Teaching the Priesthood Restriction

After the lesson, one individual in particular waited to talk to me, and holding up a phone showed me a picture of a grandchild hugging a black person. They were to be married in a few months. I can’t claim special revelatory knowledge, but after the discussions of that day–of what we do know–this good person, who had struggled, was now healed. We both blinked back tears.

I had about one and a half hours to treat the Priesthood Restriction and Official Declaration 2. Much of the discussion, especially the time leading up to the great revelation was based on Edward Kimball’s “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008): 5-85. This was a slightly edited version of the extended chapter included on the CD-ROM with his 2005 Lengthen Your Stride (Deseret Book). This really is an extraordinary piece and I encourage everyone to read it, if you haven’t.

I supplemented the article with material that it treated only lightly or not at all. What follows is an incomplete overview of that day. I introduced the topic by discussing how Christians and Muslims had invented the connection between Cain/Ham and black Africans as a tool of subjugation as part of the Slave trade during the sixth and seventh centuries ce (see here and here). Also note that the folk belief that ancient Egyptians or Canaanites were black is simply false. In the US, however, these beliefs grew virulent as a justification for America’s brand of race-based slavery. By the early 1800s you see Christians debating whether black people even had souls.

No surprise that Mormons who grew up in this environment had some engagement with these beliefs and over time integrated versions of them into Mormon cosmology. Still Joseph Smith was very progressive and stated emphatically that not only did black people have souls, but they were as capable of refinement as white people. Quite a few black men were ordained to priesthood office with Elijah Able and Walker Lewis being the most well known (but a number of less known folks as well). Still, you should be prepared to find all manner of quotations about black people by early church leaders that would be deemed completely unacceptable by both modern secular and modern Mormon perspectives.

Elijah Able participated in the Kirtland Temple liturgy and received a patriarchal blessing promising him the fullness of blessings in the Church. Walker Lewis was a branch president in Massachusetts in the early 1840s. It is of Walker Lewis that Brigham Young spoke when discussing the aberrant activities of one black member that “its nothing to do with the blood for of one blood has God made all flesh, we have to repent (and) regain what we av [sic] lost–we av [sic] one of the best Elders an African in Lowell [i.e., Walker Lewis.]”

So where did the priesthood ban come from? Well, we have no clear cut documentation. However, the best current scholarship at this time suggests that the restriction arose in response to marriages between white women and black men around 1847. In Utah in 1852 Brigham Young detailed his support of the priesthood restriction and slavery. However, it should also be mentioned that Young thought slavery was destructive and was not right, so he is somewhat ambivalent.

All sorts of theological reasons grew up to rationalize the restriction. For example, Young believed that both Cain and Able were princes and that when Cain slew Able, he prevented Able’s posterity from coming to earth. Cain’s posterity was therefore denied the prieshtood until Able’s posterity was restored (perhaps in the Millennium). This one didn’t get much traction. Another popular belief was that Black people had been “fence-sitters” in the pre-mortal world. This latter belief is a pernicious bastardization of Mormon foreordination belief. In 1907 Joseph Fielding Smith stated:

There is nothing in our standard works, nor any authoritative statement to the effect that one third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral in the great conflict and that the colored races are of that neutral class. The statement has been put forth at various times until ^the belief^ it has become quite general that the Negro race has been cursed for taking a neutral position in that great contest. But this is not the official position of the Church, merely the opinion of men.

Despite this position, he and other Church leaders eventually grew to accept this “opinion of men” in their official teachings. It is at this point that I shifted to Ed Kimball’s paper, which, again, is extraordinary. Though I did not frame it as such, in my mind the miracle that it demonstrates is not that a revelation came, but that President Kimball was able to patiently help turn the hearts of the governing quorums over to allow for such a revelation. It is true that other leaders had asked before him, but it is my belief that the Lord preferred an outcome like Official Declaration 2 as opposed to Official Declaration 1 (which we had discussed the week before). If you are familiar with some of the now public statements of Church leaders like Delbert Stapley, I think you may agree with me.

I shared differing accounts of the reception of the actual revelation: Arrington’s, McConkie’s and Hinkley’s. After some more discussion from Kimball’s paper, I then shared what I believe to be Elder McConkie’s finest hour. A couple months after the revelation, he addressed some faculty at BYU:

We have revelations that tell us that the gospel is to go to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people before the second coming of the Son of Man. And we have revelations which recite that when the Lord comes he will find those who speak every tongue and are members of every nation and kindred, who will be kings and priests, who will live and reign on earth with him a thousand years. That means, as you know, that people from all nations will have the blessings of the house of the Lord before the Second Coming. We have read these passages and their associated passages for many years. We have seen what the words say and have said to ourselves, “Yes, it says that, but we must read out of it the taking of the gospel and the blessings of the temple to the Negro people, because they are denied certain things.” There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

I also shared Elder Holland’s comment from the PBS documentary:

One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. …[M]y earlier colleagues.., I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. …But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed.

After this statement, I shifted into prophetic mode, invoking the name of the Lord, and I exhorted the class to never spread the false teachings regarding race and the priesthood, including ideas of cursed lineages, white resurrection and proscriptions on inter-racial marriage. I also exhorted them to not allow such things to go unchallenged if they ever heard them taught. I then read the final paragraph of a talk I once gave on the topic, and barely kept myself composed.

I had opened the discussion with President Hinckley’s comments from the 2006 Priesthood Session:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?

I asked the class if they could imagine this being read forty years ago. I didn’t say it then, but I submit now that it would not have been less true.


  1. Jonathan, you are a gem. This is wonderful. Thank you.
    Of course, President Kimball DID say powerful words against prejudice in 1954 (and we have his actual, pre-cancer voice saying those words in special features of _Nobody Knows_ The full talk lasts about twelve minutes, and all of it is powerful. We edited it down to seven.). Pres. Kimball was concerned primarily with the treatment of Native Americans, a people he loved. But I believe he was also being prepared to lead the Church to that great day in 1978.
    Is there another like President Kimball who will help us “lengthen our stride” in coming to a complete healing? I suspect there is.

  2. Thank you, Margaret.

  3. Excellent, J., thank you.

    “Despite this position, he and other Church leaders eventually grew to accept this “opinion of men” in their official teachings.”

    This, for me, is the most significant line of the post and I think this happens at all levels more often than we care to admit.

  4. Elder Holland’s statement doesn’t clarify anything since he doesn’t say which ideas are wrong. I also find using the term “folklore” as a euphemism for false doctrine equally unhelpful (folklore is always perpetuated, that’s the nature of folklore). The brethren have not been nearly as clear as J has on the issue.

  5. I have heard Elder Holland specifically repudiate the “less valiant” nonsense. I think it’ll be a bit more tricky to address the whole curse idea, which was so pervasively taught. That’ll take some very dedicated and discerning weeding.

  6. Steve, I agree that folklore as euphamism for false teaching isn’t accurate, no more than saying doctrine is synonymous with truth. Though I think that folks belief and doctrine are useful descriptors in some contexts. And I agree that I am taking a more explicit position than church leaders have.

  7. J. Do you know if there are any records or statements about Brigham’s feelings regarding the 1852 Utah Territorial Legislature’s decision to allow slavery in Utah? I had assumed that it had his sanction since he still had great political sway at that point. It seems that if he felt it “was destructive and was not right” that he would have some strong statements about the decision of the legislature.

  8. Geoffsn, he was in support. He made conflicting statements. Hence the ambivilance.

  9. Thank you for shedding some more light on a complex issue. It also gives food for thought on how we, as individual members of the church, can stay faithful despite the mistakes and weaknesses of man — even the leaders of the church. I’m glad we can have this discourse so we can appropriately discuss and gain understanding to the best we can in this mortal life.

    Thank you again for your research and ability to teach such material.

  10. California Compromise–California was free; Utah and New Mexico were given the option of choosing choose to be either slave-holding or free through popular sovereignty. Though John Bernheisel, who was working in Washington DC, lobbied for freedom, Utah became a slave-holding territory–probably because there were at least sixty slaves in the state at that time.

  11. Steve, I’ve also been troubled by our use of the word folklore, though obviously I use it myself to describe the “philosophies of men” which supported the restriction. What word would you use?

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    An outstanding lesson. I especially liked your “prophetic mode” comments.

  13. I don’t doubt you at all ,Margaret, it’s just that the statement we have in print aren’t very strong. Stronger statements would be helpful. People who hold the old beliefs about less-valiant spirits probably wouldn’t find the statements from McConkie, Holland, or Hinkley that J. quotes as proof to the contrary.

  14. Good question, Margaret. Maybe we should brainstorm. “Concocted doctrine” “shooting from the hip” “misunderstandings” “extrapolation” (I like that one), “invention”. That’s a start.

  15. Steve, in the next part of my little series, I’ll quote what missionaries in Africa said about Elder Holland’s response to a question posed by an African missionary: “Were blacks less valiant than others in the pre-existance?” I personally heard Elder Holland repudiate the “fencesitter” idea when my husband and I were called to serve in the MTC. And if you read further in the PBS interview, he gets specific:
    Elder Holland: “Well, some of the folklore that you must be referring to are suggestions that there were decisions made in the pre-mortal councils where someone had not been as decisive in their loyalty to a Gospel plan or the procedures on earth or what was to unfold in mortality, and that therefore that opportunity and mortality was compromised. I really don’t know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I’ve been able to live in the period where we’re not expressing or teaching them, but I think that’s the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils. … But I think that’s the part that must never be taught until anybody knows a lot more than I know. … 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. …”

  16. Thanks, Margaret, my mistake.

  17. Well done, J.

  18. Folklore comes from the ‘folks’ at the bottom. Maybe Leaderlore?

  19. #7, On slavery in Utah, check out Nate Ricks’ MA Thesis on the subject.

  20. BTW, the discussion here about the use of the word “folklore” is enlightening. Thank you!

  21. Jared, thanks for the link.

    J. I read the post too quickly and somehow missed the sentence on Brigham’s statements in 1852 on priesthood restriction and slavery. Thanks for the meticulous summary.

  22. Well done! Some years after the 1978 announcement, missionaries taught and baptized the first African American in northern Mississippi in modern times (at least that was my information at the time). I was assigned as home teacher. It was an honor. It was very difficult for this person as the cultural barriers were great. But she stuck it out, despite bombardment by well-meaning relatives with Ed Decker material. It was also difficult for branch members who weren’t used to befriending blacks in this deeper way. Painful to watch at times.

    Up until just a few years ago, we were still seen as a “white church” in the south. Sad to say, many of our own members and leaders there tended to reinforce the perception.

    But thanks to Darius and some materials featuring him, some inspired mission presidents and people like Gladys Knight, that image has begun to change and the conversion numbers prove it. It will take more time, but things are moving in a wonderful way.

  23. Thank you for such excellent writing. Keep up the good work.

  24. Excellent stuff.

    I have recently come to believe that something more explicit and official may be necessary. In my experience, many LDS give such priority to printed LDS material from the Church that anything not put out by the Church is relegated to “bloglore” or “internet lore.”

    I’ve been teaching the teacher training class, and talked about quoting reliable sources. I brought up the least controversial example I could think of to make a point about even official LDS sources not being omniscient or perfect, namely, the story of the three boys carrying everyone across the river not being terribly accurate. I later had a conversation with the Bishop in which he expressed support for the story because it’s been in the Ensign and other Church materials, and “all I had” was something non-Church called BYU Studies. My Bishop’s a sharp guy, but if that’s his perspective (and it really surprised me), than perhaps we do need something more official and explicit to stamp out the “leaderlore” of the past.

  25. Ditto Ben S.

    I once gave Nobody Knows as a gift to some friends. I thought they would like it, but I heard later they didn’t even watch it because it came from a non-authorized (their word) source.

    On the other hand, without waiting for the church to act, it behooves us to forcefully challenge the mistaken ideas enumerated by Elder Holland, and as J. says, not allow them to be spread among us anymore.

  26. Kristine says:

    Instead of “folklore,” I think we should say “racist bullshit.” Maybe not in Sunday School, I guess…

  27. Thanks for this! The early historical links are very helpful. Completely agree with your exhortation that we have a responsibility in Zion to quash the folklore wherever we find it.

  28. Kevin Barney says:

    Ha, Kristine FTW!

  29. I wonder if what we need more of …in the Nobody knows variety is a few more repentance promoting stories. Yes leaders have repudiated to an extent the man made excuses and rationalizations taught as doctrine…but any apology of such sounds a bit hollow because most of the people apologizing tend to think the apology is really not theirs to make and not very worth while. I think most people don’t really want an apology anyways..they want empathy.

    I’m reminded of the group in the Book of Mormon that come together under King Mosiah in Mosiah 25. All these different groups of peoples come together from their various grades of miraculous escapes. They each share their stories and feel each others losses and pains and succeses. They really feel empathy.

    I know we prefer “faith promoting stories” their more fun and happy. And people don’t need to repent for belonging to the church that did these things…I think I need to repent more for having a lack of empathy…not really understanding other people and where they come from and have been.

    now why is it so hard to read and attempt to edit the comment I have typed with all these forms and buttons on it?

  30. J., wonderful post. Thanks for this.

  31. Thanks, J. This is a critical lesson specifically because so many members still don’t understand it.

    All I can do is repudiate – and I do that whenever I can.

  32. This post, like several similar posts by others on their talks and lessons, seems too self-congratulatory. “I shifted into prophetic mode”, in particular. It sounds like an excellent, important and fascinating lesson, but I would be more interested to read the class members’ glowing impressions of it than the instructor’s.

  33. Excellent.

  34. Clair thanks for the comment, though I think we may be taking a different perspective on what “prophetic mode” means. I simply meant exhortation in the name of the Lord, which is a very different discursive posture than going over scholarly history.

  35. Bro. Jones says:

    Excellent post, J. To some degree addresses my concern (voiced in Margaret’s thread) about the lack of official repudiation of folklore/unofficial doctrine, though as others have said, a forceful and official statement from current leaders wouldn’t hurt a bit.

    #26 A hearty high five to you. :)

  36. Ben S, my wife just showed me how the lesson she is teaching in YW has that story in in the manuel. LDS.org has a podcast that repudiates the story. Perhaps that would be persuasive?

  37. J.,

    Podcasts are not as official as manuals. ;-)

  38. nat kelly says:

    “Also note that the folk belief that ancient Egyptians or Canaanites were black is simply false.”

    Actually, I’ve never heard this line of thinking presented in terms of the Priesthood ban, but there’s a pretty strong Pan-African, Afrocentrist argument that some of the ancient Egyptians pharaohs WERE black. This argument is generally made as evidence that Black Africa contributed a great deal to the civilization that Europeans often like to claim full credit for.

    See, for example, here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheikh_Anta_Diop#The_Egyptians_as_a_Black_population

  39. #38: “some of the ancient Egyptians pharaohs WERE black.”
    Or, at least shown as black in Egyptian art.

  40. Nat kelley, well, we are all descended from subsaharan african ancestors, but it is my understanding (and I am happily corrected) that while Diop made some important criticisms, his views on Ancient Egypt aren’t widely accepted. Again, willing to be corrected.

  41. Egyptians were a mix of races. At times, the ruling Egyptians were Libyan and Ethiopian and represented what many think of as “black Africans” but it’s a complex picture made more so by our imposing categories on Egypt that they themselves didn’t think in.
    See Frank Yurco, “Were the Ancient Egyptians Black or White?” Biblical Archaeological Review, 15:05 (Sept/Oct 1989), PDF link.

  42. Spending 16 of my 20 Air Force years in Montgomery, Alabama, and serving many of those years as Stake Mission Presidency/Ward Mission leader, we opened the doors to preaching to blacks in the area in 1987. It took years to help the white members to accept them fully. It took years to help them stop believing in the curse of Cain and other fairy tales (how is that for a term to use?) regarding the ban? Even after Montgomery was doing well, we still had smaller branches where racism and a continued belief in these ideas were having to be addressed.

    Sometimes we just have to stand boldly but kindly in discussing such things. We will not convince everyone. But if we can convince most members of these errors in thinking, we can assist the Church in moving forward.

    Thanks for this great lesson and quotes. It now is definitely a ready reference place to go.

  43. #42 – I was in the Stake Mission Presidency in the Deep South in the mid-90’s. I simply will echo what you wrote and add one thing:

    One of the most vivid “revelations” I have received in my life was when I was serving in that calling. It simply was that the Church’s growth would explode in the South ONLY when members and non-members alike let go of their racist attitudes and beliefs. We’re not there yet, although we are much closer in the Church than we were at that times.

  44. That article makes a lot of sense, thanks for linking to it Ben.

  45. I never realized how much these words from Elder Holland bother me:

    “…I really don’t know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I’ve been able to live in the period where we’re not expressing or teaching them, but I think that’s the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils…”

    I understand this was an interview and it seems to me he did not have a prepared answer for this question; nevertheless, I am both bothered and troubled that at this point he claims “not to know a lot of the details.”

    If he doesn’t know the details, what are the chances that he knows how these teachings still affect us?

    I am a Mexican convert in my middle thirties with English as a second language who has possibly had but a minimal fraction of the opportunities and a minimal fraction of the resources that Elder Holland surely has had to learn about these things that hurt members of the church that need love and spiritual nourishment. I feel someone almost has to make a conscious effort to avoid knowing the details once you are acquainted with the culture, doctrine and history of the church even at a light level. It is disturbing to hear an apostle confess he doesn’t know the details.

    I certainly haven’t been able to live in a period where we are not “expressing or teaching” these things, I do not understand how is it that he has.

    I applaud some here who have faith that these men are aware of the problematic created by these teachings and that they are engineering an adequate way to address them. I have lost that faith long ago. It seems to me they don’t even want to see the magnitude of the problem that still exists.

  46. I’ve always thought that the term “folklore” in the context of this discussion was a euphemism for “racist false doctrine” though I think that Kristine might have found a more accurate description.

    In any case the Church is always very cautious about denouncing previous teachings, usually preferring to simply stay silent and allow the change to happen on its own rather than actively preaching a new understanding in contrast to the old.

    In the case of the priesthood ban and OD 2, it breaks my heart that our Church, my Church, did not lead on this issue. Sometimes I wonder why it was that this wasn’t a priority for God’s prophets in modern times. One would think that the gift of prophecy would cause an institution to be a leader, not a follower on an issue such as this. Why that didn’t happen I don’t understand. Sometimes I wish that we had set ourselves apart in the 19th century by (then) radical ideas of racial equality rather than radical marriage practices.

  47. Why it didn’t happen is because members, including many of the leaders, were not ready for a greater light and knowledge of the issue. Why do we live the law of Tithing and not United Order? Because we aren’t ready for it.
    Elder Holland is probably well read on the issue. However, he realizes that the real reasons for any/all of this have not been revealed, nor does history easily explain any of it. For him, it is better to say he doesn’t know why, and that he personally disagrees with the “fake-lore” than to come up with new reasons that could be just as false as the ones he rejects.
    As Darius Black has explained to me and many others, he has permission of the First Presidency to state that we do not know why there was a ban, only that it was ended by revelation.
    It is an honest response, even though many want a better answer. We cannot probe Brigham Young’s brain or ask him, “what were you thinking???” We cannot go back and ask Mark Peterson, Delbert Stapely, Alvin R Dyer, and many others. What we can do is ensure we do not make the same mistake in the future by taking verses of the scriptures out of context and creating an elaborate teaching around it.

    We can also apologize to those we’ve mistreated and misjudged, and hope we do better in the future.

  48. I’m not sure that we are doing anyone any favours by suggesting that numerous apostles were racists and that they were so unteachable (and unreachable) that it wasn’t until 1978 that the Lord could remove a restriction that he hadn’t even put in place.

    This idea doesn’t fit comfortably with the long-promised day concept of OD 2 or with the current (seemly officially endorsed) position of ‘we just don’t know why’ explanation. All the other explanations, including secular ones, seem to me inadequate.

    The revelation removing the restriction is the lens through which to judge the truth of these things – exaltation is the great equaliser and that is now available to all races.

    In fact, in the ultimate sense that was always promised from God’s perspective.

  49. MJ, each of us has to evaluate the evidence we have according to our own perspectives and come to conclusions that make sense to us – individually, as we feel inspired in our spirits AND enlightened in our minds. For many people, human racism makes a lot more sense than Godly restrictions in this day and age, especially since it is incontrovertible that Joseph Smith did not believe in a ban based on race.

    If someone reaches a different conclusion than I, fine; I just want others to grant me that same privilege and not condemn me or question my testimony if my conclusion is different than theirs.

  50. Ray,


    I’m just saying I don’t find the racism explanation for the origins convincing. I’m not saying that all those who do lack testimonies. I think it is profitable to focus on what we (institutionally) do know… which is much more about its removal than its origin.

    Although we believe in revelation we do not believe it comes easily. President Kimball paid a price to get this revelation and yet it (or at least the official declaration announcing it) does not even address the reason for why the restriction was in place. It announces that its removal was promised… plain and simple. That the restriction was temporary was even taught by Brigham Young.

    I think it is more fruitful to talk about the future rather than the past. What is available is available by divine design and we are duty bound to teach what the Lord has now revealed. We should admit that everything else is speculation or personal opinion.

    I accept the fallibility of prophets but think that the suggested fallibility in this case would be very serious sin – and cannot think why God would allow his leaders to be guilty of such… without a severe rebuke. Unless of course…

  51. I don’t know, MJ. I think each prophet was uniquely prepared for particular missions. President Brigham Young was a leader extraordinaire and accomplished an utterly remarkable mission of getting the Saints west and beginning settlements. President KImball, with his strong feelings about prejudice, was just the right man to invite others to “study it out” and then to meet for prayer in the Temple on June 1, 1978.
    Other leaders in 1879 had met to talk about the issue (under John Taylor), but there were conflicting accounts of what Joseph Smith had said about it.
    I particularly love what Bruce R. McConkie says about the fact that we were working with “limited light” and that we now have “further light.”
    As far as I’m concerned, the only reason it’s relevant today is that it sometimes affects the ways in which we treat our brothers and sisters of color, and can affect missionary work.

  52. “I accept the fallibility of prophets but think that the suggested fallibility in this case would be very serious sin”

    That is the heart of our different view, I guess. I don’t see it as “sin” in the classic sense, much less “very serious sin”. I don’t characterize “sin” as acting in accordance with one’s best understanding, even when I believe that understanding was wrong. At worst, I put it within the category of natural transgression as a result of the Fall – and I believe those things are covered fully by the Atonement. I see it as unfortunate, terrible, shame-worthy, not what God desired in his heart – and inevitable. I see viewing it that way as a way to understand and truly internalize the power of grace, mercy and love – and to realize that blind spots are blind spots, and our blind spots are no different than others’ when it comes right down to it.

    50-150 years from now, after even more light and knowledge have been given, I’m pretty sure there will be people saying about me what I just said about others – that my own view about some things was unfortunate, terrible, shame-worthy and not what God intended in his heart – but inevitable, given my own blind spots. I expect that of my own children and their children. I hope they chalk up my blindness to a sincere effort to follow what I believed, misguided as it might have been – and I also hope they don’t hold onto my beliefs if they feel I was mistaken. In the end, I hope they can honor and love me despite how they view what I believed, and I feel that way about prophets and apostles, as well.

  53. MJ, I wrote a post a little while ago that published on my blog this morning. It was not written with this thread or issue in mind, but it applies directly to how I view these things. If you are interested:

    “An Evolving Church and the Dispensation of the Fullness of Times”

  54. Speaking of Spencer W. Kimball (#51), would somebody please read these six paragraphs at LDS.org from one of his general conference talks and explain how he could miss the boat so badly.

  55. God bless President Kimball, R. Gary. God bless him. I will not parse his words, but simply give thanks to God for the ways he was prepared to preside over the Church exactly when he did. That is enough for me. I can discuss important historical matters which have an effect on how we treat one another today (which is the only good reason to discuss them), but I have no need to look beyond the mark or beyond the emblems of the Lord. The center of my religion is the atonement of Jesus Christ. Everything else will take its proper place. I do not know all things, but I rejoice in the things I do know. I am not ashamed of my God, and I KNOW He is not ashamed of me.

  56. Quote fight says:

    R.Gary, let’s be balanced if we are going to play quote fights. The following is from Pres. Kimball also. I’m going to CAPITALIZE something for effect:

    “The doctrine or policy has not varied in my memory. I know it could. I know the Lord could change his policy and release the ban and FORGIVE THE POSSIBLE ERROR, WHICH BROUGHT ABOUT THE DEPRIVATION. If the time comes, that he will do, I am sure.”
    (Spencer w. Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, June 1963., p. 448.)

    It looks like Pres. Kimball also thought the ban might have been caused by an error that might need forgiveness.

  57. Quote fight says:

    Sorry, Margaret. Your comment was much more appropriate.

  58. How could anyone not appreciate Margaret’s comment #55 – there just isn’t anything wrong with it. However, in the future, commenter #56 might want to read whole paragraphs before slicing them up. Dated 6/15/63 (133 years after the Church was organized), this particular paragraph shows quite clearly that Pres. Kimball believed the priesthood ban originated with the Prophet Joseph Smith.

  59. It does no such thing, Gary.

  60. Ray,

    Thanks for your post. I agree with what you wrote on your blog. The church is growing up into the fulness of the gospel.

    I find it hard to believe that racism is not a sin for those who know that we are all children of God and if it hinders others in gaining all the blessings of the gospel (when they should actually be available to them) then it seems to become sin of a very serious kind. Suffice to say, I don’t think the prophets were guilty of such sin.

    Margaret Blair Young,

    Also thank you. I too love what Elder McConkie said about it. I have ‘Blacks in the scriptures’ and agree with most of what is said therein. When I first watched it several years ago, I emailed Darius with only on complaint … The presentations were too short! He told me privately that he had more information but that much of it was frankly embarrassing for the church. I admired then and still do his devotion to his covenants above any particular private cause.

    President Kimball, from what I can see, doesn’t seem to have ever suggested that the policy was not the Lord’s. I know that we do not practice everything he said… he discouraged inter-racial marriages and I am in one myself… but his understanding that the Lord could change ‘his policy’ indicates what he believed the origin was. I have read a statement about his willingness to defend the restriction to the death if the Lord had chosen not to reverse it… That statement also includes his reference to why he thought it was in place at all.

    Quote Fight,

    There is another interpretation for this:

    “The doctrine or policy has not varied in my memory. I know it could. I know the Lord could change his policy and release the ban and FORGIVE THE POSSIBLE ERROR, WHICH BROUGHT ABOUT THE DEPRIVATION. If the time comes, that he will do, I am sure.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, June 1963., p. 448.)

    The could be interpreted to mean that he will forgive the possible error on the part of the person that caused the restriction to fall upon his posterity or even some other error more generally. We can read into it the idea that the early brethren brought about the deprivation through a ‘possible error’ but it doesn’t actually say that clearly. It is completely possible to read this statement as supporting the idea that the deprivation was brought about by the Lord and that only he ‘could change his policy and release the ban’ – Clearly, in 1963 President Kimball believed that the policy was the Lord’s. Did he ever change his mind about that?

    That is still the impression the brethren give – that the restriction was put in place by the lord and that only he could change it. Additionally, they give the impression that the reasons for the restriction and the timing of its removal are only fully known to the Lord.

    Elder Holland’s statement (on the PBS documentary) re-enforces that view. Elder Oaks says that the reasons that were given were, in the absence of revelation, guessing and that often the Lord does not reveal reasons. Elder Bednar, when asked if the church was/is racist responded that it all comes down to a belief in revelation. That is the only question that matters.

    So before the brethren were too eager to give reasons now the brethren seem eager to avoid giving any. “We don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t know”… seems to be the current refrain. That’s why I don’t buy the racist reason. Otherwise, they should be saying, ‘We do know but the reason isn’t very edifying.” So, in the absence of a clear official statement, I’ll remain agnostic about the reasons.

    Finally, some of the sweetest spiritual manifestations I have ever had have come to me while pondering the revelation that removed the restriction. I have no doubt that the Lord spoke and that it shows the veracity of the Book of Mormon and prepares the way for the Lord’s second coming when he will find ‘priests and kings’ among all nations. This revelation was essential to fulfil the promise made to Abraham that through the Priesthood… “shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal.” (Abraham 2:9-11)

    We need to do a better job of reaching out to all God’s children with this priesthood and these (long-made) promises.

  61. I think R. Gary was referring to this statement: “The prophets for 133 years of the existence of the Church have maintained the position of the prophet of the Restoration that the Negro could not hold the priesthood nor have the temple ordinances which are preparatory for exaltation.”

    Of course we now know that this statement was false. President Kimball was wrong.

  62. Tim, I agree. However, R. Gary generally doesn’t allow for that option, especially if it’s been printed in the Ensign or a Church manual.

  63. I must admit that I am surprised that so many people seem to have no problem with church leaders having taught false doctrine, believing it was the will of the Lord, and yet at the same time they seem reluctant to consider the policy to be in error.

  64. I’m a little ambivalent about jumping into this conversation. The ban, and OD2, were a large part of my mission (Virginia, late ’80s), and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reading about this issue.

    I have been wondering lately if a lot of the angst we have about our history with race and the civil rights era stems not so much from fallible leaders but from the nature of the institutional Church itself. Because we are a top-down organization, and because most of the civil rights era also corresponded with a retrenchment of sorts in the correlation era of the Church, some of the folklore discussed above went from being speculation published by outside sources to doctrine published by official or quasi-official sources; our racism got correlated along with everything else.

    Conversely, the civil rights era in the United States was facilitated by institutional choices by other religions. The Baptists and Methodists segregated their congregations, and that separation ironically led to Martin Luther King Jr.’s ability to lead first his congregation and then larger groups out of the Jim Crow era. I think it’s certainly important to remember that there isn’t a religion that existed at the time that is innocent of any racism–racism, institutional and individual, was rampant. We can look back and say we should have done better, but even the Lutherans, who have probably the best record on this front, have that record largely because of one white Lutheran pastor in Birmingham. It’s also important to remember that it took fifteen years or more past 1978 for the (white) Baptists and Methodists to repudiate their earlier segregation and vote to integrate all congregations. They’re still not there yet, either.

    So, by having a fairly monolithic Church, we get the benefit of a consistent doctrinal foundation, but the cost of perhaps not being able to respond to the zeitgeist as quickly as institutions that give much more authority on those matters to individual, charismatic leaders. Is it better to be united in doctrine, or able to change with the times? I don’t have the answers to that question, but I do take comfort in scriptural stories of prophets who got it wrong, and were corrected by the Lord, such as Jonah, or the Nephites’ treatment of Samuel the Lamanite (including the institutional Church’s response to Samuel–they left his prophecies out of the record, and it was the resurrected Christ who corrected that error). I find, actually, several parallels between Samuel the Lamanite and MLK. Maybe someday we’ll add “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” to the Pearl of Great Price. Or the mountaintop speech. The point is, we tend to draw a circle around “the Church” and expect that all revelations take place inside that circle, without any input from outside. I think that’s exactly wrong.

  65. I wish this was about ‘Teaching the Priesthood extension’ instead.

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