Priesthood and Temple Ban Winners and Losers Edition

Last Night I was watching the Jeopardy college tournament, and I was inspired to bring a game show approach to the topic of the moment by sorting out the winners and losers:

1. JS, mixed bag. He gets points for not actually starting the practice. But including curse of Cain stuff in his scriptures made it easy for later leaders to assign the ban to him. And polygamy will eventually become a factor.

2. BY, mega-loser.  More than anyone else he has to own it. He knew it didn’t come from JS. Why did he do it? My guess is (i) he got freaked by actual cases of amalgamation/miscegenation and (ii) it was a bid for southern support for statehood.

3. OP, winner. He fought BY on it.

4. JT, mixed bag. On the plus side he didn’t trust BY and initiated an inquiry. On the minus side he imposed temple restrictions.

5. Joseph F. Smith, mixed bag. On the plus side he ran the inquisition and was royally pissed that Abraham Smoot et al. lied about it to protect their buddy BY. On the minus side he is the one who put the ban on JS making it very difficult to quash. I think he did it because the church was mired in polygamy stuff, and he figured they didn’t have the bandwidth to take on both issues simultaneously.

6. Mormon Scholars (Bush, Mauss, Bringhurst, etc.), winners. Demonstrating the ban didn’t come from Joseph was huge.

7. BRM, mixed bag. Yes, he published BS in Mormon Doctrine. But he was the leading doctrinal authority of the time and his ruling that there was no impediment to the change was huge.

8. SWK, mega-winner. If HBL had lived, would he have done it? No way. Who else in that Q15 would have done it besides GBH? And he was willing to play hardball to get it across the finish line by doing it when Petersen and Stapley weren’t there, who would have been hard against if they had been present.

9. The great mistake the Church made was to think we checked that box, what a relief, now we’re done. They fixed the policy but allowed the racist etiology of the ban to remain in place. That was a serious institutional failure that we’re seeing play out in this very moment.–


  1. Raymond Winn says:

    JL Thomp, I think, has hit the nail squarely on the head. We need to own, fully own, this ugly and erroneous thinking that one group can be marginalized by divine decree (handed down by BY).

  2. Left Field says:

    “If HBL had lived, would he have done it? No way. Who else in that Q15 would have done it besides GBH? ”

    I would say HBB.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point Left Field. I should have refreshed my recollection on who was there at the time instead of going by memory.

  4. it was a bid for southern support for statehood

    I’m sorry; I can’t let this one slide by. This statement gives covers to the racists among us who claim that the priesthood exclusion was a necessity because otherwise the wrath of the slaveholding population would have destroyed us.

    There is not the slightest evidence, so far as I am aware, that priesthood exclusion ever played a role in the bid for statehood. It doesn’t enter into any of the public debates, arguments in Congress, or in our lobbying. I’m not aware that any newspaper editor in the country gave us points after 1852 for drawing that color line, or mistakenly threatened us under the misapprehension that we hadn’t drawn it. Most of the Latter-day Saints in Utah were unaware, or only vaguely aware, of the new exclusion — how would it have come to the notice of southerners? It isn’t like African Americans were clamoring for the priesthood and being turned away, and thus bringing the policy to the notice of the world. If anything, the one black Latter-day Saint exercising the priesthood as a missionary — Elijah Able — was a walking billboard, so far as he might have been known, counteracting the assumption that there was any statehood benefit to the exclusion — and no record indicates that politicians were aware of him, much less that he entered into their statehood calculations. And while we’re finding more and more black Latter-day Saints, the pre-statehood number overall is still so infinitesimal, and so centered in Utah, that there really is no justification for supposing the South would have been aware, much less influenced by, any Latter-day Saint practice involving them, to have had any role in support for or opposition to statehood.

    I just can’t support, even to the extent of my silence on a private speculation in a blog, anything that allows racists to do what I have read so many times: claim that the exclusion was God’s way of protecting the Church “because otherwise the nation would have risen against us.” The nation rose against us for other causes and we survived — but it had nothing whatsoever to do with racial priesthood exclusion, and nothing suggests that such a thing was any part of Brigham Young’s political expectations.

    (To be clear, you, Kevin, have not made any such racist claim. Your speculation involves political calculations and does not in any way claim God ordained those speculative calculations. My objection is only because the speculation gives a whiff of unintended support to those who do wrongly make such a racist claim.)

  5. purple_flurp says:

    As far as the 20th century players go, I think the real MVP was HBB, he was the most obviously ‘on the right side of history’ concerning the temple ban, he opposed it loudly and publicly much to the consternation of the other first presidency members of the time.

    SWK waited till he thought the balance of power was more in his favour before making his move, and, very strategically, used the first temple in Brazil as the bait to convince the remaining hardliners to lift the ban. You could argue that he’s the big winner since he was the one that ultimately lifted the ban, but personally I would give it to HBB for being pretty much the sole vocal proponent of lifting the ban even when he was clearly outnumbered by his peers.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the comment, Ardis. I certainly agree that God had nothing to do with it. If BY wasn’t trying to play a political angle, I wonder why he made such a hard turn after 1847. Maybe it was his learning of black men in the church marrying white women, a possibility i mentioned. Or maybe he was just really good friends with Smoot and wanted to make it possible to keep his slaves in Utah. Are there other ideas? The hard turn BY took just seems bizarre to me.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, I’m absolutely with you on HBB.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    I should mention that there is scholarship in the works that will tell us as much as it is possible to know about what happened with BY in 1852, so we’ll need to sit tight on that question for now.

  9. Lately Disillusioned Samuel says:

    Last I heard, the Priesthood Ban is still in effect for more than half of the faithful Latter Day Saints.

  10. I think DOM internationalism and giving melanesians the priesthood in the 50s was the crack in the dam.

  11. This format was kinda fun. Great to hear from you, Kevin.

    I appreciate the reminder, Ardis, that the historical evidence doesn’t support the theory that the priesthood and temple exclusion was implemented as a way for God to protect the Church.

  12. When we were investigating the church in 1976, I questioned our missionaries as to why the ban? The elders checked with the Mission President who explained that blacks were denied the priesthood because as slaves, they were unable to exercise it. How could you be a priesthood leader in your home when you could be sold down the river at any time? And in Africa they were under colonial rule, limiting their freedom to act. Once the slaves were freed and the colonies in Africa were independent then they were given the priesthood. I’ve never heard that explanation anywhere else. Have any of you heard of a similar explanation? As a wide eyed innocent I accepted it and was very relieved when the ban was lifted in 1978.

  13. When I was a young teenager in the 80’s, I read JFS’ “The Way to Perfection” where he explains the ban was due to some spirits being less valiant than others in the pre-mortal life. I went downstairs and shared with my mother this new insight. This very faithful Stake Relief Society President looked at me a stated as clearly as I ever heard her, “The only reason that ban existed is because people are racist. It was only lifted when the last of the really racists members of the twelve died. Only then, was God able to get them to change the ban.” That conversation has stuck with me my entire life. Anytime I hear other explanations, my mother’s voice comes back to remind me that there is already a clear answer.

  14. Elizabeth, that sounds like the philosophies of men mingled with horse manure. There’s nothing that says you need to be a homeowner or a citizen of a democracy to exercise priesthood! (Not to mention that, for instance, Haiti’s revolution happened well before German unification, and we neither rushed to ordain Haitians nor had any qualms about ordaining Germans.)

  15. It’s also interesting that the Manifesto & banning Polygamy led to members of the Q15 getting Exed or Disfellowshipped for pushing Polygamy after that. No GA was disciplined for opposing the lifting of the Ban. Though, BRM was the only GA I have heard distance himself from his past teachings on the subject.

  16. Elizabeth, I heard that one from a fellow student at BYU back in the early aughts. Kristine wins the Internet for me today with that apt descriptor.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Mike H., I made the point on our backlist that the Church as an institution should have followed BRM’s lead, loosely translated “forget everything we said on this subject, we were wrong.” That would have solved a lot of problems.

  18. Catching up on all things Wilcox in the wee hours of insomnia, this post is a useful church history refresher. Points for brevity. And mega points for the clear tones of truth untainted by squirrelly equivocation, in the comments.

    Gilgamesh’s mother’s voice from the 1980s bears repeating for the tonic it is against the racist — um, horse manure we continue to be subjected to by church leadership: “The only reason that ban existed is because people are racist. It was only lifted when the last of the really racists members of the twelve died. Only then, was God able to get them to change the ban.” My goodness, how refreshing it is to read words like this.

    Ardis’ analysis quashing dubious claims of half-baked political need (to which God “needed” submit, no less) serving as straws to be grasped is another nugget of sensible verity. And while reading her thoughts in the context of the post, I could picture in my mind the stages through which the church fledged, against the backdrop of American history and the periods of inflamed racism and activism through which our nation has suffered since emancipation.

    The reference to McConkie’s quote, which I had forgotten, was apropos. The fact that I had forgotten it is apropos. Imagine how we might have escaped such mires as Bott- and Wilcox-gate if it had been put to use as a workhorse quote, enough that it could have become embedded in the culture of CES. Instead, it’s cited so infrequently that I forgot about it.

    And after reading Elizabeth’s answer she was given as an investigator, my favorite expletive popped into my thoughts. I’m delighted to find myself in such good company. Good post. Good comments.

    I don’t know how we’ll ever rise out of the filth of racist supremacy that plagues us, except by repeatedly having the plain-spoken conversations calling it out.

  19. Kevin Barney says:

    MDeadest, thanks for the wonderful comment.

  20. All of which begs the question: where would the Church be now if not for the since-the-beginning inertia of FP & Q12? Do they take that $100B in the bank as an indicator of success? Is there an end game, and what does that look like if Jesus doesn’t return next month or year or decade or century or millennium? Will there be another purge of so-called intellectuals so we just won’t think about this?

  21. Wow p, that’s quite a blouse of indigestible questions. Point taken as rhetorical only. My response is to remember the final detail I wanted to highlight before I ran out of energy and couldn’t come up with a way to frame it.
    From the last item in the OP, which poses similar rhetoric but more accessibly:

    “9. The great mistake the Church made was to think we checked that box, what a relief, now we’re done. They fixed the policy but allowed the racist etiology of the ban to remain in place. That was a serious institutional failure that we’re seeing play out in this very moment. “

    There’s always a place for examining the long view, or the “what-if” view, the hypothetical view, even negative hypotheticals. But to move forward one can only ask, What is the best next step out of this mess? So I’ll post the McConkie quote which was given at a CES Education Symposium devotional on 18 Aug 1978:

    “ There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality … all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. “

    There’s more to this quote and its context that could make for productive and substantive growth among the dudebros at CES and elsewhere in our leadership who are struggling to implement the gospel and promote it to other young believers. Our whole nation is also currently contending with a new period of ugly, evil supremacy and the corresponding racial activism pushing back, so why not put your shoulder to the wheel, to coin a phrase, and push.

    (Not changing my name tho)

  22. *bolus
    not blouse

    Autocorrect sucks.

  23. MDearest, the McConkie quote loses much of its luster since he made no effort after the Ban was lifted to renounce the doctrine that blacks were less valiant in the preexistence or that their skin color still preserves the mark of their curse. These ideas, according to Mauss, “continued to appear in Elder McConkie’s own books written well after 1978, and continue to be taught by well-meaning teachers and in the Church. . . . (Mauss, “The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics.”) This fact calls into question, according Mauss, “how wide an application Elder McConkie intended for his references to ‘limited understanding ….'”

    Mauss said these words in a talk he gave at the 2003 FairMormon Conference. Sadly, his words in the last half of the first quote above continue to ring true, almost 20 years later.

    BRM. A mixed bag, indeed.

  24. The whole church is the loser. The consequences of over a century of racism in our church are still felt today.

  25. Of course, Eric F. No surprise in any of those outcomes. What I like about the quote is how blunt it’s is. It shuts down any appeal to Brigham et al. and leaves all that to be sorted through by historians and academics IF we had the will to use it that way. It’s authoritative in multiple ways— he was a senior-ish apostle. Addressing the CES summer symposium. In a devotional. Two months after the historic event. It’s a really great start, even though it came to so little.

    It could still serve to give the mantle of authority to a renewed effort to address our wicked supremacy IF we had the will to use it that way. It would be effective as an introduction to the work of other authorities— like James Jones, who developed a Deseret Book sponsored course for church membership to address racism, until DB bailed because it was too effective. He’s self-publishing here:

    Or why not introduce the general membership to Sistahs in Zion. Imagine the viewership if Zandra spoke at a regional fireside.

    Sorry, I’m rambling again. My point is that we should apply the quote and the context that came after. Every embarrassing event like this is an opportunity to do the work that’s still waiting to be done. And in this current climate of pushback against racism we have both the will (to a greater degree at least, than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime) and the tools to do this work. Just waiting on the geriatric prophets, seers, and revelators to start.

  26. Would love to hear more about these two things:

    I should mention that there is scholarship in the works that will tell us as much as it is possible to know about what happened with BY in 1852, so we’ll need to sit tight on that question for now.

    4. JT, mixed bag. On the plus side he didn’t trust BY and initiated an inquiry. On the minus side he imposed temple restrictions.

  27. David, Paul Reeve is leading a group that is researching the meetings of the 1852 Utah Territorial Legislature, which is where BY announced the new policy and Orson Pratt fought him over it.. I think maybe it will be out later this year. John Taylor limited black involvement in the temple to baptisms for the dead in the face of Jane James seeking full temple blessings. (Others please feel free to correct me if I have misstated that.)


    Just before Pastor Murray came to BYU, he met with Gordon B. Hinckley. In that meeting, President Hinckley offered him an apology for the LDS Church’s participation in slavery and in racism—using the same spirit Pastor Murray had urged me to use when I approached my angry son. In truth, Dr. Murray himself had some cause for anger; he had personally been confronted by the past Mormon teaching that Blacks were cursed. In an email on April 7, 2007, he told me, “In the Air Force I first encountered this teaching when stationed at Thule, Greenland, and lodging with two Mormons. They reminded me of this teaching constantly.”

  29. Kevin you are wrong with your “loose translation”. BRM never said the ban was wrong. He did say that new light and knowledge had been given to God’s prophet. Forget what Brigham Young or George Q Cannon said about the subject he said Again neither BRM nor SWK publicly proclaimed that the ban itself was wrong.

  30. 1. I’m with Gilgamesh’s mom.
    2. As to BRM, the only thing that the 1978 revelation did for him was change the timing of when those of African heritage could receive the priesthood. It did not change any of the folk doctrine he taught. In April or October 1980 general conference he references that the “seed of Cain” now can receive the priesthood.

    When you read his other talk where he says forget everything that had been taught, it’s pretty clear he was only referring to timing. The 1978 revelation is amazing to him precisely because of all the other folk doctrine of a curse that he still believes in, not that the revelation eliminated those doctrines. The revelation lifted a curse, he believes, it did not suggest that the curse did not exist. Read the talk and see if you disagree.

  31. it's a series of tubes says:

    Unfortunately, Dub is correct. April 1980 conference, BRM refers to black people as the “seed of Cain.” I was very disappointed to discover it; I read the transcript and then listened to make sure he didn’t actually say “Canaan.”

  32. The BYU religion department and CES follow the BRM analysis because they have nothing else to go on or have never thought about any other possibility. The official sources haven’t contradicted this view out of a reluctance to assert that a succession of leaders were so wrong for so long. And with leadership I don’t think it’s just avoidance, I think they are genuinely unready to contradict their predecessors and are unprepared to attribute the ban to simple racism. Elder Holland I think has alluded to that in interviews.

    That’s why you get the Bott episode and a bit more subtly the Brad Wilcox episode. They’re both surprised by the reaction because they think they’re teaching mainstream stuff and that everyone should be amazed by the 1978 revelation.

  33. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks to several for pointing out that, despite his great statement to CES, BRM failed to follow his own advice and clung to racist tropes like curse of Cain. I simply don’t remember whether I knew about that and just forgot or whether I never knew. The leadership needs to put a statement on the record and really mean it. Honestly, if I can imagine anyone who would be willing to throw prior leaders under the bus in this way it would be RMN. This could be his mike to shine.

  34. lastlemming says:

    I think they are genuinely unready to contradict their predecessors…

    As Kevin hinted, “Every time we try to justify the ban, it’s a victory for Satan.” Easy, peasy.

  35. Dear Kevin, I found one of your blog posts while researching my family tree (Alice Lee was my 2x great-grandmother). Could I get your email to contact you further about her?

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