The Long-Awaited Day

In 1973, Dialogue published an article by Lester Bush which traced the history of the LDS church policy banning members of African descent from holding the priesthood. That article itself became an important part of that history, as guest blogger Gregory Prince recounts below. If you’ve never read the article, it would be a great way to commemorate this important day in church history.

Update: In this post, I mentioned that a grandson of President Kimball was said to have seen a copy of the Bush article heavily marked up, apparently by the president. Since then I have tried but been unable to confirm that statement. Ed Kimball, who was close to the situation, indicates to me that he doubts the accuracy of the report. –GP

Thoughts on the 32nd Anniversary

My first contact with Lester Bush was indirect. I was in graduate school at UCLA in 1972 and was dating the Dialogue secretary, whose office was across the street from the campus. I noticed a 2-inch-thick book above her desk with the title Compilation on Blacks. Having completed a mission to Brazil three years earlier, I was well aware of the effects of the policy prohibiting ordination of blacks, but I was fuzzy on the cause. Not having the time during graduate school to wade through the 500-plus pages of Lester’s compilation, I sent a letter to his APO address—he was on an overseas assignment for the federal government—and asked if he had any additional copies of the book. He wrote back and said that he had printed and bound only a very small number, and that he had none left. I assumed that would be my last contact with him. His landmark article, “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 8 (1), 1973), was published a short time later.

In 1975 my wife (not the Dialogue secretary) and I moved to Maryland. I was astounded to learn that a year prior to our move, Lester and his family had completed his overseas assignment and had moved into the same ward where we bought a house. We quickly became, and remained, the closest of friends. Nearly every Sunday evening my wife and I would have dinner at the Bush home, and while JaLynn and Yvonne visited in one room, Lester and I would spend hours discussing things Mormon, as Lester was then the associate editor of Dialogue.

During the afternoon of June 8, 1978, JaLynn called me from Frederick, Maryland, where she was a radio announcer. She was incredulous as she read me a story that had just come over the wire, that the LDS Church had announced an end to the ban on ordination of blacks. Shortly after we got home, we drove to the Bush’s home and spent the entire evening rejoicing with them. Phone calls came to him from all parts of the country, congratulating him on the presumed role that his monumental 1973 article in Dialogue had had.

Indeed, his article had played a pivotal role in the process by which Spencer W. Kimball ultimately received the revelation that one of his predecessors, David O. McKay, had sought, without success, for many years. Only last year we learned from a grandson that President Kimball had underlined and annotated virtually the entire article in his own copy of Dialogue.

While we rejoiced in Lester’s contribution, others did not. Indeed, as he recounted in the Journal of Mormon History (“Writing ‘Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview’ (1973): Context and Reflections,” Vol. 25, (1), 1999), Boyd K. Packer tried to talk Lester out of publishing it, while surrogates simultaneously lobbied unsuccessfully with the Dialogue editors. Following the publication of the article, Lester was gradually marginalized by local church leaders. At one point I spoke with our stake president about it, and I came away with the impression that the shunning, which was subtle but destructive, came from a higher authority. Ultimately Lester and his family withdrew quietly but completely from church activity, the tragic side of “the long-promised day.”


  1. This is interesting, and I’m glad to read it. I hadn’t known of the aftermath, which is regrettable.

    “his article had played a pivotal role in the process by which Spencer W. Kimball ultimately received the revelation”

    I can’t help but be curious though. Had Kimball not already been praying about this? Was the “pivotal role” one of clarifying historical misunderstandings about the ban? Or what?

  2. Kristine says:

    Ben, in part, the article clarified that the policy was just that–a procedure that had been started without any solid doctrinal foundation which would have had to be dealt with before changing the policy.

    ( Greg’s article on David O. McKay and the ban, shows that the Brethren had been praying and thinking about the issue long before President Kimball became president.)

  3. I’m sorry to hear about the treatment of Lester. Did it improve at all after the ban was lifted? Do you know if many efforts were made to reach out to him or thank him (again, I’m thinking more specifically after the ban was lifted)?

  4. Aaron R. says:

    Greg, I am not sure if you are available for a response but I will direct this question to you but perhaps someone else can answer. I am curious to his reference about a marked copy of Dialogue that SWK possessed. Is this a reference to the Ed Kimball article, because I don’t remember that being something mentioned. There was some discussion of the article but I think it was Elder McConkie and Petersen who read it and that Kimball was told about the information second-hand. If this is not the source I would be interested to read it.

  5. Mark Brown says:

    It’s interesting to think about the atmosphere behind the scenes at the church office building in the early 70s. On one hand we have people in the highest levels of the hierarchy applying intense pressure to Bush, Robert Rees and others. Then we have Spencer W. Kimball commissioning others to find out all they can about the origin and legitimacy of the ban, and apparently studying the issue diligently himself. I think this indicates that sometimes the process of revelation is a lot rougher and a lot messier than we often assume.

  6. Greg Prince says:

    Two comments. gomez questioned whether the treatment of Lester improved after the ban was lifted. It did not improve, although one might wonder why, given that he was on the right side of history. The most overt episode of poor treatment occurred five years after the revelation, when Lester was one of several men, all of whom had published books or articles on Mormon topics, who were the object of adverse action by Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Council of the Twelve.

    Aaron R. asked if there is a published source on the Kimball story. To my knowledge there is not. The information came orally from a Kimball grandson (Ed is a son).

  7. Aaron R. says:

    Thank you Greg for the post and also for your response.

  8. Thanks Kristine. I’d read the McKay article (and biography, as well as the draft Kimball bio), but not the original Bush article.

    And thanks Greg Prince for the follow-up.

  9. I wonder what it feels like in the mind of a prophet to overturn a decision made by a previous prophet. The later prophet obviously respects the former prophet. The later prophet doesn’t want to think that the office that he inherited was used to make poor decisions. In a way, lifting the ban in 1978 was a strike against previous prophets. Lots of interesting psychology going on.

    I don’t know what “subtle shunning” or marginalization from the Stake President would look like. Being denied callings? Snide remarks or comments? I barely have any contact with my Stake President at all. It would be nice to know what the original post meant by shunning and marginalization.

  10. Thanks for this. We all owe Bush, as well as the many others who fought in the same fight, a debt of gratitude.

  11. Kristine says:

    “It would be nice to know what the original post meant by shunning and marginalization.”

    And nicer still not to engage in gossip–it’s pretty easy to imagine the kinds of subtle mistreatment that can occur in a Mormon context, without telling tales about other Saints’ poor behavior decades ago, in a forum where they can’t explain or defend themselves or offer meaningful apology.

  12. A wonderful day–and a fascinating post. I knew that Bush’s article was groundbreaking, however I was unaware of the unfortunate way his research was received. Despicable, actually. Thanks to Greg for sharing this. And especially thank you Lester Bush.

  13. Tragic indeed.

  14. #11. That’s the thing, it’s not “easy” for me to imagine. I have no idea what my Stake President could do to make me feel marginalized at all. Maybe I’m just used to feeling marginalized at Church, or maybe I’m just not easily offended. I withdraw my request for clarification though if it really makes everyone uncomfortable.

    But I do know that when people make veiled, hushed accusations about their leaders, most people’s imaginations end up being way worse than reality actually was. Just saying “there was a subtle conspiracy from The Establishment, but I’ll give you no details, just trust me” doesn’t solve things if you ask me.

  15. Kristine says:

    Syphax–true enough. It’s a shame there’s no formal mechanism for recording or appealing such actions. That’s the problem with an “unwritten order of things,” I guess. Also the advantage of it…

  16. esodhiambo says:

    #14–I have no idea what the actual circumstance entailed, but I have a great imagination. It sounds to me like the SP himself was not a culprit, but people generally could: isolate a person in a solitary calling when he might have previously been involved in higher profile affairs, not extend callings at all, repeatedly tell/ask him NOT to talk about the subject he had published on, avoid home teaching with him or to his family, ask more than the standard Temple Recommend questions or be incredulous at answers or threaten to withhold a recommend, not include family in social gatherings, suggest that he really had no idea what he was talking about when he made a comment in Sunday School, or flat out ignore his contributions in a High Priest group discussion, etc etc.

    Imagine the treatment given an outspoken Democrat in a very Republican ward (or vice versa) or a divorcee who is widely blamed by the ward for a beloved family’s break-up. I bet you can think of some ways to chill those people out of regular worship.

  17. I’m grateful for Lester’s research on this topic and many others. I’m also pleased that the work he and others have done has made the atmosphere for Mormon historical work to be a lot less tense than it once was.

  18. #16. To be honest, I’ve never seen any of those sorts of things happening, but I can IMAGINE them happening. Also I can IMAGINE a man who claims that he’s being marginalized for his opinions when in actuality people have better things to do, couldn’t care less, and he’s just taking offense at a bunch of stuff that wasn’t intended to be offensive at all. Especially when his friend offers no evidence other than he talked to the SP and “came away with the impression” that there was some kind of conspiracy going on from above. I can imagine lots of things. In the Bloggernacle we sure like imagining one side (the Man is keeping us down/the Church is a problem) a lot more than imagining the other (we are keeping ourselves down/WE are the problem). That’s why I don’t really like these types of ambiguous accusations of “local church leaders.”

  19. Greg, nice post as a reminder today, and sorry to hear about the ultimate results for Lester Bush.

  20. During the afternoon of June 8, 1978, JaLynn called me from Frederick, Maryland, where she was a radio announcer.

    I believe that June 9 would be the correct date here.

  21. Kevin Barney says:

    Lester’s 25-year retrospective in JMH that Greg mentions is fascinating; I highly recommend it.

    I can well imagine the role his article played for SWK (Interesting tidbit from the grandson!). It played just such a role for me personally. Reading that article just completely turned around the way I thought about the issue (being a missionary, my thoughts about it, such as they were, were pretty undeveloped, but I can recall early in my mission [lamely] defending the ban).

    Kind of reminds me of a rerun of House I saw the other day. As usual, the team couldn’t figure out what was wrong. One doctor kept saying that all the symptoms pointed to Lyme disease (sp?), but since there was no mark of a tick bite they rejected that theory. But it turns out that no one ever gave him a really thorough physical examination looking for the telltale tick bite marking, and it was on his head under his hair where it wasn’t easily and obviously visible.

    We perpetrated this practice for many decades, and everyone just defended it in knee jerk fashion, but no one actually looked under the hood to see what it’s historical origins truly were–until Lester came along.

  22. Syphax–

    You are right of course. As Elder Bednar has stated, if a person becomes offended, it is the fault of the offended, not the offender. That makes me feel relieved, because I generally offend more than I get offended. ;)

    In seriousness, if you have never felt marginalized, or unwelcome in the Church, or if those feelings have never become overwhelming, you are a fortunate soul.

  23. CS Eric says:

    Not only can I imagine being shunned and marginalized, I have experienced it. I moved out of state to avoid it.

    I can remember the day of the announcement. I was still pretty green on my mission, attending my first baptism at the mission home in Seoul, Korea. My mission president was a large man, and was dancing at the news. It almost seems like yesterday. I remember the day was bright, sunny, and hot, and the news seemed surreal coming from so far away. I never saw the original reactions to the news, other than from fellow missionaries, and it felt like old news when I came back to the US 18 months later.

  24. This is very interesting, thank you for posting this.

  25. #22. The Church is the only place where I HAVEN’T felt those things. Of course I’m way, way out in the Mission Field.

  26. You know, I’d like to amend that statement. I have felt marginalized in the Church, but I realized in hindsight that no one was intentionally trying to marginalize me or anything. It was just my feeling. I never fit in too much anywhere, but the Church has really been quite welcoming to me, long hair, heavy metal and all.

    So I’ve “felt” marginalized, but I don’t think I ever actually was.

  27. Interesting related bit I just read a couple days ago from Russell M. Nelson’s pre-apostolic autobiography “From Heart to Heart”, concerning his own spiritual confirmation of OD2:

    Since the passing of President Lee, I have had two very special dreams involving him…
    The Second occurred on September 16, 1978. In the dream there were two vivid messages: first, that if President Lee had gone on living, a very severe affliction would have developed in his body which, if allowed to progress, would have given him great pain, suffering, and incapacity. The medical details of this were dreadful and distressing. He said his sudden death in December 1973 was brought about as an act of love and mercy, for the Lord wished to spare him and the Church the misery that otherwise would have ensued. His second message was that the revelations recieved and the actions subsequently taken by President Kimball were the very same as would have been received and performed by President Lee had he remained as the prophet. President Lee exclaimed that the Lord gives His will to His living prophet regardless of who the prophet is at the time, for the Lord indeed is directing His Church.

  28. The fact that individuals are responsible for feeling offended or not does not relieve us of the responsibility we all have to try to not be offensive.

  29. David T, how did you manage to get a copy of “From Heart to Heart”. I understand those sell for $500+!!

  30. Interlibrary Loan. Sent it direct from University of Utah!

  31. I think “marginalized” is a much better term than shunning, which brings to mind formal bans on contact that are communicated to the general membership as practiced in a few other denominations but not the LDS Church. No one is suggesting this is what happened in this case.

    If by marginalized is meant being called as a Scout leader rather than to the high council or being shunted off to teach lessons in the high priests group rather than speaking at stake conference … well, that’s just part of the price one pays for being a public intellectual in the Church. I doubt it’s really a surprise to anyone. The same principle applies to GA recruitment — if you’re a scientist or a historian, you won’t become a GA unless you invent a time machine and travel back to the 19th century.

    One can debate whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. Intellectuals are notoriously incapable of sensing the limits of their own expertise, whereas most professionals sooner or later learn to shut up when they are out of their range of expertise. The Church is better served by senior leaders who know their own limits and don’t say much than by those who think they know it all and aren’t bashful about sharing it. But the bottom line is that if Lester Bush was in fact marginalized, that’s more a reflection on how the senior leaders have decided to run the Church and how local leaders run stakes and wards than on Bush personally.

  32. Kristine says:

    “Intellectuals are notoriously incapable of sensing the limits of their own expertise, whereas most professionals sooner or later learn to shut up when they are out of their range of expertise.”

    I take it you are an intellectual?

  33. Aaron B says:

    Interesting Russell M. Nelson quote, David T.

    Nelson seems to suggest in the italicized portion of the quoted passage that the Lord’s timeline with respect to the timing and content of revelations exists independently of who’s in charge (of the Church), and the choices they make. This seems to run against a common assumption held by many denizens of the Bloggernacle — namely, that the timing of revelations is often a product of the particular questions posed to the Lord by the Prophet at different times, and so in a very important sense, human action can and does influence the revelatory record. Or course, one might read into Nelson’s comments the dea that Lee would have chosen to approach the Lord about the Priesthood Ban just as Kimball did, and thereby neutralize my prior reading. But I think this would be a stretch.

    In any event, I like the idea that Bush’s article was in some sense instrumental in the outcome we saw in 1978, so I think I’ll stick with my view that God’s children can influence God’s timeline to some extent, based on the questions they raise, and the fervency they’re movitated to raise them.

  34. Kristine says:

    Look, Dave, there’s no need to quibble about the details of Bush’s alienation from the church. He ought to be hailed as a hero, just as Juanita Brooks ought to have been (and is now, to some degree), and that most assuredly did not happen.

  35. Steve Evans says:

    “One can debate whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.”

    I’d be interested in the debate that this is a good thing.

  36. Mark B. says:

    Well, if you know that historians or scientists (or Lieutenant Generals–see, e.g., Gen. Bradley’s comments to Lt. Gen. George S. Patton–via Karl Malden to George C. Scott) just don’t know when to shut up, then it’s clearly a good thing.

    But, having grown up in the home of a scientist, I know one exception that disproves his rule. I’m sure that there are thousands of others. My real question: where is the one example he used to formulate his rule?

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    I personally don’t believe that HBL would have come up with the 1978 revelation.

  38. “I personally don’t believe that HBL would have come up with the 1978 revelation.”

    That’s certainly the vibe I got as well after reading “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” (Thanks, Greg, for another great read.)

  39. “Intellectuals are notoriously incapable of sensing the limits of their own expertise, whereas most professionals sooner or later learn to shut up when they are out of their range of expertise.”

    If lawyers are professionals and scientists are intellectuals, my experience suggests the exact opposite. The lawyer in my ward is more than happy to stand up and talk his ignorant head off about science. The many scientists I know are much more reluctant to spout their heads off about law. In fact, most scientists I know are skeptical even when it comes to findings in their own field.

    For the record, I’ve worked in both science and law, and I’ve gotten to know dozens of people in both professions.

  40. Of course, exceptions abound…
    Some lawyers are humble, and some scientists are incredibly arrogant.

  41. reader Rachel says:

    #31–Is this why I can’t seem to fill the vacancies for scout leaders in our primary? No, Brother Dave, I’m not trying to marginalize you, I just think you would do a great job working with these boys and they could benefit from having you serve them.

  42. “If John Taylor had lived past 1890, he would have issued OD1.” Difficult to consistently assign a truth value to this, but, based on JT’s attitudes before his death one would extrapolate that he would NOT have issued OD1. But he didn’t live and so we just don’t know. I’m of the persuasion that church presidents live and die at Divine pleasure. So I don’t know what to make of Nelson’s counterfactual. The assertion that God gives revelation on a timetable may be true, but you have to be careful of paradox. Or at least I do. It’s a professional thing.(g)

  43. britt k says:

    What a wonderful contribution Lester Bush made and what a wonderful day. I’m sorry he wasw treated so poorly.

  44. Kristine (#32), once again I apologize for commenting at BCC.

    Kristine (#34), I would agree that Bush and Brooks are heros of sorts. I wasn’t at all trying to disparage Bush. I just think the marginalization process is interesting and worth discussing. It was discussed in the body of the post, after all.

  45. Kristine says:

    Dave, nobody’s asking you to apologize for commenting, only not to make silly generalizations. We could talk about marginalization, but I think we should do it based on something more than a couple of sentences about a specific case which no one here is really qualified or willing to discuss.

  46. Kristine says:

    And I was mostly kidding in 32–I’m trying to eschew emoticons, or I’d have winked/grinned.

  47. MikeInWeHo says:

    Eschewing emoticons will turn into a blogging version of Mr. Spock.

  48. Lester Bush is a hero. Thanks for telling his story.

    Last fall I taught OD2 in Gospel Doctrine. I thought for a long time and decided that even if it got me released, I was going to say(if less bluntly than as follows) what I believed to be the truth — that the policy was a mistake and that there is good evidence for that. I prayed, got my ducks in a row, and had a nice sheet of quotes from GA’s to hand out to support my claim. To my surprise, the bishop thanked me for the lesson and praised it in glowing terms as did many other members of the ward. No one complained. One new returned missionary told me “I wish I had known this stuff while I was still on my mission.” The overwhelming sentiment was relief that we didn’t need to strain ourselves into defending the policy as God’s own word.

    I was humbled by the experience. I’ve tried to be more generous in how I perceive my fellow ward members since. I also was encouraged. Maybe Lester Bush would be treated better now.

  49. Sorry for being late to the conversation. I just wanted to say that in my experience “shunning” has a more accurate connotation than “marginalizing.” I’d never been aware of this sort of thing until I moved to CA and saw the aftermaths of Props 22 and 8. It’s shunning, all right – being released from all callings, not being allowed to pray or talk at any church functions, being seriously and protractedly ill in one case and not being contacted by home teachers or visiting teachers who knew of the illness, having temple recommends rescinded or being threatened with this, being called minions of Satan over the pulpit (not by name), being conspicuously avoided by the bishopric, stake presidency, and most fellow ward members, but not being officially disfellowshipped. (Somehow the word gets around.)

    Many of the people I know who have been the objects of this treatment remain committed believers. Some have moved out of our stake. Others have stopped attending church. It’s easy to say it’s their fault for being offended. In truth, it’s extremely difficult to face such powerful social disapproval on such a large scale. And I’m not sure “offended” is the right descriptor, by the way. Wounded or deeply saddened, maybe.

    I guess this is a rant. Sorry. I lurk a lot but rarely have the courage to post anything. But this phenomenon, whatever you decide to call it, is just heartbreaking, and it shouldn’t be denied or go unnoticed.

  50. Thank you for your comment, JC. I, for one, am tired of the blanket excuse that “If you’re offended it’s your fault” provides.

  51. Thomas Parkin says:

    Thanks, JC.

    I rather think the gist of Elder Bednar’s talk was that _ultimately_ we are ourselves responsible for our reactions to things. I don’t think that resolves the church or individual members of the church of their responsibility when they are unkind, unloving and reactionary. ~

  52. Thomas Parkin says:

    resolves = absolves and other adventures in spelling, grammar and not paying attention. ~

  53. kailiala says:

    Accepting that we are ultimately responsible for our reaction to an offense is phase1 – phase 2 is being able to define and implement an appropriate response. It is easy to smile away an idiot comment in a quorum lesson – it is quite another thing to accept bullying from the pulpit or local church leaders. When Joseph Smith in DC 121 asked God to ‘…with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs…’, I get the feeling JS was a bit upset at those taking the offensive against the saints. Lester Bush, Armand Mauss and company contributed significantly to the repeal of this un-christlike practice. Millions of saints today and in the future reap the blessings of an inclusive priesthood. Being a voice for righteousness always has a cost – I am grateful that their voices were heard and now the gospel is being preached to every child of God.

  54. I am always struck by the courage of someone like a Lester Bush. We are all revisionists, and while we may be hard on ourselves in some ways, it is a common human error when looking backwards to view yourself on the right side of any historical issue when the exact opposite may well be closer to the mark.

    I was born in 1976, so while I was technically alive when the revelation was received, I cannot claim to have lived during the priesthood ban with any meaningful consciousness. What would I have done? I really don’t know. I’m not really all that strong.

    What I feel is germane to the discussion is the question of the proper response of any member–who believes in personal revelation, the reality of authorized priesthood leadership, and an open cannon–to a sense of error in a policy, practice, or even doctrine of the church.

    When confronted with certain issues of our day, I am left wondering how to respond (just as I imagine happened in the minds of millions of faithful latter-day saints during the long years of the priesthood ban). In my mind I must admit that certain ideas labeled as “progressive” or as embracing “civil rights” are troubling to me. I see members of the church urging, as did Lester Bush, for an adoption of a different approach to the social issues of our time. And I feel to say, “I do not know the mind of God.” What I *can* say is that nothing in my heart or in my understanding of the Gospel leads me to believe as you urge, but I must admit to the possibility that further light and knowledge may indeed be forthcoming on many subjects I believe to be closed issues.

    I can see in the actions of many of the leaders of the church–during the times of the priesthood ban and even our own day–a desire to steady the ark. A desire to preserve what they see as the doctrine of the gospel through means we might consider out of place or wholly inappropriate.

    We preach of the weakness of man, of the errors common to us all, but when they actually do arise in our leaders, it always seems to hit us like a freight train. It shouldn’t.

    They are weak men and women. Just like you. Just like me. They are sometimes wonderful. They are sometimes petty. They are sometimes wrong, even when they seem to believe quite deeply that they are right. The same is quite true of you and of me.

    So, my ultimate point is that we musn’t judge ourselves, the church’s leadership, or those whom we view as adversaries within the church, too harshly.

    The tricky thing about personal revelation is that it comes to everyone at different times. Even if you’re certain that you’re right, you came to your knowledge at some point in time, prior to which you had no such certainty. Or perhaps you were as Saul and actively persecuted the perception, faith, and beliefs that you now so ardently espouse.

    I want to be forgiving. I want to forgive those who may have perpetuated a policy that was later repealed. I want to plead to God that he will bless those who lived and suffered under what appears to have been the result of bare prejudice and entrenched social racism and perversion.

    Much too long, and for that I apologize. But hindsight’s always 20/20 folks. You may be surprised at what our children say of us someday. We’re doing the best we know how.

  55. JC, I concur. The problem is the friction between what is and what should be the true church.

    There are huge questions and issues: Do we need people like Lester Bush? Do we need loyal opposition in the Church? To me and to the Church leadership it is not clear that we do. You may not like the Church without the loyal opposition (me, maybe you, Lester Bush, and many others) but, in fact, the Church might grow faster and better, to fill the whole earth, without dissonant opinions. Maybe when the prophet speaks the thinking really is done in terms of what is perceived as the Church’s main mission, to grow.

    The fact that Lester Bush got the treatment might be necessary for the health of the Church in terms of its main mission. I serves to keep the loyal opposition tamped down and muted. Look at BCC, the blog is very conscious of being non-adversarial and non-combative just because of the problems which Lester Bush and others have had.

    God is also the god of destruction and transformation. Remember, God will allow the death of a mother of 6 young children at a stop sign for the simple reason of inattention.

  56. I should explain myself a little better. In a very interesting book, Darwin’s Cathedral, Sloan-Wilson discusses religions in terms of competing organisms. He points out what makes a high growth religion. He concludes that in at least one form, a high growth religion has to cast out the “weak sisters” (his term) who do not have the commitment, stamina and energy to push forward the goals of the organization.

    But, oddly enough, he also points out that Christianity overwhelmed the Roman Empire with a 6% growth and no central organization! (It was only when it had achieved substantial numbers that it was adopted by the state, and Gnosticism was banished, in a top-down organization.)

    So, pick you model. Good growth, 6% per year, based on what people found good without a central leader. Or 6% (or more?) per year in a top-down hierarchy where the less committed and dissonant voices are pushed out?

    I prefer, myself, the chaotic growth model. Elaine Pagels in her book, Beyond Belief, indicates that in the first 300 years, Christianity was very much like modern Protestantism with many sects vying for membership. Some of the most dynamic were Gnostic. In the Gnostic model, churches are really easy to found and schisms are a way of life. The reason people became Christian is because Christians were good people, moral and dedicated to each other and attractive in terms of the Roman way of living. The schisms were not particularly harmful to the overall success of the greater religion.

    Now 6% growth is actually really fabulous. This is doubling every 15 years or so. Would we be willing to trade a more schismatic religion for better behavior for about the same growth rate? I am tempted.

    As for the last line. Jesus said that it rains on the just and unjust. God is fine with that. Jesus is the prototype of the Just Man getting the shaft. In some ways those of us who are shunned are truly following in the Savior’s footsteps.

  57. My editor says I should restate a sentence:

    Would we be willing to trade our religion with its intolerance for dissent for a more schismatic religion (with the inherent tolerance of differing opinion) for about the same growth rate? I am tempted.

  58. To Lester Bush I simply say, Thank You.

    Thanks to you also Greg.


  59. This article is very interesting to me because I have a family member who is very dear to my heart who also had some issues concerning the LDS church’s delay in admitting “colored” men to hold the priesthood. My step-grandfather is a “colored” man who married into my family, a very strong LDS family. He is a wonderful man who has been Catholic all his life, but, when he married my grandma, he began to also attend LDS church meetings and to read the Book of Mormon with her everyday to show his support for her and to keep their marriage strong. My grandpa has always been supportive of our family in our beliefs, including praying and reading the Book of Mormon with us, attending baptisms, ordinations, and church meetings, and freely teaching us about God and His gospel. About a year ago, Grandpa told our family that he would appreciate it if we could pray for him; he had read and prayed about the Book of Mormon and he believed that it was true, but he couldn’t believe that God would allow only some of His children to hold the priesthood according to their racial status. Grandpa wanted to be baptized, but he needed to be OK with the idea that God had a reason for not allowing blacks to hold the priesthood before he could join our church. We prayed as he had asked, and didn’t hear back from him about the matter until about two months ago. He reported that he was going to be baptized at the end of May. Our entire extended family flew to his home in Maryland to support him in and be there for his baptism. The best part of our “vacation” was when I stood in the circle of priesthood-holding men in my family to help ordain him to the Aaronic priesthood. To be honest, I don’t know exactly how Grandpa came to know that God’s purpose for denying the priesthood to “colored” folks was part of a grander design. I DO know, however, that our Heavenly Father has a reason for everything He does, and that reason is what is best for His children. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8). I am very thankful for a Heavenly Father who loves His children and blesses those who seek His mysteries with revelation so that they can understand his will.

  60. JC — guess I was being shunned when I went over two years without any home teaching visits, etc. Of course it could have been that people were just overwhelmed by other things as well.

    Kenny — I had someone I taught, Richard Oteno, who had a similar experience. I think we are seriously limited by our own perspectives.

  61. Stephen M (Ethesis) – When I first read your comment I thought you were trivializing people’s sorrow. But then I realized I wasn’t clear. I was talking about all or most of the things I listed happening to each of the “shunned” people/families. Not just a matter of one or two things, like no home teachers for a few years. (We haven’t seen our home teachers for a few years, either. This does not upset me.)

    Obviously, we are limited by our individual perspectives. But many people in the ward and stake have independently noted the pattern of treatment experienced by certain members. The term “shunning” has been used by several of the observers. It’s not just me.

  62. Amazing post, Greg!

  63. Antonio Parr says:

    59. Kenny: Beautiful post. One quibble, though. Maybe it wasn’t Heavenly Father’s doing, but the errors of fallible humans that resulted in the Priesthood ban. Just because we are the Lord’s Church does not mean that we will not err. Just ask Peter. Just ask Paul. etc. etc. etc.

  64. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 55:8).

    Given that in the history of the world, our thoughts and our ways have generally been about exclusion, hatred, misogyny, racism, nationalism, etc., it seems curious to use this scripture to suggest the opposite.

  65. Question relating to Comment 48 by hbar.

    Do you still have the list of quotes and would you be willing to post or email them?

  66. Antonio Parr says:

    64. Ronan:


    P.S. Go “Yanks”! God bless ‘merica, ‘hon!

  67. If “People Smarter Than I” (heck, that includes about 97% of the people on the planet! ;D) have researched the issue and come to the conclusion that the ban was not inspired, I’ll defer to them.

    I do wonder, though, if the ban was just a policy, why it took a revelation to reverse it. Usually, revelations are reserved for things of larger moment; a reversal of policy, on the other hand, usually doesn’t merit anything more than a blurb in a “Policies & Announcements” section of the Church News or of the Ensign. Perhaps only a revelation would get the more recalcitrant of the brethren on board. Whatever the source of the ban, I think the efforts to explain it or to justify it probably did more damage than the ban itself ever could.

    As for the treatment of people like Brother Bush at the hands of their ecclesiastical leaders, my brother’s a stake president: I, being the black sheep of the family (oops! maybe a poor choice of words, that … well, you know what I mean!) will never be anything of the sort … I have a hard time believing that he would/could countenance anything like the treatment Brother Bush received … Perhaps only the most righteous among us can truly understand, not only the utility, but the vital necessity of shunning, ostracizing, and marginalizing our fellow saints who are truly deserving of such treatment.

  68. More to the point of why I’ll never be a bishop or a stake president, if a file leader of mine were ever to tell me that I should in any way calculate, orchestrate, facilitate, (or any other -ate ;D) or even allow the sort of treatment to which Brother Bush was subjected, I’m afraid, to put it mildly, I wouldn’t fall in line very well. I ain’t very ‘bedient! ;-D

  69. Thank you for a beautiful post. And I loved your McKay book.

  70. I love Greg Prince. Thanks, Greg!

  71. 63. Antonio Parr & 64. RJH: Antonio, you’re right; maybe it wasn’t Heavenly Father’s doing. But for all we know, it was. I can think of several reasons why He would disallow (is that a word?) the priesthood to be held by “colored” men. Maybe He just wanted to test the faith of the Saints by creating that policy. Maybe He saw fit to keep the priesthood from “coloreds” because allowing it would only cause more of the already-abundant persecution for the Church.
    But you’re right, maybe it did have to do with the Prophet at the time. In one of my seminary classes, somebody suggested that the Lord was willing to allow “colored” men to hold the priesthood for quite some time, but He wanted the Prophet to ask Him about it instead of approaching the Prophet about it directly.
    My point isn’t to prove either that it was truly part of Heavenly Father’s plan or that it was essentially an error on man’s part. I just want to remind everyone that either way, this issue shouldn’t cause contention. We should trust in the Lord AND the Prophet. When we sustain one we sustain the other. After all, the Lord says in D&C 1:38, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. ” If the Lord trust the Prophet then so do I, and I think we all should regardless of our own inclinations. Besides, according to President Wilford Woodruff, “I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.” (Official Declaration—1) He later stated, “… I say to all Israel at this day, I say to the whole world, that the God of Israel, who organized this Church and kingdom, never ordained any President or Presidency to lead it astray. Hear it, ye Israel, no man who has ever breathed the breath of life can hold these keys of the kingdom of God and lead the people astray. …Let us make up our minds to serve and honor God. Do not have any fears concerning the kingdom; the Lord will lead that aright; and if Brother Woodruff or any of the Presidency of this Church should take any course to lead you astray, the Lord will remove us out of the way. We are in the hands of the Lord, and those keys will be held and taken care of by the God of Israel until He comes whose right it is to reign.” (“The Keys of the Kingdom,” Ensign, Apr 2004, 29)
    Anyway, I would like to say that I really have no idea who restricted “colored” church members to hold the priesthood or why they did. But I respectfully suggest that it doesn’t matter because we can trust the decision as it was largely divine.

  72. Kenny, even if you put it in quotes, “colored” is an anachronistic word and you shouldn’t be using it.

    Respectfully suggest away. I respectfully suggest that the restriction was NOT divinely instituted, and add that this does not affect my testimony in the least.

  73. “Maybe it wasn’t Heavenly Father’s doing. But for all we know, it was.”

    Kenny, who’s “we”? Based on all I know, the ban was NOT God’s doing.

    I’ve blogged about Why I Don’t Believe That God Instituted The Priesthood Ban here:

  74. Greg, thank you for sharing. Wonderful insights.

    #59, I am in you grandparents Ward, and seeing him baptized, and seeing all of you fly out for it was really, really beautiful, and moving. He has a Ward full of loving people who have also quietly wondered what, after all these years, caused him to change his mind. Our Primary kids are no less loud, our Deacons are no less scruffy. He has sat, for years, as one of us, seen our faults, our good times and bad, so we know it had to be something moving within him, deep, and personal….Sill, it still moved me to happy tears this Sunday to see him break the Sacrament bread.

  75. 72. Margaret Blair Young: Sorry Margaret, I was trying to use a word that would actually be more appropriate and respectful than “black”, but I guess I went the wrong direction with that one. My apologies! Please note that I was careful to never stake the claim that the priesthood ban was instituted by God Himself; rather, I think it could come from multiple sources, as I believe I pointed out. Thank you for voicing your opinion though. And I’m happy to see that your testimony has not been affected. :) And I hope no one gets offended by what I say. I just think it’s good that we trust the Prophet.
    73. Clean Cut: I’m sorry for my ambiguous use of the word “we”. I just mean to say that I do not know exactly who instituted the so-called “priesthood ban” and I’m not aware of any authorized answer to that mystery. I know many people have theories and I find yours great. In your blog, you cited Elder Holland as saying “… we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place. … We just don’t know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced. … That’s my principal [concern], is that we don’t perpetuate explanations about things we don’t know.” I am saying (or trying to say, at least) the same thing as Elder Holland. I just want to make sure that everyone keeps in mind that no matter where they point their fingers on this issue, the real source of the ban is, as far as I can tell, unknown. You probably know a lot more about it than I do, but I don’t know where or why the ban came from or why, and to be honest, I don’t care very much because I trust the Lord and His prophets. However, if you ever find anywhere where someone (with authority, of course) states an answer to either who or why the ban was instituted please let me know because I am interested to find out. I honestly would like to be corrected if I’m wrong so that I can know the truth of the issue.
    74. J8veg: It was a great baptism, wasn’t it? I think I speak for everyone in attendance when I say that it was such a great experience. I wish I could be there to see Grandpa exercise his newly-obtained priesthood. Thanks to your ward for ever-welcoming him and being great hosts. Your ward was very hospitable to my very large, very crazy family. So thanks. :)

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