How does Mormon doctrine die?

Over at some-other-blog, Margaret Young writes in a comment: “Card-carrying Mormons do often believe that Blacks were fence sitters in the pre-existence and that polygamy is essential to eternal progression. Neither position has been formally repudiated by the powers that be. We have merely distanced ourselves from them.” This comment, I think, highlights two different possible views on how Mormon doctrine dies.

It is true that any number of statements have been made-at-some-time-by-some-church-leader, and have never been formally repudiated. Margaret points out two of the more pernicous examples in her comment. But the phenomenon is broader than that: Church leaders have made statements about women’s roles, about Blacks, about the civil rights movement, about other churches, about polygamy, about Mary, and a hundred other topics. The vast majority of these statements have not received any formal repudiation.

Does this mean that they (continue to) exist as valid Mormon doctrine? The question is complicated.

On the one hand, such statements carry potential weight. In a culture and religious environment where the words of prophets are given great credence, the fact that a prophet at one point said something about some topic is bound to be important. Even unofficial statements matter. One need only glance at the stack of copies of Elder McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine at any Deseret Book to see a vivid illustration of the process. Yes, the book is Not Official. However, absent official repudiation, its ideas continue to receive wide circulation. This is one view — the “old ideas never die; they must be killed” approach, so to speak. Under this approach, church statements are like law. They may remain unnoticed for years or decades, but as long as they remain “on the books,” they are technically binding and potentially enforceable at any time.

The alternative view points to a social reality: It appears that not all unrepudiated ideas are created equal. Ideas which were originally stated some time ago exist in constant danger of oblivion. For such ideas, the path to relevance comes only through recent repetition. Unrepudiated authority is potentially powerful because it may at any time be repeated; President Hinckley may cite to a statement made fifty or a hundred years ago by a prior prophet or apostle. This recirculates the idea, giving it a new boost of credence. An unrepudiated idea from Heber J. Grant or J. Reuben Clark or John Taylor which is recirculated in general conference is placed once again into the community’s consciousness.

However, the converse is also true. To the extent that they are not repeated and reinforced, unrepudiated ideas slowly fade from the community’s consciousness. This is in large degree because of the structure of Mormon belief. Mormon theology is unusually informal, vague and undefined. Because the church does not issue encyclicals or Summa Theologica, our theology is largely of the what-the-prophets-say-today variety. Given that reality, another view of doctrinal death is possible: That informal distancing may be as doctrinally fatal as outright repudiation.

It seems to me that Mormon belief is in this regard quite similar to an oral community history, or a poem passed down from one generation to another through repetition. And because our theology is an oral history, repudiation through distancing becomes possible. Lines that are not repeated with sufficient frequency slowly fade from the poem altogether, no longer existing actively in the community’s consciousness. Old ideas may never die, but they do slowly ride off into the sunset until they’re forgotten.

I’m inclined to the latter view. However, that view’s descriptive accuracy is inversely related to its ability to exist as a meta-rule. If our theology is as fluid and undefined as that view suggests — and I think it is — then there can be no truly definitive answer as to how a doctrine dies. There are instead a multiplicity of views on the topic, some more law-like and some more oral-history-like.

Each paradigm seems true at different times. Sometimes old statements and ideas receive more of a “law” treatment, and sometimes more of an “oral history” treatment. And since our theology is as fluid as it is, in the vaccuum of official instruction, individual members freely apply each view to different ideas and statements, as they see fit.

In practice, I think, doctrines often do die through distancing. But there will always be church members, in your ward and mine, who are ready to pull out some fifty-year-old statement from Elder McConkie to support some statement or other. True, we will all roll out eyes at such assertions, because we know that old unrepeated statements exist in a netherworld of uncertain life. But the indeterminacy of Mormon theology allows us to do no more than cast those doctrines into the netherworld. Our belief structure being what it is, they cannot truly be killed — but neither are they really alive.

104 comments for “How does Mormon doctrine die?

  1. There is a practical way that old statements gain support or our repudiated – consistency with the scriptures. If a concept cannot be reconciled with the scriptures it dies a death in the minds of all those who take the scriptures seriously. On the other hand if a concept appears to be a direct conclusion of what the scriptures already teach, it is likely to live on for a very long time, formal affirmation or not.

  2. I think that’s how it should be, Mark, but I don’t agree that that is how it is. We have evolved into a Church that prefers reading a book about the scriptures as opposed to the scriptures themselves. Thus, a disconnect arises. I don’t think many members take the Prophets’ words and compare them to the previous teachings in the scriptures.

  3. Very interesting post, Kaimi. The comparison with the oral history, and the fading in memory, may of course be somewhat contradicted by the stack of written sources – you cite McConkie’s MD – which some members continue to refer to. Contrary to purely oral tradition, the sources are widely available for re-citation.

    Another aspect is the use of such (twisted, out of context) sources by anti-Mormons and cult hunters. They keep using past utterances from leaders, even if unofficial and outlandish — especially if unofficial and outlandish — into their information about “current” Mormonism. Especially in the mission field the outside world then hears a different Mormon “theology” than we do inside. The Internet has even multiplied this to new heights. I look at my own country – Belgium: the “official” information, from the government, about Mormonism comes from the Center for Information about Cults. Apart from their own nonsense about us, their website links to scores of cult-hunting websites, where you get an even more aberrant picture of a certain Mormonism of the 19th century. Not yet to die…

  4. Given the fact that the written and spoken words of our leaders are now available to the multitudes online, I hope that the leaders of the church will be more cautious about the things they are relating in the name of the Lord.

    And I’m sure there’s a couple of threads on this somewhere, but iIve often wondered why the bretheren do not formally repudiate incorrect teachings. Do they fear that it would decrease their collective authority to override their peers?

  5. I think the Brethren have been extra cautious in things they have said. In fact, I can’t really remeber the last prophetic statement that caused much of an uproar, outside of homosexual issues. (Let’s not talk about that here, please?). That being said, there recently have been certain things they have said doctrinally that I have disagreed with–simply because they don’t mesh with the scriptures.

    I don’t think the Brethren formally repudiate incorrect teachings is so as not to bring them back into the light. Though this has been done before (Adam-God, McConkie on Blacks and the Priesthood). I don’t think most members know much about Adam-God, and the Church doesn’t need thousands of members Googling it to investigate further.

  6. Some previous practice to the contrary, I think it is offensive to call Mormon “fundamentalists” cults. Strictly speaking, all religions are cults. He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword and all that.

  7. It\’s interesting to note that the internet has helped many of the obscure quotes from general authorities to be put in the lime-light. What else is interesting is the fascination members have to know these quotes and \”pull them out\” during a particular Sunday School lesson. I just can\’t understand why people cling to some obscure quote from generations ago as if it is fact. Are our general authorities like the Catholic church\’s belief that the Pope is Infallible ?

  8. Nice post, Kaimi. I lean towards the latter too. But I think things start to get all the more difficult when we’re talking about practices rather than just beliefs. For example, what was the last time the Brethren actually counseled keeping a year’s worth of food storage? How long does it need to be before it’s no longer binding?

  9. Kaimi, I think you’re largely correct on how doctrines die out among members of the church. But eye-rolling and silence are relatively ineffective responses to the repetition of a moribund doctrine, permitting bad doctrines to maintain a zombie-like existence when they should just stay dead. Possible responses range from an individual saying no, that’s not what the prophet teaches, to having a member of the stake presidency come to class the next week to clear up any misunderstandings. (I once heard two very memorable lessons, two weeks in a row, about birth control, the first presenting the teacher’s ideas, the second, from the stake president, presenting the church’s actual counsel on the topic.)

  10. I also wonder about this. I have an example. I was in a class with religion professor once wherein he told a story about a woman who approached him with a question regarding the correct hand for taking the sacrament. She had come across the conference talk by Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith on the subject and she wondered if she ought to rigidly enforce right-handed sacramental participation in some way. My professor asked her when was the last time that she heard someone refer to the issue in General Conference or when she had last noticed it coming up in the Ensign. She couldn’t recall a recent instance. He made some comment about sometimes letting old messages die a quiet death and that was that.

    Now, I have just learned that there is a stake to the north of me that is seeking to mandate the exclusive use of the right hand in sacrament meeting. I respect the right of the Stake President to install programs that he feels will benefit the members of his stake. However, I can’t imagine that he is using any documentable justification aside from Pres. Smith’s talk on the subject.

    So, who is right: the religion professor or the stake president? Did this doctrine fade away or have most members of the church abandoned it prematurely? I don’t know (not sure how I would know short of revelation)

  11. Good example, HP. As a longtime Mormon I instinctively take the sacrament with my right hand, but I observe that most around me are indifferent as to which hand they use. It has never occurred to me to press the issue with anyone else.

    I do think Elder Nelson has made some comments in recent years about the significance of the right hand symbolically, and so that may be an example of a reemphasis of an old tradition.

    Another example is my T&S guest post on the sexual generation of Jesus, here:

    When I was young it was a common opinion in the Church that Jesus was sexually generated. My impression is that today it is very much a minority and dying view, and I suspect in a generation or two it will be almost completely dead. (That is one that definitely isn’t getting any encouragement in contemporary conference addresses or Ensign articles.)

  12. As Justice Scalia wrote in Lamb’s Chapel:

    As to the Court’s invocation of the Lemon test: Like some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried, Lemon stalks our Establishment Clause jurisprudence once again, frightening the little children and school attorneys of Center Moriches Union Free School District. Its most recent burial, only last Term, was, to be sure, not fully six feet under: Our decision in Lee v. Weisman conspicuously avoided using the supposed “test” but also declined the invitation to repudiate it. Over the years, however, no fewer than five of the currently sitting Justices have, in their own opinions, personally driven pencils through the creature’s heart (the author of today’s opinion repeatedly), and a sixth has joined an opinion doing so. The secret of the Lemon test’s survival, I think, is that it is so easy to kill. It is there to scare us (and our audience) when we wish it to do so, but we can command it to return to the tomb at will. Such a docile and useful monster is worth keeping around, at least in a somnolent state; one never knows when one might need him.

  13. I think it is just fine for members to follow symbolic practices of honor – but to enforce them upon others, even if one is a stake president seems quite wrong. Preach them if you must, but enforcement should be out of the question short of a direct commandment from the Lord.

  14. # 8 Not that long ago. Also, the First Presidency in a 2002 letter repeated it: “Priesthood and Relief Society leaders should teach the importance of home storage and securing a financial reserve. These principles may be taught in ward councils or on a fifth Sunday in priesthood and Relief Society meetings. . .When members have stored enough of these essentials to meet the needs of their family for one year, they may decide to add other items that they are accustomed to using day to day.” (Deseret News, February 20, 2002.

  15. #11 “When I was young it was a common opinion in the Church that Jesus was sexually generated.”

    A number of quotes from general authorities that appear to be the basis of that opinion are enumerated here. But it’s hard to derive an actual act of divine copulation from these quotes, especially if you allow for the possibility that Jesus himself was the very first test tube baby.

  16. One of the wonders of the Church, for me, is the restraint among generations of leaders that for the most part keeps them from erecting law and philosophy as the foundations of their doctrines. Though both have their place, we haven’t reached the point where we are led by learned theologians basing their decisions on scholarly erudition and precedent.

    This does indeed leave things somewhat vague and indeterminate, and it does lead to people operating in different paradigms at different times. This seems a perfect way of working when reality is more nuanced and complex than all our representations of it.

    Doctrines die when too few people are guided by the spirit to remember or repeat things that someone, for some reason, once thought was true, or at least worth saying.

  17. I define doctrine as: Something found in the scriptures or uttered from the Lord’s Prophet, with the acknowledgement that uncanonized prophetic utterances *do* have a shelf life, as prophetic utterances are sometimes time-sensitive.

    Kaimi once said that he does not belong to the Church of Saturday’s Warrior and felt no obligation to maintain cultural tics, even cultural tics that were personal favorite of one of the Twelve.

  18. (Sorry, in #17, Kaimi’s comment extends up to, but not including, the last comma. The comma, and what follows it, is my comment.)

  19. “For example, what was the last time the Brethren actually counseled keeping a year’s worth of food storage?”

    In one of the last two conferences, if I recall. Also, President Oaks, when he came out here recently to our stake conference, mentioned it in passing. Also, the Ensign still publishes food storage tips and the Church still operates canneries that members are encouraged to use. Ears to hear and all that.

  20. I’m not sure what the coiners of the phrase “only true and living Church” comprehended in the definition of “living”, but I like to think that a living church is one that changes, that grows and adapts to its current surroundings. As the Church lives and develops, some practices and even doctrines are outgrown and forgotten. While some people (often those who focus primarily on the “only true Church” part) may be very uneasy hearing you call Mormon doctrine “fluid” or “vague and indeterminate”, but I find it rather comforting to notice without passion, outcry, or loss of faith that my Grandma Dorothy cares more about right-handed sacrament than I do, and that’s okay.

  21. Tim J. (#2),

    I think the leaders of the Church have long been trying to reverse that preference. Note the practical prohibition on using ‘outside materials’ in Gospel Doctrine classes. Elder Oaks gave a talk on interpretation of the scriptures that talked about the weaknesses in scriptural commentaries in particular. (Dallin Oaks, “Scripture Reading and Revelation”, Ensign, January 1995).

    I have heard numerous talks about reading the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, and also the Ensign, but I have never heard a talk about reading secondary works. If we have this culture, it is certainly an unofficial one. I have a tendency to think that most aspiring gospel scholars give up much too easily. Understanding the scriptures is the work of a lifetime, but the effort is well rewarded, provided one lives the gospel as well as he learns about it.

  22. So should someone actively seek to dissuade others from believing old things that are clearly untrue? And if so, how?

    Earlier this year, someone in my Gospel Doctrine class said that Ham evidently married a black woman. In response, I distributed this handout to the class the following week. It was clear that people were reading it during the class, but no one (including the SSP and bishop) said anything to me about it, good or bad.

  23. Although it is sometimes important to make sure old traditions/teachings are not mistaken for binding doctrines (as Jonathan points out in #9), I don’t generally want them to be killed in an official manner either. I like it when we leave most of the doctrine unofficial because I don’t think there have been definitive revelations on most doctrines. As long as a doctrine is not being offered as a D&C style revelation and voted on by the church, I would rather we all view it as speculative, allowing each person to believe as they the spirit directs them. If we actually fostered this attitude toward doctrine in the church, general authorities would be free to give more of their own opinions like GAs did in the old days. Of course, if most doctrine is tentative at birth, then there is no reason it must be killed definitively.

  24. Mark #21, well put, and I agree. But we still prefer to read Jesus the Christ than we do the actual New Testament. Getting our scriptural knowledge second-hand has been detrimental as we, like you said, give up too easily.

  25. I’m OK with the generational amnesia that leads to the death of some beliefs. A lot of times, these are cultural beliefs, rather than doctrine.

    On the other hand, I think some “doctrines� are worth officially disclaiming because they are hurtful, or because they distract us from the truth (or worse, they mislead us), or because some people still believe them (or worse, still teach them), or because they are used against us (and we have no ammunition to contradict them), or simply because they become needless stumbling blocks for investigators as well as for members.

    Like commenter #4, “I’ve often wondered why the brethren do not formally repudiate incorrect teachings.� Do they fear that we’ll all leave if we’re presented with the fallibility of a prophet or GA?

    Joseph Smith emphasized his own fallibility. He lamented that he struggled with choosing words to convey revelations. He emphasized that if there were mistakes, they were due to the shortcomings of man, not God. The story of the lost 116 pages is also evidence that Joseph Smith was capable of going it alone. When it came to doctrinal matters, Joseph Smith revised the Bible liberally, clearly demonstrating his passion for bringing truth to light and for correcting doctrinal misunderstandings.

    Now, nearly two centuries later, we seem to be locked into a historical paradigm. We can’t retract a statement that is clearly false. Even considering that a prophet might have made a mistake is out of bounds.

    I agree with commenter #20 about this being a “true and living� church. My prayers are hopeful that we can get on with the “living� part. I do love the truth that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I just wish we could remove some of the needless hurdles.

  26. Since I have made heartfelt efforts to get some offensive LDS books off the shelves, I know what some of the arguments are in favor of letting them stay. I don’t agree with these arguments, but I think it’s useful to look at them. The most egregious example of false doctrine being sold at your friendly neighborhood LDS bookstore is _Mormon Doctrine_. The portions on race are particularly ugly. But, though apparently I am not the only one who has lobbied to get that book cast into the bin of “things we’d better forget or be damned,” these are the arguments used to let it keep its place undisturbed.:
    1) If the publisher were to suddenly remove _MD_ from the shelves, the press would have a party. Do we really want the AP reporting that the Mormons have removed one of their staples of erudition from the shelves? (Well, I personally would attend the press party and bring cream puffs, but that’s just me.) The point is that attention would be instantly drawn to the book and particularly to the “Caste System” and “Races of Men” portions, which would probably be quoted verbatim in all of the major newspapers. At a time when we’re striving so hard to rid ourselves of our racist image, wouldn’t that be shooting ourselves in the foot?
    2) Aren’t we being presumpuous when we censor or quit printing a book by a GA who, being dead, can’t speak for himself? And what if that book is a consistent seller?
    3) There is now a disclaimer at the beginning of _Mormon Doctrine_. It says that though much of the book has been of great value for years, not all of it should be accepted as true doctrine. (Unfortunately, it fails to distinguish which chapters are most damaging.) Isn’t that adequate?
    4) Shouldn’t we trust readers’ sense of discernment?
    Those are some of the arguments. When one of our main missionary bullet points is the concept of a living prophet and apostles, it is clearly a major thing to suggest fallibility–especially in such a public way. From what Armand Mauss tells me, our emphasis on “God will never allow the prophet to lead His people astray” is fairly new. He rarely heard it while growing up in the Church. My husband thinks the statement (formulated by Wilford Woodruff when polygamy was ostensibly abolished) suggests that in a major doctrinal shift, God will not allow the prophet to lead the people astray. It does not, he says, imply infallibility.
    Now the polygamy issue is a different elephant all together. Abandoning the doctrine itself would mean actually removing a section of the D&C (132). That is almost unimaginable.

  27. Brenda, well put!

    Magaret’s great point about missionary work really relates to Brenda’s observation. We are in a Catch 22; we say that we have modern prophets, but if we also publicly recognize their flaws (which like Brenda says, are openly pointed out in the scriptures i.e. Joseph Smith and many others in the Bible) how can we know when they are speaking for God? How does personal revelation fit here?

  28. My appreciation and thanks to Brenda and Margaret Young for their very cogent comments on the issues raised by Kaimi. I have been troubled for many years over the failure of the church to repudiate the mistaken positions of the past, particularly relative to the blacks and the priesthood issue. But it’s also still in the present. A mission president in either Puerto Rico or the Dominican (I’ve forgotten which) was circulating a paper by Alvin Dyer from about 1968 that made reference to the spirits in the pre-mortal period who later became the mortal blacks–all that stuff about being fence sitters and being less valiant–clearly, at least to me, fabricated reasoning to support an otherwise unsupportable doctrinal position.

  29. That paper was being circulated around our mission, not by the President but the missionaries. When the President interviewed the Elder who had it, his response was, “Burn it.”

  30. Okay, now we’re getting serious. My friends have sent Dyer’s letter and their reactions to it to the highest authorities in the Church, and were assured that it would NOT be circulated anymore. That worked for awhile. (This was back in the 80’s). Then, around 2000, we got word that it was making its way around missions yet again. One of my friends (who is Black) wrote yet another letter. So I need to know how recently the Dyer material was circulated. Are we looking at an event from five years ago or last month? I’m glad that at least one mission president know how to respond. Not all do, unfortunately–as Lawrence’s post indicates. If anyone has quantification on this, I’d love to see it. Did anyone reading this blog also see the Dyer talk during their missions? How recently?

  31. Just for the record, there was a lot of stuff circulating amongst the missionaries. Some good, but mostly bad. This was just one of them.

  32. There are several of Elder McConkie’s teachings that I do not quite agree with, but I beleive he edited out the most controversial stuff. The current edition is the third edition, which dates after the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.

    That said, there is a fundamental point to be made here – if earlier generations can be inclined to distortions of the truth according to their culture, so may we. In particular, we may not go around discarding gospel doctrines clearly apparent in the scriptures simply because they do not jive with our contemporary culture’s notions of right and wrong. A race in the general sense is simply a very large family – we all belong to the human race, and it is broken down into nations, clans, tribes, peoples, and so on.

    I agree that no one should ever jump to conclusions as to what God’s purposes are in various families and nations, nor should we ever judge someone simply for belonging to one or the other, but it seems (from the scriptures) that the Lord does indeed have purposes in them – purposes far disparate from condemning people for iniquity, but rather the opposite – purposes in the salvation of all mankind. That is what families are for, and not only families, but tribes, clans, nations, and peoples, according to the wisdom of God and his plan to save all of his children in the process of time, save the truly incalcitrant.

  33. “instant collector’s item”

    That’s so true. I know of many owners of the first edition that absolutely treasure it.

    I am curious as to the serious problems in the third edition. I know I read it years ago after hearing how controversial it was, and thought no big deal. Though I do admit I’m probably wrong.

    Would it be as big a deal if it wasn’t titled, Mormon Doctrine?

  34. I guess if it were titled McConkie doctrine it might ameliorate some things. If I am not mistaken there is still much on the lineage of Cain.

  35. Samples from _Mormon Doctrine_ which I genuinely hope everyone would be uncomfortable with:
    “All races of men stem from common ancestors…Racial degeneration, resulting in
    differences in appearance and spiritual aptitude, has arisen since the fall. We
    know the circumstances under which the posterity of Cain (and later of Ham) were
    born with the characteristics of the black race…[A]ll…changes from the
    physical and spiritual perfections of our common parents have been brought about
    by departure from the gospel truths…The race and nation in which men are born
    in this world is a direct result of their pre-existent life…”

    Under “Caste System�:
    “[I]n a broad general sense, caste systems have their root and origin in the
    gospel itself, and when they operate according to the divine decree, the
    resultant restrictions and segregation are right and proper and have the
    approval of the Lord. To illustrate, Cain, Ham and the whole Negro race have
    been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so that they can be identified
    as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not

    Contrast those passages with the following scriptures (among many others): Ezekiel 18:20; Moroni 8:8, 11-12, 17; D&C 93:38; Moses 6:54; Article of Faith 2, all refernces to God being no respecter of persons, and all suggestions that “all are alike unto God.” Houston, we have a problem. And no, I would not be much comforted by a change of title.

  36. I thought that was what Mark was referring to when he said it had been edited. If this is in fact in the latest edition, it is a shame and should not be printed nor sold.

    The reason I ask about a title change is becasue there are several books by Mormon authors, though not GA’s, that teach things that don’t jive with the scriptures. But then again, they’re not exactly talking about race.

  37. I’m a bit of an outsider here (I’m a Presbyterian minister) so forgive me if I should have remained a mere observer. Though I’ve no doubt that we disagree about many things, I don’t want to misrepresent you or your teachings, and that is my attraction to this site. My question from the above discussion is this: Do you believe your church to be the true and living church or a true and living church? If the former, I can see why there would be a reluctance to repudiate rather than let die certain former teachings.

  38. Yes, the quotes I shared are from the latest edition–currently on the shelves. The changes made after 1978 took out the idea that blacks wouldn’t receive the priesthood until the Millennium. References to the priesthood revelation were added, and the section on “Negroes” was deleted, as well as some degrading cross-references. (Stirling Adams is the real expert on _MD_ in its various incarnations.)

  39. I’m guessing that McConkie would have been tripped out by the scientist’s conclusions presented in this Discovery Channel documentary: The Real Eve.

    According to this documentary, we all have a maternal genetic marker. The scientists studied the maternal genetic markers of people around the world and concluded that our collective lineages can be traced back to a single woman in Africa. A black African woman, to be clear.

    According to the scientists, the migration of groups north into Europe and east into Asia resulted in the different physical characteristics that we see today. The characteristics that are favored by the environment are the characteristics that are favored over time. The scientists estimate that it takes about 20,000 years for the skin color of a population to change from dark to light, or vice-a-versa, as a result of environmental change. Consequently, if you’re a light-skinned person, this simply indicates that your ancestor’s physical characteristics were adapted to absorb as much sunlight as possible as a result of migrating far north of the equator.

    Regardless of what scientists conclude, here’s a great example of where some leadership (at the highest level) in clarifying what we do and don’t believe is doctrinal with regard to race and skin color would put to rest some of the ugly hypothesis of our past that continue to re-circulate and re-injure.

    I agree with Mark Butler:
    “no one should ever jump to conclusions as to what God’s purposes are in various families and nations, nor should we ever judge someone simply for belonging to one or the other. . . . the Lord does indeed have purposes in them – purposes far disparate from condemning people for iniquity, but rather the opposite – purposes in the salvation of all mankind.â€?

  40. My experience with Elder McConkie is that he would not be “tripped out” by anything or anyone found posting on this website. He had a clear view of eternal things and the works of Satan in trying to destroy true doctrine. He worked with what God had revealed and not the posits of doubting Thomas’s. If God gave further light on a subject then he was able to accept and move on, even if it contradicted what was previously declared.

    Science, which is built upon the quicksand of funding from both public and private sources is the least able to declare any eternal verity. I mean really, Pluto is not a planet now; whim, agenda, and committee decision, done. In my lifetime every issue of every branch of science has mutated several times. Nothing is more volatile then genetics, I expect many more mutations. I am not yet ready to call Madam X of Africa momma!

    What we know about the races could ballroom dance on a needle point with room for a Harvard rugby game.

    The reality is that in the eternal worlds there will be black gods, and brown gods, yellow gods and even white gods. But what there will not be are any doubting gods.

    Elder McConkie if you’re listening, thanks for telling it like it is. You were one of the great theological apologists of this the dispensation of the fullness of times, as well as an Apostolic testator of the Living Christ, whom you knew personally and intimately. Your witness brought heaven and earth closer, and opened up eternity for some of us to sneak a peek.

    Harold B Curtis

  41. Towards the end of my mission an elder approached me and showed me the Dyer talk and said that it explained his inability to get along with his companions of other races. I told him in no uncertain terms that it was wrong, that he was to stop copying it and handing it out, to throw the original away, and never use it as an excuse for his feelings. It was the only time I ever used a leadership position tell someone to do something they didn’t want to. It didn’t go over well. He clearly loved that scrap of paper and what it justified and told me that I was in error to condemn the words of a GA.

  42. Craig V., to answer your question, it is definitely the former. James E. Faust talks about how we view our church relative to others in his recent General Conference talk, “The Restoration of All Things�:,5232,23-1-602-21,00.html

    ““We believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of the original Church established by Jesus Christ, which was built “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” It is not a breakoff from any other church.â€?”

    ““We believe that the fullness of the gospel of Christ has been restored, but this is no reason for anyone to feel superior in any way toward others of God’s children. Rather, it requires a greater obligation to invoke the essence of the gospel of Christ in our lives—to love, serve, and bless others. Indeed, as the First Presidency stated in 1978, we believe that “the great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.” Thus, we have respect for the sincere religious beliefs of others and appreciate others extending the same courtesy and respect for the tenets we hold dear.â€?”

    As you have probably observed through Times and Seasons, interpretations of some of the “tenets we hold dear� have sparked debate. And, this particular blog string illustrates that there a few tenets that we clearly do not hold dear. However, there has been no debate over the simple principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that bring us together: faith in Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. “We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel� (4th Article of Faith). These tenets I personally hold dear.

    If you are interested in understanding the beliefs of our religion relative to other Christian religions in the United States, I recommend a book titled “Mormons and the Bible, The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion� by Philip L. Barlow. I picked it up at the University of Washington Bookstore and found it to be fairly objective and incredibly interesting. It certainly explains a lot about how we got to where we are today. It also provides context for the spectrum of opinions that are expressed on Times and Seasons.

    Welcome to the bloggernacle!

  43. “A mission president in either Puerto Rico or the Dominican (I’ve forgotten which) was circulating a paper by Alvin Dyer from about 1968 that made reference to the spirits in the pre-mortal period who later became the mortal blacks–all that stuff about being fence sitters and being less valiant–clearly, at least to me, fabricated reasoning to support an otherwise unsupportable doctrinal position.”

    I knew a member in Italy, who tried to use that talk, along with other various things (including a reference from _Doctrines of Salvation_), to make the claim that President Kimball (and the rest of the General Authorities) didn’t have the authority to give blacks the priesthood. My answer to that was what Elder McConkie said along the lines of “Forget what you heard.” (Incidentally, I had not heard of that until a couple of years before. The fact that McConkie didn’t take anything race-related out of _Mormon Doctrine_, and in 1980 referred to the “seed of Cain” receiving priesthood blessings, IMHO clouds things a bit.)

    My parents have a copy of _Mormon Doctrine_ on the shelf. My wife and I don’t. My wife did bring with her some materials (including the occasional CES manual) that have things that I find objectionable to say the least. But I’m not about to tell her to throw them away.

  44. “But the indeterminacy of Mormon theology allows us to do no more than cast those doctrines into the netherworld. Our belief structure being what it is, they cannot truly be killed — but neither are they really alive.”

    However, these Mormon folk doctrines do not necessarily exist forever in an indeterminate quantum state. Schrodinger’s cat does in fact either die or live when the quantum event is measured. The anology in Mormonism is that these unofficial beliefs can continue until some practical event requires a definitive pronouncement. To take two 19th C doctirnes as examples, both the Adam-God theory and the belief in a Mother in Heaven were based on informal rather than scriptural pronouncements until clarification was felt necessary. Both doctrines impacted too directly on fundamanetal beliefs about the nature of God to leave in the indeterminant state and so were eventually officially resepctively repudiated and confirmed. I believe that after President Hinckley is gone that the Church leaders will realize that they are going to have to open the box on those old ideas about blacks and the pre-existence. However, I also suspect that the cat’s death will announced by saying that the old ideas were personal beliefs without scriptural sanction rather than openly repudiating them as false doctrine. That way the reputations of such as Dyer and Bruce R. can be preserved by characterizing their fault as putting forth personal beliefs rather than false beliefs.

  45. Thanks Brenda,

    I will have to look at Philip L. Barlow’s book. From your remarks, it appears that there is a core set of beliefs that you all agree on (is there any debate about what that core consists of?) and a more peripheral set of beliefs where disagreement exists. Among these peripheral beliefs, some prove to be troublesome and the debate is over whether or not to just let these die by in attention or to repudiate them.

    On a side note, from my tradition, we would have a difficult time just letting a view die if there was a need for repentance. For example, if we had taught views that supported racism (and some of our theologians have) we would need to repudiate such views and seek forgiveness for the harm they caused. Just letting them die amounts to a cover up of our sin. That’s not to say we have always done a great job in actually seeking that forgiveness. Sadly, what we know doesn’t always match what we do.

    To get back on subject, do you need to wait for your church to make an official move before you can repudiate a peripheral belief? Put another way, what options are available to you as a member to bring about reform in your church when, at least in your view, she is clearly wrong?

  46. I think we are well on our way to a repudiation. Pres. Hinckley’s words from the last General Conference came CLOSE, and I firmly believe more is coming. Privately, those of us very close to this particular issue do things like making documentaries (_Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons_ should debut in February if we can raise our editing money), write books (Mauss, Bringhurst [no longer a practicing Mormon], Darius Gray and I have all done this). And we give firesides. MANY of us do this. Look at the Genesis Group website for some idea of what’s currently being done: ( . If you click on “newsletter,” you’ll find that the lead article deals with the difficulty of addressing our history and quotes from President Hinckley’s recent talk. Craig, I have records of formal apologies made by Baptist and Catholic groups for their past racism. Is there a formal Presbyterian apology I could add to my file, or does that religion come in too many forms to create a core statement?

  47. “Pres. Hinckley’s words from the last General Conference came CLOSE, and I firmly believe more is coming.”

    I don’t know if more is necessarily coming, but those words went a _long_ way toward giving a context to “The revelation speaks for itself.” (IOW, they really ought to.)

  48. I heard the blacks in the pre-existance as fence sitters in a mission zone conference in 1995 in Africa from my mission president. My black comp looked at me and whispered “not me”. “I am a warrior”

    There was not a word of dissent from the black elders and sisters in attendance or any of the black local members who were there either. At least publicly.

    FWIW some of the white missionaries went up afterwards and told our MP to cool it.

  49. Just recently, conversations with members have made me recall statements made about the Civil Rights movement. For example, we’ve got things like then-Elder Benson’s talk in General Conference (1969, as I recall) that the entire Civil Rights movement was a communist front and that MLK was a communist agent, a talk that was then reprinted and distributed in pamphlet form by Bookcraft. What exactly do we do with these?

    On the one hand, it’s easy for me to dismiss this as non-doctrine, to say “that’s clearly just a personal view.” On the other hand, if a General Conference talk by a sitting apostle isn’t doctrine, what _is_ doctrine?

    I chafe at members saying these kinds of weird political things in Sunday School — the U.N. is a conspiracy, the Civil Rights movement was a communist front, and so on. But it’s hard to fault them for picking up on a message that they heard repeatedly from church leaders forty years ago.

  50. Thanks Margaret,

    I am a minister in a conservative offshoot of the mainline Presbyterian church, so I can’t speak for the whole. There are two documents you may find useful, however. In 1977 several of the conservative Presbyterian denominations produced a document with the rather dull title of “Statement of NAPARC Conference on Race Relations”. It contains statements like the following:

    “We are convinced that we, as Reformed Christians, have failed to speak and act boldly in the area of race relations. Our denominational profiles reveal patterns of ethnic and racial homogeneity. We believe that this situation fails to give adequate expression to the saving purposes of our sovereign God, whose covenant extends to all peoples and races.
    We are convinced that our record in this crucial area is one of racial brokenness and disobedience. In such a situation the credibility of our Reformed witness, piety and doctrinal confession is at stake. We have not lived out the implications of that biblical and confessional heritage which we hold in common with each other, with its emphasis on the sovereignty and freedom of grace, on the absence of human merit in gaining salvation, and on the responsibility to subject all of life to the Lordship of Christ.”

    Also, the PCA, my denomination, adopted in its 2002 General Assembly a position paper that, after briefly stating the Bible’s opposition to racism and slavery, states:

    “We therefore confess our involvement in these sins. As a people, both we and our fathers, have failed to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the laws God has commanded. We therefore publicly repent of our pride, our complacency, and our complicity. Furthermore, we seek the forgiveness of our brothers and sisters for the reticence of our hearts that have constrained us from acting swiftly in this matter.

    We will strive, in a manner consistent with the Gospel imperatives, for the encouragement of racial reconciliation, the establishment of urban and minority congregations, and the enhancement of existing ministries of mercy in our cities, among the poor, and across all social, racial, and economic boundaries, to the glory of God. Amen.”

    I will check out the ldsgenesisgroup web site.

  51. “On a side note, from my tradition, we would have a difficult time just letting a view die if there was a need for repentance. For example, if we had taught views that supported racism (and some of our theologians have) we would need to repudiate such views and seek forgiveness for the harm they caused. Just letting them die amounts to a cover up of our sin.� (Craig V., comment #48)

    This comment has really caused me to pause and reflect . . . . not only formally repudiating incorrect teachings, but seeking forgiveness for the harm that these incorrect teachings have caused.

    This seems like the right thing to do, but is our church capable? It would be nothing short of a miracle.

    “Just letting them die amounts to a cover up of our sin.�

    This is certainly a different perspective than I had considered. But on the other hand, it puts words to the frustration that I have been feeling for years.

    I wonder if the arguments for simply letting them die are put forward largely by those who have not been hurt by the incorrect teachings.

  52. I do not believe any of the curse of Cain, or “less valiant” (and certainly not “fence sitter”), rhetoric remains in any Church correlated materials. Of course, neither is there a repudiation.

    This is one issue on which I wish instructors would simply follow Church correlated lessons, and leave out the quotes and teachings of previous Church leaders regarding origins of races, reasons for Church practice regarding priesthood withholding, curse of Cain and Ham, etc…. Interestingly, many of those who teach those things are among those who are most committed to following Church leaders, they just have not “received the memo” that those prior speculations are no longer taught in correlated and official Church materials. Maybe the next generation will get the message.

  53. Sadly, remnants of those bits of folklore DO remain by implication in some CES materials. No time to get specific at the moment. For me, the model we need to follow is the “Truth and Reconciliation” one set forth by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. I had a wonderful day just researching that. And my search began with President Hinckley’s talk in October Conference on forgiveness. I followed the links and wound up researching Truth and Reconciliation.
    P.S. Thank you, Craig, for that wonderful statement. I have sent it to my co-author.

  54. There is irony here. It seems that the true and living church should never be wrong, and yet, any church that does not seek forgiveness for its own error and sin loses rather than gains credibility. Presbyterian history is ripe with examples.

  55. The quandary.

    If we formally repudiate incorrect teachings, we introduce the fallibility of our modern prophets and apostles. I’m OK with this. Why would our modern prophets and apostles be any less subject to making mistakes than ancient prophets and apostles? As I stated in a previous post, Joseph Smith openly acknowledged his own fallibility. Why do we worry so much that this will create confusion and hardships for our membership?

    On the other hand, if we let incorrect teachings die by not continuing to lend credence to these teachings publicly, we preserve the belief that our modern prophets and apostles never make mistakes in their teachings and only speak the truth as revealed through God. But there is a cost to this approach as well. The integrity of our doctrine is not pure. And, we bear the cost of those who are prevented from participating fully in the Gospel of Jesus Christ because of incorrect teachings.

    We are at a crossroads. The availability and proliferation of information about our church teachings and historical past lends the current approach ineffective. The more we are reminded about the incongruence between current teachings and past teachings, the more problematic this approach becomes. Truth, integrity, and credibility become greater issues both inside and outside of our church. Historic teachings about skin color and race are one example. The definition of marriage in the recent proclamation to families compared to the historic practice of polygamy serves as another example (as if people need a reminder about this historic practice!). Plus incorrect teachings, including gender-role stereotyping, continue to be used as justification for bad behavior by a few of our members.

    I have much greater confidence in the membership of our church than is credited by others on this string. Perhaps some members would struggle with the retraction of incorrect teachings and the fallibility of modern prophets and apostles. More likely, the majority of members would rejoice. They would rejoice in greater clarity of the doctrines that comprise the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, they would rejoice in the burdens of incorrect teachings that they no longer have to bear.

    “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.� (Matthew 11:29-30).

  56. Simple response to Craig from my co-author, Darius Gray, after he read this blog:
    “I like this guy.”

  57. Well said (or should I say written), Brenda.

    Here is something else to consider. If a church doesn’t repudiate past erroneous teachings, it is more difficult to learn from them. During the Civil War, many Presbyterians believed that there was nothing wrong with slavery. Some of these individuals were very bright and godly. How did they go so far wrong? If we just ignore that ugly part of our past we may blindly create similar burdens for future generations of Presbyterians.

    Thank you for the warm and gracious hospitality that I have received on this blog. Your open and honest conversation on these issues is forcing me to take a more critical look at some of my own silly prejudices.

  58. Hey, how have I overlooked this superb conversation for so long? Craig V., welcome, and my congratulations and thanks for learning about Mormons from the Saints themselves; Brenda, you’ve made some really excellent contributions here; bbell, your anecdote brought me to tears. God bless that warrior, and all of them!

    Nate has written some really smart things about the way law can help us understand the workings of the Church, but I think this is an instance where textual studies might add something, too. I’d suggest that most defunct doctrines are put out of their misery by a fatal act of misreading. Christianity is, in many ways, a compelling misreading of Jewish prophecy, and Mormonism can be seen, similarly, as an extraordinarily successful misreading of mainline Christianity—misreadings that preserved the legitimacy and authority of the former institution and its sacred texts, but that imported new ideas and structures into the ideological framework. In the same way, present-day leaders can change institutional direction by re-interpreting the words of former leaders in such a way that the original meaning is, to a greater or lesser degree, foreclosed, but the continuity of office and authority is preserved. A good example of this is the way that Elder Oaks has been working to “misread” the doctrine of patriarchal presidency in the home, importing a distinction between “hierarchy” and “patriarchy” while maintaining the canonical and cultural lexis of presiding. The advantages of this method are obvious—continuity, legitimacy, deference to history and authority—as are its limitations, chief among them the fact that misreadings rarely foreclose the original meaning definitively. Could President Hinckley re-interpret scriptural passages about Cain and Ham in a way that clearly disclaims the McConkie line of thought? I don’t know. I’d be very pleased to see a formal repudiation, too.

  59. Re: #55

    “Interestingly, many of those who teach those things are among those who are most committed to following Church leaders, they just have not “received the memoâ€? that those prior speculations are no longer taught in correlated and official Church materials.”

    The problem is that there actually hasn’t been a “memo” for them to get — that’s what we’re discussing here. I’m afraid that President Hinckley’s conference remarks, while certainly commendable, were a desperate effort of a man who is fully aware of the problem of residual racism among Mormons but still hesitates to pay the price of appearing to contradict his predecessors to end the problem definitively. Only a public renunciation of the fence-sitter idea will truly “send the memo” that racist ideas are not acceptable in the Restored Gospel of Christ. I just don’t see that one going away only through official silence. And as I noted above, if the idea of flatly stating that earlier GAs were out-and-out wrong is too frightening, an intemediate course is available by simply stating that the fence-sitter theory has no basis in scripture or revelation and was only a personal belief of those who taught it. Additionally it could be disapproved for official correlated teaching in the Church not only because it is unsupported canonically but also because it abets unChristian racist feelings.

  60. If I had my way, we would axe the term general authority because it is misleading. So far as matters of doctrine are concerned there is really only one general authority in the Church – and that is the unified voice of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. Although individual leaders can and do speak the word of the Lord when moved upon by the Holy Ghost, has there been any one since Joseph Smith whose nearly every word on a doctrinal topic was fit for canonization?

    There have been many to be sure where we could canonize 2/3 or 3/4 of their words, but none quite so accurate as Joseph Smith. I believe there is no question that Joseph Smith knew and understood the scriptures better than any since perhaps the Apostle Paul.

    I don’t think that the Church should apologize for the oddball teachings of a few leaders – the persons themselves should apologize, if they are alive. If they are not alive, the Church should indirectly and explicitly repudiate anything that can be determined to be in serious error. This digging up of old statements that are contrary to the doctrine of the Church is an abomination. Some of these mistakes are sufficiently serious that we would be better off following something like the Westminster Confession than propagating such perversities from generation to generation.

  61. JWL–how would you feel about a simple, even general apology for the Church’s part in racial discrimination and slavery (because, of course, that vanguard pioneer company had 3 slaves in it, and Utah was a SLAVE territory) from a member of the First Presidency. How much would that help?

  62. The notion of “fence sitters” (i.e., “neutrals”) in the pre-existence has been repudiated several times (going back as far as 1869 by Brigham Young, himself).

    The idea of “less valiant” premortal spirits’ being assigned to particular races has not been repudiated, but it is not found in any correlated materials that I can find on or

    The “memo” to which I refer is that those former teachings are not found in any correlated materials (although as Margaret points out, there are remnants, by implication, in some CES manuals: e.g., Institute Old Testament Manual: “Therefore, although Ham himself had the right to the priesthood, Canaan, his son, did not. Ham had married Egyptus, a descendant of Cain (Abraham 1:21–24), and so his sons were denied the priesthood.” This is the closest I could find to a “Curse of Cain” or “Curse of Ham”).

    It would be nice if Larry King could interview President Hinckley some time, and when asked about the “Curse of Cain [or Ham]” or “less valiant” theories, President Hinckley might say, “I don’t know that we teach those things–as a matter of fact, I am pretty sure we do not.” (President Hinckley then turns to his assistant, and asks that a memo go to CES.)

  63. Margaret writes:

    “JWL–how would you feel about a simple, even general apology for the Church’s part in racial discrimination and slavery (because, of course, that vanguard pioneer company had 3 slaves in it, and Utah was a SLAVE territory) from a member of the First Presidency. How much would that help?”

    As nice as an apology would be, I’m not holding my breath. The failure to apologize is not simply a church problem, it’s also a societal problem. The United States itself provided centuries of legal oppression of slaves and _much_ more direct government involvement than the church ever had in slavery, from tracking down fugitive slaves to auctioning off seized slaves to the creation and maintenance of the “pact with the Devil” in the Constitution itself. And the United States has never apologized for its own (much, much greater) role in slavery and resulting harms such as racism.

    As long as non-apology remains a general societal norm, I doubt any church apology will be forthcoming.

  64. It seems to me that a church should live to a higher level of obedience than general society, or am I missing something?

  65. Not sure who said it first, but it’s a great quote: “A church should be a headlight, not a tail light.” But of course, a church is a church is a church is a church. The bigger it gets, the bigger its offices get, and the thicker the red tape. Real religion lives only when it lives in the individual heart. That’s where the great Christian miracle occurs. Obedience is transformed by love and transcends the bar of compulsion, accepting and becoming a balm.

  66. “The United States has never apologized for its own (much, much greater) role in slavery and resulting harms such as racism.� (Kaimi Wenger, #66)

    The United States has produced legally-binding documents which make perpetuation of past sins a criminal act.

    Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka: “In the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.� Such facilities generate in children “a feeling of inferiority . . . that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.� (Chief Justice Earl Warren)

    Constitutional Amendment 13: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.�

    Constitutional Amendment 15: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.�

    Constitutional Amendment 19: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States of by any State on account of sex.�

  67. “But of course, a church is a church is a church is a church. The bigger it gets, the bigger its offices get, and the thicker the red tape.�

    Can such an entity ever be the true and living church? Jesus is Lord of the true and living church, but no human institution can be his Lord. Every institution that has tried has made a grand mess of things. So, it seems to me, I must always ask “Is my church serving the Lord?� If a church is structured in such a way that she cannot repudiate teachings which are in error and have done harm then the structure itself is part of the problem.

  68. I don’t think any “entity” can be the true and living Church. The Church Office Building will never be born again, though it could be knocked over by an earthquake and rebuilt. As Latter-day Saints, we’ve seen two of our historic temples destroyed and/or desecrated. But we’re still talking bricks and sepulcres, not the living spirit of Christ’s Church. In the Bible, Jesus is a pastor seeking his sheep, or He’s a mother hen gathering her chicks. It is always the personal Savior. He personally calls disciples from their boats, He calms the troubled waters, He raises a child and calls her, “Talitha.”–“little lamb.” He offers himself–all of himself–and a new mindset where forgiveness overcomes revenge and love casts out fear, where even the dead are resurrected and have a hope in eternal life. That is the gospel. Can it be bound within and fully defined by any entity? No. The entity, like a mother’s pregnant body, merely provides the fertile field for growth. It is not itself the birth. So I would change your question a little. Not “Is my church serving the Lord?” but “am I growing in my discipleship as I participate in my church’s rituals? Am I becoming a little lamb to the great shepherd?” I find so much to love in all of the faiths I have seen, but for me, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides particularly fertile ground. I want my sons to be missionaries, because I understand that a mission (or a ministry) is an act of consecration. I want them to feel that they can bless others by their words and actions, and even by the laying on of hands. I want my daughters to grow in wisdom and grace, just as Jesus did. I want my children to forgive the church and its fallible disciples, and to find Jesus in all the many places He reveals himself. Sometimes in a chapel, sometimes in a temple, and sometimes on an uneasy sea.

  69. Craig, church leaders can and do correct doctrinal error, and the foregoing discussion indicates several of the more and less formal ways in which that happens. Many church members would, as you suggest, welcome changes in both the bureaucratic workings of the church leadership, and in some of the doctrines that bureaucracy disseminates (or fails completely to eradicate). These changes may yet be forthcoming: the LDS church is still adjusting to its international growth, and so far it has accommodated its new geographical breadth to its traditional centralized structure primarily by adding more bureaucracy to regulate local practices. But church bureaucratic structure has changed rather dramatically over time, and may continue to do so; while the LDS church will continue to be centrally organized, I feel quite sure, we may yet see some pruning of the red tape.

    That said, most Mormons understand the Church’s unique status–“the true and living church”—in terms of its claim to valid priesthood authority, not in terms of the purity of its doctrine. This is perhaps the greatest misunderstanding between Mormons and Protestants. Legitimate authority and pure doctrine are related, of course, but not identical, and the former is far more important in LDS self-understanding than the latter, whereas I take the reverse to be true for most Protestants.

  70. The scriptures are repleat with graphic depictions of the destruction and annihilation (either literal or prophetic) of the Lord’s people–His Church–because of whatever buffoonery. And yet, nowadays if the slightest hint of weakness rears its ugly mote-size head suddenly the Church isn’t the Church.

  71. “That said, most Mormons understand the Church’s unique status–‘the true and living church’—in terms of its claim to valid priesthood authority, not in terms of the purity of its doctrine.� (Rosalynde Welch, #72)

    I disagree. You would think that with legitimate authority we would have pure doctrine. This is what I seek and you are right, these are related.

    “Legitimate authority and pure doctrine are related, of course, but not identical, and the former is far more important in LDS self-understanding than the latter, whereas I take the reverse to be true for most Protestants.�

    What if pure doctrine is important to my LDS self-understanding? Is this unrealistic, as others on this thread have suggested? Why can’t the Lord’s church, the only church with a living prophet and the priesthood authority to act in the name of God, purify its doctrine?

    Perhaps it is our limited view of what this church is capable of that is holding us back.

  72. Craig —

    First of all, thank you for joining our discussion. I suspect that Mormons are often confusing to other Christians because externally we look like very dissenting Protestants with our low church liturgy, amateur clergy, and “midwestern” conservative lifestyle. However, internally we function much more like the Catholic church. We are very hierarchical and give great importance to sacerdotal and ritual legitimacy. One important similarlity is that we very much recognize our leaders as possessed of what the Catholics call magisterium, definitive teaching authority. This has served us well in critical moments when we have been able to significantly change direction quite effectively because we accept the united voice of the apostles as the will of the Lord. Well-known historical examples of this are the abandonment of polygamy at the end of the 19th C and the extension of priesthood to black men in 1978. However, to be effective that teaching authority can not move too rapidly ahead of the people — the headlights are of little use if they move so fast that they become detached from the car and disappear up the road. So there exists an inherent conservatism on the exercise of that teaching authority. We admire the Baptist crying in the wilderness, but even in the beginning the leaders were such as Peter or James who were not trying to break with or discard the traditional faith of their fellow Jewish Christians but rather build upon it. Breaks with Jewish law only came after careful and extensive deliberation of the apostolic leadership as at the first conference of Jerusalem. That is also how our senior hierarchy is designed to operate. Our constitutional revelations require unanimity of the 15 senior leaders and support of the other leaders and the general membership for any action to be binding on the Church. While it is true that this generally results in very deliberative movement, we also believe that it was God who designed it that way. It is a price one pays for an effort to assure that ‘no child is left behind.’

    However, that does not mean that some can not take a Pauline role and push for faster movement. I think we are at that point in our Church on this particular issue. Charity requires that we move toward a greater embrace of our brothers and sisters, and the renunciation of ideas which are both non-canonical and suscepible to encouraging racist sentiments. But that same charity dictates that we do so in a way which does not denigrate (from an old Scandinavian word, not ‘negro’) men who were sincerely trying to understand within the context of the universal prejudices of their times.

    Margaret —

    I question the usefulness of a generalized institutional apology. First of all, for the reasons I described above I think it it so unlikely that it’s not worth the effort to even dream about. But more importantly, I think those kind of apologies misdirect the energy. It makes racism the fault of those people back then. A renunciation of the “fence-sitters'” story on the other hand is both more likely, and also hits home more directly at the most significant intellectual justification for residual racism among actual average current living Mormons.

  73. Craig V.,

    The Church (visible and invisible) is the local manifestation of the kingdom of God here upon the earth. As such, if it is seriously in error, it is the Lord’s responsibility to set it in order by whatever means necessary. He may not do this overnight – I believe he operates on much larger timescales than we often think are expedient, but he surely does operate. This is the principle taught in the Doctrine and Covenants:

    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—

    That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion. For shall the children of the kingdom pollute my holy land? Verily, I say unto you, Nay.
    (D&C 84:54-59)

    It is a general principle that judgments start first with those to whom the Lord has given much. For example:

    Behold, vengeance cometh speedily upon the inhabitants of the earth, a day of wrath, a day of burning, a day of desolation, of weeping, of mourning, and of lamentation; and as a whirlwind it shall come upon all the face of the earth, saith the Lord.

    And upon my house shall it begin, and from my house shall it go forth, saith the Lord; First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord.
    (D&C 112:24-25)

    Note also the principle about judgments being poured out from time to time until the Lord comes, generally whatever it takes to persuade as many as possible to live a standard of righteousness adequate to abide the day, that they might not be destroyed by the brightness of his coming. Refiner’s fire, fullers soap and all that.

    The Lord’s scourge shall pass over by night and by day, and the report thereof shall vex all people; yea, it shall not be stayed until the Lord come; For the indignation of the Lord is kindled against their abominations and all their wicked works.

    Nevertheless, Zion shall escape if she observe to do all things whatsoever I have commanded her. But if she observe not to do whatsoever I have commanded her, I will visit her according to all her works, with sore affliction, with pestilence, with plague, with sword, with vengeance, with devouring fire.

    Nevertheless, let it be read this once to her ears, that I, the Lord, have accepted of her offering; and if she sin no more none of these things shall come upon her; And I will bless her with blessings, and multiply a multiplicity of blessings upon her, and upon her generations forever and ever, saith the Lord your God. Amen.
    (D&C 97:23-28)

  74. I appreciate the thought and care that went into all the responses to my last post. I’ll try to keep up my end.

    Margaret, you suggest that I change my question a little to “am I growing in my discipleship as I participate in my church’s rituals? Am I becoming a little lamb to the great shepherd?� I agree that these are incredibly important questions. I would raise one caution, however. My growth as a disciple shouldn’t make me complacent with respect to the suffering of others in my community, especially when that suffering is in part made worse by the teachings of my own church. The reason I believe that I must ask “Is my church serving the Lord?� is that love (for my Lord and for my neighbors) demands it. I suspect that you understand this. I read your blog about preparing for the new semester, and you seem to me to be highly gifted with love.

    Rosalynde, you point out that church leaders can and do correct doctrinal error. I don’t doubt that. More than this, the very fact that we are having this discussion and that Kaimi can raise these issues shows that there is an openness in your church that has surprised and encouraged me. There is, however, an elephant in the room. Racism can never be some minor doctrinal problem in need of correction. It is egregious sin. It destroys people and communities. Whether Presbyterian or Mormon, it seems to me, if our church has taught erroneous doctrines that encouraged racism, those doctrines must be aggressively repudiated. Would the Lord require anything less than this? Your distinction between valid priesthood authority and purity of doctrine is a helpful one. There’s a third category I’d like to add to the mix, authenticity. Might it be that a church has a valid beginning and structure and believes (at least confessionally) all the right things and yet is, in Kierkegaard’s terms, merely playing Christianity? Of such a church, if it could exist, we would say, “It doesn’t seem real.� When a church confesses it’s involvement in something as evil as racism, though we will weep that she was involved, the confession itself has authority. Incidentally, I haven’t overlooked your ideas on misreading; I’m still thinking about that post.

    Jack, I agree that merely pointing out weaknesses in a church is not all that edifying. We are, after all, Presbyterian or Mormon, people. I’m having a difficult time, however, getting past that elephant. I don’t see it as simply a weakness.

    Brenda, I agree that the relationship between authority and pure doctrine needs to be explored further. Perhaps this would be a good topic for another blog. We want to make sure we don’t make the distinction so absolute that we end up describing mere caricatures of our respective churches.

    JWL, the comparison to Catholicism is helpful. I was describing our discussion to my wife yesterday and speculated that in some ways the Mormon church seemed more akin to Catholicism than to a Protestant denomination. Your post confirms that I’m on the right track. As far as it serving you well, I may need more convincing. To definitively change direction on race issues in 1978 seems to me, to use Margaret’s analogy, to place your church in taillight rather than headlight territory. From an outsider’s perspective, and forgive me if this is harsh, this looks like a reaction to current events and doesn’t carry the authenticity I alluded to above. It’s also not clear to me who was being protected. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I think I have more faith in Mormons than does your leadership.

    Mark, I agree that, ultimately, it is the Lord who protects, guides and governs his church. I also agree that there are times where change isn’t wise even though it may be right. At such times, we must trust the leaders God has placed over us. I still can’t get past the elephant, however. Has not God given us the means to confront evils like past racist teachings?

  75. Craig,

    I was born in 1970. That means I turned eight the same year that the revelation on the priesthood was announced. We started reading the Book of Mormon in my family when I was six. It was obvious to me from the words we read that the Lord did not discriminate by race in any substantive manner. I remember thinking by the time I was ten or so that I was so glad that this problem or whatever had been corrected. It didn’t seem to make any sense. The “fence sitter” thing seemed like bad apologetics for a bad scriptural interpretation.

    That is not to say that the Lord doesn’t send people to different areas, different nations, and different families with a view to their eventual salvation and the salvation of their brethren, just that the idea that a whole race is condemned no matter how righteous they are is ridiculous. It contradicts the doctrine of adoption taught in the New Testament. It contradicts several passages in the Book of Mormon. There are significant divisions between the Gentiles and the House of Israel, for example, but in the end only he that is righteous is favored of God.

    So what I am saying is that this problem is much less significant than perhaps it might appear. I don’t believe a whit of it, and I am on the conservative side of the spectrum. If there are people who still take it seriously despite everything that has been said they are probably in their sixties and seventies by now. It is an issue worth addressing from time to time, but the Church faces far more serious threats to its very integrity – threats that do indeed get most of the air time in General Conference and elsewhere.

  76. As to the how and why of the 1978 change, I cannot recomend enough the Manuscript version of the recent Kimball biography (available on CD-with the book), and the McKay biography.

  77. I have to disagree with Mark. I think the “problem” (which could refer to several problems) is far more serious than we might want to admit. Because of what I do and who I associate with, I have been privy to some of the the heartbreaking circumstances which surely motivated Pres. Hinckley to make his bold statement in Conference. My co-author, to whom I sent a link to this blog, wanted to respond immediately as one who has personally been wounded by racism and has been called in to heal the wounds of others–not people trying to deal with “past doctrines” or “what those guys said back then” but events of last week or last month–the carry-over of “what those guys said back then.” I hope he does respond.
    Craig, your comment “My growth as a disciple shouldn’t make me complacent with respect to the suffering of others in my community, especially when that suffering is in part made worse by the teachings of my own church” is extremely important. I think that you and I are in complete agreement. I believe growth implies recognition, confession of past sins, and a determined, unbordered effort to repair what has been damaged. I believe it is a sin to ignore suffering and to disregard ways “my own church” is contributing to it. There IS a problem in this church with a strong sense of self-protection, and an implied responsibility to protect Church leaders and to sometimes give unthinking credence to their words. That kind of loyalty can lead to blindness and coverups–to walking away from the sufferer on the road.
    Maybe I can twist your words a little. You said, “I have more faith in Mormons than does your leadership.” I would suggest that we Mormons need to have more faith in our leaders in the same way mature children have faith in their parents: We maintain respect, but we have long ago surrendered the notion that they’re perfect. In fact, we might recognize some serious problems that need to be addressed. In a family, if the problems result in someone’s exclusion or in a lack of unity, the issues must be addressed or we cease to function as a WHOLE family (whole meaning healed and complete). In a Christian church, we are part of the body of Christ and must heal any wound that threatens to divide or affect that body. (“If ye are not one…”) There are some teachings [wounds] so dangerous and toxic that they will inevitably become gangrenous and move far beyond the primary cut.
    I would really like to put you in contact with Darius.
    P.S. I am not nearly as loving as any of my blogs might suggest. My children could tell you such stories…

  78. Brenda (#69),

    Those statements are nice enough, but not an apology. OD-2, ending the priesthood ban, was not an apology. Neither is the Thirteenth Amendment.

    (It’s unclear what you mean by criminalization, too. Brown didn’t criminalize anything. The amendments don’t create criminal penalties; any criminal penalties would be created by statute.)

    For some good discussion on the importance of apology, see Roy Brooks’ new book, Atonement and Forgiveness, A New Model for Black Reparations. There are other sources on this, some of which I cite in my own articles, and the apology issue is also discussed in my forthcoming article on reparations.

  79. Margaret (#49 and #56),

    President Hinkley’s most recent priesthood session talk did not even come close to being an acknowledgment of error or fault regarding the Church’s pre-1978 denial of priesthood to blacks. Although I agree with Christian Y. Cardall that it “may be the closest we are likely to see to the repudiation some seek.”

    The Encyclopedia of Mormonism article on “Blacks” contains these helpful comments:

    “During [the period from 1830 to June 1978] black members could not hold the priesthood or participate in temple ordinances. The reasons for these restrictions have not been revealed. Church leaders and members have explained them in different ways over time…. [Prior to 1978,] Presidents of the Church taught that denial of entry to the priesthood was a current commandment of God, but would not prevent blacks from eventually possessing all eternal blessings.”

    Today, in 2006, those who seek a greater repudiation than President Hinckley recently gave must first seek removal of Official Declaration–2 from the Doctrine and Covenants—or have it reworded and resubmitted to a constituent assembly of the Church for approval.

    Official Declaration–2 is canon. It is official doctrine.

    Official Declaration–2 acknowledges that promises were made by the prophets and presidents of the Church prior to 1978 to the effect that

    “at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood.”

    Official Declaration–2 further acknowledges that the Lord

    “by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood.”

    These canonized statements not only announce removal of the Church’s denial of priesthood to blacks, they clearly affirm that the denial was not a misguided policy based on “folklore.”

    These canonized Official Declaration–2 statements will not likely be repudiated.

  80. Gary,

    I do not believe that OD-2 fairly implies that this revelation was not corrective in nature. What is does imply is the divine authority is delegated to the leaders of the Church, and if they have a policy, even a misguided one, the Lord will generally respect it, until they realize the error in their ways. That is the nature of authority – actual delegation of responsibility.

    Article of Faith Eleven is based on a very similar principle. Even though few temporal leaders actively seek inspiration in their callings, we have a divine obligation to obey the laws of the land, even laws that may be misguided, until the day comes that the error is corrected. The only exception is explicit inspiration to the contrary, of which there seems to be several historical examples.

  81. Mark,

    Under your view are there limits to the delegated authority? In other words is there a point at which the leaders would have strayed so far from truth that you would say, “I must obey God rather than human beings.”

    On a related note, I suspect there must be an account, from your view, as to how the early church lost its authority. Can you give me the 101 version of that account?

    I’m still having a hard time seeing what prevents your leadership from forthrightly acknowledging their error (or the error of the leadership before them) in this matter. As I’ve pointed out above, to fail to show true repentance in such an important area weakens credibility, and credibility, it seems to me, is key to the exercise of spiritual authority.

  82. Craig V.,

    I would say that if it is in within the legitimate scope of one’s discretion (i.e. the scope of one’s stewardship or agency, one should always follow the Spirit in preference to the general ideals of a mortal presiding authority). However if it is not in the scope of one’s legitimate discretion, one should approach his superior and outline the doctrinal reasons for his objection, and if some sign of reasonable accomodation or explanation of the policy is not made, either resign or carry out the instructions under private protest, depending on the gravity of the situation. What one must not do is work behind the scenes to subvert the Church or organization. That is dishonest and irresponsible behavior. Either the Church is a legimate institution that is acting within the scope of her discretion (even if it isn’t perfect) or it is an enemy to all righteousness. If the latter, resign, if the former work within the system and be patient.

    However, if the Church is legitimate the scripture is very clear:

    For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
    (1 Sam 15:23)

    Surely the Church deserves at least the same degree of respect as we give to secular governments. Compare the principles outlined in D&C 134:

    We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.

    We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such, being placed for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty; and that to the laws all men show respect and deference, as without them peace and harmony would be supplanted by anarchy and terror; human laws being instituted for the express purpose of regulating our interests as individuals and nations, between man and man; and divine laws given of heaven, prescribing rules on spiritual concerns, for faith and worship, both to be answered by man to his Maker.
    (D&C 134:5-6)

    If one has a testimony of the delegated divine authority of Church, he has a greater obligation of loyalty and fidelity to her, than to any secular government. But somehow this precedence is often reversed.

  83. I forwarded this blog–again–to my husband and to my co-author, both thoughtful and insightful men. I hope they can contribute to the conversation. I wish I had more time to do it myself. I wonder about calling Church leaders “our superiors,” however. If they truly understand their callings, they would refer to themselves as our SERVANTS. My humble opinion is that we are in a phase of growth which should be expected but is nonetheless hard to live with. Since I just struggled with one of my teenagers who is in his own phase of growth, this morning I I feel like an expert on that subject. He and I were painting his room during Labor Day. He wanted to take over the job, and I let him. I stupidly left him and the paint alone together. The first thing he did was to paint the windows–not the frames, but the glass. He had his reasons and was stubbornly determined to defend himself. I’d call his painting strong evidence of his immaturity. He’s not stupid; he just can’t resist his impulses at times, and he’s not about to apologize when he can defend himself (and especially when his mother was so upset.) I’d say that we as a church are somewhere near puberty–we’re only about 200 years old. We have become bigger than we can manage in some ways, and part of our method has been control. When we had the very public excommunications of several intellectuals a few years back, a friend in New York told me, “If they had been here instead of in Utah, nothing would’ve happened. The Church knows it lacks international control of its units, but that’s not the case in Utah. In Utah, the Church is able to control, so it does.” On the other hand, we have a family in our stake who consistently opposes the stake presidency and anyone involved in calling them, and anyone they [the presidency] has called. (My husband is in the stake presidency.) At one stake conference, the stake president put his talk aside after watching the family raise their hands in opposition to every candicate for the Melchizedek Priesthood (because the stake presidency had been involved), to every stake calling, to any GA who had had even a small part in selecting these particular three men, and of course to the stake presidency itself. He said rather emotionally, “We need your support so we won’t fail.” That statement has stuck with me. But does support mean unquestioning loyalty? That’s not the kind of support I give my husband. I love him far too much to not speak up when I think he’s wrong about something. I KNOW that there are many in high leadership positions who long for a definitive statement, but I’m quite sure there are others who fear what such a statement might imply about a living prophet, etc. Also, you have a group of men who spent a good part of their lives defending the priesthood restriction, and who might still believe much of what they said pre-1978. Because there is a rule of unanimity among the 12 and 1st Presidency, some of those leaders might need to die before the repudiation can come. Still, I see significant strides. I cleaned my son’s windows yesterday after he painted them, and I am eager to see another kind of cleansing happen in the Church. I have no doubt that it will simply because of what the Church is at its core. Leaders usually (I hope) recognize that they are servants, not masters. As servants to an international Church membership, they will become aware of the pain past statements have caused. Just as those in ancient times could not bear to see divisions in class and wealth, our current leaders, or perhaps those who follow them, will not be able to bear seeing the unsalved wounds of many who were hurt.

  84. Margaret Young wrote: “When we had the very public excommunications of several intellectuals a few years back, a friend in New York told me, ‘If they had been here instead of in Utah, nothing would’ve happened.’

    David P. Wright was excommunicated in New England, and Michael J. Barrett was excommunicated in the DC area. I don’t think your friend was right.

  85. Margaret (#90),

    I am using “superior” in a technical sense, derived from the latin for above (supra). I do not mean our “betters” or “moral superiors”, just our “administrative superior”. I suppose “leader” is a more common term to use, it is just a little more ambiguous than “ecclesiastical superior”. Shouldn’t others be able to lead by righteous example anyway?

  86. Chris, I think you were at BYU when the David Wright issue was hot in the news. Regardless of where his ultimate excommunication happened, his being fired from BYU for advocating that the Book of Mormon was a product of the 19th Century was extremely public and based in Utah. I don’t know about Michael Barrett. Neither Wright nor Barrett are in the “September 6.” All of those excommunications were in Utah. But of course, that’s another topic entirely, isn’t it.

  87. Margaret:

    Wright’s firing came 5 years before his excommunication in April 1994, the same month Barrett was excommunicated. And, of course, there have been other vocal dissidents excommunicated outside Utah, so I don’t see a pattern of spiritual laissez-faire outside of the Wasatch Front, nor do I think that maintenance of Church discipline is an adolescent phase that the Church needs to outgrow.

  88. Mark,

    In terms of legitimate scope of one’s discretion, there’s wisdom in what you say. In my experience, however, that kind of wisdom finds some rocky road when it comes to questions of injustice. If my brother or sister is being harmed by my church, private protest seems to me to be a pretty weak response. I agree that there is a need for the proper respect of leaders so that they can lead effectively. Margaret’s example illustrates this need well. For issues of justice, however, I do my leaders no good if I let them off the hook in the name of supporting their authority.

    I’m not sure what you mean or whom you have in mind when you write of the dishonest and irresponsible behavior of subverting the church. I would argue that a church unable to repent of its past racist beliefs and behavior is its own worst enemy. If I were to ask my Presbyterian congregation to list ten things they know about Mormonism, I can assure that almost all would include prejudice against African Americans as one point. You might conclude from this that Presbyterians don’t know too much about Mormons (and there’s truth to this, at least in my own case), but it seems to me that these negative impressions are part of the cost of a policy that refuses to forthrightly state something like, “We excluded blacks from the priesthood and that was not from God. It was our own error. This error caused much pain and suffering and for this we seek forgiveness.�

    When you say “Either the Church is a legitimate institution that is acting within the scope of her discretion (even if it isn’t perfect) or it is an enemy to all righteousness�, that seems like a pretty harsh either or. Is this true of all churches or just the LDS church?

    If you could answer my question about the official LDS explanation of how the early church (by this I mean the church of the first few centuries AD) lost its authority I think that would give me a better understanding of how you see authority.

    Thanks for your patience with me. I highly value the opportunity this blog gives for real conversation.

  89. Craig, In regard to the either or, I would say it is actually a biased spectrum where most ecclesiastical institutions are a net good whose institutional prerogatives are worthly of at least temporal respect. This includes virtually all Christian churches and virtually all secular governments.

    It is a personal article of faith of mine that most things (even worldly things) are net goods, i.e. they are better than nothing. Anything that is properly speaking a net evil is inspired of or in league with the devil. There are doctrines of God, and of men, and of devils. We are instructed to contend against no church save it be the church of the devil. No church or government who promotes or maintains the life and peace of a truly flourishing society is the church of the devil. The way of the devil is lust, sin, and death.

  90. Dang, I wish Darius and Bruce would add to this. They have both talked to me privately about this particular blog and they have such marvelous insights. Craig, I would actually go further than you would in the repudiation. It is not enough to say that the priesthood restriction was wrong–most of the Churches in the nation [including yours] effectively restricted Blacks from their priesthoods during the 18th Century, usually up until the Civil Rights movement became a collective, massive, and unified effort and included video recordings of police brutality, disparate educational facilities, lynchings, burnings, etc. Suddenly and in a new world–one which had been called to accountability through the horrors of the Holocaust–we saw the FACES of former slaves or their descendants, and that made a difference. (Levinas would say that the human face calls us to responsibility and carries in itself the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill.) Those who did not fight it with inculcated tradition and reinforced prejudice had their consciences stirred, and MLK’s dream started becoming a reality. In the LDS faith, however, we had “authoritative” books on the shelves which attempted to justify our restriction of Blacks using archaic ideas (curse of Cain/Ham/Canaan) or uniquely Mormon speculations, which the institutional memory had cast as near scripture (that those with Black bodies were receiving a judgment for their less than valiant behavior in the pre-mortal life.) Scriptures were mingled with racialist ideas and traditions to create explanations which the majority of active Mormons believed at the time. (Many still do.) Though there were many in the LDS faith (Emeritus General Authority Marion D. Hanks and the late, great Hugh B. Brown come immediately to mind) who tried to get rid of such unChristian folklore, it managed to survive–particularly in Utah and Idaho, where Blacks were not even a minority but an anomaly. For example, Provo, Utah, during the year Darius lived here [1965] was the largest city in the U.S. without a resident African American family–though there were three or four Nigerians at BYU. So I would say the apology must get specific about the folklore and any books or teaching materials which promulgate it should be removed from the shelves as a small emblem of our repentence. I don’t know how many visitors to T&S are following this blog (this is the only one I’m responding to), but I think your statement that your congregation would list racism as a characteristic of Mormons is of utmost importance. (They would also list polygamy, right? And right-wing politics, no drinking of coffee or tea, homophobia, and possibly misogyny. Some with Mormon friends might list a few admirable characteristics as well.) I’m going on too long, but this issue is so deep in my heart. I attended a meeting for African American genealogists a couple of weeks ago and had a long talk with one of the Black attendees. She said, “I do genealogy so I can understand who I really am. I grew up in Utah and I was told so often what a terrible person I was. I was given such a bad image of myself by the predominant culture that my mother had to keep telling me I really was all right. As I do genealogy, I begin to feel the strength of my ancestors and I know the perception I was fed isn’t true.” (She is not LDS, btw.) Socialogist C. Eric Lincoln (now deceased) identified Mormons specifically as one of three groups “at the narthex” of racialist teachings. The truth is, we get specifically identified with racism because we clung to our policy longer than pretty much anyone else, and we kept justifying it. And the Mormon priesthood is different from the Catholic priesthood because every “worthy” young Mormon man (age 12) is eligible to receive the lesser (Aaronic) priesthood and at age 18, to receive the higher, or Melchizedek, priesthood. So as segregation and equality became daily issues, the priesthood restriction was very noticeable. (Genesis started as a desperate effort of three Black LDS men to keep their children–sons specifically–in the faith they had chosen. It did not succeed in that effort, though it began something which has grown into a wonderful support for any who attend its meetings.) As a church, one of our biggest hurdles is the perception others have of us. We want to blame them for not getting to know us better, but the blame really rests in ourselves. As to your other question about how the early church lost its authority, I hope someone else answers it. I could, but I am taking up far too much space already. I just want you to know that I represent many, many Latter-day Saints, black and white, to whom this issue matters deeply. As I’m sure you felt called by God to become a minister, I have felt called by God to involve myself in this issue, and in telling the stories of the Black pioneers whose descendants long ago quit the LDS Church. I feel a duty to them, and more importantly to Christ, whose love was boundless.

  91. Margaret,

    Thanks for your comments so far, I’ve really enjoyed them.

    You’re right, of course, that many other denominations adopted explicitly racist policies. The Mormons were really small potatoes when it came to racist theology; many other groups had very problematic rhetoric. I’ve got some of these speeches in a book at my office, Defending Slavery by the historian Paul Finkelman — it’s a real eye-opener.

    I’m also horrified by the broad perception of Mormons as racists. I wish the church would take steps to distance itself from past doctrines, and to apologize for past acts. Absent an official statement from the church, the only way to change the perception is incrementally. This puts the responsibility in the hands of individual members.

    One of the very nice side effects of my own academic work — which relates to reparations for slavery — is that I feel like I’m helping in this area. I’m relatively sure no one who knows my work could honestly say “all Mormons have racist attitudes against Blacks.” This isn’t the main reason why I research and write in this area, but it’s a very nice side effect. People know me through my reparations work, and this may change their perception of Mormons.

    On the other hand, the problem with hoping for incremental change is that small individual positive acts are so easily negated by equally small and individual negative acts. I like to think that I do my part to project a non-racist image. I’m writing articles and participating in conferences on reparations. On the other hand, for every positive message that I’m able to send out, another member may cancel by making disparaging racist statements at work or school. I have my worries that the overall net incremental effect, taking into account actions by individual members everywhere, may in fact be negative. This saddens me, yet I can’t deny that it’s potentially true. There are still a lot of racist members of the church; I still hear statements sometimes in church settings that make me wince; I wonder how many similar statements are made to others, that reinforce the existing perceptions.

    I feel like I’m outnumbered sometimes. That’s one reason I particularly enjoy your posts and comments. Statements affirming the number of people for whom this matters make me feel less alone in my hope to incrementally change both the perception of the church, and the member attitudes and beliefs that so often lead to and reinforce that perception.

  92. Kaima, I’d like to know more about your work as well. One thing I’m learning about blogging is that it’s not as easy as it appears. I sometimes read what I have written and wince. One thing I’d like to make a little clearer: When I wrote of what my congregation might think about Mormonism, I was thinking strictly in terms of Mormonism and not about individual Mormons. Also, if I sound self righteous, forgive me. In terms of the actual evils of slavery and racism, Presbyterians were a big part of what was (and still is) wrong with this country. At that time, many of those in power were Presbyterians and many used that power poorly. My reason for focusing on Mormon teaching is that the topic, as I understand it, asks us to choose between formal, open refutation of racist doctrine or simply letting those doctrines die by attrition. I don’t think the latter choice really works, and it’s not, in my view, what God calls us to do.

  93. Craig,

    The difference here is that generally speaking LDS members do not believe it is our choice to make, but rather it is the responsibility of the leaders of the Church to do what is required. Now that does not mean we cannot do what we can, both personally, and within the scope of our stewardships and assignments, it just means that there is a presumptive trust (hope in some cases) that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve will make the appropriate statements as necessary, so far as any formal repudiations are concerned.

  94. Margaret,

    I’m happy to discuss my own work.

    My publications in this area are Slavery as a Takings Clause Violation, 53 American University Law Review 191 (2003), and Causation and Attenuation in the Slavery Reparations Debate, 40 University of San Francisco Law Review 279 (2005). I’ll drop reprints of these in the mail for you. (Ditto for you if you’d like, Craig, although I’ll need an address. Margaret’s address is easy, since she’s at BYU.)

    I also organized, chaired, and spoke at a reparations conference at Thomas Jefferson Law School this past March. I previously posted an abstract of my remarks on this blog, at . The conference proceedings have not yet been published, but will be published later this year by the Thomas Jefferson Law Review. (My final published piece will differ slightly from the initial abstract I posted on the blog, but is not substantially different.)

    I will also be participating as an invited panelist on a panel at this year’s annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus (later this week, actually). I’m not sure whether that panel discussion will be transcribed, but if it is, I’ll send you a copy.

    Finally, I’m continuing to write and research in this area. I have a few works in progress – back-burnered at present, due to time commitments – and I’ll let you know if any of those are picked up for publication (assuming that I finish them).

    Let me turn the question back to you, if I may. Is there a central repository of “the interesting work of Margaret and Darius (and others, for that matter) on Blacks in the church?� I ask both out of general curiosity, and because I’d be interested in incorporating relevant work into my own research. Where should I start?

    And on an even broader level, what resources would you suggest for general research on Blacks and Mormons? Given my research, I’ve got literally dozens of books on race and slavery sitting in my office bookcase – Randall Robinson, Roy Brooks, Paul Finkelman, Thomas Morris, Eric Foner, Al Brophy, Leon Higginbotham, Mark Tushnet, Derrick Bell, and many more – but I think my only Blacks-and-Mormons book may be Mauss and Bush. I’m a relative neophyte in the Mormon studies arena. What sources would you recommend?

  95. (Also, I should note that although I think that my own religious sensibilities inform and influence my views on reparations, my own articles on the subject have been mostly dry legal argument, not particularly religious or moral argument. However, there are some very good moral arguments being made in the reparations context. One very good recent book is Roy Brooks’ book Atonement and Forgiveness, A New Model for Black Reparations, published a few years ago by the University of California press. Professor Brooks takes an explicitly moral, atonement-based approach in making a novel and compelling argument.)

  96. So many deep and heartfelt posts have been made on the subject here and it is great to see so many sicere opinions.

    As for the preexistant role of any one race I cannot say that I know nor can I claim a witness of the truthfulness of any general authorities opinion on the subject beyond it being their own opinions…

    However, I have the scriptures which do contain doctrine concerning lineage (not race) in both the old and the new testiment. Also the Book of Mormon itself speaks of equality of men in God\’s eyes as far as the value of their souls and speaks specifically against slavery.

    I did read one post in this thread that I have to disagree with… the statement that the Church should apologize that some of its members were slave owners is rediculous. The Church did not cotrol the decision of the individual regarding this issue…

    Joseph Smith Jr. The Churche\’s founder was an Abolitionist.

    In the Times and Seasons printed in Nauvoo May 15th 1844 just weeks before the assasination of Joseph and Hyrum it was printed Joseph Smith\’s entire presidential platform (he was a candidate for President of the United States) which reads in part:

    \”Petition also, ye goodly inhabitants of the slave states, your legislators to abolish slavery by the year 1850, or now, and save the abolitionist from reproach and ruin, infamy and shame. Pray Congress to pay every man a reasonable price for his slaves out of the surplus revenue arising from the sale of public lands, and from the deduction of pay from the members of Congress. Break off the shackles from the poor black man, and hire them to labor like other human beings; for \”an hour of virtuous liberty on earth, is worth a whole eternity of bondage!\”

    Joseph had many other more controversial opinions at the time against slavery and the hypocritical imbalance of liberty procliamed for all men in the US constitution.

    This was one of the motivating factors in the assasination of Joseph Smith. Abolition was an unpopular stance to take among many who lived in the area.

    The issue of Blacks and the priesthood is an issue of lineage… not just skin color. Lineage and priesthood are doctrines as old as the old testiment and the Levitical priesthood.

    Does the Church need to issue an apology for the opinions of its members even if they are prominent and possibly served as General Authorities?

    One of the basic beliefs of the Church is that men are responsible for their own transgretions (see the articles of faith).

    Racism existed and exists among church members, it exists in our society, not just among white churches either but among the black churches, jewish synagogs, in islam, and in our society as a whole.

    The church\’s doctrine exists in the cannonized scripture, proclamations to the church and world signed by the first presidency. Other publications may contain opinion and doctrinal insight but we are left to ourselves to dicern truth by the Gift and power of the holy ghost.

    Personally, I have no doubt that lineage and race have roles to play in our earthly experience but as to dwelling on theories of premortal performance the only clear picture we have as a Church is found in the old testiment, new testiment, book of mormon, doctrine and covenants, and pearl of great price.

    In my own \”non doctrinal\” opinion I think in the realm of blessings those who suffered as slaves, who were persecuted and hated for their skin color, and yet were among the first to recieve the Gospel were blessed…

    Among those were my ancestors who were slaves in Egypt and who crossed the Red Sea on dry ground lead by a prophet of God and also the ancestors of good families of African Americans who ancestors were brought over as slaves, lived in bondage, freed through the blood of millions and by the effort of nobel men, and who were blessed to be among the first of their race to hear the Restored Gospel taught in its fullness and receive it by baptism.

    I could care less whether someone \”sat on the fence\” in the premortal existance and I have no clue if anyone did because I do not remember that time nor have I seen it in vision. I

    n my eyes the fact that all people are here on this earth attests that they chose to follow Jesus and now is a great time when all men and woman no matter what lineage can enjoy all the blessings and powers of the priesthood… that has been God\’s plan from the beginning but as illustrated in the Old testiment there is a time and a season for all things and all things shall be revealed and all things shall be fulfilled acording the prophecies that God has given us through Prophets past and prophets current.

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