LDS.org updated the “Race and the Priesthood” gospel topic essay, and it’s still pretty great

It’s incredibly easy these days to update online content. It’s also relatively easy to compare updated content to older content, especially with the help of that magical “Way Back Machine.”1 (Check out lds.org in its original “Under Construction” phase, and its first full iteration. Pretty nifty but it needs more animated gifs.) When I was told the “Race and the Priesthood” essay on the Church’s excellent Gospel Topics section of the website was updated it only took a few minutes to make a comparison using that website and Microsoft Word. But before I continue let me say if you haven’t read the essay already, I urge you to read the whole thing rather than focusing on the parts that were updated merely to verify if they comport with your political, religious, or cultural sensibilities. Even if you have already read it, you might read it in full again because we could all use a refresher. So go here first: lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood.

I’ll wait for you, continuing when you get back.

OK, looks like you’re back. Excellent.

First, you’ll notice that the updates are minimal. The original essay, published in 2014, was 2,837 words long (apx.) The new version, posted sometime in the past few days(?), is 2,912 words (apx.)—a mere 75 word increase. (And notice that beautiful updated color scheme by clicking on my links. Nice!) I found no deletions.

I’ll go over the changes one by one, but again, read the whole essay please. 

The first expansion occurs at the end of the fifth paragraph, in bold:

During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. One of these men, Elijah Abel, also participated in temple ceremonies in Kirtland, Ohio, and was later baptized as proxy for deceased relatives in Nauvoo, Illinois. There is no reliable evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. In a private Church council three years after Joseph Smith’s death, Brigham Young praised Q. Walker Lewis, a black man who had been ordained to the priesthood, saying, “We have one of the best Elders, an African.”[4]

The essay does not say what unreliable evidence there is, but presumably this is in reference to much later claims by certain church members that black men had been denied the priesthood. Such claims are outlined in Paul Reeve’s excellent new book Religion of a Different Color.2 The sentence about Brigham’s positive words serve to enhance the reputation of the prophet, whose views on race are more complex than those who depict him as a comprehensive or static racist. The other historical information about some of Young’s racist statements and views remains (the very next sentence continues “In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood…”), but the picture seems rightfully complicated here.

The addition of footnote 4 cites the source for Brigham’s observation about Lewis: “Historian’s Office General Church Minutes, Mar. 26, 1847, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, spelling and punctuation modernized.” This also renumbers all the subsequent footnotes by one number.

The next addition appears in paragraph 7:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was restored amidst a highly contentious racial culture in which whites were afforded great privilege. In 1790, the U.S. Congress limited citizenship to “free white person[s].”[4 5] Over the next half century, issues of race divided the country—while slave labor was legal in the more agrarian South, it was eventually banned in the more urbanized North. Even so, racial discrimination was widespread in the North as well as the South, and many states implemented laws banning interracial marriage.[5 6] In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that blacks possessed “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”[6 7] A generation after the Civil War (1861–65) led to the end of slavery in the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional, a decision that legalized a host of public color barriers until the Court reversed itself in 1954.[7 8] Not until 1967 did the Court strike down laws forbidding interracial marriage.

Footnote 8 probably should’ve been moved to the end of the paragraph because it now includes citation to the 1967 court case “Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1.” This addition alerts readers to the fact that the 1954 ruling did not resolve all racial problems in America (of course, racial problems still exist today!). While the essay doesn’t go into more detail on this point, some Church leaders discouraged interracial marriage into the 1970s. At least one quote from President Spencer W. Kimball still appears in the Church’s Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3, which I’m told isn’t actually used anymore but which remains on LDS.org for some reason:

We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question.3

Odds are high that this quote is simply a vestigial remnant of an earlier era rather than a deliberate decision on the part of the Church to discourage interracial marriage in 2015. Consider the Church’s new Old Testament manual for seminary students. Its coverage of Genesis 9 explicitly counters the old “curse of Canaan” idea and uses language very similar to the Gospel Topics essay:

Any theories suggested in the past that black skin is a curse or an indication of unworthiness in a premortal life; that mixed-race relationships are a sin; or that people of any race or ethnicity are inferior to anyone else are not true doctrine. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

Given the flexibility in updating the “Race and the Priesthood” essay, perhaps this manual could be updated in its digital edition, or perhaps it’s time to simply retire the manual’s digital edition. In fact, the next change in the Gospel Topics essay appears in a paragraph that states:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[23 24]

Notice the addition of the word “unrighteous.” I imagine this change is in response to the belief that some black members of the Church express regarding the possibility that they were placed on earth at a given time in a given body as a “calling” rather than a “curse.”4

The other change is curious. Maybe you can clear up the mystery. Footnote 23 (formerly 22) cites Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike unto God” (CES Religious Educator’s Symposium, Aug. 18, 1978),” and notes it is available at http:/speeches.byu.edu. This hyperlink used to point to https://web.archive.org/web/20140219205638/http:/speeches.byu.edu but now points to http:/speeches.byu.edu. The address itself is located at https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/bruce-r-mcconkie_alike-unto-god-2. I tried the URL without the “-2” on the end and it redirects to a talk of the same name by Howard W. Hunter. No conspiracy here, almost certainly, just some weird url glitching or something. Perhaps the addresses at https://speeches.byu.edu/ are prone to change, so the essay points to the entire website so that the url won’t break in the near future.

FINAL TALLY: So that makes four textual additions (plus two more if you count the added footnote information which I prefer to collapse in with the in-text change total), plus one changed URL. There are 26 total changes, 22 being renumbered footnotes.

To me, these updates suggest the ongoing seriousness with which the Church is taking these Gospel Topics essays. By becoming more transparent with our history, better owning our past, we honor those who came before us even as the Restoration continues to reveal “many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Article of Faith 1:9). I am thankful to all of the people who work on these essays and I’m grateful to the Church for making them available.

NOTES

1. For instance, this post was originally titled “LDS.org recently updated the “Race and the Priesthood” gospel topic essay, and it’s still pretty great,” but I received a tip that the changes weren’t all that recent, so I edited the title to reflect it. And chances are my change escaped the Way Back Machine’s watchful eye. Excellent. Except the URL still includes the word “recently.” Oh well. I also changed some wording around the part that talks about the Aaronic Priesthood manual. I wasn’t sure if it was still being used. Now the post reflects the fact that it’s not.

2. W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015). I interviewed the author along with historian Ardis Parshall for a special two-part episode of the Maxwell Institute Podcast: Part 1, Part 2. FairMormon just posted the paper Reeve delivered at their conference this year as well.

3. Although this quote is offensive, it is softened only slightly by the fact that it is still-not-exactly-helpfully encouraging marriage between people with similar backgrounds and cultures. The manual’s follow-up questions all focus on the importance of marrying within the faith rather than within one’s race (not that racial categories are even so clear cut anyway). Also, attend well to President Kimball’s important role in facilitating the revealed lifting of the restriction which is briefly outlined in the Gospel Topics essay. At the same time, the quote does not identify interracial marriage as sinful, but rather that it is not recommended. Technically, the manual’s statement and the essay can still be understood to not contradict each other.

4. See Darius Gray’s 2014 Affirmation keynote speech on this theme. This is also discussed in the excellent film Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. Invocations of the premortal life to explain various present circumstances have a mixed record, given that the doctrine of premortality was formerly invoked to explain why blacks couldn’t receive the priesthood, an idea which the Gospel Topics essay disavows. For more on the mixed record of theologizing using the premortal life, see my post “Outsourcing theological problems to pre- and post-mortal life.”

Comments

  1. Some of those changes are really fascinating. The addition of “unrighteous” in particular.

  2. Clark Goble says:

    Very interesting. BTW with regards to the Kimball quote (which I remember being taught in Sunday School when I was a kid) I always took it to mean that if you come from similar cultural backgrounds marriage is easier. Of course it’s not phrased that way and the way it is phrased makes us understandably uncomfortable.

  3. Clark, read the footnotes, particularly #3. ;)

  4. That Aaronic Priesthood manual isn’t actively being used anymore, as I understand that whole curriculum was replaced by Come Follow Me (thank goodness!). So while it’s strange that it’s still live on lds.org, it’s at least, as far as I know, not actively being instructed to be taught anymore. I don’t see them updating an obsolete manual.

  5. Underscoring Brigham’s “complicated” and dynamic views on race are interesting choice or the updates. I am not sure it does much solve the “throwing him under the bus” issue so many seem to be concerned about. The addition does more accurately reflect history to some extent. The fact remains that clearly Brigham had a very, shall we say, pragmatic, approach to racial questions. He was fully capable of treating black men and women well as we he was of putting into effect slavery laws. it just depended on what suited his interest at the time. That is the underlying problem that won’t ever go away because it is historically accurate. Brigham treated racial minorities not necessarily as people with unalienable rights and as equal brothers and sisters but as means to whatever ends he happened to pursuing at the time. This grates almost as much as someone with “static” racism just in a different way. We will always have to accept the fact that on this incredibly foundational ethical issue, Brigham and subsequent prophets weren’t very cosmically knowledgeable or even progressive. What that does for each of our understanding of what prophets are or aren’t and how we believe they relate to the divine is something we must (or should) struggle with.

    I have not read Reeve’s new book yet but I am looking forward to it!

    We can proof text that single Kimball quote all we want but the larger corpus of discourse from Kimball and his contemporaries in leadership make it pretty clear that they were against interracial marriage at almost every level. This was one of David O Mckay’s primary worries about letting black’s into BYU, for example. It should just be struck from church manuals at this point. There are better ways of addressing marriage and dating advice about navigating social, economic and religious differences.

  6. I guess it’s too much to ask to tell the whole story still; yes Brigham complimented black saints, he also said a lot of awfully racist things. Why can’t they quote both and then say, “see how complicated it was back then?” Instead the only direct quotes paint him favorably and my family is left to their own devices to infer the priesthood ban didn’t have anything to do with racism, but that God inspired BY to make it so.

  7. Underscoring Brigham’s “complicated” and dynamic views on race are interesting choice or the updates. I am not sure it does much solve the “throwing him under the bus” issue so many seem to be concerned about.

    I think the concern that Brigham is being “thrown under the bus” is largely the product of a culture where we’re more prone to hero worship than to realistic engagement with prophetic leadership. We members just aren’t that used to acknowledging things that trouble us about the church, teachings, historical circumstances, etc. I see the essays as part of an effort on the part of the church to move things in the direction of a more healthy engagement between members and leaders (and leader members and member leaders). I’m reminded of Elder Oaks’s interview on the PBS documentary about “The Mormons,” where he aid “we’re emerging from a period of history writing within the Church [of] adoring history that doesn’t deal with anything that’s unfavorable, and we’re coming into a period of ‘warts and all’ kind of history. Perhaps our writing of history is lagging behind the times, but I believe that there is purpose in all these things — there may have been a time when Church members could not have been as well prepared for that kind of historical writing as they may be now.”

    http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/elder-oaks-interview-transcript-from-pbs-documentary

    Kristine A, I suspect your family members might be among those Elder Oaks referred to who aren’t quite as prepared for the sort of things the Gospel Topics essays are nudging us towards. Recommend Paul’s book, or maybe the MIPodcast about it and see what they say.

  8. The Eternal Marriage Student Manual (2003) still has the Kimball quote, though with the racial phrase omitted: “… We recommend that people marry those who are of … somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question”

    Given that the manual is very old-school in other topics (ahem, gender roles), it is a testament that the church really has tried to distance itself from the older interracial disapproval.

  9. Aaron Brown says:

    Thanks for this, Blair.

    I confess my reaction to the “unrighteous” addition is frustration. It creates a loophole that can be exploited in noxious ways.

    Aaron B

  10. A Happy Hubby says:

    Thanks for the analysis and insight. I have been wondering if there was a web site that would be tracking the changes to the essays. I may look into it myself if nobody has one created.

    I do see it as good that they are updating these. I hope to see more.

    I am still one of those in the camp that this essay seems to say, “the theories WHY the church discriminated against blacks were not doctrine”, but does not even say that the FACT that church did discriminate.

    So could not the statement, “Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” have added, “, including the restrictions the past church leaders placed on blacks before the ban was lifted.” ?

    The essay as it stands could be read that the church does not feel it discriminated. They seem to only admit that the theories of WHY were wrong. I would like the admittance of discrimination as that gets us one step closer to the possibility of an apology.

  11. I added this re: the interracial marriage thing:

    ***

    Consider the Church’s new Old Testament manual for seminary students. Its coverage of Genesis 9 explicitly counters the old “curse of Canaan” idea and uses language very similar to the Gospel Topics essay:

    “Any theories suggested in the past that black skin is a curse or an indication of unworthiness in a premortal life; that mixed-race relationships are a sin; or that people of any race or ethnicity are inferior to anyone else are not true doctrine. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

  12. I am still one of those in the camp that this essay seems to say, “the theories WHY the church discriminated against blacks were not doctrine”, but does not even say that the FACT that church did discriminate.

    Strictly true, and I would have loved to see more direct language to this effect because I think the essay itself actually acknowledges the problem when it says “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

    The footnote points to a sermon given by President Hinckley which is directed to the Church and which condemns racism on the part of church members. Leaders are members, too. Again, I’d like to see it stated a little more plainly but I’m still glad to see it implicit in the piece. Documents like this are the outcome of many negotiations.

  13. Your comment about the Church’s current position and Pres. Kimball’s quotation about interracial marriages seem to indicate that they are contradictory when I don’t believe they are. President Kimball’s encouragement to marry somebody with a similar background (not just race but other categories as well), generally speaking, makes sense in terms of marriage compatibility and minimizing tension between cultural conflicts and other types of paradigmatic conflicts that contribute towards divisiveness in a marriage. This is perhaps less so nowadays with the increase in racially-integrated relationships, but the Church is simply saying it isn’t a sin to marry other races, and I think you are unnecessarily polarizing these two statements.

  14. I’m in favor of the ongoing improvements. Very interesting analysis. I would personally prefer all members to be well versed in these. I wish there were more being done to get the word out and to incorporate them into teaching materials.

  15. mcbarka: see my footnote #3.

  16. I did skip your footnote when I wrote my comment above – thanks for the reference. It seems that even if we agree by a ‘technicality’ we still disagree in practical interpretation, which is fine. I don’t think his comment is offensive at all. While it does address members at a certain time and place (a certain widely-held cultural view), the encouragement – generally speaking – does make sense. Of course plenty will say it is racist, and that I’m a racist, and whatever, I don’t care. It isn’t racist – it is pragmatically dealing with the realities of life as they existed then, and for a large part, how they exist now.

  17. I think we are far too quick to cry racist at those on the past. Even in our lifespans, not generations mind you, Clinton has gone from signing a good law, to it being a bigoted law. The current President has gone from having bigoted views, to having inclusive ones.

    Are they really different people then and now? To call President Young a racist necessitates that you or at least the next generation is free to label Clinton and Obama as individuals who were bigoted for most of their lives.

    Simply put, the labels are not only too polarizing, they are entirely inadequate. Those who use the label of racist (or bigot) on individuals who are not beyond there pale reveal a lack of understanding and judgement.

  18. Rah: Throwing Brigham under the bus serves a very valuable purpose—it draws attention away from his successors who warmly endorsed his views regarding the priesthood ban. Brigham’s attitude towards African Americans was not peculiar to him or his generation; rather, it permeated the culture of the church through 1978, and, to some extent, to the present day.

  19. Gerry, BY was by definition racist. That doesn’t mean that racism wasn’t ubiquitous during his day. It’s not really an interpretive or judgment question. And yes, future generations are entitled to review our actions. That’s their prerogative.

  20. Clifton Palmer McLendon says:

    RACISM: The assumption that psychocultural traits and capacities are determined by biological race and that races differ decisively from one another which is usually coupled with a belief in the inherent superiority of a particular race and its right to domination over others. [definition taken from “Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged” (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.; 1981)]

    Nowhere has it been shown that any General Authority assumed that psychocultural traits and capacities are determined by biological race and that races differ decisively from one another, or believed in the inherent superiority of a particular race and its right to domination over others, so all charges of racism are invalid.

    The most that any General Authority could be charged with is ethnocentrism — the belief that one’s own culture is the standard by which all cultures should be evaluated, with other cultures usually found wanting.

  21. “Nowhere has it been shown that any General Authority assumed that psychocultural traits and capacities are determined by biological race and that races differ decisively from one another, or believed in the inherent superiority of a particular race and its right to domination over others, so all charges of racism are invalid.”

    Actually, CPM, it has been shown quite extensively that Brigham Young and his contemporaries engaged in exactly that. So all charges of racism are valid. Your argument is invalid.

  22. Clifton, you’re simply wrong. Wrong wrong wrong, and how I wish you weren’t wrong, I really do, but the fact is you’re absolutely wrong. You’re wrong for trying to lay down a definitive definition of an incredibly complex term. But even if we accept that limited definition, you’re still wrong that General Authorities didn’t assume that certain “psychocultural traits and capacities are determined by biological race and that races differ decisively from one another which is usually coupled with a belief in the inherent superiority of a particular race .” Not only was this assumed, it was sometimes openly taught. I’m glad we’ve continued to move past such things. I believe we don’t gain anything by denying and I believe ignorance can actually damage faith. I’m not interested in digging up all of the counter examples, but really, you’re wrong.

  23. Since someone mentioned the footnote President Hinckley’s sermon condemning racism: it’s been a little troubling to me since the article came out. What Hinckley actually condemns is racial strife and hatred, racial slurs, and disparaging remarks. He also says “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” but this is phrased in the present tense, and follows an “I was there in the temple in 1978, and I know that the will of the Lord was revealed” story — so it’s more like “based on what we know now, it is arrogant to assume this,” not “it was always arrogant to assume this. Hardly a condemnation of “all racism, past and present, in any form.”

    The biggest concern I have is that all the racism Hinckley refers to is overt. But what about less overt forms of racism, like thinking everyone’s experience is like your own, or assuming that the opportunities you had growing up were equally available to persons of another race? What about just thinking that God “chose” certain families, like Abraham’s — not that others are inferior, when anyone can be adopted in — but still, Abraham’s family is more special. “All racism … in any form” is a lot bigger than just “I hate ‘those people.'”

    Really if “Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form,” is the priesthood/temple ban itself condemned? What about the practice of declaring what lineage in the house of Israel you belong to — does Ephraim have more special blessings than Manasseh? Seems like there’s a lot of work to do, to “unequivocally condemn” all.forms of past and present racism, beyond just following President Hinckley’s advice.

    I will note, though, that even if “Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form” isn’t fully supported by President Hinckley’s sermon, it can probably be stated on it’s own authority, since the article itself is reviewed and endorsed by church leaders. Making that statement, in that context, should make it true. I just worry that it’s made without understanding how big racism really is, and how much it still affects all of us.

  24. Steve Evans and BHodges:
    Furnish a documented quote that has any General Authority saying or writing these words:

    “I assume that psychocultural traits and capacities are determined by biological race and that races differ decisively from one another.”

    “I believe in the inherent superiority of a particular race and its right to domination over others.”

    Additionally, BHodges, cite your definition of the word “racism” and the source of that definition.

  25. LOL

  26. All I could find was this official image from the Church History Library:

  27. If you look further at what President Kimball and others of that era said about interracial marriage, their reasoning was that such marriages face greater stress due to the lack of societal acceptance, and so they were more prone to end in divorce. It wasn’t about blacks being inferior, it was about trying to prevent broken homes.

    As for Joseph Smith, as translator of the Book of Abraham he would have been aware of what is in the first chapter about Pharaoh being cursed as to the Priesthood due to his lineage through Ham and his wife who was black. I understand the point of the essay is not to justify the ban but refute the false theories around it, but it does show there is a scriptural basis for it and that Joseph would have some knowledge of it.

  28. sylivasdaddy, I understand where you’re coming from. I’m a believing, in-many-ways-TBM, TR-carrying member who loves the prophets and the Church, warts and all—as I know (from having read here for a while) both Steve and bhodges love our leaders too. But truth is, there are warts there: God doesn’t “fix” all his servants so they’re perfect. He uses them in their weakness. And one weakness is often an acceptance of many assumptions in the broader culture, even when wrong, which has included racism:

    Bruce R. McConkie, 1958 ed. of “Mormon Doctrine”: “…in a broad general sense, caste systems have their origin in the gospel itself, and when they operate according to the divine decree, the resultant restrictions and segregation are right and proper and have the approval of the lord. To illustrate: Cain, Ham, and the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry.”

    Joseph Fielding Smith, “Doctrines of Salvation” pub. 1954-56 (p. 61): “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.”

    B.H. Roberts, “The 70s Course in Theology”, pub. 1907: “That the negro is markedly inferior to the Caucasian is proved both craniologically and by six thousand years of planet-wide experimentation.”

    Now not all of them were racist. Widstoe fought the ban, as did McKay (who famously called the ban on the priesthood a “policy”). And there were many others. But there was racism in some of their worldviews. And we don’t have to be okay with that. We just have to rejoice that God uses us in our weakness. Those three men I quoted did amazing things too, and loved many. We just have to do better in loving all of God’s children, of all races and INCLUDING our past leaders.

  29. Clifton Palmer McLendon, or sylviasdaddy, or whatever the name is: I suppose you’re right. No General Authority ever stated those words and therefore none of them ever were racist or said racist things.

    However, and sadly, no General Authority has ever expressed belief in God, either. Unless you can provide a source where they express belief in God using the words from Webster’s dictionary as follows:

    “God : the perfect and all-powerful spirit or being that is worshipped especially by Christians, Jews, and Muslims as the one who created and rules the universe

    : a spirit or being that has great power, strength, knowledge, etc., and that can affect nature and the lives of people : one of various spirits or beings worshipped in some religions

    : a person and especially a man who is greatly loved or admired”

  30. The white stone: The Abraham reference has been argued to be more about women and the priesthood than blacks and the priesthood (e.g., see Nibley). Moreover, the scriptures are not univocal nor do they all coalesce into one single unified theology. There are different dispensations with different understandings. You don’t find talk of the Celestial Kingdom in the Book of Mormon, or baptism for the dead. You may find scriptures saying we should stone adulterers and ones that suggest we shouldn’t.

    No proof-text can play the trump card on the race issue, unless, I submit, it’s 2 Nephi 26:33.

  31. I was hoping someone could clarify the context in which Brigham Young made his statements concerning interracial marriage. Was it in response to hearing of the interracial marriage of Walker Lewis’ son?

  32. BHodges, Abraham 1:21-26 is as clear as can be that Pharaoh had no right to hold the Priesthood due to his lineage, which was through Ham and his Canaanite wife. There is no way to twist it into a woman and the priesthood thing. It establishes the ban existed all the way back then.

    God promised the gospel would go first to the decedents of Abraham Issac and Jacob, Peter didn’t take the gospel to the Gentiles out of some sense of social justice, he acted on revelation from God. There is no further revelation or scripture revoking that until 1978 so there is no basis to claim that it was limited to that dispensation.

    For the sake of argument, suppose it was done away when Christ finished his mortal mission, why then would the Lord not inform anybody? He let them know circumcision and animal sacrifices were no longer needed. President McKay actively sought permission to lift the ban and didn’t get it. Why would God not tell him to end it, or not proactively tell an earlier prophet that the ban was no longer in effect?

    The BoM is not a valid example, it was written with a specific purpose and that purpose was not to lay out all the details of the plan of salvation. Baptism of the dead and the celestial kingdom are not relevant to the purpose of the BoM, so they are not there.

    The ban actually follows a pattern we see in scripture, where a person’s decendents are singled out for special treatment based on that person’s behaviour. In ancient Israel the Priesthood was restricted to the Levites due to Aaron’s faithfulness. Laman and Lemuel’s decedents were cursed because of their disobedience. The gospel was promised to go to the decendents of Jacob first, hence Christ’s rather harsh treatment the Gentile woman in Matt 15:25-26. Because her faith was bigger than her ego Christ made an expection for her, much the same as black men of faith like Elijah Able were given the priesthood.

    God has authority to command us to do things that would be wrong for us to do on our own initiative. For example: God commanded the armies of Isreal to utterly wipe out certain cities killing even the women and children and babies and livestock, God commanded Nephi to kill a man who was passed out drunk and no threat to him. God, in his knowledge of all things and his control of who is born to what lineage has the authority and right to set rules like that which will appear wrong to us in our limited view, but are in keeping with his wisdom. The question is who has the faith to accept God’s wisdom when it flies in the face of what man understands?

  33. All right. None of this crap. I’m going to ban anybody who is interested in describing dark skin as a curse or who is interested in justifying the priesthood ban as anything coming from God. I don’t care. It’s repugnant. Peddle your wares someplace else.

  34. The White Stone (an unfortunately appropriate screen name): I agree with you that “The ban actually follows a pattern we see in scripture,” it’s just that the pattern we detect differs greatly. The pattern I see is people messing up over and over again, people who think they know God’s will but getting it wrong, people exhibiting prejudice, judgmentalism, racism. In short: humans being human.

    On the matriarchal versus patriarchal question, see the following:

    http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1093&index=12

    I agree with the present position of the church which disavows the sort of racist theories you’re proposing based on a fundamentalist style interpretation of scripture.

  35. Oh good night, The White Stone wrote a blog post comparing George Zimmerman to Nephi. Both as hero figures. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. Nowhere for me to really go in a conversation with someone holding those kinds of beliefs, honestly.

  36. The whole theory of being born “white” or “black” based on how valiant a person was in the preexistence never made any sense to begin with. So a white child is born to a sexually abusive parent was because of they were valiant? Oh wait, didn’t think that one through, did you… (you being the source and promoters of such a silly idea).

  37. – I compared the trial of Nephi (son of Helaman) against the the Zimmerman trial as commentary on the justice system, I did not compare Nephi to Zimmerman.

    – My blog name refers to Rev 2:17. White is often just a color, nothing more.

    – I thank you for the link BHodges, I find Nibley’s take on it very much at odds with the text he cites. Abr1:25 says “the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham”, not that his mother put him on the throne as Nibley states. All she did was discover the area. Likewise, v27 says “Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham”. So Priesthood, not simple ‘patriarchal authority’ is what was falsely claiming. I think Nibley is trying to side step a difficult issue here.

    It was my privilege to serve a mission in England and about 80% of the people I baptized were from Africa and I have nothing but love and respect for them. I do not believe any race is (or ever has been) inherently better or worse than any other race. But it is a fact that God does sometimes grant privileges and blessings, or impose punishments or restrictions, based on lineage. I don’t know why, but I’m willing to take it on faith that God has a good reason and I do my best to not read more into it than what God says of it. If you want to think badly of me for that it is your right, but the facts remain the facts.

  38. They aren’t facts. They’re incorrect traditions. Let it go. Bye.

  39. The White Stone: you are absolutely wrong in your interpretation of the Book of Abraham, which literally says nothing about black skin, or black Africans, or anything of the sort. You are reading racism into the text and then asserting it is the word of God in some mysterious way.

    Mike Parker explains: The Book of Abraham is the only place that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the Pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any—especially in the modern world—would be covered by that proscription.[5] According to the Bible, Egypt was founded by Mizraim, another son of Ham, and Canaan’s brother (which may be why Abraham 1:21 connects Egypt with the Canaanites). Egyptians, both ancient and modern, were not black Africans, but Northern Africans, culturally related to peoples of the Middle East.

    Your citation has nothing to do with black Africans who were barred from the priesthood on Brigham Young’s orders.

  40. Please Read Barbara Fields or Ta-Nehisi Coates says:

    It’s a common misconception to assume that racism is all about someone’s inner beliefs or attitudes or emotions — that’s bigotry or intolerance or something. Racism is a socioeconomic system that applies a civic, social and legal double-standard based on ancestry. It’s a social action with a societal purpose — it organizes people and distributes resources (land, jobs, capital, education, political rights), again based on ancestry. A racist person is someone who perpetuates or benefits from the system. Calling Brigham Young a racist has very little to do with magically gaining access to the fleshy tablets of his heart and everything to do with determining whether he benefited from the rendering of people of color into second-class status, which he clearly did.

  41. Vinz Clortho says:

    Thank you BHodges. This…

    The pattern I see is people messing up over and over again, people who think they know God’s will but getting it wrong, people exhibiting prejudice, judgmentalism, racism. In short: humans being human.

    The next step is our using scriptures to repeat the errors and justify the same things. Talk about taking the name of God in vain. We don’t get it. Someone in the scriptures said God wanted them to kill someone else, so I guess it’s OK if God says so. So killing is bad except if God says so. And all these liberals with their shifting values and moral relativism…..

    Sheesh.

  42. Please Read Barbara Fields or Ta-Nehisi Coates: thanks for that. Racism as a system was very much in mind when I was writing about the footnote to Pres. Hinckley, but I didn’t express it very well. All the more reason it’s important to make sure that we really do “unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in *any* form” — even if we all manage to cast the racial hatred, strife, and slurs President Hinckley talks about out of our hearts and minds, it’s still far too easy (for white people, at least) to participate in, perpetuate, and benefit from the structure of racism,

  43. There is a larger issue at play here.

    Since its inception, the church has taught, in one form or another: (1) prophetic infallibility, (2) scriptural literalism/inerrancy, (3) doctrine immutability (i.e., what we teach as doctrine never changes and we teach the exact same doctrines as the prophets of old), (4) the church is perfect, and (5) Christ stands at the head, calling the shots, which means our leaders are incapable of leading us astray. (Yes, there have been church leaders who have taken a more nuanced approach to these issues, but the foregoing by and large describes the traditional mindset of the institution and the culture of its people.)

    But thanks in large measure to Al Gore finding the time to invent the Internet, we now learn that the church has over-promised and under-delivered. Hence, the LDS.org essays—tactical and staged retreats from doctrinal positions once carved in stone. This inevitably results in cognitive dissonance, provoking one of four reactions:

    (1) Indifference; a willingness to accept whatever is being taught today, combined with no interest in the past and a total lack of inquisitiveness (cognitive dissonance lasted about a nanosecond). This is the most prevalent attitude.

    (2) Loss of faith in the church and its leaders, followed by withdrawal from the organization. My son chose this route.

    (3) A realization that the infallibility/inerrancy/immutability ideas previously advanced were untrue and acceptance of the fact that our leaders do make mistakes—sometimes big ones—because they are human and the Lord will not stand in their way of doing so.

    (4) A refusal to let go of the infallibility/inerrancy/immutability approach, which manifests itself in all manner of proof-texting, logical inconsistences, and twisted arguments and rationalizations that would be the envy of a Cirque-du-Solei contortionist.

    The OP embodies the third approach while many of the comments reflect the attitude described in the last one. We may not like the latter, but we should at least be honest about its origins.

  44. A Happy Hubby says:

    Farside – I think your comment would make a good blog entry in and of itself. Could you flesh that out and make one?

  45. A Happy Hubby: Thank you for your kind words. Though I don’t think my views on this subject are original, this is an idea I have thought about developing further. Perhaps your encouragement will motivate me to do so.

  46. “I’m going to ban anybody who is…interested in justifying the priesthood ban as anything coming from God.”

    Why? The Church has never denounced this position. The Church has carefully stated that subsequent interpretations on the ban was wrong. It has never asserted that the ban itself was uninspired. Don’t impose your biased interpretations on what the Church actually has (or in this case, hasn’t) stated. Just because you don’t like it, your going to ban people? Ridiculous.

  47. Yup. Ridiculous. Next!

  48. By the way, Coates is in my reading queue.

  49. Leonard R says:

    Just to reiterate what Bhodges said regarding Abraham 1 (not because he didn’t do it sufficiently, but only because it wasn’t really acknowledged and is worth repeating. NOTHING in the scripture itself makes an explicit connection between the Pharaohs being denied the priesthood by lineage and race, including being of black descent. It is an interpretation to equate Canaanite with black. It is an interpretation to equate the Pharoah’s denial to all Sub-Saharan Africans. It is an interpretation to connect that scripture to the former LDS practice. So we shouldn’t be claiming that scripture as a clear evidence that the ban was from God or scriptural.

    That, and the Church’s essay pointing out that both Joseph and Brigham accepted the priesthood of blacks prior to the start of the ban really severes any connection between that scripture and the ban, let alone the claim made that the ban, begun way back with that scripture, continued until 1978.

  50. In addition to Spencer W. Kimball warning against interracial marriages in a BYU speech in 1977, Boyd K. Packer gave a talk in 1977 called “Follow The Rule”. In teaching that members should marry within their own race, he also brought up that the fact that even though it hadn’t been mentioned in General Conference didn’t matter because it was a true and inspired principle. I seem to recall more recent BYU speeches than this that also counseled against interracial marriage, but I can’t remember them right now. So, for anyone who interprets the Church’s clear and repeated teachings to avoid interracial marriage as a one-off “policy”, or that is was merely a statement about increasing the likelihood of successful marriage outcomes, that is a revisionist’s history that these abhorrent teachings do not deserve.

  51. As an FYI, these changes are almost a year old. They were actually made on October 22, 2014, almost a year after the essay was originally posted on 12/06/2013. I have been tracking the all the essays, along with other key lds.org pages that deal with the essays (e.g. the institute and seminary lessons that have incorporated parts of the essays), using changedetection.com.

    I posted an analysis of these changes in various PostMo FB groups on a day or so after the changes were made.

    Here’s a link to a PDF that I posted about the changes last year: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B46d9-tC8xTATS1VVTdrODBtSGs

  52. With the deaths of Elder Perry and President Packer, I’ve been thinking about the fact that President Monson is the only church leader who is still alive who participated in “the revelation on the priesthood” in 1978. All others who were either in the first presidency or quorum of the twelve apostles at that time have passed away. We are approaching the end of an era.

  53. Concerned Citizen says:

    Ponderer,

    I’m sorry I’m the one that has to tell you this. Your new name is “Ponderizer.” It happened yesterday. Carry on soldier.

  54. Hi Steve Holbrook. I admit I don’t spend much time surveying PostMo FB groups. Your layout on that document looks very nice. Shortly after posting I was told that the changes were actually almost a year old, and so updated the post in the title and footnote one, but the url retains the “recently.” I guess I could still say it was “recent” compared to longer geological timescales.

  55. Long-time listener, first-time caller says:

    mcbarka: “Why? The Church has never denounced this position. The Church has carefully stated that subsequent interpretations on the ban was wrong. It has never asserted that the ban itself was uninspired. Don’t impose your biased interpretations on what the Church actually has (or in this case, hasn’t) stated. Just because you don’t like it, your going to ban people? Ridiculous.”

    Let me help you out here. The Church has not exactly asserted that the ban was uninspired, but it’s never asserted that is was inspired, either. Furthermore, the Church’s most current position regarding the justifications that have historically been taught in the Church (and reiterated by The White Stone) are made clear in the Gospel Topics essay OP reviewed:

    “Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church” and “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

    Banning someone who insists on repeating inaccurate and unfounded theories that the Church has disavowed seems fair to me.

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