“No known records exist”: The fallacy of racial restriction origins

In a well-meaning Ensign article commemorating the end of the Mormon Temple and Priesthood restriction against Black people, an unattributed author makes a pernicious claim about the origin of the restriction. I do not think the author was lying. The author was repeating a fallacy that has been growing in circulation for years, but is nevertheless wrong. And if the author was even remotely aware of recent years’ scholarship, then the author is engaging in prevarication.

From the mid-1800s, the Church did not ordain men of black African descent to the priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple endowment or sealing ordinances. No known records exist that explain the origin of the practice, and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has emphasized that any theories given in an attempt to explain the restrictions are “folklore” that must never be perpetuated: “However well-intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. … We simply do not know why that practice … was in place.”

Elder Holland’s quote was from his interview with Helen Whitney that was televised as part of PBS’s 2007 “The Mormons.” At the time, this represented an enormous and important shift in church leader discourse surrounding the topic and, in retrospect, seems like it is was the first step towards the disavowal of these teachings in the Gospel Topics Essay on Race and the Priesthood. However, in the last twelve years alone there has been a truckload of research and writing on the restriction that renders the antecedent phrase simply and plainly wrong. To reiterate, the idea that “no known records exist that explain the origin of the practice” is a fallacy.

I think that this fallacy probably started getting traction with the 2013 edition of the scriptures. When the intro to Official Declaration 2 was revised for this edition, editors included the following: “During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.” The first two sentences are readily validated. The last is easily controverted.

Let us look at the scholarship. Paul Reeve’s award winning book Religion of a Different Color clearly demonstrates the history of the restriction. It shows how church records do offer clear and precise insights into the origins of the practice. Church leaders ordained black men to priesthood offices during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. After JS’s death, over a protracted period, Brigham Young introduced the restriction and the basis for it. In my recent volume The Power of Godliness, I deal expressly with Brigham Young’s rationale (pp. 20-22):

Young formulated his justification from the common Christian beliefs that black people were descendants of Cain and/ or Ham—ideas that had been used to justify and sustain chattel slavery for generations. Young transformed these ideas into the cosmology of the Nauvoo Temple and in doing so crafted a new Genesis narrative. In a February 13, 1849, meeting, Apostle Lorenzo Snow “presented the case of the African Race for a chance of redemption & unlock the door to them.” Church minutes record Young’s response: he “explained it very lucidly that the curse remains on them bec[ause] Cain cut off the lives of Abel to hedge up his way & take the lead but the L[or]d has given them blackness, so as to give the children of Abel an opportunity to keep his place with his desc[endant]s in the et[erna]l worlds.” [n56] Though the longhand minutes of the meeting are somewhat disjointed, the narrative that Young repeated frequently throughout his life was clear: Cain’s murder of Abel was an attempt to eliminate Abel’s posterity—his kingdom in the cosmological priesthood.

As we saw at the beginning of this book, two years before this 1849 meeting Brigham Young had a near- death experience in which he had a vision in which Joseph Smith appeared to him. During this vision Young asked to know more about principles related to adoption sealings, and Smith showed him the organization of the human family before the world was created. A primary implication of the vision was that the human family was intended to be ordered in mortality. [n57] Young concluded that the network that Smith revealed as part of the temple cosmology was to be somehow patterned on a premortal template. Consequently, Young taught that Cain’s murder was not mere fratricide. It was a strike against the material network of heaven, a fracturing of the cosmos. Abel was supposed to be a node in the heavenly network, with vast numbers of descendants and kin. According to this view, black men and women, the purported descendants of Cain, were not to be integrated into the cosmological priesthood until Abel’s posterity was somehow restored—until the breach created by his death was healed. If Abel couldn’t have a kingdom, neither could Cain. Because of the tight association between the cosmological priesthood and the ecclesiastical priesthood of the church, one manifestation of this fractured human network was the ecclesiastical priesthood.

n56. Historian’s Office General Church Minutes, February 13, 1849, digital images of manuscript, CR 100 318, Box 2, Folder 8, CHL.

n57. Brigham Young, “Pres. B. Young’s dream Feb.y 17, 1847,” Box 75, Folder 34, BYOF. See Stapley, “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism,” 79– 81.

To reiterate, Brigham Young, from before the official announcement of the restriction in 1852 to his death in 1877, consistently reiterated the reason for the restriction. The documentation is ubiquitous. The framework that supported Young’s narrative declined after his death, and outside of this context Young’s racial narrative made little sense. It eventually became irreconcilable to church members and leaders, who found other explanations, like premortal valiancy, to have greater explanatory power in the twentieth century. See Paul’s book on this.

In order to maintain the fallacy that “no known records exist that explain the origin of the practice” we have to actively forget what Brigham Young taught, which is, as Emily Jensen shows, precisely what the author of the Ensign piece did:

An analogical example would be a parent who explicitly explains that they have taken their child’s smartphone away because they were playing too many video games, and reiterates that explaination for decades, refusing to release the phone. It would be odd for someone to later claim that “we don’t know why the smartphone was taken.” We know exactly why the phone was taken. But in the case of the restriction, it was no fault of black members.

We can do better. The church publications department can do better. To assert ignorance is a betrayal of our history, our faithful spiritual progenitors, and our black pioneers. Any assertion of the fallacy during the 40th anniversary of the revelation ending the temple and priesthood restriction is an affront to the revelation and the work it has done in those years.


  1. The church really needs to stop sidestepping this and come forward with a clear and precise and accurate statement, no more of this “we can’t know.” We can and we do know and it does everyone a disservice to pretend otherwise. It is more important to be truthful than to worry about offending racist members of the church

  2. mikerharris says:

    Good point. The Ensign article is not helping us celebrate the 40th anniversary. Rather, insult to injury continues. Sigh.

    But Arrington would smile on our efforts… (See https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2018/05/09/new-collection-of-leonard-arringtons-vast-journals-shows-battles-the-mormon-historian-had-with-lds-leaders-over-telling-the-truth-about-the-churchs-past/)

  3. Thank you!

  4. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    The attitude of “The first rule of Temple Club is don’t talk about Temple Club” is still quite prevalent in the Church. Admitting that Young made a lot of grossly untrue factual claims about the ancestry of various peoples of the world is another taboo. (Contra BY, the peoples of Central Asia are not, in fact, descended from the Ten Tribes.)

    FWIW I stopped reading the Ensign years ago, and so did most of the educated LDS I know.

  5. I kind of hate the “Well then just don’t read the Ensign if it bothers you” types of arguments. It is still a major organ of the church, influencing many, many members. We had a regional conference a few years ago where Sister Anderson talked about the importance of having an Ensign in every single room of the house for ready access.

  6. mikerharris says:

    I don’t think Stapley is manifesting his lack of education…FWIW LOL XOxOo SMH

  7. Eric Facer says:

    “We can do better. The church publications department can do better.”

    I don’t doubt that they CAN do better. But do they WANT to? I have my doubts.

  8. Kristin Brown says:

    I haven’t even read the May Ensign yet…I am impressed you are on to June already!

  9. Vital work here, J. Thank you!

  10. Really important post here — and I was very grateful for that material in your book.

  11. That’s unfortunate that that made it into print.

    Recently, someone was harassing Sistas in Zion on social media and making this same claim, so I tried to kindly explain that the reasons for the restriction were known and provided detailed citations, but he wouldn’t have any of it and finally bore his testimony that he knew “what he said was true.” Er, no.

    My conclusion afterward was about the same as what you concluded here: that perhaps this person was taking the introduction to the Official Declaration-2 seriously and didn’t realize that a whole lot of important scholarship has happened since it was written.

  12. Thanks for putting this together. I have a lot of hesitation around the recent “celebration”, especially when there is so much work left undone to heal and atone for our past.

  13. I would also add, that the problem lies in Holland’s unchallenged and unredacted quote. The current Ensign article is just repeating the official line of the Church, thus far.

  14. Dave K says:

    I would wager the 1949 First Presidency Statement counts as an authoritative record explaining the origin of the priesthood/temple ban:

    The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.

    The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.” President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.”

    The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order t hat they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

  15. I’m really, really sympathetic to your position Jonathan. However I think this avoids the central question of those raising this position really are asking. That is in conflates origins with justifications. There’s zero doubt that Young justified his position using southern Christian apologetics regarding Cain. It’s not clear (IMO) that this is the sole origin for his thinking. (At least to the standard of evidence those objecting are raising)

    Now in saying that I recognize many (probably most here) think that the origin is this southern apologetic. To them that’s all that need be said. I just think this is less convincing to those who suspect (even if only because they don’t want to imagine Brigham coming up with such a doctrine on his own) that there was more to it.

    I’m quite unqualified to make their case and I’m not sure I’d agree with them in the least. However I do think if you want to persuade them, you have to engage with their position a bit more deeply.

  16. J. Stapley says:

    Clark, I think you are correct that I’m sort of mystified by your comment. What is there to engage with? The documentary record is just so dang replete. Per the smartphone analogy in my post, you would have to assume, that the parent were either lying or delusional to reject their assertion. I don’t see any evidence that Brigham Young was lying or delusional.

  17. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks all.

    Amy, that is the Lord’s work you were doing. Thank you.

    Dave K., that statement is a great example of how BY’s narrative lost coherence in the twentieth century and then subsequent and creative rationales employed by church leaders.

  18. It bears repeating in any discussion of this sort that the 1949 First Presidency statement was a draft, never sent to congregations and never included in official Church materials. Unless something appears through official Church channels, it’s hardly an “authoritative record.” The versions that float around the internet are from the collections of Lester Bush and William Berrett.

  19. kevinf says:

    I think that part of the problem is that without a definitive statement by the Church in an authoritative and unequivocal manner, misconceptions will persist. I heard a whisper of some of the old justifications in Gospel Doctrine a few weeks back, by the father of one of the members of our ward who was visiting, talking about how the Canaanites were cursed as to the priesthood. I held back from asking him for explanations, first out of courtesy to a visitor and to his son and family, and also as I was just a participant in the class, not the teacher.

    Things like this Ensign article only further obscure the truth, and make it possible for alternative explanations to propagate by well meaning but uninformed people. Most church members, unfortunately, are not going to be reading Reeve’s book, or yours, for that matter. Members look to the Ensign, just as the name implies, for official explanations. And they are not getting an accurate one.

  20. Troy Cline says:

    This kind of stuff is to be expected. The church isn’t interested in real scholarship because real scholarship will uncover unsavory elements of the church’s past and unapologetically and objectively report them. Rather, the church is interested in maintaining its narrative as much as is possible in this day and age. Packer’s notion that academics are one of the church’s enemies and that some things that are true just aren’t useful is an attitude that still permeates official church publications. I stopped reading the Ensign about 3 years ago when the general Sunday School president wrote a piece on Pres. Monson that sounded like something a 4th grader who is trying to get on his teacher’s good side would write. It was a prophet worship piece and it was the last straw for me.

  21. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks for that Amy. And I agree, Kevin.

    Troy, I do not believe that your description is accurate. The Joseph Smith Papers Project, which is sponsored and published by the church, is really Gold Standard scholarship. But it is clear that not every area of the Church’s bureaucracies have bought in.

  22. J., Have you considered calling this to the attention of the Ensign editorial staff and/or Elder Holland directly? There may be something to the idea that origin and explanation are sometimes confused. Perhaps the “origin” is not BY’s explanation or his interpretation of his near-death experience, but his observation of and attitude about miscegenation – Warner McCary and all that. Maybe it was that attitude that informed his near-death experience/vision and justification, rather than such a vision informing his policy. Maybe I have misunderstood.

    Amy, I have found a number in my ward who don’t just take “the introduction to the Official Declaration-2 seriously. They seem to think whatever introductions and comments are printed in their quadruple combinations are “scripture.” I find it healthy for me to avoid discussion with those people.

  23. J. Stapley says:

    JR, unfortunately, I have neither the Ensign production staff, nor Elder Holland on speed dial.

  24. Yeah, well, I’m sure speed dial is the only way to contact them. For very different reasons, however, I did not send a letter I wrote in 2016 to Elder Holland whom I knew briefly when he and I were in the same ward years ago.

  25. “No known records exist that explain . . .” is simply wrong. The OP is important and valuable, in my opinion.
    At the same time, there is a logical distinction between explanations and ultimate reasons, and those who want to argue can find room to keep arguing.
    Apart from the Ensign gaffe, I find that I have all along been doing a mental conversion of Elder Holland’s “We simply do not know.” ‘Translating’ it to “There is no explanation we are willing to subscribe to, but we don’t want to call out anyone for getting it wrong.” Having surfaced the thought, I am not able to prove it but it feels correct. And if correct, then far better to say it in just so many words.

  26. MikeInWeHo says:

    The reason the LDS church can’t admit why the ban was implemented is because to do so would validate that the prophet can seriously misguide the church on a major doctrinal matter. That’s an existential threat to the status quo.

    This is why it was much easier for the church to come clean on the Mountain Meadows Massacre or even some of the other historical issues.

  27. Brother Sky says:

    Really good and timely post. The thing I could never figure out is why on earth church leaders think that “We can’t dig up any reason for why we discriminated against a specific race for 150 years, but we just sort of did it” sounds better than “hey, here are some documents and it looks like here’s how it happened, but it was wrong and we apologize.” The whole “we don’t know how it happened” thing calls into question every bit of the church’s claims to prophetic authority and modern-day revelation. We denied hundreds of thousands of people access to the priesthood AND the temple and the best we can do is: “Gee, we really don’t know why”? Not to mention the continued discrepancy between policy and doctrine that, at least IMHO, has never been clearly explained and delineated. That is simply unconscionable.

  28. Nice work J. This is really a serious error.

  29. Brother Sky,

    That brings up another point, in the quote J. highlights above, you’ll notice the ellipses in the Elder Holland quote. In the PBS interview transcript referenced, he says “we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.”

    So it’s all three? One of the three and he isn’t sure which, and wants to cover the bases?

  30. Loursat says:

    I think Christian’s decoding of Elder Holland’s statement is probably correct. But it’s hard to come up with a good alternative, at that place and time, to Elder Holland’s “we simply do not know.” Even today, it’s a hard problem. The church is not really set up to deal with evolving contingencies on matters that affect doctrine. It is especially hard for leaders to say that not only don’t they know, but they’ll have to wait for the historians to tell them the answers. There is not a clear place for historians to mediate the relationship between revelators and disciples.

    The best we can do, probably, is to keep pushing–to keep demanding the best thinking–as Jonathan is doing here.

  31. A complete acknowledgement, apology and disavowel is the only thing that is enough. If we can’t do that we’re tinkling brass and sounding cymbals. The reasons leadership and membership won’t are multifaceted. One of the main reasons I believe, as an active believing member, is that official stance on matters regarding the lgbtqia+ community as well as the station and standing of women in the church. If they admit serious misdirection and harm to our black sister and brothers as a mistake, something to repent for something that still needs remedy? That gets to the foundations of power within the church.

  32. Brother Sky says:


    Good point. The cynical part of me says yes, he wants to cover all the bases. It’s almost exactly like the time Dick Cheney was questioned about the location of the WMDs in Iraq and he said something like, “we know they’re east, west or south of Tikrit.” That really raised red flags for me at the time, as does any of that kind of overly-generalized language. It generally signals to me that the person speaking is trying to walk the fine line of sounding authoritative, but not wanting to acknowledge the fact that they don’t really know what they’re talking about.

    *Note, I don’t want the Cheney example to be taken as me bashing Republicans. It was just one example of many. Clinton did the same thing. A lot.

  33. “It is especially hard for leaders to say that not only don’t they know, but they’ll have to wait for the historians to tell them the answers.”

    It’s sad that this is true. It sounds like basic pride to me.

  34. “The church is not really set up to deal with evolving contingencies on matters that affect doctrine.” This is because, for all our emphasis on modern prophets and revelation, we have never really explored, let alone developed a robust theology about what that means and how it works. We fill in the gaps with absolutist ideas, often from Protestantism, which are easily falsified. This is a systematic problem, in that we are a church of doers and managers instead of thinkers, and those who move into higher Church leadership tend to be valued for their managerial skills, not their expertise in history, theology, scripture. We need more of the latter to complement the (usually competent) professional and managerial skills. Harold B. Lee said in 1960 that “The future of the [LDS] Church depends on those who are both faithful and learned.”
    I heard Jana Riess present on her research about millennials, and one of the things she said was “we need to do our own theology better.”
    Find a way to send it in Stapley. Excellent post.

  35. “The reason the LDS church can’t admit why the ban was implemented is because to do so would validate that the prophet can seriously misguide the church on a major doctrinal matter. That’s an existential threat to the status quo.

    This is why it was much easier for the church to come clean on the Mountain Meadows Massacre or even some of the other historical issues.”


  36. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for this, J. I’ve long hated the “we don’t know” rhetoric, and for the church to trot it out in connection with the 40 year anniversary is unconscionable. But I do think BY had his own overlay to southern apologetic curse of Cain/Ham thought. And that was that he was freaked the hell out by the prospect of amalgamation/miscegenation. Freaked. The. Hell. Out.

  37. Kevin Barney, that’s my theory too (amalgamation/miscegenation as the root fear, made worse in his mind, if that’s possible, by the “time and eternity” language of temple sealings). Any documentation or evidence?

  38. J. Stapley says:

    Kevin, there is no question that there were important contexts not addressed in the post. There is a solid body of literature that addresses this (see, e.g., Paul’s book). There will likely be more scholarship expanding our understanding of these and additional contexts in the future.

  39. It actually doesn’t matter. D&C 1:24-28

    24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.

    25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;

    26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;

    27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;

    28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.

  40. Thank you, Jonathan. At some point, we will have to speak truth to power. The “Curse of Cain” was always a justification for the unjustifiable, and it alone was the reason for the priesthood restriction. When the race essay disavows the curse of Cain, it disavows all justification for the restriction. There was no justification on heaven or on earth. I was so grateful that the “We don’t know why” line was NOT included in the essay! When it was released, I read it specifically looking for that line. I rejoiced that it wasn’t there.

  41. Kent B. Wallace says:

    An excellent summation. Thank you, Jonathan.

  42. Key word here is “origin.” An origin is not the same thing as a purpose. I don’t think the racist purpose of the ban has ever truly been in doubt. When it actually originated, however, is still an open question. .

    Many have long assumed there was revelation or an announcement, but there was neither – black people received the priesthood until they didn’t, and no clear line delineates when that happened. Did it begin with Joseph? Is it really just all Brigham’s racism? I think that makes the statement in question disingenuous, but not entirely dishonest.

    I also think the lesson here isn’t just about our racist history; it’s about our past and present unwillingness to admit that even those in the highest offices in the church are still capable of error, sometimes very serious error.

  43. Thank you for the excellent article!

  44. Loursat says:

    I wrote, “Even today, it’s a hard problem. The church is not really set up to deal with evolving contingencies on matters that affect doctrine.” I think this applies to a lot of the hard questions the church faces right now: race, sexuality, gender, family. These are all hard problems because of the church’s deep traditions. But they are, above all, problems of leadership. Our leaders need to find ways to guide evolution in the church. I think that finding the best way forward on the question of the priesthood/temple ban might be the easiest of these issues, because the historical record is so clear and because the right things to say are so obvious. The problem on this one is not knowing what to say, it’s figuring out how to say it. If they can crack this problem–and they should be able to–they can learn a lot about how to approach the other issues.

  45. Steve LHJ says:

    I know for myself that these concepts are mistaken. At the same time I don’t think it’s totally fair to lay it all at BY’s feet.

    Moses 7

    8 For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people. 22 And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.

    Abraham 1

    21 Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. 22 From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land. 27 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, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry.

  46. Steve LHJ, it’s worth noting that those verses were not used to justify the practice until years after the restriction was already in place. We have a long history of turning to the scriptures to explain what we’re doing, rather than doing what we do because we found it in the scriptures. (That’s not a slam; it seems perfectly natural to me to try to understand “the way things are” by looking for scriptural parallels to “the way things used to be.”) An analogous situation would be polygamy: Our practice of polygamy came because Joseph taught us he had had a revelation — which we then came to grips with in part by recognizing that ancient patriarchs had practiced polygamy, and that Jesus’s genealogy included notable polygamists. It’s not like we read the Old Testament, saw ancient polygamy, and only after that said, “Oh, we’d better practice it, too.”

    In the case of race and the priesthood, the restriction definitely came long before anybody used Moses 7 or Abraham 1 to justify it — there’s little to no historical support for the notion that anybody read Abraham first, and then said, “Oh, this means we’d better not ordain black men.” (Neither of those books were even generally available to the Saints until the Pearl of Great Price was assembled, published, and canonized. Few Saints were even aware of those verses during Brigham Young’s administration.)

  47. “We have a long history of turning to the scriptures to explain what we’re doing, rather than doing what we do because we found it in the scriptures.” Fwiw, this is basically how things have been shown to work in my recent graduate History of Christianity course.

  48. Janet Brigham says:

    Since when would an Ensign article reflect the actual writing and thoughts of the author? Articles go through so many hands, sometimed the final version has little resemblance to what the author wrote. You can blame all those hands, if you like, but the author has litte to no control over the final content. When an article wanders so far from the author’s intent and content that the author can’t live with it, the Ensign might pay the author a kill fee and not publish the article. (I have seen this first-hand.)

  49. I think Steve LHJ has a point. While the ban certainly post dates both of those scriptures and are clearly post hoc justifications, they certainly seem to both create a theological climate where a ban may make sense. I acknowledge that I am not a historian and am VERY open to new information (especially since both Abraham and Moses are my favorite books of scripture) that would convince me these verses were not racist. While BY should be called out for racism, why stop only with him? The ban is just one manifestation of racism.

  50. This is wonderful. The ensign article has a really pernicious effect that is only really brought out by Clark. It leaves open the door for members to say that God told BY to institute the ban but gave no reason, and then BY came up with his own racist justifications. This is worse than BY inventing the ban with his own racist intentions, because it allows members the opportunity to believe that God does indeed judge people by their skin color and so at some level it’s ok for us to do likewise.

  51. Armand Mauss says:

    Steve LHJ :
    Not only is Ardis right about the relatively late resort to PGP scriptures in trying to justify the race policy, but those scriptures don’t necessarily mean what you think they mean. Dialogue has had a project this year called “Shoulder to the Wheel” — a set of supplements to the 2018 G.D. course. I prepared a supplement for Lesson Five, some of which I excerpt here:

    Troubling Scriptures and Their Resolutions :

    *Are we not told, in both the Old Testament (Gen. 4:8-15) and the Pearl of Great Price (Moses 5:35-40), that as a result of Abel’s murder, the Lord placed both a “curse” and “mark” on Cain and his descendants?
    1) Yes, but nowhere do the scriptures say what the “mark” was, except that it would protect its bearer from being killed; and also:
    2) Nowhere do the scriptures say that the “curse” on Cain and his descendants had anything to do with race or with the priesthood.

    *But doesn’t the PGP say that the descendants of Cain were black?
    1) Yes, but notice that these passages (Moses 7:8) say a “blackness came upon” the people of Canaan long after Cain’s time; we don’t even know if these are the same people described later as “the seed of Cain” (7:22); also that:
    2) This chapter of Moses comes from a vision to Enoch (Moses 7:4-7), several generations after Cain, about a time yet in the future even later than that.
    3) These passages still do not say just what this “blackness” was, or that it had any relevance to the mark put upon Cain or to the priesthood.

    *Yet there was also a curse put on Ham, in Noah’s time, that denied the priesthood to his descendants — right?
    1) Not really. Notice that this curse was a result of Ham’s disrespect for his father Noah, and that it actually was placed on Ham’s son Canaan (Gen. 9:20-27; also:
    2) There is no reason to assume that this curse had anything to do with the priesthood; and also:
    3) It was the lineage of Ham’s wife that was “cursed as to the priesthood ” (Abraham 1:20-27); again, we do not know that this curse had anything to do with Cain or his posterity (or even with the curse on Ham’s son Canaan).

    *Don’t the scriptures say somewhere that some spirits were assigned to be born in cursed lineages in mortality because of their lack of faithfulness in the pre-existence?
    1) No. That was just an idea circulating around the Church in an effort to “explain” why black people were not eligible for the priesthood.
    2) The only thing that the scriptures tell us about differences among the spirit children of our Heavenly Parents is that some were designated to become leaders in mortality because they were especially “noble and great” (Abraham 3:20-23).
    the race issue.

    These scriptures were made to support the erstwhile LDS race policy only by assuming the policy’s doctrinal authenticity a priori and then reading such doctrine back into those scriptural passages.

  52. Bro. Jones says:

    Armand–thanks for the reference to “Shoulder to the Wheel.” And thanks for everything else that you’ve written and researched. I’ll be drawing on many of your materials in my upcoming lesson to the youth Sunday School on this topic. I was just recently called to this post, and on the first day I asked what the students were interested in learning together. One kid said “Can we talk about the church’s history of racial discrimination?” So that’s what we’re going to do!

  53. Excellent post, J. Thanks for getting it up so quickly. This is important.

    IMO, the word “clear” is doing a lot of work in the intro to OD-2. Personally, I read that as nothing more than a sort of backhanded acknowledgement that the ban did not originate in any recorded revelation.

    As to Elder Holland’s “we don’t know” statement, the issue, as I see it, is not one of no explanation at all, but one of at least three categories of conflicting justifications:

    First: Brigham Young had a clear idea (connected with the cosmological priesthood as you explain in your book) of why he instituted the ban. His idea that Abel’s lineage had to get the priesthood first was consistent with his idea that the ban would eventually end. (Note: it may have been internally consistent, but it was still wrong and racist.)

    Second: Later church leaders were apparently ignorant of Brigham Young’s explanation. Either they just didn’t read it at all and didn’t know about it, or they read it and it was incomprehensible to them (I assume this was the result of the overall decline of awareness of the cosmological priesthood in general after the end of polygamy) so it simply just didn’t register with them, and they dismissed it as just Brigham Young being Brigham Young. But whatever the reason, the result is that they invented their own reasons, so you have new racist doctrines being invented about the pre-existence, and that becomes the standard justification. Brigham Young’s explanation gets further forgotten.

    Third: Then after the ban ends and the racist fence-sitter doctrine gets a sort of soft repeal (BRM’s “forget everything I said”), you get stupid stuff where God is playing realpolitik, being racist so the church can survive, or racist stuff where black people are cast as children that weren’t yet responsible enough to have the blessings of the priesthood. And that also gets a sort of denunciation with Elder Holland and then again with Bott-gate.

    IMO, when Elder Holland denounces explanations of the ban as “folklore,” he’s primarily thinking of the third and second categories. I don’t know if he’s even aware of the first category. I suspect not, but if he is aware of it, then I think “we just don’t know” simply means (a) we don’t understand what the heck Brigham Young was even saying (again, see the decline in understanding of the cosmological priesthood), or (b) we have conflicting justifications from different prophets, and we acknowledge that none of them work.

    What he’s doing is telling members to stop inventing racist justifications for a racist practice, policy, and doctrine. What he’s certainly not doing is making an authoritative statement that history cannot now and never will be able to explain why Brigham Young did what Brigham Young did. Twisting his words to make it seem like that’s what he was saying is pernicious and wrong.

  54. Not a Cougar says:

    Among the myriad influences on Brigham Young’s decision to exclude black people from the temple and priesthood, It’s my impression that his interactions with William McCary helped to cement his feelings on the matter. McCary was a former enslaved person who later wound up in Council Bluffs where he was baptized by Orson Hyde and married Lucy Stanton, a white woman and daughter of a fairly prominent member of the Church. McCary later claimed to have powers of prophecy and transfiguration and was excommunicated from the Church. He later started his own polygamist movement, and was sealed to several white wives. None of McCary’s actions were new or outside the pale of what previous members and ex-members of the Church had done. He simply had the audacity to be black while doing it.

    I imagine seeing McCary with his white wife incited a negative gut reaction in Brigham, and he then looked for theological reasons to back up his instincts, rather than asking if the instinctual beam was in his own eye. Perhaps I haven’t read enough of Brigham Young’s words, but self-doubt and reflection seemed to have been two things he rarely indulged in.

  55. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks all. Working from the bottom up:

    Not a Cougar, the case of McCary is interesting because it was in those meetings in 1847 that BY pointed to Walker Lewis, a black elder in MA, as being exemplary. But it was the Lewis family that was also subsequently the center of some correspondence on inter-racial marriage that many point to as being a likely catalyst for the restriction as well.

    JKC, that is a tremendously sensible analysis.

    Armand and Ardis, thank you! Both of your work in this area has been so important. I appreciate your comments and your time.

    Margaret, thank you.

  56. Is it possible that the Ensign author split a very stupid hair. Didn’t Paul Reeve get most of his informative information from Utah state records, and not church records? I realize that Brigham Young treated the two as one and the same, but technically they’re different. So even though the information doesn’t come from church records, we still have the information. Still, it is sad that the author of the article is so ignorant about the subject.

  57. One other factor that was surely formative in Brigham Young’s views was something that happened in 1847 and 1848. For the first time President Young met and had ongoing interactions with wealthy Southern slave-owners and the enslaved members of their households.

    Not all Southern converts to the Church were wealthy. Most did not own slaves and were poor or middle class farmers, but there was a core group of interrelated families who had recently inherited slaves and land and other property from their plantation-owning fathers. These families received inheritances from estates worth many millions in today’s dollars, and not only did they take considerable amounts of property including large herds of animals to the Salt Lake Valley, they also took their enslaved labor and their knowledge of how to quickly start very productive farms; hence, they would have had significant economic power in the new Mormon communities.

    Some of these families sent ahead several of their enslaved men to prepare homes and farms for them in 1847. Brigham Young evidently thought that leaving United States territory would free the three enslaved men that traveled in his first pioneer company, but when the Southerners arrived in 1848, they must have convinced him otherwise, since the enslaved African American men and women they owned remained in bondage.

    How did they convince Brigham Young to let them continue to continue taking the labor of their chattel slaves? That is unfortunately one of the mysteries of the story of slavery in Utah Territory. Besides the story of national politics (the desire for statehood and the Compromise of 1850), we have a few documentary hints here and there, some found only in letters or family histories, but I find it reasonable to conclude that these slave-owners explained the rationale of Southern slavery and their theories of racialized bondage to Brigham Young. He came away with a continued dislike of Southern slavery, but I think he also came away thinking that the Southern interpretation of the Bible was correct. (And specifically the Bible, not the Pearl of Great Price, as Ardis and Armand Mauss explained above.)

    Again, it is regrettable that there is so little documentation about these interactions and the decision-making regarding slavery and race in 1847-1852, but I have concluded that a small handful of slaveowners were likely every bit as responsible for the start of the priesthood and temple restriction as the McCary interaction, or any other possibility.

  58. That would be a very fine hair, jader, since most of the pertinent records are held by the Church History Library.

  59. J. Stapley says:

    Amy, that is a tremendously import perspective. I can’t wait for you book to be released! And definitely agreed on your response to jader. They are church records, in the church archive.

  60. Not a Cougar says:

    Amy, thanks for the information. What’s the book going to be called so I can buy it?

  61. I am somewhat bothered by the Church’s “it was all Brigham Young’s fault” attitude. There were 9 prophets after him that didn’t change the policy.

  62. The Apostle Paul also gave some “commandments” of his own opinion and “not of the Lord”. Why should it be surprising that Brigham Young (or others) did the same? The Lord gives the leaders leeway to do things they think are right. Sometimes they get it wrong from our (later) point of view and are influenced by things that are part of their societal reality. The Apostle Peter also messed some things up. These are humans who are guided by the Spirit, but it doesn’t mean they can’t make mistakes sometimes. You could use your same argument against any change the Church makes. Why did we “get it wrong” in the past on dozens of topics that we’ve now changed. Why can YW now go do things that they couldn’t before, for example (as announced during the last Conference)?

    Additionally, IMO, the Lord needs people in our day to face crises of faith too, so we are forced to make a choice. How else are all you strong members going really be challenged in your testimony? We need to have situations arise *within* the Church that provide a material challenge to our faith. We’re not going to be challenged by things outside the Church these days. Wait until some of the other changes that are certainly ahead of us are announced. “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” We won’t graduate from earth without a serious final exam.

  63. And that final exam needs to come from some problem the Lord allows to exist so that we’re really challenged.

  64. your food allergy is fake says:

    Are the supplements to the GD course you are contributing to (above, “Shoulder to the Wheel”) available to the public? Through subscription to Dialogue?

  65. Lily, I think lots of that has to do with the fact that Brigham Young, as kooky as he was by modern standards, was a tremendously important figure in the decades after his death, not just because he was Joseph Smith’s successor and Utah’s first governor, but because it was Brigham Young that cemented the church’s claim to the authority and leadership held by Joseph Smith. I don’t think church leaders deliberately chose to whitewash Brigham Young, but they grew up in a time and a place where Brigham Young was the ultimate religious and legal authority. You just did not question him, even though a lot of his teachings didn’t make much sense to them. So it took a long time before church leaders were willing to even question the ban, and by then it had become culturally cemented in ways that made it hard to change independent of Brigham Young.

  66. And the practice of doing things by unanimous consent by the 12 makes it very hard to change quickly even if the president of the church is ready for change.

  67. Good post. I am hoping (though I know this hope may be in vain) that at the upcoming “celebration” of the policy reversal President Nelson comes out, shares a few thoughts, and tells all the members that the church is very, very sorry for all the pain, anguish, and trials of faith (and even people leaving the church) that this policy has caused. That he hopes we can all bind up each others’ wounds, lift the arms that hang down, and help move forward etc. I really do hope that something along those lines happens. We will see.

  68. JKC, good point. I’m reminded by President Hinckely’s comment on TV (was it 60 Minutes) where he said “Oh, I don’t know that we really teach that, do we?” (something like that – my attempt to quote him). That was in response to the question about the idea “as man is now, God once was…” quote from President Snow.

    I think we’re unrealistic about our leaders and maybe sometimes use their mistakes to justify our lack of desire to be faithful. Either the BofM is what it claims to be, or not. Period. All this other stuff is just interesting detail and (IMO) meant to give us a genuine challenge in life.

  69. Not a Cougar says:

    This entry prompted me to read the “History of slavery in Utah” Wikipedia entry. Jeez la-frickin-weez. I knew I had a hole in my knowledge of the early Utah Church, but it’s a much bigger, disheartening hole than I had ever imagined. Guess I have my new obsessive study topic picked out.

  70. “reminded of…”. Sorry, can’t edit.

  71. Kevin Barney says:

    A footnote to Armand’s comment: Early Mormons widely conflated Cain and Canaan/Canaanites, understanding the latter to be descendants of the former. This belief persists in the Church today. And it is, of course, totally wrong. The words sound the same in English, but they are completely unrelated in Hebrew. Cain is a transliteration of Qayin, which means “smith.” Canaan is a transliteration of Kena’an, which means “westland.” The Israelites themselves were a stripe of Canaanites, so if the Canaanites were cursed as to priesthood, that means the Israelites were cursed as to priesthood.

  72. Bro. Jones says:

    Kevin – On that note, I always wondered that if someone takes the story of the Biblical Flood to be a literal occurrence, wouldn’t that have wiped out all of Cain’s lineage? (Even allowing for the apocryphal belief that God keeps Cain around in a kind of physical immortality, I don’t expect that extended to his descendants.) In other words, how could the cursed Canaanites inherit their curse from a lineage of drowned people? (Unless the folklore also posits that the immortal Cain fathers cursed offspring wherever he goes.)

  73. For that matter, Bro. Jones, early Mormons taught that when a person is baptized and confirmed, the holy ghost literally changes that person into a descendant of Israel by “purging” the old blood and replacing it with the blood of Israel, so how could there be any such thing as cursed lineage among church members? The old racist doctrines never made any sense under any serious interrogation.

  74. Not a Cougar says:

    Kevin, if we’re going to take the Bible as historical, wasn’t Abraham was descended from Shem, not Ham, resulting in the Israelites not sharing the curse?

  75. Not a Cougar, thanks for mentioning that Wikipedia article. I glanced at the applicable section, “African slavery,” and that’s almost laughably bad. Almost every detail is either partly or entirely incorrect. Slavery is never a pleasant topic, of course, but that’s an unfortunate and largely inaccurate treatment.

    My manuscript is at the press under the working title “Slaves in Zion: African American Servitude in Utah Territory.” There is no projected publication date yet, but hopefully it will be available before 2020. It treats the life experiences of the approximately 100 enslaved African American women, men, and children I was able to document as having lived in the territory.

    In many cases I had to deal with way too little information, but in some cases way too much. A few of the enslaved, for example, may only be found in a single record without a name, whereas entire articles and books could be written about the experiences of others. The book will not have much specific to the origin of the priesthood and temple restriction. Most of the available information on that topic you’ll have to find in Paul and Jonathan and Russell Stevenson’s books (plus other sources: I can’t provide an entire bibliography in a blog comment!). I did discover that some of the stories people have been telling for many years are fictitious or unreliable, including one about the supposed reaction to the temple restriction by a black pioneer woman living in Utah County.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, it has been a true honor to work on this project and discover who these people were, and I’ve considered it a sacred trust to be as thorough and accurate and true to their experiences as possible, given the limitations of the records.

  76. J.-

    Thank-you for your thought provoking, timely response to the June Ensign piece. I do not have the time nor additional insight to add anything of substance to this discussion thread…suffice it for me to write that it was right for you to remind the Church world of this fallacious interpretation of the priesthood/ temple ban.

  77. Rexicorn says:

    Thanks for this post. As a reasonably informed person who never did much specific research into the priesthood ban, this was how I thought it happened:

    -Joseph Smith ordained black men as Elders
    -Brigham Young decided to stop doing that, but nobody knows exactly when and he never said why
    -Following prophets, believing the ban to have come from Joseph Smith via revelation because of poor record-keeping, upheld the ban
    -Members came up with post-hoc justifications and theories and spread those around
    -Historians came out with information showing the priesthood ban didn’t come from Joseph Smith and had no clear revelatory origin
    -The ban was overturned

    I wasn’t aware that Brigham Young articulated specific justifications for the ban, so thanks for pointing some of them out.

    As for why the church hasn’t repudiated the “who knows?” narrative, I suspect they’re not ready to grapple with the consequences of saying that previous prophets were genuinely wrong about something important. It’s not like they got a policy detail wrong, here — men inspired by God said things that were untrue about other people’s divine worth and potential. They were wrong about an issue that directly affects access to exaltation. I’d guess they haven’t figured out how to parse through that for people in a satisfying way.

    The church has a weird tension between continuing revelation and reliance on tradition. It’s really apparent on this one.

  78. Not a Cougar says:

    Amy, thanks for the response. Do you have a quick synopsis available (or know of one) that would correct the Wikipedia article’s inaccuracies?

  79. I think Paul has a point. In other words, so what does all this information have to do with individual testimonies? The parable of the 10 Virgins teaches us eventually we will loose 1/2 the church. There has always been a filtering going on in the church. It seems the Lord can do more with less sometimes. I agree with Paul, sometimes all this information justifies a reason for some not to listen and heed the prophets. Good luck.

  80. Edward Bailey says:

    President Kimball wrote by hand the revelation on Tuesday, May 30, 1978, and read it to his counselors in his office. When he did he asked Elder Homer Durham who was serving as church historian at the time to compile all the “known records to exist” concerning past statements i.e. “all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past”. Where is Elder Durham’s report?
    I think it is clear that we have to go further back than documentary history by Harris, the statements by Brigham, or Kimball or Peter at Joppa, and cry as Job “my skin is black upon me” for the evil which we allowed into our zion community to stratify and disrupt our unity. It deserves far more than a signatured essay by the good paul reeve, we need a prophetic expansion on 2 Nephi 26:33, a new section 139 which will forever knit our hearts together.

  81. J. Stapley says:

    Edward, I’m not sure where you got the details of a hand-written revelation and the ask of Homer Durham. I’m somewhat incredulous. However, before the revelation (which occurred with the FP/Q12 in the temple), SWK did ask several individuals including Elders McConkie and Packer to find all the information possible on the history of the restriction. I have read through the compilation of items that resulted from one of these inquests. It comprised all sorts of materials from church records and scripture.

  82. Brother Sky says:

    Paul and Jane: Respectfully, I don’t think this is a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff. This subject and what Elder Holland (and many others) have said about it matters because they aren’t consistent, either deliberately or accidentally misguide followers because of their refusal to tell the truth OR be consistent, and won’t apologize for nor acknowledge/confront/condemn the inherent racism in BY’s thinking. That’s not a “challenge”; it’s just wrong, just like racism inherent in a lot of the priesthood ban’s justifications is wrong. FWIW, most of the people I’ve gotten to know on this site are trying to find ways to stay in the church or at least on the path of some kind of faith, not talk themselves out of it.

  83. J., I suspect Edward‘s source for the reading may be Ed Kimball’s article available at https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/spencer-w-kimball-and-revelation-priesthood
    “On May 30, Spencer read his counselors a tentative statement in longhand removing racial restrictions on priesthood and said he had a “good, warm feeling” about it. [fn]149” This stops well short of calling it a revelation at that time. I haven’t pursued the reference to a Durham report.

  84. Kevin Barney says:

    Not a cougar, I was just being cheeky. The Bible doesn’t consider the Israelites Canaanites, but virtually all modern scholars do (that is, instead of millions of people hiking from Egypt to Canaan they just arose indigenously among the Canaanites in the land of Canaan, which makes them “Canaanites” as well [Hebrew is a Canaanite dialect]). I was just tweaking folks who take this curse business seriously, because I for one do not.

  85. But see Ed’s further comment on the request to Durham and his fn 150: “Gibbons, Spencer W. Kimball, 294. Events overtook that request, for confirmation of the rightness of change came just two days later. G. Homer Durham, memo to Spencer W. Kimball, June 29, 1978, Kimball Papers, noting that the assignment was “now moot.”

  86. J. Stapley says:

    JR, that makes much more sense. Kimball is describing a far different series of events. Kimball does talk about requesting historical materials from several Q12 members on p. 46. He talks about memos, but the document I read was a big and full binder.

  87. Not a Cougar, although there is scholarship coming out in the next few years that draws on all the recently available sources, the best comprehensive treatment of slavery in Utah Territory to date is probably Ronald G. Coleman’s 1980 dissertation, “A History of Blacks in Utah, 1825-1910.” Unfortunately I don’t think it’s widely available. However, last summer after a complicated effort to remember the enslaved pioneers in their community, the Wellsville City Historical Committee asked Dr. Coleman to speak. He gave a quick and accurate summary of the history (and quicker if you set the speed to 1.25), as well as an affectionate portrait of some of his favorite black pioneers.

    Unfortunately the video doesn’t include the questions and answers afterward, which I understand to have cleared up some of the audience members’ misunderstandings about the enslavement of the black pioneers.

  88. …and that should say, “the best comprehensive treatment of African American slavery in Utah Territory…”

  89. Sorry, I should have added I agree with the need to fix any errors such as this post. I am grateful for the hours of research done by so many. Thank you Thank you! “God is at the helm” so it doesn’t effect my loyalty to the prophets, but for some it is a struggle and weakens their testimony.

  90. Edward Bailey says:

    It is possible to read the statement from OD2 with Kimball receiving revelation independently first as a spiritual creation – a “good, warm feeling” which included a written statement, and “after he had received this revelation, which came to him after extended meditation and prayer in the sacred rooms of the holy temple, he presented it to his counselors” i.e. May30. Then we have the June1, “rushing flood of unity” as the “fully sufficient answer” and then another round of approvals.
    If we could find the statement Kimball wrote in longhand on May 30 we could compare more closely with OD2.

  91. Armand Mauss says:

    To Food Alergy:
    The “Shoulder to the Wheel” website is here: http://shouldertothewheel.org/resources/ . A lot of Dialogue people were involved in putting it together, but it doesn’t appear now to be presented as a Dialogue project or product. Also, I see that not many supplements got written, after all, for the appropriate G. D. lessons, but there are some. Aside from lesson supplements, though, the site contains a very rich collection of resources – q. v.

  92. Not a Cougar says:

    Kevin, copy all. Sorry, your cheeks weren’t clearly visible there (thank goodness). And there are several fantastic lectures available on Youtube from some of the leading archaeologists on Israelite origins. My favorite is probably William Dever and his “Did God have a Wife?” book and lectures. Ditto the History in the Bible podcast (the guy’s not a historian or archaeologist, just a wellread and funny Aussie).

  93. Members of the church often discuss this topic in the abstract, since this “policy” or “doctrine” never directly affected them or their family members. Men, women, and children of African descent are children of God. Think of the struggles just in America African Americans went through because they were treated differently because of the color of their skin: 400 years of slavery, 100 years of Jim Crow and injustices to this day. The church shunned them. They didn’t proselyte to them, and allow them to participate in the crowning ordinances of Christ’s church.

    This is a story of a marginalized group of our Heavenly Father’s children, our sisters, and brothers, denied access to the temple and the priesthood for over 120 years. A group that would have benefited greatly if they were accepted with open arms by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This was a huge miss opportunity by the Lord’s church and a stain on the Chruch’s history.

    Why not come clean, and apologize? We need the leadership to do more than post essays on lds.org. They need to address it in a clear and concise manner so there are no misinterpretations.

    BY was influenced by the racist theories of the day. He instituted a doctrine/policy on the negros based on the belief there were of the seed of Cain. The doctrine/policy remained in place for over 120 years with feable explanations as to why it was implemented in the first place. Why did other prophets not realize that it wasn’t from God? I have my theories (white supremacy and fear of the predominantly European church membership). Spencer W. Kimball finally puts an end to this policy in 1978. The church apologizes to all affected by the racist policy.

    But I reiterate, remember we are talking about our brothers and sisters. This policy has real consequences for them and their posterity. Let’s show some empathy.

  94. Jonathan, again I’m just pointing out the argument these people make and they see the southern apologetic reading of Genesis as justification for a belief Brigham arrived at via other means. Again, please note I’m not myself making that argument. I can completely understand those who simply note the southern apologetic reading of Genesis is a questionable reading but one Brigham clearly encountered reasonably early on and thought was the only way to read the text. If one thinks that, then Brigham thinks that because one accepts the Bible one should follow this reading. It seems incredibly illogical to us today. However the counter argument, such as it is, sees Brigham coming up with the belief for other reasons yet [i]justifies[/i] it on the basis of this southern apologetic to the point that’s all he uses to defend it and teach it.

    I don’t think it that difficult to follow line of reasoning as so far as I know Brigham never says, “hey I thought it was OK until I saw this argument made in Genesis then I changed my mind.” Now I’d say that little sliver of ambiguity isn’t much. But clearly others disagree as they continue to argue along those lines. (In a forum discussion I just found someone making that exact line of argument) So again, this isn’t my argument, I’m just noting why your reasoning isn’t persuasive to some.

    To your other point about research, when I was taking his philosophy class Chauncey Riddle told the class that McConkie and Kimball asked him to compile a lot of the data. On the basis of the data, since he put a large stock of the weight of Brigham’s and others statement as statements from authority, Riddle thought the ban would stay. He often talked about getting an answer to a prayer telling him the exact opposite. He’d use this to note the limits of reason. Anyway, he’s still alive last I heard so you could contact him for the full story.

  95. Corbin Mcmillen says:

    Its weird in the context of gc too.
    We hear testimonies of truth,
    Yet we cant do 5 minutes of research to ascertain this?
    Mormons know the church is true,
    They just dont know how it got here.

  96. JKC, regarding questioning Brigham, I’m not sure that makes sense as they were quite willing to reject Adam/God and several other teachings by Brigham such as his more physicalist interpretation of spirits. Why not his view on the priesthood ban?

  97. J. Stapley says:

    Clark, I think that it is absolutely reasonable to explore the various contexts of BY’s restriction. We have various aspects of “miscegenation” that was in play from 1847, and as Amy notes above the issue of wealthy slave-owning converts. The exploration of these contexts is tremendously important work. But it is also important that BY’s consistent reasoning for the restriction isn’t simply “the southern apologetic.” It was dramatic reconstruction of Genesis within the Nauvoo Temple cosmology that saturated BY’s discourse (and thought) throughout the late 1840s. This was certainly an adaptation of the that apologetic, but it wasn’t a borrowing. We have BY’s support of a black priesthood officer in 1847, we have his justification for the restriction in 1849, and we have the announcement of the restriction in 1852. But, perhaps I’m misunderstanding what you are trying to say.

  98. J. Stapley says:

    Clark: Why not his view on the priesthood ban?

    The did precisely that. By the 20th century they had rejected BY’s teachings because they didn’t make sense with the declension of the supporting cosmology. However, they kept the restriction in place and invented new rationales.

  99. Right, and I don’t disagree that Brigham transformed well known southern apologetics for slavery. My point is that fundamentally he accepted the interpretation of Genesis that arose in those popular texts of the day. He then tries to harmonize it with other texts and work out the implications. But the key is he accepted the eisegesis as the legitimate exegesis of those passages.

    I’m not sure the distinction between borrowing and adapting makes as much sense, although I get what you’re arguing. However what’s significant is how he reads the curse of Cain (and if I recall this mistaken connection to Canaan – although I’d have to check if he actually makes that mistake). That comes purely out of the southern apologetic. Now if you’re talking broader theology then I’m all with you. However in terms of reading the passages it’s clear where that reading is coming from I think.

    To my point, I think I’m justing noting that Brigham Young’s psychology is more of a mystery than I think some are giving it credit. A child may give excuses for why they did something and may even come to believe those excuses were why they did it. However human rationalization and the actual reasoning including subconscious reasoning is more of a mystery. So my point is that “justification” may well be the origin in his mind but it may also be due to events and thinking the historian is unaware of. Even with fairly well documented figures like Brigham, there’s a lot especially in this period we don’t know.

    Regarding the difference between 1847 and 1849 if you are presenting that to argue he originates the idea of reading Genesis in that way in that period, I confess I’m far more skeptical. I suspect he’d read these ideas well before 1847. He changes his mind, but I doubt very much it was because he read Genesis for the first time then or even southern apologetic then. Something else happened and I don’t think we know what. I know his extreme fears of interracial marriage are often pointed to. But it’s reasonable to be skeptical that was the cause. (I don’t have my books handy so I can’t recall the date for the earliest record of him freaking out on interracial marriage – I thought it was early Utah but I could be wrong)

  100. Regarding Brigham’s views on the priesthood ban, that was still extremely popular theology well into the 70’s. So I’m not sure I agree with you there – although again we may be talking past each other depending upon how broad the theology we’re talking about. So if you compare his theology of blacks with say how widespread his theology of the meaning of intelligence as constitutents of spirits or his theology of Adam/God the latter become rare in Mormon discussions. The former seems rather common even if the broader cosmological elements are rejected. I mean by the 1980’s you’re still hearing people taking those statements by Brigham on Cain pretty seriously unfortunately due to the influence of the Journal of Discourses and no formal repudiation. (This theology saw the ’78 revelation as ending the curse not ending a mistake) Heck, for that matter you see strong elements of it still around recently such as with Bott or others. Contrast that with Adam/God where you’ll not find too many espousing the idea — and those who do are seen as very fringy.

  101. J. Stapley says:

    We can’t know BY’s heart or mind. We can contextualize the period when the restriction is implemented (the inter-racial marriage freak-out, as you say, is during these years in the late-1840s). We will get more and better contextualization as smart people continue to work on this (I’m so excited about Amy’s work). BY’s Genesis reading is explicitly nested within his post-1846 readings of the Nauvoo cosmology…which makes sense, because our first documentation of it is 1849. This also appears to be the first time at least Lorenzo Snow had heard it.

  102. I’m hoping to work through your book soon and write up a bit for T&S. So I might have some comments then (and will have the time to check the other stuff before commenting – sorry about getting the date for Brigham’s views on intermarriage wrong.).

  103. Ryan Mullen says:

    “A child may give excuses for why they did something and may even come to believe those excuses were why they did it.” Why is infantilizing Brigham Young better than allowing him to be purposeful, but wrong? Somehow I can’t see Brigham appreciating being stripped of his agency and authority. (e.g. “if no other Prophet ever spake it …” and all that).

  104. Are not the Jews and the Arab and Iranian peoples the real Canaanites? And are they not in a very real way, still today, restricted from holding the priesthood, not by decree, but by cultural restrictions placed on them by their religious leaders? Do the scriptures mean something different than we have read them as? And don’t the scriptures teach that these restrictions will continue until the Millenium?

  105. Peg Fugal says:

    None of what BY said makes sense to me—and I am well-schooled in both the gospel and the prophesied Restoration. I think denying Blacks the Priesthood was misguided at best and, at worst, consistent with the prejudices of the time. The fact that the church allowed such to go on as long as it did is ridiculous at best and, at worst, detrimental to Blacks, the church, its members, and its missionary efforts. My generation may overlook such, but my children, now middle-aged adults, are not so forgiving; they see it as yet another reason to question of authenticity of the Restored Church and Gospel—and generation falling away in droves.

  106. Bro. Jones says:

    Jenna – my family includes people of Arab and Jewish descent, and we hold the priesthood just fine. We seem not to have gotten the notice that we were supposed to wait until the Millennium.

  107. Not a Cougar says:

    Amy, thanks for the link to Dr. Coleman’s lecture. If anything, he made Utah African slavery sound like the minor league baseball of slavery (and I mean no insult to the brothers and sisters who were enslaved). It was slavery and incredibly evil but because the enslaved population was always small and present for a relatively short time (1847 to 1862, 1865 or 1866 – take your pick) , it was never woven into the social fabric of what became Utah, unlike other slave states.

    Dr. Coleman was also relatively complimentary of Brigham Young, which I found surprising. He seemed to suggest that Brigham saw slavery as more of a necessary evil (perhaps due to the influx of Mississippi Saints of whom I had never heard) rather than a reputable practice to be repeated and spread through the territory, which seems to contradict to some of his quoted statements above as well as the Wikipedia article. I don’t know if that means he was actually conflicted about the practice of slavery in the abstract or whether he was fine with slavery in the South but simply didn’t want to see it flourish among the Saints. Either way, it’s not an attitude I would want to see from a prophet of God. I’m hopeful your book will shed more light on all this.

  108. Why did church leaders reject Adam-God and not the priesthood ban? Two points:

    1 – Well, they didn’t reject the priesthood ban, but they didn’t exactly continue to believe or teach Brigham Young’s reason for it either. They kept the belief that black skin meant descendants of Ham and/or Cain, and therefore cursed, and therefore disqualified from priesthood, but that was it. They didn’t keep teaching that the reason for the curse was because of the harm to Abel’s lineage and that it would end one day. Instead, they invented new stories about the pre-existence to try to justify what was obviously unjustified.

    2 – They kept the ban (though not the justification) because they were racist too, like most white people in America. By the time church leaders began questioning our own racism, the ban was even more deeply entrenched and ossified.

  109. This is a little kind of on the same topic. I was looking at the church demographics the other day. I found it interesting that there are more members of the church in Africa than Europe.

    Europe – 516,003
    Africa – 578,310


    And our missionary efforts in Africa is in its infancy.

  110. Paul Ritchey says:

    There are nearly twice as many Africans (1.2 billion) as Europeans (700 million). Still, the growth is amazing.

    It took 23 years to go from first European missions to first European Apostle (George Q. Cannon was ordained in 1860). For (most of) Africa, we are at 40 years and counting.

    It would be interesting to control that delay for the decreased rate of turnover in the Q12 and/or mean age of the Q12.

  111. JKC, the problem is that of course the pernicious “neutral in the war in heaven” justification starts early. Indeed Young in one of the Woodruff journal entries is recorded as attacking that view. That suggests that it was in the air quite early. (Again don’t have my books handy but going by memory I think it was shortly after the Utah War) So I don’t think you can call this a later view and even fairly early in post-transition period of Mormonism you have prominent figures attacking it like JFS or later McConkie. (Although JFS while dismissing the “neutral” doctrine affirms a “blessing due to pre-existence” view that he used)

    I’d also disagree that Young’s Cain justification was dismissed in the 20th century. While Abraham starts to get used more, especially by JFS, the idea of a curse with the mark due to the killing of Abel is also reaffirmed several times. (See for example JFS’ influential Answers to Gospel Questions 2:188)

    The reason I think later people found it hard to discard the doctrine is because thanks to Coltrin and others the doctrine became associated with Joseph Smith and not Brigham Young. It’s understandable that would give it more weight in people’s minds. The racism enters in because no one cares enough to start investigating such things. (The Church’s approach to history during the mid-20th century contributes to this in no small measure as well) Once tied to Smith rather than Young the “we don’t have the revelation but it must have had one” mentality is highly incentivized. Indeed elements of that are still in the Church where fragmentary comments by Smith recorded or recounted third hand carry perhaps undue weight.

  112. J. Stapley says:

    I’d say that in the 20th century, it was the general biblical narrative of Cain slaying Able coupled with neutrality/less valiant cosmology that was used, not Brigham Young’s.

  113. I was taught by Eugene England that the ban might be because the Lord needed unity in his church. Many whites would not have accepted leadership from; say, a black Bishop. I was taught society had to change for white people to accept the blacks. Maybe I am wrong, but this makes sense to me.

  114. J. Stapley says:

    Jane, I find that wildly problematic. Mormons did a lot harder things (polygamy!) than have a black bishop in the Reconstruction era. I’m frankly not interested in inventing various and problematic minds of God on this. Beyond the reality that it is not possible to do discern God’s mind from this period, we just look worse than we would if we didn’t.

  115. I figured it was made up. Just wondered what others thought. Thanks.

  116. Edward Bailey says:

    – Rexicorn, when we say that “- Members came up with post-hoc justifications and theories and spread those around” we need to call the pernicious footnote 14 in the race and priesthood essay what it is. To call the racist pre-existence folklore as an unfortunate invention of lost rank and file members and an opinion of men, rather than pure darkness perpetuated as doctrine by the First Presidency in a widely distributed letter from August 17, 1949 keeps the sin alive. We need a good Leviticus 17 atonement where we take this “big and full binder” and throw it in a fire barrel – in fact do it on stage on June1, then we can continue with music from Boye and Knight.

  117. Jane, England’s “might be” (as you described it) was clearly his speculation, which, to my memory, he acknowledged as such. Some have found that speculation comforting in their efforts to both (a) reject the Church’s racist policy (sometimes called a doctrine, if that makes any difference to you), and (b) maintain their belief that “God is at the helm” in a continuously more active sense than appears to others to be the case. (But see DHO’s distinction between “continuous” and “continuing” revelation.)

    J is right that England’s speculation is problematic, at least because it merely seems to move the problem to a different location. Its ultimate inadequacy and lack of revelatory support do not make that speculation any less comforting to some, but it is seriously discomforting to others — those who have trouble stomaching generations of people being apparently shoved aside by that speculative God in favor of organizational continuity. While it is true that Mormons have done much harder things than “have a black bishop in the Reconstruction era,” it is also true that a good number of Mormons left Mormonism as individuals and groups over those harder things, so England’s speculation is not wholly answered by that fact.

    England was not at all comforted, but was extremely discomforted, by others’ speculations about lack of valiance in the pre-existence as an excuse for the policy. See his report of his meeting with Joseph Fielding Smith on the subject. Others had found that theory comforting — because, I suppose, it seemed to preserve their concept of divine justice and their acceptance of the racist policy. Some need to find speculative comfort somewhere, but for others it is hard to countenance if it leads to forgetting its speculative origin or to abandonment of efforts to improve our thinking or actions (which it did not for England).

    In the end, “inventing [and subscribing to] various and problematic minds of God [makes us] look worse than we would if we didn’t.” That latter comment may also find application to other existing and former Church policies.

  118. Kristine says:

    It’s worth reading what Eugene England wrote: https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V08N01_80.pdf

    Like JR, I think that suggesting God is willing to sacrifice the good of black people’s souls for the sake of an institution is deeply troubling. But watching England wrestle the question on the page is illuminating.

  119. Thanks, Kristine. I didn’t have the energy to add the link.

  120. Thank you for the link. I have to agree with Eugene England on his statement found on page 79- ” I am convinced that ecclesiastically the Church is doing what the Lord has directed, even though morally and spiritually its members may not be. I am certain that the Church is directed through revelation, that at least the most recent prophets have prayed sincerely about this matter and that if the Lord thought it best to make a change at this time He could get through to His prophets and have a change made. However, as I will try to explain later, I also believe that the Lord wishes a change could be made and that we all bear responsibility for the fact that it hasn’t been made yet.”

    Page 82- “I trust our leaders are doing their job, seeking and awaiting a revelation, and I believe with all my heart that if such a revelation is received they will in no way hesitate to enforce it, no mater how or where unpopular.”
    Page 82- “I believe that historical conditions in our country, essentially unique in the
    world, including resultant attitudes of Church members, brought about a situation
    where it was in the best interests of all involved for the Lord to institute a
    lower law for us to live (denying for a time the priesthood to blacks of African
    descent—those who had been subjected to slavery and its aftermath in our
    country) until we are ready to live the higher law (accepting blacks fully into
    the priesthood with all of the natural consequences, including black leadership
    over whites in the Church and the extremely close relationships and trust that
    the lay leadership structure of the Church requires). Given its particular nature,
    the Restored Church could not, during the period of slavery and its bitter heritage
    when American blacks and whites could not relate as equals, ease the transition
    by segregating congregations or keeping blacks out of leadership and
    priesthood functions through educational requirements, etc. Thus it seems to
    me fairly easy to understand that, at least until quite recently, giving blacks the
    priesthood would have been greatly destructive to the Church because of white
    reaction and thus not a blessing to blacks.”
    Page 83 ” But the Lord will not give a higher law until it is a blessing, until the Church members or whites or blacks or America or all are finally “ready,” until it will be in the best interests of the Lord’s plan of salvation for all people.”
    And one more-
    Page 85-
    “What can we do? We can get ready for living the higher law, first by working to root out racism in ourselves through getting to know blacks and something of black aspirations and culture. And we can help get Americans ready, black and white, by working honestly and vigorously to overcome the burden of our racist past. We can become anxiously engaged in the good cause that our
    Church leaders have already called us to—to see, as they said in their 1969 statement on “the position of the Church with regard to the Negro both in society and in the Church,” that “each citizen . . . have equal opportunities and protection under the law with reference to civil rights.” We can then go beyond that, as they announce they are doing in that same statement, to “join
    with those throughout the world who pray that all the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ may in due time of the Lord become available to men of faith everywhere.” If I understand that correctly, it’s a call to prepare—by prayer and the action that the Gospel makes clear must accompany sincere prayer—for the higher law under which we would be able, as God desires, to extend His blessings to everyone without discrimination. We can try to do what it seems
    the First Presidency is doing and has by example called us to do, praying in our private prayers and in our meetings that the time may soon come when blacks may receive the priesthood and then acting with energy to be prepared for and thus make possible that time.”

  121. Sorry for the long quotes. I was surprised by how strongly Eugene England supported the brethren and laid the blame on white society. Right or wrong it still makes sense to me.

  122. Yes, Jane. England does make sense when put in the context of blessing-to-all and his understanding that the reaction of many White church members at that time would have made full participation by Blacks not a blessing to Blacks. (I think Darius Gray and others may disagree with that assumption, but I haven’t asked him.) It also helps England’s argument in favor of his speculation to grant preservation and unity of the Church a higher level of importance than some are able to do. That difference seems partly a matter of the weight people grant to the importance of the Church’s ordinances and ability to deliver them while attempting to move toward a Zion society relative to the individual and group (Blacks) casualties of the effort to do so with a “white racist society.” In some ways, its a repetition of the OT chosen people/first build-a-nation kind of thinking, or the early NT exclude-the-gentiles kind of thinking. All quite different from Book of Mormon kind of thinking on the subject, despite its curse-of-blackness language as to Lamanites. (Look instead to the “all alike” standard and the actual reported behavior of Nephites relative to Lamanites who wished to join their society.)
    Note that England’s arguments go to why the policy had not then already been changed. Those arguments “laid the blame [for lack of earlier rescission of the policy] on white society.” England’s arguments do not go directly to the origin of the policy, though they might be speculatively adapted to do so. (Though Jane Manning and others would likely have disagreed with the not-a-blessing-to-Blacks assumption even in that context.)
    I remain “agnostic” as to England’s speculation, thinking it could as well be the well-known adamant opposition of some .members of the Q12 and not American white Mormon society as a whole that could not earlier have handled having a Black bishop and would have made it not-a-blessing to Blacks to have admitted them to priesthood and temple earlier than it happened. I find that agnosticism healthier for me than adopting England’s speculation, and its somewhat troubling implications, as if it were more than speculation. That is different from any allegation that it makes no sense.

  123. Loursat says:

    I didn’t always read it this way, but I think that now the best way to read England’s essay is as an earnest attempt to explain the priesthood ban before the ban was lifted. (The essay was published in the same issue of Dialogue as Lester Bush’s article, as a response to Bush.) England came as close as possible to saying that the ban was wrong, but he couldn’t go that far because he started with the premise that the ban was in place because of revelation. Now, with the benefit of both Official Proclamation 2 and decades of subsequent historical scholarship, I think it’s possible to move beyond that premise that flummoxed England. It takes strange intellectual contortions to argue, as England did, that the ban was God’s will but not really God’s will, because God had no choice but to accommodate the church’s racism. And England also had to find a way to exonerate the general authorities who kept the ban in place for generations: they were just doing what God told them to do, even though it wasn’t really what God wanted. It just makes more sense now to say that the ban was a mistake from the beginning. That view is more consistent with the historical record, and it’s more consistent with what we believe about God’s nature.

    We sinned, and we are sinning. Let’s repent. It’s that simple, and we don’t have to attribute our sins to God in any backhanded way.

  124. All great points. Thank you. What surprised me the most is England’s loyalty to the Brethren. He said in a different way what Loursat says, “We sinned, and we are sinning. Let’s repent.” …and added in a sense; Now let’s follow the example of the Brethren and pray for a change.
    What Eugene England blasts are all the speculations of why the ban was in place.
    It is important to remember his opinion and writings came before the explosion of historical scholarship.
    Yet, there are numerous examples of “it wasn’t really what God wanted.” God really didn’t want the Nephites to become extinct, God really didn’t want to give the Israelites the the lower law. He was willing to give them the higher law through Moses, but it didn’t happen. The people were not ready which is the same reasoning England presents in his writing.
    This has been a respectful debate. I have new insight and appreciate all comments.
    What I have learned is there is always a reason to leave, but like Darius Grey, Eugene England, and Leonard Arrington it is best to stick with the Brethren. Hopefully that is something we can all agree on.

  125. Bro. Jones, missionaries in Moslem countries are specifically restricted from teaching Moslems, ie. most Arabs. The Church representatives in Israel are not allowed to seek out Jewish converts. They are allowed to teach those who approach them. (I know this because my cousin married a Jewish man who approached the Church leaders there. Israel was not very happy when he decided to convert to the LDS faith and move to Utah. They pulled his passport while he was in transit and he had to stay in the Paris Airport until a US Senator personally intervened to get him released.) I stand by my statement. The Old Testament states that the heathen nations will not convert until the Millenium and neither will the Jews. You may have some ancestry from these countries, but the majority of the Canaanites will not be taught the gospel until the Millenium and therefore are really the last to receive the priesthood, far after people with African ancestry. They are the ones currently experiencing the priesthood ban.

  126. Jane, I bristle at anybody saying “something we can all agree on.” Probably always, but especially when I don’t agree.

    So in first person and not speaking for anybody else —

    I think the “Brethren” were wrong, are wrong. I think Brigham Young was wrong. I think 20th century leaders were wrong to follow his lead, and were unconscionably slow to change. I think 21st century leaders are wrong to use weasel words and ellipses to describe an historical wrong-doing. Wrong in a factual, historical, sense. And wrong in a tactical leadership sense.

    I think Gene England was wrong (and I believe he knew it, because his piece is tortured and when he was happy about his argument it showed). I read him as working from a compelled position—however compelled—that “ecclesiastically the Church is doing what the Lord has directed” and from there doing the best he could. I do not share that starting point, and do not feel compelled to follow his thread. Some of which I do disagree with (although maybe no more than he disagreed with and qualified himself—hence “tortured”).

    In saying this, I do not treat the Church and the Brethren as synonyms. Believing the Brethren are wrong is not the same as leaving the Church. Somewhat analogous to anger at God being sharply distinct from atheism.

  127. That’s just nutty, Jenna. Even accepting for the sake of argument (I don’t accept it otherwise) that your take on prophecy and the timing of the spread of the gospel through the Middle East is correct, the term “priesthood ban” already has a meaning that you are not justified in garbling this way. It means the historic withholding of priesthood for faulty doctrinal reasons from those seen as black. It most emphatically does not mean the supposed prevention of conversion by political or social forces for which the Church is not responsible. There is no “priesthood ban” for those of Jewish or Arabic descent — there may be relatively few converts from those groups, and they (like the Chinese, and citizens of most non-Arabic but predominately Muslim countries, and many elsewhere) may not yet be blessed by the presence of missionaries in their home countries, but those who do convert are as eligible for the priesthood as any others.

    The really problematic aspect of your idiosyncratic redefinition is that it devalues the particular suffering of black members who were faithful to the gospel despite the restriction, or who were turned away from the gospel because of it. No one has ever had, will ever have, that crushing experience at the hands of the Church because of Jewish or Arabic ancestry.

  128. “Spencer Kimball told one interviewer before the [1978] change, ‘I don’t know that I should be the one doing this, but if I don’t, my successor [Ezra Taft Benson] won’t.’”
    http://archive.sltrib.com/story.php?ref=/lds/ci_14287116 Peggy Fletcher Stack (SLTribune) quoting the expanded version of Ed Kimball’s “Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball” CD-ROM or print-published with subtitle “Working Draft”

  129. That may be, but President Kimball did not act alone. The ban came because of revelation. I heard Elder Haight witness and describe the experience. It was revealed to all and they stood united in removing the ban.

  130. Jane, it appears, however, that sometimes people (even apostles) won’t receive a revelation or would even reject it unless they receive a ‘shove.’ This is clear throughout all of scriptural cannon is still true.

  131. Also, Jane, I don’t think you meant ‘the ban came because of revelation’ (though it appears you believe that). The whole Holland, ‘we don’t know,’ suggests even apostles aren’t willing to claim it was revelation.

    The leaders at the time, however, felt that to overturn prejudice among them and the long standing tradition/policy/ and even declared, at times, as doctrine, that revelation was needed. True, some people may need revelation to make such changes. Others, however, don’t require it; they can move on from terrible practices without it.

    I appreciate your efforts to defend what you see as very clear for everyone to agree on, but as others have indicated, it’s not clear. Ironically, even, you seem to be painting yourself even more rigid than the Brethren on the topic, as your main point seems to be that we shouldn’t go against them and that they have it right, always. They don’t claim that.

  132. Sorry I was not clear. The apostles themselves claim they make mistakes. They are the first to admit they are not perfect. I was in a meeting where Elder Haight described the event. He used the word “revealed” to all present. Do I believe the apostles make mistakes? Of course I do.

  133. Brigham Young made up the racial ban on entering the temple, because Congress was afraid that Mormon’s would perform secret inter-racial marriages in secret ceremonies in temples; wouldn’t allow Utah to become a state because of it. But then one of his councilors pointed out how intertwined the priesthood and temples are, so Brigham Young expanded the ban to the priesthood too. But of course he had to sell it as something that was actual doctrine and not some trick to trick congress into granting Utah statehood, which he would then flip on.
    Unfortunately Brigham Young forgot to write a reminder to undo the priesthood ban, and place it in an envelop marked “Do not open until Love v. Virginia is ruled on.”

  134. Ryan Mullen says:

    “Brigham Young made up the racial ban on entering the temple, because Congress” This makes BY an unprincipled liar willing to disenfranchise an entire demographic simply as a political move. How far under the bus are you trying to throw him?

  135. Mark Cope says:

    What I don’t sense in the vast majority of these posts is any humility. It’s easy to sustain a prophet we agree with; it’s much harder to sustain one we disagree with. I find it very useful to remember that multiple prophets before Kimball spoke to the Lord about removing the ban and were essentially told, “no, not yet.” One either believes they spoke with the God of heaven, or one doesn’t. Criticism is easy. Humility and meekness is hard.

  136. Amy T. Where can I find your book when it’s released?

  137. Amazon, I assume, and other booksellers. Thanks for asking.

    In the meantime, there are some other remarkable projects happening, including Paul Reeve’s database “A Century of Black Mormons.” He will introduce it at an upcoming conference in Salt Lake City:


  138. Kristin Brown says:

    To Amy T and Mark Cope- Amy, after watching Dr. Ronald Coleman speak I felt a sense of humility. Dr. Coleman seemed excited to belong to Zion! I was surprised and impressed with the positive manner in which he portrayed Brigham Young. I applaud the important work he has done. I have great respect for African Americans who have overcome any resentment concerning past history.
    Like Mark Cope, I get the feeling some members of the church not of the black race shout louder and are more resentful than the faithful black Saints I know within the kingdom. I look to them for an example of what meekness and goodness look like. It was inspiring to hear the stories Dr. Coleman discussed. I give my husband credit for my interest in becoming more acquainted with history I have never been familiar with before. Love it and appreciate your work Amy.

  139. J. Stapley says:

    Mark, suggesting that someone doesn’t sustain church leaders (i.e., saying that shouldn’t have a temple recommend) is serious business, and isn’t particularly welcome here.

    To your point about church leaders before President Kimball asking and being told “no, not yet,” is a bit of creative writing that I don’t think is particularly justified by the documentary record. What we have is church leaders consistently teaching ideas that the current church leaders have disavowed. And we have the example of President Kimball who worked extremely hard over years, to not only receive a revelation, but to change other church leaders outlooks on the matter. No one up to that point had done anything close to that. Trying impute God’s support of the restriction from a few indirect snippets of leaders who were committed to false ideas on the topic seems…unwise.

  140. Chris Grant says:

    J. Stapley writes:

    “your point about church leaders before President Kimball asking and being told ‘no, not yet,’ is a bit of creative writing that I don’t think is particularly justified by the documentary record.

    As far as President McKay is concerned, it is justified by pages 103 and 104 of Greg Prince’s biography of him. Do revelations *not* to change a policy tend to be better documented than this?

  141. Mark, I take a different view, but one that also allows for several leaders to have prayed and received the “not yet” answer you mention. Perhaps my reading of the history is incorrect, but from what I have read it does seem possible that was happening.

    I do not believe the Lord will allow His authorized leaders to lead the church astray to destruction without plenty of advanced warning. At the same time I believe leaders can teach ideas or doctrines, or even implement policies that are not the ideal will of the Lord (which side note, is no endorsement for relying the arm of flesh or worldly whims as a trustworthy source of moral truth).

    I like to think of Jacob 5 as an explanation of this process when it describes the latter times. That “as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish… that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad”.

    Brigham Young, while implementing the policy, was not alone nor in a vacuum while doing so. The church was not in a state of Zion (and while we’ve come quite a ways, it seems we are still quite distant from that ultimate end). The was not an uproar or major pushback in its implementation, rather it seemed a natural outgrowth of the collective understanding of the Saints at the time, the level of light and knowledge to which they progressed. Is it conceivable the Brigham Young could have done greater wrestling with the Lord and squashed the false doctrines of Cain and Ham as being origin stories for the African race? I think it is, and I think this would have been the ideal will of the Lord. But given the state of the church, the state of the tree, I don’t think the Lord intervenes to point out the bad branches to uproot all of them immediately – the tree could not handle it, it would die. I believe for the this reason the temple and priesthood policy was allowed to happen.

    And with a bad branch in place, and a collective understanding forming around it, is it always the right thing to cut it off immediately when it is discovered? Or is there like Jacob describes a time and place to clear away these branches, in parallel with the growing strength of the roots so the top and bottom may be equal in strength, and avoid pulling out wheat with the tares?

    So yes, in my mind it seems plausible down the road that various leaders prayed with sincere intent and received the word “not yet”. But that doesn’t mean the branch was ever anything other than a bad branch.

  142. Relevant to the “not yet” discussion is a shift one can see in mid-century to a position of “policy, not doctrine, but requires a revelation to change.” (Appears to be true of President McKay but not President Lee. And to my memory fairly widely held among thoughtful members.) Logically, theologically, the “not doctrine but requires revelation” position feels shaky to me. I would be interested in an explication, other than or in addition to the politics of building consensus in the quorum or among white members.

  143. J. Stapley says:

    Chris Grant, with due respect to Prince’s fine biography, to accept the reminiscences of a few people as definitive revelation from God that the Ban should be in place is poor history and irresponsible theology.

  144. Christian, I understand the “policy not doctrine, but requiring revelation to change” as nothing more than a reflection of the practicality of changing a policy with a long history. In other words, not that this policy inherently required revelation to change, but that the practical circumstances of an ossified policy, a history of defending that policy, a conservative organization (by that I mean resistant to change, not politically conservative, though both apply), and a longstanding practice of doing things by consensus and unanimity meant that a revelation was necessary to get leadership (and members) on board.

    That’s probably nothing more than “the politics of building consensus,” but I guess I don’t find the distinction between policy and doctrine all that useful of a distinction to begin with.

  145. J. Stapley says:

    “…but I guess I don’t find the distinction between policy and doctrine all that useful of a distinction to begin with.”

    Verily. Doctrine is meaningless in this usage.

  146. “the distinction between policy and doctrine” WAS important and discussed with some energy by what we would call “progressive” Mormons in the 1970s, on this very topic. (Including arguments that the distinction is not useful, is not well defined, or has no practical or pragmatic significance.)

    I was there.

  147. Oh, I don’t mean that it wasn’t important to President McKay or to other members in the 70s. It was certainly important, and probably played an important role as an incremental step toward the revelation because it’s easier to believe that “policy” can be mistaken, or at least outdated, than that “doctrine” can. I just mean that I don’t find it useful to the extent that the difference between them is, with few exceptions, kind of circular. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t an important point historically.

  148. Kristin Brown says:

    Steve LHJ- Brilliantly and respectfully said.

  149. Ryan Mullen says:

    “it seems plausible down the road that various leaders prayed with sincere intent and received the word ‘not yet’.” I’ve yet to hear a justification of the ‘not yet’ theology that doesn’t boil down to: God was more concerned with white people’s feelings than about the black people who faced systematic prejudice and discrimination in His own organization. Some people may be able to maintain faith in such a being, but I cannot.

  150. Ryan Mullen, fwiw I also don’t believe that

  151. jdewdropsofink says:

    @Amy T. Thank you. @Steve LHJ, your statement with Jacob 5 was incredibly helpful. Thank you.

  152. jdewdropsofink says:

    A podcast of similar topic I listened to today that may be of interest to others here: https://ldsmag.com/an-interview-with-the-author-a-global-history-of-blacks-and-mormonism/

  153. J. Stapley says:

    I think it is reasonable that the revelation that SWK and the Q15 received required the work that was put into it.

  154. This may seem off-topic, but for me, the following stories are enough to act as stepping stones for my faith and testimony. My parents were service missionaries working in Salt Lake with women who were coming out of prison and looking to restart their lives. One black woman was investigating the church. She expressed to my parents that she may feel nervous about attending an all-white church. My dad said a quick prayer as they picked her up to take her to church. They went to look for the church but got lost and then decided to just go to the nearest church and hope they were having sacrament meeting. They were in luck. And the speaker just happened to be a black man who was one of the first to be ordained to the priesthood after the revelation. He spoke about being a black person in the Mormon church. It was an amazing coincidence and it really helped this sister. This story doesn’t explain anything or make it all better, but it makes me believe that God is behind this church and we can have faith.

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