Defending the Temple and Priesthood Restriction as God’s Will

The idea that church leaders—Church Presidents, who we sustain as Prophets—could be spectacularly wrong and deny millions of people access to the covenant path of the gospel because they were black is terrifying to many of us. We have invested so totally in the bureaucracy of church leadership as to have completely conflated the calling of Church President and role of “prophet,” obliterating any linguistic distinction: “Follow the Prophet, he knows the way!” Confronted with the possibility that such leaders were so catastrophically wrong, we have been willing to invent ideas to save the framework even if it means repeating the errors of our past.

Let’s first delineate a bit of the history:

1) During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, black people held priesthood office in the church. There are several documented examples.

2) In the first half-decade of the Utah era, Brigham Young established a restriction against black people participating in the Temple liturgy and priesthood ecclesiology of the Church.

3) Brigham Young clearly and repeatedly stated his reasoning for this restriction, namely that Cain killed Abel in order to cut Abel out of his place in the sealed structure of heaven. This was a distinct adaptation of the theology that had supported slavery in the US.

4) When the theological framework that supported Brigham Young’s restriction declined in the decades after his death, church leaders began to support other justifications for the restriction, such as lack of premortal valiancy.

5) Even though church has not clearly stated that the restriction was itself an error, the First Presidency has endorsed a disavowal of Brigham Young’s and subsequent Church leaders’ teachings establishing and maintaining the restriction.

6) Therefore, Brigham Young and other church leaders including Church Presidents consistently taught false and damaging racist ideas about black people, and were completely wrong about the restriction.

7) Even the prophesied “long promised day” of the restriction being lifted was contingent on certain racist ideas being fulfilled (which weren’t).

Most people are not aware of this history. But some that are have wanted to find ways to maintain the de facto infallibility of church leaders. Basically saying that even though they were completely wrong about the restriction, church leaders were doing the right thing by creating and maintaining it. For example:

We don’t know when, why, or how the restriction began.
This is completely false, despite its appearance in church publication. See here.

Church leaders sought to remove the restriction, but when they prayed about it, God told them, “Not yet.” How could that happen if God didn’t want the restriction in place?

First, what we have are a couple second hand reminiscence that David O. McKay prayed about lifting the ban, and feeling like he shouldn’t. It would irresponsible history, and poor theology to accept these accounts as being accurate or, more particularly, revelations to McKay. I’m deeply skeptical of the accounts. But even accepting them as true (which is irresponsible), it wouldn’t matter to the question. Speculating about the mind of God is complete folly.

What we do know is that President Kimball spent years working, not only with himself, but with other church leaders getting to a point where a revelation was even possible. He was able to change hearts and minds before the revelation. No church leader up to that point had ever done that. Perhaps someone might ask, well, why did he need to do all that work? Again, I don’t believe that is a question that is possible to answer. However, one might argue that it he did all that work because that is how much was necessary. Tautological, but accurate.

God didn’t want the strain on the church that integration would cause.
This one is just so stupid and racist that I have a hard time engaging with it. God didn’t seem to care all that much about what other people thought of the church and its members: POLYGAMY. The idea that integrated congregations, leadership, or even marriages, would have been too much peril for the church requires a complete ignorance of history and a complete moral bankruptcy. In this scenario not only are church members racist jerks, but God cares more about white people than black people. It is infuriating.

Also a bonus: There is no meaningful difference between the restriction being a “doctrine” of the church or a “policy” of the church. It simply doesn’t matter. It only mattered for church leaders who thought it might make lifting the restriction easier. It was about those church leaders, not about the people being restricted.

The only real reason for believing the restriction was God’s will appears to be the maintenance of a measure of infallibility within the ecclesiology of the church. However, it seems to me that if you are going to assert a belief that the temple and priesthood restriction was the will of the Lord, then you must also assert Church leaders were simultaneously completely wrong about it and taught false and damaging ideas to the church for generations. Such a position undermines the infallibility of the church’s ecclesiastical governance that was the sole reason for a belief that the restriction was God’s will in the first place. It is lose-lose.


  1. “What we do know is that President Kimball spent years working, not only with himself, but with other church leaders getting to a point where a revelation was even possible. He was able to change hearts and minds before the revelation.”

    Could you kindly share evidence of how President Kimball, and before him President McKay “worked’ to convince others to accept a new revelation? Not that I’ve researched this topic in depth, but as a typical, somewhat well educated in the history of the church type of Mormon, I don’t recall ever seeing much publicly from Kimball or McKay that their actual view on the topic was that it should be changed.

  2. David Day says:

    Thanks J.

    It would irresponsible history, and poor theology to accept these accounts as being accurate or, more particularly, revelations to McKay. I’m deeply skeptical of the accounts. But even accepting them as true (which is irresponsible), it wouldn’t matter to the question. Speculating about the mind of God is complete folly.

    Should the word be appear before irresponsible?

    Why are you skeptical of these accounts? Pleased educate me.

  3. I had this race / priesthood argument with my parents – who are in their 70s – during the April 2018 general conference. The conclusion I reach is that prophets aren’t prophets in the sense that orthodox LDS believe. Interesting is the fact that the Q12 don’t treat the prophet with the same deference that the average LDS do, otherwise they might have listened to McKay or Kimball sooner.

    Once logic and reason demonstrate that the ban was based on racism, the final defense is often “it’s not pertinent to our salvation.” This argument is basically be quiet and do as you’re told.

  4. Eli Bowman says:

    Very insightful. Thank you very much.

    Would love any supporting links in your numbered timeline section, particularly within numbers 4, 5, 6, and 7.

  5. Excellently done, J. And exactly right on all counts.

  6. Yes. To every word. (So much so that I would be annoyed being asked for links and documentation. Best wishes on that score, J. Stapley. :-))

    Regarding the “not yet” talk, I have no independent view or knowledge about President McKay, but I will here “testify” that when the next big change comes (ordaining women or respecting marriages are the two most likely to come to mind, but fill-in-the-blank also works) there are dozens, even hundreds, of high church leaders who always “knew” it was coming but “not yet.”

  7. Martine says:

    I only recently heard about BY’s “theological framework” regarding Cain being cursed because he denied Abel a posterity. Interesting but since “nothing is impossible to the Lord” and “it will all be worked out in the next life” I don’t see why Abel dying before he was sealed in the temple by the power of the priesthood so he could have an eternal progeny was such a big deal that Cain and his posterity had to be cursed for millennia. Unfortunately Brigham wasn’t familiar with the standard Mormon answer “it will all be worked out in the next life” members throw at everyone who questions the illogic temple sealing policies. How much pain might have been avoided! I guess it doesn’t matter since the real reason for the ban was Brigham’s racism.

  8. Do you plan to celebrate the priesthood ban being lifted?

  9. There is a saying that goes something like this…

    “Catholics teach that the pope is infallible, but no one believes that he is. Mormons teach that the prophet is not infallible, but members believe that he is.”

  10. Thanks J. It’s sad that this is such hard information for so many Church members to accept, isn’t it?

  11. Charles says:

    Two thoughts:

    There is ample evidence in the scriptures that God will let a Prophet do things that he doesn’t want them to do (Joseph Smith and the lost manuscript comes immediately to mind). For whatever reason, racism, politics, etc, Brigham Young wanted to do this. The lack of recorded revelation indicates that it was his policy not God’s.

    The other thought is that we often quote President Woodruff, “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place.” Yet evidence indicates otherwise in this case. Perhaps that quote deserves more examination for the context and purpose to be understood.

    For me, I don’t need or want infallibility in church leaders.

  12. Darryl Baker says:

    “Speculating about the mind of God is complete folly.”. Hmmm…isn’t that just what the author engaged in with this piece?

  13. No it’s not, Darryl. If that’s what you got, I’d go back and read it again.

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Daniel, I would suggest you start with Ed Kimball’s Lengthen Your Stride.

    Excellent post, J.

  15. Not a bit of it, Darryl Baker. He discusses only what men have said and done, and how church members look at leaders. There is not one word that presumes to tell us what God thinks or wants — only what people have said and thought and done.

  16. Happy Hubby says:

    Daniel. Gregory Prince’s book on David O McKay covers this a bit. The autobiography of pres. Kimball his son Edward talks about it but I think it is in the included CD and not in the print. I think Ed also has done some other interviews where he talked about it.

  17. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, all.

    Daniel, the best place for President Kimball’s labor to receive the revelation is this article by his son published at BYU Studies. This was primarily material taken from his expanded draft manuscript of his bio of SWK published by Deseret Book. There are some other bits that didn’t land in this article, but I think it more than sufficient. On President McKay, all we have is a couple of pages in Prince’s biography.

    David, I’m skeptical of the accounts in Prince’s volume because 1) they are second hand, and 2) they are retrospective. I’ve worked with historical sources enough to see how both of those things often distort events, especially on topics as emotionally charged as this one.

    Toad, I actually believe that church Presidents and Apostles are prophets in the sense that most members believe today. But I also believe, like all of us, that they are able to make important errors. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.

    Eli, that article linked above is a good start. I’d check out Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color. Russell Stevensons’ For the Cause of Righteousness has a lot of the major primary documents. Here is an example of JFSII championing the BY narrative (he later changes dramatically). On the FP approved disavowal, see the Gospel Topics Essay.

    “since the real reason for the ban was Brigham’s racism” – I’m less inclined to make simple causal statements. Racism does clearly saturates a lot of the discourse around this topic. I guess I’m just happy to say that was wrong.

    Theparentingvillage, I celebrate every time I think about the revelation lifting the restriction. But yes, I’m going to join in the 40th anniversary celebration in a few days.

    Charles, I agree that Woodruff’s statement is relevant and interesting. I think people forget that he said that when many members in fact believed that he might be leading the Church astray!

    And thanks, Ardis.

  18. “the prophesied “long promised day” of the restriction being lifted was contingent on certain racist ideas being fulfilled”

    I find great contradiction in singing the praises of President Kimball who interpreted the revelation he received as the fulfillment of “the long promised day” while at the same time considering such prophecies racist, and doubting President McKay’s “not yet” answers.

    Are we questioning President Kimball’s understanding of what the Lord revealed to him by revelation? Doesn’t that only serve to generate doubt in the revelation he reported?

  19. J. Stapley says:

    James: According to Brigham Young (source of the long promised day prophecy), black people were to receive temple blessings and priesthood office after Abel and his posterity were restored, and after all of the other “children of Michael” got them first. Did that happen? Do you see how that prophecy incorporated racist elements?

    I think it is well established that most church leaders (not all mind you), believed that a revelation was necessary to lift the restriction. As well, many church leaders have believed and taught racist things in the past. I don’t see how those things obviate belief in the validity of the revelation. People that aren’t going to believe in the revelation can find any number of reasons not to, I guess.

  20. GodisGreat says:

    “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot hold the Priesthood, and if no other prophet ever spake it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ.”
    — Wilford Woodruff, January 1852 journal entry.
    “That slavery will continue, until there is a people raised up upon the face of the earth who will contend for righteous principles, who will not only believe in but operate, with every power and faculty given to them to help to establish the kingdom of God, to overcome the devil, and drive him from the earth, then will this curse be removed. . .
    “. . . If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the priesthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them, until the residue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings, the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed; and hold the keys of the priesthood, until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the earth, and from Michal’s seed. Then Cain’s seed will be had in remembrance, and the time come when that curse should be wiped off.
    Now then in the kingdom of God on the earth, a man who has has the African blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of priesthood; Why? because they are the true eternal principals the Lord Almighty has ordained, and who can help it, men cannot. the angels cannot, and all the powers of earth and hell cannot take it off, but thus saith the Eternal I am, what I am, I take it off at my pleasure, and not one partical of power can that posterity of Cain have, until the time comes the says he will have it taken away. That time will come when they will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of and more. In the kingdom of God on the earth the Affricans cannot hold one partical of power in Government. The the subjects, the rightful servants of the resedue of the children of Adam, and the resedue of the children through the benign influence of the Spirit of the Lord have the privilege of seeing to the posterity of Cain; inasmuch as it is the Lords will they should receive the spirit of God by Baptism; and that is the end of their privilege; and there is not power on earth to give them any more power.”
    — Speech by Gov. Young in Joint Session of the Legislature. Feb. 5th 1852 giving his views on slavery.
    It seems there are a few things going on here. First, it isn’t clear how literal Brigham Young is in associating Blacks with the seed of Cain. He wasn’t always fond of literal interpretations (See for instance, remarks about Creation). He could be comparing the situation of Blacks with the seed of Cain and coming to the conclusion they are (at least by condition) one and the same. Not necessarily literal blood relatives of Cain, but certainly spiritual relatives. In fact he claims the Priesthood Ban of the Blacks will be lifted once slavery is abolished and those who ” help to establish the kingdom of God” drive out the devil (assuming this to mean the practice of slavery or maybe their own racism). Still, it is clear Brigham Young sees the Ban as a revelation to him as a Prophet and Apostle with authority to do so in the name of Jesus Christ. This is not a simple statement of personal opinion as he, and apparently other Prophets after him, saw it as a divine instruction. In other words, there is enough evidence to indicate that it originated with Brigham Young first and foremost, but also that it had the (by him as an authorized leader of Christ’s Church) stamp of Divine Approval or Request. It came by revelation by the witness of a Prophet and therefore required a revelation by the witness of another Prophet. An “apology” is a rejection of both recorded history and doctrine of Priesthood Authority.
    Now, the theories of why the Ban was in place might be rejected and disavowed today, but the fact of the matter is that the Ban was real and was of God according to Brigham Young in his position and authority as Prophet of God. And yes, really I do believe that Brigham Young associated the Blacks with the curse of Cain without actually believing they were more than spiritual inheritors of the Curse. That it was a subtle difference make it hard to see, but the Speech by Gov. Young in Joint Session of the Legislature. Feb. 5th 1852 that I quoted hints at the non-direct relationship. Even those more explicit statements that Blacks are of the seed of Cain continues to mention that slavery is evidence that they have inherited the Curse. They aren’t in slavery because they are of the seed of Caine. They became the seed of Cain because of slavery. To put it another way, the Curse of Cain was placed onto Blacks, essentially making them one and the same without the literal need to be the ancestors.

  21. GodisGreat says:

    “According to Brigham Young (source of the long promised day prophecy), black people were to receive temple blessings and priesthood office after Abel and his posterity were restored, and after all of the other “children of Michael” got them first. Did that happen? Do you see how that prophecy incorporated racist elements?”

    That is if you assume that Blacks are seen as the actual seed of Caine. Again, I don’t believe that Brigham Young saw them as the same, although having the spiritually same curse. Brigham Young saw that once slavery was lifted and white racism purged that they could once again be given the Priesthood. As for the actual Caine, yes the prophecies still need to be fullfulled.

  22. J. Stapley says:

    GodisGreat, those are cherry-picked source quotes, and a wildly misleading analysis. Go and read the resources attached in the comments and post above. This idiosyncratic idea that BY didn’t actually believe black people were decedents of Cain, is absurd.

  23. GodisGreat says:

    Not absurd at all. The words are there for anyone to read and I read all the sources you gave.You have your opinion and I have mine.

  24. This is great, J. Thanks to you and other commenters who have pointed to sources that can help us in the massive collective need for education on this topic.

  25. GodisGreat: respectfully, that makes no sense at all.

  26. GodisGreat says:

    The things of the Spirit are hard for some to understand. Besides, no one has argued how it doesn’t make sense.

  27. J. Stapley says:

    GodisGreat, this is the last time we are going to engage you on this. If someone claims that space aliens inspired the restriction it is incumbent upon that individual to deal with all the evidence and write a compelling argument. It is not just a matter of “opinions.” Your claims of “things of the Spirit” are signaling that you are claiming special access to the truth of the matter. Read the literature, deal with all the sources, and publish your thesis. We are done here.

  28. Appreciate the post. I heard the argument – speculatively – that the church wasn’t ready for integration from my fairly liberal father when I asked as a kid. The comparison to polygamy is illuminating. People will understandably reach for vague and unsupported answers rather than say these people who have led my church were terribly wrong for a very long time.

  29. Truckers Atlas says:

    I wonder what these comment sections would look like if other permabloggers didn’t pile onto any dissenting voices like a school of pirnhas. Like, imagine the reporting staff of a news publication doing the same thing in one of their comment sections.

  30. To change the subject just a little, I have a difficult time believing that the 1978 proclamation was a revelation. Do we really need a revelation to correct the errors of church leaders? Calling the 1978 pronouncement a revelation seems to devalue the meaning of revelation. And it brings up questions about the belated nature of the action.

  31. J. Stapley says:

    Roger Hansen, I think everyone here (or at least I do) means the revelation received in the temple before the announcement of OD-2 was released.

  32. “Do we need a revelation” — My view of the events, purely as a spectator (but arguably with a good seat for the show) at the time and in retrospect is that there was a general understanding that the Quorum had to come together. That there was too much history, for better or worse, and too many different opinions, to make any substantial change by fiat. (There had been softening at the edges for some years, by administrative action.) And that the only way to bring the Quorum together was by revelation accepted as such by the whole.

  33. LaJean Carruth says:

    GodisGreat George D. Watt’s shorthand record is by far the most complete, most accurate record of Brigham Young’s 5 February 1852 speech on slavery; I have transcribed this, it is readily available online through the Church History Library catalog. I have compared my transcription of Watt’s shorthand to Watt’s own transcription and the notes in Wilford Woodruff’s journal, scoured thousands of pages I have transcribed of Brigham Young’s speeches and searched Complete Discourses of Brigham Young – none of these other sources have any comment anything like Woodruff’s “one drop” statement – it was apparently a misremembering from the contemorary social constructs: a person was deemed Black even if they had a very small portion of Black blood, as long as it came through the maternal line. Though this undated journal entry was the best known source for many years for what Brigham Young said, it is not a correct record of what he said.

  34. > Like, imagine the reporting staff of a news publication doing the same thing in one of their comment sections.

    If the online comments sections of my local paper are any indication, this is not an ideal of good discourse you should be looking to.

  35. What about us that believe that the revelation President Kimball had was from the wrong source, and that even though President Young did not fully understand the matter his decisions about the matter were correct?

  36. J. Stapley says:

    Christian, thanks for that perspective. I agree.

    LaJean, that is important material. We owe a lot to your hard work.

    Heber, I don’t know you, or if you take that position because of racism, but I would say that position is outside of the church, destructive to the body of Christ, and a pernicious cancer.

  37. Very good post. I remember reading Turner’s Brigham Young Pioneer Prophet and it seems like prior to some date, Brigham Young is fairly for equality, but that after a certain point he becomes vehemently racist.

    Not God’s will at all.

  38. Two quick, larger points. (To be clear at the outset, I’m not raising these because I think the ban was divine, not defending that idea at all.)

    “God didn’t seem to care all that much about what other people thought of the church and its members: POLYGAMY.”
    This can cut two directions. Polygamy certainly had the sociological effect of creating a bright dividing line between insider and outsider. I’ve read speculation that part of the motivation for polygamy was to force that hard line, in which case, God *did* care what other people thought, only in the other direction. There was divine desire to swing the pendulum hard away from cultural assimilation (following Mauss’ model.)

    Second, “you must also assert Church leaders were simultaneously completely wrong about it.” I would argue that the general principle that God can give directives without explaining them, whether to Church leadership or laypeople, is true. And then the human tendency is to fill in the explanatory vacuum with explanations, as Widtsoe did with theobromines, caffeine, and the Word of Wisdom, and Talmage did with the temperature of the beverages. One of these caught on, and is still a common explanation for a church policy/doctrine/commandment.

  39. J. Stapley says:

    Ben, I’ve heard that about polygamy as well. It is the same feature/bug that you would get with integration, though. I also agree that church leaders, like everyone else, want to know “why.” In the case of the WoW, which you mention, we have a revelation that includes proscriptions. And people try to make sense of those. As you say, some do better than others (though with caffeine at BYU and Temple Square, I’m not sure how popular Widtsoe is anymore). Are you asserting that Brigham Young had a revelation, and then later tried to make sense of it? The challenge to that is that we have the restriction and the reasons for it coming simultaneously. It would be like the Word of Wisdom having a verse about caffeine, per your analogy.

  40. “Are you asserting that Brigham Young had a revelation, and then later tried to make sense of it?”

    Not at all. I’m providing counter-examples to the general principles you assert that 1) God doesn’t care how LDS are perceived (“because polygamy”) and 2) prophets can’t misunderstand or put human reason to things they are legitimately commanded to do without explanation.

  41. J. Stapley says:

    Ben, fair enough. Per #2, I guess I see that framing as a bit of a red herring. It is not that church leaders “can’t misunderstand or put human reason to things they are legitimately commanded to do without explanation.” Its that if church leaders introduce something to the church on a particular basis, it is categorically different than a church leader introducing something, then years later he or others providing a basis for it. The previous post used this example: “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 explanation 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.” In the particular case of BY and the temple and priesthood restriction, I think one would need at least a modicum of evidence to separate the actual restriction from BY’s basis.

  42. Bellamy says:

    If you believe it was a “revelation” you should read the interview with LeGrand Richards by W. Wat.ers. In it Richards says the 12 knew they had a problem that was exacerbated by the opening of of the Brazilian Temple, They all talked about it ,decided to change the policy and then prayed about it for confirmation of the decision previously reached. Surprise. No one felt inspired to object to the agreed upon decision. This is the modern version of revelation

  43. Left Field says:

    Indeed, that IS revelation, Bellamy; what’s your point? You were expecting a telegram from God or something?

  44. Loursat says:

    I’m thinking about collective guilt.

    The theories that Jonathan debunks in the OP are not really “explanations.” They actually function as excuses. I think the truest reason we are so afraid of admitting that the priesthood ban was always wrong is not because that would mean that our prophets were fallible. I think it’s really because that would mean that we have collaborated in a sin. We desperately need excuses because our sins in this thing are not yet behind us. We continue to sin as long as we fail to become one in the body of Christ.

    The revelation of 1978 was a monumental act of leadership. Many of us–perhaps most of us–believed that it was enough. But it is clear now that 1978 was only a step in a longer process. We renounced the sin, but we did not accept the burden of sorrow, love, and remorse that is always necessary for reconciliation. I find myself praying fervently now for my fellow saints and for the next monumental act of leadership that will help us repent.

  45. Kurt, yes that Kurt says:


    Regarding your list at the top of this post, you are ignoring a lot of well-documented history in order to draw conclusions.

    On point 1, the implied conclusion is that Smith was fine with ordaining Blacks, which is absolutely not the case. The example you will inevitably hold up is Elijah Able(s), which is problematic as he was what was considered “mulatto” by contemporary standards and best available evidence is his father was a white slave owner and his mother was a Negro slave. The makes him at least 1/2 white, with a white father. Smith’s apparent knowledge/endorsement of Able(s) ordination is absolutely not an unequivocal policy statement on ordination of blacks. Arguments over whether Able(s) is/was “black” or not in Smith’s eyes are nothing more than speculation.

    On point 2, you attempt to pin the blame on Young, which is unfair, as Smith clearly held the view that Negros were lineage of Ham and cursed with respect to the Priesthood.

    In July of 1831, Smith identifies Negroes as lineage of Canaan, “The first Sabbath after our arrival in Jackson county, Brother W. W. Phelps preached to a western audience over the boundary of the United States, wherein were present specimens of all the families of the earth; Shem, Ham and Japheth; several of the Lamanites or Indians–representative of Shem; quite a respectable number of negroes–descendants of Ham; and the balance was made up of citizens of the surrounding country…” (History of the Church, volume 1, page 190).

    In March of 1836, in a discourse on the subjects of slavery and abolition, Smith states that the curse of Ham is “not yet taken off” from the Negroes. “After having expressed myself so freely
    upon this subject, I do not doubt, but those who have been forward in raising their voices against the South, will cry out against me as being uncharitable, unfeeling, unkind, and wholly unacquainted with the Gospel of Christ. It is my privilege then to name certain passages from the Bible, and examine the teachings of the ancients upon the matter as the fact is uncontrovertible that the first mention we have of slavery is found in the Holy Bible, pronounced by a man who was perfect in his generation, and walked with God. And so far from that prediction being averse to the mind of God, it remains as a lasting monument of the decree of Jehovah, to the shame and confusion of all who have cried out against the South, in consequence of their holding the sons of Ham in servitude. ‘And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.’ ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant’ (Gen. 9:25, 26). Trace the history of the world from this notable event down to this day, and you will find the fulfillment of this singular prophecy. What could have been the design of the Almighty in this singular occurrence is not for me to say; but I can say, the curse is not yet taken off from the
    sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great a power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least with the purposes of God in this matter, will come under
    the least condemnation before Him; and those who are determined to pursue a course, which shows an opposition, and a feverish restlessness against the decrees of the Lord, will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good, that God can do His own work, without the aid of those who are not dictated by His counsel.” (History of the Church, Volume 2, pages 438-439).

    In October of 1841, in a discourse on fault-finding among the brethren, Smith tangentially comments upon the curse Noah laid upon Ham, and states the curse remains upon the posterity of Canaan until the present day. “I referred to the curse of Ham for laughing at Noah, while in his wine, but doing no harm. Noah was a righteous man, and yet he drank wine and became intoxicated; the Lord did not forsake him in consequence thereof, for he retained all the power of his priesthood, and when he was accused by Canaan, he cursed him by the priesthood which he held, and the Lord had respect to his word, and the priesthood which he held, notwithstanding he was drunk, and the curse remains upon the posterity of Canaan until the present day” (History of the Church, Volume 4, page 446).

    This issue is much, much more messy than the easy set of conclusions you posted. Ignoring Smith’s views on these issues and blaming Brigham is unfair. Beating your chest in righteous indignation on this issue over what you consider to be an open-and-shut case is unbecoming.

  46. J. Stapley says:

    Bellamy, there are several accounts of the “revelation” event, and I think relying solely on that particular account is problematic.

    Kurt, it is messy. At one point even Brigham Young claimed that slavery ruins the earth, despite everything else he said. But honestly, dropping History of the Church quotations? Pick up a copy of Paul Reeve’s book and do some research. There is more than Abel. As Brigham Young said before he established the restriction, “we have one of the best Elders, an African, in Lowell [MA].” I’ve gone through the primary sources and I’m confident in my summary.

  47. Kurt, yes that Kurt says:


    Do some research? Give me a break. I’ve been researching this issue for >20 years. You dont get to dismiss three separate quotes so easily with an arrogant whiff like that. I am well aware of the few others who were ordained. Your confidence is entirely unwarranted, and your primary sources are exceptionally selective, to fit your conclusions. Smith held this view, as did pretty much everyone else at this time. You are trying to exonerate Smith and pin this entirely on Young. You cannot.

  48. J. Stapley says:

    Kurt, then you must also recognize that the curse of Cain/Ham theologies were broader ideas in the Christian Atlantic, generally used to support slavery. It would not be surprising that Joseph Smith incorporated such beliefs into his theology, as they were in the water. But this is entirely distinct from the temple and priesthood restriction, and ignores his other statements. By your logic, the restriction must have originated before Joseph Smith! The restriction was based on a recasting of this theology by Brigham Young through the lens of the Nauvoo Temple cosmology. And I most certainly do get dismiss lazy HC quote dropping. If you want to dismiss the best research and analysis on the topic, that is your business. If you personally believe that Black people bore the curse of Cain or Ham, that is your business as well. In both of those cases, I do get to dismiss your comments on the matter.

  49. I think the impetus for Kimball’s and David O. Mckay’s concern came from the further light and knowledge brought into their world by fellow apostle Hugh B. Brown.

  50. Lena M Hansen says:

    I realize I am belaboring the obvious by pointing out that early Mormons, who should have read studied and claimed to adhere to the teachings of The of Mormon, should have checked their prior beliefs and set the standard to what the Book of Mormon taught. Because of their stiff necks, by September 1832 the Saints were under condemnation because they were not taking seriously the Book of Mormon. According to Daymon Smith (see: Daymon Smith’s website, Mormonism Uncorrelated, ) Most LDS converts, at that time, were Campbellites, who while investigating the church, did a quick assessment of the Book of Mormon by parsing thru to find a few verses here or there that supported their Campbellite beliefs, without doing a thorough study of the Book. They then held the Book of Mormon up as evidence that God was speaking to man. To truly study the Book of Mormon one has to show faith in the messages of the Book of Mormon by careful study and applying the teachings there in. Because the early LDS Saints had this Campbellite mindset, the Lord put the whole church under condemnation, and I assume, since we have not heard differently, we are still under that condemnation for the same reason.

    “And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
    Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
    And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
    And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written.” (D&C 84:54–57.)

    King Benjamin spoke out against slavery in Mosiah 2:13
     “Neither have I suffered that ye should be confined in dungeons, nor that ye should make slaves one of another..”

    Further the Book of Mormon teaches in 2 Nephi 26
    “27 Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men;
    and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade
    all men to crepentance.
    33 For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men;
    and he ainviteth them ball to ccome unto him
    and partake of his goodness; and
    he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

    So if the Saints, had only read, studied and applied some of the Book of Mormon, they really should have understood that denying someone of their saving ordinances was against God’s will. All the nonsensical false doctrine they came up with to deny the temple blessings to others should have been easily seen as false, if they had taken seriously the Book of Mormon.

  51. RainKing says:

    The post is solid as far as it goes, but it feels incomplete. What is the conclusion? That the brethren are not, in fact, infallible?

    I can’t reconcile the ban with the nature of God as I understand him, so I am on board with the fallibility argument. However, once you open this door, you have to grapple with the logical conclusion. Where does fallibility stop? What other policies or doctrines can we classify as mistakes? Polygamy/polyandry? The current ban against the children of gay couples?

    Given these considerations, the church’s position (and that of the nebulous “people”) is understandable. It directly undermines the authority of the brethren. If they were wrong regarding things so shrouded in spirituality and revelation as both the origin and end of the priesthood ban, how can we trust any of the current pronouncements, cloaked in the same justification?

    Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the date of the upcoming celebration is also the birthday of the ban’s founder, Brigham Young?

  52. J. Stapley says:

    RainKing, I think you are articulating the fear that drives the problem outlined in the post. However it doesn’t seem like a crisis to me. Faith is essentially a relationship. Faith in Christ is the foundation of the Restored Gospel. But we have relationships of love and trust with the church as well. Of course we aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean we can’t wend our way to Zion together. Many church leaders have emphasized the need for spiritual “self reliance.” Brigham Young, who has been the focus of so much of this discussion, emphasized this more than almost anyone.

  53. Kevin Barney says:

    I think of the Brethren, including the Q15, in much the same way I think of my SP. He is a very spiritual man (in a way that I am not and will never be), and I respect and admire him greatly. But it would never even occur to me to think of him as in any way infallible (and surely he would blanch himself at such a suggestion); nor do I consider the Brethren infallible in any way. They are human beings, and fallibility is part of the humanity package. This may be easier for me to accept than for some members because I’m old enough to recognize my own historic fallibility.

    The Revelation occurred during the first year of my mission, and I was thrilled by it, but I remember casually accepting the common explanations for the ban. Later I would read the revisionist scholarship and my eyes would be opened, but as a young person I was no Lowry Nelson.

    I disagree strongly with the Brethren on gay issues. But I can understand their generational thinking. Shortly after high school I learned that a friend and neighbor of mine was gay. I still remember vividly how shocking that news was to me, how scandalous it felt. But with time and learning more about the subject it ceased being so remarkable a thing; and now I still consider him that friend of mine from our early school days. Education, growing up, gaining maturity on a topic changed my perspective. But those things can be harder to achieve when you’re already very old and set in your thinking.

    What I’m trying to say is I can see in my own history many of the same impulses the Brethren clearly feel, and so I can empathize with them to that extent, all the while disagreeing with them on these particular topics. They are human beings, just like I am, and thus fallible (as am I) by very definition.

  54. If history was that simple, Moksha or Lena, historians would be left with nothing to do.

    The story of race and the Church is complex and multi-factorial. I recall, for example, someone being puzzled in a discussion elsewhere that Wilford Woodruff did not ordain enslaved or free black men in the South after their baptisms. (The record is not clear about their legal status.) I explained that the 1830s were marked by an intense fear of slave uprisings. Many Southern legislatures tightened their slave codes dramatically during the 1830s and 1840s. In 1831 the Tennessee legislature banned all slave gatherings and forbid owners from manumitting slaves in most circumstances. In 1833 they decreed the death penalty for certain crimes committed by the enslaved; in 1834, they stipulated that the language in the Tennessee constitution granting “free men” certain rights did not extend to free black men, and in 1835 they made it a felony to speak to slaves about freedom. I suspect that the people of Tennessee would have looked very dimly upon Yankees coming into the state and ordaining either slaves or free men of color to preside over religious congregations.

    In 1879, A. O. Smoot told an investigative committee that Joseph Smith recommended not ordaining enslaved men in the South. With our 21st-century perspective, this may seem like a sad travesty, but the direction would have been given within the long shadow of the Nat Turner Rebellion, and the accounts of the killings would have been fresh in many minds. Mormons in the South were already subject to mob action due to their association with Mormonism, such as a notable incident with Mormon convert and slave-owner Williams Camp driving a mob out of his blacksmith shop, or a later family report of sexual violence to the women in another family, so ordaining black men would have been adding fuel to a fire.

    None of this context is a justification for the restriction since not ordaining slaves would have been a situational decision and not applicable anywhere outside the slave South, but it is crucial to remember that many parts of this story happened against a background we can scarcely imagine, even with extensive reading and study of the historical setting.

    For anyone participating in this discussion, Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color can be a helpful explanation. Russell Stevenson’s book For the Cause of Righteousness provides a general overview and annotated source documents. But if you don’t get around to reading either of those, at least read the brief Wikipedia article “Curse and mark of Cain” for some historical background. (Yes, Wikipedia. It needs a lot of work, but it does provide a quick overview.) The idea was created and spread as an apologetic for the practice of American, and particularly Southern slavery.

    And then, perhaps, remember that although we can pull that article up and read it within two or three minutes, prior generations did not have the same ability to find information. They did not have the world’s knowledge available at their fingertips like we do, and they did not have access to many diverse people sharing their experiences, so perhaps we can be merciful to their memory and move forward, recommitted to kindness and justice.

  55. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks, Amy.

  56. Kurt, yes that Kurt says:


    No, you dont get to dismiss quotes that clearly undermine the assumptions you are making to conclude that your point 1 is valid and true. Your entire premise in this blog post is that the LDS Church leadership are misleading the Church and harming people as a result. You draw a set of conclusions that are patently false and build your case, then you pretend it doesnt matter. OK, Stapley. Yes, Smith clearly held the view, as did everyone else, that Blacks were lineage of Cain, you do not argue that at all. But, Smith also clearly held and publicly taught the view they were denied access to the Priesthood, which totally undermines your conclusion in point 1. You are playing fast and loose with the facts so you can beat your chest and fault Church leadership. That is what I take exception to. You want to pretend there is a clear cut case to blame Brigham. What I am pointing out is you cannot do that. I am not forwarding my particular views on the matter. I am pointing out that yours, as noted in your original post, are erroneous, and I consider your motives to be suspect.

  57. RainKing says:

    @J. Stapley, I agree with the sentiment and goal of wending our way together to Zion. Unfortunately, I don’t see that as descriptive of the church’s current or historical path.

    Many are convinced that the brethren are just as wrong about the recent child baptism ban or the prohibition against women receiving the priesthood as they were about the priesthood ban (the justifications for both of the former seem to be just as weak, doctrinally and scripturally, as those for the latter), yet those who speak out too loudly against them on this issue are expelled or excluded from Zion.

    So we find ourselves with the unhappy choice of deferring to the brethren to remain in our self-defined Zion, or speaking out against what we believe are mistakes, with the resulting expulsion from Zion. Only to find in a few decades that the ban was wrong all along.

    In this way it seems, rather ironically, that in some ways the world is pitching the good tent Zion, and the church has to be dragged in, proverbially kicking and screaming all the way. One is tempted to ask, if the brethren can’t do any better than the world, and in fact, seem to do much worse, what purpose do they serve?

    You seem to hint at this, describing our confusion of the bureaucracy of the church with prophecy. The brethren serve an important bureaucratic role. But what are we to do when the bureaucrats claim the gift of prophecy and seership? Who should we listen to, if not them?

  58. To say that church members weren’t ready for an end to the temple/priesthood ban doesn’t speak highly of church members. Billy Graham was integrating his gatherings for a quarter-century before the 1978 revelation, and he wasn’t even viewed by his followers as a prophet.

  59. J. Stapley says:

    Kurt, I don’t know you. I don’t know your motives. One could easily stumble on this conversation and suspect that you were a fundamentalist troll. I am rather well acquainted with the source materials on this matter, and the best scholarship to date. the enumerated summary in the post is consistent with that material, and with the “Gospel Topics Essay” on race and the priesthood that is now available on your Gospel Library app, no less. I’ve stated that your assertions about widespread belief in a curse of Cain or Ham in the Christian Atlantic are irrelevant. Regardless, they were a false and pernicious beliefs, no matter who held them.

  60. LaJean Carruth says:

    I am sure I am not the only one who has followed, reluctantly, clearly inspired directions, only to find out – again -what I really knew (which is why I followed them in the first place, if reluctantly) that God’s knowledge and wisdom far exceeds mine. An example from my life a few of you are familiar with: in 1974 I was completing my master’s in Library Science at BYU and pondering what to do next. As I prayed and pondered, the direction I received in answer to my prayers was unequivocal: I was to go back to school. At that point I had been in school 22 months straight, through my senior year and master’s degree, and I did NOT want to return to school, but I did. I was on my own financially, and desperately needed work. I went to Dennis Rowley, Manuscripts Librarian at BYU, and asked him if he would hire me to transcribe Deseret Alphabet items – I had learned the alphabet when I was 11. He said he didn’t have much written in Deseret, but if I would learn old Pitman shorthand he would give me a job (part time, student wages, but a job.) I said, OK, I’ll learn Pitman, went right out to the library stacks and proceeded to do so. The rest – as they say – is history. But almost every step forward in my career transcribing shorthand was caused by a loss or desperate financial need or some negative event in my life. Now, lest I be lectured for insensitivity, I know returning to grad school is minor compared to the priesthood ban; it is minor compared to many things I have gone through in my own life since – but it is real.
    God’s ways are not our ways. We need to remember that, as we ponder events in our 21st century wisdom and sensibilities.
    I do not know what direction Brigham Young and subsequent prophets were given on this matter – only God knows that. I do know His ways are not ours, as He himself said. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) And in Jacob 5:21-22: “21 And it came to pass that the servant said unto his master: How comest thou hither to plant this tree, or this branch of the tree? For behold, it was the poorest spot in all the land of thy vineyard. 22 And the Lord of the vineyard said unto him: Counsel me not; I knew that it was a poor spot of ground; wherefore, I said unto thee, I have nourished it this long time, and thou beholdest that it hath brought forth much fruit.” We often do not understand His plans and planting – I know I often have not – but we are to obey and he will bring forth much fruit, even through suffering.
    I do know that whenever I have transcribed anything Brigham Young said on the priesthood ban, he said he “could not” change it. Always the same, that it would be changed, but he “could not” change it.
    No matter what our opinions on the revelatory or non-revelatory nature of this ban, I think it is vital to understand and state that we mortals do not and cannot understand God, and must not form him in our own eyes.
    In his book “For Times of Trouble” Elder Holland shares his personal insights on finding solace from suffering in the Psalms. A companion DVD records a question and answer forum wherein he
    shares his insights on personal questions of suffering. Addressing one woman’s suffering from childlessness he says: “What we can not say is when we suffer God does not love us.”
    “Don’t ever, please, please, do not fall victim to the temptation to say, ‘Well I guess God doesn’t love me; because, what on Earth would that say about His love for His Only Begotten Son?'”
    “There is something at work in suffering that is exalting.” (Quote was transcribed by my husband from the DVD)
    I agree with him. We fall short when we interpret God through mortal eyes.

  61. J. Stapley says:

    “We fall short when we interpret God through mortal eyes.”

    Verily. And having some reservations about the ideas on Salvifici Doloris, I also recognize that suffering is often the source of empathy. I also understand your willingness and desire to take Brigham Young at his word. We should take what he taught very seriously. I guess my assertion isn’t that the Restriction couldn’t be God’s will. It is that there are serious problems with how we have tried to defend it as God’s will. Even relying on faith in Young’s leadership isn’t without problems. For example, the church has rejected his Adam-God teachings which he claimed was revealed truth.

  62. LaJean Carruth says:

    J. Stapley, I also have serious problems with how we have tried to defend God’s will – past and present, on this and on other matters – and deeply regret the various “explanations” that were put forth and the pain they caused.
    There is so much we need to understand. I am so notorious for asking questions (I have sent you a few, I believe) that my children are instructed to say, at my funeral (hopefully many, many years in the future): Finally Mom is getting the answers to all her questions – and I hope everyone laughs, knowingly. I have a long list of questions, and look forward to getting the full answers.
    Brigham Young himself once termed his teachings on Adam-God as “theories”.

  63. Thank you for this wonderful post J. We need to overcome the cultural (and often institutional) tendency in the LDS community to avoid talking about troubling topics. At the press conference when the recent First Presidency reorganization was announced, the troubling topic of how they might minister or reach out LGBTQ Mormons was brought up as the very first question. For the most part, the question was artfully and a little un-artfully dodged with vague comments about how we need to be compassionate about people and their “challenges,” but that the Laws of God need to be held pre-eminent. Well as a mostly closeted transgender Latter-day Saint who also happens to feel a strong divine witness about the keys and authority and “prophetiness” of the Q15, I have felt a good bit of personal heartbreak about the major fissure in my life between my church and my core identity being characterized as a mere “challenge.” Can a person view a prophet, seer, and revelator as fallible and still sustain him? I would think so, otherwise President Nelson would not be able to sustain himself, because the most comforting thing I heard him say during that Press Conference is that he recognizes he is fallible. Please understand, I am not going for a snarky tone here, when he said those words, I felt his humility and it made me cry buckets and buckets of spirit-induced tears. There is only one prior minister who was perfect, and that was our Savior. The other prophets, seers, and revelators have done their best work when they simply point the way to Him, when they engage in other activities they have also done a lot of good, but they have also sometimes propagated a few real doozies for which the body of Christ has paid the consequence for years, decades, or millennia. Whether these fallibilities were based on political, cultural, uninformed, or other personal imperatives, I still think that for the most part they are doing their best and that the grace of Christ is large enough for all of this mess down here. I do pray daily for greater honesty and reconciliation in the kingdom, and this post is an important contribution thereto. I hope to be able to stay in the Church if I can reconcile that with staying alive. I believe the keys are in this church, even if it feels like they are in some arenas merely rattled at us rather than deployed to open up doors to the greater love and inclusiveness that Christ has held as our model.

  64. Thanks for the post. The LDS leaders of the past were dead wrong, factually and morally, about race and LDS believers need to acknowledge this.

    But here is the thing I just don’t get. When an LDS believer criticizes the LDS leaders on race I often hear the more orthodox believers retort saying that we should be careful about criticizing the Lord’s anointed and we should accept the answers of “we just don’t know” and “we’ll find out so much in the afterlife,” suggesting that the LDS leaders should be treated infallibles even if they have made some mistakes, which of course is not our place to point out.

    On the other hand, when an ex-Mormon or non-Mormon criticizes the past LDS leaders on race, the orthodox believers meet this with the refrain of “give the leaders a break, they’re not perfect,” “they were products of their time,” and “you’re holding them to unreasonable standards,” suggesting that the leaders should be treated as fallibles and that the ex-Mormons are non-Mormons (usually the former) are overreacting and expecting that they the LDS leaders be perfect. It is doublethink on the part of the orthodox believers.

  65. Paul Ritchey says:

    Someone should answer RainKing’s last question. It is THE question: not about what to do when we discover historical prophetic failings, but what to do when we discover them happening right now. Tread carefully; here be dragons.

  66. Macey H. says:

    I agree with Mark L above, there is a lot of double think that members are doing to come to grips with the past. When you get to the point of realizing that the leaders are not doing the right things and the things they are doing (have done) go against your moral compass, then you just have to admit they might not be who they say they are. Then you go to your Bishop and tell him that you can no longer teach or hold a calling because you cannot support such things, that you believe that they have never been called by God to run this church, that they have screwed things up so massively and that you believe that in 20-30 years it will be their ‘revelations’ that are disavowed. And you tell him that your allegiance is to God and his Christ and not to men, well that pretty much did it for me. I am now the ‘current apostate’ in the ward, there have been many before me and there will be many after me.

  67. J. Stapley says:

    Macey and Paul, things don’t have to end that way. I’m happily in the church despite any fallibility in the church leaders, General or Local, and in myself.

  68. Lona Gynt: ” I believe the keys are in this church, even if it feels like they are in some arenas merely rattled at us rather than deployed to open up doors to the greater love and inclusiveness that Christ has held as our model.” What a great image!

    J.Stapely, Amy, LaJean, Thank you so much for your post and comments.

  69. Darryl Baker says:

    Sam Brunson, I did as you counseled and re-read the article and many of the subsequent comments. I continue to concur with the author’s assertion that “Speculating about the mind of God is complete folly.” I continue to find much folly in what I have read on this board.

  70. Darryl Baker, What folly have you found?

    The earliest records of Brigham Young that the church has includes Brigham Young talking to a Black man and saying “It has nothing to do with Blood” and “Color does not matter”. That was in 1847.

    By 1849 the church has records of Lorenzo Snow writing to Brigham young encouraging reaching out to Blacks. Brigham Young responds with his Cain/Abel thing. As the years move on the racism gets worse.

  71. Sorry that should read. The earliest records of Brigham Young on Blacks that the church has…

  72. randytayler says:

    I refuse to google the word “ecclesiology”.

  73. Rick Boedy says:

    I remain mystified that no one comments that under the scrutiny of any known Christian theology, writings, or acts of the early or post-reformation church the LDS stance on priesthood restriction or even the priesthood itself makes no doctrinal, historical or ecclesiastical sense…but then I believe Smith, Young and company were prophets as much as I believe in pre-Colombian Jewish submarines.

  74. J. Stapley, well-written post, and a well laid out argument. I find myself in agreement with your position.

    I have a question and maybe you can shed some light on it. (I have not read Edward Kimball’s work–perhaps some answers are found in his work.) Did societal forces on the church during the 1970’s helped persuade the other members of the twelve to join in ending the ban?

    I have heard BYU was under enormous pressure because of the church’s racist policies and that some schools were refusing to play BYU in sporting events. I have also heard the church’s policy was starting to attract federal government attention, which could have lead to negative consequences regarding federally funded programs from which BYU benefited (although I could not tell you which ones).

    I have not read any material which documents these kinds of rumors. Obviously, the implication here is that church policy (or revelation) is not immune to the tolerance limits of society or the government. Afterall, the church in the past has proved to be remarkably pragmatic when it comes to its own survival and promoting its best, long-term interests. If you look at this issue through a secular lens in that regard, you could say continuing to fight the race exclusion battle was just to costly, and there were certainly institutional benefits to ending it.

    Do you have any thoughts here?

  75. BigSky, as you suppose, Chapter 20 of Lengthen Your Stride (and parts of Chapter 21) was written to answer your question. Nobody will ever be comprehensive, I have heard rumors from other directions, and I suspect more is known now than in 2005 when it was published. The inscription on the chapter is “We realize we do not know all there is to be known about this problem.” But I recommend it to you as an intended reply almost exactly on point.

    (Obligatory disclaimer that I am a 1/7 copyright holder.)

  76. The BYU Studies article (referenced above) does a good job too, and it’s free. I refer to the book because it’s sitting at my shoulder. For all that, my first recommendation is the long version, the author’s version, which is included on a CD in the book.

  77. Richard P. says:

    For Charles and J. Stapley

    Revisiting the statement from Wilford Woodruff that we find in our Declaration 1 of the D&C:
    “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme.”

    Just curious if either of you had ever noticed the footnote #6 from Elder Christofferson’s April 2012 conference address “The Doctrine of Christ?” Maybe I’m not understanding the intent there, but it sure sounds like Elder Christofferson, by way of J. Reuben Clark, is opening up the possibility that one of the ways God won’t let his prophet lead the people astray is because of the push back (via the Holy Ghost) that the collective membership will provide if an error is eventually detected.

    This is ultimately how I am starting to view the ban and the removal of the ban. I think that President Kimball was initially inspired to wrestle with the more-than-a-century colossal error of the priesthood and temple ban in part because of the very resistance that was coming from solid members of the Church around the world who knew there was just no justification for it. I have wished over the years that President Kimball could have pulled the bandage off the wound all at once and also put together an apology. But after reading Edward Kimball’s overview of his father’s revelatory process and learning more about the feelings of several in the Q15, I would imagine that removing the ban and offering an institutional apology might have resulted in a lack of unanimity among the Brethren.

    Anyway, it’s an outstanding footnote that gives some amazing insight and probably missed by 99.9% of the membership. I’d welcome your thoughts.

  78. Eric Facer says:

    Macey H., I would like you to consider the following.

    The first apostles called by Christ were not dissimilar to the ones we have had in the latter-days. Their faith was weak at times, even to the point of abandoning the Savior during his darkest hour. They believed that women and children were second class citizens, a view shared by most others at that time, and felt that the gospel should only taught to the Israelites. Indeed, they despised people of other ethnicities. And they could be petty and jealous, arguing about who would be first in the life to come.

    But these were also men of great faith who eventually developed powerful testimonies. They gave up everything to follow Christ and spread his gospel. And their views about gentiles eventually changed, though it involved some heated disagreements among the leaders (e.g., Paul vs. Peter). Many, if legend is to be believed, lost their lives doing so. Most importantly, the Savior did not give up on them.

    It would be foolish to believe that the apostles of today are any better than their predecessors or to ignore the many fine qualities they possess and the much good they have done. It would also be foolish to quit on them since it appears that Christ does not seem inclined to do so.

  79. Larry/Garry/Jerry says:

    Thanks for the post and the discussion here.

    I wish I could understand how to fully participate in a church that teaches and practices exclusion of groups that our culture and society have at some point in time vilified and demeaned.

    The online conversations can be refreshing but most real life conversations about the actions of church leaders in this regard have serious negative consequences to the questioners, as many have pointed out on this thread.

    I’m sure there is a tipping point where the questioning church members (including their leaders) reach a critical mass and changes occur, but what to do in the meantime?

    The church today continues its practice of excluding minority groups from full membership. For some people, this presents a serious problem, while others seem to be able to happily serve in this church regardless.

    I think it is a matter of personal integrity not to support a church (financially or otherwise) that generally lags behind on critical social issues when it’s not actively protesting against them, but I understand that others feel less strongly about these issues. I really am struggling to figure out the balance, and seem to be having a much harder time than the loyal opposition writing here at BCC.

  80. Richard P.: I know your question wasn’t directed at me, but I’ve noticed it, and at one point I had a draft post for BCC on exactly that. I’ve long taken President Clark’s talk as a kind of lodestar, and I think Elder Christofferson sort of implicitly points out one interesting way to dovetail that with President Woodruff’s teaching. But regardless, even as far back as Joseph Smith, but especially with Brigham Young, the church was teaching idea of the witness of the holy ghost over time to the collective body of the church as a check on prophetic mistakes. The president of the church leads the church, but he doesn’t dictate to it.

  81. RainKing says:

    J. Stapley, your response to Macey and Paul, “things don’t have to end that way”, and your failure to articulate why that is the case, is an illustration of why the post seems incomplete to me.

    I believe this is the key question of our time: can we (or should we) trust our leaders, given the mistakes of the past (the priesthood ban), and the propensity they show in repeating those same mistakes (gay marriage ban, women and priesthood)?

    Yet it is so hard to engage with people on this issue, and I think it’s because the only viable answer in today’s church climate is to bow your head and say yes, with the resulting rationalizations that you decry in your post. Is there no other way? When the faithful refuse to engage or even acknowledge the question, the unfaithful (the apostates, the exmormons) are more than happy to step up. Taking inventory among my friends and family, I think its hard to say we aren’t losing this battle.

    You refer to the need for spiritual self reliance. Fair enough, as long as your compass aligns with SLC, but what does self reliance mean when your spiritual conscience is at odds with the pronouncements of the brethren regarding the baptism ban, and acting according to your conscience implies separation from the church and the blessings of the temple? This is spiritual self reliance in the most extreme sense. But I doubt that is what you have in mind.

    There must be a better answer, one that allows for true revelation to lift and rise, not press and crush. You seem to have found a way to be “happily in the church despite any fallibility in the church leaders, General or Local, and in myself.” Can you share more about how you’ve reached that place?

  82. J. Stapley says:

    JKC, right on. You should post on that.

    RainKing, I am a sincere believer in the Restoration. I really believe that church leaders “hold the keys” to govern the church and our liturgies. But I find a tremendous joy in lived Mormonism, and in that case, I am very lucky to have the ward I have. Not everyone has that sort of support. I’m constantly inspired to be better and filled with love by my coreligionists, particularly the ones that deal more personally with a lot of the issues you raise. I also find a lot of fulfillment in grappling with our history, and working through things. And church leaders have made mistakes since the beginning. The disagreements between, for example, Orson Pratt and Brigham Young were epic. My book deals with a lot of the issues you raise and contextualizes them. This is just a comment on a blog post, and these are complicated issues, but there are many examples of brilliant believers who make it work. I’m grateful for their examples.

  83. Kristine says:

    RainKing, I think you’ll find that the BCC archive is full of posts like the one you want to see from Stapley. It’s kind of our whole project.

  84. RainKing says:

    J. Stapley, thank you for your response. Your book appears to have just arrived at my university’s library, I will be sure to read it. I would love to arrive at a similar state of finding “fulfillment in grappling with our history.” Thanks again for the post and the commentary.

  85. RainKing: Stapely can answer for himself, as someone who like him, is happily in the church despite the obvious fact of fallen-ness in all people, including the saints and our leaders, I don’t understand why he needs to articulate what is a pretty obvious point. It doesn’t need to end that way because infallibility is not a necessary attribute of prophets. It never has been and it is not now. Why is that not articulate enough?

    You ask: “Can we (or should we) trust our leaders?” Trust them to what? Trust them to never get it wrong? No. We cannot trust them to never get it wrong. Trust them to do their best? Yes, I think we generally can. Can we trust God to exert his longsuffering grace on the church until we come to ourselves like the prodigal and repent of the wrongs of the past? Yes, I think we can.

    You ask: “what does self reliance mean when your spiritual conscience is at odds with the pronouncements of the brethren regarding the baptism ban.” I can imagine several responses. On one extreme: never question it, assume your conscience must be wrong and the brethren must be right. On the other extreme: never question your conscience, assume the brethren must be wrong. I think both extremes are a failure to really grapple with the problem. Other responses might include (1) concluding that the ban is wrong but in spite of that, not dismissing the brethren and the church altogether, staying, praying and hoping for the ban to end, and in the meantime trying to work to change bias and bigotry where we find it, (2) remaining agnostic on ban, but trying to work to change bias and bigotry where we find it, or even (3) concluding that the ban is right, but trying to work to change bias and bigotry where we find it.

    For me, I do not believe that the brethren are the final word on any question, nor do I believe that I am the final word. I believe that only God is the final word, and he can speak to us through church leaders, through scripture, and most importantly, through the holy ghost and conscience. I’ve always believed that where there is a truly irreconcilable conflict, conscience ultimately trumps authority, even priesthood authority. So I don’t begrudge somebody who decides that their conscience demands they leave the church. That’s not what my conscience is telling me to do, but we all have to do our best with what we’ve been given. I might disagree with them, but God is just and merciful and if they’re wrong, I trust he will lead them back eventually, and if I and the church are wrong, I trust that he will lead us back eventually.

  86. J. Stapley says:

    Kristine, perfectly on point. Thanks again, JKC.

  87. Kristine says:
  88. RainKing says:

    JKC: we are taught quite simply that, while prophets may not be infallible, they will never lead the church astray (familiar W. Woordruff quotation). Stated differently, the prophet is a prophet when he speaks as a prophet, and a man when he speaks as a man. The brethren’s language justifying the ban clearly signals that they were speaking as prophets, not as men. And I believe you would be hard pressed to argue that the ban did not lead the church astray. In some ways, we have never fully recovered.

    When I speak of trusting our leaders, I am not referring to trusting that they are doing their best. That’s giving them the benefit of the doubt. I am referring to trusting them when they say, in effect, “God as spoken to us and He has told us to _______.” When we find out later that _____ was a mistake, the question naturally arises: “you seemed so sure about ______ coming from God, but now dismiss it as an error. Are you sure you are really talking to God?

    When the brethren’s decisions regulate people’s access to eternal covenants, priesthood ordinances, and the power of the Holy Ghost, it seems we need to do a little more than just shrug and say, “I hope this isn’t one of the times they get it catastrophically wrong.”

    I’m glad the answers are obvious to you. Truly, I am. I wish they were to me, too. But I think you can make a greater attempt to understand why they aren’t.

  89. RainKing says:

    Kristine: thank you. I’ve got some homework to do!

  90. RainKing, I hope I didn’t make it sound like I thought the answers were obvious. The only point I think it obvious is that infallibility is not a thing for Mormon prophets. But my comment may have taken an unintended strident tone and for that I am truly sorry. It is certainly not obvious or easy.

    I agree with you that culturally, we sometimes act like prophets are infallible. But we’re wrong when we do. It isn’t true and it has never been true. I can understand why something like the Wilford Woodruff quote could give comfort to the church at a time when a lot of the church was worried that that was exactly what he was doing by abandoning polygamy, and maybe that he can’t “lead the church astray” only means that he can’t prevent God from ultimately redeeming the church from his mistakes. I don’t think it means that he can’t make serious mistakes. If it does, it’s wrong. We can argue about what “lead the church astray” really means, but I’d rather not make it an argument about semantics: put plainly, I believe that the mantle is real and that God does speak to us through his prophets, but I do not believe that a man being sustained as a prophet, seer or revelator means that he cannot be mistaken even in fundamental points, or that he cannot do great harm by acting on mistaken opinions.

    Re speaking as a prophet vs. speaking as a man, I disagree with the suggestion that it’s a question of language. A prophet can say “thus saith the Lord” and speak as a man. A prophet can say “it’s my opinion” and speak revelation. It’s a question of whether the holy ghost witnesses it to the membership of the church, which is, to some degree, an individual and subjective question. If we’re looking for a simple litmus test, we’re going to be disappointed.

    FWIW, the kind of trust you’re talking about seems to me to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of revelation. I just don’t think it’s possible to have that level of certainty in really anything other than perhaps the existence of God, the love of God, and the faithfulness of God. For me, personally, I don’t expect that level of certainty. And, respectfully, please don’t equate being comfortable with some level of uncertainty with a dismissive shrug.

    To add to Kristine’s list, this old post of mine came to mind.

  91. RainKing says:

    JKC: thank you for your thoughtful response, and the link. I’ve got a lot of reading and thinking to do, and I appreciate your willingness to engage. This has been a fruitful discussion for me.

  92. Paul Ritchey says:

    Certainty about the existence of God? Where can I obtain this?

    That is to say, for my part, one must limit reason in order to make room for faith. I’m comfortable doing that regarding the existence of God, but for some reason, it’s harder doing it for human authorities.

    Come to think of it, maybe they are similar: I’ve not always conceived of God’s attributes in the same way. In that sense, the proposition in which I had a sincere belief (e.g., that God does not experience time) was mistaken. But that doesn’t mean that my entire belief was mistaken – only a part of it. In the same way, one’s faith in prophets may turn out to be based, in part, on untrue propositions. When that’s discovered, it is best not to abandon all belief, but to modify belief as required. After all, if one of my friends spoke truth directly from God even occasionally, I wouldn’t get rid of him just because he was wrong most of the time. But I would change the assumptions I make about what he says.

  93. While I remain, as Stapley does, happily in the church despite concerns, RainKing’s question is an important one to think about. Fortunately, I was exposed to the writings of Eugene England early in my adult life. This statement from his classic essay Why the Church is as True as the Gospel seems relevant:

    I believe that any good church is a school of love and that the LDS church, for most people, perhaps all, is the best one, the “only true and living Church” (D&C 1:30)—not just because its doctrines teach and embody some of the great and central paradoxes but, more im­portant, because the Church provides the best context for struggling with, working through, enduring, and being re­deemed by those paradoxes and oppositions that give energy and meaning to the universe.

    That essay has resonated with me throughout my adult life. It has sustained me when I questioned things I was hearing at church, or from my leaders. It also allows me to clearly and sincerely state that I sustain the leaders of the church, even when my own conscience and personal revelation have put me at odds with them. It doesn’t happen often, but often enough that I have understood how struggling through these paradoxes have strengthened my desire to serve and minister to my fellow saints, who are struggling as well, just perhaps not always in the same manner or over the same issues that I struggle.

    This is an important post, better articulated than anything I could write, and the responses have shown just how important it is that we struggle with the issues of infallibility and sustaining our leaders. Thank you to all who have contributed to the discussion, or have raised questions. I am reminded of the response that Moses gave to Joshua, when he questioned the teaching and prophesying of two of the 70 elders that were called to help in the spiritual guidance of the children of Israel while wandering in the wilderness. He said simply, “…would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them. (Numbers 11:29)

  94. Anon this time says:

    Thanks everyone for the great discussion here. I taught a lesson on this topic in my Sunday School class and the attendees seemed to take it well, but I later heard from the bishop that he had received a couple of complaints. I reviewed my lesson notes and about the only point I made that is not directly supported by church materials (including the 2013 essay on Race and the Priesthood) is that I said flat-out that prophets can make mistakes, and that I believed the priesthood ban was one of them.

    Similar to what Kevinf said above: I can sustain my leaders because I don’t question the source of their authority. That is, I don’t think anyone but President Nelson has the authority to be the President of the church right now, and any actions or words of his necessarily carry the authority of his office and calling. Ditto with the other leaders. I may not agree with some things they say or teach, but I won’t say that they’re not authorized to speak as church leaders called of God. I think it’s folly to expect perfection but it’s nigh impossible to agree on what “lead the church astray” means (like JKC noted). I’m ok with all of this–it’s a journey that we’re all on. Some people parse that statement of Pres. Woodruff to imply that the president of the church does 100% of everything by pure inspiration, and that I can’t accept. Seems I’m destined to butt heads with those types of individuals.

  95. Rexicorn says:

    I have no issue with fallible leaders. My issue is that in most other situations where we have a fallible leader who’s expected to simply do their best to do what’s right, there’s some kind of check available when they get it wrong. What check is there on a prophet’s power? What about an entire quorum? Can they be unanimously wrong, and if they are, what recourse is there?

    The only quote we have on the subject, that I know of, is Wilford Woodruff’s “the Lord would remove me out of my place.” But does that mean we’re supposed to rely on the Lord to do that directly in some way, via divine smiting? Or, like all other work the Lord seems to accomplish among humanity, is it something we’re supposed to do for him? And if so, how?

    This is the problem with a strict top-down hierarchy. It’s functionally infallible even if it isn’t in theory, because the average member can only choose whether to participate in it or not. Sure, you can hang around and hope that some ground-level ideas float their way up, but there’s really not a mechanism for doing that in a timely way. And in the meantime, you tacitly affirm the status quo by continuing to perpetuate it (and when you follow policies you disagree with, you perpetuate them even if you do it grudgingly IMO).

  96. Macey H. says:

    Rexicorn has hit the nail on the head when he says this, “Sure, you can hang around and hope that some ground-level ideas float their way up, but there’s really not a mechanism for doing that in a timely way. And in the meantime, you tacitly affirm the status quo by continuing to perpetuate it (and when you follow policies you disagree with, you perpetuate them even if you do it grudgingly IMO)”. Would that not make you a hypocrite?? I think so. I am not a murderer, not a sex offender, and not a bank robber. I have been a RS president and a young women president (3 times). I have paid thousands of dollars in tithing over the years yet the church doesn’t want me because I openly question the leadership. That is the new meaning of apostasy today in the LDS church. Leadership says, “Its my way or the highway.” A lot of us have taken the ‘highway’.

  97. Rexicorn says:

    Thanks, Macey. I think most people are fine with members disagreeing with ideas, even doctrines or teachings. But when it comes to practices, you pretty much have to either do it or not do it. If, say, I think it’s wrong to exclude same-sex marriages from the church, then my options are 1) Continue to follow exclusionary policies, 2) Begin affirming same-sex marriage in my congregation, or 3) Find a church that does affirm same-sex marriage. For a same-sex couple, option 1 will have the same outcome whether I do it happily or unhappily.

    The same with the priesthood ban. I’m sure many members hoped and prayed for it to change. But in the meantime, if they followed the practices set forth from the First Presidency, they enacted the ban. They were part of it.

    If there’s another way to look at this, then I’d love to hear it, genuinely. Is there some action that a member can take to help effect change? Is there a check on general authority that I’m missing?

  98. Kristine says:

    Since I’m already being that guy that trots out stuff from the archive… Rexicorn, I think you’re right that there aren’t any true checks, at least not mortal ones:

  99. Rexicorn says:

    Thanks, Kristine! Do you guys tag old posts or anything to make them more searchable or do you find Google usually does it? I just discovered BCC recently but there’s a ton of thoughtful stuff I’d love to look at.

  100. Loursat says:

    “But in the meantime, if they followed the practices set forth from the First Presidency, they enacted the ban. They were part of it.”

    I think that’s right. That’s why there has to be some kind of collective repentance or reconciliation for us to move forward after the ban. But that doesn’t mean that it was necessarily the right choice for members of the church who opposed the ban to walk away from the church. To some extent, being part of a church always means that we have to compromise; there will always be things we disagree about. The problem for each member is how to do the most good.

    I know a man who was abruptly released from his calling when he criticized the church’s position on California’s Proposition 8 ten years ago. Yet for years before that, he had generously and openly ministered to LGBT people both within and outside the church. He has continued that ministry. He is a member of the church in good standing today. I don’t know whether his example will make any difference at all in the church’s teachings on LGBT issues, but that’s probably the least interesting thing about his work. He has helped a lot of people he never could have reached if he had left the church.

    That’s not to say that everyone should necessarily stay in the church, either. Do what you are convinced will help you do the most good. I believe, though, that in these matters it’s usually a mistake to make decisions based primarily on abstract ideological or doctrinal commitments. People usually make the best decisions when they are motivated by finding ways to help the real people they can see and touch.

    And thanks, Kristine for linking to your old post in the comment at 4:32. That’s such a beautiful essay.

  101. J. Stapley says:

    I’d also check out Matthew Bowman’s “Toward a Theology of Dissent” in Dialogue. I think that it is available for free.

  102. Rexicorn: “my options are 1) Continue to follow exclusionary policies, 2) Begin affirming same-sex marriage in my congregation, or 3) Find a church that does affirm same-sex marriage.”
    I don’t know Rexicorn’s circumstances, but some have other options, at least because they are not in callings, or can decline callings, that would put them in a position where they have anything to do with administering exclusionary policies. As to the disciplinary council part of the November 2015 policy, some local leaders have indicated they will decline or fail to implement it. Some scheduled participants in such councils may abstain from acting in such councils. Some are in congregations where it could do no good to broadcast approval of same-sex marriage in that context. (What does “affirming same-sex marriage in my congregation” mean anyway?) Some of those can make it clear enough to their bishops what their position is without it affecting their standing or callings, others cannot. I can do that and still “sustain” the leaders of the Church in their callings, as I understand the word “sustain”. I don’t really need to care much how someone else understands it.

    Loursat has it right: “The problem for each member is how to do the most good.” That decision may will be different for different people and circumstances. Among other things it is important to remember that the Church is NOT the same everywhere. Much depends upon local leadership and the social structure and dominant attitudes of a particular ward or stake. Sometimes one of the options is to move to another location/ward/stake, but not everyone is in a position to be able to do so. As important as I think it is for me to find where I can do the most good, it seems equally important for me not to judge negatively the choices of those who find different ways and different places in which they can do the most good. I would not wish to see one person’s list of options be used to suggest that others have only those same options.

    At the same time, I’m not sure what Loursat means by “collective guilt” (or “collective repentance”), though I think I grasp “institutional guilt” which still needs to be dealt with.

  103. Loursat says:

    Yeah, “collective guilt” and “collective repentance” are not really Mormon concepts, or at least they aren’t concepts with strong Mormon precedents. What I mean is that I think the best way forward for the church is for all of us to accept some responsibility for the church’s mistakes. It’s not healthy to blame our mistakes on several dead people or on a faceless institution. Let’s mourn together. Let’s celebrate together. I think the proper function of an apology would be to guide the church collectively to recognize our mistake, to feel sorrow for its consequences, and to move forward in love and the determination to do better.

  104. Richard P. raised an interesting thought about Elder Christofferson’s use of J. Reuben Clark, Jr.’s 1954 address to seminary and institute teachers including the “idea of the witness of the holy ghost over time to the collective body of the church as a check on prophetic mistakes” as JKC called it. That address was titled, “When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture.” It includes additional concepts relevant to the trust issues otherwise raised in this discussion. The circumstances surrounding that address also suggest concepts about unanimity among the Q15, at least historically, that, for some, might go to the question what kind of trust is justified in those we sustain as “prophets, seers, and revelators”. 1954 was also the year of publication of Joseph Fielding Smith’s “Man: His Origin and Destiny.” It was also the year of the death of the last (John Widtsoe) of the three primary opponents of JFS’ ideas expressed in that book (James Talmadge and B.H. Roberts. For a summary, see Chapter 6 (Richard Sherlock and Jeffrey E. Keller) of “The Search for Harmony”, ed. Gene A. Sessions and Craig J. Oberg, Signature books, much of it available on Signature’s website or elsewhere on the net. The dispute within the quorum was not limited to Talmadge, Smith, and Widtsoe. See also William Lee Stokes, “An Official Position,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 no. 3 (Winter 1979), 90–92, including a copy of David O. McKay’s 1957 letter stating: “On the subject of organic evolution the Church has officially taken no position. The book “Man, His Origin and Destiny” was not published by the Church, and is not approved by the Church. The book contains expressions of the author’s views for which he alone is responsible.” But see a very different attitude in Ezra Taft Benson’s BYU devotional of March 28, 1976, noting Mark E. Petersen’s foreword to JFS’ book asserting that “Some of us [members of the Council of the Twelve] urged [Elder Joseph Fielding Smith] to write a book on the creation of the world and the origin of man…. It will fill a great need in the Church…” Elder Benson concluded stated: “It is also apparent to all who have the Spirit of God in them that Joseph Fielding Smith’s writings will stand the test of time.” Perhaps such talk was part of the impetus for Stokes publishing the McKay letter in 1979. (Whether or not I should have been, I remember being appalled ca. 1980-81 to find JFS’ book quoted in the Melchizedek priesthood manual.) I doubt Elder Benson meant to deny that President McKay had the Spirit of God.

    Sometimes I wish the Brethren were more careful with their rhetoric; it can lead people astray — in at least one meaning of that word. But such rhetoric and the existence of mistakes doesn’t preclude the kind of trust JKC described (and I’m not always careful enough with mine). Incidentally, the idea of the collective body of the church being a check on prophetic mistakes may be a two-edged sword. As in the case of Israel in Moses’ time, perhaps God would allow the Church to do things not because they are right, but because their hearts were so hard that they could not abide the law of God. (See Stephen Marsh’s summary on the ”higher law” over at Wheat and Tares.) That could have some explanatory value relative to the ban. Others might find in it some explanatory value as to changes they do not like, such as, in some 1978 cases, the end of the ban. What remains key is the Holy Ghost, rather than how many fallible church leaders or members think they know what must be the case for “all who have the Spirit of God in them.”

  105. JR, what I’m getting at is that participation is a choice, and it’s worth questioning when that crosses the line into complicity. When you try to parse out where you can do the most good (as Loursat said), that should be part of the equation.

    As for collective guilt: under the priesthood/temple ban, everyone who could have ordained a black person to the priesthood or approved them for temple worship, but chose not to because they knew it was against the policies of the church, enacted that policy. They were complicit in it. So if the policy was wrong, then the members made the wrong decision by following it. That’s a big part of why fallible leadership is so troubling — it raises the question of when/if it’s appropriate to disobey. Because if there are no checks on a Q15 decision, then membership is kind of in an opt-in/opt-out situation.

    (By the way, when I say “affirm same-sex marriages,” I mean treating same-sex marriages with the same institutional legitimacy as opposite-sex marriages. For example, “LGBT-affirming” denominations usually ordain openly LGBT clergy and perform same-sex marriages in their churches.)

  106. Rexicorn says:

    Oops, wrong username. I’ve been switching all my forum stuff over to Rexicorn and missed it in this browser. But anyway, omjs is me.

    But I did want to add that I find the justification that someone isn’t *personally* in the position of administering a practice with which they disagree, to be a bit suspect. I understand it’s a complicated issue, but you can show implicit support for something without being the one laying on the hands, so to speak.

  107. Are omjs and Rexicorn the same person?

    omjs, Yes, complicity is part of the equation, but the “line”, if there is one, may not be the same for everyone.

    I think you didn’t mean “enacted” as I understand the word. In any event, as I understand it, there are not a lot of people who could have ordained a black person to the priesthood or approved them for temple worship and chose not to because they knew it was against the policy of the church. There is and was prior to 1978 no authority to ordain without the approval of the bishop (Aaronic priesthood) or stake president (Melchizedek priesthood) and no one but bishops and stake presidents could have approved or disapproved black persons for temple attendance. Bishops and stake presidents had no authority for quite some years prior to 1978 to ordain black persons or approve their temple attendance. Few (in the U.S. anyway — Brazil is another matter) would have had the opportunity to exceed their authority. That argument for making “members” complicit doesn’t work for me. There are other ways, however, in which some members (many?, but not all) may have been complicit through their defense of and commitment to the ban.

    the absence of an effective check on Q15 decisions does not necessarily leave all members in an opt-in/opt-out situation. There is nothing that universally requires that opt-in means acceptance of everything that comes from the Q15, though some local leaders may choose to think so.

    BTW, if by “affirm same-sex marriage” you are referring to one of Rexicorn’s options, your explanation of what you mean by it – institutional acceptance — takes it completely out of any list of options available to Rexicorn or to any other individual member.

    Yes, there is a serious question when it is appropriate to disobey. I don’t think it is possible to find a simple answer to that question that would apply to everyone.

  108. Using the Book of Mormon account of Alma leaving king Noah’s regime and starting a church and how God dealt with them provides the answer for me about the priesthood ban. Alma and the church members followed God and had a very difficult experience. It would be easy to write a list of things like Stapley has in this OE about their experience.

    Alma was their prophet, yet he led them into a terrible situation. They choose to believe God and were delivered. See Mosiah chapter 23 and 24.

    A few verses for those who are too busy. These verses explain what was going on:

    20 And it came to pass that they did multiply and prosper exceedingly in the land of Helam; and they built a city, which they called the city of Helam.
    21 Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.
    22 Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.
    23 For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob.

    (Book of Mormon | Mosiah 23:20 – 23)

  109. Loursat says:

    I need to try to be clearer about what I mean. I think that mistakes are unavoidable not only for individuals but also for institutions. The priesthood ban is a mistake that we’ve had an especially hard time resolving. I sense strongly that we need to acknowledge explicitly that it was wrong and why it was wrong, and we also need to feel that it was wrong before we get past it. That process seems a lot like repentance. I’m not interested in prosecuting or condemning anyone. I’m interested in seeing the church have a redemptive experience. I know that this whole concept is a minefield of potential controversies, but I believe that inspired leaders can guide us through.

    Fallible leadership is the only kind of leadership there is anywhere. What distinguishes the church is that its leaders are inspired, not infallible. One of the reasons I stay in the church is that I believe its leaders have a divine mandate. While I believe that their mistakes do not vitiate their calling, I concede that this is a judgment that is never final. Every day that we live, we have to deal with new problems and hard judgments and people’s best efforts that inevitably fall short. That’s not a shortcoming of the church. It’s actually one of the church’s central features. If the church were more democratic it might be better, but democratic participation is not the central metaphor for membership in the church. As disciples, we love and we submit. In the body of Christ, we suffer together, and if we become pure it’s not because our leaders are perfect. We become pure by binding each other’s wounds and helping each other repent. We submit because that is what Jesus did. There is no other way to be present for each other as Jesus is present for us.

  110. Rexicorn says:

    Sorry, JR, yes, omjs and Rexicorn are the same person. My browser filled in the other username erroneously.

    Are there actually any scriptural examples of people being rewarded when they follow a church that’s strayed from God’s will? In every example I can think of, the people are either chastened as a whole, or a new prophet emerges who creates a new offshoot.

    The argument I’m trying to make, which maybe isn’t clear, is that when you have fallible leadership then unfailing obedience is irresponsible. Even in the military, we’ve accepted that “just following orders” isn’t a legal defense. So if you accept that the prophet can give you direction contrary to God’s will, then if that happens and you feel you *do* know God’s will, then wouldn’t you have a responsibility to disobey the prophet?

    I assume this is why church members tend to resist the idea that prophets can be so fallible as to give wrong direction…most stop at “he probably loses his temper sometimes” or other more personal failures that wouldn’t extend to the whole church.

  111. Yes Loursat, sounds like truth, sounds like reconciliation. We should, perhaps have a truth and reconciliation commission, instead of this huge glaring sin of omission.

  112. It’s worth pointing out that President Woodruff’s statement that “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray….” is not part of the LDS canon. while it is printed in the D/C, it is merely commentary. Unlike OD1, it was not presented for a vote to the church body. It can be removed quietly just like other commentary about “principle ancestors” has been removed.

    Personally, I disagree strongly with the quote. God works the same today as yesterday. He allowed prophets to lead people away in times past. Today is no different. That said, Woodruff’s teaching is a powerful tool for retaining conservative members in the body when the church makes a momentous change they disagree with. Ending polygamy was Woodruff’s task. The tool will also prove valuable should the church ever ordain women or seal gay couples.

  113. Rexicorn: “when you have fallible leadership then unfailing obedience is irresponsible” — yes, if you mean “not responsible” and do not mean to generalize with one of the other definitions of “irresponsible” — “not caring about what might result from actions taken”, or if you reduce “is” to “can be.” There are children and some adults in my ward incapable of taking such responsibility, and I don’t mean those adults who seem to have willfully blinded themselves to the issues
    “So if you accept that the prophet can give you direction contrary to God’s will, then if that happens and you feel you *do* know God’s will, then wouldn’t you have a responsibility to disobey the prophet?” This is closer to identifying the issue, but no, it would depend on a number of things, including, but not necessarily limited to: (a) the capacities of the person (see above), (b) the nature of the direction (one earring per ear/music only from the hymnal in sacrament meeting, participation in the Proposition 8 campaign, or, e.g., participation in the Mountain Meadows Massacre — or something else between the extremes of moral irrelevance and utter wickedness) (c) the level of confidence in knowing God’s will (“feel you *do* know” seems rather weak to me; my level of confidence varies wildly by time, subject matter, and event), (d) one’s track record as to correctly or incorrectly perceiving God’s will, (e) the prophet’s perceived track record as to correctly or incorrectly perceiving God’s will or clearly and accurately expressing it (no-such-thing-as-God’s-unconditional-love-so-don’t-use-that-phrase seems rather weak to me on both counts), (f) one’s track record of understanding or misconstruing direction (mine is mixed), (g) whether there are good reasons to participate , e.g., in the Proposition 8 campaign, by donation, even if convinced that both the campaign and its methods were misguided as to one or more of law, church interests, individuals affected, and perhaps morality (This was part of some persons’ analysis.), (h) whether God tells you “I don’t like it, but do it anyway for other reasons”, (i) one’s other responsibilities that could be negatively affected by obedience or disobedience.
    It just ain’t that simple — or maybe I just don’t like simple generalizations.

  114. Thank you Lona. Of all the posts here, it was yours that touched my soul.
    As someone who has personally experienced mistakes from church leaders impacting my eternal decisions, I have come to believe several things. Our relationship with God is a two way relationship. Our actions can influence Him and what He is willing to do. Perhaps with regard to the priesthood restriction, God was waiting for us, the members, to grow up and become ready for additional light and knowledge. I know this placed Black members and non-mormons into positions of terrible pain. I think it was the recognition of this pain that caused the change in the thinking of the members. So I will be forever grateful to them for the suffering they showed me and the courage of the members of the Civil rights community. You changed the narrative. I was forced into empathy by your actions, something that is not easy for me.
    Second, the Restoration is an ongoing process. It is not complete. As we learned from Wilford Woodruff changing the way we seal children to parents instead of Church leaders, God will allow even big mistakes in doctrine and practice to go on for decades before He corrects them.
    Apologies help to heal. The Church dragging its feet on the need for apologies serves no one. False justifications and thinking continue. Truth continues to be warped and diluted by these false ideas. The Church needs to be more explicit in correcting error.
    Members should look around them and learn from the best thinking of outsiders. God is not just speaking to Mormons. The reality of the suffering of those excluded from our worldview needs to be considered.
    But mainly, God’s ways truly differ from ours. We have to blindly trust while in the darkness and forgive those who accidently harm us while they stumble in their darkness. I am reminded of a life after death account I read written by a Jewish woman. For her God allowing the Holocaust was a huge stumbling block to her faith. She said during the time she spent in the spirit she was shown the meaning behind it and was satisfied. When she returned to her body the knowledge was removed and all she could remember was that she had understood and accepted once she had the full picture. And she needed to go forward with that.

  115. Anon this time says:

    Loursat: Well stated. Unfortunately there are many members who will never admit to our church leadership ever making a mistake of any kind. Leaders may publicly confess humility and humanity, but aside from President Uchtdorf’s recent talk I don’t know that there’s ever been anything like an admission that actual mistakes can be and have been made by leaders.

    As another example, my understanding of the scholarship consensus about the Zion’s Camp expedition is that it was a disastrous failure. The church manual says something like, “Zion’s Camp was not completely successful, but the men who chose to obediently follow Joseph Smith learned the value of total faith and obedience and were later called to be leaders of the church.” I’m not sure that this is an uplifting or valuable lesson, but it’s similar to some of the rhetoric around the priesthood ban.

  116. My father had a missionary companion (and a good one by his memory) who (after his mission) ordained a black man to the priesthood in about 1970. He (the missionary companion who did the ordaining) was excommunicated.

  117. Great thoughts, Jonathan. And Daniel, Stapley is right. The best place to read about what President Kimball had to do to get his counselors and the Apostles to the point that they could even consider a revelation is the Ed Kimball article in BYU Studies. I’m responsible for that article. I was reading the long version (not a draft version, by the way; it was the version Ed wanted printed, but it was too long, so BYU Studies edited it and put it on a CD tucked into the back of the Deseret Book volume) of Lengthen Your Stride and came upon the four chapters that discuss this topic. I knew most people would not bother to read the long version of the book on CD and that this account would be pretty much lost unless we did something about it. So I worked with Ed to mold those four chapters into the long article “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood” that appeared in BYU Studies, volume 47, no. 2 (2008). It is the best account we’ll ever have of the process that preceded the revelation. It’s available for download at I’ve always felt this was the most important article I’ve ever worked on. Well worth your time to read it.

  118. rkt: Can you help me with something? It sounds like you know a lot about the President Kimball revelation. I thought that I recalled that President Kimball, referring to the revelation, said that the revelation came about partly because of all the prayers that members were saying that were in favor of the change. I have wanted to find (and use) that quote. But I can’t find it. Do you (or anyone reading this) know if he ever said such a thing? Thanks.

  119. wreddyornot says:

    sch: regarding: “…ordained a black man to the priesthood in about 1970….” see the posting by Mark Barnes at https// The man’s name was Byron Marchant.

  120. When I was a missionary in the late 70’s in areas of California where the population was predominately black, the Church provided me with talking points to address the recently-lifted priesthood and temple ban. Also, transcripts of Alvin R. Dyer’s talk “For What Purpose” were discreetly circulated through the mission with the understanding that this was the “meat” which missionaries needed to understand but should not openly talk about. But at some point my own sensibilities compelled me put aside all this information and simply conclude that the ban was shameful and uninspired from its inception. This, and polygamy, will likely be stains upon the Church that will never be overcome.

  121. What a fabulous article, and the subsequent posts equally as fabulous. Obviously, so many of us are struggling with the same things. That darned intellectual brain. I was moved by the way RAINKING articulated my fear, I hadn’t even seen it that clearly. It has to do with that wondrous polite term, infallibility. So let’s say we agree our leaders are infallible. If we are blunt, that means “they can and will make mistakes.” So, they got it wrong on this above issue, finally corrected–thank heaven. Now here’s what happens to me—-whenever I am upset or bothered or disagree with something they have said or done (oh, so many examples!) I have to go “hmmm, is this case of infallibility? must be! they will correct! hurry up this time! etc, etc. My life as a Mormon and trusting & following the leaders is now a giant guessing game and I have no defense when the exes are bearing down on me. They, of course–are not using polite terms like “infallibility.” I don’t wanna guess and doubt and wonder if they have made another mistake. Exhausting. Challenging. Painful, etc. This is a serious problem, friends. There is a part of me that really wants to resist this infallibility biz cause it just opens a whole can of worms. Maybe I want all or nuthin. Insights anyone??

  122. thinkermama, I think you have got “infallibilty” and “fallibility” backwards, but I also think I understand what you mean. Yes, learning to live with uncertainty and ambiguity or seeking and finding one’s own resolutions or inspiration can be difficult, challenging, even painful. Maybe that’s how we’re meant to grow into adults rather than merely children of God. No, you don’t have to think it “must be” a case of fallibility whenever you are upset or bothered or disagreed with church authorities. You can question your own reactions and explore further. You can seek your own inspiration (which may or may not be the same as what you understood from church authorities). In any case, maybe we’re supposed to be “trusting & following” Christ and not relying on the “arm of flesh.” Maybe that’s too much work and you’d rather have all or nuthin. there seem to be a lot who do prefer that.

  123. JR, i did reverse the terms! thank you for the correction, and your helpful comments. Answers of my own just not always crystal clear–especially when “against” the prophet or apostles.

  124. Rexicorn says:

    We’re often told to study and pray for our own answers, but nobody ever says what to do if the answer you get isn’t in line with what the prophets say. I guess it’s just assumed that that would never happen?

  125. Ryan Mullen says:

    Thanks for this post, J. I just re-read the BYU Studies article and saw it in a completely different light. I had previously seen SWK’s time fasting, in the temple, and talking with other church leaders entirely as efforts to figure out what God wanted him (SWK) to do. This time through the paper, I see that SWK got that answer in March and spent the next two months talking it through with the Q12, as a group and individually, and sincerely doing what they would see as the work involved in receiving a revelation. Thanks again for your posts on this topic. You have shaped how I interpret this events leading up to the 40th anniversary.

  126. wreddyornot: In fact the excommunicated Mormon was Douglas Wallace: From the SLC Tribune: “In April 1976, Wallace ordained Larry Lester, a black man, to the Mormon priesthood. Wallace hoped that it would ‘force the issue’ of black priesthood denial before the Mormon General Conference meeting in Salt Lake City the following week. At the conference Wallace tried to confront Mormon President Spencer W. Kimball with his complaints. However, Wallace and his two companions were swiftly ejected from the Tabernacle. A few days later, Wallace was excommunicated from the church for “open and deliberate disobedience of the rules and regulations of the church in violation of the outlines of the church.”

    As for the ordination of Larry Lester, it was declared null and void by church officials in Salt Lake City.

    My father had served as a companion to Douglas Wallace on his mission and liked him a lot. My dad worked for the church. At Wallace’s “church court” as they were then called Brother Wallace cited my father as someone who was sympathetic to him. My dad was indeed his friend. My dad soon found himself in an interview with his Stake President, and with his boss at the Church Office Building. My dad said that he liked Brother Wallace, but gave his opinion that Brother Wallace had “gone off the deep end.”
    In my opinion, just another case of man thought to be crazy, but who was instead ahead of his time.

  127. Rexicorn, If you get any answer at all, maybe you can get one to the question what to do with one that isn’t in line with what the prophets say. Many assume getting an answer not in line with what the prophets say would never happen. Nephi didn’t and a number of LDS folks also don’t. Many assume that getting an answer not in line with what the prophets say means you’re listening to the wrong source. I don’t. As I tried to point out above, what to do if you get such an answer is a complex, individual matter. Maybe you don’t need somebody to tell you any simple generalization about deciding what to do. Dallin Oaks acknowledged that their are exceptions to rules and suggested that’s between you and the Lord and not between you and GAs if you think you are one. Maybe that was telling you what to do. Truman Madsen once told some of us as to accepting someone else’s testimony or the truth of your own experience, “In the end ya makes yer choice an’ takes yer chances.” I doubt that would be inspirational if you heard it from the pulpit. I’d rather adopt the model of trust that JKC outlined in an earlier comment; it could be preached from the pulpit and things like it have been.

  128. Gosh, I’m tired of autocorrect!

  129. wreddyornot says:

    sch: Thanks; you’re of course right about Douglas. I guess they were both ex’d. Byron just criticized the policy and hadn’t sustained authorities in conference, while Douglas actually did an ordination.

  130. “nobody ever says what to do if the answer you get isn’t in line with what the prophets say.”

    I hear this. I don’t mean to make light of it. I know it’s a real question. But it puzzles me, frankly.
    I recognize lots of ways to be deceived. Self deception, confirmation bias, wishful thinking, indigestion. I also recognize lots of ways to know, including all the senses of mind and body. I test it out, which might include counsel with good people, saying it out loud to see whether I sound sane, mulling it over, letting it blossom a little. And/but/when satisfied that it’s real, I go with it. Seriously, how could I do otherwise? It’s my journey, after all.

    I also remind myself that the question is in a sense upside down. That a church’s job is not about me in the first place, but about community, about building Zion. “What the prophets say” can and should be very powerful about community. This goes, that does not, in this community. But not so much about individual answers. The Church can sometimes be useful for me to validate and test. There are smart, caring, spiritually adept people over there. But never enough by itself. Individual direction is just not its job.

  131. J Stapley-
    I hope you allow for other ideas on this aspect of church history. I agree that Brigham Young and other prophets appear to have got it wrong on the ban. We believe prophets are fallible, yet we believe God is the head of the church. So, how does one reconcile these two thoughts: the prophets made a serious error with the priesthood ban and God is the head of the church?

    We have been given scripture to help us deal with paradoxes like this.

    The Book of Mormon provides examples where prophets did the best they could but ended up creating misery for themselves and the followers of Christ who looked to them for guidance. One example is Alma leaving king Noah and establishing the city of Helam. Initially, they prospered. But before long they were brought into hard bondage by the Lamanites and former priest of king Noah.

    Mormon provided us with this account for a reason. He even tells us why these kind of paradoxes come about so we could deal with similar issues in our day. Mormon said: “the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.”

    I believe this bit of history from the Book of Mormon can be applied to the ban. It explains how prophets can make serious errors and yet God is still at the head of his church?

  132. I would like to add something to what I said above.

    I wonder how I would have felt about Alma after following him as a prophet into hard bondage? It appears that all of those who followed Alma were faithful under some extraordinary circumstance, which eventually brought about there deliverance, and possibility the gift of eternal life.

  133. JK, maybe I’m misunderstanding what you are saying, but it seems like your arguments is that God allowed BY and other prophets to perpetrate the priesthood/temple ban as a way to ‘try their patience and faith.’ But who is ‘they’ in that sentence? Black members? White members? Who are you saying truly suffered here? And why would God want to separate out different races for suffering rather than unite them?

  134. From ReTx: ‘But who is ‘they’ in that sentence?” I think the concept from the Bood of Mormon that JK is addressing about God trying our patience and our faith can be writ large or can be writ small. I am thinking of it in this context now as writ large, I believe it applies to all of humanity. When we chose to come here as part of God’s plan, I think the it was to learn, among other things, patience and faith. But I think the primary thing we were to learn, the pinnacle characteristic of God that we were to try to learn to emulate through patience and faith is love/charity/the pure love of Christ. God allows us to mess up in this arena in all sorts of ugly ways. He allows individuals, nations, and yes churches, even “his true and living church” as I see it to get this wrong. Why does he allow people like BY and other prophets to get this wrong in all sorts of ways? Because if he did not allow it, then he would be forcing us, he cannot force us to learn love – because love, by definition, has to be chosen freely, otherwise it would just be programming and not love. I believe the keys are in this Church and with the Q15, I believe that through personal experience that is ineffable, but I do not believe in infallibility. I believe the kingdom of God that we have been allowed to participate in in as the church will come more closely in line with God’s ultimate purpose as we come to reflect His love to all of his children in every way possible. The removal of the racial and temple ban on priesthood was a step in that direction, not surprisingly, we have a long long long long long long long long way to go. An actual apology for the ban would be another step in the right direction, and I could name several other steps and I know I have many steps to take in that direction personally, most of which may be entirely opaque to me. In the meantime, I try to continue in patience and faith as best I can, this requires sometimes a measured Kierkegaardian teleological suspension of the ethical that is exacted at a high price that leaves me sometimes fearful and trembling in my circumstance. Oh Christ help us, help us to be free – the good news is that he will do that, he just won’t force us.

  135. ReTx-

    “They”, includes everyone. The trials that emerged from the ban fulfilled the words left to us by Mormon, “the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.”

    The Book of Mormon’s message about race is that it does divide, but the division can be remedied (Helaman 5) when humankind repent and follow Christ.

    The war in heaven continues in mortality and in the Spirit world. The great day of judgment lies ahead.

  136. JK – Alma didn’t lead his people into bondage. Someone else caused it, not the Prophet. Could even be the people didn’t listen to the Prophet and ended up in bondage (the text doesn’t say). You don’t have a connection between Alma and Brigham Young.

    Also, the ban didn’t hurt everyone. The pain of those who were accepted (if any at all) was nothing compared to the pain of those who were rejected. The entire Church was not “chastened”, nor was their faith and patience tried.

  137. Frank-Who was the prophet leader of this church group–Alma. He led them into a situation where they were brought into hard bondage. Heavenly Father could of warned Alma, but He didn’t. Heavenly Father had other plans for them.

    Alma did the best he could, but he is fallible. The message Mormon provides in this history is that God doesn’t always intervene in the affairs of his prophets. That is why they are fallible, like the rest of us. But as Mormon points out, because they were faithful in their afflictions they were delivered out of bondage and became witnesses that God visits his people in their afflictions, but they must be worthy by enduring faithfully.

    The Book of Mormon provides other examples for those who use it, to teach that prophets can bring pain and difficulty to those who accept them as prophets. Alma the younger’s ministry to the city of Ammonihah resulted in a horrific experience for those who accepted his message-burned alive.

    The point is, God’s ways are not mans ways. God’s focus is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Sometimes that brings his followers into grievous circumstances (Hebrews 11:35), but results in far greater blessings if they are faithful.

  138. Ryan Mullen says:

    JK, The BoM doesn’t support the hypothesis that Alma’s leadership is the reason for Helam’s subjugation. Abinadi preaches to Noah’s people that if they repent, they will be spared (Mosiah 11:20-25). No one repents (v 26). Then he comes back two years later and says (I’m paraphrasing) “No one repented, so now you will become slaves” (12:1). The conditional “if” is gone. It’s at this point that Alma repents, but it’s too late to avoid the impending enslavement. And sure enough, even though Alma and his people separate from Noah’s, they end up in slavery the same as Limhi & co.

  139. Ryan, I think you may be missing the point. The purpose of their subjugation is clearly stated, “the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.”

    Yes, there may be a connection to their prior wickedness, but it isn’t clearly stated in this verse.

    Don’t forget, the early Mormons lost their opportunity to establish Zion, “in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion—” D&C 105:9

  140. Rexicorn says:

    JK, the Alma example is a tactical error by the prophet, not a moral one. That’s where the comparison falls apart for me. I think we all accept that suffering due to circumstance is part of life and to be expected as part of discipleship too. Sometimes following the prophet will earn outside opposition or suffering from, say, crossing the plains to the promised land. The reason the race ban is such a stumbling block for some, though, is because it’s church leadership directing the church to do something that’s morally/ethically wrong (at least in the opinion of people who stumble over it).

  141. What about the 1837 Book of Abraham’s priesthood ban placed upon the seed of Ham?

    “…Noah…blessed him (Ham) with the blessings of the earth…but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood. 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;”

    So who really instituted the ban? God, through revelation to Noah? Noah, through racism? Joseph Smith through accurate revelation about the historical Noah? Joseph Smith through racist revelation about an unhistorical Noah? Brigham Young for upholding canonised revelation given to Joseph Smith?

    The Book of Abraham is canonised revelation for the church. The church is stuck with it. Brigham Young was stuck with it. The church can’t blame past leaders in this case without casting doubt upon the canonised revelation they received. Once you’ve opened that can of worms, where does it end?

  142. Rexicorn says:

    Nate, are you saying that people of African descent are all descendants of Ham?

  143. Rexicorn-
    Thanks for sharing. I think the Savior’s example of initially turning down the Canaanite woman’s plea to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28) and the reasoning he used, provides insight into the Lord’s dealings with humankind. Heavenly father, according to today’s thinking, could be classified a racist. He favors the righteous and will (1 Nephi 17:35-38) destroy the wicked as it requires to bless the righteous.

    We seem to forget, God has the rights of a God-Creator.

  144. Nate, it’s like you haven’t read anything about the priesthood in recent decades. In brief: A curse is the absence of a blessing; not, as you seem to want it, an added layer of opprobrium, an intention by God to harm and condemn a man. “The right of priesthood” doesn’t mean what you think it means. Look at its consistent use in the Doctrine and Covenants, and you’ll discover that it means the *presidency* of the priesthood, not access to the blessings of priesthood. Read something about the patriarchal priesthood of that ancient day, where priesthood passed from father to son — Pharaoh’s link to the Noah passed through a maternal ancestor, Egyptus, breaking that father-to-son chain. It had nothing to do with race.

    Yes, the Book of Abraham is canonized scripture, and nobody I know is backing away from it. But we aren’t “stuck” with misunderstanding and lazy reading and old error, unless we want to be. Nobody I’m in fellowship with casts doubt on revelation. We say that YOU, not revelation, is in error.

    Don’t make an idol of God by constructing him in some image of human bigotry and racial animus. He is a God who is no respecter of person.

  145. Rexicorn, my comment was not about what I believe, it was about what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young believed. As far as I know, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young took their revelations literally, and yes, they believed all blacks descended from Ham.

    Brigham Young did not invent the ban. He enforced what he believed was clearly an ancient ban. His belief in the ban’s antiquity was buttressed by canonised revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1837. If you take the Book of Abraham literally (which I suspect most priesthood leaders in the modern church do), then you also would believe the ban is ancient in origin. And you would never blame Joseph Smith or Brigham Young for implementing the ban on racist ideas. They might have speculated about the ban’s ancient origins using racist speculations, but the ancient ban was revealed through divine revelation to Joseph Smith in the Book of Abraham.

    Take the Book of Abraham as inspired fiction, problem solved. But I doubt that is a path church leadership is willing to take just to “apologise” for the ban. Better to just plod forward celebrating that “long awaited day.”

  146. Ardis, we can try and soften the Book of Abraham’s language “cursed as to pertaining to the priesthood,” by subjecting it scholastic interpretation, but I doubt that is the way that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young read the revelation. The question of the day was: “to ordain blacks or not?” Joseph Smith was equivocal, in spite of his revelation. Brigham Young was not. That was Brigham Young’s nature. He took the messiness and contradictions of Joseph Smith’s movement, and subjected it to rigorous theological discipline.

  147. It is not 1842 or 1852 or even 1952. We believe in continuing revelation and eternal progression. Scholarship that corrects the lazy readings of the Book of Abraham — something that no one can charge to either Joseph Smith or Brigham Young in this case, because neither of them made use of the Book of Abraham to create the image of a racist God — is a form of revelation.

    And, um, “rigorous theological discipline” is not a trait I would apply to my beloved Brigham Young, whom I know better than most from my years of immersion in his thought and words. Please don’t lecture me, of all people, on Brigham Young’s nature.

    You don’t even mention my correction of your lazy reading of the Book of Abraham’s “right of the priesthood.” Ignoring correction is the surest way to maintain lazy, inaccurate misunderstanding. Well done.

  148. Ardis, J Stapley distinguishes between a “cosmological” priesthood and an ecclesiastical one, the former being more along the lines you mention: “passed from father to son” as a way of ordering heaven as it is on earth. But whatever the distinction, the question of Joseph and Brigham’s day still was: “should we ordain black people to the priesthood?” By “priesthood,” Brigham Young would have been speaking of both its ecclesiastical and cosmological dimensions, because blacks were excluded from both ecclesiastical and cosmological dimensions of the priesthood under Brigham’s enforcement of the ban.

    Revelation in the book of Abraham about descendants of Egyptus (Cain’s descendent) being cursed as to the priesthood (and the “right to the priesthood”) would have been interpreted as evidence that the modern priesthood ban was of ancient origin, whether “cursed” means withholding a blessing or whether “rights” means “presidency” or “ordination.”

    Of course modern prophets can reinterpret, disavow, or de-emphasise previous revelation or previous interpretations of revelation, and they should, especially when the revelation is clearly racist. But I believe it’s irresponsible to ignore problematic revelations which point to an ancient priesthood ban, and blame the whole thing on Brigham Young’s racism. If the ban was racist (and I believe it was), then Joseph Smith’s revelation in the Book of Abraham should be called into question (as should large swaths of the Old Testament for that matter.) The problem is not racism, it is the LDS fundamentalism that insists on literal readings of these revelations, and myths about the unchangeability or infallibility of canonised scripture.

    Brigham Young was working with what Joseph Smith gave him: racist revelations, polygamy, polyandry, etc. etc. Maybe it wasn’t “rigorous theological discipline” but at least it was rigorous theological pragmatism based on the fundamentalist culture both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young came from.

  149. J. Stapley says:

    Nate, I’m not sure what a “scholastic” reading is, but Ardis is doing a really careful and responsible job with reading Abraham. I we dig deeper into the context here for a moment, we will see that Brigham Young declared the first group to be cursed “in relation to the priesthood” and having the priesthood taken from them was the Isrealites, on account of their mixing with the gentiles. See Reeve, p. 145. The materials he cites in this section are all available at the CHL website. This was in 1845, several years before his first articulation of the basis for the restriction against black people. Mormons generally haven’t kept the prominent misreadings of scripture of church leaders as binding. And with the clear provenance of the association of black people with Cain/Ham (namely it is very recent for use to justify the slave trade – there is a whole body of research here), it behooves us, if we take our scripture seriously, to find readings that aren’t tainted by the decidedly not ancient ideas of these racists categorizations.

  150. I came here to say Ardis is totally right.

  151. Jonathan, I’m not arguing about what is truly “ancient” or not. I’m talking about the fundamentalist interpretations that Joseph, Brigham, and most modern LDS people still bring to bear in their readings of canonised scripture.

    I haven’t read Reeve, and I don’t know the context of the Brigham Young quote you describe, but from what I gather from the Book of Abraham story, Ham’s descendants are cursed, not only because he married a Gentile, but more importantly because Ham married the seed of Cain (and everyone in Joseph’s day knew that meant “black” and many mormons today still probably think that, whether or not it is historically true.) These Biblical characters may never have existed from a scientifically objective point of view. But Joseph and Brigham and most LDS believe them to be. For me, I think that is a serious hang up, and one that is greatly under appreciated when discussing an “apology” for the ban.

  152. Jonathan and Ardis, I have no qualms with striving for more historically informed interpretations of canonised revelation. But Jonathan’s post is about assigning all blame for the ban on Brigham Young’s racism, and his racist culture. But is it really Brigham Young’s racism? A 19th century reading of canonised scripture shows you a racist God. If your 19th century idea of God is racist, and that comes plainly from your literal readings of God’s Word, does that make you racist? The problem is fundamentalism, not racism. Brigham Young might have been racist, but so was Joseph Smith, and so were Joseph Smith’s revelations, and Joseph Smith’s interpretations of his revelations.

  153. J. Stapley says:

    Nate, I would take some time to read Paul Reeve’s book.

  154. There’s no historical evidence whatsoever that Joseph Smith believed in any kind of race-based priesthood ban or that he understood the Book of Abraham to require one.

    He said some things that were racist, but we’re not arguing about whether he was racist, we’re arguing about whether he was responsible for the ban. He wasn’t. Brigham Young was.

  155. Aussie Mormon says:

    Nate: If Jospeh Smith thought that blacks shouldn’t get the priesthood, why did he authorise the ordination of multiple black men?

  156. An analogy: The book of Alma contains some information on Nephite weights and measures and economic values. Bruce R. McConkie read that, and wrote a chapter headnote for the 1982-ish edition referring to the Nephite system of coinage. Later, scholars pointed out that no sign of ancient American coins has ever been found — and, more importantly, that the Book of Mormon does not speak of coins, but only of relative values, which doesn’t at all require a coinage system. Are we to be forever “stuck” with defending the unsupportable existence of coins just because Bruce R. McConkie made an understandable assumption based on his entire life experience that economic values like senines and ontis, like nickels and quarters, must necessarily take the physical form of coins?

    I don’t blame any 19th century reader of the Book of Abraham for reading into the scripture what is not actually there with regard to race and priesthood. Their whole life experience, the background of their entire culture, was steeped in the supposed inferiority of those with black skin. They never questioned that assumption. That “Egyptus” means “black,” apparently, was just the extra kick anybody needed to feel that they had understood the obvious and literal and plain meaning of those verses. Well, they were demonstrably wrong. We are not stuck with their misreading any more than we are stuck with Nephite coins.

    Have you looked up the Doctrine and Covenants verses with the phrase “right of the priesthood”? If not — and until you read Reeve as you have been repeatedly advised to do — you have nothing to contribute to this debate. You’re outdated, superannuated, and look more than a little silly. Take the time to read and not merely assume that you, like 19th century readers, automatically understand what you have always assumed was the case.

  157. J. Stapely

    “Confronted with the possibility that such leaders were so catastrophically wrong, we have been willing to invent ideas to save the framework even if it means repeating the errors of our past.”

    I have personally been uplifted by your research and calling out racism/evil. The uplift is only matched by the disappointment of the Oak’s Be One talk.
    => Look forward with us by pretending the Ban was God’s will

  158. RE: McKay, do you think Greg Prince is a bad historian?

    Or that his secretary bent the truth because of racist baggage just like ole Zeb Coltrin? Seems a retrospective view would have been against this position.

    I understand that McKay is beloved by the progressives in Mormonism, the tendency to call them flimsy or false is borne out of a reluctance to address head on the McKay era just like we have to with the Pratt/Brigham Young era.

  159. Kristine says:

    “I understand that McKay is beloved by the progressives in Mormonism”
    Really? Can you say how you arrived at that conclusion?

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