Early LDS Church historians (Andrew Jensen and Kate Carter, for example), writing after the priesthood restriction was in place, dealt with the known fact of Elijah Abel’s priesthood with the simple phrase, “an exception having been made in his case.” Some suggested that the priesthood was his reward for working on the Kirtland Temple, where he also received initiatory ordinances. As a carpenter, he worked on the Nauvoo temple as well, but had moved to Cincinnati before the endowment was given. When he relocated in Salt Lake City around 1853, he asked for his endowment, but was denied. Nonetheless, he worked on the Salt LakeTemple as well, and finished his life by serving his third mission.
The phrase “an exception having been made” is particularly relevant as we see Mormons respond to Public Affairs’ quick statements (two of them) repudiating a BYU professor’s views that blacks were denied the priesthood not only because they were cursed as the lineage of Cain/Canaan, but because the priesthood was simply too powerful for pre-1978 Black Mormons, and they’d probably end up becoming sons of Perdition–just like your daughter would probably crash your powerful car if you gave her the keys. Calling the professor out by name, the Church distanced itself almost immediately from what some call “Bott-gate.” Most Latter-day Saints were relieved that the Church had officially spoken on the issue, though many requested a stronger statement with greater specificity.
A good many of us recognized that the new statements went several steps beyond where the Church had gone before. The statements of 1949 and 1969 insisted that the policy (the 1949 statement called it a doctrine) had been in place from the very beginnings of the Church and was instituted by divine revelation through Joseph Smith. The February 2012 declaration that “We don’t know why, how, or when the restriction began” has no mention of God as the instigator, nor any indication that the restriction was always the policy or begun by Joseph Smith. Nonetheless, in comments after various articles about the Washington Post interviews or the Genesis Group, members still use the “an exception having been made” paradigm. This time, it applies not to blacks receiving the priesthood prior to 1978, but to the private justifications various Mormons have made to themselves for years, and which they’re not ready to drop quite yet. The thinking goes something like this: “I support the Church statement, and I agree that ‘we don’t know why, how, or when the restriction began’, but of course we do know that Blacks were cursed as the seed of Cain.” Or “I absolutely support the Church statement, and have been appalled as ‘some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction’—because their reasons are dumb and racist. Yes, as the statement says, ‘these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine.’ However, we do know that God has always restricted His priesthood, because only the Levites had it for a time in the Old Testament.”
In other words, “Nobody should speculate about the reasons for the restriction, but an exception has been made in my case. Besides, I’m not really speculating, I’m telling the truth.”
Let’s be clear, then and play a little game of “You Might Be A Racist If…”
You might be a racist if…you think of Africa when you hear the word ham, rather than picturing pink meat which Mormons eat at funerals, along with cheesy potatoes.
The “curse” ideas (Cain/Ham/Canaan) trace back to the fourth Century and become particularly strong and troublesome in the 15th, when Portugal and Spain are seeking to justify slavery and latch onto Genesis 9:25, in which Noah curses his grandson, Canaan, to be a “servant of servants.” In a philosophical maze where the desiccated brains of master interpolators can still be found, the idea emerges that “servant of servants” refers to a still-applicable lineage curse and hence (please keep track of the reasoning which presents itself as a thunderous burp prolonged through centuries) that God intended Europeans to enslave Africans. This interpolatory burp resonates far into the 20th Century, is astonishingly well imitated by preachers of most white Christian religions, and manages to get recorded in LDS Church archives long beyond the death gurgles of early Mormon Church presidents.
Note: The interpolatory burp pretends to be God’s voice and to link a selected scripture to an otherwise deplorable human action, thereby giving unthinkable acts sonorous and seemingly godly sanction. Other interpolations can simply pass by like someone’s distant sneeze if you’re not aware. For example, a recent article in Meridian Magazine stated, “We read that ‘a blackness came upon the children of Canaan’ (Moses 7:8), who were denied the blessings of the priesthood.”
Did you catch the interpolation? The actual scripture says, “For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.”
What’s cursed? The people? No. The land is cursed. It gets hot. What gift does God bestow on His children who live in areas of great heat? That would be…(wait for it…) ENVIRONMENT-APPROPRIATE MELANIN. Is there any mention of the priesthood in the preceding scripture? None. Note the sharp turn in the maze of interpolation. We’ve heard the association of black skin with priesthood so often that many will barely notice that they’ve just turned a corner into nowhere land. And does the scripture say that God instructed the people to “despise” the children of Canaan? No. In fact, later on (Moses 7:32), God weeps because his children “are without affection and they hate their own blood.” Finally, the children of this particular Canaan come several generations before the Canaan cursed by Noah. Did you feel that quick turn into another corner of the maze? Did you hear the echo of a long and disturbingly ugly burp?
SO, if you believed in a lineage curse started by Cain, Ham, or Canaan last week, stop. Your Black brothers and sisters are not cursed. If any is shackled by poverty or other disadvantages, the responsibility falls on all disciples of Christ to address their needs, physical and spiritual. We are to feed Jesus’ sheep–black, brown, and white. No exceptions have been made.
TO BE CONTINUED