Blacks and the Priesthood: What are the options?

Why were Blacks denied the Priesthood from the early days of the church until 1978? Of course, the official (and only really undisputable) answer is, “we don’t know.” But what are the options, really? Let’s go over the list of conceptually coherent potential reasons for the Priesthood ban. For each potential rationale, I’ll list some pros (potential reasons this rationale might be viewed as the most sensible explanation) and cons (potential problems with the rationale).

1. Conscious racism.

Perhaps the ban was created because Joseph Smith and/or Brigham Young, and later apostles, were actively racist. They viewed Blacks as inferior, and actively chose to exclude them from church leadership. (Various possible methods would exist for this: Either they simply instituted man-made racist policies; or they were unable to distinguish between God’s revelations and their own racist ideas.)

Pros: This dovetails with some negative racial statements made by some church leaders.

Cons: This doesn’t mesh with statements made late in Joseph Smith’s life. It also doesn’t mesh with efforts of some church leaders (Clark, McKay) to undermine the ban.

This approach is also unlikely to be accepted by mainstream church members. Conscious racism is typically viewed as a very negative trait in today’s society.

(Counter-con: Are we imposing modern standards too much? Historically, racism was not viewed as a negative trait.)

2. Unconscious racism.

Perhaps Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others were not actively racist. On the other hand, they lived in a very racist society. Perhaps they unconsciously internalized some ideas about the status of Blacks, and these ideas made their way into the Priesthood ban. They may have genuinely believed that their impression came from God, but it actually came from their own socialization. (Or, perhaps they followed what were then viewed as “scientific” ideas about race, which have since been discredited.)

Pros: This meshes with the historical record relatively well. A number of statements by early church leaders seem devoid of malice, but also seem to assume inferiority of Blacks.

Cons: For active Mormons, this explanation opens cans of worms. It raises the question of how to tell when a church leader is speaking for God.

2a. Intertia.

Perhaps the initial ban was put in place for reasons of racism. However, it was maintained by virtue of inertia. Later church leaders were not racist, but simply didn’t think to question a longstanding practice.

Pros: May be more comfortable for church members to accept. Early leaders can be viewed in historical context, as racists when that was more socially normal. Later leaders are not viewed as racist.

Cons: Raises questions about church leadership, the role of revelation, and to what degree God is guiding the church. Is it really better for modern leaders to be asleep at the wheel, than to be racist?

3. Fitting in (decision made by man).

Church members lived in a racially segregated society. Perhaps leaders established the ban as a pragmatic measure, to prevent antagonism with segregationists around them.

Pros: This provides a non-racist explanation. It fits some of the historical evidence as well. After the Phelps letter upset slaveowners, church members tried to distance themselves from anti-slavery sentiment and appease slaveowner opponents.

Cons: You’re telling me that the polygamy-supporting, United Order-following, modern revelation-believing church leaders were interested in fitting in?

Counter-con: If the ban was established by Joseph Smith, then it may have predated some of the other measures — certainly public polygamy, and maybe public United Order.

Counter-counter-con: But what about Elijah Abel? The evidence seems to suggest that Brigham Young was most important in establishing the ban. And by that time, we were already known as a very peculiar people.

Counter-con: Maybe they had enough battles to fight, and chose to fit in on this issue.

Counter-counter-con: Why this one, though?


The first three explanations share one major feature: They suggest that the ban was instituted by men, not by God.

4. Fitting in (decision made by God).

Perhaps a decision was made to fit in, but not by Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. Perhaps the decision was God’s. In this sense, it may be like Abraham telling Pharaoh — at God’s direction — that his wife was his sister.

Pros: God sometimes acts this way (Abraham story). This explanation also places the ultimate responsibility on God, which is probably more comfortable for most church members.

Cons: As before: We didn’t try to fit in other ways. Why this way?

5. Abrahamic test.

Perhaps this commandment was like Abraham sacrificing his son. It was truly an unreasonable commandment. But it was only given to test our faithfulness. Not necessarily because God believed the commandment was good.

Pros: It fits the modern psyche. I think about being asked to join a church that bans Blacks, and it seems repugnant. Today, it would be an Abrahamic test for many members.

Cons: This doesn’t really work historically. Today, it looks like an Abrahamic test. But historically, it was considered normal to be racist. The ban was in place during a time that racism was accepted as normal. Utah legalized slavery, and later had Jim crow laws. It’s unlikely that early church leaders or very many members viewed the ban as repugnant. So if it’s an Abrahamic test, it’s a really strange one. It tested the conviction of J. Reuben Clark, and of Jane Manning James and her family. For the cost imposed (on church missionary work, for instance), that’s a really pricey test. Also, it lasted over 100 years — the knife _didn’t_ get stopped before people were actually hurt.

Counter-con: Maybe it’s to provide an Abrahamic test for converts today. Will you join a church with a racist past?

Counter-counter-con: What, our polygamist past isn’t enough of a hurdle?

Another con: What about Elijah Abel? Did God, or Joseph Smith, forget about the Abrahamic test when ordaining him?

Counter-con: Our evidence on Elijah Abel is decent, but not overwhelming. Maybe we’re wrong about him?

6. Cursed lineage.

This is an explanation often suggested by church leaders. Blacks derive from the lineage of Cain. This lineage is cursed.

Pros: Very often, strongly endorsed by church leaders. It’s in Mormon Doctrine.

Also, it meshes with our understanding of Old Testament Priesthood rules, which were largely concerned with lineage. So there’s evidence that God has operated this way, before.

Cons: This is the 21st century. Do we still believe in cursed lineage?

Counter-con: Angels and gold plates are okay, but cursed lineage isn’t? When you accept the possibility of the supernatural, you take the good and the bad.

Another con: Lineage is a joke anyway. All sorts of studies have established that racial categories are not firm. Some light-skinned Blacks pass as white, and are eventually assimilated as white. Something like 30% of white Americans have distinct genetic markers associated with Black ethnic groups.

Maybe you can run a cursed-lineage rule in ancient Israel, dealing with specific descendants of a named person, who we can all count. But today? Really, if Cain existed, it’s likely that upwards of 90% of white Americans today are in his lineage.

Counter-con: The ban was established a century ago, at a time when racial intermingling was much less common. It’s almost certain that there were fewer whites of Black lineage then.

Counter-counter-con: True, but really. America? A mongrel nation, even then. And don’t tell me the new converts were all racially pure Europeans. England? Invaded by Normans, Romans, Vikings, and pretty much everyone else. Germany? Don’t make me laugh.

So even at the time the ban was instituted, a significant number of “white” Americans are likely to have had one or more Black ancestors somewhere along the line.

Last con for this one: Wasn’t this idea repudiated by the McConkie “forget everything” talk? He espoused this idea. Was his talk a repudiation?

Counter-con: The talk doesn’t exactly repudiate the logic, though. And he’s never removed many of the statements from Mormon Doctrine, even in later printings.

Counter-counter-con: But it’s not really doctrine, is it? It says all sorts of wacky speculation about the Catholic Church and whatnot.

Counter-counter-counter-con: And yet it still sits on many LDS hearths, doesn’t it?

7. Black inferiority: Less valiant in the pre-existence.

This idea was also frequently suggested by church leaders during the time of the ban: Because Blacks were less valiant in the pre-existence, they will be kept from the Priesthood in this life.

Pros: Strongly supported in numerous statements by church leaders.

Possibly more acceptable to white members, especially liberal members. Blacks aren’t excluded due to their own failing, or to racism. It’s due to an established, past fact.

Cons: Seems kind of icky. Implies Black inferiority, but due to an empirical claim that can never be tested or proven. Also, suggests the possibility that Blacks will be less valiant in this life.

Also, fits strangely into our seriously underdeveloped ideas of the pre-existence. How much of this life _is_ based on our choices in the pre-existence? We’ve never really established that. How far does this principle go?

Another con: How do you explain the 1978 revelation? We ran out of less valiant Blacks, and we’re all good, now? If this explanation held for pre-1978, does it hold now? Are we ordaining less-valiant-in-the-Pre-ex folks now? Why the change?


Reasons #6 and #7 are the rationales most often cited (by a wide margin) by church leaders at the time the ban was in place.

These statements may have been implicitly repudiated by Elder McConkie’s “forget everything” talk. On the other hand, the actual effect of that talk on prior doctrinal statements is really not clear.

8. Black inferiority: Less worthy in mortal life.

I separate this from explanation #1 (human racism). Another conceptually coherent explanation is that God himself believes that Blacks are less worthy, as mortals, to receive the Priesthood.

Pros: This would place the onus for the ban on God.

Cons: Do we really want to worship a racist God? Why would God create people in his image if they were less worthy?

Counter-con: Isn’t the Old Testament basically a long brief for the idea that some ethnic groups of people _are_ less worthy, less important to God, and so on?

Counter-counter-con: Wasn’t that supplanted by the New Testament?

Another con: Why not just continue to put the hurdle at the bishop’s interview? Unworthy applicants (including unworthy Blacks) would be filtered out; worthy applicants (including worthy Blacks) would receive the Priesthood.

112 comments for “Blacks and the Priesthood: What are the options?

  1. While I think the question Kaimi poses is fascinating, I think it is ultimately unanswerable. (Which doesn’t mean it isn’t worth thinking about, and recent comments by Kevin Barney have caused me to reconsider my allegiance to the “we don’t know” position.) In any case, another approach to the issue (or: something to keep in mind regardless of what we think the cause was) is to look at how God used the ban for good (regardless of its source). I tried to do that here:

  2. Great questions. I think until someone comes up with equally great answers, I will remain in a camp of; are we really that much different than other Christians? If it is okay for us (The Only True Church on the Face of The Earth) to have/get things wrong, then why is it not equally okay for the Catholic church to have/get things wrong and still be the true church? What’s the difference?

    I am not trying to start an argument here, so please, no one take this in that light. But I would like to see an answer that makes sense.

  3. #9

    Priesthood was given to all incrementally

    With Abraham it was isolated in one family (with the exception of Melchezedik – we no of no other priesthood holders at the time)

    With Moses it extended to a people – but limited to Hebrews

    With Jesus it extended to the Gentiles (but roughly Europe with some outlying areas – posiibly remnants of the 12 tribes)

    With Joseph Smith it extended to all the lost tribes including the Lamanites

    With 1978 – it extended to all peoples – both those of Hebrew lineage and those not of Hebrew lineage.

    In each case there are some exceptions to the rule, but generally the priesthood is limited to outsiders. Melchezedik, Jethro, Ethiopian Converts, Elijah Abel are exceptions to the rule. They, perhaps, precede the extension of then priesthood in a preparatory fashion.

    This leads to a #10

    The church membership was not ready – we were an exclusionary church and the Lord was waiting for the members to change. This is not unprecedented in our modern history – the united order – or in ancient history – Aaronic priesthood vs Melchezedik – So, as noted above, the Lord sent individuals i.e. Elijah Abel, to prove to the general membership that the priesthood should not exclude based on lineage.

    This leads to discussion on women and the priesthood – which is a pro or con depending on your point of view.

  4. I think at first church leaders were willing to give black men the priesthood, but that at some point they saw this materialize in a black male priesthood holder seeking to be sealed to a white woman, something to which at least some church leaders were very opposed. I think at that point Brigham Young saw a priesthood ban as a practical means to prevent black male Mormons from marrying white female Mormons.

    This is a theory I have, based on one article I read that dealt with this subject. The explanation actually made sense. I’m not saying I agree with the decision – I mean that in reading this, I could see the mental/logical processes that led very quickly from initial priesthood acceptance (of blacks) to a priesthood ban for blacks. This is the only historical explanation I’ve ever read that rings true to me.

  5. By the way, I have a black female friend who attended BYU and had dates (the romantic
    kind) cancelled with the following explanation: “I couldn’t ever bring you home to my family.” This happened on more than one occasion to her and she said it was absolutely a crushing experience, making her feel “like nothing.” This came up in the course of a conversation I had with her specifically about what is it like to be black at BYU.

    I think the mixing of blacks and whites in marriage, in our Church, is still quite controversial. Maybe not loudly so – but there are many people who have a problem with it. So this isn’t a problem that has really gone away.

  6. I have wondered if something like the ban was put in place in Joseph’s day to avoid problems. In this hypothetical, the ban isn’t on African-Americans, but on slaves. (THere’s at least one statement about Joseph Smith not wanting to ordain slaves.)

    After Joseph’s death, it’s a very short jump from slaves to all Africans, with theological support provided by popular culture, a la descendants of Cain.

  7. Ben, are you suggesting a new option: the honest misunderstanding? Joseph said don’t ordain slaves and future leaders thought he meant don’t ordain blacks?

    That’s interesting.

  8. This article was originally linked to in a BCC: comment here. I found the article quite interesting and it’s the first time I’ve ever actually seen the priesthood ban identified with a very specific historical context.

    If I understand this linked article correctly, a black man named Enoch Lovejoy Lewis (son of Quack Walker Lewis) was ordained to hold the Melchizedek priesthood and also was married to a white Mormon woman named Mary Matilda Webster Lewis. When Brigham Young and other LDS leaders learned that this had happened, that a black Mormon priesthood holder had married a white Mormon woman, they were upset enough about it to impose the prohibition on blacks receiving the priesthood.

    This explanation makes sense to me because it shows an actual catalyst for the (sudden?) change in church policy on the subject. I had heard for many years that Joseph Smith allowed black men to be ordained and somehow I had the impression that Brigham Young had something to do with the policy change – but this article provided the first instance where I actually read an explanation for it.

  9. I have a comment that has been held up in moderation – it has two links and that may have triggered a mechanism that identifies multiple link comments as spam.

  10. Geoff,

    I think the Abrahamic test is different in that God commanded whereas there is no revelation to deny blacks priesthood. In my opinion, the only real honest answer is that men are racists and as such even God’s church can have racist mistakes.

  11. Ben’s suggestion seems like a viable alternative:

    In this hypothetical, the ban isn’t on African-Americans, but on slaves. (THere’s at least one statement about Joseph Smith not wanting to ordain slaves.)

    After Joseph’s death, it’s a very short jump from slaves to all Africans, with theological support provided by popular culture, a la descendants of Cain.

    It invokes aspects of 2a but also provides a source for the beginning of the ban. I can see how that assumption could be made (jumping from a ban on slaves to a ban on all blacks) and then implementing uncritically, thinking it was a policy/doctrine instituted by Joseph Smith himself, when it actually wasn’t.

  12. Gilgamesh said in #4: [option #10 for the priesthood ban] The church membership was not ready.

    That reminds me, I’ve heard a variation on option #5, so that makes this option #11: Black people themselves were not ready to hold the priesthood until a time the Lord deemed otherwise.

    As for myself, I’m firmly in the #1-3 camp. For a Church that understands the meaning of family and man’s filial relationship to God better than any other Christian sect to up and say, “Oh no, wait! SOME of God’s children are lesser children, and are undeserving of the priesthood ordinances that make the family unit eternal!” — I cannot worship a God who would approve of this view, let alone make it part of His doctrine, and I must therefore conclude that the ban represented ignorance on the part of Church leaders. Because forget all that “living church” talk: I’m the product of an interracial marriage, and I’m in one myself. More than half of the modern prophets would have firmly placed me in a “cursed” lineage, and if that was truly God’s will, then I need a new God. ‘Cause that ain’t the God I’ve come to know.

  13. My own slant is a combination of Ben’s comment #9 and danithew’s comment #7 – with a nod to the original #2.

    Joseph ordained at least one free Black man. He also said quite clearly not to ordain slaves – I believe as a purely practical, political, social matter.

    I think it is absolutely clear that Brigham Young was totally freaked out about the prospect of a Black man being sealed to a White woman. It is clear to me that BY did not make his position based on a claim to revelation – but rather that he tried to justify it by appealing to what JS had taught about Blacks. He grabbed a hold of the one statement that seemed to support a ban (“don’t ordain slaves”), ignored the ordinance of Elijah Abel, and instituted a sweeping ban that would fix the “problem” once and for all – and that would be accepted in a society (America, at large) that was based on racial assumptions.

    I think God allowed it to happen because that’s what He does – waiting for leaders and the Church in general to be ready for a change. Personal example I might have shared previously at T&S:

    When I served in a Stake Mission Presidency in the Deep South years ago, I had a very strong impression that the missionary work there literally would explode as soon as the White *and* Black communities learned to see each other truly as equal brothers and sisters in the sight of God – once they both were willing to embrace each other and worship side-by-side in mixed congregations. Until that happened, we would continue to see the slow trickling in of individual Black converts – many of whom drifted into inactivity due *both* to residual racism among some White members *and* the pressure they experienced from their Black community over “abandoning” their racial heritage to attend a mixed congregation, “White man’s” church.

    So, my own option: Joseph believed in ordaining worthy Black men. Both Brigham and the Church membership in general weren’t ready to deal with the consequences of that belief – particularly inter-racial sealings and “taking orders” from a Black man, so a ban was instituted (and intellectual justifications were created / adopted / assimilated) until both the leadership and membership in general were converted sufficiently to allow for mixed congregations and mixed leadership (the ideal) to occur without tearing apart the Church itself. The ideals of the Gospel always are ahead of what we are able and willing to do. (e.g., United Order) I think God wept over the ban, but He let it happen and only lifted it when the Church was sufficiently cleansed and ready to accept it – with all its implications, including inter-racial sealings and Black men leading mixed or even predominantly White congregations.

    In the end, I am left to say, “I don’t know” – but the above makes the most sense to me. It makes me weep, but it also comforts me in odd and compelling ways.

  14. Re: #16 I’d accept the “I don’t know” response a lot more if that had been the rhetoric over the decades, e.g. if Mormon Doctrine said “The Lord has withheld the priesthood from the Negro, and the reasons are the Lord’s own (even if some Church leaders happen to approve of it).” The trouble is that the concept of leaders actually answering questions with “I don’t know” seems to be fairly recent; it seems like all the way through Pres. Joseph F. Smith, prophets would fully answer questions put to them, to the best of their understanding and opinion.

    Therefore, the relatively recent onslaught of evasive answers troubles me more than admitting to past errors (see also Mountain Meadows Massacre issues).

  15. Danithew–no, you didn’t quite get the trail from Connell’s article. Quack Walker Lewis is usually referred to as simply Walker Lewis. He was ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood by William Smith (Joseph’s brother). He even came to SLC around 1853, and at some point proposed marriage to Jane Manning James. (That’s would’ve been plural marriage, since Jane was already married.) We know that Walker Lewis asked Jane to be sealed to him because Jane mentioned it years later in one of her many petitions to receive the endowment. Enoch was Walker Lewis’s son, and yes, his interracial relationship was controversial. It did not, however, provide the foundation for the restriction. It did provide the foundation for strong statements by Brigham Young against interracial marriage. Young suggested that the penalty for a white Mormon marrying a black was “death on the spot.”

  16. Kaimi is presenting his options as all-encompassing, when I think the question needs to be broken into at least two components in order to get to the right answers:

    1) Was the ban originally imposed in response to revelation?
    If so, which of reasons 4-9 (or 10) was behind it?
    If not, which of reasons 1-3 was behind it?

    2) Why was the ban not removed sooner?
    This is very complicated if the answer to #1 is that the ban was not imposed in response to revelation. Was a revelation necessary to lift the ban in that case? If so, why was the revelation so long in coming? If not, … well, if not, then were’ back to 1-3 again.

    At any rate, I think more alternatives than 1-10 are needed to cover the possibilities of why the ban remained in place so long. To me, it seems plausible that the racism of certain apostles inhibited such a revelation. The Lord, of course could have provided the revelation to the remaining apostles anyway, but deliberately did not. I suspect he might have tolerated their racism and not provoked a division in the quorum because those apostles had other missions to fulfill that were of higher priority to him than lifting the ban. (I am spinning this theory mostly around the “not yet” response received by David O. McKay in response to his inquiries of the Lord.)

  17. Margaret, I’m glad you chimed in here. Some questions I have:

    Can we put a specific date on when the priesthood ban began? Day? Month? Year?

    Can we state for sure that it was Brigham Young who changed the policy and instituted the ban?

    Can we identify a specific catalyst or event that led to the priesthood ban being instituted?

    [I assume a church policy that allowed for blacks to hold the priesthood or at least a church precedent because Joseph Smith ordained at least one black man to the priesthood.]

  18. I agree with Steve in #6. Not only do I think that fits the history the best, but I also think that it is in the best interests of the Church going forward if the ban were of men and not of God.

    As a matter of apologetics, we can try to defend the ban, and it is the perfectly natural and knee-jerk reaction of defenders of the faith to do so. But if we defend the ban as having come from God, our success at attracting contemporary African Americans will always be limited.

    If we can stand up and acknowledge that the ban was a culturally-conditioned mistake, blacks can accept that (for what other institutions of American society at that time weren’t similarly racist?) and we can all move on, leaving the ban to the dustbin of history.

    We as a Church *want* to move on, but we really can’t so long as we continue to cling to the folk dogmas and aetiological myths that arose as a way to try to explain the otherwise inexplicable ban.

    At least, if I were a black man, I would give serious consideration to a church that at one time denied blacks ordination but has since changed and repented. There’s no way I would join a church that had only nominally given up the practice but still sought to defend its authenticity in the first place as having come from God. No way in hell do I join that church. Could you really blame me?

    So, as long as we insist on trying to defend the ban, the fact that we’re glad it’s gone isn’t going to matter to a lot of people. If we insist on claiming that God was responsible for it, our growth among American Americans will always be more limited than it ought to be.

  19. #17 – Bro. Jones, I am *so* glad that the Church leaders have stopped (on most issues, to a large degree) speculating on issues like this and simply are saying, “I don’t know.”

    Dealing with this particular issue, I think all of us (or at least the vast majority of us) would love it if the previous intellectual justifications had never been made – if the earlier leaders during the time of the ban simply had said, “We don’t know. It will end when the Lord commands it to end.” (As an aside, and strictly fwiw, I believe in general that the more it takes to justify an attitude or practice within *any* organization, the more likely it is that it is not inspired. That doesn’t hold true in all cases, but I use it as a general rule in business, as well.)

  20. Kevin: This shifts the reasoning only from “why did God create” to “why did God allow and not stop”. I don’t think that advances are position much at all.

  21. There seems to be some decent historical information at hand that should lead us closer to an actual answer.

    Again, I’d like to know more about the context. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to think we can track this down to a more-or-less specific date, a specific authority figure and perhaps even a specific event (catalyst). If we can get that information identified, then we are likely to have our answer.

    Here’s a wikipedia entry on Walker Lewis. For all I know, it was put together entirely by an anti-Mormon. But I’d like to know more about this black family and what impact they had, if any, on the policy that was created. If Walker Lewis or Enoch Lovejoy Lewis had nothing to do with it, then what did?

  22. Another name to know more about is: William Ivers Appleby. According to the wikipedia article I linked to above, this Mormon elder was irritated or incensed when he came to know about a black Mormon man who had married a white Mormon woman and wrote a critical letter about this to Brigham Young. The couple in question, again, is Enoch Lovejoy Lewis and his wife. The article quotes the letter and credits this letter as having moved Brigham Young to express disapproval of miscegenation. Further on, it states that this was the beginning of a chain of events that led to the priesthood ban.

    According to this article, the priesthood ban began in 1848.

    Again, any or all of this information could be wrong – I’m more than willing to listen to any specific information on the subject.

  23. “We don’t know’, maybe the answer for today, but as Kevin points out (21), may not be one that moves forwarded a Church built on passion, truth, faith, and revelation . Especially in a Church/World that is becoming more “Brown” everyday.

  24. Kevin,

    For one who is such a strong proponent of the “we don’t know” position, don’t you think your encouraging all to “stand up and acknowledge that the ban was a culturally-conditioned mistake” might be a little out of sync? If we don’t know, we don’t know.

    BTW, your one of the few libs who has my undying respect — out of sync as you may be.

  25. I like Ray’s comment in #16.

    They way I see it is this… Our modern day prophets were still men – and thus, fallable. That doesn’t make them less worthy of being a prophet. That just means (at least in my view), that they still were capable of making human error. Whether it was mis-interpreting a scripture, or misunderstanding the intentions of a friend or loved one, or mistaking a strong human emotion as a spiritual revelation. ……… IMO, this practice was not inspired by God. It is hard for me to see my loving God aproving of the segregation of his children. It is not something I would do to my children, and thus I can not envision he would do it to his.

    The reason it took so long to correct? Two factors come to mind for me. One, free agency. Two, the esteem for which the early prophets (JS, BY, JFS, etc.) were held. The combination of these two kept the practice in place longer than it would have under other circumstances.

  26. The wikipedia article was put together by Connell O’Donovan, who would not classify himself as an anti-Mormon. He is a former Mormon, now a Quaker. Regardless of his religious (or other) preferences, his research is really solid. He’s really a remarkable man.

    #20–I’m very nervous about putting dates to anything. But all right. There’s an excellent Wikipedia article at , which identifies Feb. 1849 as the beginning. (I don’t know who authored the article, but I have some good guesses.) 1852 is the big year for big statements from Brigham Young. As territorial governor, he said,
    “Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain]…in him cannot hold the Priesthood and if no other Prophet ever spoke it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it.”
    Armand Mauss interprets the statement “if no other prophet ever spoke it before…” as indicating that Young was working “on his own lights” (that’s from Mauss’s interview in the documentary). Some have suggested that there was some secret meeting of the Council fo the Fifty under Joseph Smith in which the issue was discussed, but there is no record of any such discussion.

    I am extremely wary of speculations. We’ve gotten ourselves into such labyrinths of confusion through speculation. When Elder Cecil Samuelsen spoke at Genesis a few years ago, he quoted Alma 37:11: “Now these mysteries are not yet fully made known unto me; therefore I shall forbear” and added, “I wish more people had chosen to forbear” [when speculating about the priesthood restriction]. Elder Oaks talked about how “spectacularly wrong” we had often been about the reasons for the restriction.

    I will also add that when a man I know was preparing a fireside which talked all about the seed of Cain, and then presented it to a general authority (who I won’t name) for approval, the GA said, “We’re trying to get away from the who Cain/Canaan idea.”

    So up to today: This morning at the gym, a woman from my stake asked me some questions and assumed that all of the “cursed as the lineage of Cain” stuff was simply accepted. (She went back to the idea of “There has always been a priesthood restriction. At one time, only the Levites had it…”) So obviously, not everyone has gotten the memo. (And if anyone wants to know how I responded to the woman, I said simply and with a smile that the Curse of Cain idea was not scriptoral, that there’s a difference between one group being called and assigned to be the priests, and one group being specifically excluded when all others are included. I then moved straight on to the remarkable faith stories of my Black LDS friends. She responded, “Oh I love seeing those black people in our white temples.”

    Our goal, of course, is to become one in Christ. There is no reason to review the past except in a repentence sense, and to (quoting Ted Whiters now) “propel us on towards becoming the kind of Church our Savior would be proud of.” Truth and reconciliation are part of the process, but it needs to get beyond facing our history to creating a new way of becoming Latter-day Saints. Everyone needs to get the memo.

  27. I lean towards Ray’s position in # 16, and Kevin Barney’s # 21. For reference, here’s a link to Lester & Bush’s landmark article from pre-1978 revelation for a good background on the development of the doctrine over the decades:

    Required reading if you haven’t read this. While I have to say, “I don’t know”, the moment I start indulging in any of these justifications, it just starts feeling wrong. The stated positions of church leaders from the 1850’s on through the 1960’s certainly seem reflective of the culture in America at the times. As a church, we’d better be over it, and recognize that most explanations other than 1, 2, or 3 all fly counter to revealed doctrine, and scriptural evidence. I will allow that towards the end, it may have become something of a test for us, or as Eugene England called it in the early 70’s, Mormonism’s cross to bear.

    Pres. Benson, talking about a different topic at BYU, did refer to the Samuel Solution. Sometimes, just like the OT Israelites who wanted a King, we are given what we sometimes want, counter to what is right. Think Joseph Smith, Martin Harris & the 116 manuscript pages. It appears that until there was unanimity amongst the First Presidency and Quorum of 12, that President Kimball could not get the revelation he was seeking. Evidence exists that Pres. McKay was interested in trying to lift the ban, but the 12 were not united behind him, and eventually his health became an obstacle.

    I admire the church’s forthrightness about the MMM, but sense that since perhaps they don’t have all the answers about the ban, making a formal apology becomes problematic for them as well. The more distance we can put between ourselves and this sorry, earlier period, the better.

    BTW, we are making progress. In suburban, whitebread Seattle (or maybe plain granola suburban Seattle), our stake has one Bishop who is first generation African, and a convert to the church. Our ward in particular has one black family, also first generation African, and a couple of black investigators who are coming every week. We still, however, have a long way to go.

  28. Jack, I’m not a proponent of “we don’t know.” I tolerate it simply because there is substantial difference of opinion within the church, as illustrated by this thread. But it’s not a tack I personally take.

    As for why God didn’t intervene sooner, I think even prophets have free agency. Rarely does God force the issue; he rather waits for us to figure things out, get our acts together and ask him. The onus is on us as humans to figure this out, not to just dump everything into God’s lap.

    In my view, revelation was only necessary to undo the ban because of the long period of inertia that Kaimi alludes to, which had a sort of stare decisis effect among church leaders who didn’t really know the history, the assumption being that if all of those predecessor prophets let it stand, it must have been an inspired, revelatory principle. (Put yourself in, say, the position of SWK early in his presidency. It must have been totally daunting to seriously contemplate pulling the trigger on something that none of your esteemed predecessors had been willing to do before.)

  29. Margaret, thanks for your answers and comments to my questions. I’m sorry if any of the questions seemed too pointed or specific (i.e., asking for a specific date). From what I understand, you are one of the experts on the subject, so I really appreciate what you have to say on these things.

  30. Kevin, # 36. I like your stare decisis supposition. Also, the need for unanimity could have played a large part. From the various accounts of the 1978 revelation, I suspect that it was a huge and humbling experience for Elder McConkie. He could not deny the revelation. I suspect that his inability or unwillingness to edit Mormon Doctrine in later editions may have had to do with struggling about the why of the ban, and not coming up with good answers. He was a man given to surety and firmness, and he may not have been able to state the why with that same commitment, so he let his “I was mistaken” comment stand, hoping to come to a more sure answer later. As we see, still eludes us.

  31. Due to some editing, Kevin Barney’s # 36 became # 34, making it appear that I, Bizarro Kevin, am referencing myself. Or something like that.

  32. I really liked this from the now-not-so-new Kimball bio:

    During the time Harold B. Lee was President . . . he asked Marion D. Hanks what answer Elder Hanks gave when asked about the policy on race and priesthood. Elder Hanks responded that he believed change would come through inspiration when whites had sufficiently matured spiritually.

  33. I do not personally believe it is Heavenly Father\’s desire to withhold a single blessing from any of his children. However, he does place limits on how intrusive he will be with revelation, requiring that we study things out and make decisions that we confirm with him. This means it is possible that the ban started from flawed but worthy men without their being disqualified as prophets. God cannot confirm what is not asked. While this poses a potential problem for Harold B. Lee (see Prince) it answers the question for most if not all of the prior leaders of the church. The Harold B. Lee answer reported as \”Not at this time\” could be that the membership was perhaps not ready after the ban that had been in place for so long. Even Prince indicates President Lee was predisposed to removing the ban.

    I see it as probably something quite complex, perhaps along the lines of the following: So far as can be determined with evidence, it started with Brigham Young (not Joseph Smith who only opposed ordaining \”slaves\” because of the conflict such might create within the relationship of the slave and the slave owner). As for Brigham Young, there may have been a number of factors that would make the ban \”expedient\” for the church at that time (ie. leaders converted from the general population were not ready, certain members were not ready, the national political climate would not support a free state Utah etc.) which caused it to be instituted essentially without explanation by worthy but flawed men. It could also be that God inspired it for these same reasons. It is clear to me that what followed was a series of misplaced apologetics by leaders and others to justify the ban on a doctrinal basis, which led to the borrowing of protestant doctrines of the curse of Cain, which further led to an extended doctrine of blacks being \”less valient\” in the pre-existance. Once ingrained, given the nature of Church Leadership being hesitant to counter leaders, I think it took time for the top leadership to come to full agreement to remove the ban, which occurred in 1978 (thankfully).

    That said, I am somewhat ambivalent to the question only because the answers will only reinforce some already held opinion. The fact is, the answers are irrelevant in an eternal perspective. While everyone wants something definitive said on the matter, we may just need to move on without a satisfactory explanation, which in my opinion, does not exist (at least one that satisfies everyone).

    How about this for an answer (I know, lots of people wont like this): \”We don\’t know, and it doesn\’t matter\”. The only place that the ban has impact is during mortality. No blessing of the temple or the priesthood will ever be withheld from worthy individuals in the eternities. Proxy work for the dead will assure this. If flawed but worthy prophets instituted it without God\’s blessing, if worthy but flawed members were not ready for it, if God wanted it as a test for both the members and those banned, it does not matter. Eventually, no blessing will be withheld, from any of Heavenly Father\’s worthy children, which is one of the beautiful and unique doctrines of the restoration.

    For those who want an apology, I will say that I am sorry that the blessings available in eternity were not made available during mortality. I don\’t know why it happened, but I am glad that it is no longer the case.

    Unfortunately, my apology is not the one that counts, for which I, the apologist, apologize.

    John L.

  34. Along with many others, this is an issue that has seriously concerned me for many decades. At this point in my journey, I see the “we don’t know” response as consistent with the perspective that changes in the Church are being driven by external forces, rather than revelation from within.

    The original analysis (with the helpful points and additions made in the succeeding comments) seems reasonably comprehensive. Looking at the available options, I don’t see any position that the Church can publicly take without inflicting significant damage to the concept of its being guided by revelation from its inception to the present day. To me, saying “we don’t know” is the only option available to the leadership that avoids openly addressing these troublesome questions.

    Further, the fact that they have apparently been unable to obtain revelation from the Lord to clarify this issue is also quite troubling. To me, it seems they simply wish to sweep the issue under the rug, and let enough time pass that it is forgotten (which is the same approach taken with polygamy and other controversial topics).

    Personally, I just find this approach completely different from what I perhaps naively expected from God’s true Church, guided by modern-day revelation, when I made the decision to join so many years ago. I’m really trying hard not to offend; but I do have to be honest and acknowledge that I just find this all very disappointing.

  35. threadjack: As a simple way to check if the ban began with BY or JS, couldn’t we just check if the strangites and/or RLDS churches had a ban?

  36. Matt W, # 42

    Interesting to note that the fundamentalist polygamy factions that broke off of the 19th century church, still have a ban on blacks and the priesthood (their priesthood, anyway).

  37. Oh! I understand you better now, Kevin (Barney) with regard to the “we don’t know” tack.

    As for the rest of your comment (#34), I think we have to be careful with the idea of God letting his people get away with a whole bunch silliness before he warns them — especially when they’re doing the best they know how (collectively speaking, that is). Even in the BoM, the Nephites don’t get too far afield before God sends a prophet among them to straighten things out. Now whether or not they listen to him, that’s a different matter. But the word is given, regardless. What I’m getting at is: I think our Black friends might feel a little slighted at the idea that God didn’t care for them enough to do anything on their behalf for so long a period. That’s why I favor a mix of motives: 1) God had something to do with it, even if it was only to allow “no” to be the reigning answer (and some leaders did ask) until 2) we, collectively, had purged ourselves enough of the traditions of our fathers to embrace our black brothers and sisters whole heartedly.

  38. Re: #42

    1) According to wikipedia, the RLDS/CoC never had a race-based ban:

    2) To be fair, even if they had, not a lot of Blacks would have approached White churches back in the 19th century, especially small ones like the Strangites, and they may never have had an opportunity to test the waters, so to speak.

  39. We know that Plural Marriage was stopped due to opposition against it. President Wilford Woodruff:
    ” The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice…all ordinances would be stopped throughout the land of Zion…Confusion…many men would be made prisoners. This trouble would have come upon the whole Church, and we should have been compelled to stop the practice.”

    Is it far fetched to think that Black access to the Priesthood may have been delayed for a similar reason?

  40. Howard, # 46

    I’m not sure I understand what you are saying. That the priesthood blessings were withheld from blacks for the good of the church? If that is your thesis, perhaps you can explain how the Church was served by a practice that demeaned our brothers and sisters, and propagated a belief system that demeaned us within the church by appearing to give support to false doctrines?

    I’m not trying to be negative, just extrapolating from your comment about the end of polygamy and it’s relevance to this situation. I understand the expediency issue about ending polygamy, and to some extent the expediency of the ending of the priesthood ban. I’m just not clear about the good that was served in the meantime.

  41. With regard to the rationale proposed in #46:

    And yet we sing at Church:

    “Do what is right, let the consequence follow.”

    This is definitely a part of the disappointment I refer to in my post (#41).

  42. Neither the Strangites nor the Community of Christ had official bans on the matter. James Strange had a number of Black priesthood holders. By my count, we had more than a dozen black priesthood holders by the time of the ban.

    Feb. 1849 was the date that BY held a meeting in (I believe) Winter Quarters where the instruction was given – Parley Pratt wrote about this.

    There are many, many more scenarios – howa bout the common: “it was restricted only to the tribes of Joseph and Judah,” and “Only the descendants of Ham,” or JFS’s “the blood of israel has to flow through all of the earth’s peoples blood, which would include the blacks one day” and many, many more theories.

  43. 49: Feb. 1849 was the date that BY held a meeting in (I believe) Winter Quarters where the instruction was given

    I don’t know about the meeting, but I do know that BY arrived back in the Great Basin in the summer of 1848 and never again went east.

  44. From what I understand, many major Bible based churches at some point believed in the Curse of Cain, as a doctrine. It was used as a justification for slavery (not by the LDS church, of course) and many churches have kept black skinned men from the clergy relying on that doctrine. (See Every major church, however, has since repudiated its racist practices based on that doctrine, including the LDS church. However, whenever the topic comes up, the LDS church often gets mistaken as being the only church that ever had race based practices. I suppose b/c we were the last major church to denounce the practices, we have to answer for it longest. Anyway, I think the best approach to the topic is to say that it was part of the Church’s past, but not its present or future, just like Pres. Hinckley does whenever he’s confronted with a question on the topic.

    However, Kaimi’s post is very interesting to see, almost 30 years since the Official Declaration 2, how LDS members’ thoughts are fractioned on the topic. I’m especially interested, after comments end on this post, to count up the number of different responses that fall into the different categories Kaimi has posted above. I’d be curious to see, in 50 years, near the end of my natural life (if I live that long – knocking on my synthetic wood desk), if a similar blog post would produce a similar division of thoughts or if most of the comments would fall into one strain of thought.

  45. Dan–the Curse of Cain was indeed used as a justification for slavery by Brigham Young, though we might want to suggest that such was his opinion and not endorsed by the Church–at least not permanently.

  46. Bizarro Kevin,
    Slavery was certainly an issue being considered – D&C 87 “…was received at a time when the brethren were reflecting and reasoning upon African slavery on the American continent and the slavery of the children of men throughout the world.”

    Of course the Civil War followed.

    Given the attitude of the nation then and leading up to the Civil Rights Movement, isn’t it possible that Black Priesthood was delayed for the good of the church…just as polygamy stopped for the good of the church?

  47. Ardis you are correct – not in winter quarters – and i know why i had some confustion in the location.

    The citation on Feb. may be found in Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church, Edited by Lester E. Bush, Jr., and Armand L. Mauss found here:

    There is another citation by Pratt that I’ve not been able to find in the past half hour, but I’ll keep trying to track it down.

  48. I’m just thinking about that idea that black priesthood was “delayed” for the good of the Church. My question is, for the good WHEN? In the 19th Century? Yes, people would not have responded well to a black apostle. But look at the price. We have NO descendants of those noble black pioneers who are still active in the Church. We have a solid reputation for being racist, which keeps our missionaries from having the success they might have had without this burden. We lose more African American converts than those of any other ethnicity. When Blacks (in America) join the Church, they often do it at the expense of friends and family. The policy certainly didn’t help the Church of 2007.

  49. #32: Margaret, I know you love History, that’s why I am having trouble with understanding your position in #32. Are you saying “Just let go of the past, and move on”. Or “We must learn and remember our passed mistakes, so as not to repeat them in the future.” I feel History is so in the DNA of LDS, it is not possible (or recommended), that we ” to get beyond facing our history” and become something else.

  50. Howard,

    I’m with Margaret in # 56. I don’t see any current good that has come from the priesthood ban, and whatever benefits may have been derived in the 19th century, they were ephemeral at best. We had 1/3 of the standing US Army on it’s way to Utah in 1857 to put down our “rebellion”, we were under the thumb of the California Volunteers throughout the Civil War years, and under legal and legislative attack throughout the rest of the 19th century. Perhaps our appeal was to Southern slaveholders and the Ku Klux Klan?

    No, I see no good that came from the PH ban. And until, if ever, the church can come up with a better explanation than “I don’t know”, I don’t anticipate a formal apology. Our best effort comes with facing forward, and trying to make sure we don’t fall victim to this kind of demeaning social practice again.

    To put it in more stark terms, any justification that we come up with leaves us with the issue that under those old explanations, the best black person is inferior to the worst white person, because we all know we can repent, but who can fight a ban on lineage? I can’t visualize God cursing a race through no fault of their own, but because of their father’s transgressions.

  51. I posted this on two other threads being discussed currently, so I held off adding it to this one. However, it deals directly with how to approach it for current missionary efforts:

    The African-American minister who was baptized in our ward (Ohio) in early 2006 said the following almost verbatim yesterday in our HP Group discussion of lessons we have learned: “I have learned that, no matter about race, people is people. We all are brothers and sisters in Christ no matter our race. I never understood that fully until I joined the Church.”

    I have talked extensively with him, since I was involved heavily in teaching him as an investigator – and I have remained one of his dearest friends in the ward. I know what he means by that statement – that he saw race as a central issue of identity all his life until he met the missionaries, was taught the Gospel, was baptized, made it to the temple and gained his current spiritual perspective. His perspective touches me deeply, especially since it recognizes the “natural man” tendency to identify first and foremost by race – regardless of personal race and denomination. It reinforces my impression so long ago in Alabama – that the Church spreading among all races happens only when *both* of the races involved truly see each other as brothers and sisters – fundamentally as God’s children first and as individual races only by mortal birth.

    I can’t speak authoritatively to the origin and continuation of the ban. I gave my best guess earlier, but it is only a guess. I believe it is a pretty good one, but I don’t really know for sure. I can, however, speak to the issue of moving forward, and I am convinced that *in the here and now* there is equal responsibility for all. Everyone involved, White or Black, needs to leave behind the racist beliefs of the past *and* the present, fully embrace each other as equal children in the eyes of God, be willing to worship side-by-side with no care for who leads the congregation and, in a very real and practical way, leave behind communal worship based solely on race.

    In the truest meaning of the word “irony”, the LDS Church is *far* ahead of many, if not most, Protestant denominations in this regard – at least in America, since I have no experience in the rest of the world. There are relatively few racially mixed congregations in this country among many of the denominations, especially where a Black member is in a position of authority over a predominantly White congregation. In many denominations, “separate but equal” is the prevailing (and assumed) condition – and very few people see the subtle racism in that assumption. That truly is ironic, and it is something we often fail to recognize as we focus on the “guilt” of our former situation. I hope we never lose our concern over the ban, but I also hope we realize how inspired the current structure and outlook really is – that, even if we had it wrong for so long, when we finally realized we had it wrong we corrected it under divine inspiration to be the model all others should follow. Individual members still need to work on our own internalization of the principle, but the Church as an organization has addressed it admirably.

    That’s one of the reasons why I am oddly comforted from the relative security of my Caucasian 20/20 hindsight.

  52. Bob–I’m sure you’ll see the documentary when it comes out. You will see from that that I do indeed value history and its lessons (as do my colleagues). We spend some good time talking about the Church’s history in this issue. We have Armand Mauss, Newell Bringhurst, Greg Prince, Ron Coleman, Darius Gray and yours truly all talking about it–and not just the facts, but how we each were personally affected by the restriction. It would be ridiculous to tell the story of Black Mormons without facing up to the history, and telling it as well and as honestly as we can. But our goal is to build bridges, so the history is only one segment of the story.

    In the last five minutes of the doc, African American Latter-day Saints tell why they are in this faith. It’s really a beautiful segment. I wept when we first saw it all put together. Again, the idea is truth and reconciliation. They go hand in hand. .

  53. I tolerate it simply because there is substantial difference of opinion within the church, as illustrated by this thread.

    Good of you. I’m sure the brethren are relieved that you still find them acceptable.

  54. A quick note:

    A few commenters (John Lynch, Ray) have mentioned the backdrop of other religious organizations and how they treated Blacks.

    I wrote at some length on this topic a few months back, at . That post discusses comparative history (during the antebellum era) in some detail. The short answer to “how do we stack up in comparison” is that the major Protestant denominations also had major problems during portions of the time period of the ban. There were some bright exceptions, though, such as the Quakers, who clearly had a much better race record than either the LDS church or most other denominations.

  55. One of my favorite quotes is from Martin Luther King, Jr, which he repeated in various forms at different times during the 60’s civil rights era:

    “11 AM on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week”

    “When it comes to equal rights, the church, which should be the headlights, is actually the taillights”.

    However, I take no pleasure in saying that we weren’t any worse than other churches. Things are better, and for much of that, we have to thank the fact that our congregations are not freely chosen at whim, but determined for the most part by geography. While the possibility of economic segregation because of geography is still possible, our demographic is working for us these days, as race becomes less (not completely) linked with economics.

  56. Kaimi (#62) I’ve been very interested in parts 2 and 3 that seemed to be promised in that thread. Particularly in the late 20th century during the two decades preceding the 1978 revelation.

  57. The only problem I have with the Steve Evans/Kevin Barney position is that I have been led to believe that more than one prophet desired to remove the ban and importuned the Lord to that end but were told the time had not arrived. Of course we are all aware of David O. McKay’s efforts along these lines. Perhaps Margaret can correct me, but I remember Susan Black saying that Wilford Woodruff prayed at the request of Jane Manning James and, although he told her she could not go to the temple, received a revelation just for her that when the time was right she would be one of the first to receive the blessings of the temple. If the ban was so terrible as we all think it was, it is hard to explain why God did nothing when his prophets were praying specifically about this exact issue and in some cases specifically trying to remove the ban. This would hardly be God “forcing the issue” as Kevin says in #34, and it leaves me wondering why God allowed it to continue when his prophets were asking him about it.

  58. Jacob J, Steve and Kevin never implied that only one prophet prayed about it and would have lifted the ban if they had been told to do so unilaterally – lacking unanimity among the FP and the 12. I find it instructive that the Lord seems to honor the authority system He established, even when it might not be functioning perfectly in accordance with His will. “It isn’t time yet” seems like an excellent answer to me, especially if they needed to be humbly united for it to happen.

  59. Jacob J–I’ve never heard of any revelation given by Wilford Woodruff to Jane, but he was one of several Prophets she visited to petition for her endowment. He always blessed her for her faith and then added (as recorded in his journal) that she could not partake of the endowment because she was “of Cain.” She walked to John Taylor’s home on the day Elijah Abel died to “hold some conversation” with him regarding her “future salvation,” and subsequently wrote, reminding him that Abraham had been told that through him all nations would be blessed, and that this was the fulness of all dispensations, so surely there should be some blessing for her. Pres. Taylor, via her stake president, issued her a recommend to do baptisms for the dead and asked that she be content with that privilege, which was “more than the rest of [her] race” had been given. She visited Pres. Woodruff, Zina Young, and others, making requests which were more and more bold–adoption into the Smith family, sealing to Walker Lewis, the endowment not only for her but for her ex-husband Isaac (how’s that for charity?).

    I don’t think God “did nothing.” I think God was marching along with the Civil Rights protestors. It really took the Civil Rights Movement (which was religious at its core) to wake some people up–not just the Mormons.

  60. Margaret Young, #67: “I think God was marching along with the Civil Rights protestors. It really took the Civil Rights Movement (which was religious at its core) to wake some people up–not just the Mormons.” God was working from outside the Church to affect a positive change within the Church; that’ll shake things up! (I like it.)

  61. SWK deserves a great deal of credit for removing the ban and being responsible for making the 1978 revelation a reality.

    With respect to the “timing” of the revelation, I believe it raises some difficult questions. The standard response and explanation for the ban itself is simply, “we don’t know.” This is the standard tagline used by the Brethren, and since we are conditioned as a Church to accept revealed doctrine and revelation, it satisifies the majority of our members as the acceptable response to this question, with no further deliberation necessary (or advisable).

    I think we can do better.

    Prior to the 1978 position, members could adhere to racist teachings that implied some sort of punishment for lineage, pre-mortal transgression, etc. Nearly all churches reflected the racial prejudices that were inherent in our country up to and eventually terminating with the civil rights movement.

    The problem with the 1978 revelation, is that it exposes all of the racist folklore for what it was – dead wrong, unsupportable, undefendable, and an untenable position. While you could in theory claim this folklore prior to the 1978 position, to continue in this line of reasoning is not only foolish, but very offensive (to black and white folks alike).

    Therefore, if the ban position “was not supportable” on the basis of some instrinsic religious lens of discrimation, it begs the question, why it was ever supportable in the first place.

    Ocham’s Razor suggests the simplist explanation is often the most probable (as oppossed to more complex mental gymnastics or convuluted explanations).

    “We don’t know” is an insufficient punt to this enigma. The simplier explanation is that the ban should never have existed ie there was no religious reason or basis to exclude Blacks the priesthood. Instead, the Church was a product of a racist time and culture (like many others). With further enlightenment and progress via the Civil War and the civil rights movement, these errors were incrementally corrected. Unfortunately, as a Church we didn’t correct for this as soon as many others did.

    It seems we would be better served as a Church by replacing the response of “we don’t know” with “we were wrong” and repudiate the racist folklore, quotations, and other explanations that at one time were used to prop up a false position.

    This would better align the mission of the Church and reinforce the self-held belief that God is a respecter of no person. The Apostle Peter learned this lesson when the gospel was extended to Jew and Gentile alike in early days of the primitive Church. We could do well to more fully embrace this same principle today.

  62. #67, Margaret: Please understand, it’s information I’m after, not you. I know Ardis and you know more than I do about this stuff. But do you really think the Civil Rights Movement was “religious at its core”? I never thought Blacks marched to get into White churches (?) Maybe Ray can help (I think he lived in the South). I have believed the Blacks liked the power and community of their own churches (?) I have believed King used that power and community to gain Civil Rights and voting power (?)

  63. Razorfish, I agree with the gist of what you are saying, but I would submit that the Church *has* “repudiated the racist folklore, quotations, and other explanations that at one time were used to prop up a false position.” The most outspoken speculator and (at the time) living promulgator of that folklore (Elder McConkie) explicitly said to ignore what had been said in justification of the ban – that they were speaking without the insight of revelation. If you know anything about that man, such a statement must have been incredibly humbling. It seems obvious to me why he was the one who had to make that statement – being the most vocal and well-known justifier of it. Really, what more needs to be said than that?

    As I hope it is obvious from my previous comments that I am not a defender of the ban. However, I bristle whenever someone even intimates that the Church hasn’t repudiated the folklore. You simply can’t get more blunt than Elder McConkie’s statement – or Pres. Hinckley’s recent chastisement of members who still cling to racist attitudes and justifications. It was direct and plain and completely unambiguous. “We don’t know WHY the ban was instituted” does *not* equal “We don’t know IF the folklore was wrong.” The latter (folklore was wrong) has been stated clearly – both in word and in deed.

  64. Bob–I do understand that it’s information you want. I’d honestly suggest you read the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. When I say that the Civil Rights Movement was religious at its core, that does NOT mean that blacks were marching to get into white churches, but that they believed that God was the author of liberty and that religion itself–Christianity at its raw core, which lifts the downtrodden and defies oppression–was behind the movement, and was in fact the foundation of their courage to face the police dogs and hoses. Remember that King was a preacher. Look through his speeches and see how often Biblical verses are quoted. Look up the words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to get a feel for the reliogiosity of the movement. Think of the deaths of the four little girls, which took place in a CHURCH in Birmingham. The bombing of a church was a direct affront to the heart of the movement.

    Karl Keller (a formerly LDS English prof) wrote about going south to fight Jim Crow, and finding Civil Rights workers who were stunned that the well-intentioned academics seemed not to care about God, when God and religion were, to these participants, inseparable from the movement.

  65. I’m afraid that’s not quite what Elder McConkie said, Ray. And I’m afraid it’s not quite what he meant, or when he revised _Mormon Doctrine_ he would’ve removed the folklore. In 1979, he added mention of the priesthood revelation, but kept all of the folklore except the bit about blacks not getting the priesthood until after the Millennium. (That was deleted, since it was obviously not true.) See if you have a copy of a post-1978 _Mormon Doctrine_ and look under Caste Systems and Races of Men. It’s all still there. Darius purchased a copy of _Mormon Doctrine_ one week ago at Deseret Book. Believe me, it’s all there.

    The McConkie talk (“All Are Alike Unto God”) to CES employees in 1978 is extremely important, but it did not specifically repudiate the folklore. That’s still very much with us. I heard it this morning.

  66. Bob, it was religious to the core. It was driven by religious leaders; it was justified by religious doctrine; it was fueled by religious conviction; it was carried forward openly and blatantly in the name of God; and I could go on and on and on. The goals might be seen as political, but they dealt with core principles of equality that were based in the religious convictions of those demanding equality. Claiming that the Civil Rights Movement was not religious is much like claiming Mormons are not Christians. Sorry to be blunt, but those who don’t understand that religious foundation simply are ignorant of the deep, deep convictions of those who participated (almost unanimously) – across the board, from top to bottom, Black and White.

    Yes, those who opposed it also used religious rhetoric (mostly the same type of stuff that was used to justify the ban, only even more extreme), but both sides believed deeply that it was a religious movement. In fact, if you look closely at much of what was said to fight the Civil Rights Movement, it is similar to the rhetoric that often is used to oppose the Church’s growth – that each “movement” threatens to corrupt the religious stability of the society upon which the movements encroach(ed) and send it spiraling down to Hell. Some of it really is that direct.

  67. 34 and others — You’re not accounting for David O McKay’s repeated inquiries into lifting the ban. His position was that it was a policy, not doctrine, and that it would take a revelation to lift it, and that proved to be the case. If he was asking to have it lifted and was told that it wasn’t to happen in his life time, that shows me that the timing of the ending was chosen by God, not the prophet. I’ve seen no indication that Pres. Kimball did anything that Pres. McKay had not also done with regard to this matter — he just got the answer that now was the time (which was backed up by others of the 12 who were there).

    And, Kevin, your speculation of how you’d respond if you were black is interesting, but you’re not black, so you don’t really know. Not a few black people have responded very differently than you think you would. I don’t suspect that this issue is of no concern to them, and without question it’s been an obstacle for many. But we aren’t in this Church because we’re comfortable with every aspect of its history, or because we like the music, or because we like to where white suits, or because we really love green jell-o, and neither are they. They’re here because they know its true (even if we’re never really clear on what “it” is, or what “true” means). When you know it, you know it. Being able to reconcile it all is not required.

    59 — Most of the anti-black Mormon doctrinal speculation in the 19th Century was derived from anti-black southern Protestant doctrinal speculation in the 19th Century. American-style black slavery was a unique and relatively shortly lived version of slavery, and it required a massive amount of doctrinal justification for Christian people to allow the practice. This influenced southern culture in many ways that made it distinct from the remainder of the American culture of its time, and some of that distinction survives to this day.

    I think there were a number of cultural similarities between the southern states and territorial Deseret/Utah having to do with distrust of Yankee industrialization, capitalism, and religious culture, as well as distrust of the Federal Government, that could bring at least some of those southern ideas into Mormon minds. At the very least, the doctrinal justifications for slavery based in black inferiority were well known and were easily applied to justifying the priesthood ban.

    62 — Quakers have a pretty good record on a lot of things, although, in their radical period, they were known for doing some pretty wild things as well. But they ended their radical period most of a century before Mormonism ended its radical period. I was amazed at how many things in the Church today I can recognize in ideas and practices of New England churches in the colonial period, especially the Puritans. “In the world, but not of the world,” for instance.

  68. Lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (sometimes called the Negro National Anthem–even today, when we use other words than “Negro”):

    Lift Every Voice and Sing

    James Weldon Johnson

    Lift every voice and sing
    Till earth and heaven ring,
    Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
    Let our rejoicing rise
    High as the listening skies,
    Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
    Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
    Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
    Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
    Let us march on till victory is won.
    Stony the road we trod,
    Bitter the chastening rod,
    Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
    Yet with a steady beat,
    Have not our weary feet
    Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
    We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
    We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
    Out from the gloomy past,
    Till now we stand at last
    Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

    God of our weary years,
    God of our silent tears,
    Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
    Thou who has by Thy might
    Led us into the light,
    Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
    Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
    Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
    Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
    May we forever stand.
    True to our God,
    True to our native land.

  69. You know, the declaration reads as a fulfillment of prophecy. It speaks of promises made by prophets and past presidents of the church that the day would come when every worthy man would receive the priesthood–and states specifically that “the long-promised day has come.” My question is, if this it is indeed a fulfillment of prophecy how does that effect some of our thinking here–specifically that God had nothing to do with it? Now I think it’s obvious that prophecy may be a foretelling of the results of disobedience and whatnot, but when it is the very prophets/presidents who foretold the promised day that are brought into question by Ocham’s Razor, well then, that razor needs a little sharpening I think.

  70. Margaret, I know he didn’t remove the stuff from Mormon Doctrine – and I know what that implies about his own inability to let go of the folklore – and I know that the folklore is still “very much with us” – and I wish McConkie had eradicated his justifications in his writings. Having said that, I admit I haven’t read the statement in a few years, and my memory of the actual words probably is not accurate. (I always read it as like the “all men are created equal” statement that didn’t eradicate slavery even for some of those who endorsed it but set the foundation for doing so eventually.) I would like to see the actual quote again. Do you have it at hand, since I am in the middle of another project and am too lazy to look it up myself. (*Grin*)

  71. Only for you, Ray, and then I’ll go to bed:
    Link for the talk itself:

    The section you’re referring to:
    Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
    “There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

    We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.

    It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the Gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the Gentiles.”

  72. Yea, Blain,

    That question (re: Pres. McKay) never seems to be adequately addressed. I think we’re afraid of its implications.


    Those are some wonderful, inspiring words. Also its been a real treat to track the development of your movie. I remember when you first announced your intentions (I think it was at BCC) on the project. That’s quite a journey you and your fellow producers have made. Cheers!

  73. Thanks, Margaret.

    I guess I focused on the second paragraph and the first sentence from the third. I can see how the first paragraph might be read to limit the next paragraphs to only the timing of the end, not necessarily to the justifications for it. I have a hard time limiting it to that message (given “it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year, 1978.”), but I certainly can see the reasoning for that interpretation.

    Again, thanks.

  74. Blain and Jack, Pres. McKay’s efforts have been addressed here. There’s no “afraid of its implications.” It is perfectly clear that there could not be a consensus among the FP and the 12 under Pres. McKay; there was under Pres. Kimball. Frankly, that idea has been mentioned multiple times in various wordings in this thread.

  75. Razorfish: “The problem with the 1978 revelation, is that it exposes all of the racist folklore for what it was – dead wrong, unsupportable, undefendable, and an untenable position.”

    I think Kaimi’s (and Margaret’s) point is that OD2 and McConkie’s above-referenced talk do not specifically repudiate the PH ban as wrong, nor do they specifically repudiate the previous speculations supporting the ban. (Pres Hinckley’s recent gen conf denunciation of racism comes the closest to repudiation I’ve ever heard.)

    Neither OD2 nor McConkie said “we were wrong”, they essentially said “things have changed.” McConkie basically said (I’m paraphrasing, I think) “we were operating under limited light and knowledge, we now have additional light and knowledge.”

    Kaimi, using his lawyerly analytics, basically claims that McConkie’s “forget all you knew” does not equate to “we were wrong” either. At best it becomes “that stuff is no longer operative” or “the speculated reasons were not doctrine, but merely the opinions of those who said them.”

    Stating that the opinions were mere opinions does not equate to saying that the opinions were not true. Stating “forget what you knew” also doesn’t quite go as far as “what you ‘knew’ was wrong.”

    As Margaret points out, this is a sore point with many. And it still requires tender explanations for many African-American converts. I have an African-African friend who’s been a member for about 28 years (since about a year after the ban was lifted) , who has studied this, along with her parents who joined at the same time. Even after much study and consideration, their bottom line is still basically “we don’t know.” These members have counseled many African-American investigators prior to and after their baptism.

    After all is said and done, the most comforting thing is that members of African descent are telling non-members of African descent that it’s okay to join this church, and that people are people wherever you go, and you’re going to find all kinds of people in this church just like you do outside of church; and that the church is true, but the people aren’t always true.

    By leaving open the question of whether the PH ban was policy or doctrine or came by revelation or not, or what the exact reasons were, the general authorities leave open the explanatory options that Kaimi enumerated in his original post. (And according to McConkie, we probably shouldn’t be thinking or even discussing along this line.)

    OD2, which removes the ban, is historically clearer (than the origin of the ban) in that it specifically declares that it came by revelation. However, the reasons given are still mysterious, other than “now is the time.”

    In other words, McConkie was a lawyer. He chose his words carefully, and Kaimi has parsed McConkie’s words like a lawyer. I happen to agree with Kaimi, that McConkie purposefully left some important things unsaid. Why did he leave them unsaid? I don’t know.

    The ban and lifting of the ban are tests for us all. Perhaps there are parallels to the United Order which was instituted then abolished, or the commands to build the two temples in Missouri which were rescinded. The history of the church, along with just about all our scriptures have examples of doctrine and divine commands that exemplify the “that was then, this is now” concept.

    Believers of all dispensations have had to accept and live with that concept. We have to, too.

  76. No, it’s not perfectly clear that that’s why the ban was not lifted. We don’t know what God said or did not say to Pres. McKay.

  77. Time for Billy Preston–

    Will it go round in circles? Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky? Will it go round in circles? Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky…

    *Implying* (nyuk, nyuk) the we hope our little circular argument to be an upward spiral.

  78. 70 — I’m a little less than clear about what you want us to admit was wrong. I see no trouble in indicating that the justifications given for the ban can be apologized for. I do see a problem with “admitting” that the priesthood ban was wrong, and that is that God chose not to end it until 1978, even when prophets were asking to have it lifted decades earlier. I do think individuals in the Church can believe that it was wrong and instituted by men for well intended but faulty reasons, but I can’t see a way that God saw this as something as bad as we see it and yet chose to continue it for decades longer.

    Not if we are going to maintain that God directs this Church to any degree. If he saw this as evil as we might, why would he not demand his prophets correct this immediately? If he saw this as evil at all, why would he not grasp the first opportunity of a prophet asking about lifting it?

    We want clear, crisp answers to these questions, but those answers are not what we’re finding. It’s like we’re supposed to study things out in our minds and develop faith and, maybe, learn that the clear, crisp answers are special because they are necessarily rare. If we had clear, crisp answers every time we wanted one, we’d have too much information about the ten tribes, horses in the Book of Mormon, etc., but not enough faith to fill a mustard seed.

  79. 83 — Since when does God need his apostles’ permission to direct his Church? Pres. McKay didn’t say that he asked God and God said “Wait until your apostles agree with it,” no did he say “I would do it now, but I don’t think your apostles could deal with it, so just forget about it for now.”

    I noticed your comments around the thread, and simply reject your reasoning. You may be correct about the specific apostles’ responses to the priesthood ban — my ignorance of that is sufficient for that to be quite possible and even likely — but I reject the notion that God’s Church can continue with an evil practice due to the prejudices of its leaders. That goes too far in eliminating God’s leadership of the Church, making it more of a church of men than I can accept.

  80. Ray, did God refuse to tell Wilford Woodruff what the Church should do about polygamy because the whole quorum did come to a united position and present themselves in agreement? (No, in point of fact, the twelve were not united even after the revelation was given.) Did God fail to reveal the preaching of the gospel in the spirit world to Joseph F. Smith until he got everyone in the twelve together to pray about it unitedly? Your #66 and #83 set up a requirement of unanimaty among the twelve which God has not required on many, or rather, most of the occasions in which God has seen fit to reveal his will. This is why your explanation is not compelling to me.

  81. Blain, I can understand your take on this, and I respect the “more of a church of man than I can accept.” I really do. My point is that, since we don’t know for sure but have been left to try to reconcile it within ourselves, this is a valuable exercise in recognizing that there are many different ways to look at this that can satisfy multiple “I can accept” conclusions. I think we also need to be careful, as you have stated, that we don’t exclude a possibility simply because it isn’t what we want it to be.

    There are examples even in our modern history when God allowed the Church to continue to live under a “lesser” law for a long time simply because the Church wasn’t ready to live the “higher” law. We still have not re-instituted the United Order, even though our scriptures clearly state that it is more the Lord’s will than what we currently live and teach. We believe that God withdrew the Law of Christ from the ancient Israelites and left them with the Ten Commandments and the attendant Law of Moses simply because the people weren’t ready to live the higher law. Jesus taught in parables, we are told, specifically to allow His listeners to understand and live whatever they were able to understand and live. I have no doubt that prophets have prayed and continue to pray for the day when the Church collectively will be able to live the United Order – that some, if not all, of them probably pray to know when it can be reinstated, but, since it has not been reinstated, I’m fairly certain they have not been inspired to bring back that higher law at this time.

    I think each of these examples constitutes a case where one could say, “How could God withhold those blessings from some of His children?” There’s no compelling reason to believe that this was any different – a “higher” law (the Priesthood for all worthy men) that couldn’t be lived by the people, allowed to be withdrawn until the people were ready to accept it – even when individual prophets were praying for it to happen.

    I understand that this view might not be correct. I admit that freely. However, I can’t see it as unique or radical or dangerous or anything else, since I think it is consistent with the way the Lord seems to have operated throughout history. In the end, however, we return to “I don’t know” – and I am fine with that collectively, since it allows you and I and others to see things differently but still retain our own personal testimonies of the work. Frankly, I think that’s cool.

  82. Jacob J,

    I am not saying that there has to be unanimity among the FP and the 12 for all decisions that change Church practice. I never have said that – not once. Read all of the statements from the decades leading up to the ban. It is obvious that there wasn’t unanimity – and that there was serious and strong opposition from enough leaders to make it an incredibly divisive issue.

    I am not saying it “had to be” that way, but I believe it makes sense *in this instance* given the way that the polygamy ban literally fractured the Church. Can you imagine the result if multiple apostles had continued to teach contrary to the revelation – or continued to refuse to ordain Black men – or openly tried to encourage the practical continuation of the ban despite the revelation – especially in an age of instant, world-wide media attention? Look at what is happening among Protestant churches that are trying to end their ban on ordaining homosexual members to the ministry. I am not tied to this interpretation; I really don’t claim to know. I do think, however, that it is reasonable and logical.

    I’ve explained it as best I can, so I’m going to sleep. I appreciate the topic, Kaimi – the opportunity to realize that, even if we don’t know for sure, there are multiple ways to reconcile it without losing faith in the big picture.

  83. Having studied the 1800s from a few angles of the many possible, I am happy myself to assign the blacks and the priesthood question to pure church survival logic, based on the political and social setting of the time. No need for all the other reasons floated about. This would take a book to back it up so I won’t even try. We are so well off today, that I don’t think hardly anyone alive today has an accurate sense of the constant mortal threats that the church endured in those times, or the willingness of pro-slavery forces to kill anyone who might get in their way. The raw ferocity and treachery of southern ambitions of the time is something we have papered over and totally forgotten. The “Civil War” has been reduced to a mere statistic. Just why was it that nearly a million of the 20 million US citizens killed each other? Being considered pro-black abolitionists in Missouri, Illinois, or Utah was a very good way to get yourself killed, and I believe was 99% of the hostility the Mormons did feel. Most comments about our unusual religion were just proxies for the real objection which was our threat to the slave status of those states and territories.

    Incidentally, I attribute _all_ the seemingly nutty church doctrines and practices from the 1800s to pure survival logic. “It made sense at the time” as we say today, as it truly did if you were there – polygamy, united order, blood atonement, etc., etc.

    I say we were as good friends to the blacks as we dared to be and not get killed. We did them a great favor, but that takes too long to spin out.

  84. I’ve followed this thread all day and have pondered the many thoughts and opinions here. Like Ray in #94, I love the fact that though we may not know for sure, and we may suppose differently, we can all do so without losing faith in the big picture. Well said Ray!

    Here’s a thought. As a child, I remember my mother telling me that God knows me so well, he knows what I will do, what decisions I will make, before I do. Is it possible then (or likely probable), that he knew how all of this would pan out through the course of time. Even to the degree of how the Prophets and the Apostles would react or labor under the issue over the course of time. To the possibility that it would take the actions of many outside the church (the Civil Rights Movement) to put in motion the necessary steps that would eventually lead to a reshaping of the national atmosphere necessary to rescend the ban inside the church. That having the perfect knowledge he does, while the right of free agency could have meant it rescending much earlier, it likely would have taken this long anyway.

    Similar situation during the early years of this nation. During the Revolutionary War, who knew at that time that those events would be necessary to create an atmosphere, or a cultural climate (freedom of religion), condusive to the restoration of the church and the gospel. Yet we look back with a couple hundred years worth of historical research under our collective belts, and we sumise as much.

    Just some thoughts.

  85. Years ago, Gene England had a pretty interesting take on the reasons behind all this – but I can’t recall the specifics.

    Anyone else remember?

  86. 1978 was the time to start ordaining blacks just like now is the time to start eating healthy- meaning yesterday would have been better than today, and today is better than tomorrow.

  87. #90: My thoughts exactly. I dislike when we try to come up with special rules or circumstances for this issue that just don’t apply to other ones.

    #89: Blain said, “I’m a little less than clear about what you want us to admit was wrong. I see no trouble in indicating that the justifications given for the ban can be apologized for.”

    I’d be happy to see that kind of apology. During Kaimi’s parsing of Elder McConkie’s words, I also noticed that Elder McConkie never seems to have apologized for those kinds of evil/incorrect justifications, whether from his own mouth or from others’. “I was wrong” is not the same as “I’m sorry.” Frankly, the way Elder McConkie states his piece, it comes off sounding more like “I thought the movie started at 8 when it really started at 9; I was wrong and now I know better” rather than “I thought you were a terrible person based on unfounded hearsay; I was wrong, *my wrongness hurt you and hurt me too*, and now I know better.”

    It would be very nice to see an explicit, unmuddled statement along the lines of “We don’t know why the priesthood ban happened, but we DO know that anything earlier leaders said was wrong, and we repudiate their justifications.” I don’t have easy access to what President Hinckley *has* said on the matter, but I recall it being much less sweeping than that.

    (Although, to his credit and the Church’s credit, Pres. Hinckley did strongly state that racism has no place in our Church today.)

  88. Ray,

    I am not saying that there has to be unanimity among the FP and the 12 for all decisions that change Church practice.

    Oh, stop being slippery. I never said you said the above. That’s the second time on this thread you have responded to me with a denial of something I never accused. The burning question for some of us is why God did not reveal his will (that blacks should be given the priesthood) when his prophet was praying for this to happen. Your answer in #83 is that:

    There’s no “afraid of its implications.” It is perfectly clear that there could not be a consensus among the FP and the 12 under Pres. McKay; there was under Pres. Kimball.

    The implication of your answer is quite clear that God was not willing to reveal his will unless and until there could be a consensus among the FP and the 12. How else am I to read that? My question is, how do you know (or upon what basis are you guessing) that this is what prevented God from revealing his will? (see #90) I pointed out in #91 that history does not suggest this is a standard God has followed in the past on similar issues (e.g. polygamy). So, what is the basis for your suggestion that it was a lack of unity that prevented God from revealing his will? Am I supposed to think this resolves the issue on the strength of your conviction?

  89. Jacob–may I just say that after a decade of intense dedication to researching these “burning” questions and all of the history accompanying them, they do NOT burn for me. And I don’t have easy answers to any of them. There are no other questions which “burn” for me, either. (That doesn’t mean I don’t ask a lot of questions, just that they don’t burn.)

    For those of us who focus on one issue, there is a very real risk that our issue might become the lynchpin of our faith. That’s not the way. Faith needs to see us through the issue, as we asknowledge that we yet see “through a glass darkly”–and that we will throughout mortality. If we insist on straining all our research and discoveries through one specific filter, through one burning question–whether that question burns around gender issues, race issues, or issues of sexual orientation–the question can become more important than the substance of our religion (which is charity). This is not a gospel of answers to every question (though some would like it to be that); it is a gospel of many challenges, many leaps, many calls to service, and the willingness to let our faith inform our hearts and comfort our questioning minds with an assurance that God is in charge–and also that he will allow us to screw up royally, and will yet deliver us.

    I have many, many questions on hold. I am willing to wait beyond this life for answers–at which point, the questions may very well not matter at all. I expect I’ll meet Jane James and tell her I tried to honor her life through my writing and research, not that I’ll spend a few eternal minutes asking why on earth she was not given all she asked for during her mortal sojourn. And I expect Jane’s responses will be similar to what she wrote in her life story:”I tr[ied] in my feeble way to set a good example for all.”

  90. Margaret,

    Well said. I think you articulate well the reason I think that “we don’t know all the reasons” has to be our collective answer to this question for the moment. God has not revealed what happened, and there are enough reasons to doubt one explanation over another, that I am not comfortable writing the whole thing off as racism and inertia as has been suggested here (although those elements clearly played a major role). One problem with the folklore is that is was human reasoning in the absence of revelation and yet, people came to believe in it just as strongly as if it had been revealed from heaven. I don’t think we should replicate the mistake by becoming certain that the whole thing was the product of racism when we are doing, in principle, the same thing those coming up with the folklore were doing–trying to make sense out of God’s dealings with us on this issue when he hasn’t explained why he allowed it to play out the way he did. We know some of the factors that played into it, but let’s stay epistemlogically humble enough to admit that we can’t be sure about all the reasons.

    I suppose if I take “burning” in the way you took it, I would have to say I don’t have any issues which “burn” for me either. The closest I come to a burning issue is the problem of evil; certainly none of the issues you listed preoccupy my thoughts or challenge my faith.

  91. Amen. Wonderful point, Margaret.

    Jacob, I knew, deep down, we agreed on the central point – that whatever form our own reconciliation takes, we cannot feel “sealed” to that form. In the end, we have to say we just don’t know completely.

  92. Margaret… Wonderful way to articulate your thoughts on the issue in #101. Also, I love the work you’ve done so far in your research, writings and the colabrative documentary.

    Question: When will the full documentary be available?
    I’m assuming of course that what is viewable on the “” site is just a clip.

  93. Thanks for asking, Guy. I’m in my office, listening to music which will likely be our temporary score. (We have a composer but he won’t be finished scoring the doc until Christmas.) Darius, Jim Hughes (our editor) and I will meet on Oct. 2 to do last edits (including music) before sewing the whole thing together. (We will not have done sound mastering or final narration [we want a fairly famous actor for our narrator], but will otherwise have it pretty complete.) On Oct. 4, we’ll view it, and on Oct. 5th, we’ll submit it to a couple of places for consideration. Christmas looks like the likely time for the final wrap–music, final narration, and sound mastering, though we might wait to release it until June 2008 (anniversary of the priesthood revelation). The doc itself is 70 minutes (whittled down from 70 hours), and we will need to get it down to 60 for a PBS broadcast of that’s the route we go. We have at least that much material which will go into “special features.” We are still looking at distribution possibilities, and have several avenues to choose from. We’re planning on doing a theatrical premiere, but probably not a theatrical run (theaters are too expensive). Look for the DVD in the summer of 2008.

  94. 106 — Thanks for the update on the film. I very much want to see/own it.

    I think we’ve got some peace in the thread, and that’s a good thing. I think I can leave it here.

  95. Rex, re # 97 and the Eugene England take on this. It’s contained in a chapter of his now out of print book “Dialogs with Myself”.

    It is an interesting essay, written before the 1978 revelation, where he tries to defuse the “doctrine” vs “policy” part of this debate by saying that they don’t necessarily equate to “revealed” and “manmade”, respectively. Here is the link to Signature Books website for the complete text of this essay, along with “Neither White nor Black” by Bush and Mauss, also out of print:

    I noticed the other night that in his more recent book, “The Quality of Mercy”, England makes the statement, just once, that the ban may have been inspired. He gives no more explanation there, but it was obviously still a question to him later in his life, even as he tried to get us to overcome the negative effects of the ban and the folklore surrounding it.

  96. I used to think it would be a mistake to make an apology, but now I think one like “we are sorry that we allowed the doctrines of men to influence LDS policy regarding people of African descent, and causing unnecessary heartache and discrimination.” I don’t think it would cause any harm, and it would do a lot of good.

  97. Does anyone know if a white man could be sealed to a black woman in the temple before Official Declaration 2?

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