Further Light & Knowledge

This week at BCC, we are pleased to commemorate the 1978 revelation on the priesthood which extended the priesthood offices to all worthy males, regardless of race. Through a joint effort with Dialogue, we will be looking back at the ban on black church members holding the priesthood through a series of posts that use the lenses of history, culture and memory to help us understand this part of our church history.

Even today, many church members are sketchy on the details of the ban, having heard folk myths, rumors, or contradictory statements. Sunday School teachers frequently have to tiptoe gingerly around the issue when questions are raised. Converts to the church, especially those of color, are often disenchanted to learn after baptism that this is a part of our church history. The question of how this could have happened in our church is thrown around often. Through a comprehensive look at the issue and participation from our readers, we hope to reflect on where our church has been and where we are going in regards to how we relate to one another.

There is already a wealth of scholarship out there that is available to those who want to know more. This week we hope to point each other in the right direction. We’ll open by referring readers to Armand Mauss’s informative paper for FAIR. Mauss has graciously agreed to post with us later this week. In the meantime, this paper, especially the question & answer section, is a great resource to look at.


  1. I just want to name names at the moment–heroic men and women whose names should be remembered in relation to this part of Church history. I will simply provide names, no racial identity or other background. If you don’t know who these people are, I’d be happy to give more details later. I heard Armand deliver the paper linked above. It’s a must-read.

    Ruffin Bridgeforth
    Darius Gray
    Eugene Orr
    Lester Bush
    Bob Rees
    Ruth Rees
    Armand Mauss
    Newell Bringhurst
    Lucile Bankhead

  2. Oh–and Stephen Taggert. We must not forget him. Though Lester Bush took issue with some of Taggert’s conclusions, Taggert’s work was of tremendous value.
    And how could I forget my hero, Elder Marion Duff Hanks?
    Btw, I have not named any of the early Black pioneers of the Church.
    Others could well be named also–Lowell Bennion, Sterling McMurrin, David O. McKay and (obviously) SPENCER W. KIMBALL–so consider this just a quick endeavor to REMEMBER and pay tribute to great men and women.

  3. Thanks for the link. The more we as mormons address and talk about this part of our history – the better I’m able to come to grips with it. Thanks again.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Armand’s approach is terrific, and I too highly recommend it.

  5. Mark IV says:

    I second what Kevin said about Mauss. I’m really looking forward to this week. Thank you!

  6. Julie M. Smith says:

    I like the Q & A that Mauss does, but he seems to say that the reason Pres. McKay didn’t lift the ban was that he couldn’t get consensus in the Q12 and 1P, whereas the Prince bio makes it sound as if the answer to Pres. McKay’s prayers was “not yet.”

  7. Julie, I don’t see the two (lack of consensus & “not yet”) as incompatible or competing.

  8. Armand Mauss is going to blog here! (Ann jumps up and down in her chair…)

  9. For me, while not in the category of “scholarship,” the simple and straightforward statements by Elder Holland in his PBS interview transcript on this topic in my mind were tremendously helpful. I’m not one to dismiss past comments simply because they caused pain, because I don’t feel any of us is necessarily qualified to do so, and so I was grateful for Elder Holland’s willingness to provide his thoughts. (Interesting how I haven’t heard anyone argue about whether it’s his opinion or not because I doubt there is a soul among us who doesn’t want to embrace and rejoice over what he said about folklore.) And yet he did so with such finesse and a calm power and testimony that shouldn’t be surprising given his calling and his gift of speech, but still left me just stunned in gratitude.

    He ends with, “we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.” Would that we were more often that wise to not speculate and just be willing to say, “I don’t know.” It’s too easy to try to fill in gaps when we really don’t know and sometimes can create more problems when we try to guess. (Note to self on this one, since I sometimes do that….)

  10. m&m,
    Whilst it is true that we have no signed and sealed explanation for the ban, I do think we can arrive at a pretty good understanding of it by examining the cultural and religious situation that induced Brigham Young to institute it. I, for one, do not believe that God was the author of it. I think it simply (and lamentably) reflected the institutional racism of the day. I realise, however, that this is a minority view in the church. I think we would rather God be a racist than admit that our leaders were racist.

    I would like to humbly suggest that our projections are backwards in this regard.

  11. “I like the Q & A that Mauss does, but he seems to say that the reason Pres. McKay didn’t lift the ban was that he couldn’t get consensus in the Q12 and 1P, whereas the Prince bio makes it sound as if the answer to Pres. McKay’s prayers was “not yet.”

    Arrington makes that point as well, and even says the same thing about Harold B. Lee, if memory serves…

    For those who believe in the divine nature of the relationship between the President of the Church and God, I think pointing those two things out at least provides insight into the fact that the reasons it stayed around for so long was because Heavenly Father was guiding the Church…

    I mean, here you have two men who, regardless of their own personal feelings on the subject of race or civil rights in the U.S., are pleading with their God for the ability to extend the full blessings of the Church to its black members, and are told they shouldn’t do it. If you believe in revelation, there has to be some reason that was the case.

    It’s true, as Ray seems to indicate above, that perhaps the reason simply was: “You need the Quorum of the 12’s buy-in to accomplish this” and under its then current constitution that would have been impossible. But it’s entirely possible there were other factors that influenced those revelations, as well.

  12. Last Lemming says:

    Yes, other factors might have influenced those revelations, but the lack of buy-in from the 12 is compelling enough for me. I recently read the account of the issuing of the Manifesto by Wilford Woodruff in Alexander’s “Mormonism in Transition.” It seems clear enough that Woodruff did not have buy-in from his counselors, much less the full Quorum of the 12. Hence, the need for a second manifesto with much messiness in the interim. (Not to criticize Woodruff. Circumstances probably required him to issue the Manifesto sooner rather than later, with or without buy-in.)

  13. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    RJ; I don’t think it’s that we “rather God be a racist than admit that our leaders were racist.” It’s just easier or more comfortable what God had a plan and a purpose that we don’t yet understand. Keep in mind that for much of the history that we know no one but the Levites was allowed to have the priesthood and that women today still don’t have the priesthood. So there must be some reason that it’s okay for some people not to have the priesthood.

    At least, that’s my reasoning. It could simply be that the priesthood holders were clannish, or racist or are sexist, but God’s house is a house of order and I prefer to think He’s got it in hand, whether that means He has a specific plan or He is waiting for the right time to correct a simply human mistake.

  14. LL, very insightful reference to the Manifesto. The fact that the Manifesto did NOT have council approval is critical to understanding the Church’s difficulty in accepting it and following it – which many who castigate the Church for “lying, deceit, manipulation, etc.” simply don’t understand. Also, think about what would have happened if there had not been council approval for the Priesthood change. Which would be worse: 1) the long delay in the change or 2) the type of fractured support, not-so-private wrangling by leaders AND rank and file members, and half-baked adherence that attended the Manifesto? I, for one, as much as I dislike the fact that the prohibition existed at all, am happy that it ended in the way it did – with full consensus and support, even from those whose writings it made obsolete and incorrect. That alone is pretty amazing to me.

  15. RJ,
    Your explanation also doesn’t explain the timing that Pres. Hinckley basically said was right, so I’m just a lot more comfortable saying what Elder Holland said. If an apostle won’t speculate, I don’t think we should either, because it can get us into trouble, just like he said it got some early leaders into what Elder Holland labeled as folklore. Which says that if prophets/apostles can get themselves into trouble by guessing too much about why things happened, we can too.

  16. Mark IV says:


    On January 16, 1852, Brigham Young said: “…any man having one drop of the seed [of Cain] …in him cannot hold the priesthood, and if no other Prophet ever spake it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ…”

    In what sense is that speculative? It seems like a straightforward, unambiguous declaration that does not allow itself to be misunderstood.

  17. Wow, I feel in the minority. Yes it was full of facts, but I felt it was very ironic given the title and the fact that the little Q&A amounted to little more than some facts an equivalent of shoulder shrug and saying “Meh. Cosi Fan Tutte.”

    The line of “So you are saying that the Mormons were really no worse than others in their teachings and policies about black people?” Got a chuckle out of me, but this line

    Yet if the Church had made the policy change then, the public relations outcome might have been anticlimactic

    Made literally laugh out loud. I can imagine the brethren, “No no no. We can’t do it now! It wont be climatic enough. Not unless we got a fog machine. THEN we might be able to do it.”

    I know it’s not what he meant, but still so funny.

  18. I think, in our Church, culturally or doctrinally, the principle of following the Brethren is more important than equality of temple or priesthood blessings without regard to race.

    Joseph Smith reportedly said, “Whatever God commands is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. . . .” Culturally, or doctrinally, we presume that statements by our First Presidency or Quorum of 12 speak for God, and therefore the withholding of priesthood and temple blessings during much of the Restoration must have been “right.”

    Accordingly, when President Hinckley asked, “How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color, is ineligible?”, the correct answer is, “If he lives at a time when prophets and apostles have said that this is a divinely directed practice.”

    I suspect that if the Church, institutionally, were to accept that the practice was something largely driven by cultural beliefs (perhaps like the prohibition for a number of years of Sacrament meeting prayers by people not holding the Melchizedek Priesthood (most notably women)), this would undermine the overriding principle of our doctrine and culture–following the Brethren.

  19. PDoE,

    The Levite apology is quite weak actually. What you have there is the priesthood restricted to one tribe. For Israelites, priesthood was never a pre-requisite for salvation. The average bloke probably didn’t want to spend his life sacrificing animals in the temple.

    The Mormon priesthood ban is not the same, however. It’s utterly different in fact. In essence we had an otherwise open priesthood restricted from one race of people. Given that priesthood is a pre-requisite for salvation, and given that the Book of Mormon states that the Gospel (all of it) is for all people, the ban becomes injustice on a grand scale.

    The reason for Brigham’s ban is clear (seed of Cain = no priesthood, see Mark’s quote). It is obviously nonsense: the notion that black Africans carried specific “cursed” blood has been completely debunked by all we know about genetics (i.e. if an African American is a descendant of Cain or Ham or Attila the Hun, so are you and so is Brigham Young); also the Ham curse is quite obviously a not coincidental product of slavery apologia.

    It is rather clear to me that the ban was a product of racism.

    And not God’s racism.

    Until we admit this, we will continue to cause hurt and our ministry to African Americans will forever be hampered. This ban and everything that surrounds it has had real and negative consequences for many of God’s children.

    And please note, I am not talking about the lifting of ban here, which I do believe was a revelation.

  20. DavidH,
    True, perhaps. Thank the Maker, then, for people like Mauss and Bush who gently — without overstepping their authority — suggested that the ban wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. And thanks also to Spencer Kimball who’s leadership showed that not everything the Brethren have taught is set in stone. That takes courage given the confines of Mormonism that you outline.

  21. Ronan,

    I agree with both your posts. And I am also glad that, in our day, we are not in danger of being thrown out of, or being significantly marginalized in, the Church for not believing that God expressly directed or ordered the ban.

  22. Ronan: It is rather clear to me that the ban was a product of racism.

    And not God’s racism.

    Until we admit this, we will continue to cause hurt and our ministry to African Americans will forever be hampered. This ban and everything that surrounds it has had real and negative consequences for many of God’s children.

    You think admitting that will help our ministry to people formerly banned from the priesthood? Is “Come join this formerly racist Church,” better for our ministry among blacks than, “Come join this Church that barred blacks from the priesthood for reasons we don’t fully understand”?

    I have no doubt that both are better than [paraphrasing] “Blacks survived through the flood so that Satan could have representation on Earth,” but I don’t know that I see formally admitting that the ban stemmed from racism helping our ministry.

  23. Tom,

    Apparently people like being leveled with, but I realise I’m pretty much on my own on this one and I’m happy to be wrong about the whole thing.

    All I know is that when considering what to tell an African member of my Seminary class who asked about the ban, “we were wrong, I’m sorry for the hurt” didn’t seem qualitatively worse than “we don’t know.”

    (I shall keep my ultimate answer private, however…)

  24. Let me repeat my rationale for all of this:

    The priesthood ban was from its inception tied to this notion of Ham’s curse. Because the idea that Africans are blood descendants of Ham, in a way that everyone else on the planet is not, is obviously complete and utter bunkum (and verifiably so), I cannot and will not believe that the ban’s institution was God’s will.

    For me, it’s as simple as that and I’m sorry if that offends anyone.

  25. Here’s my question that I’ve never had answered. Why, if the early Church leaders were reacist, did they even allow Blacks to be baptized? It doesn’t make sense–not that the priesthood ban does either. But the thought that our early leaders somehow rationalized that, in spite of their racist beliefs, they would allow them to become members of the Church, but not priesthood holders is a bit of a stretch to me.

    I also thought I read one of Benjamin Franklin Johnson’s letters where he did attribute the ban to Joseph Smith, and not Brigham Young. Checking…

    I have found more non-Africans having problems with the ban than I have Africans.

  26. Tim,
    Because baptism is 3/5 of exaltation?

  27. Ronan,
    I’m not taking a position here either way on the reason for the ban, though I probably lean towards your view. I’m just questioning your conclusion that taking a formal institutional position that it was pure racism would do much good for the Church or the people the Church is trying to serve.

  28. Ronan,

    But remember, it’s only 3/5 of exaltation for voting purposes. The exact percent (anywhere from 0 to 100) is varied when it comes to other purposes, and depends on the jurisdiction. :)

  29. Antonio Parr says:

    There may be two ways of dealing with the shame of the Church’s prior Priesthood ban.

    The first is to say that we cannot renounce the abandoned practice, because God’s ways have never been man’s ways, and we simply can’t account for why God denied certain blessings to the Gentiles during ancient times or why there was a Priesthood ban in modern times. It is a paintful mystery, and one that we are grateful is sinking ever deeper into the past.

    That being said, we can — and must — take a second approach, as well, which is to renounce with great passion the racism that accompanied the Priesthood ban. That is, even if, for the sake of argument, there was an authentic divine mandate behind the Church’s Priesthood ban (an assumption that is very, very hard to make), there is still no excuse for the non-Priesthood related bigotry showed by many in the LDS Church. Such a ban (which entailed the withholding of blessings that Latter-Day Saints proclaim to be priceless) should have resulted in the people of the Lord’s church showing a heightened outpouring of love and compassion and brotherhood for their Black brothers and sisters who were otherwise being denied a seat at the table. We as a people could have taken the position with our Black siblings that, although they could not at that time join us in the Temple, until such time as they could, we would bring the spirit of the Temple to them — we should have loved them unconditionally; we should have served them unconditionally; we should have welcomed them into our homes and at our tables. We should have fought vigorously for their civil rights.

    Instead, we allowed the Priesthood ban to include a shameful legacy of racist comments from various Church members and leaders. We even went so far as to exclude Louis Armstrong and other Black dignitaries from entering the front doors of the Church-owned Hotel Utah. In this respect, we as a people very much owe our Black brothers and sisters an apology, and we very much should pay penance by seeking to love and serve with increased zeal the Black members of Heavenly Father’s family.

  30. Random Guy says:

    Will our grandchildren look back on the Church’s current policies on homosexuality, the primacy of the nuclear family, insistence on the literal truth of scripture, and feel these policies were nothing more than a product of early 21st century culture?

    Doctrinal compromises often lead to a theological slippery-slope; even core doctrines can come to be seen as nothing more than a product of culture. In the case of Unitarians, Presbyterians, Quakers, etc., this has led to a catastrophic decline in membership: the perception is that these churches no longer offer their members firm ground to stand on.

    Each time we repudiate a past teaching of the Church, we throw existing doctrines into greater doubt. Are they, too, merely a product of culture rather than revelation?


  31. Random Guy says:

    My comment above is intended to demonstrate the dangers of “the Church just made a mistake” arguement that FARMs and others advance.

    I don’t mean to imply the Church’s current teachings aren’t true.

  32. Random Guy, the repudiation of Adam-God didn’t seem to have much of an effect.

  33. Antonio Parr says:

    (My prior reference should have been to a “painful mystery”, and not the paintful mystery referenced above. (Although Freud would have an easy time with that typo!)

  34. Tim,
    It could be argued that a baptized member is still a member and you, the leadership, get to enjoy the benefits of said member regardless whether they are treated as second class or not. Ergo you could still claim an “x population” of black members, can still collect tithing from them, can claim to have membership is different countries, and don’t have to live with the guilt of excluding a whole race from at least some form of salvation.

    If you look at it that way you still have plenty of reason to baptize them.

  35. Random Guy,

    Are you saying that you think the 1978 revelation was part of the slippery slope, mere accommodation for PR sake? Or is it more that you feel that these other issues (homosexuality, nuclear family) are also somehow shrouded in apologetics and subject to rationalization at increased external pressures?

    The priesthood ban never was justifiable as a moral issue, whereas homosexuality and the sanctity of family, both appear to have grounds in the commandments and covenants we currently make (ie, the demands of chastity are the same for any unmarried person, celibacy before marriage, fidelity after marriage, temple covenants). I know that doesn’t resolve all the issues relating to same-gender attraction, but seems to be more consistent with what we consider revealed truth and expected standards of behavior.

    I lean closely to Ronan’s thesis here, although I officially have to say “I don’t know”. But that makes more sense to me than trying to rationalize the other aspect, which is to make God racist or somehow God justifying our institutional racism for us.

  36. Random Guy says:

    “The repudiation of Adam-God didn’t seem to have much of an effect.”

    Tell that to the 70,000+ fundamentalists and, in my experience, numerous fundamentalist sympathizers. The abandonment and later repudiation of this doctrine (as well as polygamy) is a major reason fundamentalists see themselves as a sort of ‘faithful remnant.’

  37. Interesting to note, apparently, that many of the fundamentalist/polygamist sects still maintain the priesthood ban.

  38. Re 1: I notice Spencer Kimball’s name doesn’t make it on your list. Shouldn’t he be first on everyone’s list of “heroes” of lifting the ban?

    Re 19:

    The Levite apology is quite weak actually. What you have there is the priesthood restricted to one tribe. For Israelites, priesthood was never a pre-requisite for salvation. The average bloke probably didn’t want to spend his life sacrificing animals in the temple.

    This argument is a little lacking. Regardless of how you do it, restricting the priesthood to one group will have the same effect as restricting the priesthood from another. The effect is the same, regardless of how you slice it: inclusion by definition has to mean some exclusion, and exclusion by definition has to mean some inclusion. Accordingly, in both cases some people get the priesthood, based solely on who their father was, and some don’t, for the same reason. Thus, I think you make a distinction without a difference.

    And as for the average Israelite bloke not caring, I’d point you to the full scale rebellions led by Dathan and company in the wilderness (Kadesh, I think) based on that restriction. Clearly some Israelites felt that they were being singled out from priesthood office unfairly, and that was a really big deal for them. (See Numbers 16–the arguments there are actually quite similar to those here: “Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?”)

    I agree, however, that conditioning exaltation for men on holding the priesthood distinguishes the problem in Numbers 16 from today’s ban. But given how many chances in the afterlife our religion gives the individual who doesn’t have the same opportunities for exaltation in this life, I think those difficulties are overstated. True, no such doctrine was revealed, but I’m not sure that wasn’t because the Lord didn’t have a plan for all of his children to be saved.

  39. If all we can do is embolden fundies, then things really can’t get much better for the Church.

  40. Random Guy says:


    I’m saying that anytime we claim a Church doctrine wasn’t inspired, we imply that other church doctrines might not be inspired, as well. This throws the whole doctrinal structure into doubt.

    Our culture’s future moral beliefs may change in ways scarcely conceivable to us. This is the flaw in your implied assertion that the Church can safely discard doctrines that the culture regards as morally unfounded.

    For example, I don’t think future generations will necessarily agree with your assertion that the Church’s position on homosexuality was at any time “justifiable as a moral issue”–especially in an era when some gays will be legally married and faithful to their ‘spouses.’

    My central point is this: the Church must maintain that the priesthood ban was inspired, even if we cannot at this time explain the revelation. Asserting that a major Church teaching was not inspired by God casts all church teachings into serious doubt.

    I know people who analogize the Church’s former position on blacks in the priesthood to its current positions on onanism, homosexuality, mothers in the home, and even the assertion that the scriptures are literally true. (I live in Southern California, and have even spoken to a former bishop and counselor in a stake presidency that holds the first two of these positions.)

  41. Tim,

    If you think that one’s inconsistent, wait till you hear about the other group of people Mormons baptize but don’t ordain.

  42. Random Guy,

    I think we are having some issues with definitions. If we say that the Priesthood ban was “doctrine”, then it must have roots in revelation, as you assert. However, as there appears to be no concrete evidence of a revelation announcing it as doctrine, and Joseph Smith apparently not holding that position, nor practicing it, it becomes easier (more difficult to defend perhaps) to say that it was a practice that became policy. McConkie’s declaration that we should discount anything that he and others had said about the matter speaks volumes.

    But you are also right that society’s norms will change, and the church’s should not change with it. How future generations view us depends on if the church changes some other major “doctrines” in similar fashion. Polygamy is not a good example, in that the major underpinning of that practice is the doctrine revealed in D&C 132 about celestial marriage. Again, our experience has taught us that while plural marriage has been authorized from time to time, it is not necessarily the standard that we are all held to, and no sanctions are imposed for us by not practicing it in this day. The doctrine still exists in the cases of remarriage after the death of a spouse.

    Let’s look at something else that has changed in my lifetime. Growing up in the sixties, the Word of Wisdom was certainly taught as an issue of morality. Currently, I believe it has become a reflection of one’s willingness to be obedient, rather than a standard of one’s moral correctness. We don’t excommunicate smokers and drinkers. We do excommunicate adulterer’s under the established guidelines. Neither group gets into the temple until their behavior accords to those standards through the repentance process. A celibate gay man can hold priesthood offices and leadership, same as a celibate single heterosexual.

    I think that there is the difference. We can link obedience and personal worthiness to objective standards of behavior. We can’t link it to groups without regards to individuals.

  43. We explain the ending of the pre-Woodruff practice of sealing people to Church leaders rather than to the individual’s parents as a product of receiving revelation that the practice was wrong (resulting, perhaps, from a misunderstanding of the meaning and purpose of sealings) and should be corrected.

    One day, I suspect, most members of the Church will look at the priesthood/temple withholding practice the same way.

    One day, perhaps, the pre-1998 sermons on birth control might be viewed this way, as may the pre-President Benson practice of forbidding from receiving the endowment women (but not men) married to unendowed spouses.

  44. I agree with Ronan, and I am open and honest with Black friends and investigators if they ask me, “Why?” I tell them that continuing revelation is critical because we cannot understand things outside of our abilities to understand – and continuing revelation allows us to overcome our imperfect understanding and assumptions. Joseph Smith was able to overcome many of the assumptions of his time; Brigham Young overcame some but perpetuated others; Spencer W Kimball overcame some, probably did not overcome some and perhaps perpetuated others; Gordon B Hinckley is overcoming some, probably will not overcome some and perhaps will perpetuate others; etc.

    If they are OK with that generic answer, I usually leave it alone beyond that. If they ask me for my personal opinion about the ban, I tell them that I think Brigham Young was a Prophet of God who, unfortunately, was an obvious product of a bigoted upbringing – whose adamant and vocal opinion influenced generations. (Has anyone thought of the connection here with the 3rd and 4th generation legacy issue?)

    Two Sundays ago, I stood in the hallway for 45 minutes and talked with a very educated Black woman who attends Church for the Spirit she feels with the missionaries and in Sacrament Meeting but refuses to attend Relief Society and Sunday School right now – specifically because most members flat out don’t understand the ban and use justifications that are patently ridiculous. The fact that she continues to attend periodically is a testament to the power of the Spirit, but …

  45. Random Guy says:

    Kevin F,

    At issue is my contention that we must teach that the Church’s Priesthood policy was the product of inspiration, because to do otherwise casts doubt on other doctrines that are widely regarded as inspired.

    You respond by arguing that:
    1) the Church’s teachings on the subject of priesthood were not doctrinal, so completely repudiating them does not undermine Church doctrine; and
    2) Church teachings that apply to groups, rather than individuals, are simply unacceptable.

    My response to point 1: given Brigham Young’s statement in comment 16 (above), and the fact that a heavy majority of prophets seem to have tacitly endorsed the Ban, it is probably more honest even though uncomfortable, to say that the ban was a doctrine. (One past prophet disagrees with me.) Certainly it was taught by prominent authorities such as McConkie.
    At the very least, it was a teaching of the Church.

    Point 2: I don’t think point number 2 really addresses my argument. Still, I note that insofar as our mortal probation is concerned, God seems to have frequently dealt with people in groups. Israelites live under special privileges and special condemnations. So do Lamanites, as well as Gentiles living on the American continent.

    If we maintain that one of the Church’s widely accepted teachings was not from God, then people will naturally question the legitimacy of the Church’s remaining teachings. Hence, we need to maintain that the Church’s teachings about the Priesthood were inspired, even if they seem inexplicable to us.

    I think commenter 41’s clever post proves my point–she seemingly does not believe that the ban was inspired, and this has led her to insinuate that a certain modern-day ban is also not inspired.

    Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, this dead horse has been beaten, flogged, cremated, and the ashes scattered to the wind. I’ll probably let you have the last word, if you want it.

  46. Random Guy,

    One point I think we both agree on, is that revelation was involved in it’s end.

  47. Antonio Parr says:

    Leaving aside for a moment the issue of any authentic doctrinal basis for the Priesthood ban, can’t we begin to right some of the wrongs associated with this painful part of our past by acknowledging that there was racism in the Church that was independent of our policy that Blacks could not hold the Priesthood. Specifically, the doctrine/dogma/practice/whatever that denied Blacks the Priesthood did not justify the racist statements made by many Church leaders and members, nor did it justify the denial of certain fundemental human/civil rights to Blacks. (We could have said “now is not the time for you to hold the Priesthood. But we love you and cherish you and acknowledge that you are children of God. Come sit at our tables and dine with us. Let us work with you for the basic civil rights of you and your children. Etc.“)

    Part of the repentance process is confessing one’s sins. If we are not comfortable apologizing for the nature and origins of the Priesthood ban, surely we have come far enough to acknowledge that harsh, racist comments by our leaders unrelated to the denial of Priesthood authority had no doctrinal foundation whatsoever, and were wrong and hurtful to an entire race of our brothers and sisters. Of this we repent, and seek forgiveness.

  48. Kevin Barney says:

    Tom, in response to your question in #22 et seq., I personally agree with Ronan, and I do think that acknowledging the human racism involved in the policy would actually advance the ministry of the Church to American blacks.

    The reason is that blacks are well aware of the phenomenon of historic racism, and when acknowledged frankly they can forgive it. If we insist on playing the “we don’t know” card (and although I understand why we do it, personally I don’t like that approach), we are telling them that even though we don’t understand it, the ban was God’s will.

    If I’m a black, I have no problem with the former position, and I have a huge problem with the latter one. If I’m black and someone tries to pull the latter approach with me, I don’t join the Church; it’s just that simple. If we are serious about taking the gospel to American blacks, acknowledging that the ban was a culturally conditioned mistake will place the Church in a substantially stronger position vis-a-vis actual blacks and their potential conversion to the faith.

    Random Guy is right that for some people this will call other “doctrines” into question. But in my calculus, that’s a risk we have to take. I personally am more interested in bringing black Americans into the faith than I am in protecting the glass-like, fragile testimonies of our overly fundamentalist-leaning members.

  49. I want to echo Antonio and Kevin. Honesty trumps shading in this type of discussion, particularly since shading looks like dodging looks like stupid justification looks like deception . . .

    To that end, it is undeniable that our early leaders were racist to one degree or another – and that Brigham Young wasn’t anywhere near the back of the pack. Even if we want to excuse them as representative of their time, we can’t deny that basic fact and remain honest. If someone is uncomfortable with the idea that the ban was not what God actually wanted but was allowed because of the racist leanings of the time – and because, as I believe, the Church desperately needed Brigham Young at its head simply to survive, then perhaps a simple, “I don’t now why God allowed it, but I’m glad we have continuing revelation and have moved past the racist attitudes of the past” will suffice. Perhaps not, but it’s a good starting point.

  50. I really appreciate the link to that article and the discussion here, it has given me much to think about and hopefully grow upon.

    I think with some, because of how damaging the issues of race has become, this piece of history about the church will always be seen as a reason to perceive it, and any associated with it, in a negative manner. It makes me very sad to think about that.

  51. StillConfused says:

    I am from the deep south and remember when this revelation came. To many both black and white, this revelation seemed to come too soon… the south wasn’t ready. It is interesting to hear the view from other cultures.

  52. To echo StillConfused, I lived in the Deep South for a few years in the early 1990’s – not that long ago. In one of my stake callings, it was made very clear to me that the Church in that area would grow to its full potential only when the active membership fully embraced the Priesthood revelation and its underlying message of racial equality. It saddened me to leave that area with that growth and change of heart still waiting to happen.

    To this day, as mentioned by Antonio in #47, repentance is the key – and that repentance is extremely difficult if we do not attribute some degree of “wrongness” to the ban. We don’t need to blame God and say that He should have stopped it earlier (which is not my stance AT ALL); we should be willing to say that we are sorry that WE weren’t able to reach the consensus to stop it earlier – both organizationally and, I believe more importantly now, on an individual level.

    BTW, Random Guy, we don’t teach infallibility, so I don’t see what you describe as a problem – but instead merely an aspect of mortal reality.

  53. I don’t find it hard to come up with a reasonable explanation for the ban, and for the ban on women holding the priesthood today. I’m not advancing this as “the” answer, but I’m giving it as an example of how easy it is to come up with one (and probably many) reasonable answer. What if the main purpose of the priesthood is to give opportunities for service? What if pre 1978, almost all black males, because of the way our society was structured, with racism built into everyone’s job descriptions, got plenty of opportunity to learn service in their daily lives. Just as now women, because of the way our society is built, get all kinds of service opportunities every day. But white males didn’t pre 1978. So they have the priesthood to make service a natural and continual part of their lives, so they won’t miss out completely on the spiritual advancement that it brings.

    By 1978, society was being restructured on race issues, and black men were increasingly less likely to spend their lives in service to others. Maybe God has no concern for these societal setups, except as they impact each individual soul of his children, and either help them advance or hold them back on their journeys.

    If women, as the church stereotype states, are truly more spiritual than men, could it be mainly because they have been expected and required to serve others from the earliest age? Maybe that’s what it’s really all about.

    I repeat that I’m not saying this is the reason, or pretending that I know the reason. I’m only showing that God’s reasons can be totally different from ours, and there might be any number of completely plausible reasons for these things that arise out of God’s perspective being totally different from ours.

  54. Steve Evans says:

    Tatiana, I love you to death, but that is an absolutely terrible theory as to why there was a priesthood ban. I’m sorry, but I really find it frightening and racist.

  55. velikye kniaz says:

    I was always of the opinion that the catalyst in President Kimball’s pressing God for further edification or the approval to rescind the policy was that the first LDS Temple in Brazil was nearing completion. Chruch authorities there said that they would be confronted by the nearly impossible situation of have to separate the ‘sheep from the goats’ racially during the interview process for Temple Recommends. One mistake in that judgement could conceivably have a cascading effect of apostasies first in Brazil and then throughout South America.
    I had the opportunity to visit with President Kimball in his home and while this subject never came up, it very well could have. I just found out from the recently published World War II records on Ancestry.com that my paternal grandfather and his parents appear on the 1900 census under the Race column as ‘black’. I was baptized in 1965 at the age of 17 and was ordained to both the Aaronic and subsequently the Melchizedek Priesthood. Evidently no one’s hands even tingled during the ordination and all was well. Does this make the issue a non-issue? Does it lend credence to the idea that this was just a function of the bias of the times? Have my paternal relatives been vicariously made ‘honorary whites’? Heaven only knows!
    Post script: My grandfather relocated from Texas to Illinois and within a few years registered with the draft(WWI)as a ‘white’. Looking at his photograph he certainly looks ‘white’ but perhaps for the sake of his family and increased job opportunities he decided to ‘pass’, and it worked. Until last week, I believed that my skin color was a result of my Hispanic/Latino heritage (my paternal grandmother’s side). This opens the door to a fascinating family saga to which I doubt I will ever find (in this life) all of the answers. Nonetheless, I find this thread far more germane to my life than I would have just 3 weeks ago!

  56. Good grief. When John Taylor said what he said about blacks (agents of Satan) why is it so hard to ignore the DEAFENING RACIST alarm bells ringing?

    The distinction is important, bro. In the OT you have a non-salvific priesthood held by 0.1% of the world’s population. In Mormonism you had a salvific priesthood held by everyone but Africans.

    Perpetuated by any other religion, the truth of all of this would be obvious to us.

  57. Aaron Brown says:

    Yes, it would.

    Do we really not realize how foolish we sound when we pretend our apologetic arguments on this topic aren’t desperate attempts to put a dress on a pig?

    Aaron B

  58. Two things ring out to me in this:

    1. The quotes on this topic from BY, etc. seem to have an unkind tone to them. I have not seen a quote saying, ‘We love our black brothers and welcome them, but we cannot give them the priesthood.’ There is some of that after WW2, but of course that would be a different political climate.

    2. The staggering thing for me is that temple work for blacks could be done the day after the ban was lifted. So someone who was denied the priesthood in life could receive it. There was nothing wrong with the individual spirits — it seems to show that the problem was contextual for black Mormons 184?-1978.

  59. A dress, lipstick and flowing blond wig.

    Please, some of you, stop trying to justify racism. The “we don’t know” argument is hollow, and the “God work’s in mysterious ways” argument is worse. Our prophets are not infallible and never claimed to be. This is an example of when they went completely, embarassingly wrong. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. Any other statement than that just perpetuates the problem. Why did God allow it? Because he allows us to screw up. Always has. It’s called free agency.

  60. Threadjack alert:

    I know people who analogize the Church’s former position on blacks in the priesthood to its current positions on onanism….

    Random Guy, by onanism, I assume you mean coitus interruptus. Pardon my naivete, but could you (or anyone) describe the church’s current position on onanism and point me to a source?

    End of threadjack, carry on.

  61. Kaimi #41,

    I completely forgot the Church’s track record in such things. :)

    Ronito #34,

    I thought of that. But it wasn’t really as if the saints were trying to convert massive amounts of the Black population in order to help fund the Church. Doesn’t match up.

    It’s still a large disconnect for me. Why, if our leaders were racist, did we even allow Blacks to be baptized?

  62. The distinction is important, bro. In the OT you have a non-salvific priesthood held by 0.1% of the world’s population. In Mormonism you had a salvific priesthood held by everyone but Africans.

    Actually, Ronan, regardless of which dispensation we’re talking about, less than 0.1% have had the priesthood.

    And I think you gloss over my larger point: restricting the priesthood to the sons of Levi means leaving out lots of other good and righteous people because of who they were born to, many of whom thought that not receiving the priesthood was a slight on their character. Sounds remarkably like our situation here.

    Perpetuated by any other religion, the truth of all of this would be obvious to us.

    But that’s the kicker, right: it isn’t any other religion. Our religion teaches that our leaders are inspired by God himself and that is literally his church. So we at least have to go through the motions of discerning whether this came from God or from man. (Personally, I believe the latter.) But given this set of circumstances, to dismiss any other viewpoint as ignoring the “obvious” is unfair, I think.

  63. Random Guy says:

    Dan Y,

    Go to Google. Type the following: define: onanism

  64. Steve Evans says:

    whatever you do, don’t forget the “define:” part.

  65. TimJ,
    Simple, because it allows you to put forward a non-racist face while still reaping the benefits of the expanded membership. Also, I don’t really believe that would’ve happened (them not baptizing blacks) because it states everywhere that the church needs to go into the world. This would be admittedly difficult to do by only baptizing whites. It’s having your cake and eating it too. I’m not saying that they were racist, only they know for sure, but there definetly are reasons for them to do so even if they were.

  66. What it comes down to for me is that in a blink of an eye, the priesthood ban was lifted, and all those previously denied were now allowed full participation in those ordinances. Not only that, but the work could now be done for their dead without reservation. What doctrinal change could possibly account for that, other than it was a mistake?

    As I point out in my earlier post, to now advocate that a priesthood ban should be put into place for an ethnic group would be apostasy or heresy. I think there may be something to the argument that we had to ask, and the First Presidency and Quorum of 12 be united in accepting the answer.

    Peter was reluctant to accept the revelation that the gospel was to go to the gentiles, but we see that it was Paul who was the driving force after that, not Peter. This is a hard circumstance, and even with the public repudiations by many of the General Authorities, our desire for concrete reasoning about the why still leads many, in good faith, to try and explain it in gentler terms. There may not be any gentler terms, other than it was a relic of cultural and individual ignorance and racism. I’ve had to deal with the things I was taught in my childhood because of the ban, and the various rationalizations for it. Nothing anyone has put forth seems to be a better explanation than that to me, and I’m sorry for it. The church has meant so much to me that it’s like seeing a friend getting beat up over something that they did years ago, but can never live down. Discussions like this are useful. We can never have too much understanding.

  67. Random Guy,

    I was playing dumb to a certain extent in my earlier comment. My point is that onanism includes some acts that if done with oneself or with inappropriate others would be considered against the Church’s position. However, it also includes some acts, including the one I mentioned earlier, that, if done with a spouse, would not be considered against the Church’s position to the best of my knowledge. Or, do you suggest that all onanism is proscribed?

  68. Random Guy says:


    You know, I don’t really have a clear position on onanism.


    I think I’m going to continue to argue my position over at the “Priesthood ban and Infallibility” post (when I get a minute).

  69. Proud Daughter of Eve says:

    Ronan, I notice you didn’t address the issue of women and the priesthood.

    So far as I know, the priesthood BLESSINGS are necessary for salvation but it is not actually necessary for a specific person to have the priesthood for salvation. Or what’s your explanation for the exclusion of 51% of the human race?

    Obviously you can’t really answer that question. It’s a huge question debated hotly by many people from many different angles. Personally, I don’t feel any loss. There are several people at FMH who would disagree quite strongly with me.

    In the end, God’s answer is more important than our answer. Claiming any particular policy as *only* the product of cultural baggage undermines our claims of truth and divine guidance. I think you’re right and we should be level with people about what happened; I just don’t think that “Yes we have a prophet who we believe talks with God and who gives us God’s laws… except for case A and case B, where he was clearly just an [insert century here] hick,” is a particularly enlightening way to put it.

  70. Oh wow I’m sorry if what I said seemed racist or sexist. I’m not trying to say things should have been that way or should be the way they are now in society or in the church but just that’s the reality of life, at least for me. I’m not espousing that theory at all, just showing how it all quite possibly could have nothing to do at all with power or status but simply with the day to day experiences people have at various times and situations in society.

    I’m not sure how to illustrate better what I mean, but just that our priorities aren’t necessarily God’s.

  71. In the end, God’s answer is more important than our answer.

    That would be fine if everyone had access to God’s answer. Those who are investigationg the Church, however, and our friends, neighbors, and the media would sometimes like an answer from us. What do you say to your non-member friends who ask about this issue? “Ask God”?

  72. PDoE,
    Mormon women have always have access to the temple, which offers them all the blessings of exaltation via the priesthood. It’s not comparable.

    On that note, I have suspected for a while that the ban was more about temple access than the priesthood per se. Keeping blacks out of the temple meant that blacks could never marry whites “the Mormon way”; this fear of miscegenation is very clear in Brigham’s fumings on the subject (notably when the son of a black Elder married a white Mormon woman).

  73. Ronan: I think you hit the nail on the head. The fact that this may very well be the source of the ban is more reason (as if we needed it) that the ban was not instituted by God and was just wrong from the beginning.

  74. Mormon women married to non-members have not always had access to the endowment. They received access in the past 30-35 years, I think. Possibly at roughly the same time as blacks.

  75. I find myself really confused, Steve, by your characterization of my theory as racist. I grew up the daughter of civil-rights supporters and am an avid student of the civil rights movement. Race issues are very important to me, and I’m proud to claim black ancestors in the recent past (a great-great-great-grandfather). I’ve lived in the southern U.S. all my life, which means that I’ve grown up as part of mixed-race groups and with many close black friends. Before I joined the LDS church, I started attending church services regularly with a friend at a little Pentacostal church. I was the only white person I ever saw at that church. I had a job in high school in which I was the only white person in the group, and so on. Even before the civil rights movement succeeded in the South, we had integrated homes because of women who worked for us when I was a child, who were real family, and who loved us as they loved their own children. The social setup then was unfair, and wrong, and yet it didn’t prevent real human connections, and true loving relationships from forming.

    I’m very concerned about issues of race in the world today. Usually I’m overly sensitive about race issues, and quit often feel appalled at some of the things said by people from parts of the country *coughUtahcough* where the race situation is less developed, less far along in the curve, than here in the South, just because of local population dynamics.

    So usually if something is racist, I pick up on it. I don’t think the idea that our society now powerfully encourages women to serve others is problematic. It’s true. Women are expected to be the ones who take up money in the office to buy the boss a present on boss’s day. They’re expected to cook and bring food to family dinners, and to help clean up afterwards. They’re expected to do 80% or more of the child care, and the housework (with laudable exceptions). When we were kids growing up, we girls were encouraged to babysit for our spending money (for lower pay), while boys were encouraged to have paper routes or mow grass. Society strongly encourages women all their lives to give personal service to others. Men not so much. It’s a very big difference. This I can attest to, as a woman.

    In the era in which I grew up, this was true of black people as well. They were strongly encouraged by society to serve, to be in service jobs, since other jobs weren’t available to them. I’m not saying it should have been this way, or that it was right or good, any more than it’s right that women are expected to cook the food for family dinners, just that was the reality of how things were back then.

    I guess what I was suggesting is that God cares about us individually, and about the quality of the experiences we each have. He’s not concerned about human status between us, or power, or our silly rankings. I think it’s possible that God feels it’s just as much an honor to be a janitor or trash collector or babysitter as it is to be a member of the priesthood. All of these tasks are about humbly serving our fellow beings. I guess I’m turning the usual assumption on its head. “What makes you think you’re the equal of a garbage man?” “Oh, you have the priesthood, then yeah maybe so.” =)

  76. In the third paragraph above, I meant that it’s shouldn’t be problematic to state that idea, or believe it’s true. It IS true. Whether it SHOULD be true or not, I’m just recognizing that it is. (In fact, I don’t think it ought to be.)

  77. Steve Evans says:

    Tatiana, I’m glad that you clarified and I liked hearing about your background a little. I agree with some qualifications to your notion that God is not concerned “about human status between us, or power, or our silly rankings.” Personally, I believe God is very concerned with how we treat each other. Yes, He loves a janitor as much as the Pope, but I would think that God would care very much about how we label each other, how social opportunities are awarded or withheld, and in general the type of society we have. To the extent that a religious institution on Earth makes similar social distinctions, it’s very important to think about how those distinctions operate. To simply say that God doesn’t care about race is a statement that is both true and false depending on its use.

  78. Tatiana: I think the scary part of your comment is equating the idea of service in employment or in the home with priesthood service, such that God might actually deny the priesthood to people because they get enough opportunities for service in their everyday lives. No matter how you slice it, that’s a stereotypical notion that you should just get rid of without further ado.

  79. In reviewing the conversation on race, I didn’t see that anyone pointed out the teachings in the Book of Mormon drawing a relationship between skin color and righteousness. For example, 2 Ne. 5:21 says that “because of their iniquity…they had become like unto a flint ..the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” It seems that genesis of racial teachings began early in the church.

    Newell Bringhurst presented an interesting paper at MHA comparing the teachings of various “American Prophets” on race. He noted that race was a very hot topic in the U.S. at the time and affected the teachings of new religions born in America. According to Bringhurst, Brigham Young incorporated racist doctrines into his teachings more than any other “American Prophet” (or leader of an American born religion).

    This brings interesting perspectives when the church is contrasted with other new religions of the time.

    – ClairB

  80. Thomas Parkin says:

    2 Nep 5:21

    That scripture is more interesting without the elipsis. In fact, having just re-read it, I find it more interesting now than I ever have in the past.

    It particularly talks about a curse that the Lord imposes on the Lamanites, because they had hardened their hearts to Him. The “skin of blackness” is only an outward sign of the curse, designed to keep the Nephites from intermarrying with them. The curse is somthing else. What exactly it is isn’t specified – but we do read that because of the curse they become an “idle people, full of mischief and subtelty” and that it caused them to become “loathsome” to the righteous Nephites, who no longer had any deisre to intermarry with them.

    I’m not sure how obvious it is that the “skin of blackness” is a literal change in the color of their skin – any more than their ‘hardened hearts,’ in the previous clause, have actually, literally become “flint.” Obviously, it has been interpreted that way for ages. And, it is just as difficult for us to escape a racial interpretation now-a-days, because we are so sensitive even to the words ‘white’ and ‘black’, and here* we are even given the words ‘skin’ and ‘seed’ to chew on. I’m interested in how it will be interpreted in 1000 years, or however long it takes to get past this obsession with race.

    (*other references to repenting Lamanites becoming white do not neccesarily make mention of skin – only that they lose the curse and become white, fair, delightsome, etc.)

    Does a dark skin actually cause people to become ‘loathsome’ to righteous people, and cause them to not want intermarriage? There have been plenty of people in our culture that have suggested that it should be so – but it never really is. We could ask any number of good missionaries returning from Ecuador, who may be a little horny, or eager to marry, as we interpret that, but are no less righteous for it. What does cause a certain kind of people to become “loathsome” and not marriageable to better living people?

    I will tell you what I currently think this means. I think the ‘skin of blackness’ is a sort of opposition to the image Alma refers to in this from Alma 5: “according to his faith there was a mighty change wrought in his heart … And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances?” Here again we have a change of heart and a resulting change in appearance. The repentant person, who truly receives the Holy Ghost, undergoes a change in appearance that is in no way analogous to a new haircut, and has nothing to do with skin pigment.

    Let me add a couple quick real life examples. There is Maori gentleman in Seattle 1 named Kahoo. His skin is not white, but his appearance beams to you that he is someone you can trust. I trusted him instantly – he seems to be without guile, you can see it in him. Almost like a white light settles around his appearance. My wife, who relly doesn’t like Mormons as a rule, felt instantly at ease with him. You can not only sense how goodness permeates levels of his being, you can see it in him. There is another gent, un hombre Mexicano, that comes into my restaurant often. I like him, too. I’m learning to speak Spanish, and he likes to speak it with me. He always tries to teach me palabras sucias. But, with nearly the same tone of skin, there is darkness about his appearance. I would not want my daughter to intermarry with him, nor his amigos. I enjoy him, but wouldn’t trust him farther than I can throw him. This is an instinct I get simply from a sensitivity to somthing in his countenance, intially, and is later confirmed by his often rather ugly conversation. (no final judgement – I do think that down there under his heart of flint is a very desireable person.)

    And this is a phenomenon we are familiar with. Think of the beautiful sister missionaries at Temple Square, who come from all races, and thier loveliness, as I can now see it – in a different time, we may use the word “whiteness” to describe them, because their is a kind of purity to them – without meaning in the least that they have become like middle-class whitebread Norte Americanos. Then I think of some other young women, also beautiful, also from a number of racial backgrounds, who were partying in my restaurant the other night. Hasn’t something happened to their appearance, too. Some kind of light has gone out in them. And how about thier hearts, there eventual hard conversation with each other. “Full of mischief and subtelty,” indeed, and it shows in the eyes and in their countenances. And this is what, as I’m sure has become obvious, I think the ‘skin of blackness’ is.

    Anyhow – there you have it. Time to find a pillow.


  81. Thomas, I have made that same point whenever that discussion comes up – just not as eloquently as you did.

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