Wednesday, August 6, 2014

One More Time: We Need to Stop Justifying the Priesthood Ban Using Former Justifications

I heard again recently the former Priesthood ban justified as being God's will because it was similar in nature to the restrictions established with the Levitical Priesthood in the Old Testament.  Once again, I cringed. 

We must stop trying to justify the ban by citing justifications that existed and were used prior to the ban being lifted in 1978.  There are too many statements by prophets and apostles since that date that have told us that all previous justifications were incorrect for us to continue to use them.  (If anyone who reads this wants to see some of those statements, search under the label "Race" near the bottom right of this blog.


As to the claim, the following is my response:

1) EVERY instance in our canonized scripture of such a restriction, if it existed, occurred prior to the ministry of Jesus Christ. Look it up: Every reference is from before he ministered among the Jews. I believe that simple fact is critical to understand as the foundation of the discussion. Thus, if someone posits that there were “bans” based on lineage or race prior to the modern one, they have to admit that those bans appear to have stopped with Jesus’ ministry – according to our scriptural canon.

2) There are NO recorded revelations justifying the modern Priesthood ban. ALL of them used the Old Testament time period justifications that were common within “apostate” Christianity at the time. Think about that aspect of the discussion – that the justifications were borrowed from denominations that we classified as “apostate” at the time. It’s instructive, I think.

2) Jesus’ statement in Matthew 15:24 about being sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel says absolutely nothing about the Priesthood. It refers only to his ministry – his preaching, healing and blessing. The woman in question wasn’t asking for the Priesthood; she was asking that He perform a miracle on behalf of her daughter. Thus, that passage is completely irrelevant to the modern Priesthood ban and any other similar ban.

3) The last message Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew before his ascension is recorded in Matthew 28:19-20, which reads (emphasis mine):

“Go ye therefore, and teach ALL nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Notice, they were commanded to teach and baptize ALL nations (which doesn’t address a Priesthood ban, since even under the modern ban, all people could be taught and baptized), but notice that once ALL were baptized they, without exception, were to “observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you”. In other words, there is NO restriction of ANY kind on what ANYONE who was baptized was required to observe – and all members at that time couldn’t have followed that commandment without the Priesthood being given to them. Thus, by default (not reading into the passage what isn’t there), there was no Priesthood ban in the early Christian Church that was based on nationality or race.

4) Nephi (a prophet from the Old Testament time period) passed along the idea of a curse in his writings, but the Book of Mormon also has NO mention of it after the visitation of Jesus in 3rd Nephi. It ended, if there was one, with the ministry of Jesus among them. Furthermore, Nephi undercuts the idea that the curse he mentioned was skin- or lineage-related when he said in 2 Nephi 26:33 (again, emphasis mine):

“For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them ALL to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth NONE that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and ALL are ALIKE unto God, both Jew AND Gentile.”

Nephi says in that verse, explicitly, that black and white are “alike unto God” – and that God invites ALL to “come unto him and partake of his goodness”. People who are partaking of the same goodness and who are alike unto God eliminates, obviously and unequivocally, the idea that one group held the Priesthood and could attend the temple while the other group didn’t and couldn’t. The ban makes NO sense whatsoever when read according to that verse – and it was written before Christ’s ministry. If that verse is interpreted literally, and if there actually was a race-based Priesthood ban at some point in history, it had ended by around 600 BC – or, if read to coincide with the ministry of Jesus, it ended at that time, at the very latest.

5) The issue with the Gentiles in the early Christian Church wasn’t about Priesthood or the temple in any way. At least, there is NO mention whatsoever of the Priesthood in any passage dealing with the issue. It was about baptism, and once the Genitles were baptized, there is no reference to any of them not receiving the Priesthood based on race.

6) To add something that I almost never hear discussed or even recognized, there's a HUGE conceptual difference between the following: 1) giving one group in a "multi-tribal" population the right to perform rituals; 2) giving everyone except one specific group in a "multi-racial" population that right. In very real, practical terms, the modern ban was the exact opposite of the ancient Levitical structure.

7) Joseph Smith ordained multiple black men to the Priesthood, so it’s patently absurd to argue that he believed a ban was necessary – regardless of how he felt about any other bans that might have existed in the past.

Conclusion:

Based on our actual scriptural canon, even if some bans actually did occur in the Old Testament times, there is NO evidence that any ban continued after the ministry of Jesus Christ – in either the Bible or the Book of Mormon. In fact, there are multiple sources that imply or state explicitly that a ban from that point onward was not the will of God – that ALL people everywhere now were considered “alike unto him”.

Finally, the LDS Church has published a statement entitled, "Race and the Priesthood" that can be found on lds.org in the Gospel Topics section that states more clearly than ever before how the ban originated and how the leadership views it now.  The link is:

"Race and the Priesthood"

So, if even our modern prophets and apostles say the former justifications were incorrect (“spectacularly wrong”, in one quote) – and if even they say they don’t know exactly why the ban was implemented (with which I can’t argue strongly, since I think it’s obvious but am willing to admit that I can’t see 100% into Pres. Young’s mind and know with total certainty why he did what he did) – and if they are saying forcefully that we should not perpetuate the former justifications – and if even they now have said that the Church condemns ALL racism of any kind, including that of our own LDS members, past and present – and if ALL the written evidence since the time of Jesus’ mortal ministry points to the incorrectness of a Priesthood ban (especially based on one drop of blood from a long-ago ancestor – who, by the way, is a common ancestor to ALL of us, if the “one drop” standard is used) — how can someone possibly argue that the modern Priesthood ban was justifiable based on the beliefs of those who lived and recorded their beliefs before Jesus was born, even if previous bans existed and were justifiable back then?

Such a position simply is not tenable, and, just as importantly, it is in direct opposition to our current leadership and their requests of us.  That, perhaps, is the ultimate irony in the justification being used  today by someone who believes in "following the prophet". 

12 comments:

larryco_ said...

Sorry, Papa, but I'm a little confused. When you use the term "priesthood ban", are you referring only to the racial ban that was ended in 1978 or are you also referring to the gender ban which is currently THE hot topic?

Papa D said...

Only the racial ban that was ended in 1978.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. We need to keep repeating this message until we stop hearing the wrong ones.

Anonymous said...

"Male and female" so I guess all the current justifications about why women can't have the priesthood are also wrong.

JKC said...

Another point to make is that the gospel teaches us that when we are baptized and receive the holy ghost, we become members of the House of Israel, and there's even a quote (either Joseph Smith himself or maybe Parley P. Pratt, I don't remember) to the effect that if a person who is not of the blood of Israel is baptized, receiving the Holy Ghost actually changes the blood of that person to the blood of Israel. So even if we accept the notion that there is or was cursed blood, such a concept has no application to a person who has been sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost.

symphonyofdissent said...

I would question your first point suggesting that all restrictions on priesthood preceded Jesus Christ. Actually, in Acts we see that Peter had to receive a special revelation justifying taking the gospel to the gentiles. I do believe that the scriptures make it amply clear that priesthood is something that God has gradually expanded over time in line with the readiness of his people and the world to receive it. I am just grateful to live in a time when all worthy males can receive it.

Papa D said...

Anonymous, the first: Yes, it needs to be repeated until the justifications stop being used.

Anonymous, the second: Yes, that is a valid reading of that verse - at the very least that the justifications we tend to use aren't supportable by our scriptural canon.

JKC: While I don't agree with the changed blood idea, it is an excellent reference and point. Thanks for adding it.

symphonyofdissent: I addressed that exact issue in the post. That "restriction" was for Jesus' ministry and baptism. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate it had anything whatsoever to do with the Priesthood. Again, that is a justification that was used prior to 1978 and needs to be eradicated from our discourses.

Jared said...

I don’t claim to have any special insight into this subject. My sources are the scriptures and the words of the living prophets—sources all church members have available to them. If someone can use the scripture to show me that what I’ve written is in error, I invite them to do so; I am interested in the truth.

First, a few question to orientate our thinking:

1. Who is the head of the church?

For believing members there can only be one answer—Jesus Christ (3 Nephi 27:8).

2. Does the Lord inspire and lead His chosen prophets?

The scripture answer this question in the affirmative. (1 Nephi 22:2, Amos 3:7).

3. Can a prophet of the Lord err—be fallible?

The scriptures give clear understanding they can, and have. (D&C 1:24-28).

4. Will the Lord permit a fallible prophet to frustrate His will?

No.

The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught. D&C 3:1

5. Has the Lord intervened when a prophet erred on an important doctrinal matter because of the culture they lived in?

Yes, Peter was taught by the Lord in a dream/vision to take the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10:9-16). This was contrary to Jewish culture, and the Saviors own teachings when He was with His disciples (Matt 10:5-6). He told them not to go to the Gentiles, but now the Lord was sending the gospel to all men. The Lord intervened at this time because it was His will that the Gentiles receive the gospel.

Summary

Based on these scriptures, it reasonable to believe the Lord could have intervened to overrule the ban on blacks and the priesthood early in church history, but it wasn’t His will to do so until 1978.

The ban isn’t the central issue—in my opinion. The central issue is understanding how the Lord works with His fallible prophets to accomplish His will. I believe the Lord is very close to His prophets. He isn’t an absentee Deity. I don’t see any reason, based on the scriptures, to conclude the Lord’s will is ultimately frustrated because of fallible prophets. That would be equivalent to the tail wagging the dog. The history of the priesthood ban doesn’t need to be a difficult subject to deal with. This is especially true for those who have studied the scriptures and thereby understand the “dealings” of the Lord.

Papa D said...

"The history of the priesthood ban doesn’t need to be a difficult subject to deal with."

I agree, Jared - and the least we can do to not make it more difficult than it is is to accept what the modern prophets have said since 1978 and stop perpetuating the justifications that were used prior to that time. Bruce R. McConkie and others have been clear that ALL of those justifications were wrong, and that includes equating the ban with the situation surrounding the Levitical Priesthood in the Old Testament.

If we really do believe in modern prophets and "following them", we need to accept their words concerning the ban and stop teaching the justifications that have been used in the past. It really is that simple and, as I said in the post, the issue of to whom the Gospel was taught in what order is one of the former justifications we need to stop teaching - especially since it is a completely different issue than a Priesthood ban.

Seriously, it is irrelevant to this issue, so we should stop using it in this sort of discussion. It unnecessarily complicates the issue, which is what all of the former justifications did.

Jared said...

Thanks for you reply (even though you didn't comment on the point I was focusing on).

The point that is more important than the priesthood ban is to understand how Heavenly Father works with his followers.

The primary question isn't the ban, but why Heavenly Father allowed the priesthood ban in the first place if it was contrary to His will.

In other words, He permitted the ban for a reason. What is that reason? I suggest that in some way the priesthood accomplished His purpose(s). Do you agree or disagree with this point?

The Book of Mormon teaches in many instances that the Lord will allow His prophets to lead his followers (church) into difficulties (sometimes with severe consequences) for a purpose.

I think this approach to the priesthood ban is more productive than any other form of reasoning.

Papa D said...

"The point that is more important than the priesthood ban is to understand how Heavenly Father works with his followers."

I agree - and I believe God usually works with his followers, including instances when they make mistakes, by allowing them to exercise their agency and deal with the consequences of that allowance. Rarely does he step in and forcibly correct them. I think that is clear throughout our scriptural canon and modern history.

"In other words, He permitted the ban for a reason. What is that reason?"

From the records we have, including the Church's own statement to which I linked in the post, it seems clear that the reason is He wasn't consulted in the application of the ban. Direct revelation wasn't cited at any point; rather, the ban was instituted simply because it seemed obvious, based on the ancient scriptures used to justify seeing race as a qualification of worth common throughout Christianity at that time. That is the Church's own position now, stated in the Gospel Topics essay on lds.org. In other words, God wasn't asked about it, so he let people exercise their agency.

"I suggest that in some way the priesthood accomplished His purpose(s). Do you agree or disagree with this point?"

If "accomplishing his purposes" means allowing his children to exercise their agency and deal with the consequences, positive and negative, yes, I agree. If it means God approved of the ban and it reflected his will (or anything else that implies God would have instituted the ban), I disagree - and, again, that is what the essay about this topic on lds.org implies, as well.

"I think this approach to the priesthood ban is more productive than any other form of reasoning."

Your approach works for you. I respect that. It doesn't work for me - unless, again, you simply are saying that God allows his children to exercise agency and deal with the consequences. If that is all you are saying at the most basic level, we agree.

Jared said...

Thanks for the exchange. I wish I had more time to go more in depth on this with you. For now, I'll leave off here. Thanks again.