What is Doctrine?

In celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of President Kimball’s 1978 giving the Priesthood to all worthy males, the Utah press has published extensive articles on Blacks and the Church. Very interesting in their own right, for documenting the growth of the Church in Africa, among African Americans, and Blacks elsewhere, they carry tidbits that speak to other issues.

For example, buried in her article, Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Salt Lake Tribune, wrote the following.

“Mormons explained the ban with the same scriptures other Christian groups used to defend practices such as slavery, Mauss wrote.

“The notion that “blacks are cursed” began with the biblical story of Noah’s three sons, Shem, Japheth and Ham. Descendants of Shem, the oldest, were believed to be the preferred race the Semites or Jews and Arabs. Japheth, the next son, was the father of “other white or yellow races.”

“In the ninth chapter of Genesis, the Bible says that because Ham saw his father’s naked body, he and his descendants were cursed to be the “servant of servants.”

“To this justification, Mormons added a unique twist: that blacks were somehow “less valiant” than other races in the spirit world before this life, so-called fence-sitters in the War in Heaven.

“Such theories continue to circulate among some Latter-day Saints and find support in quasi-official publications such as Mormon Doctrine and the Mortal Messiah series by Bruce R. McConkie, an influential LDS apostle who died in 1985. Attempts to get the church to repudiate these notions have been rebuffed.

‘This folklore is not part of and never was taught as doctrine by the church,’ LDS spokesman Mark Tuttle said this week, adding that the church has no policy against interracial marriage, nor does it teach that everyone in heaven will be white.”

From my perspective the issues of “descent from Cain” and lesser valiance deserve to go into the dustbin of LDS teaching. Nevertheless, I must disagree with LDS spokesman Mark Tuttle. When I was a teenager I was taught these ideas in Sunday School and Seminary as doctrines. Furthermore the packet of articles given to us as missionaries in the Bolivia La Paz Mission included writings by Alvin R. Dyer developing the, yes, doctrine of lineages, which sustained the above-repudiated teachings.

It both is satisfying to have them labeled folklore, and hence dismissible—in an agreement between Armand Mauss and Mark Tuttle—at the same time it is troublesome. The trouble comes in the words “never taught as doctrine”. Never is simply false. Besides that, however, the word raises questions about another word, “doctrine”.
In the way Tuttle uses it, it contrasts with “folklore”. But the boundaries and differences among the two are anything but clear. There is a cultural and institutional politics here that would be fascinating to comprehend.

In part, I would argue, it has to do with an effort at correlation and at concentration and codifying what might be official Church teachings, at the same time Tuttle’s statement is a slippery, political or pr-ish avoidance of an issue.

In either case, the slipperiness seems to infect the very notion of doctrine, .in the LDS case. I find that slipperiness itself fascinating and strangely functional. In a Church that has no credo and publishes no catechism, the idea of doctrine both gives apparent solidity and lots of wiggle room. I provides a core, and then keeps it beyond the grasp of any but those holding the ability to define what is and is not doctrine, in a statement like Tuttle’s, at any given time.

Part of the function of the term, I think, is to separate the Church into two groups, those who knew what the doctrine was and those who were wrong. It defines orthodoxy and heterodoxy, but on shifting ground.

It also makes the LDS usage of the word somewhat different than that of mainstream Christianity, where doctrine is more codified and there is an established practice for determining dogma. It seems to me the slipperiness shifts the emphasis of the word from text to a social-religious process of faith and engagement with the Spirit in the Mormon case.

I wonder what others think of the definition and redefinition of doctrine and of the apparent solidity and slipperiness of the term.


  1. I think, in Mormon usage, “doctrine” means something like “eternal truth.” Doctrine is something that, as the revelation says, will “distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven,” (D&C 121:45), rather than whatever the current consensus is. Thus, when a Mormon states that some idea is “not doctrine,” she is expressing a belief that the idea in question is not true, rather than a more empirical assertion that the idea in question is not taught in official fora of the church.

    On this account, the Tuttle quote simply means that the racial folklore was never true, and that when it was taught, it was not a part of the body of true ideas taught by the church. The difficulty arises in the implications: if people at the time did not realize that what they were teaching was not doctrine (i.e., not true), the implication is that people today may also not know which of the ideas they teach in the church are doctrine. Correlation defines a set of doctrine, but a substantial plurality of the leaders of the church in earlier times taught the racial ideas as doctrine. If that plurality could be mistaken about doctrine then, it follows that the correlation committee could be mistaken about doctrine now.

  2. Whilst I don’t have the direct quotes in front of me I’m sure Brigham in testifying of this “doctrine” used phrases extensively such as “revealed unto me” and “Thus saith The Lord” when talking on this subject.

    When a prophet, seer and revelator states this you take it as whole truth. What was clearly classed as doctrine in the early 20th century now seems to be excused as folklore, policy or to quote President Hinckley “Thats how the leaders interpretated that doctrine at that time”. This shows me that the likes of Brigham, McKonkie, JSF, Petersen etc. etc. interpretated something wrongly yet it was taught as doctrine nevertheless?

    Doctrine to me is the teachings of the church, (vague I know) these teachings come from Prophets such as those mentioned above, so how do we class doctrine / policy / opinion / folklore? If we take onboard what President Hinckley said, who’s to say that in 40-50 years time what is taught as doctrine now was a result of the leaders incorrect interpretation.

    Whilst we accept the principle of ongoing revelation there was clearly no real explanation to why our brothers around the world could not all receive the priesthood

  3. Shoot! I was going to post something almost exactly the same about the category of “folklore” in LDS discourse. Along with the category of “personal opinion,” we have all sorts of strategies for stratifying the teachings of the General Authorities. Personally, I am interested in conditions of possibility behind such categories, and how the boundaries between them are negotiated.
    Great post.

  4. Last paragraph from my prior comment, which I inadvertently deleted just before posting:

    Keeping these dilemmas in mind, it seems easy to understand why people in church leadership positions are ambiguous and unclear in their usage of the term “doctrine.” Clarity might serve to call into question the validity of their proclamation of Jesus and the gospel to the world. Hence, to meet that highest obligation, the motivation for strategic obfuscation regarding past mistakes seems both clear and not obviously immoral.

  5. I ran across another celebration of the 30-year anniversary by Jamie Trwth at Mormon Matters (http://mormonmatters.org/2008/06/08/30-years-of-authorized-black-priesthood/). Look at his 1949 entry: ‘First Presidency statement on blacks and priesthood states the ban “is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the church from the days of its organization.”’

  6. Mark B. says:

    In a church that has no creed, but believes that there are yet to be revealed “many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of Heaven,” we should perhaps be less confident that what we teach is the whole truth (if there’s some yet to be revealed, we cannot have it all). If that leads to ambiguity, so be it. The Evangelicals will accuse us of being slippery and secularists will accuse us of racism yesterday and pandering today.

    But if we seek to be “doctrinaire” we’re denying a central tenet of our faith, which is that there is more to be revealed.

  7. I’ve been thinking about this issue as well, but perhaps for different reasons. The phrase ‘purity of our doctrine’ has been floating around our stake for some reason, and it seems dangerous, partially because of the definitional problems discussed here.

    Isn’t doctrine in the church now defined by correlation? And as a result, anything that was taught before correlation can’t be considered truly doctrinal?

  8. cj douglass says:

    The difficulty arises in the implications: if people at the time did not realize that what they were teaching was not doctrine (i.e., not true), the implication is that people today may also not know which of the ideas they teach in the church are doctrine

    Exactly my thoughts. What Tuttle and others fail to realize is that the same method used to dismiss racism pre-1978, can be used to dismiss current church positions (homosexuality, women and the priesthood). Which is fine with me – but lets be consistent.

  9. cj douglass says:

    dismiss should probably read – question.

  10. BTD Greg says:

    In a church that has no creed, but believes that there are yet to be revealed “many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of Heaven,” we should perhaps be less confident that what we teach is the whole truth (if there’s some yet to be revealed, we cannot have it all). If that leads to ambiguity, so be it.

    I think this is a fair point. More recent church presidents (Hinkley and Kimball, in particular) seem to have a humble approach toward doctrine and revelation. Part of that maybe the recognition that doctrine is somewhat flexible, which can be an advantage to the church in steering the church and bringing church members along.

  11. I think it is interesting that those who tried for so long to prove that blacks holding the Priesthood was never a doctrine are now saying it was. Was it or wasn’t it? If it wasn’t than isn’t the idea that “This folklore is not part of and never was taught as doctrine by the church,” just as true now as when the ban was in place?

    Assume that it is true that “. . . Brigham in testifying of this ‘doctrine’ used phrases extensively such as ‘revealed unto me’ and ‘Thus saith The Lord’ when talking on this subject.” In that case, talk of never having a revelation or official statement about denying blacks the Priesthood should also be disgarded. Now that the leadership of the Church is agreeing with those who opposed the ban, those who oppose it are arguing it really did have authoritative legs.

  12. Mark IV says:

    The conflict that interests you, Jettboy, can be ersolved quite easily by realizing that we use the word doctrine to mean two things. First, as JN-S noted in comment # 1, we use it to mean that which is eternally true. We also use it to mean something that the prophets teach repeatedly. If you lived 120 years ago, you would think that blood atonement, and Adam-God were doctrines, as well as the notion that you could discern the state of a person’s righteousness by the tint of their skin. I’m thankful that we have living prophets and living doctrine, as Br. Millet has explained.

  13. My point is that those who are accusing the LDS leadership (or at least spokesperson) of playing a game of “hide-and-seek” are playing it themselves. I wouldn’t be saying that if it was conservative members who believe in the ban as doctrine arguing the point that the ban was official. That would be consistancy. Yet, I hardly think that most commentators discussing this issue on this post agree that it is or was doctrine. At least not until the Church started agreeing with them.

  14. Mark IV says:

    On the contrary, Jettboy, every person commenting here knows that is was doctrine, in the sense that it was official church policy and was tought repeatedly by the prophets. My guess is that many of them have their doubts as to the eternal veracity of the priesthood ban. How about you?

    Conservative or non-conservative has nothing to do with it.

  15. MikeInWeHo says:

    The confusion might be mitigated somewhat if the Church stopped publishing a big thick book titled Mormon Doctrine (!) which contains some of the very notions it’s now trying to repudiate. I saw a copy of that in the little LDS section at a local Borders not long ago. Maybe there needs to be a brand new, re-authored and correlated edition of Mormon Doctrine. Put McKonkie’s book out to pasture for good.

  16. Mark IV says:


    I am in the same boat as TT in comment #3. I had been planning a post like this, but you seem to have covered all the bases pretty well.

    I feel comfortable with the definition of doctrine as simply that which is currently taught by church leaders, balanced against the canon and tradition. That really is shifting ground, but that is probably the best we can do. Over the long term, the best doctrines will remain and the rest will go away. The problem is, Mormonism hasn’t been around long enough to have a long term. Last week I was reading some sermons given in conference in the 1860s-70s, where our leaders denounced monogamous male/female marriage, calling it the root cause of prostitution.

  17. It was doctrine. It was taught as doctrine by any meaningful standard. It was also false doctrine. False doctrine that needed correcting.

    As to the question of “resurrecting white,” I took a class entitled “Doctrines of the Gospel” at the Lord’s University in 2002. 2002 — not a typo. The instructor — a very well known RelEd professor and successful LDS author, popular on the traveling fireside speaking circuit (and a huge, huge fan of MEP and BRM) — taught us explicitly, unequivocally that all non-white “lineages” would resurrect white. There was a native Nigerian student in the class who did not return after that doctrine was presented.

  18. Mormongirl says:

    I agree with MikeInWeHo that Mormon Doctrine should not be sold anymore. When it was originally published under the presidency of David O. McKay it was much to the chagrin of President McKay and included hundreds of errors…many of which were corrected in the 2nd edition, but many (obviously) still exist. Even though McKonkie claims it is his own ideas and not an official church publication… many people (member and non member) use it as a reference for official Mormon Doctrine and it simply is not. Now a’ days any book published by a general authority must be approved by the first presidency.

  19. As others have said, the core issue is that “doctrine” in Mormonism doesn’t necessarily mean the same things as “doctrine” in the rest of Christianity. There is almost nothing that has remained constant in our canon from the earliest recordings to the present. Even the belief in monotheism (of any interpretation) was not assumed by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Before that time, gods controlling geographic areas was the standard norm.

    I agree it was “doctrine” in the sense that it was taught and justified. I don’t believe it was doctrine in the sense that it was “revealed”.

    As I said on another active thread minutes ago, I am not aware of any statement by BY that stated he had a personal revelation about the ban. All of his “the Lord has said” statements, IIRC, were based on scriptural interpretation – not personal revelation. That’s why other leaders could argue that it simply was policy, NOT doctrine.

  20. “The confusion might be mitigated somewhat if the Church stopped publishing a big thick book titled Mormon Doctrine.”

    What does this even mean? Is it that Deseret Book should stop publishing it or that the Church should not allow it to be published?

    “Maybe there needs to be a brand new, re-authored and correlated edition of Mormon Doctrine.”

    There was called “Encyclopedia of Mormonism.” No one seems to use it much. Maybe too intellectual or too thick. If one uses Deseret Book as a criteria of what the Church publishes, there are other collections that are much more accessable that have the same purpose; explain gospel doctrine in topical synthesis.

    “It was doctrine. It was taught as doctrine by any meaningful standard. It was also false doctrine. False doctrine that needed correcting.”

    First, I think there has been too much of a confusion between the ban and what was taught as the reasons for the ban. I believe the ban was god-inspired. The reasons for the ban I believe were “folklore” doctrines. In this way I come close to agreeing with those who argued against the ban.

    I have my reasons for this, but probably cannot put them into sufficiant words. Let me put it this way; the ban was official Church policy and therefore by extention doctrine. I cannot seperate policy from authority and authority from divine sanction. Doctrinal exigesis on the ban, however, did not have Scriptural basis beyond the vague notion of a curse of Cain. I accept the curse of Cain, but reject any and all post-mortal reasonings. They didn’t have enough stamp of authority or proper scriptural proof-text for acceptance as official docttrine. Or, to put it another way; the spirit told me the ban was true, the post-mortal teachings were not.

  21. Mark B. says:

    Re: 17. Little wonder that some refer to that department as the Astrology Department.

  22. What you do to establish something as “doctrine”

    Slowly rise to your feet in SS or PH mtg
    Adjust your tie
    Adopt Veritas tone of voice
    while waving hands majestically pronounce doctrine
    Sit down

    Issue solved

  23. I must admit that I am extremely bothered by all the changes in “doctrine” I have seen in my almost 30 years in the Church. As an idealistic young member I believed that this was the reason we had prophets and apostles in the Lord’s true Church–so that the proper interpretation of scripture and doctrine could be made. If all of these prophets are “only speaking as men,” and are subject to error, what differentiates them from sincere Christian pastors who teach their best and most scholarly informed interpretations of the scriptures? Please feel free to help me out on this. I welcome those who can rebut me well.

  24. Brad,
    Can you tell us who the instructor in #17 was? (or at least give a couple more hints). My first guess is Millet.

  25. david knowlton says:

    Jettboy, I think your argument there is hypocrisy in my post hinges on the different meanings in the word ‘doctrine’. So let me clarify what I mean. But first a necessary disclaimer.

    I was too young and too orthodox to have been opposed to a teaching of the Church in 1978. Troubled is a better word, particularly since I had baptized a boy who was African American and could not hold the priesthood. We baptized his whole family, but he really weighed on my mind, as did a Puerto Rican family whose husband could also not hold the priesthood and yet was very active in our ward. This was in Salt Lake City. In Bolivia, teaching people of African descent was not encouraged. I remember vividly losing an outstanding investigator because of mission policy and his reaction to the ban on priesthood. So my personal stance was one of being troubled.

    When I heard on the radio the announcement the ban had been lifted, I literally fell to the floor with the spiritual power of the moment. The heavens had opened and a very troublesome question was answered. For me this was a great testimony.

    Unfortunately, I cannot accept personally the status of having been an opponent to the policy. In my case, alone, I do not think your argument applies.

    However, putting myself in the shoes of someone else I can see that if you were opposed to something and then that something were trivialized, by removing its status as doctrine, I too would want to make sure people knew it was doctrine, because that would justify my spending time on the issue.

    The play here hinges on doctrine as truth, as others argue above, and doctrine as official teaching. I do not think opponents would argue the reasons given for the ban were “true”, rather that they were “official”. The slippage between these two meanings is a big part of my point in this post.

  26. “As an idealistic young member I believed that this was the reason we had prophets and apostles in the Lord’s true Church–so that the proper interpretation of scripture and doctrine could be made.”

    Actually, no. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young themselves said no such thing and often aruged those who thought that were wrong.

    “. . . what differentiates them from sincere Christian pastors who teach their best and most scholarly informed interpretations of the scriptures?”

    The leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has the Divine Authority of the Priesthood of God. The others do not. As to the teachings, the LDS leadership has the Bible, The Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants to learn from. The others only the Bible. Even if you grant the speculative nature of LDS leadership teachings, what they teach is still different from what other religious teachers do by nature of Restoration Scripture and Revelation. That is, after all, the whole reason behind the “are Mormons Christian” discussion.

  27. SA,
    I won’t name names, but let’s just say his initials were Douglas Brinley.

  28. “What is Doctrine?” is an irrelevant question. It results from a PR ploy designed to obscure the real questions and turn the topic into a meta-discussion of semantics.

    The problem with LDS doctrines/teachings/policies/whathaveyou on blacks in the past and today is that forgetfulness is not repentance.

    If you steal something, putting the fact that you stole it out of your mind is not the same as repenting of your sin. If, every time the subject is raised, you say, “I didn’t do that,” and then, if further confronted with reality, you deflect it by asking “is there really any such thing as ‘ownership’ really?” then you never really repented.

    At least three negative consequences are the inevitable result: (1) those you have wronged cannot fully forgive you, (2) you can never learn from your mistake and you will no doubt lapse into a similar error again, and (3) you remain in a condition of sin.

    Calling past beliefs “folklore” doesn’t alleviate that condition, because forgetting isn’t the same as repenting.

  29. “forgetting isn’t the same as repenting.”

    Well said, John.

  30. I agree, John, but the Church isn’t “forgetting”. “Repenting”, at the most basic level, is changing – and the Church has done that in spades. Leaders are openly condemning racism; they are stating that both the practice (policy) and the justifications were wrong; they are integrating congregations naturally and without restriction; etc.

    I agree that there is much more to do to *fully* repent (change), but “forgetting” isn’t happening. In fact, charges of “forgetting” immediately following a rather large and public celebration are a bit . . . ironic.

  31. BIV, your question is one that has troubled a couple of my adult children, and is central to our experience as a church. Of what use is it to have prophetic leadership if they don’t always give proper interpretation of scripture? To that rhetorical question, we have the paradox of inspired leadership, and inspired membership. We have a convert in our ward who joined, among other reasons, in that our lay clergy made no pretense about “coming between her and Jesus”. We are all entitled to personal revelation, and confirmation of what we hear taught by others. That sounds like a recipe for chaos, but as Richard Bushman has pointed out, one of Joseph Smith’s inspired (in the most direct manner) moves was the formation of councils, and the distribution of leadership. All of us have opportunities to participate in councils and leadership, and to help bear the burdens.

    That sets up a dynamic that ultimately puts responsibility for our eternal welfare on ourselves and not any other mortal individual, including leadership. We are all prophets in embryo, learning how to better understand our world and our potential.

  32. “…you can never learn from your mistake and you will no doubt lapse into a similar error again…”

    John, I think this is a central issue. The church has never explained why and how it made a mistake — for a century or a century and a half, depending on how the chronology is parsed — that turned us into a racially exclusive church. Because the source of the error has never been discussed, it’s impossible to know when similar errors are being made today. Furthermore, it’s impossible to know if anyone has made changes in beliefs and practices to avoid repeating the sinful mistake.

    People who offer answers on this without developing a full-scale explanation of what went wrong are selling patent medicines, whether they know it or not. I agree with Ray that the church is repenting in terms of its attitudes toward race, but until it offers an explanation of how the race mistake was made in the first place, the church hasn’t yet changed the attributes that caused the error in the first place. So we may be sinning against other groups, even as we repent toward our black sisters and brothers.

  33. cj douglass says:

    Sounds good to me John – but who do you suggest do the repenting? Sure, the FP could make an official statement – asking for forgiveness – but is that really repenting? How does an organization go about achieving full restitution in a case such as this?

  34. Well I am much less informed than most of the people posting on this blog, so I may be asking a stupid question. Can somebody show me a statement from a member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the 12 indicating the ban was wrong, and not just the explanations for the ban?

  35. Deacon, in #2: I’m sure Brigham in testifying of this “doctrine” used phrases extensively such as “revealed unto me” and “Thus saith The Lord” when talking on this subject.
    When a prophet, seer and revelator states this you take it as whole truth…

    Deacon, why are you sure of that? I can’t remember any quotes to that effect. The closest thing that comes to mind is BY stating in 1852 the following while lobbying to the Utah legislature on behalf of the proposed slavery law:
    “If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the preisthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon the, until the resedue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings.”

  36. Steve Evans says:

    CW (#34), to my knowledge no Church leader has officially said that the ban was “wrong.”

  37. CW, I don’t think there has been such a statement. Yet there also haven’t been any explanations for how the ban could have been right or where it came from. Was there a revelation that initiated it, perhaps stored away in the famous First Presidency vault? We don’t know — and that’s the problem. If there’s no explanation for why it was in place, and all the explanations offered at the time are said to be wrong, it seems logical to conclude until better evidence is offered that the ban was wrong. God has not said otherwise to us.

  38. CW, Steve’s right. Church leaders have only said that all of the reasons listed by many members and leaders were WRONG, not that the ban was. In fact, the OT and the NT all include descriptions of race-based priesthood bans. Having said that, I’m VERY glad that is no longer true for us.

  39. CW, even critics of the ban such as Eugene England left the door open to a “revealed” source, while never being able to point to one in particular. That is what makes it such a hard subject to nail down. It’s obvious now in hindsight to say that the explanations were wrong, but without any firm handle on how the ban became policy, it becomes much harder to repudiate the ban.

  40. In fact, the OT and the NT all include descriptions of race-based priesthood bans.

    If you’re thinking of the Levites and/or Peter’s Gentiles, I have to say that I do not consider them to be analogous to the Mormon ban.

  41. Actually, scratch that, Peter’s vision is exactly analogous, but not for the usual reasons.

    Jesus commanded his disciples to go into “all the world.” Paul did exactly that, presumably with God’s consent. Some of the disciples could not move beyond their Jewish-Christian prejudices, however. Peter’s vision did not represent God giving them permission. Rather, it was a rebuke.

  42. History is brutally difficult to pin down without reliable source evidence. The Church has said a number of things:

    1) McConkie: EVERY justification and explanation given prior to 1978 was incorrect and produced from limited light and understanding. That’s pretty clear and unambiguous.

    2) Oaks: The early leaders were wrong – subject to the attitudes of their time. Again, pretty clear and unambiguous.

    3) Hinckley: No man worthy of the MP will hold racist attitudes. Couldn’t get any more blunt than that.

    Frankly, that’s about all they can say. Lacking definitive proof that there was or was not a personal revelation given to BY – something to which they could point for both the membership AND the world at large, what more really can they say than what they have said?

    I keep going back to something I mention whenever “speculation” or “explanation” is sought. We complain when they do; we complain when they don’t. If I have to pick one of those two, I pick the “don’t” – the “condemn racism forcefully, say the early leaders were wrong and do your best to rectify the bad results, but don’t try to construct a detailed explanation that essentially equals more speculation” approach.

  43. #41 – Excellent point, Ronan. I’ve never understood using Paul and the Gentiles as a justification. It’s a much better argument AGAINST the ban than for it.

  44. SA Number 35. Within that exact same speech he states this:

    Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain] in him cannot hold the Priesthood and if no other Prophet ever spoke it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it.”

    As I stated his words were not at hand when I posted the comments. The above statement, to use the Saviour’s name to justify or give authority to comments are not dissimilar to what I mentioned in post 35. Perhaps I should have quoted it exactly in that particular post.

  45. As for the Levites, you have an interesting inversion:

    Levitical priesthood: non-salvific: excludes ALL, includes ONE (tribe of Levi).

    Mormon priesthood pre-1978: salvific: includes ALL, excludes ONE (blacks).

    And nota bene: the higher priesthood — as personified by Melchizedek — was not restricted to “race.” Was Melchizedek a Hebrew?

    The Mormon exclusion of one race from a priesthood considered to be necessary for the exaltation of the human soul is unique, and cannot be defended with the Bible.

  46. CORRECTION“not dissimlar to what I mentioned in post 35.” I meant post 2.

  47. Deacon, that doesn’t say he was told that by the Lord in a personal revelation. It just says he was thoroughly convinced of it. He, like BRM, was thoroughly convinced of a lot of things.

    As I’ve said in other posts, I admire BY greatly. I think he was perhaps the only man alive at the time whose force of will and energy and commitment to kingdom building could have kept the Church alive during such a brutal time. I just don’t believe he was infallible, and I believe this was one of those cases.

  48. MikeInWeHo says:

    Whenever I read these threads, it always seems like the real question is this:

    Is it possible for the restored Church to have made a doctrinal/practice error of such significance until 1978?

    It all boils down to how you answer that question.

    My sense is that the current leadership is very reluctant to answer that question clearly, although perhaps the Oaks quote comes closer than I thought.

  49. Ray,
    Thanks. You know, if I wanted to speak against the ban in a public Mormon setting, I might be inclined to use the Jewish-Christian bias as a direct analogy without actually stating so.

  50. What I find interesting is Greg Prince’s treatment of DOM’s feelings on the issue. It appears that DOM desired a change, and even prayed fervently on many occasions, but never received the direction to make the change. He felt all along that a revelation was required to change it, but despite his petitions, never received it. What does that say about its practice during the tenure of DOM?

  51. 38#: In fact, the OT and the NT all include descriptions of race-based priesthood bans.

    WRT the NT, what do you have in mind? I think of the NT as explicitly teaching the distinctions based on ethnic groups are to be done away with.
    In fact, in the MD entry “Birthright,” McConkie describes this: “The right to hold the Levitical Priesthood anciently was limited to the sons of Levi, who gained their priesthood prerogatives by birth. In the meridian of time our Lord altered this system and spread this Aaronic order of authority among worthy male members of the Church generally. ( 1 Tim. 3:1-13).”

  52. Gerald Smith says:

    My view on it is that there was a ban. We just do not know the reason for it, and the Cain/Canaan curse was folklore that was accepted to explain it. The ban was doctrine, but the explanations were not.
    I also think there is a major reason why the Church has moved away from being speculative in its teachings, and now only focusing on, as President Packer would state: “Teach the Doctrine.” Speculations by General Authorities and members, over the years, have often caused a distraction from the actual doctrines of God. Why are we still trying to explain Adam-God, the Black curse, John Birch endorsements, and other non-doctrinal fables that should have been put to bed before they became ubiquitous.

  53. david knowlton says:

    JT The care President Kimball had in laying a political foundation for acceptance among the brethren, rather than simply announcing a “thus-sayeth-the-Lord’ revelation is also important to note. The ban was socially entrenched, strongly entrenched, it seems, to such a degree that it challenges popular understandings of the role of revelation for the prophet to make change.

  54. J. Nelson: I still have no clue whether the ban was of God or man, but to call it a mistake needing to be explained goes further than the evidence we have regarding the policy to begin with. What we do have are explicit statements that rationale for the ban were mistakes, false, etc.

  55. DK (53) – Good point. I was a bit surprised to read in Prince’s book the strong feelings by many (most) of the brethren against making a change during McKay’s tenure, though I imagine they would have sustained it if he had made a “thus-sayeth-the-Lord” pronouncement. But perhaps it required a deeper unity among the Brethren first. I don’t know.

    I really enjoyed Prince’s treatment of the issue during DOM’s tenure. However, he only gives a few paragraphs to what happened after DOM’s death. Could someone point me to a similar treatment of what happened post-DOM? Something that covers Pres. Kimball’s work leading up to the revelation, and/or how it was treated during the administrations of JFS and HBL?

  56. BHodges,
    I think you can count principles set forth in scriptural texts as relevant “evidence.” With the N.T., BoM, and D&C, as exhibits 1, 2, 3, against the ban, and “no sound scriptural basis” in support of it (phrase from Arrington’s report that “A special committee of the Twelve appointed by President McKay in 1954 to study the issue [of the black priesthood/temple ban] concluded that there was no sound scriptural basis for the policy but that the church membership was not prepared for its reversal..” p. 80 of Prince’s David O McKay and the Rise…), I think it’s pretty safe to call it a mistake (or apostasy, or a religious codification of social attitudes, or…).”

  57. BHodges, the policy narrowed the scope of the church’s saving work for more than a century, and nobody in recent decades is willing to offer an argument showing how it was God’s will. Isn’t that a prima facia basis for thinking the ban was a mistake, until someone can affirmatively show how it wasn’t?

  58. Aaron Brown says:

    I haven’t read the comments yet, so I’ll probably repeat something someone else has said.

    David, I agree with all your points completely, and if you look around the Bloggernacle, you will find versions of this topic appearing from time to time. I, in particular, have beat the dead horse over and over again. :)

    Terms like “doctrine”, “folklore”, “policy”, “principle”, “culture”, etc. are nothing more than tools to make it look like we are drawing careful, principled distinctions that we aren’t really drawing. We want to make sense of the morass of teachings that have, or have had, currency in LDS life, coming as they do from a variety of sources which vary in authoritative weight (and whose relative authority is itself often a matter of dispute). So we make pronouncements about how X was a doctrine, but Y was just “folklore”, and so “don’t you see how EVERYTHING IS OK NOW? The world of LDS teachings makes sense again, and we can go on making confident pronouncements about how LDS Prophet X’s prior statements aren’t problematic after all, since we can accurately categorize them as something less than fully prophetic!” But this game doesn’t have set rules, so it’s easy to play and falsely convince ourselves that we’ve suceessfully tackled the problematic rhetoric from past LDS leaders when we haven’t really done so.


  59. Aaron, one might note that it’s easy to play the same game and categorize away the problems of the past — without dealing at all with any potential problems of today.

  60. Not that it changes anything, but aren’t there multiple sources attributing the ban to Joseph Smith? I recall a story of him resolving an argument between two brethren, siding with one that blacks should not hold the priesthood.

    This is Elder Holland’s response to how the ban was justified. Given in the PBS documentary:

    “I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the doctrine], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong.”

  61. In a book, by Hyrum Andrus I believe, the author includes a letter written by Pres. McKay to a BYU student in answer to a question about why the ban existed. Pres. McKay gives the pre-mortal excuse but also says something to the effect that it’s the only way he’s able to understand it (why the priesthood ban). He also says at at the end of the letter that he thought the ban would end soon.

  62. Aaron Brown says:

    JNS (at #1):
    “I think, in Mormon usage, “doctrine” means something like “eternal truth.””

    I’m not so sure. I think it tends to mean this in Mormon usage only when we’re on the defensive. When we’re trying to deny the import of some past teaching that we no longer want to embrace. Most of the time, I think we use “doctrine” to mean “teaching which meets some threshhold of authoritativeness” (even if we often disagree where that threshold is, or how to identify it). But the real point, I suppose, is that we’re inconsistent. All over the place, really.

    I strongly agree with your other statements at #1 and #4, but you knew that.


  63. Besides the race issue, there is another elephant in the room here:

    Why is a professional public-relations spokesman for the Church publicly expounding on what Church doctrine is?

    We have a prophet. And we have 14 others sustained as prophets, seers and revelators. Why are THEY not issuing the Church’s position to the public?

  64. Aaron Brown says:

    JNS (at #4)
    “Hence, to meet that highest obligation, the motivation for strategic obfuscation regarding past mistakes seems both clear and not obviously immoral.”

    But it is also not obviously moral, IMO.


  65. Ray (#30) There’s not even a hint of irony. Your comments illustrate the fact that there’s been no repentance. The sign of true penitence is remorse, not defensive indignation.

    We can certainly congratulate an alcoholic on the anniversary of his last drink. However, changed behavior, however admirable, is not necessarily a sign of true repentance. Unfortunately, simply ceasing the surface behavior (drinking) without ever admitting error means that the person has avoided resolving the core problem (and thus has not repented). Under these circumstances, as likely as not, the person will channel the same addictive traits into new harmful behaviors (sin).

    CJ Douglass (#33) How do individuals and institutions repent?

    It is not enough to do as Bruce R. McConkie urged in the quote on J. Stapley’s thread: “Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever 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.”

    It is not enough to say we had “limited understanding” in the past and now we must “forget everything that I have said.”

    Instead, an individual must (1) confess the actual error: honestly, opening, and penitently, without being aggressively defensive and indignant. Vowing to stop is not confessing error. Stopping is not confessing error. (Much of the replies on the thread question whether there was error, illustrating my point.) Having admitted the error, the individual must (2) continually ask for forgiveness and always be prepared to apologize anew. And finally, the individual must (3) look within for the core causes of the past behavior and avoid analogous behaviors now and in the future.

  66. Tim (#60), there isn’t good evidence that supports a case for Joseph Smith as the author of the restriction. Black men received the priesthood while Joseph was alive, and there’s a lot of evidence that shows it started with BY, and presumably after 1847, since that year BY spoke positively of Walker Lewis’ ordination to the priesthood (“We have one of the best Elders an African in Lowell”).

  67. And also, can we at least agree that the following are NOT CHURCH DOCTRINE:

    -musicals by Lex de Azevedo
    -some random, pull-it-out-of-his-### thoughts by someone’s seminary teacher
    -the Republican Party platform
    -the flavor-of-the-month feel-good book full of tired, banal platitudes churned out by the pulp mill that is Deseret Book
    -most of what you hear in Gospel Doctrine
    -the personal opinions of you MTC teachers

  68. And for my hat trick of comments, note that Elder Mark E. Petersen, author of numerous racist comments based on “doctrine,” said that he was wrong about whatever he may have said that contradicted the lifting of the priesthood ban.

    And Elder Petersen also taught that sex is only for procreation. The Handbook of Instructions gives a very different position the Church has on this issue.

  69. MIWH –

    Is it possible for the restored Church to have made a doctrinal/practice error of such significance until 1978?

    Sometimes for me it’s hard to answer that, but always harder to swallow are what seem to be attempts by contemporary leaders to minimize the “doctrine”, “teaching” or “policy” by calling it nothing more than folklore that the church doesn’t seem to own or be responsible for. The combination of the following two things made the priesthood ban LDS church doctrine:

    1. The existence of the policy
    2. Mormon Doctrine, BRM, Mortal Messiah and other racist publications/leaders who were not absolutely smacked down by the church

    While there was no section in the D&C, those two things combined made it doctrine per se. It was not simply folklore…..I cringe at efforts to brush it under the rug as such. I feel like the church is just playing the blame game….”it was BRM’s fault, BY’s fault, etc….”

    I liked the quote in the SL trib by Darron Smith when discussing why it took so long for God to eliminate the ban “…..we don’t know why the Lord did this? Bulls—. It’s called racism.”

  70. Justin, I think you should probably change your handle to something else — there’s a long-standing commenter named Justin who has prior claim.

  71. Justin, I love the passion!

    SA, I think the origin question is unresolvable with current evidence. In intriguing theory is Michael W. Homer’s idea that the ban was originally an exclusion of black people from the Nauvoo temple endowment, in imitation of Masonic racial policies. Then, due to the widespread conflation of “endowment” and “priesthood” in the 19th century, the ban could have spread to include extra-temple priesthood, as well as temple priesthood. This hypothesis is indistinguishable from other accounts given the current empirical evidence, but it does fit with Young’s practice on other fronts: Young seems to have been willing to elaborate on what he took to be Smith’s ideas, but rarely to deliberately invent ideas from scratch. (See also Adam-God.)

  72. Aaron Brown says:

    I know that Lex de Azevedo is true.


  73. JNS,
    I do need understand better what Homer and Literski have to say about the Masonic policies on this issue. But, as I understand it they suggest one influence was the Masonic practice you’ve referred to. Sure, that could be an influence (again, I need to learn more about that), among various others that are more obvious. But, as to the question of whether Joseph of BY established the Church’s restriction w/r/t the priesthood ordination, does the Homerian argument change the analysis much? Doesn’t seem like it would.

  74. JT (#55) —

    Spencer W. Kimball’s son Edward wrote a biography of his father’s time in office, called “Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball.” It is quite similar to the treatment Prince gave to David O. McKay’s administration. Edward Kimball’s book includes a very lengthy treatment of the priesthood revelation.


    Kimball’s book is published by Deseret Book (or some affiliated press), but is written from a fairly liberal/faithful point of view. It comes with a CD-ROM that includes Kimball’s much longer working manuscript of the book (complete with some material that was omitted from the final book as an apparent compromise with the publisher). The CD-ROM also includes a copy of Kimball’s previous biography of his father’s life before he became prophet. A great resource, and I highly recommend it.

  75. SA, I think it does make a difference. (I’m not sure which other influences you think are more obvious. Young’s decision-making ruled the case, right? If Young’s decision-making was based in a misunderstanding of Joseph Smith’s ideas, that’s the whole story.) If Homer’s argument is right, then the whole episode is just a mistake, parallel to the way many faithful Mormons now see the Adam-God doctrine. The whole conversation becomes simpler that way.

  76. Mark B. says:

    So what if sex is only for procreation? Don’t you think it’s appropriate to practice?

    What musician would show up on stage without ever practicing? What ballplayer, or golfer?

    Same with sex. I think it’s important to keep your skills sharp with regular practice, so that when it comes time to procreate you’ll be ready.

  77. JNS, other influences I was thinking of at the moment were, based largely on commentary by BY for hints as to his thinking: 1) a general animus against offering equal civil responsibility to blacks (BY comes right out and says that he doesn’t want someone who can’t rule over him in government to rule over him in church), and 2)fear that if blacks were fully integrated into the community miscegenation would be more likely to occur.

  78. SA, those attitudes are certainly relevant, although it’s difficult to decide if they’re rationalizations for the church’s racial ban, products of that ban, or reasons for it.

  79. Rays in your post 47:

    “that doesn’t say he was told that by the Lord in a personal revelation. It just says he was thoroughly convinced of it. He, like BRM, was thoroughly convinced of a lot of things.”

    Just to clarify, I didn’t state that Brigham received a personal revelation on this issue. I did state that he utilised extensive language (see quote) I also stated that I didn’t have the quotes in front of me. The issue here, I feel, is that how do we distinguish between opinions and doctrine?

  80. JNS, thanks for mentioning Homer. He apparently (I don’t have the full article/presentation) concludes his 2006 Center for Studies on New Religions presentation entitled “‘Why then introduce them into our inner temple?’ The Masonic Influence on Mormon Denial of Priesthood Ordination to African American Men,” with this:

    “Although Lester Bush and Newell Bringhurst are undoubtedly correct that there is no direct evidence that Joseph Smith originated the Mormon policy of priesthood exclusion, there is an apparent connection between that policy and the ban of blacks from the lodges of Freemasonry. The exclusionary policies of Freemasonry and Mormonism prevented blacks from entering temples whose rituals were believed to be similar to those practiced in Solomon’s Temple, both were premised, in part, on the notion that blacks were somehow disqualified from entering temples because they were descended from Cain and/or Ham, and neither policy was discussed openly until blacks requested permission to enter their temples. Thus, regardless of whether the policy originated with Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, to the extent the justifications for priesthood denial – which were abandoned even before the policy – were initially inspired by Freemasonry’s policy, they can now be understood as extensions of anachronistic legends and folklore rather than teachings based on independent revelation.”

    The suggestion in #60 was that Joseph said blacks should not hold the priesthood. The purpose of my response was to point out the lack of evidence for that claim. Whether or not the Masonry link was an influence, it seems Homer’s last line is relevant (that the priesthood/temple denial “can now be understood as extensions of anachronistic legends and folklore [and laws and social biases] rather than teachings based on independent revelation.”

  81. SA, I agree with all of that. I believe that Homer’s material is published in the Journal of the John Whitmer Historical Association — an underrated source for Mormon Studies.

  82. Eric Russell says:

    I lean towards the argument presented in this article, in spite of its 38,358th ranking.

  83. Eric, I like Nate Oman’s position, but I don’t think it really corresponds very closely to how most Mormons actually think about doctrine.

  84. Homer’s article is available here.

  85. JNS,

    What do you make of the info in Princes biography where DOM asks the Lord for permission to lift the ban and is told not yet? Apparently this happened more then once.

    Then finally a revelation occurs. From studying SWk life it appears to me that he had been prepared for a few decades for this revelation.

    On June 1, 1978, at a regular temple meeting of the general authorities, Kimball asked the members of the First Presidency and the Twelve to stay for a private conference. In a spirit of fasting and prayer, they formed a prayer circle. Kimball opened by saying he felt impressed to pray to the Lord and asked their permission to be “mouth.” He went to the altar. Those in attendance said that as he began his earnest prayer, they suddenly realized it was not Kimball’s prayer, but the Lord speaking through him. A revelation was being declared. Kimball himself realized that the words were not his but the Lord’s. During that prayer some of the Twelve – at least two have said so publicly – were transported into a celestial atmosphere, saw a divine presence and the figures of former president of the church (portraits of whom were hanging on the walls around them) smiling to indicate their approval and sanction. Others acknowledged the voice of the Lord coming, as with the prophet Elijah, “through the still, small voice.” The voice of the Spirit followed their earnest search for wisdom and understanding.
    At the end of the heavenly manifestation Kimball, weeping for joy, confronted the quorum members, many of them also sobbing, and asked if they sustained this heavenly instruction. Embracing, all nodded vigorously and jubilantly their sanction. There had been a startling and commanding revelation from God-an ineffable experience.
    Two of the apostles present described the experience as a “day of Pentecost” similar to the one in Kirtland Temple on April 6, 1836, the day of its dedication. They saw a heavenly personage and heard heavenly music. To the temple-clothed members, the gathering, incredible and without compare, was the greatest singular event of their lives. Those I talked with wept as they spoke of it. All were certain they had witnessed a revelation from God.

    (Adventures of a Church Historian. Leonard J Arrington Pages 176-177

  86. bbell, who can say? Was the problem that God wasn’t ready to re-extend the gospel to all the world, or that McKay’s heart wasn’t ready to receive revelation in the affirmative on this issue? That’s a question that becomes theology, not history, but the history does suggest that McKay was a man of genuine personal racial prejudice.

    I agree that Kimball prepared, or was prepared, for years before announcing the revelation to his colleagues.

    None of this offers an explanation of where the ban comes from, or shows clear evidence of divine approval of it.

  87. I do not think the priesthood/temple restriction had any more divine origin that the Church’s policies, for a time, (1) of permitting a man married to an unendowed woman to become endowed but forbidding an woman from doing so if she was married to an unendowed man, and (2) restricting the ability to open and close Sacrament meetings to men holding the Melchizedek priesthood (or even the current, unwritten practice in many stakes of requiring opening Sacrament prayers to be given by men holding the Melchizedek priesthood).

    Those are/were discriminatory policies adopted in light of the best judgment of the Brethren instituted, hopefully, after discussion and prayer keeping in mind the cultures in which the Church operated. In that sense, I suppose, all of those policies are/were divine (but I do not think they were “directed” expressly by God).

    I do not see why the repeal of the priesthood/temple prohibition required anymore of divine sanction (or “revelation”) than the modification or repeal of the other practices. Perhaps it took a while for the Brethren unanimously to come to a view that there was no directive from God that would be violated if the practice were changed.

  88. Growing up in the 60’s, and having a father who worked in public education prior to integration at a mostly African-American school, I believe that my father and mother raised me to not be prejudiced. Because of that, the issue was often discussed in our home. What I remember about the ban was that currently (at the time), blacks could not hold the priesthood. We were also taught that at some undisclosed time, all of the blessing of the gospel would be made available to all of the children of Adam. Until 1978, we just didn’t know when that would be.

    ALvin R. Dyer’s book, “The Challenge” was required reading on my mission. In chapter 8 he does talk about all of the different places, and circumstances that people can be born into and suggests how our lives in the pre-existence were a factor in what circumstances we are born into here. Some of it might be a bit speculative, but some of it is probably correct. I think we are put where we will get out of our earthly experience those things that we need to get out of it.

  89. “I think we are put where we will get out of our earthly experience those things that we need to get out of it.”

    Tell that to the child who lives a life of starvation and dies of AIDS as a young child – or the girl who is raped repeatedly by her father or uncle or brother every day for years – or any other of thousands of examples I could mention.

    Whether or not it is true, it should never be said or taught, imho. It is speculation (pure and simple), and it comes across badly – VERY badly – for anyone who has suffered terribly.

  90. Randall says:

    Thanks for bringing us back reality.

  91. Ray I agree with the discomfort you express at teaching a doctrine that almost seems to justify or at least dismiss somebodies suffering. But are you more comfortable with what appears (to me at least) to be the alternative? That your situation in this life is out of God’s control, and not part of His plan, and there is no ultimate purpose or meaning to your life, or to your suffering?

    Or is the idea that God is in control and there is some grand plan just a false salve that some of us use to ease the pain we feel when we see the type of suffering you refer to?

    Of course I do agree that if we dismiss the suffering we see as God’s will and do nothing to end it, we are wrong. But still, isn’t all of this part of a grand plan that we agreed to in the grand council?

    Twenty four years ago I delivered a beautiful baby boy, the son of some personal friends. That child later died of SIDS. The father was an atheist and the wife too, but I think she just went along with atheism to make her husband happy. They asked me to speak at the funeral, but a condition the father put on it was not to mention God, a condition I did not ultimately honor.

    That mother was truly suffering, and continued to suffer for a number of years. Was there any purpose to her suffering? Was it part of a plan? If you reject: “I think we are put where we will get out of our earthly experience those things that we need to get out of it.”, than do you have an alternative explanation?

    I can’t go back and change what I said at that funeral or what I told her as she descended into the depths of alcoholism trying to get over her grief, but I would love to have a better understanding of these things. I look to Romans 8:28 in these types of situations, and sincerely look forward to your response.

  92. Anonymous says:

    “Can somebody show me a statement from a member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the 12 indicating the ban was wrong, and not just the explanations for the ban?”

    #34, Gordon B. Hinckley said, “I don’t think it was wrong.”


  93. Yeah, it’s a funny interview, isn’t it, Anonymous? Consider the exchange in question, quoted more completely:

    GBH: No I don’t think it was wrong. It things, various things happened in different periods. There’s a reason for them.

    RB: What was the reason for that?

    GBH: I don’t know what the reason was. But I know that we’ve rectified whatever may have appeared to be wrong at that time.

    So Hinckley has faith, I guess, that there was a reason for the ban. But he doesn’t know the reason, so he can’t really be sure there was a good one. Since he doesn’t claim to know why the ban existed, his argument that the ban wasn’t wrong is obviously a weak one.

  94. JNS, #93, I agree it is a weak argument and it is an interview as well. Questions are asked without time to think, to reflect, to polish your answer. Certainly statements made in interviews are not of the same weight as well thought out written statements.

    But even so he said he did not know the “reason” for the ban. He did NOT say he did not know the SOURCE of the ban.

  95. daproff says:

    Indeed CW, in many public statements and “official” declarations made by various first presidencies, the Church has been emphatic that the ban was decreed by God and could only be discontinued by a direct revelation from Him.

  96. daproff, nonetheless, the historical record lacks any revelation establishing the ban, and in fact the ban seems to have occurred piece by piece over decades in response to specific historical situations. It just doesn’t look like divine intervention, although I certainly understand the reasons for wanting to think that it was.

  97. JNS, doesn’t a lot of revelation and inspiration come line upon line, and precept upon precept? Here a little and there a little? A specific historical situation lead to the WOW, (Emma complaining about having to clean up after the brethren,) but it was still a revelation. In fact many revelations have come when circumstances have come up for which we needed an answer. Couldn’t the fact that specific historical situations lead to the ban in a piecemeal fashion just as easily be interpreted as suggesting that the ban came line upon line?

    I feel a little impertinent asking this question, because my knowledge of these issues is nonexistent compared to yours. If this question is so dumb it doesn’t warrant an answer, just ignore it.

  98. #91 – CW, I simply don’t agree with the conclusions in your comment – that my response necessitates your conclusions.

    My answer is “I don’t know, but I believe there is MUCH more to eternal life than what we see in mortality.” That’s good enough for me.

  99. Btw, imho, “I don’t know,” is a wonderful response to many questions. I’m glad our current leadership is saying it more often than former leaders did.

  100. Ray I certainly respect “I don’t know” as an answer in many cases. However in this case when there are a plethora of scriptures that seem to indicate that God is in charge and not even a sparrow can fall to the ground with out His knowledge I am not so sure. We know that God’s ways are higher than our ways, and that He loves us. Many people have concluded that “I think we are put where we will get out of our earthly experience those things that we need to get out of it.” which is the comment by Earl in #88 you specifically criticized.

    Many people have found comfort by realizing there is a grand plan, that is greater than we can comprehend, but none the less, our lives, our victories and our suffering is a part of that plan.

    Just as a pragmatic matter how are you so sure he is not right, if you really don’t know?

  101. daproff says:


    There are many difficulties when we attempt to use available recorded historical data to define or establish the truth of spiritual things. For example, using your reasoning above, the ancient church could not have practiced baptism for the dead because the historical record lacks a revelation that establishes the practice.

    The problem is, we do not have credible historic records for even half of the sermons by Joseph Smith, not to mention every doctrine that he taught, so maintaining that he NEVER taught the principle is an equally weak argument.(Although I can understand just as readily why you want to think that it is not)To say that the ban was not issued by divine decree when prophet after prophet declared that it was, is to testify beyond the bounds of authority established by God himself.

    One last thought to consider. Bruce R McConkie’s statements following the 1978 revelation are often quoted out of context, and skewed in attempts to prove that he had changed his mind about the origin of the ban itself, and that everything he said previous to the ban being lifted was incorrect. Both assumptions are clearly false because the fact is that BRM, along with every other man who was present in the temple that day, continued to teach the doctrinal concepts of varying degrees of righteousness in the pre-mortal sphere, calling and election, foreordination, and the gospel spreading throughout the world according to a divine timetable established by the Lord.

  102. daproff, I don’t necessarily think that Joseph Smith didn’t teach the racial ban; I’m open to the possibility that it all originated with an idea of Joseph’s that black people shouldn’t have been allowed to enter the temple.

    BRM was a man of deep convictions. I believe that at least some of them were right. No doubt he believed that the ban came from God. I don’t, although I could be persuaded if there were evidence in the scriptures or any other source we accept as canon. The unwillingness of our current leaders to admit past mistakes doesn’t persuade; our church almost never admits mistakes.

  103. daproff says:


    Evidence is not what persuades us unto truth-the influence of the Holy Ghost does. I’ll admit that I am curious to know if the Holy Ghost has revealed to you that the priesthood ban was of human origin or if you have come to that conclusion based on evidence, or the lack thereof?

    I have received no witness that Church leaders have made mistakes for which they owe admittance, and I certainly do not believe that they should admit to or apologize for being correct. Do you?

  104. Daproff, the mere fact that a revelation ended the ban means that the Lord wanted the ban to end, and the announcement to the church means that He wanted it to be known. It says nothing about the origin of the ban. Lack of evidence for a beginning of the ban neither supports nor refutes a divine beginning for it. However, the lack of evidence seems more likely to indicate a non-divine origin than a divine origin. If the Lord does nothing save he reveal it to his prophets, then where is the revelation beginning the ban?

    Also, I would not expect that either myself, or you, would receive revelation for the prophet that he should apologize for any mistake. That would only come to him. Not to cast aspersions on your own personal testimony, but the fact you’ve received no promptings for the prophet to admit mistakes doesn’t really seem valid to me. I apologize in advance if you take this as a personal attack, because it is not intended as such. You’re just standing revelatory logic on its head.

  105. Isn’t it possible that the Brethren receive private revelation for the Church on occassion while we each receive private revelation for ourselves and our families that doesn’t exactly agree with theirs? After all, the Church is more than the sum of it’s members and we are not only able but expected to be more than cookie-cutter Saints.

  106. daproff says:


    No offense taken. In fact, I thank you for underscoring the nature of “upside down” logic, such as insinuating that the Church regularly hides the truth about past mistakes.

    Actually, according to an official declaration made by the First Presidency in 1970-it is not possible:

    “When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or any extraordinary gift or inspiration conveys something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. . . . Anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable.”

  107. daproff says:


    It is my understanding that the canon of the Church is an open one; we view the declarations and dictates of living prophets to be scripture, whether they are officially “voted” upon and printed en mass or not.

    Wilford Woodruff related the following experience-

    “I will refer to a certain meeting I attended in the town of Kirtland in my early days . . . some remarks were made . . . with regard to the living oracles and with regard to the written word of God . . . a leading man in the church . . . talked upon the subject, and said: “You have got the word of God before you here in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants; you have the written word of God, and you who give revelations should give revelations according to those books, as what is written in those books is the word of God. We should confine ourselves to them.”

    When he concluded, Brother Joseph turned to Brother Brigham Young and said, “Brother Brigham, I want you to take the stand and tell us your views with regard to the living oracles and the written word of God.” Brother Brigham took the stand, and he took the Bible, and laid it down; he took the Book of Mormon, and laid it down; and he took the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and laid it down before him, and he said: “There is the written word of God to us, concerning the work of God from the beginning of the world, almost, to our day.” “And now,” said he, “when compared with the living oracles those books are nothing to me; those books do not convey the word of God direct to us now, as do the words of a Prophet or a man bearing the Holy Priesthood in our day and generation. I would rather have the living oracles than all the writing in the books.” That was the course he pursued. When he was through, Brother Joseph said to the congregation, “Brother Brigham has told you the word of the Lord, and he has told you the truth. ”

    . . . The Bible is all right, the Book of Mormon is all right, the Doctrine and Covenants is all right, and they proclaim the work of God and the word of God in the earth in this day and generation until the coming of the Son of Man; but the Holy Priesthood is not confined particularly to those books, that is, it did not cease when those books were made. (Wilford Woodruff, CR, October 1897, pp. 22-23.)

  108. Nate Oman says:

    JNS: I disagree with you. I think that my paper is a good description of what Mormons actually DO in practice when they talk about doctrine, even though I admit that it does not correspond to what they SAY or THINK about doctrine in those rare moments when they are self-conscious about its use. On the the other hand, there are lots of very important activities where our practice is much more nuanced and informative than most of our attempts to articulate that practice. On this point — like many points within Mormonism — I suspect that our theories will turn out better if we theorize practice.

  109. Nate, I think your account is perhaps a best-case scenario of what Mormons ought to do when discussing doctrine; but, unfortunately, I don’t have time to work through this right now. Rain check?

  110. Nate Oman says:

    “Rain check?”

    Fair enough. Of course, I am going to hereafter treat your silence as absolute agreement with anything that I might be saying or thinking at the time.

    (I also really shouldn’t be reading blogs at all…)

  111. Nate, why then the dichotomy between what you say Mormons “actually do” versus what they say or think? That strikes me as incredibly challenging. Isn’t that more important than describing what Mormons actually do?

  112. Nate Oman says:

    Steve: The distinction is between how Mormons actually go about figuring out what doctrine is and how Mormons tell you they go about figuring out what doctrine is. Ask a Mormon to tell you what is Church Doctrine and they are likely to give you some sort of rule — e.g. what is said by the prophet, what is published by the church, what is accepted in the scriptures. On the other hand, not one of them actually acts as though all of the statements made under these rules are actually binding. (For starters they simply couldn’t as the statements are sometimes contradictory.) Rather, what I see members actually doing is consciously or unconsciously sifting through statements and teachings and hanging on to those that are seen as being “core” in some way while rejecting as “speculation” or mystery those that are “peripheral.” This process, which Mormons actually DO, is not captured by what they usually SAY about doctrine. My paper is an effort to describe our intellectual practice rather than restate the — incomplete and often misleading, IMHO — things that we SAY about our practice.

    Incidentally, this distinction is hardly something uniquely Mormon. For example, there is research on expert knowledge that is very similar to this. Ask a chess master or an expert fighter pilot how to play chess or fly a plane, and what they will articulate for you is a set of rules of thumb that they learned when they were novices. On the other hand, when you observe their actual practice they are often doing something quite different. My understanding, for example, is that this was a big leap forward in pilot training. The Air Force was getting expert pilots to explain to novices what to do, and the experts were saying not incredibly useful things. They only started getting the pedagogical benefits of the expert’s expertise when they observed their practice and used a description that practice — rather than what the expert SAID about the practice — as a starting point.

  113. Nate, it seems to me like you’re describing the problems of tacit knowledge. That Air Force example is a classic one, but there are examples from virtually every specialized industry. That said, I am not sure that’s what’s really happening with Mormons. First, when you ask about Mormon Doctrine you are going to get praxis — that’s the result of culture and an absence of theology, not because of a core vs. speculation dilemma.

    I do agree that this sifting process occurs as you describe, but I don’t know that this is unique to Mormons — or that it would adequately account for why (or if) we do things differently than we say. Polanyi’s famous “we know more than we can say” does certainly apply to Mormons (as it does to all) — but that alone would not, I don’t think, get us to describing what’s happening.

  114. Nate Oman says:

    Steve: I am not sure that I agree with you here. First, I don’t think that Mormons have an absence of theology. We have loads and loads of theology. What we lack is a dogmatic theology promulgated in any clear way by the magisterium. This doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t still have notions of doctrine and authority, it just means that doctrine is not established via some sort of official dogmatic theology. I think that core and speculation are terms designating conclusions rather than concepts used for analysis. However, it doesn’t follow from this that there is no analysis going on. How the analysis works is what I was trying to lay out in my paper.

    I certainly agree with, however, that lots of non-theoretical devices like socialization play a decisive part in dealing with the boundaries of authoritative doctrine. For example, I think that institutional fiat and a certain ethic of doctrinal discussion are keys for understanding how church doctrine gets managed in Mormon contexts. I also say this in my paper.

  115. Nate Oman says:

    BTW, there is no reason that ideas from tacit knowledge cannot be applied to theoretical endeavors. The process by which a lawyer advises a client in a common law jurisdiction rests, it seems to me, largely on tacit knowledge.

  116. Steve Evans says:

    Nate, good point on your #115. Sounds like I should read your paper!

  117. On a side note…

    While I shudder at the some of the historical spins given for why blacks are black, I also have to caution myself not to refuse any submissions just because I don’t like them or because they’re un-P.C. While the Church will not say (probably because they don’t know) that all people in heaven are white, is that to suppose then that pre-existent spirits are/were multi-racial? Did Heavenly Father spawn Caucasian and Indian and Asian and black spirit children? And as this earth life is just a blip in our overall existence, does the racial status– if introduced on earth– continue for eternity? Why would it? And if it’s not permanent, then what were the criteria that determined their earthly racial status? Hey, I don’t know, but if the doctrine ever does come down the authorized pike I’m certainly not going to have my dustbin handy in case I don’t like it.

  118. daproff says:


    I think that is a wise position to take. Political correctness should never be considered a higher goal than God’s correctness, and they are very often at odds with each other.


    I have researched this topic for years and it appears I have missed the sources for a couple of the quotes you listed. Can you please tell me the location(s) of the following? I would greatly appreciate it, thank you.

    McConkie: EVERY justification and explanation given prior to 1978 was incorrect and produced from limited light and understanding.
    Oaks: The early leaders were wrong – subject to the attitudes of their time.

  119. Mark IV says:


    Ray can answer for himself, but I’m guessing he had statments like these in mind:

    Elder McConkie –

    Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or George Q. Cannon or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation.

    Elder Oaks –

    Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. . . I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.
    …I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. . . The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent.

    Elder Holland –

    I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong.

  120. Steve Evans says:

    Mark IV, given daproff’s prior comments, I think that he was well aware of these quotes but was being coy to prove his own misguided points.

  121. #118:

    (”All Are Alike unto God” – Bruce R. McConkie – BYU devotional – August 18, 1978)

    I’m celebrating an anniversary in a few minutes, so I don’t have time to look up the Oaks quote – but it’s from the PBS documentary full transcript. (and I didn’t use quotation marks, because I was summarizing what they said)

  122. Mark IV says:

    Steve, you may be right. I was probably ignoring the still, small voice when I made that comment.

  123. Mark IV says:

    Oh, and happy Anniversary, Ray! Did you get married on Friday the 13th?

  124. The references are quite commonly discussed. Here is the McConkie talk (thank you BYU); here is the Holland interview (thank you PBS); and the Oaks interview was from Dallin H. Oaks, interview with Associated Press, in The Daily Herald [Provo, Ut], June 5, 1988, 21.

  125. Thanks, J. I got the sources mixed up for Holland and Oaks. (Reading that makes me think of the vocal duo. Never made that connection. Wish I hadn’t now.)

    Mark, tomorrow is the 26th anniversary of the day we met. Our wedding anniversary is very close to Christmas, so we celebrate this one to have some separation from the holiday.

  126. Mark IV and J., Thank you for taking the time to respond, but apparently Ray was summarizing comments that I am already familiar with and I misapplied them to something he said earlier.

    I asked Ray because in his comment previous to the one that contained the quotes he said “[Church leaders] are stating that both the practice (policy) and the justifications were wrong…”. To me, it then (mistakenly) followed that Ray felt the quotes in his next post supported his previous one. Since none of the accounts I have knowledge of contain statements by Elder McConkie or Elder Oaks that the ban itself was wrong, I could only assume (remember…I’m still on the wrong train of thought at this point) that Ray must have sources/statements unknown to me stating otherwise.


    Sorry for the confusion and congratulations on (almost) 26 years of wedded bliss! (I hope) Quite a feat in today’s world either way.

  127. daproff,

    Fwiw, I’m not sure there was any way whatsoever (given how deeply ingrained that racism was) to avoid it. It wasn’t “right” in my mind (not in ANY way), but I’m not sure I could say it was “wrong” IF that implies I think it could have been different. I wish it could have been and was different, but I’m just not convinced it could have been.

    Elder Holland’s interview is interesting to me, because I see a clear belief that the ban was NOT revelation. The following quote, especially, is fascinating:

    “It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time.” Iow, they were doing (not just teaching) what they believed to be correct – with the strong implication that what they were doing (not just teaching) was not correct.

    I might be reading too much into his words, but that message seems pretty clear to me.

  128. The idea — touted by daproff and David T — that those seeking to neutralise the stink of a blatantly and demonstrably racist mythology are accomplices to some kind of “P.C.” crusade, is sickening. It is not “P.C.” to erase from our doctrine the racist teachings borrowed from white supremacists and slave traders. It is simply right. I don’t mind you disagreeing with our view of the ban and the folklore, but do not ascribe our motivations to some kind of bleeding heart cowardice.

  129. Re: #106

    Actually, according to an official declaration made by the First Presidency in 1970-it is not possible:

    “When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or any extraordinary gift or inspiration conveys something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. . . . Anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable.”

    Perhaps the key here is harmony. I think of harmony as parts working together to create a greater whole. Perhaps our individual revelation works together with the “church level” revelation to create the direction necessary for the church as a whole at any given time. If individual members had not been receiving promptings that it was time for the ban to end, would they have been able to accept and act upon President Kimball’s revelation to end it?

    Just a thought.

  130. Steve Evans says:

    Amen Ronan.

  131. Ronan, wonderfully worded.

  132. daproff says:


    Excuse me? Neither David T nor myself said ANYTHING about supporting racism or bleeding hearts or cowardice, so it is disturbing that you came to such a false conclusion from any stated premises. David stated that HE cautions HIMSELF not to reject anything outright just because he doesn’t like it or it isn’t politically correct, and I said that was a wise position to take. Do YOU think we should be more concerned about being in agreement with society than we are about being in agreement with God?

    Can you show me where I ever stated that I agree with the “folklore” at all?

    When the Brethren are asked “why” they say “We don’t know”. Are they lying? Do you have proof that they DO KNOW but are denying that they know? If not, then I think it is presumptuous to claim that YOU know why the ban exists-be it racism, stupidity, mythology or whatever, because church doctrine is that IF and WHEN God decides to reveal the “why”, He won’t do it to us first. His living prophet will be the first to know. We have no right or authority to censure the prophets of God. We have been clearly and repeatedly warned about doing so.

    How many testimonies do you think you strengthen when you speak evil of the Lord’s anointed? How much missionary work do you think you accomplish when you claim that our past practices originated with slave traders and white supremacists? How does repeatedly tearing down the living oracles of God or claiming to have more light and knowledge than God has given them help Him to build His kingdom on earth?

    But then again, as misguided as I am, maybe all the “teachings” I’m referring to were just “borrowed” from other wicked sources and should be either neutralized or erased altogether too.

  133. daproff,
    1. You are not Lars Glenson. Dispense with the CAPS. We can all disagree about this, but stop standing on your angry soapbox.
    2. People like you who insist that Mormons have to support the ban in order to “follow the prophet” are more likely to drive people from the church than anyone around here is ever likely to.
    3. Funny, but I would have thought that the rejection of any doctrine that elevates one race over another is precisely about being “in agreement with God” rather than society.

  134. daproff,

    No one here is claiming to have more light and knowledge than the prophets; we are claiming that we agree with Elder McConkie that the early leaders of the Church — and many Church leaders in recent decades — spoke with limited light and knowledge; we agree with Elders Holland, Oaks and Jensen that the reasons given were wrong; finally, we agree with President Hinckley when he said that it is wrong to teach that someone is unworthy to hold the priesthood due to their skin color.

    There is nothing being said here that contradicts the most current prophetic statements on the priesthood ban.

  135. Steve Evans says:

    The suggestion that daproff is Lars Glenson is the most noteworthy and logical comment I have seen thus far.

  136. An apostle of God said, after direct and unequivocal revelation, that everything every leader had ever said to justify the ban was wrong – that it was the result of limited light and knowledge. That apostle, Elder McConkie, had been one of the foremost justifiers and explainers of the ban prior to the revelation. He said we all needed to forget about everything that had been said previously in order to justify the ban, and he mentioned Brigham Young by name.

    In actual fact, the justifications that were used prior to 1978 really were the justifications put forth by white supremists and slave traders of yesteryear. They were the justifications given for slavery – with odd Mormon-ish slants here and there. Read the writings of mainstream Christian writers of the time; they were full of similar justifications. Even many abolitionists were opposed to full societal involvement – particularly when it came to inter-racial marriage. Pointing out the source of the rhetoric is not “speaking evil of” in any way – especially when not one person you are addressing has denied prophetic or apostolic standing to anyone in question.

    As Dan said, nothing in what we have said contradicts the united voice of the prophets and apostles **since 1978**. That is the key, imho.

  137. I like Elder McConkie’s words too, Ray, but I think you take them beyond where he did. I actually wonder if he fully comprehended the magnitude of what he was saying. Why do I say this? The quote you are paraphrasing comes after Elder McConkie refers to a particular teaching he had promulgated–that blacks would not receive priesthood before the millennium. Some have suggested that he was referring only to thisteaching. Since his revisions (1979) of _Mormon Doctrine_ included mention of the priesthood revelation but RETAINED teachings about caste systems and curses, it would seem that he cherry-picked which doctrines he would forget and which he would not. I far prefer the words of Pres. Hinckley in 2006: “How can any man who holds the Melchizedek priesthood arrogantly assume that he is entitled to that priesthood whereas another, who lives a righteous life, is not entitled simply becaues of the color of his skin?”

  138. Margaret, I understand what you are saying about his inability to follow his own words, but I view it like I view the “all men are created equal” concept – that those who wrote it couldn’t live it fully even though they were inspired to write it. Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part, but seeing it that way puts it in direct support of the other quotes that came later on this topic.

    I can understand someone not being able to live up an ideal, and I’d rather read the words for what they actually say. That might be just me, but it is me.

  139. I think you’re right, Margaret. With the exception of the issue of timing, it would not have been necessary for those who espoused McConkie’s views on race to reject his reasoning for the ban in order to accept the 1978 revelation.

  140. Jack Fuller says:

    What did Tuttle say when you presented your argument to him David? You did talk to him before you wrote this piece – just to make sure you got your facts right and to give him a chance to comment on what you were writing? Right?

  141. Steve Evans says:

    Move along, Jack.

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