders, give a [  ] about them. They’re just labled apostate because they now attend another church that better meets their needs.

  30. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    BTW, I didn’t ask for the polygamy quote.

    As for the ban, I still don’t think we can make assertions about whether or not it was a mistake.

    As a general comment, I personally think the best way to inoculate is by helping ensure our children and converts gain a testimony — a spiritually-based one. Intellectual concerns can always pop up. That’s one of the ways the adversary is attacking the work. If my children ask, I will tell them about things, but I don’t think it’s necessary to air all concerning issues of history in order to protect my children from information. I am teaching them that the Spirit is the most important thing in their membership, not questions of history.

  31. M&M – first – polygamy and the priesthood issue aren’t “intellectual” ones – they’re in the scriptures.

    And having a spiritually based testimony is great, until maybe in 25 years, like me, your kids find out things about church history that are distressing to them. And no matter how strong I thought my testimony was, and how spiritual I thought I was, my testimony was rocked, and I was mad at the church for its glossing over church history to make it all Sunday School easy and rosy.

    I think Kevin is right about inoculation. These issues should be taught at church, and I certainly think that members should be educated before joining the church appropriately.

  32. I think the ambiguity about whether the ban was nothing more than an unfortunate accident is even more reason why people should be told about it before joining the Church. It isn’t quite parallel to the kinds of historical mistakes inevitably made by all churches–plenty of members still believe that the ban was God’s will, and the Church has never said otherwise. That, I think, puts it in a rather different category than something like the MMM. The priesthood ban, like polygamy, is more than a quirk of history. Given that both practices are frequently presented as having been inspired, they have real theological implications.

  33. random john’s #12 is a good point. when I was a missionary I baptized many black converts and felt that the ban was inconsistent with how I saw God but I had no knowledge short of that. It wasn’t until years later after reading Eugene England’s Mormon Cross article that I started to study the topic. I am a firm believer that the ban was not only an accident but a racist policy. there is no revelation for the ban.

    I wish I had more wisdom when I was 19 but I didn’t. lastly it is not commonly beleived that the ban was a mistake. my experience is that most members in utah feel the ban was correct, blacks were less valiant, and some feel the ban should still exist. I have taken heat in certain settings for questioning the ban. because after all, we do not question our leaders.

    oh yeah let’s not forget the millions of black babies who died young and are celestial bound

  34. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    Rebecca, I understand what you are saying. I really do. As I sit every week in class and think about these types of conversations, in the end, I think the Church does the right thing because those parts of history don’t determine whether the Church is true. They don’t really affect my day-to-day life, and they really don’t (or shouldn’t) affect any of ours. Church meetings are primarily to help us live better lives and to strengthen our testimonies, not to teach us history and raise those kinds of questions.

    Like I said, I will respond to questions if and when my children ask them. I might even help them recognize that not everything in our history is rosey (although the positive far outweighs the negative) or easily understood in today’s perspectives. (I think I’ve already brought up polygamy once with my son…who isn’t even 8.) In the end, I personally think that the Church’s approach ends up teaching those things that will help someone through any tough questions anyway. I have never found historical answers or explanations to be sufficient to help with the tough questions. Sometimes they simply muddy the questions. (And if not approached in the right way, they could cause more harm than good — too much focus on history and “problems” without the spiritual base can be devastating.)

    In short, the answers, in my experience, have still been spiritually based (e.g., we have a living prophet, the Church is led by Christ, the priesthood is real, the ordinances are saving, etc — and that we don’t know all the answers!) I’m not trying to minimize the facts that people have questions and that sometimes they are hard to work through; I just have a different view on what the answers ultimately should be.

    I’m actually quite glad that I didn’t have to try to approach these topics as a missionary. IMO, I think it may have been a distraction rather than a benefit — for those we taught and for us as missionaries. Those tender in the gospel need to get their roots, and those teaching the gospel need to focus on the things that bring the Spirit.

  35. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I may seem really dense, but I can’t see how talking about something that does carry with it such ambiguity is a good idea. At best we can say that it happened and we don’t know why for sure. Are you just saying that acknowledging it is the key? I worry about giving our or others’ opinions on the subject, so I think the best we can do is acknowledge it. But, as someone mentioned earlier, couldn’t approaching thsee topics pre-conversion create potential barriers to conversion?

    I am not convinced that the ban was a mistake, but it’s not because of any belief that blacks are somehow less worthy. Even my friend who is black felt the 1978 revelation came at the right time.

  36. I just have to say I agree with everything mulling and musing is writing. And since she is much more articulate than I am, I will keep letting her write.

  37. mulling and musing,

    I guess if your “black friend ” thought it came at the right time then the debates over. never mind all the other blacks in the church who think it was wrong to begin with and came too late.

    I also think you’ll be hard pressed to show that denial of priesthood came from above.

  38. Josh M (32) – I’m not certain what your methodology was for determining “what most members in Utah” believe, but I’m fetchin’ dang sure that it was inadequate. Try for a more valid sample and get back to us.

  39. Yeah, I may not have explained that very clearly. It’s not because of the ambiguity per se that I think it needs to be discussed, but because under current LDS doctrine there is a real possibility that the ban was the will of God. Before I joined a church which not only in the past would have denied me certain things based on the color of my skin, but in the present continued to maintain that God was behind that restriction, I would absolutely want to know that before joining. The point I was trying to make is that I don’t see this as being just about some aspect of the past which is no longer all that relevant. And that’s why I think it’s unconscionable not to be upfront about the matter with prospective converts.

  40. oh yeah and my black friend can beat up your black friend

  41. I find it distressing that people invoke revelation to justify racist practices and use spiritual experiences to acquiesce to racism.

    It’s important that we take responsibility for our beliefs. Human beings belong to the same species. Regardless of skin color, we can procreate with each other.

    Belief systems that deny the universality of the human species are racist. God is perfect. Therefore God is not a racist. It follows that racist policies are not inspired by God.

    God’s believers are imperfect. Therefore it is possible that we mortals are racists. For example, having been raised in Germany during the twentieth century, I have to acknowlege that racism was present in my socialization. Pardon the pathos but that’s a burden that I will have to bear until I die. Sadly, that propably applies to all of us.

    Lets take responsibility for our faith rather than blaming God. Our kids deserve to be raised better than we were. Unless we are honest, we shall be passing our racist heritage right on. Especially if we talk about racism in terms of divine inspiration.

    Fortunately, we also enjoy the benefits of the civil rights movement. Talk about a talent from God! Lets not bury it in our heart. Lets multiply the talent by singing the praise of God who created us as brothers and sisters, who created us as equals.

    We owe that talent to God and our children. And we shall answer for it.

  42. ardis, you’re right its not some study and anectodital, but I hear in my wards comments about blacks and the priesthood on multiple occasions and in priesthood quorums hear individuals recite the same racist sentiments about valiancy of the blacks and their difficulty in attending the temple when blacks are there, there reticence to take the sacrament from blacks, and other racist comments.

    ardis I concede many utah mormons may not have any ill feelings towards minorities. perhaps they know all about elijah abel, the origin of the ban, etc. but I doubt it.

    I remember a presentation by a good friend of mine in a BYU law school on the ban and was surprised that the majority of the class thought the ban was due to wickedness by blacks, and had no idea were the ban came from, no familiarity with statements by early brethren as to the ban, no idea about Elijah abel etc.

    I wish the church was more pro-active in this area. why not a temple interview question such as “do you have any racist sentiments or feel that certain races are inferior?”

  43. Shiner Bock says:

    Interesting discussion. I have a friend who is an Institute Director. At one time he told me that there was some discussion among the 12 about how much historical information should be put out.

    He related to me that Maxwell was in favor of telling all and letting the chips fall where they may. Packer on the other hand took the position that too much information would destroy testimonies that might not otherwise be harmed.

    As a convert who has left the LDS Church after 20 years, a mission, temple marriage, and many callings, I sure wish you people would either be honest about your history or stop sending missionaries out to convert people.

    I based my life on “following the prophet” and it didn’t turn out as good as following common sense and reason.

    I’m sure the LDS Church is a good place for many people who have been born into the culture and even some converts. But I was just a poor kid trying to find my way in life. I think that you people took advantage of that.

    Tell it all? Tell blacks about the priesthhod ban? Tell people the entire truth about Joseph Smith? A good idea. But then, what happens when the house of cards collapes?

  44. “You people”? Shiner, your comment betrays your antagonism. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out for you. There is no house of cards for many. I’m sorry that you didn’t see that.

  45. Shiner, we took advantage of you? How, exactly? Do we feed off of your tithed millions? Or maybe we are spirit vampires, sucking from your naive faith. Ridiculous. You’ve lost your testimony — fine. But don’t make yourself out to be some victim. That’s what the exmo boards are for.

  46. Shiner Bock says:

    Sorry J. Stapley, I just assumed that the people posting here were all Mormons. Since the Mormons I have seen at conference all raise their hands in support of the leadership in Salt Lake City, I feel that “you people” should share a collective guilt for what I and many others have had to suffer. And other have had it MUCH worse than I have.

    And yes, there is not house of cards for many. Most faith survives through rationalization.

  47. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    Thank you for your clarification. Might I ask another question? If the answer of why it all happened is “we don’t know” (we can’t make assertions about the whys that haven’t been made, and that is what I have heard in limited comments about this topic) then how do you suggest we approach it? Again, I am not against acknowledging it (few people aren’t aware of the ban), but with the ambiguity needs to come some patience on our part and recognition that some of the answers won’t come now. That’s hard (I’d like to understand these issues, too!), but we need to be sure that we are answering them according to authorized answers, you know? We can’t say one way or another why it all happened, so the best we can do is say, “yes, it happened, but we aren’t sure why.” And I think it may be unfair to do that without the spiritual foundation that helps one draw upon one’s faith to deal with the ambiguity.

    The answers we need to seek go beyond these issues. Is the Church true or not? Was Joseph a prophet? Is the BoM true? etc. If the answers to these questions is yes, the rest of the unanswered questions can be put on the back burner. “I know that God loveth his children [and that the Church is true], nevertheless I do not know the meaning of all things.” (Sorry…that was more than a question…just musing a bit too.)

    The people making racist statements are not following the counsel of Pres. Hinckley. They are not representing our prophet’s teachings, which means they are not representing the Church’s teachings.

    BTW, I wasn’t trying to “prove” anything. I realize that there are some people who still have racist attitudes in the Church. They are simply wrong. And that doesn’t prove anything about pre-1978 times and why things were the way they were. I just find it interesting that someone who could be angry about the past simply isn’t. And I can tell you it’s because of the strong testimony she has of the truthfulness of the Latter-day work and of God’s love for her. She still occasionally suffers at the hands of ignorant, unkind people around her, but that doesn’t change her testimony. She’s able to separate their actions from the faith she has. She’s a wonderful example to me.

  48. Shiner,

    Some of us are suffering in the ways you imply but choose to “tough it out” even though it seems like the irrational thing to do at times.

    You say: “Most faith survives through rationalization.” That’s not faith, IMO.


    Prove to me that the implementation of the priesthood ban had nothing to do with revelation. You can’t.

    Next, prove to me that the silly cultural notions which have been used to justify its implementation have ever had anything to do with revelation. You can’t.

  49. If the priesthood ban was because of racism, then why did we allow blacks to even be baptized. If our leaders were truly racist, would we have even allowed them to be members at all?

    Interesting question that I’m not sure anyone can answer…was the priesthood ban brought up pre-1978 to a black investigator?

    I will also ask again, how would you bring this up and at what point in the investigators’ progress in the discussions?

    I think M&M has made a good point, it’s difficult to bring it up when we don’t have all the answers about it.

  50. Jack(#47),
    How about the fact that such statements were coming from the same people who happened to be leaders of the church. What evidence do you have that the priesthood ban came from God? What’s that? You can’t.

    Accepting such statements, what evidence do you have that the rationalizations didn’t come by revelation. Again, you can’t.

    There exists a fantastic presentation that lays the historical case right out there for you to decide yourself, by Darius Gray and Margaret Young found here:


  51. Josh,
    My comment above notwithstanding, a reasonable person could make the argument that not enacting the priesthood ban could have ended the church entirely in a nation that was deeply racist at the time. The ban could have come from God as a result of our shortcomings rather than intent on his part. I don’t know that it did, as a source of direct revelation does not exist ss Jack pointed out. God certainly had to wait until the right time to open the gospel to the gentiles with Cornelius back in the day. This example is not without some rather miraculous modern day parallels (Ghana, for instance).

  52. Doc,

    Well, I think you’re making my point. It’s a conundrum–though I do lean toward the idea that it may have been necessary for a time even though the reasoning as to “why” was born of speculation.

  53. Jack #47,

    We can prove that Africans and their descendents are human beings. We can prove that human beings belong to the same species. Therefore racism is proven nonsense.

    To believe that the priesthood ban was inspired by God requires that one believes that God is a racist. In light of the biological evidence, it also means that God would have to be a fool.

    People may choose to believe that God is a racist. That believe, however, is sacrilegeous. It projects human prejudice on God. God is not responsible for that nonsense. We are.

    Doc #50,

    It may very well be that racist attitudes were inspired by the desire for self-preservation. However, there were a number of religious groups in nineteenth century that were committed to abolition lock, stock and barrel and that survived. In light of historical precedent, the self-preservation explanation would reveal a lack of perspective as to what was actually possible.

    One cannot reasonably attribute this attitude to God but it may well reflect the thinking of some LDS leaders at the time. I would like to see evidence such as journals, speeches and minutes.

    I don’t think that the self-preservation logic applied to Brigham Young. Given his language about race, there can be little doubt that he was a genuine racist. He didn’t need any excuse to discriminate African Americans.

    With regard to your reference to Acts, that’s not about the conversion of gentiles per se but about the requirements of the Mosaic law for converts. Judaism has always admitted converts of gentile descent. What’s new about the events in Acts is that one could convert without circumcision and the dietary rules of the Mosaic law.

  54. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    That’s more along the lines of what I think, although I usually opt for the generic “we don’t know” since I really don’t know. None of us does.

    If we say it was definitely God’s plan and we are wrong, that probably wouldn’t be good. If we say it was all a mistake and we end up being wrong, that would be bad, too. It seems to me that the best option is to wait until we know for sure what happened, and be grateful that we are where we are now…with all blessings available to all, and prophetic guidance to keep us away from racist attitudes, remarks and actions.

  55. #48, Tim J., I’m not up on this enough that I’d want to have to pass a quiz or anything, but I am pretty sure that the answer to your question pre-1978 was that missionaries were instructed not to teach blacks. They avoided places where they were likely to tract out blacks, and if they did, they just left a short message, and didn’t do anything to further the contact. Blacks could be baptized, but usually they were not sought out by the missionaries. Any who were baptized were usually introduced to the gospel by friends. (This is based on what missionaries in the late 70s told me–men that I had gone to high school with.) If I remember right, Darius Grey has said that he was not told of the ban on holding the priesthood until the night before his baptism, and that was only after he specifically asked the missionaries about it, because someone had told him about it. I don’t remember when he joined, but it was long before the ban was lifted.

  56. “I therefore would like to postulate the following principle:

    To baptize a black person or family without first having a conversation about the priesthood ban is per se missionary malpractice. “

    Kevin, are you black?

  57. Doc, #50:

    My comment above notwithstanding, a reasonable person could make the argument that not enacting the priesthood ban could have ended the church entirely in a nation that was deeply racist at the time. The ban could have come from God as a result of our shortcomings rather than intent on his part.

    I concur that that is a possibility. Up until the late 70’s, would the average American adult member who had been born in the 50’s, 40’s, and 30’s, and earlier accepted black men as home-teachers, EQ presidents, bishops, etc?

  58. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 42
    So apparently Elder Packer’s position prevailed?

    That’s really too bad, imho. The Catholics have increasingly faced up to their historical problems, and they have some 1800 more years of them to deal with.

    At some point the Church will have to quietly concede the fact that the “New Mormon History” IS Mormon history. It sounds as if Elder Maxwell and at least some of the leaders are aware of this.

  59. re: #48&53
    I served in the London South Mission from 1973-75. I never saw a written policy, but we were instructed by zone leaders that if we tracted up black inviduals or families we were not to try to teach them, but just offer a brief message about the importance of the family. Only if they asked us directly could we then teach, and then take them to church only after we’d taught them for a month AND only if they requested it — we could not invite them. We — unofficially — referred to all this as the “Stand on Your Head and Recite the 13 Articles of Faith Backwards” policy.

    Missionaries with questions were given a “restricted” pamphlet by Mark E. Peterson about “the church and the negro” but instructed not to share it with local members. I remember one white member becoming extemely angry when he discovered the black males could not be given the priesthood, asking us over and over again, “Why didn’t someone tell me? Why didn’t the missionaries tell me?”

  60. Up until the late 70’s, would the average American adult member who had been born in the 50’s, 40’s, and 30’s, and earlier accepted black men as home-teachers, EQ presidents, bishops, etc?

    If not, they should have repented.

  61. ed johnson says:

    “not enacting the priesthood ban could have ended the church entirely in a nation that was deeply racist at the time.”

    I’ve heard this argument a lot, but it doesn’t ring true to me at all. Yes there was lots of racism, but there was also a lot of mainstream non-racism. Many religious people were leaders in the abolitionist movements. As far as I can tell, most other major churches were “ordaining” blacks long before the Mormons. There were blacks at Harvard, blacks in congress, etc., all decades before 1978. Polygamy was about a million times more offensive to most Americans than if Mormons had ordained a few blacks.

  62. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    I think we should be extremely careful about making assertions based on heresay. Somebody said that somebody said that somebody said isn’t exactly firm ground, and isn’t common knowledge, and what we are supposed to work with is what we are actually told — not what people think we should be told. When a decision needs to be made in a definitive manner (assuming this subject really has come up at all), all our leaders will be in agreement. If they aren’t, they might just be a reason for it. God works through councils, and He works through their agreement.

  63. #53, it was 1963 and he found out during his baptismal interview.

  64. Discussions like these make me wish we had good data.

    Late to the party, I just want to add:

    1. Because OD2 is part of our canon; because ill-informed opinions on the ban are two-a-penny in the Church (and sometimes semi-official: see Doctrine, Mormon); and because questions of race and racism are very emotive and a Brigham Youngism on this subject is going to feel like a slap in the face (and remember, you are asking a convert to believe such men are prophets of God and it’s going to be tough, for example, when you read a prophet claiming hell awaits those who “miscegenate”)…

    2. …”Inoculation” is therefore absolutely vital. All one need say, is:

    a) there was a ban,
    b) for many of us this is a painful thing, and we’re sorry for that pain,
    c) we don’t definitively know why the ban existed (so ignore any speculation on the matter, even if comes from Church leaders),
    d) we do know that it was the will of God that the ban be lifted and for that we give thanks,
    e) our current Prophet has spoken out forcefully against racism,
    f) however, you will on occasion read and hear racist things at Church. Realise that, unfortunately, no-one — even the Prophet — is immune from reflecting the social attitudes of the time. All in all, the church is one of the least segregated churches in America,
    g) bear witness of God’s love for all people, the truthfulness of the Gospel, and apologise again for any pain that this issue might cause,
    h) give them a copy of Gladys Knight’s Saints Alive cd. (Just kidding. See how hopelessly racist I am, assuming an African American will automatically like Gladys because she’s black? I stand by a-g, though. I think it’s honest, it forewarns against racism, it remains positive about the Church, it avoids laying blame.)

  65. M&M (re #46), I agree that acknowledging it and saying that we don’t really know why seems like a reasonable way to address the matter–though I also think it would be a good idea to warn people that they’re likely to encounter speculation on the subject, some of which might be pretty disturbing. I quite like the approach that Ronan outlines above.

    By the way, when you say that few people aren’t aware of the ban, are you thinking of members or non-members? My impression is that many non-members (at least outside of Utah), unless they have some kind of tie to Mormonism, don’t know anything about it. I’m extrapolating here from personal experience, though, so I could be making an inaccurate generalization.

  66. Your word in God’s ear, Ronan. I just don’t think that Mormonism will ever put racism behind as long as there are members who have reason to believe that the priesthood ban is from God.

    I wouldn’t want my children to hear at church that they and their ancestors were less valiant. Everyone should imagine what it would mean if that happened to their children. The Golden Rule applies.

    Retention is an important topic but, ultimately, this discussion has to be about people, especially those who have to bear the burden of racism.

    The christ-like focus is that Mormons are still willing to denigrate other Mormons, supposedly, because the perpetrators feel a need to stand with the prophets.

    Some contributions in this thread defend that practice, which proves that the problem is real. In our desire to uphold the prophets of olden times, we are only too willing to burden our brothers and sisters with racist theology.

    That’s what we are doing as long as we do not denouce the priesthood ban. It’s easy for us Caucasians because our children’s self-worth is not at stake. We forget, however, that our children suffer as well when we continue to socialize them with racism in the name of God.

  67. I think it’s very hard for whites to “get this” and when we try it has a danger of sounding paternalistic.

    So, I’m imagining a scenario where it would affect me. The privileges of my life mean that I have to concoct a silly, impossible one, but here goes.

    Let’s imagine (bad memories of the Empire, 1812 etc.) that the Church had instituted a policy whereby British people could not receive the priesthood. Such an attitude reflected a strong anti-British sentiment in the US at the time; seen as aggressors, imperialists, Satan’s people, wicked menschen, Brits were “cursed” as to the priesthood. This ban was lifted in 1978, about ten years after the US decided that its attitude towards the British was wrong.

    Now, in 2006 I, a Brit, am investigating the Church. The missionaries baptise me and all is well until I find out that 25 years earlier this racist policy existed. It wouldn’t matter if my testimony was rock-solid, it would still come as a shock. A awful, horrible shock.

    I would want to know.

    Ergo, yes, this is something our black investigators need to hear from us.

    Silly example, but I think it helps me understand how horrifying this could be. Of course, one could always change one’s citizenship, but our race is something we cannot change. This is what makes the ban so mortifying

  68. Hellmut,

    Both you and (in the opposite direction) m&m are missing the point somewhat. The issue isn’t to defend or attack the priesthood ban, the issue is whether to share the facts of it — in a sensitive, sensible way — with our black investigators. Share the basic, unalloyed facts and let people make their own mind up. When you’re asking someone to change their whole lives, that’s the least we can do.

    You know, I think the main reason we don’t talk about this is because we are embarrassed. We know the ban sounds indefensible, we know that we have to tie ourselves in knots to explain it, and we know we would feel very uncomfortable talking about it with a black investigator. So, to save our discomfort, we pretend it doesn’t exist therefore leaving that person to find out on their own. This is both cowardly and shameful.

    (It strikes me that the most comfortable way to talk about this is to be direct: “we were racist, we’re sorry, please forgive us, we’re trying so much harder now.” I think people can respect that.)

  69. I realize that Kevin is presenting a narrow argument about inoculation. The responses in defense of the priesthood ban reveal that inoculation fails to address the core issue.

    As long as faithful Mormons feel obligated to defend racism as revelation, the fundamental problem is not historical but contemporary. Africans and African Americans might be better off to leave Mormonism behind because LDS doctrine threatens the mental well being of their children.

    Moreover, the defense of the priesthood ban also hurts my Caucasian children because it socializes them to become racists.

    We are responsible for our beliefs. Until we stop blaming God for our lack of love, racism will remain a reality of the Mormon experience.

    That’s the real challenge to the testimony of African and African American converts.

    It’s sad because it doesn’t have to be that way. If we had more love and more faith then we could put the issue of the priesthood ban behind us. All it requires is that we cease to blame God and take responsibility for our beliefs and each other.

    For the sore to heal, we need to clean it of the sacrilegeous notion that God is a racist who required us to discriminate against our brothers and sisters. As long as that idea contaminates the gospel, racism will remain a virus in Mormon society.

  70. Kevin Barney says:

    #55, no, I’m not black.

    And Ronan’s posts are exactly along the lines of what I was thinking of.

  71. I think here in the US its pretty important with Black investigators that they are told about the ban pre-baptism. Usually though if we do not tell them they will find out anyway. We have 2 black families in our ward right now. I have discussed it once with one of the dads and he said its a tough issue but one that I have come to peace with. He did say thought that relatives are always trying to point it out to him

    In Africa on my mission we would tell people about the ban and they would usually shrug their shoulders. The mixed race population in South Africa seemed a little bit more sensitive to the issue then the blacks. On polygamy as well. We actually had to watch out not to baptize men who were currently practicing polygamy

  72. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 68 I think you’ve hit the nail on the head for why this persists. It will continue to be an issue until a future prophet says plainly “We were wrong and we apologize.” Then everyone will see that in fact the Church is NOT a house of cards, the anti-mo’s are plain wrong, and everyone can move on together in the faith.

  73. Ronan, you said

    (It strikes me that the most comfortable way to talk about this is to be direct: “we were racist, we’re sorry, please forgive us, we’re trying so much harder now.” I think people can respect that.)

    I agree and I hope we would say that. I wonder though whether most members would agree we we’re racist and IMHO some of us still are, and secondly whether the leaders in the church beleive and would make such an apology.

  74. I agree fully with Ronan’s approach. The whole matter doesn’t need to last than two or three minutes in the discussions (unless the investigator wants to know more). But it shouldn’t be ignored either. And the brief explanation shouldn’t be given just to blacks either.

    When people ask me what I think (and it has happened), I mention the story of Elijah Abel and say that in my opinion one doesn’t have to believe in infallibility to believe in revelation, and that there never was an official doctrine prohibiting black priesthood. I also relate what I read about David O. McKay in the recent biography of him. If pressed, I acknowledge that racism still exists in some corners of church, but that our leaders have forcefully spoken out against it.

  75. Actually, #68 is what I would say; #64 is what I would encourage someone to say who thinks “we were racist” suggests the ban was racist and therefore uninspired.

    That happens to be my view of things (that the ban was a hundred-year old racist man of straw), but what I want to do is find a way for people who accept the ban as divine (and that’s their prerogative) to still confront the issue and inoculate investigators against racist attitudes, real or perceived.

  76. Hellmut(#53),
    For the record, I don’t really hold the view I expressed, but I don’t think anyone who holds that view is an unreasonable troglodyte either. As long as we realize that the ban was allowed only because of OUR shortcomings, I think don’t think soneone who describes why God did this in this manner is necessarily a hopeless racist.

    This thread is a discussion that I believe would be helpful to the Church as a whole. I wish we could have this discussion every time we reviewed Church history or the D&C in Sunday School. They need an OD#2 lesson.

  77. General conference doesn’t help. We’re suppose to be a missionary church welcoming to all. The fact is we’re more integrated than most churches. The church is more than half female. So why present white male face after white male face, when that’s not the church? Then there’s all those white shirts and blue suits and same boring delivery style. We’re a much better church than is being presented at conference.

  78. By the way, when you say that few people aren’t aware of the ban, are you thinking of members or non-members? My impression is that many non-members (at least outside of Utah), unless they have some kind of tie to Mormonism, don’t know anything about it. I’m extrapolating here from personal experience, though, so I could be making an inaccurate generalization.

    Really? Most of the people I’ve met think they know two things about Mormons, we’re polygamists and we’re racist.

  79. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    If the subject were to be brought up, I think your outline (64, pt. 2) is a good way to approach it. (I’m still not convinced about when it should happen in the procses of conversion, however.)

    68 – I don’t think I missed the point completely, although my comments were mostly addressing those who wanted to give definitive reasons or explanations for the ban (one way or the other), which I think is a mistake.

    77 — I think this is often the case. If someone has heard about our Church, these are two things they have usually been told.

  80. Kevin–thank you for publishing this blog. A friend in California let me know about it. Here are a few websites which might be of interest:

    Click to access Martins-Black%20Man%20in%20Zion-2006.pdf


    What I’ve found is that missionaries are not well-versed enough in the issue or its inherent complexities to understand the resources available to them, so a “milk before meat” approach is good. I like Ronan’s list, though it’s only a start.

  81. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Margaret, I was hoping you would weigh in here.

  82. Left Field says:

    Yesterday, I spent about an hour composing a response. I tweaked the wording until I had produced the single most insightful and informative comment ever made in the Bloggernacle—nay, even in the history of human communication. I clicked Add my comment and my words disappeared from the monitor, never to be seen again. I fear that the moment of inspiration has passed and what follows is only a shadow of yesterday’s perfection*. Nevertheless, I will try to reproduce the original comment.

    One of the difficulties of addressing the race issue with members and potential members is what exactly do we tell them? “We don’t know” isn’t very helpful, even if true. Some people will be satisfied with nothing other than “It was an evil policy promulgated by an equally evil organization.” Others would insist on “It was a divinely revealed doctrine based on God’s curse on the seed of Cain.” Most would probably endorse something between these two extremes. I suspect that part of the reason we don’t have a policy of informing potential converts is that even the general authorities don’t agree on how to address the question. I think the only reasonable explanation is that given by Armand Mauss in How to Explain the Old Priesthood Ban without Looking Ridiculous. But I suspect that there may be some brethren who don’t want to get on board with any explanation other than a policy instituted by revelation.

    It’s easy to predict that African Americans are going to have serious issues with the former priesthood ban. In that case, it makes sense to address the problem in advance. However, with other issues, it’s impossible to predict what a given member or potential member might find problematic. For some, it might be polygamy. For others, it could be the Mountain Meadows massacre, or Joseph Smith’s wine drinking, or J. Golden Kimball’s cursing, or the detached steeples on some meetinghouses or any of a thousand other possible issues. There’s simply no way to immunize against all the possible concerns one at a time.

    However, the one thing we can do to address all of these issues is to lose the implied de facto infallibility we seem to ascribe to church leaders and teachings. Perhaps if we can lower expectations, people will be less troubled by unforeseen issues, whether it might be polygamy or the choice of carpet in the chapel.

    *If my original comment should still find the way to its destination, I should mention that any perceived imperfections are the result of Evil Men who altered my words contrary to that which I caused to be written.

  83. Left Field says:

    Kevin, I’ve tried twice in the last two days to comment, but it never shows up. Am I in some kind of moderation queue? My comment was a little on the long side, but less than 500 words, and no longer than some other comments here.

  84. Kevin Barney says:

    Left Field, if you’re in some kind of a moderation queue it’s not something I’m aware of. Sorry you’ve had a technical problem with posting, but I’m not much of a geek so I don’t know what the difficulty is.

  85. Left Field says:

    That one went right through, so maybe I’ll try one paragraph at a time.

    One of the difficulties of addressing the race issue with members and potential members is what exactly do we tell them? “We don’t know” isn’t very helpful, even if true. Some people will be satisfied with nothing other than “It was an evil policy promulgated by an equally evil organization.” Others would insist on “It was a divinely revealed doctrine based on God’s curse on the seed of Cain.” Most would probably endorse something between these two extremes. I suspect that part of the reason we don’t have a policy of informing potential converts is that even the general authorities don’t agree on how to address the question. I think the only reasonable explanation is that given by Armand Mauss in How to Explain the Old Priesthood Ban without Looking Ridiculous. But I suspect that there may be some brethren who don’t want to get on board with any explanation other than a policy instituted by revelation.

  86. Left Field says:

    Paragraph 2:

    It’s easy to predict that African Americans are going to have serious issues with the former priesthood ban. In that case, it makes sense to address the problem in advance. However, with other issues, it’s impossible to predict what a given member or potential member might find problematic. For some, it might be polygamy. For others, it could be the Mountain Meadows massacre, or Joseph Smith’s wine drinking, or J. Golden Kimball’s cursing, or the detached steeples on some meetinghouses, or any of a thousand other possible issues. There’s simply no way to immunize against all the possible concerns one at a time.

  87. For some reason our akismet marked you as spam. I have restored the comments (deleting the double post). Just drop an email if your comments don’t show up.

  88. Left Field says:

    Last paragraph:

    However, the one thing we can do to address all of these issues is to lose the implied de facto infallibility we seem to ascribe to church leaders and teachings. Perhaps if we can lower expectations, people will be less troubled by unforeseen issues, whether it might be polygamy or the choice of carpet in the chapel.

  89. Hellmut

    Re: Your comment #53–

    Your argument is facil but well taken. Surely, any level-headed human being (nowadays) would have difficulty believing in a God who was a respecter of persons. However, because God is aware of racism and chooses to counsel his leaders in ways that steer the church into stability (and perhaps way from annihilation!) does not make him racist.

    American history is far more complex than most would like to believe.

  90. Jerrry Boam says:

    Here’s how I see it:

    It’s not just “missionary malpractice”–it’s Church leadership malpractice, by the very definition of “Church leadership.”

    Any garbage collector, state legislator, professor or student can become/be called as “bishop” as long as he meets Church standards of worthiness. It matters not what his level of education, reasoning skills or intelligence may be.

    Members and non-members alike look up to men with titles for leadership and understanding. Any “bishop”, “stake president” or “quorum leader”–be he rube or royal, can walk into a room and authoratatively preach the doctrine of his own understanding. It could be the simple testimony of a child (with a Primary-level knowledge of Church teachings) or a studied, measured discourse gained from hours of study.

    The range of “scholarship” among church membership regarding “doctrine” is often appalling. Doctrine these days seems to be “teachings that don’t embarrass us or make us look stoopid to non-members.”

    And it just doesn’t help when any old Joe Schmoe can be bishop and pontificate before an eager group of shiny-faced note-takers.

    “But, my bishop said…”

  91. “Any garbage collector, state legislator, professor or student can become/be called as “bishop” as long as he meets Church standards of worthiness.”

    You forgot to mention fishermen, tax collectors, carpenters…

  92. Kevin,

    I’m left wondering if it would also be appropriate to bring up the other peoples who were banned from using the Priesthood during other dispensation. It’s not only that people of color (not only blacks) were banned but that any people who were deemed unworthy at that time or peoples who forefathers had been cursed so too they were as well that had this same, exact “Priesthood ban”…..too they weren’t all black, now were they?

    I think it is unfair that people like you are attempting to put forth in the work of the Lord what you would have taught to people for retention matters albeit I think your heart is in the right place, I think that if it were the history of the Church on which our testimonies were based then it would be part and parcel to the lessons taught to all potential converts. Don’t you? Or is it your idea that what the Prophet has going on for the education of potential converts is inaccurate or insufficient?

    Don’t get me wrong. I fully believe in full disclosure, but I also believe that if a person has a “real” testimony that the information of which you seem to place as “top priority” is just fodder for debate, nothing more.

  93. Sentinel, I have no idea what you are talking about. There was no “priesthood ban” in other dispensations.

    Right on, Jack.

  94. mullingandmusing (m&m) says:

    J., couldn’t the “you can’t have the priesthood unless you are of the tribe of Levi thing” be considered a ban of sorts? There were limitations to who could receive and exercise priesthood. Is it possible that is what sentinel was referring to?

  95. levites is different. it chose one group to have the priesthood and excluded others (and a lower law). whereas priesthood ban of blacks is the only instance I’m aware of that one group/race is exluded while all others were included. (im not convinced the curse on canaan is such one either).

  96. Left Field:

    It’s interesting, you mention this de facto infallibility we need to lose. I have been a member eight years only, but I have never heard it taught that the prophets are infallible. I have heard the opposite taught many times, however. I understand where tihs idea comes from (God is infallible, He talks to his Prophets, the prophets ought to always listen and obey because the Church is true…) but how do we break down this barrier between what is taught and what is believed?

  97. Kevin Barney says:

    sentinel, what I propose is intended as a pragmatic bit of what I believe to be sound missiology.

    I believe that it is a near certainty that an American black person who joins the Church at some point will learn of the priesthood ban. And if she doesn’t learn it from a friendly source in a faith-constructive way, she is likely to learn of it from a hostile source in a faith-damaging way. By not raising it ourselves, we cede the manner and context in which it is raised to those who don’t want this person to be a member of our church.

    We have a lot of experience with this phenomenon, and the odds of a such a person leaving the Church after learning of the ban from an outside source are very high. Simple disclosure along the lines Ronan suggested above would greatly mitigate that risk, but apparently we’re not doing that, or at least not doing it consistently.

    In my view, this issue is qualitatively different from almost any other issue, including even polygamy. Not to realize the importance of basic disclosure in this one case strikes me as a failure of empathy. Put yourself in such a convert’s shoes; how would you react when someone else told you about the ban and you then felt deceived by those who had taught you the Gospel?

    It is not my call of course. If the Church wants to roll the dice and hope for the best, that is their prerogative. But I strongly disagree with what appears to be the dominant current approach.

  98. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 95 It’s just the opposite of the Catholics. They accept a doctrine of papal infallibility (when he speaks ex cathedra–no sustaining votes at conference for them!), but pay him little heed in daily life. Doubt any of the converts from the Catholic church here grew up singing “Follow the Pope, you won’t go astray….”

  99. Papal infallability, while doctrine for Catholics, is not emphasized in the Catholic church, or at least it wasn’t in the 18 years I attended. In the standard liturgy, there is only one area for exegesis, the homily, and this is typically, in my experience, focused on way of being, not doctrine.

    In the LDS church, The role and importance of Prophets is heavily emphasized. I think it has to do with the missionary nature of our church, to tie back into the common theme here, and the relative youth of our Church. This is why our stars shine a bit brihter for us, as well as our scars

  100. This thought has already been stated in this forum, but let me reitterate that the ban itself is not really the issue. Mormons were late in admitting Blacks into the priesthood (which is a big blot on our record), but we were certainly not uniquely racialist in our practices. The problem is the reasoning behind the ban, which was imported from all of the flawed and tragically racist thought of 19th Century (and earlier) Europe. To the common idea that it was okay to enslave those of African descent because they were already cursed by God through their lineage (assigned either to Cain or Ham/Canaan), we added the uniquely Mormon idea that Blacks had done something wrong–or not done something right–in the pre-existence. (The idea surfaced as speculation in 1847.) It is these thoughts which still linger, and which were not addressed in 1978.
    They are false and dangerous, and provide fodder for a lot of other half-baked notions about pre-mortal life and who was “chosen” and who was not. A lot of Mormons refer to the scripture, “I saw many noble and great…these I will make my rulers. . . Thou was chosen before thou wast born” (Book of Abraham 3:22-23) without considering its actual context–which was BEFORE the war in Heaven. It’s not quite enough to say that our prophet has made bold statements on racial prejudice, because many card-carrying Mormons do not recognize the totality of their own belief system, nor that they often host prejudice–albeit innocently–as they defend the Church or its past. Many could say that they genuinely rejoiced on June 8, 1978, but they still cling to the ideas already mentioned here, not recognizing that those ideas (curses, fence-sitting, etc.) do indeed desparage those of another race–which means that no one who still believes them can consider himself a true disciple of Jesus Christ, according to our prophet. Right? I am always struck by the fact that it’s WHITE Mormons commenting on these issues. How different the conversation would be if it were among Black Mormons. Of course, if we truly honor our Savior, there should be no difference in who is holding the conversation. It would be about love, repentence, forgiveness, healing, and manifesting the works of God.

  101. Doc #76, don’t worry. I have too much racist baggage myself to judge other people. And I certainly don’t consider you a troglodyte. I do think, however, that our beliefs have consequences that require consideration.

    Your argument reformulates a common excuse for Brigham Young. That’s a valuable contribution to the debate that deserves to be explored. I don’t think, however, that it stands up to the evidence.

    First, there were religious groups that accepted African Americans and did fine. There was a price to pay but that is the nature of virtue.

    Second, in light of Brigham Young’s language it is clear that he did not need any excuse such as self-preservation. He was a genuine racist. If we take him by his words, then he believed that racism was the only reasonable position.

    Lets not kid ourselves about the ferocity of Brigham’s feelings on the subject.

    Once we acknowlege these matters, the self-preservation argument collapses. It was not necessary to be a racist to preserve Mormonism. Therefore Brigham was not inspired to save the LDS Church with his racism. That means that Brigham Young was a racist without God’s assistance.

    By the way, I just finished reading Frederick Douglass’s memoir about slavery. He points out that the most cruel masters were the most ostentatious believers. Interestingly, like early Mormon leaders, they were all Methodist revivalists. The reason for their cruelty was that they actually believed to do God’s will when they tortured their slaves.

    I think that there are parallels to Mormons who continue to defend the priesthood ban. Just put yourself into the place a parent with African ancestors. What would it do to your children if they heard that language out of the mouth of their Sunday school and seminary teachers? Why would we want to do that to the children of other parents? Why would we want to instruct our children to look down on their peers?

    Unfortunately, Ronan is only partially correct. While many Mormons abhor our racist past, others continue to defend it as the word of God. That attitude continues to exercise influence among Mormon communities, which is unfortunate because it hurts people.

  102. Margaret:

    I was wondering if you had seen this article?
    It was brought to my attention at the mormon wasp. I would love to see a response from the Genesis Group.

  103. Jack #89

    American history is far more complex than most would like to believe.

    If someone can present a historically grounded argument that demonstrates that theological racism was a necessity for Mormonism until 1978, I would like to consider it.

    I will go a step farther. The existence of Quakers, Mennonites, and several other abolitionist creeds shows that racism was not necessary for the LDS Church to survive in 1850.

    While there were issues with race in Missouri, Illinois was a free state. Race exacerbated conditions. If it had been about race then there would have been many places in North America where Mormonism could have survived if not prospered.

  104. Left Field says:


    You are correct that infallibility is not formally taught; in fact it is formally denied. If inallibility were formally taught, it would be de jure. However, there is widespread reluctance to acknowledge that church leaders might ever be mistaken or that some church policies or teachings might not be correct. This amounts to de facto infallibility.

    As I see it, a lot of the issues people struggle with are exacerbated by the unrealistic expectation of infallibility. Our apparent reluctance to back away from racial folkore almost certainly has its roots in a desire to maintain the illusion that the church could never have been mistaken on anything.

    I think that attitude arises from a well meaning but misguided concern that others will disregard sound prophetic counsel unless the prophet’s every sneeze is regarded as inspired. I think church members are capable of a much more nuanced view of revelation. Of course, that would require us to take responsibility for receiving our own revelation on what is or is not inspired. Although such individual responsibility is de jure church doctrine, not everybody is willing to do it. And the church could do a lot more in promomoting it.

  105. “The existence of Quakers, Mennonites, and several other abolitionist creeds shows that racism was not necessary for the LDS Church to survive in 1850.”

    You know what, Hellmut, you’re right. And I am sure that’s why the Mennonites and Quakers spread quickly throughout the rest of the United States, instead of remaining primarily in the abolitionist northeast. And heaven knows that since Illinois was a free state, there certainly wasn’t any rascism there. No sirree.

  106. Hellmut,

    Though we’re talking about history, I think the argument really needs to be grounded in social science more than anything else. I simply disagree that the church would have prospered to the degree that it had by the mid-twentieth (especially in the south) if Blacks had been given equal opportunity to serve in church leadership.

    No doubt, this is a terribly sad commentary on western culture, but there you have it.

  107. Re mennonites:

    This is from the official Mennonite Website

    “The Mennonite Brethren denomination was among the first known to begin work among people of African-American origin, in a mining community of Elk Park, N.C. in 1886. The Mennonite Church baptized its first black members in 1897 in Cocolamus, Pa.

    James Lark, the first black Mennonite bishop (ordained as minister 1945, and bishop 1954, Chicago, Ill.), had a vision for reaching people of African-American origin. He saw the church pouring its resources into overseas mission, and encouraged the church to greater effort in urban ministry in the U.S. His wife, Rowena, was an important partner in their outreach, as she was a gifted soloist and children’s storyteller. James’ first contacts with Mennonites were at the Rocky Ridge Mennonite meetinghouse near Quakertown, Pa. The Lark vision helped start churches in black communities in Sarasota, Florida; Youngstown, Ohio; Saginaw, Michigan; and Los Angeles, California, all of which became early communities of black Mennonites. ”


  108. Hellmut,
    BY’s bigotry was typical for his time. It’s sad, but I give him a pass on it. It’s not BY’s fault that later, supposedly more enlightened, leaders lacked motivation to correct his mistake. But the BYU Law School, on the other hand, being named after a mid twentieth century segregationist bigot anachronism is shameful and appaling. It’s beyond belief to me that we haven’t changed the name.

  109. Matt-first, I need to explain what Genesis is and what it is not. There is NO WAY any blog anywhere will get an official response from the Genesis Group. We are a support organization for African American Mormons (though our monthly meetings include people of all complexions) and we report directly to the Church. We are an officially sponsored group and so blogging would not be one of our official activities. However, some Genesis members are certainly aware of conversations on the net.
    As to that very interesting paper you linked us to, Mr. Homer has some fine insights, supported by other scholars–and yes, I have heard his thesis before and find it compelling. However, he has clearly not seen some of the primary documents in their actual form. Had he seen the documents, he would have noted that the phrase after the description of Walker Lewis (a Black priesthood holder and a leader in the Prince Hall Masonic Lodge) appears to have been written AFTER the original entry. The addendum states that Lewis was ordained “contrary though to the order of the Church or the Law of the Priesthood, as the Descendents of Ham are not entitled to that privilege.” It appears to have been written in accordance to the changes initiated (I believe) by Brigham Young. In fact, Brigham Young himself acknowledged Walker Lewis as “a fine elder, an African, in Lowell” in 1847 when the McCary debacle occurred. The best paper on Walker Lewis is by Connell O’Donovan, recently presented at the Whitmer Society Conference. Connell is a first-class researcher and won an award for his paper. I have a copy but won’t share it because it will be published in the Whitmer conference proceedings, and likely in a revised edition of Bringhurst’s _Saints, Slaves and Blacks_.

  110. Margaret, thank you for your superior knowledge of the matter at hand.

  111. The big ugly problem that no one wants to mention is that we baptize before people are converted to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No one who is truly converted has a problem with our history whether they learn it before or after.

    Mission presidents need to better teach missionaries that when people truly feel the spirit they change, not just feel something warm.

    I live in a ward that is full of inactive converts who felt something warm but never changed anything about their lives. The biggest change that bodes well for the future of a convert is a desire to come to church. I don’t think anyone should be baptized until they start coming to church on their own.

    That isn’t all they need to do but it is one of the most improtant things they can do. I think that every member of the church should memorize and encourage their children to memorize D&C 20:37 and then discuss it regularly at FHE, the dinner table etc.

  112. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 106
    What What WHAT? (Imagine Kyle’s mom from South Park saying this)

    The Church would be less prosperous (esp in the South) if it had not overtly discriminated against blacks until the 70s ?

    No way. If anything, there would have been robust wards and stakes in the south made up primarily of Black members. Today there would be many, many more Blacks in the central leadership and speaking at conference. I’m sure there would have been a lot of segregation in the Church down South. It’s hard to support the assertion that the ban somehow strengthened the Church because American society was so racist at the time.

    Also, imo, that’s exactly the kind of crypto-racist argument that pushes Blacks out of the Church to this day. Would be curious to know if anybody else in here read it the way I did.

  113. Shiner Bock says:


    I really disagree with that one MikelnWeHo. I live in Mississippi and work mostly with black people. Mormonism would never have gain a hold in the black community in the south no matter how the black/priestood thing played out.

    Black people have a different culture. They don’t get worked up about things like sex outside of marriage, drinking, etc. You can go to the club on Saturday night and then go to church on Sunday…no problem.

    The whole Mormon guilt thing would never work with black folks.

    Now there are blacks who have been adopted into LDS culture…but they are rare.

  114. MikeInWeHo says:

    Think I’ll refrain from responding to #113…..yikes. The temptation to snark is almost overwhelming right now.

  115. Jack #106: “Though we’re talking about history, I think the argument really needs to be grounded in social science more than anything else. I simply disagree that the church would have prospered to the degree that it had by the mid-twentieth (especially in the south) if Blacks had been given equal opportunity to serve in church leadership.”

    Now you are talking about prosperity, not survival. Do you mean to say that it is OK to sacrifice a segment of humanity so that other people, or worse, an organization is better off?

    Survival might be a justifiable motive. Prosperity is not. Sometimes, doing the right thing comes at a price. That’s why it requires virtue.

    Your statement implies that the Church of the Lord need not be virtuous but can pursue its self-interest at the expense of outsiders. Is that consistent with Christ’s teachings?

    Empirically, I am not sure that you are correct either. It probably depends on time/place constraints. By 1978, the LDS Church had arguably foregone a good deal of prosperity for several decades.

  116. Steve EM #108

    I agree with you that it was socially acceptable to discriminate individuals with African descent. I am arguing, however, that God did not tell Brigham Young to be racist.

    My assumptions are that God is
    a) competent and b) loving.

    Of course, if we imagine God as a cynic or a fool then He may well be a racist. You see, one has to commit sacrilege to reconcile the priesthood ban with the gospel.

    Notice, Steve, that you are advancing a relativist claim. Your concern about anachronism is well founded. Moral relativism may well apply to Brigham Young but it cannot reasonably apply to God.

    Finally, we also need to be honest and acknowledge that there were a lot of people that were more enlightened than Brigham Young.

  117. #107 MW:

    Notice that the passages that you are citing are about outreach. Though that is an indicator of discrimination, it is different from having to abolish exclusion.

    Mennonites issued the first proclamation against slavery in the colonies in 1688. They continued to participate in the Underground Railroad. At no time were Mennonite threatened with extermination. The same holds for Quakers.

    That demonstrates that it was possible to exercise a peculiar religion and demand rights for Africans in the United States during the nineteenth century.

    To be sure, many abolitionists were racists and uneasy about the prospect of living with freed slaves. Most changed their mind, however, when they witnessed how refined Frederick Douglass had become once he had access to education.

    Though it was difficult, people with an open mind got to the bottom of the race problem. They relied on reason, observation and their commitment to humanity.

    If mortals can do that, so can God. Therefore the priesthood prohibition is not from God.

  118. First of all, a thank you to Kevin for the article and this discussion.

    I personally believe that this is a very simple issue. If you want to get an idea of how much LDS Church leaders struggled with racial equality, simply read chapter 4 of “The rise of modern Mormonism” by Prince and Wright. From the journal of President McKay and others in the Church hierarchy it will be clear.

    Also in that same book you’ll find the following statement from Pres. McKay. “There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this Church that the Negroes are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the Church of any kind pertaining to the Negro. 1954

    Sterling M. McMurrin affidavit March 6, 1979. See “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” By Greg Prince & William Robert Wright.

    Those who want to see an acknowledgment of the error in the ban and all the thoughts regarding Blacks, see Elder Bruce R. McConkies comments: “Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and light line upon line and precept upon precept (2 Ne. 28:30; Isa. 28:9-10; D&C 98:11-12; 128:21). We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter anymore.” …

    “It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year (1978). It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light into the world on this subject.

    With THAT NEW LIGHT our scriptures were updated in 1981 with new footnotes and word changes to correct the incorrect thinking regarding Blacks, skin etc.

    Most importantly, if you want to know what the Lord intended regarding Priesthood when he restored the Church go to the scriptures, particularly D&C and follow all of the NEW FOOTNOTES. D&C 1:20
    D&C 4: 3
    D&C 4:5
    D&C 6: 4
    D&C 11: 4
    D&C 12: 4
    D&C 14: 4
    D&C 36:4-5
    D&C 36:7
    D&C 63:57


  119. Hellmut,

    I said:

    “Because God is aware of racism and chooses to counsel his leaders in ways that steer the church into stability (and perhaps away from annihilation!) does not make him racist.”

    My bit about “survival” was a parenthetical. I think we’re talking past eachother more because of the “quick and dirty” nature of blogging than anything else.

    That said, it is not *God* who is racist. It is the people among whom God chose to restore his church–they were a product of their culture as are any other people. Now why God chose to do so I cannot say. That wisdom still resides with him.

    Mike in West Hollywood (nice place by the way),

    I cannot imagine that white southerners would have taken too kindly to mormon missionaries building large congregations of black members during the 1800’s and even early on into the 1900’s .

  120. It’s like rushing in a preaching mormonism to muslims in muslim communities. You put a lot of people in danger when you do such silly things.

  121. MikeInWeHo says:

    Clearly I would be murdered in the South. And yes, WeHo is a great place to live. I feel very blessed to have my home here. Our new Famima store is really cool. There don’t seem to be any active LDS within city limits, only scads of clean-cut RMs now coupled up. In that sense, it’s a surprisingly Mormon town! I think it might actually be Orem in some anti-matter universe.

    But back on topic: Are you really saying that perhaps the Lord used the priesthood ban to somehow nurture the Church through a racist period in American history?

  122. Hellmut,
    It’s been made clear I’m not welcome by the orthodox wing of BCC, and I’ve decided to so oblig them and will no longer comment here. Sorry to have left you hanging.

  123. Helmut (116):

    God is the worst relativist. What do you think! He is a Darwinist!!! What is survival of the fittest??? We eat each other. Whatever works.


  124. Mike,

    Well, I don’t think I’d put it that way but if one considers the history of Israel it sure can cast a bad light on God by modern standards. When do we see the “chosen people” doing anything about neighboring countries? Except, perhaps, annihilating them? No out-stretched hand of fellowship at all. What was God up too all those millennia?

  125. MikeInWeHo says:

    Yeah, I agree Jack. It’s very difficult to look at many of the things Israel did in the OT (evidently under the Lord’s direction) and not ask some very difficult questions.

  126. Hellmutt,

    The anti-slavery groups you mention did not have much of a presence in the South.

    I am not buying the idea that the Ban was to protect the church from anti-black forces in Society.

    We will never know why. I am simply glad (as are most of my mission converts in Africa) that its behind us. Its better to say sorry and make it right then to try and come up with historically weak semi-justifications

  127. bbell,

    You’re right that it’s probably better to say sorry, especially with regard to some of the reason set forth for the ban. However, I can’t help but feel that we might be swallowing too big a fish if we apologize for its implementation when we really have no way of knowing that BY was simply going with his gut “racist” instincts rather than revelation. On at least one occasion he involked the name of the Savior in stating his position on the ban. If we heard such a statement today from the president of the church (on whatever issue) we’d all be jumping pretty high.

    Also, when you say that you don’t buy the idea that the ban was to protect the church from “anti-black forces” I think you’re modernizing–and thereby over-simplifying–the issue a bit too much. The whole of society was segregated in those days. No doubt, even most abolitionists would have had great difficulty with the idea of giving their daughters in marraige to black men. It was a different world.

  128. That should be reason[ing] in my first sentence.

  129. Imagine how you would feel, Jack, if your children were taught at Church that they and their ancestors were not fully human.

    That is not in the past. It happens every week to African American children. Their teachers continue to proclaim doctrine as long as we hold to the notion that God authorized Brigham Young to discriminate against Africans.

    The more faithful the children are, the greater the damage. Count your blessings, I guess.

    HP/JDC #105. It is true that Quakers were never a mass movement. But they have been the salt of the earth. Their righteousness compromised their appeal while setting the American agenda.

    There is a reason why the Savior taught us to take the narrow path. With respect to slavery and racism, Brigham Young chose the broad road. The Quakers chose the narrow path.

    That’s another indicator that Young’s decision was less than Christlike.

    Quakers were never many but they brought about religious freedom in Massachusetts. They respected the rights of native Americans. They attacked slavery. Even during our life time, Quakers continue to pay the price for loving our enemies.

    The idolatry of numbers is a weakness of Mormon identity, which undermines our commitment to the Savior’s values.

  130. Hellmut,

    You missed my point entirely. I said that it’s probably better to apologize (rather than get in a tango over the reasons why since we really don’t know) *especially* with regard to some of the reasoning set forth for the ban. Some of it is down-right silly. But when Brigham Young says (in so many words) in the name of the Savior that blacks shall not receive the priesthood, then it gets a little tricky re: whether or not it was the right thing to do for a time inspite of the silly reasoning.

    According to your logic God is a murderer because he commanded the Israelites to kill every male among the Middiantes.

  131. According to your logic God is a murderer because he commanded the Israelites to kill every male among the Middiantes.

    May be. War is complicated matter. I would like to take a look at the exact passage that you have in your mind.

    One thing is for sure. There are passages in the Old Testament that one has to attribute to propaganda rather than revelation.

    You missed my point entirely.

    I am still not sure that I understand your position. To me the test of a sound policy regarding the race ban is that no one’s child is denigrated in the name of God.

    The current policy leaves all of our children vulnerable. It undermines the self-esteem of African children and inculcates European children with racist arrogance.

    Whatever it takes that has to end.

  132. “To me the test of a sound policy regarding the race ban is that no one’s child is denigrated in the name of God.”

    I think Mormon’s attitude toward children solves that problem whether or not there’s a ban.

    Your not understanding my position probably has more to do with my vagueness than anything else. Let me just say that IMO without the ban the problem of racism would have been exacerbated within the church–not to mention the further difficulties that may have come from without.
    How many members were truely ready to be lead by a black bishop back in the day? Too many whites would have been offended and too many blacks would have been denigrated by such offenses beyond that which they have already suffered. It was culturally unthinkable–as sad as it is to contemplate such things.

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