David O. McKay and the Priesthood Ban

In 2005,  David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism was published.  It is a great book, filled with details and insights into the way our church became what it is today.  We learn that during his tenure, President McKay prayed on several occasions for enlightenment concerning the policy which denied the priesthood to black men and temple ordinances to all black people.  His prayers apparently went unanswered.  We often take that to mean that it was God’s will for the ban to remain in place. 

Although that is a plausible explanation (and may be the correct one), it suffers from the weakness of relying on the “God on the telephone” model of revelation, something which both our tradition and our scriptures reject.  I suggest that there is another explanation, just as plausible, which accounts for subsequent events and also our understanding of how revelation comes about.

In a recent BCC thread about Official Declaration 2, my co-blogger John Fowles pointed to the recent issue of BYU Studies which contains an article by Edward Kimball. Kimball stated that he is almost certain that his father, Spencer W. Kimball, was influenced by the work done by Lester Bush and published in 1973 in Dialogue.  Bush’s work stands even today as a groundbreaking treatment concerning the history of the priesthood ban and the efforts that were made to justify it.

We often say that the prophet receives revelation for the church.  Another way of saying almost the same thing is that the church receives revelation through the prophet.  We know from our study of section 9 in the Doctrine and Covenants that we can’t get revelation on the cheap.  When we pray and take no thought save to ask, we have no reason to expect an answer.  It is only after we have done the legwork and the brainwork that our minds are enlightened.

I put forward the suggestion that the church was unable to get revelation on this topic during the presidency of David O. McKay because we, as a church,  hadn’t done the prerequisite hard work.  I suggest that we owe a debt to Lester Bush and others for their efforts in digging through our history and doing the sort of careful work and clear thinking that enabled our prophet to also achieve clarity on this issue.   I think this explanation is justified because it accounts for Edward Kimball’s statement and it also is in harmony with section 9, and with the “line upon line” model of revelation.

I also put forward the suggestion that now is a good time to subscribe to Dialogue, or to give a gift subscription.  Which Mormon on your shopping list wouldn’t be proud to have a subscription to the only magazine known to have influenced the most important revelation in the past 120 years?


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I remember pre-78 years. Almost everyone just assumed that the ban was grounded in revelation in the first place, which had remained unchanged through the history of the Church. I assumed that. For me personally, reading Bush et al. made a huge difference in my perception of the ban. I had never seen anyone actually dig into what did and did not take place in the early years surrounding the origins of the ban. Having that historical context for me made all the difference in the world in how I perceived things.

  2. Mark Brown says:

    Kevin, I think that is correct. We all assumed a lot, and when Bush and others were able to demonstrate that the ban was on shaky doctrinal ground, we — all of us, including the prophet — were able to begin considering other possibilities.

  3. Julie M. Smith says:

    “His prayers apparently went unanswered.”

    Quibble: they were answered. The answer was “not yet.”

    (But I know what you meant.)

    What’s interesting to me about the position that you sketch is the role that it provides for our history. We claim to eschew the “traditions of the fathers” that those -other- churches rely on, but in the model you propose, it is precisely from the traditions of the fathers (=our history, correctly understood) that we find God’s will and revelation.

  4. Reading the McKay bio also shows how much influence Ezra Taft Benson had over McKay during the last decade of his life and the decline of influence and access experienced by the ban’s greatest opponent, Hugh B. Brown. Given Benson’s well-documented position on race relations, it is fair to speculate about how much pressure McKay was getting to maintain the ban.

  5. Hi,

    My understanding is that indeed SWK and others in the Q12 were influenced by Bush.

    I wonder what would have happened in say 1955 if OD2 hasd come then. I suspect it would have been pretty similar to what happened in 1978. A few marginal people dropping away at most.

    You are probably on to something with your post.

  6. CJ Douglass says:

    Mark – This is a powerful model you’ve pointed to. It ties us to our leaders in a way I’ve never thought about before.

  7. And looked at another way, maybe the traditions of our fathers being why it was held onto for so long…

  8. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks, CJ. That was my intention, and I’m glad you caught it.

  9. I am glad that this was brought up.

    I was reading my mother-in-law’s copy of “Doctrine and Covenants made easy”, specifically the section on OD 2. Little analysis was done in terms of what went into OD or its historical aspect. What it did say was that, from the time of Adam until 1978, the Lord’s rule regarding the Priesthood as described in Abraham 1:23-26 has been followed. I thought this was funny since there were ordained black elders in Joseph Smith’s era. It makes me sad about what else my mother in law is getting out of those books.

  10. If you believe that human reason is a gift from God, as I do, then the truths that we ascertain through reason and evidence are a kind of revelation from God. Not the only kind, but a kind.

  11. Good stuff, Mark. I think that we often fail to consider that the largest force currently preventing the establishment of Zion on earth is our own durn selves. This is another iteration of that theme, I think.

  12. Antonio Parr says:

    This post underscores the value of individuals (i) not being commanded in all things; and (ii) being anxiously engaged in good causes.

    (As to general discussions regarding the Priesthood ban — my how that topic pains me. I cannot defend the ban, but celebrate joyfully (and gratefully) the day that the Church announced its intent to move beyond the ban and allow Blacks full fellowship.)

  13. There are at least three anecdotes of McKay’s prayers and different answers.

    Marion D. Hanks said McKay reported receiving “no answer”. Lola Timmons, a former secretary in the Church office building said McKay reported) receiving an answer “not yet”. Richard Jackson, an architect in the Church Office Building, said McKay reported God’s telling him “not to bring the subject up again.” David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism at 103-04.

    I wonder how much the preferences or understandings of the anecdotes’ reporters influenced the way they recounted McKay’s statements about what God’s response was.

    Regarding the Bush article, I recall reading it in 1977, and having the overpowering feeling that the practice needed to end. I spoke with my mother a few months later, and she told me she had a feeling that practice was going to change soon. (Mildred Calderwood McKay, referenced in the McKay book (page 103) as having told him it was time for a revelation on the matter, was my mother’s aunt (my great aunt.)) I thought my mother was engaging in wishful thinking, but it turned out she was right.

  14. Thanks for the post, Mark. These are useful things to consider, and I like what you’ve suggested.

  15. Great insight Mark. I really think you are on to something with this idea.

  16. I have a question (sorry if I’m threadjacking; direct me elsewhere if needed). What would have happened to church growth in black Africa if the ban had never been in place?
    I can see how things could have been much better in the US and other western countries had the ban been lifted much earlier or never existed, but I wonder if the church has been more widely accepted in Africa because of the more underground nature of its beginnings there.
    I was born a month after OD2, so I don’t remember anything from before then. I do have vague memories of resistance to western culturization in Africa, though. Would it have been harder for the church to have such a strong presence in Africa had it come in a more traditional way?
    My question is sincere, by the way. I’m not being intentionally ignorant or trying to start an argument if that’s what it looks like.

  17. Mark, Well stated.

  18. Without taking away from the thoughtfulness of the original post, I have a question that nags at me when this subject comes up: If we accept that even prophets are fallible men, then why must we explain why it was somehow sort of okay for the priesthood ban to have persisted as long as it did?

    Here I’m thinking particularly, I suppose, of Julie M. Smith’s comment that McKay’s prayers were answered, and the answer was “not yet.” One of the strength’s of Mark Brown’s initial thought here is that it recognizes the failures of church members generally, rather than placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of, e.g., McKay, or any other church leader.

    But I think it’s important to call it a failure — and, in my experience, many church members are reluctant to call it that. Instead, they’ll provide various explanations as to why the church couldn’t remove the priesthood ban any sooner. Why can’t we just say that unfortunate racist attitudes had become institutionalized and that church members and leaders failed for a long time to change this?

    Now, I see one response: judge not. But surely we can recognize individual failings without indulging in unrighteous judgment, without seeing ourselves as lacking blame, or imagining that we will ever fully understand why individuals made the decisions they did.

    From a proselytizing point of view, I think that anything that smacks of excuse-making is likely to be rejected by anyone suspicious of the church on this issue.

    I guess what I’m saying is that on this issue, apologetics seems less appropriate to me than apologies.

  19. Mark Brown says:

    Karen M.,

    Welcome, and thanks for your question. Just so you know, your question doesn’t sound argumentative at all.

    It is my belief that the ban has been a hindrance to church growth, even in Africa. Other Christian denominations based in America have grown faster than LDS there. I think we are still dealing with the effects of the ban, not only in Africa but among people of African descent wherever they live.

  20. “I suggest that we owe a debt to Lester Bush and others for their efforts in digging through our history and doing the sort of careful work and clear thinking that enabled our prophet to also achieve clarity on this issue.”


  21. PJ asks: “Why can’t we just say that unfortunate racist attitudes had become institutionalized and that church members and leaders failed for a long time to change this?”

    I think we can. (Although the way we say it is important–words do matter). See “Why I Don’t Believe That God Instituted The Priesthood Ban”: http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2009/06/why-i-dont-believe-that-god-insitituted.html

  22. PJ–
    If I were investigating the church, I think I’d be more likely to accept “we made a mistake” than any of the other excuses. But maybe that’s just because all of the other excuses seem weak to me.

  23. My understanding is that not only had Pres. Kimball read Bush’s article, but so had a number of those in the Twelve–and they were instructed to research the issue prior to that remarkable meeting in the temple on June 1, 1978. They all came prepared not only with open minds (some perhaps newly opened to details of the policy and of Church history), but further knowledge than they had had before. Of course, not all were present. Mark E. Peterson was not there.
    And Pres. McKay did report (according to his secretaries) that the answer from God had been “not yet,” but far more frequently he said that there had been “no reply” from Heaven. See Prince, p. 103.
    I think you make good points, Mark.

  24. Mark,

    I love your conclusion about us as a church not having done our homework yet during the tenure of Pres. McKay.

    What stands out also in my mind is that (with all due respect) the 12 hadn’t done their homework on this yet either during the McKay administration. It is obvious from the McKay biography that several members of the Quorum of 12 were steadfastly against the possibility of change in the policy. In fact, several of them would have said “doctrine” instead of policy. Eugene England tells of challenging Joseph F. Smith during the 60’s about a scriptural basis for the ban. Apostle Smith said that it certainly was a doctrine based in scripture, but in a personal meeting with England where they reviewed the scriptures in question, he ultimately said “It’s not in there, and I always assumed it was”.

    Pes. Kimball also asked for and got input from various members of the 12, as outlined in the BYU Studies article, who agreed that there was no scriptural basis for the ban, and that if a revelation were forthcoming, they would support it.

    This is helpful for us to consider that we have a part to play in bringing about revelation, or new understandings of doctrine. The other example I can point to is when Pres. Benson said in his first general conference that the Church was under condemnation for not reading and understanding the Book of Mormon sufficiently. He challenged all of us to do better. Specifically, I think we can point to a change in our understanding of grace and the atonement beginning at that juncture, a process that I believe was facilitated by all of us taking the Book of Mormon more seriously.

  25. Mark,

    Having served my mission in Africa I never perceived the history of the ban as being an issue with potential converts. Perhaps some others have exp something else in Africa. Here in the US its an obvious stumbling block. Growth in Africa is heavily I mean heavily impacted by the LOC first and WOW 2nd. Investigators are often very surprised by the actual requirements pre-baptism and would typically drop out after the then 4th discussion. We had several branches where every non-married male was on probation for LOC issues.

    When this came up with serious educated investigators we would tell them the ban is over and then our black fellowshippers would tell the potential converts that they were about to become fast friends with the nicest Americans (whites) you would ever meet. They were usually referring to the couple missionaries who were usually good friends with all the local members

  26. “I think we are still dealing with the effects of the ban, not only in Africa but among people of African descent wherever they live.”

    Not that I don’t disagree that the ban has impeded Missionary Work historically, but isn’t Africa the highest baptizing region in the world right now?

    And I wonder if the ban even comes up all that often for Missionaries teaching in Africa. Sincere question. Anyone know?

  27. Clean Cut: Thanks for the link in #21. Interesting reading that speaks directly to the questions in #18.

  28. Mark, I just reread <a href="“>England’s 1973 essay and review of Lester Bush’s article, and he makes a similar argument:

    “And some of us in the Church may not yet be capable of participating in the consequences of blacks receiving the priesthood in such a way that it would be a blessing. I don’t think the Lord is happy with any such, any more than he is with the increasing number of wealthy Mormons who self-righteously pay their tithing and other “obligations” and then squander the rest of their “increase” on luxuries, forgetting the poor who could use their help to help themselves, in South America or right across town, forgetting therefore the Lord’s call for us to voluntarily work towards equality in earthly things, to live the higher Law of Consecration. But the Lord will not give a higher law until it is a blessing, until the Church members or whites or blacks or America or all are finally “ready,” until it will be in the best interests of the Lord’s plan of salvation for all people.”

  29. I wonder how this moment of lifting the priesthood ban has altered how people born after it view the authority of church leaders. Based on the comments here, it seems that it was not “obvious” pre-revelation that this ban was a mistake by men and not God’s will. Yet, as someone born after this revelation, my assumption has always been that of course it was a mistake of on the part of members, and likely other parts of our culture are, too. What I’m asking is has this moment changed the way we view authority and made us more cognizant of historical approaches to belief? Is it really possible to believe in the “divine” origin of our policies after this moment, or do we now just assume that policies are just that–policies?

  30. I should point out that England was in favor of a change in the church’s policy towards blacks, and was trying to understand how all of this played out in terms of sustaining latter day prophets, and yet still questioning a current church policy or doctrine that he found troubling.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    The historical ban isn’t a big deal among contemporary Africans. The impact is that due to the ban we got a late start in Africa. Our presence there would be orders of magnitude greater but for the ban.

    (There was a great MHA plenary lecture all about the Church in Africa that I’m basing this on; you can find the notes under one of my bcc posts on MHA if you’ll do a little searching.)

  32. In 1978 I lived in the midst of the largest Black (there were no “African-Americans” back then) community in the U.S.–the South Side of Chicago. I remember looking around in the days after the announcement and thinking: these people haven’t changed. And I also wondered if, as Eugene England suggested, it was the members of the church then who had previously not been capable of participating in the consequences of blacks receiving the priesthood.

    If such change in the general membership (as contrasted with the general authorities) of the church was a necessary condition to the revelation, it certainly did not occur because of Lester Bush’s article–for the overwhelming majority of the membership of the church then, as now, Dialogue is a complete unknown. If attitudes of white church members towards blacks had changed, it was likely due to changes in U.S. society generally, during the civil rights movement that began in the 1950s.

    As to Natalie’s comment–I don’t think that many in the church viewed the ban as a mistake. A person with that attitude would likely have looked for the exit doors. And some did–one prominent faculty member at Chicago, who was a member of our branch in Chicago, used to explain his non-participation with four words “blacks and the priesthood”, although he didn’t start coming again in summer 1978. I think many in the church viewed it with a combination of “I don’t understand it” and “How long, O Lord?” and “Be still, and know that I am God”, which would explain why the announcement was received overwhelmingly with rejoicing.

  33. John Mansfield says:

    “The impact is that due to the ban we got a late start in Africa. Our presence there would be orders of magnitude greater but for the ban.”

    Perhaps, but keep in mind that most Latin American nations had no missionaries or branches until after World War II, some not until the 1960’s.

  34. Mark,

    Would God have given the 1978 revelation earlier if there was any possibility that one or more of the Apostles or Prophets were unwilling to budge on the point of the ban? Say someone like Harold B. Lee.

  35. Once bitten, twice shy.

    Is it possible that the lateness in lifting the Priesthood Ban (which followed rather than precede popular opinion on racial matters) was the direct consequence of the failure of the United Order.

    Failure to achieve common consent a second time on an important break with the past would have been devastating. Perhaps the real revelation was not a lifting of the Priesthood Ban, but that common consent was at last attainable on the issue.

    It is said that successful leadership is merely figuring out where people are going before they themselves know, and then leading them there. I wonder what other future revelations are “on hold” until such time as common consent can be lined up.

  36. Hi, I’m John, and while I agree in general with Mark’s point, I don’t think that the Apostles were alone in not being ready for the lifting of the ban. We as a people were, I think. So, let’s not play the game of guessing which Apostles had to die in order for the ban to be lifted. That is just tacky.

  37. Dan Weston,
    I personally don’t think we’ve heard the final word on women and the priesthood, homosexuality, the afterlife, and a host of other things. So, I think you might be on to something.

  38. John C.,


    Then why would God not say something more through the numerous prophets and Apostles to tamp down the ridiculous belief that blacks deserved what they got? It could have easily been revealed to Joseph Smith or Brigham Young (maybe not Young) while the church was still formulating its organizational culture before such opinions hardened themselves into established theology.

  39. Agreed, Dan has an interesting point. I feel that as a church we can be very shy of things that might cause disunity. But, on the other hand, I have sometimes wondered if our focus being united doesn’t have costs. Would we have more overall members if changes were made that would surely cause some people to leave? What do we make of members who have left already because they don’t like certain stands or feel excluded? Whose unity do we care about–probably the people who are visibly at church each Sunday.

  40. I like your suggestion very much. In that very context, and not only at the Prophet level but at the personal level too, we should always consider researching all sides of a given issue with a truly open heart before deciding on a position that may affect others.

    This is a rather difficult thing, but it definitely reflects godliness in the sense that God understands every side, and if we are striving to be like Him, we should try to do so as we make decisions.

    Also thanks to Red Emma (#4) and Sister Young (#23) for reminding us about the dynamics that took place regarding those brethren that by deduction, strongly opposed the lift of the priesthood ban.

  41. It could have easily been revealed to Joseph Smith or Brigham Young (maybe not Young) while the church was still formulating its organizational culture before such opinions hardened themselves into established theology.

    Perhaps it’s my own take on how revelation works, but I’m not sure that “it could have easily been revealed.”

  42. Though the Prince book doesn’t definitively say so, I’ve often wondered whether the reason McKay didn’t receive the revelation reversing the ban was because he took the approach of inquiring of the Lord whether the ban should be reversed, whereas Kimball took more the approach of asking for confirmation of the decision to reverse the ban. That’s a big difference, and one that I think Mark is hinting at in his post. It seems to me that a big part of the reason for this difference could be Lester Bush and others who laid the groundwork for sound reasoning that underlay the change in approach.

  43. And I don’t know -why- it would have been “easily revealed” to Joseph Smith, since there was no need for it. It would’ve been equivalent to him receiving a revelation that whites could receive the priesthood. Kind of pointless.

  44. MCQ,
    While I agree that such a formulation may possibly make a difference logically, I don’t like where it leads me–to the idea of a God who is so ticky-tack that simply asking in the wrong form of the question results in silence to important queries. While I’m fine with such reasoning for selling my car or maybe even having another child, that seems like a very clunky way for God to deal with the leadership of His own church on such a massive issue.

  45. I don’t think it’s a “form of the question” issue, Scott. I think it’s a free agency issue. The first way askes God to do our thinking for us. The second way says, “I’ve done the thinking and studying and I’ve made a decision and I’m seeking your approval.” As I said, big difference.

  46. And, BTW, the only time I’ve ever received personal revelation in my own life, it has come as a result of following the second path. I think it’s required.

  47. Scott B,

    I like where you are going with your comments on prophetic revelation. This is a very good point to analyze, and something I wish the brethren themselves would adress. What is really the nature of prophetic revelation? How does it really take place? Can a biased leader like Mark E. Peterson or Ezra T. Benson easily receive a revelation such as the lift of the priesthood ban? Is it God’s fault that he hasn’t made Himself clear, or is it human fault that we are slow to have trully open hearts and contrite spirits to receive revelation?

    I wouldn’t call God ticky-tack, rather I would add myself to the position that God tries to work with our limitations. Ignorance is certainly a strong limitation, one that could prove an obstacle to having an open heart and a contrite spirit. In the context of this post, Lester Bush helped overcome part of that limitation by offering insights that were not available to the brethren before.

  48. MCQ,
    I think the only thing we’re differing on here is whether or not God reads the intent of the prayer differently that we read the text of the prayer. The sources are not clear on what the exact words of McKay’s prayers were, but they are more clear about his desire to see it removed. However, I think this is all kind of whistling in the dark, because they are just textual records that likely have almost no relationship at all to the actual prayers and meditations by Pres. McKay and Pres. Kimball.

    For what it’s worth, I have experienced personal revelation in my life both of the “confirming” nature you mention, and of the “prescriptive” nature you say doesn’t meet the requirement. (Of course, this is all just personal Oh-Huh-ing, so I’m fine with letting it be…)

  49. You’re right that it’s mostly speculation concerning how each of the two prophets approached the issue, but I don’t think God has to “read the intent” of our prayer to know if we’ve done our part. For example, even if one were to phrase the prayer in the “tell me what to do” frame, God knows if we’ve done our homework or not. At the same time, I think our words do matter. I think God does want to hear us voice our thinking and talk the problem through with him. In the end, though, I think what we’ve actually done in approaching any subject with him will trump the words we use. Actions show faith much more firmly than words do.

  50. n the end, though, I think what we’ve actually done in approaching any subject with him will trump the words we use. Actions show faith much more firmly than words do.

    Which is why I’m excited to look down on the rest of ya’ll from the CT. Suckas!

  51. Jim Donaldson says:

    #37 – “I personally don’t think we’ve heard the final word on women and the priesthood, homosexuality, the afterlife, and a host of other things. So, I think you might be on to something.”

    President Hinckley would agree. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in March 1997, there is this:

    Q: Will the rules on the priesthood change to admit women?
    A: No . . . . I don’t think they will in my time. I can’t speak much beyond the next year. I’m careful about buying bananas!

    This proves we should all be careful about buying bananas.

  52. Keegan Cherry says:

    One of his grandsons is my Bishop and my next door neighbor. McKay’s are awesome people.

  53. I question how genuinely President McKay sought to remove the ban during his lifetime, or whether he really personally would have favored it.

    On November 17, 1964, the New York Times reported that, when asked whether the Church would change its policy withholding priesthood from Black members, McKay replied, “Not while you and I are here.” http://select.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=F00815FD3E59147A93C5A8178AD95F408685F9

    President McKay, of course, disliked rocking the boat, or confronting other Brethren. And some of them were quite set in favor of the policy (and some opposed civil rights–see letter from Elder Stapley to George Romney http://mormonmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/delbert_stapley.pdf).

    Thus, I think President McKay’s prayers were not so much about whether the practice was right or wrong. Rather, I think, assuming his opinion was that the practice should end, McKay prayed whether that feeling was sufficiently inspired that he should confront and could persuade the other Brethren that it qualified as a revelation justifying the change.

    Of course, given the strength of his 1964 prediction–in effect that no change would happen during the lifetime of anyone there–I wonder if his private opinion was that the practice should continue for the foreseeable future.

  54. Latter-day Guy says:

    RE 42+49:

    Very, very interesting point, MCQ, about revelation/making decisions. My immediate family had an experience along those lines about 10 yrs ago. My older brother had been called on a mission to Ukraine. We went to the SP’s house (who was a fantastic PH leader––the fact that he would tell slightly less-than-appropriate jokes over the pulpit was just a bonus!) for him to be set apart before flying to the MTC. The blessing was very nice, but nothing particularly stood out. My brother left and life went on. However, any time our family was at a stake meeting, he would make a special point to come talk to my parents and ask them how our missionary was.

    When his mission had ended, we all returned to the SP’s house for him to be released. After the release was formally extended, the SP started to speak and got pretty emotional. He told us that two years earlier, while setting him apart, he felt impressed that “perhaps he would not survive to return home.” He said that he had paused and thought, “No, I can’t say that!” and proceeded to bless him that he would return home safely.

    Since then, I have often wondered about the role of a PH holder’s agency in revelation and blessings. Perhaps the experience of Hezekiah getting 15 more years of life (Isaiah 38) is not all that unusual. We might be surprised to know all the things God would be willing to grant us if we asked, and asked correctly.

  55. Great post, Mark.

    I think some things are inevitable, regardless of whether they are right or wrong – because I believe God very, very rarely forces people to confront the blind spots they have no desire to confront. I think that agrees with the primary assertions in this post.

    There’s a lesson in their for each of us, individually, as well – which I think is the central point of the post.

  56. One more thing, Mark.

    I believe, generally speaking, that Prophets (not all apostles, but those who become President) are fairly representative of those they eventually lead – so they generally are able to lead only where the people are willing to go.

  57. Daniel,
    When I said we were all racist(-ish), I was including church leadership. The modern understanding of race is the product of the 70s and 80s (Heck, I would say it wasn’t really hashed out until the 90s). So I don’t look at it as pitting the church vs. leadership or vice versa. I think we were all in it together. And I think that when we were ready and willing, we changed. So, if you must blame someone, blame me. I’m sure I was horribly racist before I turned 4 and that is probably what was holding the whole thing up.

  58. Latter-day Guy says:

    “I’m sure I was horribly racist before I turned 4 and that is probably what was holding the whole thing up.”

    Glad you could get that off your chest, John. ;-)

  59. Interestingly, the Community of Christ never had such a ban (and, of course, now allows women to hold priesthood offices). Anyone know of research into the CoC’s racial attitudes?

  60. Antonio Parr says:

    56. Ray: If your premise is correct, then why were Latter-Day Saints “unwilling to go” towards full inclusion of Blacks? And how do we as member missionaries overcome the obstacle placed by our limitations on Blacks when so many other denominations of the time had already concluded that Blacks were entitled to full fellowship?

    Perhaps the best approach is to acknowledge that we were clearly wrong on this one, and to point out that we are trying to atone for this time in our history by embracing without limitation or hesitation people of every race, kindred, tongue and people.

  61. Don’t know exactly how to fit this into the conversation, but last night I was reading the Spencer W. Kimball biography (the first one, not Lengthen Your Stride) and came across this regarding Native Americans, circa 1947:

    “He blamed the white conquerors for locating reservations on useless, barren land, while ‘we became fat in the prosperity from the assets we took from them.’ The first part of the Church Indian program, he continued, ‘is the education of the Latter-day Saints at home, some of whom need their hearts opened, cleansed and purged. . . . Racial prejudice is of the devil and of ignorance.'”

    I’m sure there could be an interesting discussion on the Indian program, but this is quite a statement.

  62. Being able to lead only where people are willing to go is not exactly what I’d call inspired leadership. I thought the whole idea of a prophet of God, especially in our Church, is that we would be willing to follow him anywhere (because God will never allow the prophet to lead the Church astray and all that).

  63. “Perhaps the best approach is to acknowledge that we were clearly wrong on this one, and to point out that we are trying to atone for this time in our history by embracing without limitation or hesitation people of every race, kindred, tongue and people.”

    Antonio, I’ve said that numerous times, and it is implied in my comments.

    MCQ, there are obvious exceptions, but LOTS of counsel has had to be scrapped or modified because the people simply weren’t willing to follow. That’s not a critique of inspired leadership; it’s a criticism of uninspired followership. Was Heavenly Father an uninspired leader because 1/3 of his spirit children were unwilling to follow Him anywhere – or were those spirit children at fault for not following his inspired vision. Was Moses an uninspired leader because he failed to be able to lead his people straight to the promised land – or was the House of Israel at fault for their insistence on continuing idolatrous worship? Who is at fault – the one who can’t convince or the one who won’t be convinced? Sometimes, in real world examples, it’s both – but forcing someone to be infallible in practical terms [by creating a standard that all must follow to be an inspired leader] is just as unrealistic as forcing someone to be infallible in doctrinal terms. I simply don’t hold my prophets to that standard.

    I believe in the principle articulated in the allegory of the vineyard in Jacob 5 – and the last pruning explicitly is said to take place at whatever pace the root will allow. That pruning also explicitly deals with the Church itself – casting out the bitter fruit that still exists post-Restoration.

    There are quite a few examples of this in the General Conference addresses over the past 15 years – where one or more apostles have said something and the membership simply hasn’t accepted it. For example, I read comments and posts in the Bloggernacle frequently from more liberal leaning members that complain about the Church teaching something – and my immediately response is, “It doesn’t. It used to teach that, but it doesn’t anymore.” That also is true about conservative members who insist that the Church still teaches what it no longer teaches. Some of the examples of the issues where I see this would shock many people on both sides, largely because we tend to remember what we want to remember and forget what we want to forget.

  64. One more thing, MCQ. If people are willing to go somewhere but don’t have the vision to do so, someone who provides that vision is an inspired leader. Inspired leadership doesn’t have to be full of shocking and new ideas and pathways; sometimes it simply can be a resolution to endure to the end without which the people would stop and give up.

    Jesus of Nazareth was a visionary leader – and his followers splintered and scattered and fragmented while he lived and after he died. He only was able to lead those who accepted his leadership; everyone else left him. The exact same thing can be said about Joseph Smith as an inspired leader. Elijah was a lousy leader in terms of his ability to inspire others to follow him, as were Noah and Abinadi. Brigham Young, otoh, was absolutely brilliant in his ability to maintain his followers in the face of brutal difficulties. Based SOLELY on the criterion of being able to lead others to do things they don’t want to do naturally – to inspire them to endure to the end, Brigham was one of the most inspired leaders throughout history. I doubt, however, that many here want to grant him that position – and, while I accept that very narrow definition for what it says about his leadership abilities, I don’t want to place him at the head of all “inspired leaders” either.

    My point is that the construction in your comment is fundamentally flawed to me, since it puts the responsibility completely on the leader and removes all responsibility from the followers. **I don’t think you believe that,** but it’s the logical conclusion from the words themselves.

  65. I was still a baby when the ban was lifted in 1978 so I don’t have any memory of that event, but I have talked extensively with my dad about it who was a recently returned missionary at the time.

    According to him, in the several years preceding the ban being lifted there were demonstrations and protests carried out by other recently returned missionaries over this very issue. They would stand outside the conference center and the temple in SLC during general conference right next to the Anti Mormons with their protests, pleading with the brethren to change the policy of the Priesthood ban. These missionaries had recently served in foreign countries where there were scores of faithful, black Latter-Day-Saints being denied the blessings of the Priesthood and the Temple. Further, in some far off countries where the influence of the brethren at church headquarters didn’t have quite as much control, black members were still given the Priesthood, being ignorant of the ban being in place. The crazy thing is, their Priesthood still worked the same as it did for the white missionaries.

    Apparently, there were many faithful, temple recommend holding young men in the mid-late 70s who were willing to put their membership to a church they loved on the line over this very issue. I can’t imagine that these demonstrations didn’t influence the thinking of the brethren in some way.

    Maybe somebody who was old enough to remember this can speak more to what happened.

  66. pinkpatent says:

    I am not comfortable with the idea that the reason for the delay in lifting the ban was due to the membership not being ready for it. When did that ever stop controversial “revelations” from being brought forth? I can assume that the membership wasn’t ready for polygamy, the WoW, blood atonement, etc.

    IMO, the ban was put in place because of prevailing racist attitudes amongst the leadership and was supported by the same racist attitudes amongst the membership. It was never doctrinal, just policy. It was perpetuated by racist attitudes and, I presume, fear of change.

    None of the reasons hold any water for me. It was wrong when it was instituted and it continued to be wrong all the years it was practiced. It is embarassing to hear the excuses. I would rather hear an acceptance of wrong doing and a heartfelt apology.

  67. Pinkpatent,
    I think your assumption is far from safe, actually. Is it really beyond imagination that the policies and revelations given that you mentioned were not delayed themselves because of an inability or unwillingness to receive them by members of the church?

    More specifically, the very WoW you mention was given in different levels of enforcement, separated by decades; polygamy was absolutely withheld from the general body of the saints for a lengthy period, too–long after JSJ knew about it and was practicing it.

  68. pinkpatent says:

    Scott B, I can appreciate your perspective. But, I would respectfully point out that polygamy WAS revealed and instituted, if not to the entire church, to at least SOME of the membership. I would also submit that many of those to whom it was revealed were certainly NOT ready to accept it. That did not prevent JSJ from bringing it forth and all but forcing it upon them.

    IMO, the leadership of the church could have, and should have, taken the LEAD on the issue of the PH ban. I cannot accept the idea that racism was ever sanctioned by God, which means it was invented by men.

    It makes me sick that such bigotry was used to create policy within my church. I can forgive people who make mistakes, admit their mistakes, and ask for forgiveness. Clinging to the idea that the ban was somehow ordained by God only not only makes us look unrepentant, it smacks of tacit approval.

  69. pinkpatent–
    Slow down there, tiger. I didn’t say God was sanctioning racism–I just said your examples aren’t good because, frankly, they’re not. Also, the continued racism in the Church after the ban, even continuing this day–as attested to by too many folks to count, as well as a talk about 5 years ago in the PH session of Conference decrying it, suggests that in fact the leadership of the Church did take the “LEAD” on the issue of the PH ban.

    Unless of course you are suggesting that the “LEAD” means that the 1st Pres. and Q12 should have beaten every single last member of the Church to the idea that maybe the PH ban sucks, in which case I guess there’s no point in discussing it further…

  70. I served in South Africa from 1994-1996. I didn’t work a lot with blacks, due to the nature of the townships in our mission, but when I did work with blacks it almost ALWAYS came up. It also came up among the Afrikaans people, whose AWB makes our KKK look like a welcome committee.

    I know some Afrikaans members had their faith tied up with the ban and left because of OD2. On my mission in the main ward the black people were sitting on the back row without callings. It was shocking.

    There has slowly been some more colorful leadership, but it has been VERY slow going.

  71. pinkpatent says:

    Scott B, I wasn’t saying that you were defending racism or that you had suggested it was ordained of God. I was merely pointing out that this seems to be the argument that many church members cling to. I think you and I just see things differently in our approval/disapproval of how it was dealt with by the leadership.

    And that’s tigress, if you don’t mind. :)

  72. I must admit I really enjoyed the plug for Dialogue. Now if President Samuelson would just read the article in Dialogue, winter ’98, and realize that the honor code at BYU isn’t revelation, and that it would be ok to let guys grow facial hair.

    Yep, I already have my subscription, not that I have time to read it right now.

  73. Have I completely missed commentary on the Bloggernacle about the actual content of Elder Sitati’s talk at General Conference? For me it was the “elephant in the ‘nacle,” as, for everyone’s excitement that he spoke, I never heard anyone address his statement that “[t]hrough the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed that the determining criteria for the order in which the gentile nations are invited include the capacity to spiritually and temporally nourish the kingdom of God as it is established on the earth for the last time (see D&C 58:1-12).” Given the context of the talk, it seemed to be a clear reference to the ban. Unless I am misinterpreting what the statement was referring to, it seems that Elder Sitati’s take on the ban was that the gospel first had to be taken to “the rich and the learned, the wise and the noble” and then to “the poor,” whom he apparently believes refers to those of African descent.

    For me, this is still a difficult theory, but it probably deserves another look since it is the first attempt made to justify the ban in General Conference in recent memory.

    Any takers?

  74. Craig,

    The biggest problem with the “rich” theory, is what about Native Americans and Latin America? Who are we to say that those in Africa were less wise or noble? I don’t think anyone would make that assumption, but the rich is an easy assumption to make. If it really was the “rich” God was seeking, why did Joseph Smith send missionaries to the Native Americans so quickly? Truthfully I think the priesthood ban had nothing to worthiness, wealth, or anything like that, but political posturing for Mormon acceptance into some groups with political power. (Remember Utah was the only slave territory, and why would a bunch of Yankees want to be in a slave territory when they didn’t have slaves to begin with?)

  75. “Given the context of the talk, it seemed to be a clear reference to the ban. Unless I am misinterpreting what the statement was referring to,”

    Yes, there is that possibility of misinterpretation. ;)

  76. “It is embarassing to hear the excuses.”

    pinkpatent, since you cited something I said prior to writing the statement above, I simply need to point out that I never offered excuses for the ban – not one. I never once implied I thought it was the will of God, and I never once tried to absolve our leaders or members of the responsibility for it. Quite the opposite is the case.

    I likened it to the bitter fruit mentioned in Jacob 5 and laid the blame for it lasting as long as it did on the membership as a whole (including some leaders). It bothers me more than a little that people can read my comment and somehow reach the conclusion that I was excusing the ban or claiming it was the will of God. If that was not your intent, I apologize for feeling the need to write this. If it was your intent, please re-read my comments and realize I offered no excuses.

  77. “I thought the whole idea of a prophet of God, especially in our Church, is that we would be willing to follow him anywhere (because God will never allow the prophet to lead the Church astray and all that).”
    Dude, this is so not how it works. Otherwise we would not be hearing the same thing every Conference.

    I wrote this and it is the only excuse I accept at present. People are capable of great evil and God has to work with what we give him.

  78. pinkpatent says:

    Ray, I was not referring to your comments. I was more referring to what I hear in GD class every time this issue comes up.

  79. “Was Heavenly Father an uninspired leader because 1/3 of his spirit children were unwilling to follow Him anywhere – or were those spirit children at fault for not following his inspired vision. Was Moses an uninspired leader because he failed to be able to lead his people straight to the promised land – or was the House of Israel at fault for their insistence on continuing idolatrous worship? Who is at fault – the one who can’t convince or the one who won’t be convinced?”

    Ray, this quote from you and most of the rest of your comment would be fascunating if it were at all applicable to what we are talking about, but since the leadership made no effort to lead the Church membership in the right direction, it’s not. You can’t blame the continuation of the ban on the membership not being ready or being uninspired followers when the only thing that the leaders were doing prior to 1978 was making excuses for the ban.

  80. “I thought the whole idea of a prophet of God, especially in our Church, is that we would be willing to follow him anywhere (because God will never allow the prophet to lead the Church astray and all that).”
    Dude, this is so not how it works. Otherwise we would not be hearing the same thing every Conference.”

    Missing my point John C. The language you quote was in response to Ray’s statement that prophets are “generally are able to lead only where the people are willing to go.”

    I don’t agree with that statement. I don’t think it’s true of prophets in our church or inspired leadership generally. Of course there are tons of examples historically of people not following the prophet or Christ or God himself, but at least those leaders were trying to lead the people somewhere, and at least some followed. In the example of the priesthood ban, there was no effort made on the part of the leadership to go in the right direction until very late in the day. In fact, quite the opposite.

    Inspired leadership shows in the effort, regardless of results, to lead people in the proper direction even if that direction is unpopular and even if the effort gets the leader deposed or killed. There are numerous examples of that in history and in the scriptures. The priesthood ban is not one of them.

  81. MCQ,


    You can’t blame the continuation of the ban on the membership not being ready or being uninspired followers when the only thing that the leaders were doing prior to 1978 was making excuses for the ban.


  82. “You can’t blame the continuation of the ban on the membership not being ready or being uninspired followers when the only thing that the leaders were doing prior to 1978 was making excuses for the ban.”

    I might agree, if the statement were correct. It’s not – both concerning where I assigned the blame and also concerning “the only thing that the leaders were doing prior to 1978”.

    Go back and read my comments more carefully. I have never said here that the blame lies entirely with the membership sans leadership. My #55 says clearly that the leadership tends to be fairly representative of the membership.

    If you want a different example, there are multiple places in our scriptures that say the Lord will be slow to hear the cries of his people when they have been practicing wickedness or being slow to hear him. In those situations, it only is after they have proven their sincerity and supplicated him continually for an extended period of time that he will deliver them – and it’s not just from physical bondage.

    There are exceptions – like the real threat of extermination. For nearly all other situations, we pay the price for our stupidity and for not being able to see and address our blind spots. That is true for leaders AND regular members, and I’ve never said otherwise.

  83. Ray, I thought you were applying this statement:

    “LOTS of counsel has had to be scrapped or modified because the people simply weren’t willing to follow. That’s not a critique of inspired leadership; it’s a criticism of uninspired followership.”

    to the membership of the Church with regard to the priesthood ban. Is that not what you meant? If not, then what were you talking about?

  84. In terms of what the leadership was doing prior to 1978, they weren’t all making excuses for the ban, but there was a fair amount of that, and precious few public statements about ending it, outside of a very few voices like Hugh B. Brown.

  85. #83 – Applying that quote to the Priesthood ban never crossed my mind, honestly. I was applying it much more broadly to the idea that often prophets can’t take people where they refuse to go.

    I was thinking more of the substitution of the Ten Commandments for the higher law, the numerous statements in the epistles of Paul concerning teachings and practices being rejected and modified in the early church, the examples of ordinance modification (and even outright rejection) throughout Christian history, the United Order, and lots of things that I have heard preached over and over again in my lifetime only to cease eventually when the membership simply refuses to change.

    As far as the ban is concerned, I have a slightly unique view of the situation leading up to OD2, because my mother used to be one of Pres. McKay’s secretaries briefly. She never talked directly about any particular issues, since she valued the confidentiality of her position and because she obviously wasn’t privy to the actual discussions that occurred behind closed doors, but she did share how deeply the apostles believed in unanimity and how strongly they respected the callings of their colleagues and their differing opinions.

    I believe it is unfortunate that this led those who would have supported reversing the ban to not speak publicly about their views, while allowing those who supported the continuation of the ban and justified it to be much more vocal in their opinions, but I am aware that there wasn’t the sort of unanimity that many imagine – that Bro. Brown was not the only apostle of his time and later who influenced Pres. McKay and Pres. Kimball in their desire to petition the Lord in the matter.

  86. I think the concept of ‘doing the legwork’ can be looked into with more detail. Do we have an obligation to provide evidence to the church where we may see holes in policy? As members, we may favor the ‘God on the telephone’ view of revelation and discount the influence of general social change on the policies of the church. What are the implications of generating common consent dissonant with current doctrine and how can an effective bottom-up system be created?

  87. heh, generally speaking when members do the “legwork” they tend to get excommunicated by those very same leaders who find excuses to keep outdated policies in place.

  88. Steve Evans says:

    Daniel, shut up.

  89. Ha! I think there might always be a disconnect between church leadership and the general membership. This may be due to a generational difference and the societal isolation that may come from holding high church positions.

  90. “societal isolation”

    Excuse me while I laugh.

  91. Latter-day Guy says:

    86, Interesting question. I suspect that the latitude members have to encourage/influence change in the Church is precisely as wide as the difference between the words “obey” and “sustain”.

  92. pinkpatent says:

    Sustain does not necessarily mean agree.

  93. Latter-day Guy says:

    “Sustain does not necessarily mean agree.”

    Exactly. However, agreeing to “sustain” a leader does imply some limits about the issues you can disagree on, and how far you can legitimately take that disagreement (e.g., private statements are one thing, but public statements require somewhat greater discretion). Can you exercise some influence by sending letters to GAs, voicing your concerns? Sure. But be careful about the subject matter and how you word it. There are some real-life examples of this, like the woman who (I believe) wrote an Apostle weekly, explaining how inconvenient the one-piece garment design was, requesting a two-piece option. (Ta-da! Of course, it did take 20+ years of weekly letters.)

  94. Okay, okay… the comments below do drift somewhat from the OP… But,

    I do not believe that the tone of this thread has accurately reflected the hardened racisim among white folk prior to the 80’s and 90’s. The racisim was deep, hard, and nearly uniformily felt among all whites. Church members and leaders were prone to its various means of expression (well, duh…).

    I think the real question is not why did it take Bush’s article so long to influence the thinking of church leaders, but why the church had not done the work itself. Why wasn’t it a priority to really dig….?

    Years ago, black opera diva Marian Andersen at the direction of church officials was initially refused lodging at the Hotel Utah when she came to sing with the Utah Symphony . To make matters worse, church leaders eventually allowed Ms. Andersen to stay at the hotel, but she had to use the freight elevator.

    [Outside of the church during WW II, black enlisted men were ordered to carry the baggage of German POW’s… But, quite enough about examples American racism.]

    The fact is that prior to the 80’s and 90’s FEW whites ever questioned deep, and long harbored racist attitudes, and FEWER whites ever considered changing their thinking that blacks were somehow less than 100% human (wasn’t it 3/5ths?).

    Church leaders and members were no more racist than the general population in which they lived. And according to the bell curve, some memebers and leaders were more vocal and strident in expressing such views. And at the other end of the bell curve tail, many rose above America’s racist culture.

    The whole episode of black African slavery, the Civil War, separate-but-equal, the LDS Priesthood ban, and not to mention the Christian “over the pulpit” justification of slavery are sordid, embarrassing and all too telling examples of the limitations of human understanding when it comes to understanding God’s children and ourselves….


  95. Earl,

    I’m afraid I don’t understand your point. I fully understand why most Americans were hardened racists and turned their back on God. After all, FEW Americans get revelation from God the way the Prophet does.

    Surely you are not implying that Church leaders are no more inspired than the people they are leading, and if the “mitigating” factors of hardened racism in the broader public apply to the leadership as well, that is a separate argument you might want to examine more specifically.

    If the sheep dog keeps killing the black sheep, should we not wonder what happened to the shepherd?

  96. Dan,
    I believe that LDS church leaders over the years have demonstrated widsom and inspired judgment in building and strengthening the church. The existence of the church despite the high hurdles over which the church has had to jump is evidence of this inspiration.

    Nevertheless, I do feel that with respect to blacks, the contemporary attitudes and hardened racisim of the times delayed the “lifting” of the ban.

    SWK, who had worked so closely with the neglected American Indian peoples, had enough when he realized that many of the Brazilian saints were contributing funds to a temple in which they would not be able to enter. Who would have guessed that an aging, ill president of the church would have cut through over a hundred years of church “policy”?

    I do not know the content of prayers of LDS church presidents before the Lord. I can only personally speculate that SWK came to a firm personal conclusion that the priesthood ban was not right. Period. And, he took this conclusion to the Lord. Other church presidents sought prayerful guidance. Did other church presidents come to a firm personal conclusion of the rightness of the ban? We do not know their hearts (as I am only speculating with regard to SWK). I do believe that racist attitudes obscured the light that was ultimately given to SWK.

    Likewise, Peter in Jerusalem said no to the gospel being preached to the Gentiles. Paul, who had labored among the Gentiles, said yes.

    Was Peter, as a whole, any less an inspired based on his original judgment? No. Were other LDS leaders less inspired? No. However, I believe that in this one area of race, culture played a dominant role in perpetuating the ban.


  97. David O. McKay was/is every bit a prophet as Moses or Spencer W. Kimball. I seriously doubt his lacking a subscription to Dialogue was an impediment to knowing God’s will.

  98. I don’t think anyone has implied that it was, Pedro. (But I suppose putting down that strawman makes for a just barely grimace-worthy bit of snark, if that’s what you’re after)

  99. Steve Evans says:

    Pedro, clearly prophets don’t need to read books, ever.

  100. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    Pedro, I voted for you.

  101. Sweet.

  102. Pedro Olavarria says:

    I’ll make all your dreams come true.

  103. One of cities I served in on my mission was called “Olavarria.” My comp could never pronounce it correctly. He’d say “Ovalarria.” That was funny. Almost as funny as your braindead commentary, Pedro.

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