An Exception Having Been Made…Or, You Might Be A Racist If…PART 2

Part 2

Perhaps the most frequently cited Brigham Young quote which anti-Mormons plug into comments after any article even remotely related to Mormonism is this one:

You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable, and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. . . . Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.” (Journal of Discourses, Volume 7, Page 291, 1859)

It’s a disgusting, offensive image.  Did he really believe it represented all Blacks? I’m making an educated guess that he had exceptions.  I suspect that he imagined most poor Blacks and slaves in a generalized stereotype as amoral, illiterate, potentially murderous sub-humans marching in mutiny against the bastions of White Privilege.

President Young’s words are indefensible.  But consider the Blacks he personally knew, and ask yourself if he made exceptions to his appalling description:

Quacko Walker Lewis was a founding member of the first Black abolitionist society and nephew of Quock Walker, whose case (Quock V. Jennison) emancipated all slaves in Massachusetts.  Q. Walker Lewis was baptized by Parley P. Pratt, ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood by William Smith, and entertained many Church leaders (including Brigham Young) at his home.  Of him, Brigham Young said in 1847, “We have one of the best elders, an African, in Lowell.”  Those words are nothing like the 1859 comments and suggest that (gasp!) Young actually thought highly of Q. Walker Lewis.

Green Flake’s family insist that Green was the driver of the wagon in which Young lay ill when it came into the Salt Lake Valley.  President Young sat up and said, “This is the right place.  Drive on.” We know little of Flake’s interation with Young, though the Flake children said they visited the Lion House on occasion and sang for Brigham Young.  We also know that Young probably saved Green from being sold off.  When the widowed Agnes Flake, widow of Green’s owner, had Amassa Lyman request that the slave be sold—even giving the name of a man who had agreed to purchase him—Young replied that he didn’t know where Green was.  This was almost certainly untrue, since Young had given Green several acres of land in the Cottonwood area of Salt Lake.  Again, there may well have been something like a friendship between Brigham Young and Green Flake, though not on equal ground.  Green, too, would be an “exception” to the insulting description quoted above.

Jane and Isaac James were married in Brigham Young’s Nauvoo house, and I suspect he would not have included them in the globalized stereotype.   Young often made grandiose observations and proclamations, but I believe he held his own private exceptions to his overstatements. That doesn’t make them palatable, but it does add some nuance.

It is absolutely true that, as the Church statements of last week declare, we do not know exactly when the priesthood restriction was put into place.  It seems clear that it would have been after 1847, when Brigham Young called Q. Walker Lewis “one of our best elders”, but it was never canonized or brought to a vote as required by D&C 28:13.  We do know that President Young stated in 1852: “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot hold the priesthood and if no Prophet of God has said it before, I will say it now.”  That tends to be the time we assume the restriction started, but there were hints of it earlier, and it was brought into question several times before being overturned in 1978.

One thing is clear about Brigham Young’s views.  He never preached that Blacks were “neutral” in the pre-existence. 

So, let’s re-visit the “You Might Be A Racist” game.  You might be a racist if…you believe that “Valiant A or B” refers not to a Primary class but to a condition of righteousness which those born white (A=Aryan) possessed as spirits, but which those born black (B=Black) possessed only when they weren’t distracted by the hardness of the fence they were straddling. Again, if you believed this during the first weeks of February, 2012, you should’ve abandoned it last week.  Nobody on this Earth was “less valiant” than you in the pre-existence, nor did anyone declare that they’d rather not have the priesthood.  (The latter was a conjecture made by Alvin R. Dyer as part of an absurdly racist talk given in Norway in 1961, though it continues to make its rounds among missionaries today.)

So how do we handle the scriptures which have been interpolated to suggest that there was some kind of judgment in the pre-mortal world, and we were given our mortal conditions based on our forgotten performance there?  The interpolations wouldn’t be so problematic if we believed that fence-sitters were cursed with wealth and required to overcome the temptations of greed, but the general proposition has been the opposite, along these lines:

 There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.” (Doctrines of Salvation, p. 61)

The speculation that privilege reflects pre-mortal valiance whereas disadvantage reflects less valiance comes in stark contrast to the doctrine that all made equal through the infinite atonement. How could God exact judgment on a spirit and then declare the following? (D&C 93:38): “Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.”

That is the doctrine.  All of us were born equally innocent. Abraham 3:22 is frequently used as well to demonstrate that some were “less” and others “more”:

 Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones.

It would appear that there was a sort of organized hierarchy before the world was.  But read further to see the chronology.

27 And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first.

The identification of “noble and great ones” occurs BEFORE the War in Heaven.

Ultimately, the atonement equalizes us all, and we are left with the challenges of our mortal conditions and our communities.  We will inevitably go beyond the cozy borders of our first homes, and, if we are living our religion, will go far beyond the easy designs of our self-arranged plot lines.  We will stop interpolating our fellow human beings according to demeaning philosophies (and such philosophies demean us all) or antiquated paradigms; we will recognize divisive vocabulary such as “you people” or “those people” and will come to realize in sometimes heart wrenching ways that a call to discipleship is a call to service.

 As I began my journey into black history, I learned painful stories of heroic Mormon pioneers neglected because of our justifications for exclusion.  Some words still haunt me.  Lucinda Flake Stevens, daughter of Green and Martha Flake: “If my being in church keeps others away, then I’ll stay home.” Jane Manning James: “I realize my race and color and cannot expect my endowment as others who are white.  Still…is there no blessing for me?”  Len Hope, upon being told that he and his family would not be welcome in their Cincinnati ward because of their race: “Can I still pay my tithing?”

 Valiant souls, all of them, and more beautiful than I can describe.  They were translated (not interpolated) before me, and I saw their glory.  My Lord, what a morning!


  1. Greg Neil says:

    Thanks, these posts have been great!

    … and can we please stop telling our youth they were the most valiant spirits in the pre-existence saved for the last days? Anytime you tell someone they were one of the most valiant, that implies others must have been less valiant, and then they all start wondering who those less valiant might have been…

  2. OT, but … Quacko! What a great name!

  3. Margaret: I’m just a lurker with no credentials but I have been very interested and have read many articles about the Prof. Bott article and the Church’s statements.

    Though I have found both parts of your OP interesting, some of this part 2 raises a question related to your interpretations of our pre-mortal existence.

    “So how do we handle the scriptures which have been interpolated to suggest that there was some kind of judgment in the pre-mortal world, and we were given our mortal conditions based on our forgotten performance there? ”

    You quote Abr. 3:22 then skip 23-26 to quote Abr 3:27 then you state: “The identification of ‘noble and great ones’ occurs BEFORE the War in Heaven.”

    I guess I don’t understand what your reference to the war in heaven has to do with the spirits referenced in verses 22-26 where it appears God clearly states He stood among some whom He considered the ‘noble and great’. It would seem you are suggesting that Lucifer was there as a ‘noble and great one’. D&C 93 which you quote also says Lucifer was “that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.” (verse 25) It would appear illogical that he could be both noble and a liar.

    Is it an interpolation to suppose that the scriptures don’t suggest the possibility of a pre-mortal judgment? D&C 93:38 only states that at some “beginning” point the “spirit of man was innocent” but that the atonement would redeem them from their fallen state to an innocent state again. And to suggest that “Ultimately, the atonement equalizes us all”, could this also be an interpolation since it doesn’t say “equalize” in verse 38 but “innocent”. Isn’t there a marked difference between the two words “equalize” and “innocent” and what the atonement really accomplishes?

    Please realize I am only suggesting that there may be a possibility of a pre-mortal judgment where you seem to say there wasn’t a possibility based on the atonement. If I have misunderstood you, please accept my apology.

    It would seem that spirits coming to this world certainly don’t come into equal conditions but I would agree that it may be very presumptuous on our part to assume we could possible know the intricacies of God’s plans and purposes for the varied conditions and “challenges of our mortal conditions and our communities.” Could some of those “noble” ones have come here in such challanging conditions as to be a test for others charity? I could certainly entertain that possibility.

  4. 1) Greg-Yes!

    Margaret-Thank you so much for these posts.

  5. Amen!

  6. “Nobody on this Earth was “less valiant” than you in the pre-existence,”

    You don’t have to be a racist to disagree with this one. Joseph Smith realized there must be different degrees of heaven because everyone performs at different levels of valiance in this life. It’s only logical to assume we performed differently before, during, and after the war in heaven in the premortal realm.

    However, as your last 2 paragraphs portray quite nicely, it’s not for us to judge. Nobody knows who performed at what level, and of course it doesn’t matter. So it’s sort of a moot point.

  7. I’m sure Margaret will have an eloquent and complete response, but here are my two cents on a few of the questions raised by Miskky:

    Laying aside the interesting but tangential question of whether “noble” and “liar” are necessarily mutually exclusive, I don’t think there is any inconsistency at all between those verses, even if they are. First, I don’t think we have to assume that because some were identified as “noble and great” that therefore everyone who was present was “noble and great,” and I don’t think that’s what Margaret is suggesting.

    Second, in context, “the beginning” referred to in section 93 appears to me to be speaking of the beginning of the world (the creation and Eden), which took place after the pre-mortal strife, not to some earlier beginning. Notice that it says “that wicked one” was a liar from the beginning, not before the beginning. I take this to mean that, from the time he was cast out and the world was created, he was a liar, not necessarily that Lucifer was a liar before that. This is also consistent with the scriptures—during the pre-mortal life we see in Lucifer greed, pride, ambition, but not any real clear-cut lying (saying something untrue with intent to deceive). When we see him lying is in his interaction with Eve in “the beginning” when the world was created. Also notice that it doesn’t say “Lucifer” in the verse you refer to, it says “that wicked one”—he was “Lucifer” before his fall, but after his fall, is referred to as “Satan,” and a number of other epithets, such as “that wicked one.” I take this to be consistent with referring to him after his fall, not before.

    Regarding “equalize” and “innocent,” I don’t think Margaret is suggesting here that the atonement equalizes us in any respect other than morally. She is not saying, for example, that we come into equal conditions. She is saying only that we are morally equal because we are all redeemed and made innocent from the beginning. No exceptions. Innocence is complete freedom from guilt, so I don’t think it leaves room for some being only “mostly innocent.” If we were not all born into this world completely innocent because of the atonement, that could call into question our doctrine that children do not need baptism because they are redeemed from the beginning.

  8. Young often made grandiose observations and proclamations — he used a rhetorical style referred to in these days as hyperbole. He also complained, in public and in the record, that he was forced to it because his audiences preferred it and that the style exaggerated what he meant and said.

    That context adds some nuance to his sweeping overstatements.

    Len Hope, upon being told that he and his family would not be welcome in their Cincinnati ward because of their race: “Can I still pay my tithing?” That is humbling.

    Margaret, as always, you are a joy and a blessing.

  9. “Len Hope, upon being told that he and his family would not be welcome in their Cincinnati ward because of their race: ‘Can I still pay my tithing?'”

    Anyone who can read that and not be moved to recognize the idiocy of the idea that black people were less valiant in some way . . .

    #3 – Missky, the distinction about the “noble and great ones” being a pre-War in Heaven designation is critical, since it is apparent that the designation has NOTHING to do with mortality – at least, without reading into the passage what isn’t there explicitly. It’s only our inhereted assumptions that allow us to read mortal “blessings” from pre-mortal valiance into that passage.

    #6 – medstudent, you said, “It’s only logical to assume we performed differently before, during, and after the war in heaven in the premortal realm.”

    That might be correct, if we weren’t talking about a “War in Heaven” that involved everyone choosing sides, according to everything written in our canonized scriptures – and if we assume we COULD perform differently when it came to our actions in that “war”. (How, exactly, would that be measured – since it obviously wasn’t a physical “war” like we know now? Don’t answer that; it is rhetorical, and I really don’t want to read any guesses, since they all would be speculative nonsense, imo.) Our teachings say quite clearly that one third part of the hosts of heaven chose to follow Lucifer (and that doesn’t have to mean exactly 1/3, but I’ll let Kevin Barney explain that, if he wants), and that a two third part of heaven chose to follow Jehovah. There is NOTHING in our canon that says some others didn’t take sides. Further, the distinction in the PofGP is between those who “kept there first estate” and those who didn’t – and nobody else. Iow, just like with Missky’s question, it takes assumptions that aren’t in the texts themselves to reach the conclusion that any variance in diligence in the pre-mortal realm really did exist and further assumptions to believe that, even if they did exist, they played a role in the color of our mortal skin.

  10. “Valiant” implies some sort of demonstration of courage or faithfulness — nobody would apply the word “valiant” to an infant, for instance, even to an infant who eventually demonstrates the greatest degree of bravery and fidelity under threat of whatever kind. When Abraham recognized “noble and great ones” in his vision, he could easily have been referring to other qualities that distinguished one spirit from another from the moment of creation: greater intelligence, perhaps, or gentleness, or responsiveness to the spirit, or capacity for mercy, or any other potentiality recognized and valued by God. So in my view it isn’t “only logical to assume we performed differently,” only that we had some unspecified innate qualities that distinguished us one from another.

    Missky, the significance of the application of “noble and great ones” to spirits BEFORE the War in Heaven is that all the speculations about lesser valiance is to poor performance (failure to take sides, failure to perform adequately) during the War in Heaven. If that designation of “noble and great ones” existed before the War, then performance during the War can have nothing to do with it.

    Thanks for this series, Margaret; I look forward to the other parts.

  11. Please pardon the typos in #9. Whenever I don’t go back and edit my comments . . . *sigh*

  12. Missky–to this: “You quote Abr. 3:22 then skip 23-26 to quote Abr 3:27 then you state: “The identification of ‘noble and great ones’ occurs BEFORE the War in Heaven.”

    I was simply pointing out the chronology. The identification of the ‘noble and great’ ones precedes Jehovah’s acceptance of the eternal plan, and then Lucifer’s rejection of it.
    I believe that the statement “all are born innocent” implies equal innocence. None is more innocent than another. And all have equal claim on the atonement after their individual falls, and all of us are redeemed from death through it.

  13. it's a series of tubes says:

    Our teachings say quite clearly that one third part of the hosts of heaven chose to follow Lucifer (and that doesn’t have to mean exactly 1/3, but I’ll let Kevin Barney explain that, if he wants), and that a two third part of heaven chose to follow Jehovah.

    Ray, this point is a useful nuance, and one that is often overlooked in Church discourse. I’ve often wondered what the distinction was between the two “third parts” that chose to follow Jehovah and thus ended up on earth. I categorically reject the idea that “race” or “lineage” as we understand it has any relation to this point, but why the “thirds” language if there were really only two groups: those that followed Lucifer and those that followed Jehovah? If you are aware of any posts or articles on this point, I’d appreciate a link.

  14. Raise your hand if you think some of these problems are caused by unnecessary hyper-literalization of our scriptures and prophetic statements regarding pre-mortal existence!

    [raises hand]

    Great post, Margaret.

  15. Oh, I just realized I left Elijah Abel out of Brigham Young’s acquaintances. Young was a glazier, and Abel a carpenter, and I’d guess they worked together on the various temples. Certainly they knew one another. Abel, though he suffered poverty once in the Salt Lake valley, was nonetheless respected. It was well known that he had been beloved by the J.S. Smith family, and probably built several coffins for the Smiths who died in Nauvoo.

  16. What about the “chosen generation” rhetoric that Church leaders, including current General Authorities, employ? If there is a “chosen generation” does not that also mean there are non-chosen generations? Does that not imply some sort of pre-earth life sorting?

  17. Margaret, this post needs to be read in general conference. You make me cheer.

  18. As to the initial statement about Cain, the curse that Cain receives is losing the gift of agriculture and being a wanderer on earth. Nowhere do we read that the curse consists of a mark or of black skin. The scriptures simply dont support the idea that Cain is marked with black skin as a curse.

    The mark is separate in the scriptures and not a curse but a protection for Cain. Cain fears that whoever finds him will kill him.
    The Hebrew word for mark used here in the text is ’owth which is often used with covenants. The Lord marks him with a “sign of protection” to make clear to everyone that Cain should not be harmed. The Lord is establishing the principle that even though Cain is a murderer and even though we all might think he should be killed, it is forbidden.

  19. Even if we assumed that people were of different calibre in the pre-existence, which I dont, what would make us think that white males were the most righteous anyways. An argument could be made that God would send his best and brightest to situations others couldn’t handle.

  20. Margaret, I’ve really enjoyed these posts and look forward to more.

  21. #16 – “What about the “chosen generation” rhetoric that Church leaders, including current General Authorities, employ?”

    It’s been employed throughout history, in every generation, in pretty much every culture and religious tradition. It’s rhetoric – and it has no scriptural support. It’s good motivating rhetoric, and I’m sure it’s believed by those who employ it, but it’s elitist rhetoric, nonetheless.

  22. it's a series of tubes says:

    An argument could be made that God would send his best and brightest to situations others couldn’t handle.

    This reasoning has always made sense to me. Its natural conclusion aligns nicely with the known capabilities of the person who was chosen to fill the role of the Savior.

    I often suspect that I was assigned a “comparatively” trauma-free mortal existence (so far) because I generally suck, and would likely fail badly otherwise.

  23. 16, I don’t personally think ‘chosen’ necessitates ‘more valiant’. (I also am pretty sure that every generation since at least my parents’, and probably a lot farther back, has been ‘chosen;’ I don’t know how meaningful that really is – especially as every generation is frequently tagged as worse than previous generations, too.)

    22, I hate me too posts, but Me Too.

  24. A verse from African-American poet Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784):

    Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
    “Their colour is a diabolic dye.”
    Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain,
    May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.

  25. Actually, every generation of Saints has been the chosen generation–Peter said as much nearly 20 centuries ago.

    And the latest generation of young people is no more a “chosen generation” than the generation which lived through the Great Depression and fought in World War II was the “greatest generation.”

  26. 1. The “noble and great” phrase could just as easily indicate their future earthly roles.
    2. One person being noble and great does not make another person unvaliant. Our church is full of millions who serve faithfully without being put up on a pedestal for all to admire. That praising one automatically means demeaning another is a terrible logical fallacy and reveals something about the soul of the person drawing that conclusion.
    3. The mindset that allows some to talk about how people “perform” in this life disturbs me. There are far too many MBAs in the church apparently. The need that some have to believe that in our pre-earth celestial abode–where we learned at the feet of our heavenly parents and all were apparently innocent until Satan deceived some once we had matured enough to be given the choice of whom to follow–there were different levels of “performance” is ghoulish. Do you people have any charity in your souls? Do you really think that you or anyone around you is so much better than the rest of humanity? Do you really think you are earning your salvation? Shame on you.
    4. Babies enter this life innocent, as confirmed by scripture. It is therefore impossible that our earthly circumstances are a reward or punishment for what came before. That our specific “placement” here is somehow designed for our specific ultimate good by God is also contradicted by human experience. There is no possible benefit to what many children are forced to suffer prior to their horrible, violent deaths at the hands of the minions of Satan that roam this planet. Only God is great enough to take responsibility for the circumstances we encounter here, and we should all bloody shut up about trying to explain the decisions he makes. It just makes us look stupid.

    Thank you for these posts, Margaret.

  27. Another thought: Behind all of this must be the need for some to believe that the blessings and gifts of those who have them here are deserved. The beautiful person with the great brain and well-behaved kids must deserve it, because otherwise life isn’t fair. News flash: Life isn’t fair. People have different advantages in this life because it’s a fallen world where random accidents of atoms and gross matter make and break lives. That’s why we have a Redeemer and church welfare, and get to die eventually to get away from all of this nonsense. It’s also why we have three degrees of glory rather than heaven and hell.

    You don’t deserve what you have, and your neighbor doesn’t deserve his lack. You’re both children of God and deserve to live in eternal bliss.

  28. Margaret, great series of posts. I believe we are gradually undercutting all of this false foundation of our performance in the preexistence determining our placement in mortality. That is an incredibly humbling and frightening concept, yet I believe it is true. Some of us have benefited from some extremely good circumstances, that we had nothing to do with, and others have suffered, also not dependent on previous behavior. In so many ways, that mirrors the atonement that is offered to us without regards to our previous behavior.

    This concept is frightening in that when I look at my circumstances compared to so many others, how much of my incredibly fortunate life have I squandered by not being more diligent every day? What would I have to say to Len Hope, or to Elijah Abel, or to Jane Manning James, with what I have done with my life compared to what they did with much more difficult challenges? Every day of my life, I think I must try do more than I have in the past, if I am ever to be worthy of associating with them in the celestial kingdom.

  29. AmateurParent says:

    I used to work with a wonderful African American guy who told me something insightful .. ” People talk about the violence and problems of Black People. Let me tell you something. There is NOTHING scarier than poor White people.”

    The more I look around, the more I agree.

  30. it's a series of tubes says:

    If A is premortal life, B is mortality, and C is postmortal existence, D&C 130:18-19 seems to indicate that B can directly impact C, and uses a fairly unequal word: “advantage” as a consequence of “diligence and obedience”.

    Reasoning by analogy, it seems possible that a similar relationship exists between A and B. But the nature of the consequent “advantage” in B is unlikely to be associated with Mormon cultural “success” markers, I suspect. Is it power, worldly wealth, professional success, priesthood leadership? Seems unlikely to me. I believe that my nephew, for example (who was born severely handicapped and passed away before the age of eight) had far more of an “advantage” here on earth than I, and I believe it was a consequence of his diligence and obedience in following Christ. He was a pure and beautiful spirit, and brought many to Christ. He’ll receive a celestial inheritance. Me? That’s an open question.

  31. One last point/thought. No matter what you think about pre-existence valor, worthiness, etc and how it corresponds to the circumstances of their birth it does not give anyone a pretext to treat that person any less then their status as a child of God and fellow human demands. This is precisely the problem Israel had when Jesus showed up, they thought that being chosen meant you got to strut about and think you are better than the next guy surrounding yourself with mirrors of self-righteousness reserving all of God’s blessing to your own tribal group. Jesus of course turned this nonsense on its head, making clear that any pretensions at greatness should be manifest in servitude towards others and a willingness to share all you have including God’s blessings. God can make children of Israel from stones. Who are any of us to deny the gifts of God to another?

  32. Oh and in case I wasnt clear, I don’t think we have any idea how out station in life corresponds to our pre life status.

  33. *our

  34. Margaret, thank you very much.

    I think we try to understand suffering in the world by making a God who has made the world this way. Thus we rationalize slavery by making a God who has made a class of people who are worthy of being slaves. So we treat them thus. This is a giant Milgram experiment, where we justify our mistreatment of people by shifting the cause and blame somewhere else.

    I would recommend a book, “Unbroken,” about Louis Zamperini, a POW in a Japanese POW camp. He was the focus of monstrous cruelty by “Bird,” a low level prison guard. By a strange twist of fate Bird was never prosecuted for his war crimes and became a successful insurance salesman and lived into his 70s. Bird said that he was not a bad man, but that it was the war and that the POWs were seen as inferior people. Milgram-esque blame shifting.

    This argument sounds so familiar. We can treat the blacks badly because they are inferior and worthy of being treated badly. We have the proof because the Prophet says so. It was the War in Heaven. It was their own fault.

  35. Let us be clear, the Celestial Kingdom is going to be ruled by dead 3rd world children.

  36. I agree with so many about the rhetoric in the church about valiancy in the pre-mortal realms, etc. Perhaps we (members of the church), were actually the ones that (if you buy the notion of “chosen”, etc) couldn’t make it if we had been born into a more challenging situation without the church there to hold our hands. Perhaps those who are born in the dregs of calcutta (where they have an over 75% chance of dying in infancy, and thus qualify for the Celestial Kingdom) are really the best. Or those who lived during the years of the plague. Today’s world is great, but up until about the last 200 years, the infant mortality rate has been around 50%, meaning that there are lots and lots of God’s children already in that don’t have to “fight” the “struggles” that those who progress beyond accountability. So really, who might be better than who? Something to think about.

  37. Just to be clear, again, the Milgram experiment caused good people to follow higher authority to do bad things. In the Inverted Milgram effect, a higher authority is created to justify actions and feelings.

  38. it's a series of tubes says:

    the Celestial Kingdom is going to be ruled by dead 3rd world children.

    I has something similar as the last paragraph in my #30, but removed it before posting. I agree wholeheartedly. To me, this is an inexpressably beautiful concept.

  39. Thank you, Margaret. I appreciate your great research and clear voice on this painful subject.

  40. StillConfused says:

    Brigham Young said some of the most racist and sexist and offensive things imaginable.

  41. #12 Margaret:

    I appreciate you taking the time to repond to my clumsy post. Perhaps I was unclear but the intent of my post was only to suggest that a pre-mortal judgment formal or through “diligence and obedience” seemed to be more probable than simply an “interpolation”

    In Abr 3:19-19 it appears differences in spirits has existed since the organization (my word) of spirts.

    As #30 states better than I, a good “reasoning by analogy” might also suggest pre-mortal judgment.

    And as #31 stated, I too think that any attempt to elevate ourselves or denigrate others by any possible pre-mortal conditions goes against the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, a Gospel which often seems to be misunderstood by many and I frequently find myself in that category.

  42. #19 and #22

    It’s just as offensive to tell someone they were born into a sucky situation because they are awesome; not to mention the fact that if someone can’t handle it (as in–can’t rise above the terrible life handed to them), that somehow means they failed.

  43. #40. His words make us cringe now, but as Margaret generously pointed out, BY was kind to blacks as individuals and he was not partial to slavery. That may put him in the upper half of the American curve on racial issues in his times.

    For anyone – is that a reasonable way to evaluate a person from another time or another culture, namely, on the curve? Would a person who was tolerant for his times likely be relatively tolerant in another time or another situation, like today?

  44. Droylsden says:

    These are very good. I think another thing to keep in mind is that even though some were noble and great in the pre-mortal world, what you were there and what you are now don’t neccessarily correlate. We’re told that Lucifer was a morning star. Fat lot of good it did him.

  45. it's a series of tubes says:

    It’s just as offensive to tell someone they were born into a sucky situation because they are awesome; not to mention the fact that if someone can’t handle it (as in–can’t rise above the terrible life handed to them), that somehow means they failed.

    How on earth could you misread my comments to insinuate that I go around making the statements you attribute to me above? I’d never say either of the things you posted, nor do I believe them in the crude ways you present. My personal respect and esteem for my fellow man is just that – personal, private. Just because I happen to think that there are many people on earth who are better than I does not mean I go around telling people they should be happy when they are dealt a sh**ty hand.

  46. #44 – Just to add to that, the “noble and great ones” description included Lucifer. He was one of those among whom the Father stood in the council described in those verses. By extension, it probably included some, at the very least, who sided with him.

    Finally, just to repeat this, there is NO mention whatsoever of any lukewarm, fence-sitting spirits in our actual canonized scriptures. We forget that sometimes – so that idea fits squarely into the speculative justifications that have been condemned since 1978 by the church leadership.

  47. #40 You don’t have a very good imagination then. However repulsive BY’s comments were, there is much, much worse out there. For his time, and for our day as well, he was a pussycat.

    #31 It does give a pretext for treating people differently. That’s why people want to believe it.

    #30 Your reasoning by analogy is exactly how we got in this mess in the first place. There is, in fact, NO reason to believe that our previous life has any appreciable influence on this life, especially since our minds were completely wiped clean as we came here. People talk all the time about spiritual gifts or whatever we brought with us, but I don’t see it, or at least that we could know. How people are raised, the chemicals in their bodies, and all sorts of accidents account for far too much for this sort of idea to mean much. Ever known someone who turned evil after a traumatic brain injury? When we project these things on babies we’re not much better than dog or cat or iguana owners anthropomorphizing their pets. What our learning and progression in the pre-existence actual were in practice, I don’t believe we have any idea. It falls into the same category as trying to understand God’s role in the development of the universe and the evolution of life on earth. He’s behind it, but in such a fundamental way that no amount of looking is ever going to show us how. You don’t see the silver screen until the movie stops.

  48. Oh, on my previous comment: I said that “our minds were wiped clean”. Actually, I’m not sure in what sense we had minds before this life. What does it mean to have a mind without a brain? Just a lack of a storage system? Less processing power? Or something else entirely? We definitely over-anthropomorphize our previous selves.

  49. it's a series of tubes says:

    Your reasoning by analogy is exactly how we got in this mess in the first place. There is, in fact, NO reason to believe that our previous life has any appreciable influence on this life, especially since our minds were completely wiped clean as we came here.

    Owen, do you have children?

  50. #21 [the chosen generation is] “elitist rhetoric, nonetheless.”

    “There are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men…”

    I once heard Elder Bednar flip the reading of this scripture and infer that to be chosen means we basically chose God. (ie. aspiring set our hearts and minds toward the things of God and not men) We have a couple options when we hear the prophets & apostles make statements. We can assume the statement they are making is based on our own knowledge and understanding or we can try to understand not only their knowledge and understanding.

    Dismissing the concept of a “chosen” generation as simply an elitist rhetorical play to rally the troops seems like doing the former and is frankly an intellectually lazy way to approach our faith. We don’t always have to put our intellect at being critical and picking apart the statements made by church authorities. I think we can more fully magnify the oath & covenant of the priesthood when we do our best to receive the Lord’s servants (“For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me”).

    It doesn’t mean we take everything that comes out of their mouth based on our own literal assumptions of what they meant to say, but actively use our agency as a “receiver” and invite the Holy Ghost to help us find what the Lord is giving us through his servants.

    I think the more holistic approach of the original post embodies some of that with regards to Brigham Young (in comparing both his statements and actions regarding Africans).

  51. Very nice rounding out Margaret. I especially loved your conclusion. Reminds me of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. “Can I still pay my tithing?” I’m going to inscribe that in my soul.

  52. #50 – The WAY the “chosen generation” is used (to distinguish between specific people now compared to specific people in the past) is elitist rhetoric.

    I’m not quibbling at all with the idea of a “chosenness”; it’s the “generation” aspect I don’t like. Iow, I have no problem whatsoever with the way you shifted the meaning in your comment, but that’s not how it is used in 99% of the times it’s used.

    Oh, and before calling someone intellectually lazy about our faith, it might be a good idea to get to know them a bit. I might be wrong about lots of things, but intellectually lazy, I ain’t.

  53. It's Not Me says:

    So much of this is speculation.

    It’s speculation to say that one’s station in life was, at least in part, determined by choices one made in the pre-mortal realm.

    It is just as much speculation to say that one’s station in life could not have been determined, even in part, by choices one made in the pre-mortal realm.

    I get that the context of comments made here (not mine) are that of racism in the church. I’m not talking about racism at all. I’m simply talking about us knowing, based on scriptures/revelation, about how we came to be in our respective stations in life. I’m saying we don’t know, one way or the other.

  54. #53: It’s Not Me,
    ” So much of this is speculation”. I agree__but by whom?
    The hallmark of the Mormon Church has always been:
    “We KNOW ‘Where we came from”_ ‘Why we are here’_ ‘Where we are going'”. Does it?

  55. It’s a series of tubes,

    Whoa! I didn’t mean to insinuate you actually go to someone and say such things, I was only saying that the idea was not any better. And the idea, tells people in crappy situations that that was the plan–I was just following the logic through-that’s all. I always enjoy your comments here and and don’t at all think poorly of you, on the contrary.

  56. It's Not Me says:

    I’m not saying it’s speculation to state that we came from the presence of God, that we’re here as part of a plan, and that we can, if certain conditions are met, return to God.

    I just think that statements have been a little strong about the connection (or lack thereof) between our respective life stations and our conduct before we came here.

  57. #56: It’s Not Me,
    Maybe I was too strong in my statement (#54). But what do we call this area between “I know” and “I don’t Know”? And is it a small line, or a big gap?

  58. Margaret,

    This was a fascinating read and I’m grateful to you for posting it.

  59. “what do we call this area between “I know” and “I don’t Know”?”


    I personally call it “the muddle in the middle” – and it’s where I’ve lived my entire life.

    I don’t mean that negatively, at all, since I really like being free to seek for better understanding about absolutely everything, including the things I feel I can say I know, based on my own personal experiences. I’m open to my knowledge changing, since it’s happened regularly throughout my life. I prefer it that way, frankly – even as I recognize that many people need security and, therefore, don’t want knowledge to change.

    I’m totally fine with that (with the existence of settlers AND explorers, and with the view that neither is better or more important than the other – that each simply “is”). It’s when the settlers try to fence in the explorers, and the explorers try to tear down the fences of the settlers, that the problem arises, imo – and both try to do that to the other far too often.

  60. it's a series of tubes says:

    Whoa! I didn’t mean to insinuate you actually go to someone and say such things, I was only saying that the idea was not any better. And the idea, tells people in crappy situations that that was the plan–I was just following the logic through-that’s all. I always enjoy your comments here and and don’t at all think poorly of you, on the contrary.

    Thanks mmiles, I appreciate the clarifications. Let me add some of my own: I don’t think we know with certainty how pre-earth choices correspond to life on earth, nor do I think that it was specifically “planned” for certain people to be in crappy situations. At most, I think I can trust in the plan of a loving God who knows the end from the beginning. That trust is often difficult to maintain in light of the suffering experienced here in mortality, where Satan’s influence still reigns, but I believe at least some portion of that suffering represents the necessary refiner’s fire. Other portions, particularly the most egregious and awful ones? I’m not so sure.

    All that being said, when considered as a sweeping generalization, it appears that the vast majority of the people in the CK are either going to be (i) those born during the millennium, or (ii) those who die before the age of accountability. Middle class western american 20th century white boys like myself won’t count for much overall, I think.

  61. Fwiw, someone in a thread on one of Tracy M’s posts said the following, to the best of my memory:

    “God doesn’t give us mor than we can bear. People do that.”

    I think we blame God for a lot of things we do, forgetting that “the kingdom of God is within you” – so, in a very real sense, when we blame God we really are blaming ourselves. We just won’t admit it far too often.

  62. AmateurParent says:

    61: “God doesn’t give us more than we can bear.”

    I am usually a lurker .. But that phrase has been thrown at me too many times for me to not respond.

    That particular phrase has become a code phrase. Most people who use it mean, ” Well, your life sucks and mine doesn’t.” “And God would never give me your troubles because I couldn’t handle them.” It is the ultimate cop-out. God does not give us anything that would separate us from him SPIRITUALLY. But, we are often overwhelmed by sickness, disability, depression, and death of loved ones. Starvation even. That is when we are supposed to step in. We are supposed help each other without judgement. We are supposed to love and uplift.

    As my child lay dying, another mother of a healthy large brood, felt it would be a comfort to me to hear that my child was dying because I was strong enough to handle it. It was a comfort only to her. It allowed her to believe that bad things could not happen to her because she loved her children so much that she couldn’t handle their deaths.

    Going through trying times in life gives insight and compassion that is not gained in any other way. It makes people very strong, but people don’t start out that way. People have to be banged up a bit and have the corners of their bodies and souls knocked off. They have to learn that an earthly life well lived is supposed to overwhelm us. We are supposed to have burdens and blessings and experiences to make us rich spiritually. If we do not have current burdens, we should be picking up someone else’s burdens and helping. That is our job as God’s children.

    Whether it is racial issues, economic advantage, or health concerns, God has told us to love and uplift each other. We have no right to judge whether someone was unrighteous in the pre-existence or even present time. God is the judge, we are not.

    We are supposed to look beyond skin color and nationality. We are supposed to care for our fellow man. End of story.

    BTW .. Brigham Young said some stupid things. Stupidity happens to all of us. It is part of being human. He was also known for being kind. Lets allow him his humanity, including the kind and the stupid.

  63. #62 – AP, I hope you understand what I was saying in my comment – that I agree with you.

    Also, I really like your last paragraph about Brigham Young.

  64. AmateurParent says:

    #63 Ray. Thanks. I would hope that when I say or do something stupid, that it isn’t being quoted a century later.

  65. #64 – Whether it happens or not depends on your position and how stupid it is, right? *grin*

    Seriously, though, I agree with your hope. However, I am a former history teacher, and history books are full of both profoundly wise and profoundly stupid things famous people said. Unfortunately, it’s part of fame – especially in a culture like Mormonism that emphasizes record keeping to such an extent.

    In relation to myself, not having any degree of fame, I am certain some of my descendants are going to read what I’ve written here, at other group blogs and on my own personal blog and laugh at me for more than one thing I wrote. I only can hope they do so lovingly, charitably and not derisively – which is one reason I really like Margaret’s approach to this particular issue. She shines a light on the stupid and inflammatory from our history, but she does so only to illuminate and instruct – never to ridicule and deride. I respect her immensely for that. (I feel the same way about Ardis’ work from our history, fwiw.)

  66. Margaret, wish you had been writing when I grew up. My first year at BYU, having grown up of goodly (racist) parents, I experienced this:

    A cold night. January or February. I stand with friends outside Brigham Young University’s “Smith Family Living Center.” Students are dancing inside the plate-glass windows. A young black man approaches, looks into the building, moves on.

    I know him, someone claims. He’s LDS. Must be lonely. Can’t hold the priesthood. Can’t marry in the temple. Seed of Cain. Curse of Ham.

    We enter the Family Living Center, join the dancers. His testimony of the true gospel, I think, commits him to a difficult life now; but in the eternities. . . . My mind skids to the warm, firm thighs of the tall girl from Idaho who is holding me as close as I her.

    More about the “Origins of My Racism” here:

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