“Race and the Priesthood”

 

A group of LIberian Mormons assembled before the doors of the Accra Ghana Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

 

There may still be a few out there who are unaware of the Church’s important new official statement on “Race and the Priesthood.”

 

It’s worthy of careful reading, and there are other good materials accompanying and supporting it.

 

 

  • kiwi57

    That’s a very good statement. Thanks for sharing.

    I wonder how many those who have criticised the Church for not providing any explanation will now tell us they are pleased, and how many will continue to find fault.

    In any event, this further strengthens the Church’s position, and weakens the already feeble residual polemical usefulness of the former Priesthood ban.

    • JohnH2

      Given the response of other Mormon writers on Patheos, I would say extremely few if any will now say they are pleased.

      • DanielPeterson

        There was another commenter from Aotearoa the other day who, appalled by my political and religious views, was demanding to know whether any PROGRESSIVE Mormon types will ever be allowed to write for Patheos.

        It was rather cute, I thought.

        • Darren

          “was demanding to know whether any PROGRESSIVE Mormon types will ever be allowed to write for Patheos.

          It was rather cute, I thought.” :)

        • jafnhar

          I’m not in on the joke here. Is it that there are already progressive Mormon types already writing on Patheos? Or nobody’s prohibiting such a person? Or no such thing? Or is the joke that nobody could ever be progressive enough to please the person in question?

          • ClintonKing

            If you look at the other writers in the Patheos Mormon portal, at least half of them could be classified as progressive, in my opinion. Certainly, many of the other writers routinely take positions, political and social, opposite that of Daniel C Peterson. I, for one, feel that progressive Mormon types are *overly* represented on Patheos.

          • kiwi57

            The joke was that the commenter wanted to know whether Patheos would ever let any Mormon bloggers less politically and socially conservative than Dan have their say. But if you look at the “Mormon Blogs on Patheos” selection to the right of your screen, and browse a few of them, you’ll quickly discover that they are, all of them, less politically and socially conservative than Dan.

          • kiwi57

            A further irony is that at least one of those “progressive” types is considerably less tolerant of dissent (from her views) than Dan is.

  • Michael P.

    Does this statement break any new ground, in your view? I feel like I’m missing something.

    • Wynton Marsalis

      Yes and no. The church is not presenting anything that isn’t already known from current historical research, historical context, etc. Nothing groundbreaking there. But what is more on the groundbreaking side is the fact that the church itself is presenting this information, talking about some of the more controversial issues more openly.

      I have long thought it would be better for the church to take this kind of approach, and though it has taken significant time for them to do so, I’m glad they are starting the process.

  • Bob Oliverio

    With no disrespect to any church official viewing this blog, nor to Dan, this statement issued by the Church can, at best, be considered a great “Jay Carney” directed to the “low informed/read” Church members. It certainly does nothing to justify the racist past of the Church. Nor does it help the image of the Church to non-members or potential members who are both probably more informed on Church history than our own members. Rather it lowers a supposed “Prophet of God inspired Church” to a politically/socially influenced organization. It was truly disappointing and embarrassing to read. After reading it, my wife and I, though not surprised, couldn’t help ask ” Why not apologize instead of rationalize”!!?

    This statement is a direct result of Romney’s presidential bid and the public focus he brought, indirectly, to this issue. The results of his campaign fermented for the past twelve months to the leaders of the Church and it became necessary to address the issue, probably more for members than any other group. As I predicted on another board, who were influenced to ban me for being objective, the Church will continue to be isolated until it finally apologizes for its racist past. For those of us in the south, we continue to be faced with and ask the most obvious question:

    “Why was a revelation from God needed in 1978 to allow that which he never denied? Were your leaders truly Prophets inspired of God when they discriminated against black people for over 100 years? Or were they merely influenced by peer/social pressure?”

    Sorry, but this Church statement is merely a rationalizing cop out. It answers nothing.

    • DanielPeterson

      I’m sure I speak for others when I say that it’s a great privilege to have somebody posting comments here who is (a) self-confessedly objective and (b) intimately familiar with the backstory of how this statement came to be.

    • RaymondSwenson

      Bob, in my own experience, the likelihood of a non-Mormon (who was never a member) knowing more concrete information about LDS Church history than a current Church member, is pretty slim. Most non-Mormons can’t be bothered with actually reading the Book of Mormon, let alone reading the D&C and the related church history. They might get a few lurid stories from an anti-Mormon web site, but the credulity they give to anything negative shows how generally ignorant they are of the real, contextual history. That ignorance was manifest during the entire period of Romney’s campaign in 2012, in news stories by reporters and comments from the public.

      There are definitely a small number of non-LDS scholars who have actually studied LDS doctrines and history in depth, like Jan Shipps and Douglas Davies, who bring interesting insights to their work, but they are remarkable exceptions.

      • Bob Oliverio

        R
        aymond,

        Speaking from the perspective of being a non member who joined I have to strongly disagree with you that a non member would not know more about the history of the Church with respect to the treatment of blacks and the priesthood than current members. But I would agree there are many LDS academics and perhaps apologists who are well read in this history. But IMHO here is the reality:

        In this current generation the Church, for many and obvious reasons, has been extremely reluctant to delve into this subject in any factual depth in it’s official gospel doctrine teaching manuals, official explanations of Church history, or even over the pulpit on Sundays or at GC. One can reasonably conclude that the many racist statements prior to 1978 from esteemed figures and leaders within the Church, while perhaps arguably not “official”, could only be a direct product of Church culture, views, attitudes and beliefs from the top. Where else would such attitudes originate from and why would such statements have ever been tolerated? (While I could post pages of such statements here, I suspect we’ve all seen them before.). But as we all know, these statements and historical context have never made it into Church manuals or official teachings. And for the most part, since 1978 it really has been more a policy of “public avoidance” when it came to this issue – and for smart marketing reasons. It’s just not a past practice/doctrine that can be honestly, officially and publicly explained by our Prophets today (nor in the past) and provide anything positive for the Church in its attempt to gain members or standing within the acceptance by the Christian community. Still is the practice today. Hence the “we don’t know” was the best answer taught for avoidance.

        But those outside the Church today can find all this historical background with a quick google search without finding any official Church response specifically addressing these statements and documented culture of past racists practice. And by design of teaching, most members would know little about this past, or at a minimum would have been discourage to pursue such line of questioning had they known. And the apologists who would want to claim that they have addressed all of these issues need to ask why their works were never convincing enough to make it into our gospel doctrine manuals of today. Did the Church support their works? Let’s face it, most Church members knew/know little about the existence of FARMS/MI or their works of unofficial Church explanations when it came to blacks and the priesthood and most other issues they address. It really seems to be a more of a Utah/Provo/BYU/MADD Board thing from my inquiries from members. Most members are not familiar with these groups, probably because these groups are not significant to the Church’s needs nor direction ( right or wrong) for the general membership.

        But here’s the thing: What knowledge of the issue did the Church have today that they did not have 40 years ago, or even 140 years ago to address the issue in a public statement all of the sudden???? Why now ??? Why not, at a minimum say in 1960 or when the civil rights movement was in high gear?? Or why not in conjunction with the supposed revelation in 1978? While we would love to rationalize something other than the hard reality – the Church has been under a lot of social pressure for the past year of notariety. Much like they were in 1978 and earlier from the NCAA and NAACP, as well as the Boy Scouts of America. The Church has always been subject to social and govt pressure. The last two revelations indicate this point.

        So before you discount my statements as a fellow member, you may want to consider stepping outside the corridor of, with all respect due, insulation and isolation of what I will call “Provo Think”! Many outside the Church are far more familiar and versed on historical facts of the Church than members today.

        R
        aymond,

        Speaking from the perspective of being a non member who joined I have to strongly disagree with you that a non member would not know more about the history of the Church with respect to the treatment of blacks and the priesthood than current members. But I would agree there are many LDS academics and perhaps apologists who are well read in this history. But IMHO here is the reality:

        In this current generation the Church, for many and obvious reasons, has been extremely reluctant to delve into this subject in any factual depth in it’s official gospel doctrine teaching manuals, official explanations of Church history, or even over the pulpit on Sundays or at GC. One can reasonably conclude that the many racist statements prior to 1978 from esteemed figures and leaders within the Church, while perhaps arguably not “official”, could only be a direct product of Church culture, views, attitudes and beliefs from the top. Where else would such attitudes originate from and why would such statements have ever been tolerated? (While I could post pages of such statements here, I suspect we’ve all seen them before.). But as we all know, these statements and historical context have never made it into Church manuals or official teachings. And for the most part, since 1978 it really has been more a policy of “public avoidance” when it came to this issue – and for smart marketing reasons. It’s just not a past practice/doctrine that can be honestly, officially and publicly explained by our Prophets today (nor in the past) and provide anything positive for the Church in its attempt to gain members or standing within the acceptance by the Christian community. Still is the practice today. Hence the “we don’t know” was the best answer taught for avoidance.

        But those outside the Church today can find all this historical background with a quick google search without finding any official Church response specifically addressing these statements and documented culture of past racists practice. And by design of teaching, most members would know little about this past, or at a minimum would have been discourage to pursue such line of questioning had they known. And the apologists who would want to claim that they have addressed all of these issues need to ask why their works were never convincing enough to make it into our gospel doctrine manuals of today. Did the Church support their works? Let’s face it, most Church members knew/know little about the existence of FARMS/MI or their works of unofficial Church explanations when it came to blacks and the priesthood and most other issues they address. It really seems to be a more of a Utah/Provo/BYU/MADD Board thing from my inquiries from members. Most members are not familiar with these groups, probably because these groups are not significant to the Church’s needs nor direction ( right or wrong) for the general membership.

        But here’s the thing: What knowledge of the issue did the Church have today that they did not have 40 years ago, or even 140 years ago to address the issue in a public statement all of the sudden???? Why now ??? Why not, at a minimum say in 1960 or when the civil rights movement was in high gear?? Or why not in conjunction with the supposed revelation in 1978? While we would love to rationalize something other than the hard reality – the Church has been under a lot of social pressure for the past year of notariety. Much like they were in 1978 and earlier from the NCAA and NAACP, as well as the Boy Scouts of America. The Church has always been subject to social and govt pressure. The last two revelations indicate this point.

        So before you discount my statements as a fellow member, you may want to consider stepping outside the corridor of, with all respect due, insulation and isolation of what I will call “Provo Think”! Many outside the Church are far more familiar and versed on historical facts of the Church than members today.

    • Wynton Marsalis

      Bob, I disagree with many (most) of your statements, but I’d like to explain why regarding a couple of them. First, I don’t think the church is trying to “justify the racist past of the church.” Rather, I think the church is trying to be open with the information it knows, invite additional historical research to be done that we can all look at, and let people draw their own conclusions.

      Certainly there were members of the church, even apostles, who were racist. That is unfortunate. The way I feel about that is the same way I feel talking with my wonderful but moderately-racist, 93-year-old grandmother. I don’t like her racist feelings, but I realize she inherited the thinking of her time and of her parents. Its sad all the way around.

      However, did this decision to disallow blacks to have the priesthood originate from racist views of, say, Brigham Young? I don’t know. It very well could have. Or not. But assuming the worst, that Brigham developed some strong ideas about this and figured he should follow his feeling on it and implement a policy, how would that make me feel? Personally, I would probably cringe, but it would also not affect my testimony of Brigham Young as a prophet, the Church as true, or anything else.

      But I don’t, and never have, had an expectation that prophets are infallible. That’s a strange and dangerous idea to me – the infallibility of *any* man. I think prophets receive revelation and implement policies and practices based on that. I also think that prophets have their own personal opinions, inclinations, solutions to problems, sins, even sensitivity to social pressure, etc., and that sometimes, inevitably, some of those make their way into the policies they implement. To me, that’s the nature of a church led by man. I also don’t expect God to intervene every time a church leader is going to make a bad decision. Sometimes He does, but clearly not always.

      I applaud the church for taking a more open approach. It’s only going in the right direction. I hope this is the beginning of an effort to openly deal with the wonderful along with the painful, controversial parts of our history.

    • brotheroflogan

      Today I had a non-member debate with me about how I could consider Brigham Young a prophet. It was kind of hard to refute her arguments. This statement seemed to give ammo to those who say “And when will women get the priesthood and gays be married in the temple? Are you going to apologize for those in 50 years?” It was hard for me to give a resolute response (though I did my best).

      • Bob Oliverio

        If based on the color of their skin – most definitely should.

  • EteU Spencer

    I said this. The newly baptised and many current membership really has little point in this day and age. I am African American and I focused on forgiving. I personally experienced many prejudices in my experience, because I have been in the church most of my life. I was involved in the church from when the ban was lifted
    I was a member when very few African Descended people were in the church. I was easily within the first 50 African Descended men to receive the Priesthood. I also heard the talk President Gorden B. Hinckly gave that year in General Conference. I felt vindicated for the first time in my experience with the church. I personally walked that lonely road for a long time.

    My family all but ostrasized me. Some of those relationships have never been healed 40 something years later.
    Have I suffered for my testimony of the church? Absolutely! Have I suffered emotionally for my experience? You bet! I and all the people in my position are the ones the apology/Statement should be directed. NOT new members or members joining the church.
    I feel vindicated by the admission of the church in this matter. I feel the spirit of forgiveness. If I do, then anyone should. There are so few of us out there in Mormonland, who really need the apology. This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate together as a church. Priesthood leaders are people too, and prone to error. We all know this.

    • DanielPeterson

      Thank you, Brother Spencer, for your comment. I’m very grateful to have heard your voice on this. And thank you, too, for your faithfulness.

    • brotheroflogan

      Thanks for your point of view and your faithfulness. It can’t have been easy.

  • jafnhar

    Maybe it’s not a huge deal, but I dislike the lines: “God created the many diverse races and ethnicities and esteems them all equally. ” To my mind it implies that “race” is a real thing. Obviously, an individual’s skin color is a real thing. But the cultural significance is a human invention. “Black African” is a category imposed from the outside. If you imagine an alternate world in which the shape of a person’s nose is of great significance and a progressive fellow were then to claim that all the different groups of nose-shapes were created by God equal. It’s a nice statement but it would still imply that God gave you a particular shape of nose for the sake of grouping you with others of the same nose-shape. But that’s only the case if people make it so. God/Nature did not give people a skin color for the sake of grouping them with others of the same skin color.

  • Ray Agostini

    This may help (I hope) in clearing up some of the troubling issues:

    [Quote:] There is no known record of any revelation in this dispensation that
    either denies the priesthood to blacks or ties them to the lineage of
    the pharaohs. Nor is there any record that the Church had a policy of
    priesthood denial in the lifetime of Joseph Smith. There is much
    evidence that the policy developed after Brigham Young took charge of
    the church.108
    Was that policy established by revelation? We may never know, but it is
    not necessary to believe so. There is an especially relevant biblical
    precedent suggesting that ecclesiastical policies requiring revelation
    for their removal do not necessarily originate by
    revelation. The controversy over circumcision among the New Testament
    apostles offers us a parallel problem of “racial discrimination.” If
    Jesus had given some priority in the teaching of the gospel “to the Jew
    first, and also to the Greek,” he certainly never instituted the
    requirement of circumcision before baptism for the Gentiles, as some of
    his early apostles apparently believed. In spite of Peter’s vision about
    “unclean meat,” which should have settled the question, it is clear
    from Paul’s epistles that the circumcision controversy in the early
    church lasted for many years.109
    We may well wonder why the Lord “permitted” a racially discriminatory
    policy to survive so long in either the ancient or the modern church,
    and what circumstances finally brought about his intervention. It does
    seem plausible, however, that both the ancient and the modern instances
    could have had strictly human origin. An open admission of this
    realization may be the best way to start dealing with the black issue in
    Mormon history. There is no reason for even the most orthodox Mormon to
    be threatened by the realization that the prophets do not do everything
    by revelation and never have.110 [Unquote]

    Armand L. Mauss, “The Fading of the Pharaohs’ Curse:The Decline and Fall of the Priesthood Ban Against Blacks in the Mormon Church”. http://signaturebookslibrary.org/?p=452

  • Lucy Mcgee

    In the Church’s official statement, it is quite silent regarding the abolitionist movement going on around Joseph Smith and his followers, where people like William Lloyd Garrison, publisher of the anti-slavery newspaper the Liberator, and John Rankin, Presbyterian minister, were willing to risk their lives in the pursuit of spreading the abolitionist movement, yet, Joseph Smith, living in the same state as Rankin, cites biblical passages condoning slavery.

    • DanielPeterson

      When he ran for the presidency in 1844, he did so on the basis of a platform that included a suggestion for ending slavery that was very similar to Abraham Lincoln’s later ideas.

  • brotheroflogan

    I think that this was a good and necessary thing, but it FELT like the church dropped a rotten egg in my lap and said “sell it.” But the important thing is that our African members feel fully welcomed, vindicated and loved. And that racism has been apologized for and repudiated. I even hope we have a black prophet one day. But I don’t want the church to chose a black apostle in a hurry and find out he wasn’t ready for the position. I wonder, when the day comes, if a painting of Brigham Young will be in his office or not?


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