Teaching OD-2

Last Sunday was a personal milestone for me as a Gospel Doctrine teacher. It was the first time I’ve ever taught a class on Blacks and the Priesthood. Come to think of it, it may be the first time I’ve ever been present in a class on Blacks and the Priesthood, whether as teacher or student (though maybe I’ve just forgotten). As someone who has ridden the priesthood ban hobby horse over the years, and who has suffered lots of angst over it, I’ve long wanted to teach this topic, but never before had the right opportunity. Sunday was the first time I felt I had such an opportunity, so I took it.

The assigned chapter from the D&C manual was “Lesson 42: Continuing Revelation to Latter-day Prophets.” When Steve Evans pointed this out to me at Molly Bennion’s post-Sunstone NW party the night before, I started brainstorming various ideas for the lesson, with the help of a few other Sunstone folks, assuming I’d talk about the “nature” of revelation or something. But not until the next morning, when I actually opened the manual, did I realize how mislead I’d been by the lesson title. For this was really the Correlation–KJV Bible–Additional Quorums of the 70–OD-2 lesson, all rolled into one week. One can’t possibly cover all these juicy topics in one lesson (indeed, I found myself wondering if the manual-writers didn’t intentionally put all this material in one chapter for precisely this reason), so I just chose OD-2. I started off by inviting a couple people to read the full declaration. Then we dived right in.

Let’s face it, the priesthood ban is an uncomfortable historical episode for a lot people. For many more than I suspect most of us realize. I sometimes forget that just because I like to run my mouth on a topic, this doesn’t mean the less gabby among us aren’t thinking, pondering, stewing over, and getting frustrated over the same topic. I made a decision at the outset not to talk around the hard questions, but to confront them squarely, as I wanted to prevent the discussion from going off on a tangent or collapsing into euphemisms and feel-good cliches. We tackled these questions:

— What exactly was the policy that OD-2 overturned?
— Who precisely was subject to the priesthood restriction and who wasn’t?
— How did implementation of the policy work in practice?
— When and from whom did it originate?
— What is the Church’s current explanation as to why there was a priesthood restriction?
— What are the explanations that church leaders and members used to give?
— What have LDS leaders had to say about these earlier explanations in recent years?

Many class members shared explanations and rationalizations for the priesthood ban that they had either heard or embraced over the years. This was fascinating, as a lot of different theories were offered up — ranging from the Levitical precedent, to 19th Century American society-not-being-ready-for-a-too-progressive-Mormonism, to white LDS members-not-being-ready-for-the-change-any-earlier, etc. All these theories were familiar to me, but it was interesting to hear so many of them. Some classmembers offered explanations of which they themselves were clearly skeptical. Others offered theories that they evidently embraced (though no one was particularly dogmatic in presenting his or her own preferred explanation). I decided to let people air their answers without giving in to my desire (sometimes strongly felt, I assure you) to combat certain theories too harshly. I politely raised problems with some of them, but I didn’t drop the hatchet. I decided that it was more important to dispense with Curse of Cain rationalizations and fence-sitting pre-existence narratives, than it was to go the extra mile of showing up other popular theories as deficient or bankrupt. In retrospect, I think this was the right choice. The fact that so many class members offered so many competing, often incompatible, theories hopefully served to undermine the credibility of all the theories generally. (Perhaps a personal smackdown from Aaron Brown might have done this more effectively, but it might have made me appear too strident, and I felt like I had put enough on everybody’s plate as it was).

Some of the explanations offered by the class presumed that God was very much behind the priesthood ban, even if His reasons are obscure, while others clearly favored explanations that absolved God of any responsibility for the policy at all. I pointed out this division between the various theories, and I decided to tackle this head-on. Anticipating that the refusal to acknowledge God’s hand in the policy would be more controversial than dispensing with any particular explanation for God’s involvement in the policy, I broke out Stephen Harper’s “Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants,” specifically this paragraph from the OD-2 chapter:

Still, unanswered questions do remain. When was the link between the books of Moses and Abraham forged? How are those passages to be interpreted? Is there a genealogical link between the ancient Canaanites and modern Africans, or is such a link an unfounded assumption and a relatively recent creation by slavery proponents that was uncritically accepted? Were blacks denied the priesthood because of an inherited curse or because Latter-day Saints, conditioned by cultural prejudices, misinterpreted the Pearl of Great Price, or for some other reason?

(Emphasis mine).

Why draw attention to this passage? After all, Harper’s is just a rhetorical question, left unanswered, and hardly a ringing endorsement of the God-ain’t-the-author view. But, I told the class, if Deseret Book is now willing to publish works that directly question the divine provenance of the ban (see above), and that don’t answer the question in the negative, what does that tell you about where we are and what direction the Church is heading in with respect to this subject? I felt this was a very effective tack, maybe more so than quoting something more eloquent and elaborate from, say, Armand Mauss would have been. (Unfortunate as this conclusion is, for I’d much prefer to quote Mauss).

As the hour drew to a close, the conversation turned to the nature of prophets, how to trust prophets if they are partly products of their time (capable of giving us erroneous instruction), the role of personal spiritual confirmation in evaluating truth claims (even when they come from prophets), and the limitations of this approach as well. This was an inevitable turn in the conversation, and for some, a potentially troubling one. I refused to give everyone easy answers where there are none.

In conclusion, I bore testimony that if LDS history tells us anything, it is that continuing revelation doesn’t always provide neat little building blocks on top of firm foundations. Sometimes, it blasts away part of the foundation, or at least what we’ve thought of as the foundation. There are major paradigm shifts in LDS thought. There are revolutionary moments in our religious understanding. We’ve had them before, and we may well have them again. Just as we can look back at Mormons in the 1950s who were certain Blacks would never receive the priesthood (at least not until the Millenium), and Mormons in the 1880s who just knew that God would never instruct his people to abandon polygamy, and see that our forebearers had limited understanding, Mormons 20 or 50 or 100 years from now may look back at us quaint, turn-of-the-century folk quite similarly. Then again, maybe 2009 really is a pinnacle year in the history of the Restoration — a year where every social norm, practice, and doctrinal understanding has been finally set in stone, never to be altered. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

How well did the lesson go? Personally, I thought it was the best lesson I’ve ever given. Perhaps I only feel this way because I finally gave a lesson I’ve long wanted to give, but that’s still my sense of it. It terms of audience reaction, it’s harder to say how well it went. My sense is that lots of people really liked the discussion and found it meaningful. I had several people speak to me about it in superlative terms afterwards, but I often get that, or something close to it. It’s the folks that don’t give you feedback that you wonder about. Hard to say what they thought.


  1. Its also interesting to note that the church in Peter’s day had paradigm shifts with regard to practices and policies. Circumcision (or the lack thereof) was a big hurdle for the Saints in Jerusalem to overcome.

  2. “Personally, I thought it was the best lesson I’ve ever given.”

    That is a wonderful feeling to experience. I wish that I could have been in your class to have enjoyed it.

  3. Funny, my GD teacher just mentioned the ban in passing….. Much to my disappointment. Sigh…

  4. Julie M. Smith says:

    “But, I told the class, if Deseret Book is now willing to publish works that directly question the divine provenance of the ban (see above), and that don’t answer the question in the negative, what does that tell you about where we are and what direction the Church is heading in with respect to this subject?”

    In the CD that accompanies the new Pres. Kimball bio, it contains the idea that Pres. Kimball wondered in a letter to his son whether the ban had been a mistake.

    I loved teaching this lesson 4 years ago; notes here:


    It was interesting to read your post; looks as if you took a very similar approach.

  5. Thanks, Julie, I’ll have to take a look at your old post. I didn’t know about Kimball’s letter! That reason #237 why I really, really need to buy and read the Kimball volume.

  6. I taught a similar lesson 2 years ago. Money quote from a class member “perhaps those that disagree with OD2 do not belong in the church”

    Did you use the BRM quote about further light? Provide a handout? Discuss DOM attempts to get a revelation on the matter and no revelation was forthcoming in the 1950’s?

  7. I taugh GD this lesson as well last week, though unfortunately we didn’t spend much time on OD2. Lack of preparation on my part, because the first part took WAY longer than I planned. Missed opportunity.

    I’m glad yours went so well.

  8. who was the first individual in history to proffer the idea that there was a connection between the curse on Cain and the black race? It’s not an idea that originated with Mormons. Where does it originate from?

  9. In the CD that accompanies the new Pres. Kimball bio, it contains the idea that Pres. Kimball wondered in a letter to his son whether the ban had been a mistake.

    That’s highly disappointing to hear.

  10. Mike Parker says:

    I teach a weekday evening Old Testament class in my stake, and we recently covered Cain and the priesthood ban. See the class handout and pages 9–12 of the notes here:


    Feel free to use any ideas that you find helpful.

  11. Last Sunday was a personal milestone for me as a Gospel Doctrine teacher. It was the first time I’ve ever taught a class on Blacks and the Priesthood…The assigned chapter from the D&C manual was “Lesson 42: Continuing Revelation to Latter-day Prophets.” When Steve Evans pointed this out to me at Molly Bennion’s post-Sunstone NW party the night before, I started brainstorming various ideas for the lesson…

    So what you’re saying is that Steve Evans told you–[corrected]–what the lesson you were supposed to teach was the night before your lesson?

  12. Non-JI Ben says:

    “That’s highly disappointing to hear.”

    Why so?

    I didn’t see the lesson ahead of time, so I was very surprised when a lesson on continuing revelation ended up being all about Correlation, and in the last 30 seconds, the 1978 revelation. ?!

  13. so hold on a second. President Kimball apparently told his son in a letter that he felt the removal of the ban on blacks getting the priesthood was a mistake, but yet we are to believe this removal was done by revelation from God. Is President Kimball really saying that he felt that God was wrong in removing this ban? Or was it actually a revelation from God to remove the ban?

  14. You’re reading it wrong. Pres. Kimball was wondering if the BAN was a mistake. Not whether removing it was wrong.

  15. #12,

    It is disappointing because I had built up inside me an impression that by 1978 church leadership had moved on past those who saw the ban as appropriate, as accurate, as based on factual evidence (when it really is not). It will make me change my views of Kimball, who I saw as a better individual than the prophets before him (Harold B Lee in particular). But I guess I should be thankful that under all that ignorance about blacks and the curse of Cain, the Brethren made the right move and could not undo that change.

  16. Lon,

    Thanks, it seems I was probably reading it wrong.

  17. As for me, I just sat there Sunday thinking that if the Church is so afraid of its shadow, like many DAMU-types suggest, why in the hell am I sitting here listening to a Sunday School lesson specifically targeted at discussing Correlation, as well as the priesthood ban? For heaven’s sake.

    In the end, I’m not sure the actual discussion in my ward rose to the level of Aaron B’s or Julie Smith’s lesson, but still . . . the fact that we were officially discussing it warmed the proverbial cockles of my heart.

  18. I didn’t see the lesson ahead of time, so I was very surprised when a lesson on continuing revelation ended up being all about Correlation, and in the last 30 seconds, the 1978 revelation. ?!

    Personally, I wouldn’t be bothered in the slightest by a teacher who preferred talking about correlation instead of OD-2 for the vast majority of the time. Both subjects are (to me, at least) incredibly important and fascinating and poorly understood. The problem lies in lumping the two into the same lesson, not in a focus on one over the other, I think.

  19. Yes, Scott, that’s right. Funny how there are lessons in the D&C that seem like a rehash of other lessons in the D&C manual, and then we get a lesson like #42, which easily could have been split into 4 different lessons. Very frustrating.

    And yes, Steve told me what the lesson was the night before I had to teach it. This is how the Evans/Brown GD class instructors roll! I did know it was my turn before Saturday night though, which isn’t always the case.

    Daniel, yes you were definitely reading it wrong.

    Also, I don’t know where the Curse of Cain/Black race idea first originates, though I bet somebody reading this thread does. They can chime in. You’re right that the idea predates its use in Mormonism, and was often tied to justifications of black slavery by white Southerners. The idea that is justifies priesthood restrictions against black people is, however, a uniquely Mormon riff on the Cain story.


  20. Have Catholics ever banned Blacks from becoming Priests?

    I don’t know if they hever had a policy, but a quick Google search brought up this interesting bit of the first Black Priest in the US.


    He was ordained in 1886, so the Catholics were way ahead of us mormons on this one.

  21. oops, I forgot about those mormon ordinations before the ban became a church policy. So mormons were first, but we backslid.


  22. I don’t have anything particularly enlightening to say Aaron except I appreciated your grown up and informative approach to the topic. Thanks for the post.

  23. Aaron, it sounds like your lesson went well. This is really encouraging to me. Thanks for sharing the experience.

    Steve G., why use Catholics as a point of reference/comparison?

  24. Do I remember correctly that the vast majority of the Twelve voted in 1969 to overturn the ban, but then reversed their vote when Harold B. Lee came back from out of town?

  25. Re:  Deseret Book as predictor of

    “where we are and what direction the Church is heading.

    In 1979, more than 600 “doctrinally significant … excerpts from the JST (then commonly known as the Inspired Version)” became part of the LDS edition of the Bible after “the First Presidency decided … early in that decade” to include them. [1]  The average Latter-day Saint now views these Inspired Version excerpts as superior to the Bible itself, in spite of the fact that Deseret Book had earlier published a scathing assessment of the Inspired Version written by an apostle. [2]


    1.  Robert J. Matthews, “Why does the LDS edition of the Bible not contain all of the corrections and additions made by Joseph Smith?” Ensign, June 1992, p.29; see also David Rolph Seely, “The Joseph Smith Translation:  ‘ Plain and Precious Things’  Restored,” Ensign, Aug. 1997, p.13.

    2.  Mark E. Petersen, As Translated Correctly, SLC: Deseret Book, 1966, p.30.

  26. StillConfused says:

    Is the term “Blacks” appropriate?

  27. What would you suggest in its place, StillConfused?

  28. Gary, your point is a little opaque to me, but are you trying to undermine my point by denigrating Deseret Book? Well, in one sense you’re preaching to the choir my friend. I’m not a believer in Deseret Book as the ultimate barometer of doctrinal accuracy. But I do still think it’s interesting that Harper was able to say what he said. I doubt it just “slipped through.” And I suspect it is an omen of things to come. We can agree to disagree as to whether the omen is a troubling or encouraging one. But I suspect the train has left the station on this. I’ll probably still get frustrated that it doesn’t move faster, though, just as you’ll be exasperated by your failing efforts to make it stop.

  29. Aaron, do you think this just “slipped through”?

  30. Kevin Barney says:

    Sounds like a great lesson, Aaron. I’ve never taught a lesson on that subject to adults. Part of me would like to, but part of me would be nervous about it, especially since we have some black members in our ward for whom it would be a very sensitive subject.

    The only time I’ve ever taught a lesson on this subject was to the youth. I’m sitting in GD one day, when one of the youth comes and pulls me out of class. The subject had come up in the youth SS class, the teacher freaked out and panicked, and sent one of the kids to go pull me out of GD to deal with it. So I taught an impromptu lesson on it. The kids were quite fascinated, and the discussion spilled over into priests’ quorum third hour (I was YMP at the time). I remember though that the bishop was very uneasy about discussing this subject with the kids, and particularly uneasy with my suggestion that God wasn’t behind the ban in the first instance. It’s a minefield.

  31. 23: I use use the catholic church as a standard simply because its the only other christian church that seems to have a legitimate claim on priesthood dissension throughout history. What other church claims a direct line of priesthood authority?

  32. Ah, Aaron B. I wondered what your name was during your lesson last week. I swear I’ve never been in a ward where fewer people introduce themselves. ;) I did tell my husband that I was pretty confident guessing that you were somehow affiliated with BCC, and that I’d probably read something about this here within the week.

    Anyway, I thought your lesson was a smash. I’ve never seen a Sunday School audience so engaged. And the most surprising thing to me was the old-timers who spoke out so strongly against the “god-inspired” explanations for the ban.

    Makes me wish I could attend church more than once a month. :(

  33. Natalie, nice to meet you. I don’t think we’ve met in person yet, but we’ll have to meet next time we’re in church. (It remains to be seen whether I’ll be at the impromptu stake conference this weekend). I’m glad you enjoyed the lesson. As I said, I am hopeful that most everyone found it helpful.

  34. What other church claims a direct line of priesthood authority?


  35. Also, in reply to #31, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

    And many other churches believe it is utterly irrelevant because they do not think that we are saved by “works”, including priesthood ordinances.

  36. Aaron, I was the blonde girl you were supposed to come back to at the end but didn’t. :)

  37. Latter-day Guy says:

    This looks like it was a fantastic lesson. Thanks for posting the notes.

  38. Gary,

    No, I don’t think it just slipped through. I’m sure every word of that passage was vetted very carefully. And I have no doubt that the passage was crafted so it could be read just as you’re reading it. I also suspect it doesn’t contain an even more explicit statement (which it easily could have), affirming that the modern priesthood ban is absolutely a modern analogue of the ancient Levitical restriction, for a reason — that this omission makes it easier to modify this position later, and gives the church semi-plausible deniability when it eventually denies that LDS churchmembers must understand the ban as necessarily divinely inspired.

    But hey, I don’t want to be accused of splitting hairs too finely here — I’m willing to grant that the best reading of the passage is what you’re suggesting it is, and that I might be wrong in my conclusion as to what was “intended” by the statement. But if so, I just think the statement is wrong. I’ll grant that the Levitical argument is one of the less bad of the various arguments out there, but for reasons I won’t elaborate upon here, I still find it utterly unpersuasive.

    Keep in mind that I don’t think the Deseret Book reference I mentioned “proves” the truth of anything, just as I don’t think your reference “proves” anything. (And I’ll even grant that all things being equal, the case for an undivinely inspired priesthood ban would be a tad stronger if I could back it up with an LDS.org quote, rather than a Deseret Book quote). But I’m of the view that everything is in a slow state of flux — slow enough to provide comfort to churchmembers like you, certainly.

  39. Aaron, now I’m really, really kicking myself for missing this lesson.

  40. Gary,

    May I ask you if you think the following First Presidency Statement just “slipped through”?


    As you’ll see, this is an official First Presidency Statement from 1949 that clearly endorses a version of the “Blacks were fence-sitters in the Pre-existence” theory. It doesn’t use those precise words, but it’s meaning is unmistakable.

    Query: What do you make of this statement? Most LDS members would surely agree that 1st Presidency Statements are some of the most definitive, authoritative sources to which we can turn. Do you agree that the Church doesn’t stand by the content of this statement anymore? If so, why not? Is the Church afraid to stand up for Truth? Has it bowed to the noxious forces of political correctness? Why do church materials refuse to endorse the fence-sitting theory anymore, particularly given that a prior First Presidency unquestionably endorsed it?

    If you don’t agree, and you think the Church does still embrace this position, what do you make of Dallin H. Oaks’ comments in 1988, disavowing prior explanations of the priesthood ban, including the pre-existence theory? What do you make of Jeffrey R. Holland dismissing prior explanations of the ban as “folklore” and insisting “we don’t know” why the ban was instituted? See:


    What is wrong with Oaks and Holland? Are they just uninformed? Are they not aware of prior First Presidency statements on this topic? Or are they informed, but they have just apostasized from the Lord’s church? Are they in a state of open rebellion against the (other) Brethren? Seriously, I am genuinely interested in your views on this question.

    Personally, I don’t believe Oaks and Holland to be ignorant, nor do I think they’ve gone apostate from the faith. I just think they’ve realized that some of their predecessors spoke out of line on this issue in various fora, presumably including in the First Presidency statement I’ve linked to. And if a prior First Presidency did indeed set forth a position on one aspect of the priesthood ban that has since been modified, I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that LDS church leaders might later modify the position you (and your link) support on this other aspect of the priesthood ban. Think about it.

  41. By the way, in case anyone cares, here’s a link to a published version (on real paper) of the 1949 statement:


  42. By the way, in case anyone cares,…

    Sorry…you lost me there.

  43. Aaron, I’m so pleased to hear how this went. It’s fascinating to me how the lesson grew from our Saturday night conversation.

    I’ll be interested in hearing about what happens at the “impromptu stake conference.”

  44. I’m not supposed to say anything, but rumor has it Steve Evans will be made Stake Patriarch.

  45. Aaron, when Spencer W. Kimball made his first public appearance as Church President, he addressed this subject as follows:

    “Blacks and the priesthood: I am not sure that there will be a change, although there could be. We are under the dictates of our Heavenly Father, and this is not my policy or the Church’s policy. It is the policy of the Lord who has established it, and I know of no change, although we are subject to revelations of the Lord in case he should ever wish to make a change.” (Ensign Feb. 1974, p.2; see also “This restriction has been imposed by the Lord” in Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.237.)

    Neither Dallin H. Oaks nor Jeffrey R. Holland (or any other apostle) has ever said anything contrary to the above paragraph. So if you’re on that train, it left the station on the wrong track. It’s going nowhere.

  46. I am in primary so i didn’t get this lesson. As I read I am curiose were their AA members present in your class? How was this possibly part of the dynamic?

  47. Gary (45) – what does this statement by SWK have to do with Aaron’s questions in #40? SWK was talking about the ban and I agree DHO and JRH don’t contradict that statement. Aaron is referring to a statement by the FP which attempts to give a doctrinal explanation for the ban, essentially fence-sitters in the pre-earth life. The statements by DHO and JRH absolutely contradict this position.

  48. “For this was really the Correlation–KJV Bible–Additional Quorums of the 70–OD-2 lesson, all rolled into one week.”

    These aren’t what the lesson was about. They were included as examples of continuing revelation, and the instructions indicated for the teacher to use whatever examples s/he wanted.

  49. We did discuss the priesthood ban, but only in the context of how important it is for us to be open-minded and not rely too much on tradition when developing our testimonies.

  50. Steve G. (#31),

    In addition to those listed in 34 and 35, I’ll add most Lutherans in Scandinavian countries claim apostolic succession as well.

    I’m still a bit confused as to why the Catholics, or any other church that claims a direct line of priesthood succession, makes for a good point of comparison on this point. Regardless, aside from the ordination of those few black men during JS’s time, it is safe to say that most traditional Christian groups were way ahead of the Mormons in opening the priesthood to black men.

  51. “it is safe to say that most traditional Christian groups were way ahead of the Mormons in opening the priesthood to black men.”

    Hi Christopher, Armand Mauss actually argues that almost every denomination had the same racial restrictions. The difference is that we (having a lay priesthood) communicated the policy to all members (as each ward / branch had authority to ordain individuals to the priesthood). Other denominations (with a professional clergy) could quietly communicate policy to their professional seminaries.

    Here’s a link with an excerpt: http://www.blacklds.org/mauss.

    A: Eventually they were, but not until the age of civil rights in the 1960s. Prior to that time, only a minuscule number of blacks were ordained in any denomination–except, of course, in the so-called black denominations such as the AME and the predominantly black Baptist groups.

    Q: But wasn’t the Mormon racial policy more pervasive and severe than in other religions?

    A: Not really. In the Mormon case, the policy was simply more conspicuous because of the universal lay priesthood that Mormons extended to all men except blacks. In other churches, the racial restrictions were more subtle. Ordination to the ministry in all major denominations required access to the professional seminaries. Before the age of civil rights, the seminaries, like the schools of law and medicine, were the gatekeepers to these careers, and blacks were rarely admitted to any of the professional schools, including seminaries (except, again, in the black denominations). Most of today’s religious critics of the erstwhile Mormon racial restriction belong to denominations in which there were scarcely any more black ministers or priests than in the Mormon Church. Not many institutions in American society, including religious institutions, can be very proud of their historic treatment of black people.

  52. J. 34- And Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.

  53. Great post and it sounded like a wonderful lesson. I’ll be teaching that lesson to the 16 and 17 year olds this week. Like Kevin Barney, I suspect it is much easier to address this with the youth than in an adult class. I’m not sure I’d have the same patience and restraint that you showed, Aaron. Well done.

    FWIW, R. Gary and I have been down this road before:
    “Why I Don’t Believe That God Instituted The Priesthood Ban”

  54. RI, we had several of them there as part of the 12 step program in our ward.

  55. Dave R.,

    I’m familiar with Mauss’s argument, and I agree with his general assessment that “not many institutions in American society, including religious institutions, can be very proud of their historic treatment of black people.”

    Mauss is simply wrong, though, in suggesting that only a “miniscule” number of black preachers were ordained in the mainline Methodist church. While for much of the nineteenth century, the Methodist Episcopal Church was far from being racially egalitarian, they were much, much more racially inclusive than the LDS church, and there have, almost from the beginning of the MEC in 1784, been black preachers in that denomination.

  56. Gary (45),

    What gomez said (at 47). As I’m sure you know, what you think I’m beyond the pale in doing, is precisely what Oaks and Holland are doing with respect to the 1947 statement. It’s what any Mormon does when he or she rejects the pre-existence theory, aligning his or herself with Oaks and Holland and in opposition to the earlier First Presidency. Granted, many of us don’t know we’re doing this. But we are. Just as I suspect you are, Gary. Except you won’t come right out and admit it, despite my invitation that you do so.

    Come on, Gary, join the club! Admit that you don’t always take the First Presidency seriously. Trust me, you’ll feel liberated afterwards.

  57. #50, Maybe its just me then who seems to think priesthood succession is a valid point of comparison. If a church doesn’t care about or claim priesthood succession then its not a valid comparison (IMO) because the ordination is not an entity passed down, but rather something anybody of willing mind or spirit can take upon oneself. If it is something to be passed down and there are rules governing the way it is passed down, then I find it interesting to compare the two (or more as has been demonstrated) systems. The subject of priesthood succession fascinates me and since so many were willing to throw out more religions that also claim priesthood succession than it must be of some interest to others including yourself.

    Incidentally I’m now curious how the scandinavian Lutherans can claim apostolic succession. I’d be very interested in seeing their line of authority, especially the point where they jump from the Catholic church.

    As a sidenote, I ran into a lot of New Apostolics on my mission in Germany. I was curious to find out more about them and even attended on of their services. From what I gather they claim Apostleship, but don’t actually have a line of authority back to the Catholic church or a means of jumpstarting their own authority line such as angels ordaining Joseph smith and Oliver Cowdery. I fail to see how deciding one day to be an apostle can be viewed as a legitimate claim to the Priesthood.

  58. Bruce McConkie, an Apostle and apologist for some of the speculative reasons people tried to create to explain the restriction (for example tying it to the pre-existence), said the following after the 1978 revelation extending the priesthood to people of black African genealogical descent:

    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. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the [1978 revelation]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them.

    This suggests strongly that the previous attempts by General Authorities and lay members alike at creating pseudo-doctrinal reasons for the policy should have no further authority or persuasion in favor of explaining the restriction.

  59. gomez (47) – “what does this statement by SWK have to do with Aaron’s questions in #40?”

    There are two issues here. 1. the “God-ain’t-the-author view,” and 2. the “explanations and rationalizations for the priesthood ban.” Both of these issues are outlined by Aaron in the original post. But I feel a distinction needs to be made between the two.

    Regarding number 1, the “God-ain’t-the-author view,” Aaron “told the class, if Deseret Book is now willing to publish works that directly question the divine provenance of the ban (see above), and that don’t answer the question in the negative, what does that tell you about where we are and what direction the Church is heading in with respect to this subject?”

    Regarding number 2, previous explanations for the ban, an official 1969 Church statement says:

    “From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that [Blacks] were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man” (as quoted in Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith, pp.295-296).

    I believe the 1969 official statement supercedes all previous statements on the subject. Additionally, I believe current Church leaders would all agree with Elder Oaks who said that previously given reasons for the ban “turned out to be spectacularly wrong.” I also believe current Church leaders would agree with another part of what Elder Oaks said: “I had faith in the command.”

    The train repudiating previous explanations for the ban hasn’t merely left the station, it has already arrived. The train repudiating the previous ban itself is on the wrong track and isn’t going anywhere.

  60. Aaron did the info on McKay’s repeated requests to the Lord to lift the ban via revelation come up in your class?

  61. Aaron,

    Sounds like you handled this well. This lesson was taught in our ward last week, and devoted about equal time to correlation and OD-2. Perhaps because we split the time, we spent a lot less time on the unfounded explanations for it.

    As to your reference to Harper’s book and the subtle shift in addressing some of these issues, it is interesting to note that with the publication of the “Revelations” volume of the JSP, more of this kind of discussion is going on. In the latest edition of BYU Studies, over half of the volume is devoted to some of the mechanics of studying the redaction process in the BCR manuscripts, and much is made of the idea that while God was revealing ideas and information to Joseph Smith, he and his close associates were painfully aware of the human aspect of turning that into readable texts that truly conveyed the doctrines and concepts involved therein. One of the major points made was that through the dictation, revision, and copying process, divine concepts were turned into the language of Joseph Smith and his associates that was “both fully human and fully divine”.

    I found it very helpful, and suspect that we will see more recognition that the Lord works through his earthly servants as best as he can, knowing the limits of our mortal state, both in our leaders, and in us as followers. When applying this thinking to the priesthood ban, I can better understand how it might have come to be, and more fully appreciate the 1978 revelation.

    Djones, # 24, I’m not sure that I remember it that way. What I do recall from the Kimball bio is that there were investigations into reversing the ban as a policy change only, without a revelation, but unanimity of the Fist Presidency and the 12 was not arrived at. It is interesting to note that in 1978, when the revelation came, and the 12 voted to sustain it, that Delbert L. Stapley was in the hospital, near death, and Mark E. Peterson was returning to SLC from South America. They were informed after the rest of the 12 had already voted, and given the opportunity to confirm, which they both did. Then, the Quorum of the 70 were told, and their approval also sought. The revelation came on June 1st, but the process of getting the rest of the general authorities to approve and drafting of a statement delayed the date of the declaration to June 8th, with the public announcement being made on the 9th.

  62. Aaron:

    The recent BYU Studies article by Ed Kimball exhaustively shows that repeated attempts to link the restriction to Joseph Smith by General Authorities in the mid-twentieth century were lacking. The articles points to an origin with Brigham Young and then traces its life through time as it went from something based on a hierarchy of races (Brigham Young) to a variety of different, more complex rationalizations that eventually focused on the pre-existence (which was not an aspect of Brigham Young’s views on the subject) and then to the idea that whites in the Church weren’t spiritually mature enough for it to happen (Marion Hanks). See Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood”, BYU Studies vol. 47 no. 2 (2008), pp. 5-78.

    Interestingly, Kimball notes that Mark E. Petersen, sometimes regarded as one of the more outspoken of the General Authorities of the time against civil rights, pointed President Kimball to an article showing that the priesthood ban had probably originated with Brigham Young rather than Joseph Smith and suggested that President Kimball might want to take that into consideration when seeking guidance from the Lord on the issue (pg. 54). Ed Kimball supports the theory that this was “almost surely” Leister Bush’s 1973 Dialogue article on the origins of the priesthood ban (pg. 54 n. 148).

    The articles gives a lengthy review of the history of the ban, the various explanations given for it over successive periods of Church leadership, points out why it was a very shaky doctrinal foundation but at the same time only something that could be dislodged by revelation. On that point, the article notes:

    [President Kimball] increased his visits to the temple, imploring the Lord to make his will known, not only to him but also to the Twelve, to these good men who all their lives had quoted other Presidents of the Church that it was not yet time. In a sense, the past prophets of the Church stood arrayed against this decision. The wisdom of the dead often seems loftier than the word of an imperfect living spokesman. Spencer wanted more than anything to have his fellow servants share with him a witness of the Lord’s will” (pg. 50).

    An example of this can be seen in Marion Romney’s reaction when he was informed as one of President Kimball’s counselors in the First Presidency:

    Brethren, I have a confession to make. I knew President Kimball was searching for an answer, and whevener we discussed the question, I told him, ‘If you get an answer I will support you with all my strength,’ but I did not expect him to get an answer. If the decision had been left to me, I would have felt that we’ve always had that policy and we would stick to it no matter what the opposition. I resisted change in my feelings, but I came to accept it slowly. I have now changed my position 180 degrees. I am not just a supporter of this decision. I am an advocate. When the revelation came, I knew the mind and the will of the Lord had been made manifest” (pg. 64).

    A highlight for me of Ed Kimball’s BYU Studies article is its survey of input given by the Apostles, many of whom still living, on whether the priesthood ban should be lifted when President Kimball asked them their views that day before leading them in prayer seeking the confirmation that they should end the restriction.

    Elder McConkie “spoke in favor of the change, noting there was no scriptural impediment“. Elder Packer “spoke at length, explaining his view that every worthy man should be allowed to hold the priesthood. He quoted scriptures (D&C 124:49; 56:4-5; 58:32) in support of the change”. All ten of the Apostles present spoke in favor of ending the restriction (Delbert Stapley was in the hospital and Mark Petersen was out of the country) (pg. 55-56). Elder Petersen was informed of what had occurred on the telephone and said he was delighted to learn of it. Elder Stapley said he would stay with the Brethren on this when he was informed at the hospital.

    The article also discusses how various members of the Quorum perceived the receipt of the revelation within themselves as a spiritual manifestation (each perceiving it slightly differently and yet very much the same) and then also responses from the Church and society.

    What did your ward members think about this article, particularly given its source in BYU Studies? I would assume that if you are creating a dichotomy of sources based on doctrinal acceptability or orthodoxy, BYU Studies would “rank” higher than Deseret Book, is that right?

  63. “I would assume that if you are creating a dichotomy of sources based on doctrinal acceptability or orthodoxy, BYU Studies would “rank” higher than Deseret Book, is that right?”

    Really? You should write a post on why. Please!

  64. johnf, thanks for that (comment 62). Wonderful.

  65. Is BYU more of an official organ of the Church than Deseret Book? Maybe I am mistaken on that. If so, then an aside in a Deseret Book publication might well have been the best way to go.

  66. john f., probably depends on who you are asking. I suspect that many members of the Church are unaware of such a thing as “BYU Studies,” and are ill equipped to make such a comparison when presented with it.

    I think the difficulty in making any comparison is that DB has a much broader sales list than BYU Studies does–on average, BYU Studies publications may be more authoritative (in my opinion), but that certainly doesn’t preclude the possibility that certain books published by DB would be more authoritative than a comparable BYU Studies product.

  67. Good point. Since you and I know that neither of them are remotely “authoritative”, it’s a moot point — not something that I personally would attempt. I only mention it since Aaron was trying to leverage a little off of DB’s name in reassuring ward members there is no need to hold fast to past attempts at giving reasons for the ban.

    Outside the DB ambit, however, we have McConkie, Oaks and Holland all saying essentially that all previous “explanations” for the ban fall short so one could also conclude that buttressing an argument with a paragraph from a DB offering is unnecessary. But it appears to have been very persuasive in Aaron’s class so it’s a job well done.

  68. FWIW, You can also read essentially the same information by Ed Kimball in his book: “Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball”. Some wonderful chapters about the history of and the revelation on the Priesthood ban.

  69. My wife gave an interesting talk in Stake Conference two weeks ago. She quoted (from Pace’s book) Bruce R. McConkie. My loose paraphrase of what he said was (oddly what I believe) that every Church member can get the same revelations that the highest authority can get. She also pointed out that when Lehi saw the vision of the tree of life, Nephi asked for the same vision, not simply a confirmation that the vision was correct. By implication all of us can get revelation on every subject, even on the direction of the Church. (If you go tell the stake president that you have had revelation on his behalf, you do so at your own risk.)

    Which is to say that on OD-2 many people had revelations way ahead of the first presidency. In all likelihood the first presidency was only somewhat ahead of Alabama.

    BTW, Arron, if you had given this lesson in our ward you would have been at least pilloried if not burned at the stake.

  70. It helps that Aaron is about 20 feet tall and quite sturdy–Steve couldn’t have gotten away with it in the same ward :)

  71. So when do you think the ban will be lifted for females?

  72. To quote President Kimball in his first press conference after becoming President of the Church (and other GAs before the revelation):

    The day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but that day has not come yet. Should the day come it will be a matter of revelation. Before changing any important policy, it has to be through a revelation from the Lord. But we believe in revelation. We believe there are yet many more things to be revealed from the Lord. . . . We are open to the Father on every suggestion that he gives us, to every direction he gives us, to every revelation of desire for change.

    From this, and from everything I have seen and learned as a life-long Mormon, pretty much anything is game as a potential subject matter for further revelation.

  73. Me too, john f. Which is very cool, imo. It seems to be that God tries to be in persistent (if not always constant and insistent) dialogue with those who are willing to listen to him in an attempt to gently persuade as many of as possible to come nearer to him (and to a Zion people). The fact that that gets messy sometimes and is both resistant and at times acquiescent to changes in society and technology doesn’t trouble me (too) much.

  74. “seems to me”

  75. CleanCut (53), thanks for the link. I’ll have to check out your post when I get a free moment.

    john f (58), thanks for the BRM quote, which of course is the most famous statement ever made on this subject. However, I suspect you are reading more into the statement than is warranted — it’s hardly clear that BRM is repudiating the “folklore,” per se. He may just be repudiating his and others’ statements as to the timing of the policy change.

    Gary (59) said:
    “The train repudiating previous explanations for the ban hasn’t merely left the station, it has already arrived. The train repudiating the previous ban itself is on the wrong track and isn’t going anywhere.”

    Well, that’s your assertion, Gary, and you’re entitled to believe it. And if this conversation were taking place in 1950, I have no doubt you’d be making same point in defense of pre-existence theories, and waving the 1949 statement in everyone’s face to make your point. Do you see mine?

    bbell (60), the subject of McKay’s repeated appeals to the Lord only came up very briefly in passing. If we’d had more time, it would have been a great issue to explore further. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to investigate everything relevant. This is a shame, but I’m still happy we covered as much as we did.

  76. Kristine, thanks for not pointing out that I am also 20 feet wide. :)

    John f, I am fairly familiar with a lot of the older scholarship on the priesthood ban, but I wasn’t aware of the 2008 BYU Studies article. Thanks, I’ll have to check it out. And I’m afraid I can’t share audience reactions to the article, since I didn’t use it.

  77. Aaron:

    I’m reading the face of it — to limit the statement to timing would seem to be reading something into it, I would think.

  78. As I remember it, the BYU Studies piece is very similar to the manuscript version of the book Chapter on the CD that came with the Book. The big difference I remember was citation of O’Donovan’s work.

  79. john f, McConkie asks everyone to forget anything he and others had ever said in the past that is “contrary to the present revelation.” The present revelation merely grants blacks the priesthood — it doesn’t forth a theory on why they weren’t granted it before. Thus, one could continue to believe in what we now call the “folklore”, and be in complete agreement with the content of the revelation, as well as with McConkie’s statement. Indeed, the fact that McConkie’s “Mormon Doctrine” continued to advocate the “folkloric” interpretations of the ban’s origins even after 1978 may be proof that McConkie himself wasn’t intending to repudiate them.

    This observation is hardly unique to me, by the way. It’s the main reason why many have agitated for a more formal repudiation of the “folklore” than has previously been given. If McConkie’s statement was understood to mean what you think it means, no one would be agitating for a formal repudiation, since everyone and their LDS dog has heard McConkie’s statement before.

  80. Aaron,

    I admire you courage and willingness to tackle this head on.

    I actually am teaching this lesson on Sunday. I live in the South and am part of a ward that has a significant number of black members as well as old-time white southerners. Frankly, I am afraid of what might be dredged up if I ask why the ban was instituted. I am new to the ward and I don’t have a good feel for what might come out of this. My current inclination is to just skirt the issue but I admit that could just be cowardice on my part. I am curious as to whether you would teach the lesson in the same way if you were in my situation.

  81. Aaron B (OP): “But not until the next morning, when I actually opened the manual, did I realize how mislead I’d been by the lesson title. For this was really the Correlation–KJV Bible–Additional Quorums of the 70–OD-2 lesson, all rolled into one week.”

    The purpose of the lesson was “[t]o show class members that the Lord continues to guide the Church through revelation to latter-day prophets, seers, and revelators.” One section of the lesson material directs the instructor to “[p]rayerfully select the lesson materials that will best meet class members’ needs,” and then lists four modern examples of revelation: correlation, 1978 revelation on priesthood, publication of new edition of LDS scriptures, and the quorums of seventy.

    Aaron, your lesson sounds very, very interesting and I would have loved to be a part of the discussion. You clearly have a good grasp of the subject and have studied it out carefully. I wonder, however, if the purpose of the lesson (per the manual) was achieved any more than tangentially. It’s not that I think that the topic isn’t relevant or that church members don’t need to hear and understand it. I just think we have to be careful of what we teach as called and set-apart teachers. In my view, and to use a legal analogy, when we are called and set apart to positions in the church, we then become agents of the Lord and his church (to use a legal analogy), and what we do and teach under that agency relationship is limited by what the principal authorizes us to do or teach. As much as we may not like the manual, or as much as we think we have something much more important to say because we are well-versed in that topic, we don’t have the authority to go off on our own. Not in an official capacity, anyway.

    In this regard, I am reminded of Elder Oaks’ comment in the October 1999 general conference:

    [block quote] As I have visited in quorums and Relief Societies, I have generally been pleased and impressed at how these Teachings of Presidents of the Church are being presented and received. However, I have sometimes observed teachers who gave the designated chapter no more than a casual mention and then presented a lesson and invited discussion on other materials of the teacher’s choice. That is not acceptable. A gospel teacher is not called to choose the subject of the lesson but to teach and discuss what has been specified. Gospel teachers should also be scrupulous to avoid hobby topics, personal speculations, and controversial subjects. The Lord’s revelations and the directions of His servants are clear on this point. We should all be mindful of President Spencer W. Kimball’s great instruction that a gospel teacher is a “guest”:

    “He has been given an authoritative position and a stamp of approval is placed upon him, and those whom he teaches are justified in assuming that, having been chosen and sustained in the proper order, he represents the Church and the things which he teaches are approved by the Church. No matter how brilliant he may be and how many new truths he may think he has found, he has no right to go beyond the program of the Church.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 533.) [end block quote]

    I don’t mean for this comment to be too critical, because I personally struggle with this, especially when the manual is not engaging me. I think a post on “to what extent do we follow the manual in teaching” would be very interesintg. Again, this is not meant to be a condemnation of you in any way. Please forgive me if it is coming across this way. I just think it is important to be sensitive of our agency relationshiop. And hey – if you prayed about it and felt that the Lord (not to be confused with Steve :)) wanted you to teach it in Sunday School, then I applaud you, and most of this comment no longer applies anyway.

  82. ganzo, you ask a great question, and I admit it’s a difficult one. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if we’d had an African-American investigator or member in class on Sunday. But it surely would have impacted how I approached the materials, that’s for sure. I might have chosen to avoid mention of the past rationalizations for the ban, except in vague and condemnatory terms. Then again, I might have chosen to allude to it, but would have made sure to drop the hatchet strongly on any rationalizations for the ban that were in any way potentially insulting to black members (like there’s any chance of an explanation that doesn’t insult black members…). Seriously, your quandary is a difficult one, and I wish I knew exactly what to tell you. I’m inclined to say “just go by the Spirit,” which feels a little like buck-passing on my part, but I’m not sure what else to say.

  83. JT,

    You quoted the lesson manual as saying:

    “One section of the lesson material directs the instructor to “[p]rayerfully select the lesson materials that will best meet class members’ needs,” and then lists four modern examples of revelation: correlation, 1978 revelation on priesthood, publication of new edition of LDS scriptures, and the quorums of seventy.”

    Since OD-2 was one of the examples given, I don’t think Aaron strayed from the playbook at all. All of these are valid examples of modern day revelation.

    You do, though, hit on the issue of how to use manuals. As I have taught in the past, I often find it difficult to use exclusively the material from the manuals. Anything I bring in outside of that, I try to make sure is consistent with the theme and intent of the lesson. In a discussion on OD-2, I would have no problem using the BYU Studies article as a reference, should questions arise.

    Where I find we really need help is in the YM/YW manuals that are badly in need of a rewrite, and according to the Church Curriculum office, they are doing that (and have been for several years, apparently). Completely throwing out the manual is not okay; supplementing it where circumstances and inspiration call for it, I have no problem with that.

  84. JT, I take your point (and Oaks’), but my honest reaction is to say that the counsel you’re offering doesn’t apply to this situation. Recall what I say in the post — that I’d never had an opportunity to teach this lesson before, until last Sunday. If I were to ignore Oaks’ counsel, my statement would make no sense — I teach every other Sunday, so technically I could choose to ignore the manual and teach OD-2 any Sunday I want! But I didn’t (and don’t) because I do feel an obligation to cover the material that the manual invites me to cover, for many of the very reasons you enumerate. Last Sunday’s chapter happened to encompass OD-2, so I felt it appropriate to teach a lesson on OD-2. Pretty straightforward.

    Remember that our church manuals are not designed to be followed as closely as you’d think based on how many of our teachers like to use them. The lessons often contain more material than a teacher can reasonable cover, and we’re invited to seek help from the Spirit to focus on whatever aspect of the materials are appropriate for our class. So when President Kimball says not to “go beyond the program of the Church,” or church leaders say to “follow the manual,” I think what I did was well within the bounds of this counsel.

    I suppose one could take issue with the sources one brings to bear on a topic, even if the topic is indeed one that the manual deems relevant, but that is really a different conversation.

    Elder Oaks’ injunction “to avoid hobby topics, personal speculations, and controversial subjects” might seem to problematize my lesson, but I don’t think it does. Of course, the priesthood ban is a “controversial topic,” but frankly, so are a lot of the topics covered in our lesson manuals. In fact, as you’re probably aware, almost everything can sincerely be made controversial — just look at conversations in the Bloggernacle on almost any subject. (Personally, I find the way church materials talk constantly about the virtues of obedience, but about none of its hazards, to be scandalously controversial). And frankly, when we decry controversy, we often forget that open, honest discussions can serve to deflate the doctrinal controversies and concerns that are often brewing in our heads, unspoken and often unprocessed in a healthy way.

  85. Kevin (83) – With regard to how to use the manuals, I am with you. I am not a strict, word for word follower, but I try to stick with the purpose and, unless prompted otherwise, the general outline. And I would also very much welcome an update to the YM/YW manuals :).

    With regard to Aaron’s lesson, I think most of my comment was motivated by what I had understood the crux of the lesson to be. It sounded like it was more about the ban and racial issues surrounding it than it was about continued revelation. However, I just reread it and saw Aaron’s testimony regarding coninuing revelation, so I stand corrected. I may have taught the lesson differently, but there is a reason why we are a community of saints of different flavors. My apologies, Aaron.

  86. Antonio Parr says:


    Where does teaching by the Spirit fit into your paradigm? What if Aaron felt prompted to discuss the precise aspect of the lesson that he taught?

    I have never thought that being set apart as a teacher transforms us into robots. There is a lot of flexibility built into these lessons, and Aaron certainly seems to have fulfilled his commission with has approach last Sunday.

  87. Pedro Olavarria says:

    What’s needed in issues like these is less speculation and more revelation. I for one don’t care why the ban existed, I only know that it did and that now it doesn’t.

  88. I touched briefly on the priesthood ban in my mission prep class that I teach. I showed an excerpt of Nobody Knows where Darius talks about his conversion. The lesson was on faith and conversion and I thought Darius’s testimony was a perfect fit for the lesson. It didn’t spark as much discussion as I hoped it would.

  89. Antonio Parr says:

    87. Pedro — we need to care about the reason for the ban, especially if the reason that we were simply wrong on this one. In such an instance, the healing can begin for the many brothers and sisters of African descent who still feel slighted by the Latter-Day Saint priesthood ban. Easier for us white folks to say “move on” when we weren’t the ones excluded.

  90. Antonio Parr says:

    . . . especially if the reason for the ban was that we were simply wrong on this one.

    (Sorry for the poor editing.)

  91. Aaron, if the issue is reading something into McConkie’s statement, then it seems that reading it in light of retention of certain material in his book Mormon Doctrine seems to be reading that into the statement rather than reading the face of the statement. Of course you are correct in observing that many have been persistently pushing for a more direct apology or repudiation. Can that, however, really actually be evidence that the McConkie statement was not a more broadly applicable statement?

  92. John,

    Let’s analyze the scope of McConkie’s repudiation as if we were parsing a pair of statutes. McConkie says to “forget everything I have said … or whomever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation.” In order to understand the meaning of this statement, we need to identify the “present revelation” (obviously OD-2), and then determine what has been said in the past that is “contrary” to its contents. So, if we can identify past statements about blacks and the priesthood that aren’t contrary to the text of OD-2, then they are irrelevant to the scope of McConkie’s statement. Similarly, if we can find content in OD-2 that has nothing to do with anyone’s past statements on blacks and the priesthood, this is also irrelevant to our inquiry. What matters, in evaluating the scope of McConkie’s statement, are the past comments on blacks and the priesthood that don’t jive with the text of OD-2.

    Now, let’s look at the text of OD-2, particularly as it pertains to the “timing” issue:

    “… the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood … without regard for race or color”

    So as of the date of the declaration — June 8, 1978 — blacks could now receive the priesthood, which they couldn’t do before. Are there any past statements of the brethren that contradict this announcement? Sure. Various church leaders (including McConkie) had argued that blacks would not receive the priesthood in their lifetimes, at least not until the Millenium, or until all the white folk had, or what have you. So clearly, many past statements concerning the timing of the lifting of the priesthood ban were blatantly inconsistent with the content of OD-2. And McConkie’s repudiation would seem to apply to these statements. (I’m sure you agree).

    Now, let’s look at the text of OD-2, as it pertains to the origins or causal factors behind the priesthood ban:

    (crickets chirping)

    There are NO textual provisions on point. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Not only is there not a word in the text of the declaration about the popular “folkore” used to explain or justify the ban, there isn’t a single word about the causal factors behind the ban at all. Thus, if I want to believe that blacks didn’t receive the priesthood because they were subject to the Curse of Cain, nothing in OD-2 tells me I shouldn’t. If I want to believe that blacks were fence-sitters in the pre-existence, my belief in no way contradicts the text of OD-2. If I choose to believe that Xena Warrior Princess’ bi-curious talking donkey told Balaam that blacks were to be denied the priesthood, but evil and conniving scribes stole the parchment that records this truth and sent it up in a UFO, my belief is perfectly consistent with the content of OD-2. My beliefs might be wrong for a host of reasons, or they might make me a nutcase, but they don’t have anything to do with the content of OD-2, per se.

    Because OD-2 says nothing about the reasons behind the priesthood ban, any and every argument in the universe about why we had the ban is consistent with OD-2’s language revoking the ban, excepting only arguments that speak to issues of timing (so, if the bi-curious talking donkey said blacks couldn’t receive the priesthood until 2012, we’d be facing a different analysis). And since McConkie’s repudiation encompasses only past statements that are “contrary to the present revelation,” McConkie’s repudiation cannot extend to causal theories about the ban, since discussions of causation are completely absent from the “present revelation.”

    Now, I realize I am analyzing only the first sentence of McConkie’s statement. If we read further, we see McConkie say that the revelation “erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past,” that it “doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before” 1978, and that “As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them.” Admittedly, one could read these individual statements as perhaps applying more broadly than McConkie’s first sentence does. But it is far from clear that this jives with McConkie’s intent. He says all this in a particular context: one in which we’d received a new “revelation that sheds light into the world on this subject.” What is “this subject”? It certainly isn’t the “subject” of why we had a priesthood ban in the first place. If this is what McConkie meant, he is clearly wrong since, as I just got through saying, OD-2 sheds no light on the subject of WHY we had the ban whatsoever. Anybody who reads the text can plainly see this. So “the subject” at hand is presumably just the narrower question of whether now (1978) is the time to revoke the ban, which is consistent with McConkie’s first sentence that also focuses solely on the content of OD-2.

    Anyway, I agree with you that how individual churchmembers tend to interpret McConkie’s statement, or the fact that many agitate for a broader statement, does not constitute “proof” of McConkie’s intent. (I confess I misspoke at #79). I just think these facts are merely suggestive that my interpretation is the better one.

    Wow, can anyone tell I have too much time on my hands today?

  93. Thanks so much, Aaron, and huge thanks to Julie as well. I’m teaching this lesson tomorrow and delighted to have these resources at hand.

    In fact, because of your diligent effort and generous sharing, instead of doing lesson prep into the wee smalls tonight, I get to watch the first episode of The Wire. I owe you one.

  94. Shall I presume the check is in the mail? :)

  95. john f,

    I know I am sooooo beating a dead horse at this point (and probably coming off as obsessive), but one more quick data point. The McConkie quote you referenced is fleshed out a bit in Julie Smith’s post, linked to at #4. The sentences preceeding the excerpt you cite are as follows:

    “There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, ‘You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet.”

    Note the first sentence. McConkie’s comments are made in the context of his talking specifically about early statements that relate to the timing of blacks receiving the priesthood (“would not receive the priesthood in mortality”). Just sayin’.

  96. Aaron,

    I’m convinced.

  97. About 3 years ago, an African American friend of mine received the missionary discussions in my home. The question arose about Blacks and the priesthood. The missionaries explained that “we don’t know” why the priesthood was denied to black males, but we’re grateful for continuing revelation, they can have it now, etc. Hard as this may be for some faithful LDS to understand, “we don’t know” just isn’t terribly satisfying to some investigators of the church, particularly those of AA descent. So my friend continued to ask, and the missionaries explained that the priesthood has historically been associated with particular lines of descent (e.g. Levites), and so there is precedent for denying the priesthood based on genealogy; they continued to explain that non-extension of the priesthood to Blacks was a temporary continuation of the Lord’s policy of denying the priesthood to descendants of Cain and Ham (2 words that I generally associate with Christmas). At this point in the discussion, I interjected that skin color is a very poor predictor of descent from any particular individual who lived 4,300 years ago, and that even though the Pearl of Great Price says that the seed of Cain were black, that does not imply that all black people are descended from Cain anymore than the premise that the children of Moses were white implies that all white people are descended from Moses. Consequently, the notion that all black people are descended from Cain has no scriptural support. The missionaries became frustrated (and a little shocked) with me and were very reluctant to continue teaching my friend. For some reason, she eventually got baptized anyway.

    In fairness to these missionaries, I thought and taught exactly as they did when I served my mission. It was many years before I changed my mind about this issue, and it was no thanks to anyone in authority. The leaders of the church apparently have a policy to let the individual members draw their own conclusions and formulate their own explanations (i.e. flounder) about Blacks and the priesthood, which is why the juxtaposition of “correlation” and OD2 in the same lesson is so ironic.

    On the other hand, Mike Wallace received more explanation for the origin of the ban from Gordon B. Hinckley: apparently it was due to an “interpretation” of doctrine by the former leaders of the church. In this context, interpretation = opinion, in my opinion.


  98. Other examples of continuing revelation are OD1 and D&C 138, both potentially more engaging than administrative matters such as correlation and reorganization of the 70. What is striking about all of these is the extent to which the prophets who received them had to work for them. See the beginning of D&C 9:8 or this quote from Spencer Kimball:

    “Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired. I think few people receive revelations while lounging on the couch or while playing cards or relaxing. I believe most revelations would come when a man is on his tip toes, reaching as high as he can for something which he knows he needs, and then there bursts upon him the answer to his problems.”

  99. Late to the party, but, thanks, Aaron.

  100. Our lesson today on continuing revelation didn’t mention OD-2 at all.

    Our lesson today on continuing revelation was about correlation, specifically correlation of the magazines and hymnbooks. Mostly about the hymnbook, and how no previous LDS congregational hymnal had songs for children, and how it was a matter of revelation to put the hymns in this book in a lower key than in earlier hymnals, and how they had to write a new hymnbook because the old one “didn’t have any songs about baptism or genealogy,” and how we won’t have another hymnbook for at least 20 more years because it takes time to correlate the hymnbook for all languages, but they’re workin’ rilly rilly hard to translate the hymns into Czech and Hungarian right now. ‘Cause, you know, continuing revelation means that the Czechs must sing translated songs and not Czech hymns with Mormon-appropriate Czech texts. We learned that the electronic pianos manufactured by the church were originally called the “Liahona model” but are now called “LH models,” because the magazine people wanted to use “Liahona” as the name of the international magazine and they were afraid that people might get confused and read their pianos or play music on their magazines. Or something like that.

    We also learned that the correlation of the hymnbook is discussed in the 1st Pres/Q12 Thursday meetings in the temple, “which they have every Thursday, except when Christmas falls on a Thursday.” At which point we had a discussion of whether they skip their meeting entirely that week, or hold it on Wednesday, or perhaps on Friday.

    And I know the church is true, because the green scriptures are discussed in the temple on Thursdays. Except when Christmas falls on Thursday. Amen.

  101. LOL, Ardis.

  102. “Revelation, or Bureaucracy? YOU decide!”

    That’s really depressing Ardis.

  103. Ardis, I actually had all those points bullet-pointed in my notes, but before I figured out how to integrate them into the lesson, we ran out of time.

    When oh when will the Brethren take my advice and expand our churchmeetings to a full 6 hours? Or at least have the decency to respond to my weekly letters containing this suggestion?

  104. I’m feeling much better about my lesson, which featured a brother bearing his testimony that the OD-2 was true based on the fact that God didn’t execute SWK on the spot.

  105. Antonio Parr says:

    re: 100 – 104:

    Is it any wonder that so many members are reluctant to invite friends to Church?

  106. Hmmm. I’m less worried about bringing them to church than I am sending the elders over…

  107. Aaron, since I would never dream of “sending the elders over”, I’m not worried about that all. If a friend of mine is interested in being taught, I’m going to be there when they are taught formally by the elders – either in their house or mine. Also, OD-2 isn’t part of the lessons for a reason, so if it’s going to be taught, it’s going to be taught by me.

    Antonio, stupid crap gets said in meetings of all denominations. When I’ve had a friend with me at church and someone said something stupid, I’ve never had a single friend who didn’t understand completely when I rolled my eyes and told them that wasn’t what I believe. Generally, it’s led to an excellent discussion of how we aren’t all brain-washed zombies who believe everything exactly alike – so I stopped worrying about what other people say in front of friends of mine a long time ago.

    The only difference with this topic is that I might be more concerned if I lived in a ward or branch where racism was a problem with lots of members. Thank goodness that’s not the case in my current ward – but if it was I’d be addressing it head-on with the leadership. I’d do it gently with the individual members, but I would do it directly with the leadership.

  108. Antonio Parr says:

    Ray wrote:

    Antonio, stupid crap gets said in meetings of all denominations.


    I mostly agree with you, although the ratio of “stupid crap” seems to increase in direct proportion to the number of fundamentalists in the denomination at issue.

    Thank heavens for General Conference, which is a thing of beauty. Although not all talks are perfect, I find the entire experience to be sublime.

  109. re: #s 80,82,87,89
    I am a white woman born into the church married to a black convert. Our ward in NC is made up of many black converts and old white lifetime members like myself. :) I have always been interested in this issue and became even more so while trying to convert my husband. My husband wasn’t very bothered by the ban – he credits it all to human failings – just another chapter of civil rights issues. But we know more of our friends than not ARE bothered by the ban – AAs, hispanics AND whites. I believe very strongly that ANY discussion re: the ban and acknowledgements that ‘we just don’t know why’ are always much better than none. ‘Pussyfooting’ around the issue (as my mother says) does no one any good and can sometimes hurt even more. Members very much need to realize that it can be a painful issue for some, but we should never ignore it. It also continues to be a very relevant issue as there ARE members who still very much have racist feelings. My husband was denied the PH many times before local leadership changed and every interview I had w/ same leadership started out w/ them patting themselves on the back for being okay w/ the 1978 decision. Left that congregation behind, but have still heard remarks in classes over time that are of the same concept. Pres. Hinckley addressed these lingering fellings of racism in GC in recent years. Wisdom and advice some members have yet to hear.

  110. ‘feelings’ of racism, I meant. Also forgot to mention how much Darius Gray and Margaret Young’s series ‘Standing on the Promises’ meant to us. REALLY believe the history of black pioneers should be taught hand-in-hand w/ the rest of church hx in GD classes. As I wrote, I’m a lifetime mbr and had never heard of them until I read the books. Members could probably use a good reading of ‘Blood Done Sign My Name’ by Tim Tyson, too, while they’re @ it. The movie comes out in Feb and stars Rick Schroeder, to boot !

  111. Wow, T-NC, I really appreciated your interesting comment. Thanks for adding your perspective.

    It’s this kind of faithful but thoughtful comment that makes the ‘nacle so good.

  112. Before you WASTE your money and buy the book or see the movie “Blood Done Sign My Name” by Tim Tyson you may want to Google Tim Tyson exposed and find out what type of person he is.

    He is definitely a person that will lie. So the question is can a liar be trusted?

  113. This whole priesthood ban thing is an example of subsequent prophets being locked into suppoprting some idea from a previous prophet. It probably wouldn’t happen today as our prophets are surrounded by “minders” and everythjing they say is carefully analysed before publication. I believe that sometimes Joseph Smith and Brigham Young went unchecked in their statements and were victims of the corruption that comes from absolute power. The “mature” chuurch of today is far more circumspect

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