Saturday, April 11, 2009

Repudiating Racist Justifications Once and For All

This post is not the typical resolutions post I normally write on Saturday. Unfortunately, yesterday I read once more on a Mormon-themed blog racist justifications for the former Priesthood ban, and, once again, I was nearly sick to my stomach.


In order to have a handy place to refer anyone who continues to spout such nonsense, I am quoting here the most blunt statements by our modern apostles and Prophets regarding the ideas that were used in the past to justify the ban. Please, whenever you hear some repeat the nonsense of the past, direct them here to this post.

The most powerful modern prophetic utterances are:

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley in General Conference, April 2006 - stating the current position regarding racism itself:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?

From last year's PBS documentary -

Marlin Jensen:

Q. What is that folklore that troubles people?

A. “The essential idea is that somehow in the life before this life, through some conduct on the part of black people, they were less worthy and had to spend some probationary time waiting then for the priesthood to be given to them. I think it’s that idea that somehow they came here with some inherent disability, spiritually speaking, and that bothers them. It would bother me, too. And I don’t think it’s true. I think those were theories that were advanced, but I don’t think there’s any scriptural or doctrinal justification for them.
Jeffrey R. Holland:

“We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic. …
Full text of the issue from that documentary:

Elder McConkie:

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.
(”All Are Alike unto God” - BYU devotional - August 18, 1978)

Dallin H. Oaks (in the PBS interview):

I can’t remember any time in my life when I felt greater joy and relief than when I learned that the priesthood was going to be available to all worthy males, whatever their ancestry. I had been troubled by this subject through college and my graduate school, at the University of Chicago where I went to law school. I had many black acquaintances when I lived in Chicago, the years ’54 through ’71. I had many times that my heart ached for that, and it ached for my Church, which I knew to be true and yet blessings of that Church were not available to a significant segment of our Heavenly Father’s children. And I didn’t understand why; I couldn’t identify with any of the explanations that were given. Yet I sustained the action; I was confident that in the time of the Lord I would know more about it, so I went along on faith.
Interview with Associated Press, in Daily Herald, Provo, Utah, 5 June 1988:

Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that…. The lesson I’ve drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.
…I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.

…Let’s [not] make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent.

More from Elder Holland in the PBS interview:

One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. … I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. …

It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, … we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.

Pres. McKay in 1954:

There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.
(“David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism”)

As Elder Holland said so clearly, "At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed."

I think it's interesting to realize that Elder Holland's statements "at the very least" and "the least that we can do" imply quite strongly that there is more we can do. I believe that the "more we can do" includes opening our hearts, minds, homes and church worship to ALL, regardless of race or ethnicity - or religious ideology or any other segregating factor. I think we need to be "no respecters of persons". 

[Postscript - 2012]

 In response to an article in the Washington Post in which a BYU Religion professor was quoted about the justifications for the ban, the LDS Church released the following press release:

The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. The Book of Mormon states, “black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.

People of all races have always been welcomed and baptized into the Church since its beginning. In fact, by the end of his life in 1844 Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opposed slavery. During this time some black males were ordained to the priesthood. At some point the Church stopped ordaining male members of African descent, although there were a few exceptions. It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended. Church leaders sought divine guidance regarding the issue and more than three decades ago extended the priesthood to all worthy male members. The Church immediately began ordaining members to priesthood offices wherever they attended throughout the world.

The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. In 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared that “no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.”

Recently, the Church has also made the following statement on this subject:

“The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.”  (  

Given the totality of what has been said, especially with Pres. Hinckley's General Conference talk and the 2012 statement from the Church, there is NO excuse for ANY member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to continue to believe or spout the racist justifications for the Priesthood ban.  Period.

[Postscript - December 6, 2013]

The Church just added a statement in its online newsroom section, under the title "Race and the Priesthood".  The following are the excerpts that are most relevant to this post: 

The Church was established in 1830, during an era of great racial division in the United States. At the time, many people of African descent lived in slavery, and racial distinctions and prejudice were not just common but customary among white Americans. Those realities, though unfamiliar and disturbing today, influenced all aspects of people’s lives, including their religion. 

There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. 

In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter blacks continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church. 

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.


Jami said...

This is excellent, Ray. I'm going to point it out to my corner of the world right now. Thank you for putting it together.

Matt W. said...

I am teaching a lesson tomorrow on the importance of teaching true doctrine. This will be discussed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great post. These quotes need become more common than the usual explanations.

Jared said...

I agree, all of this is important to understand.

Additionally, I think it should be pointed out the Lord is the head of this church. He guides and inspires His prophets. This being the case,the Lord could have prevented the "ban" from the beginning. He didn't. What are we to conclude from this fact?

Rosalie Erekson Stone said...

Papa D, this is an excellent post.

I was very sorry to see the comment by Bruce in Montana, because it only succeeds in perpetuating exactly the kind of thinking that we have been told by modern day prophets to avoid.

I hope you will choose to delete his comment (and this one of mine referring to it), so you can keep the discourse on this thread in the proper spirit.

Bruce in Montana said...

My apologies RoAnn.
If you are advocating the teachings of Brigham Young be contradicted, I wouldn't want anything to do with that "spirit" anyway.

Jack Mormon said...

To Bruce: You are forgetting that, unlike other churches, the LDS Church is guided by continuous revelation. This means the current President of the Church has the most up-to-date information about the will of the Lord.

Consequently, it is logical to believe that if there is a conflict between President Monson's doctrinal pronunciations vs. Brigham Young's statements, President Monson's guidance must take precedence. Of course, the assumption is that President Monson is indeed in tune with the Spirit, an assumption requiring faith. I will continue to exercise that faith unless or until President Monson proves himself unworthy of it.

Bruce McConkie's explanation is the best guidance cited in the post, and is all that I need to know on the subject.

adamf said...

Jared, the problem with your idea is it may lead to exactly what Elder Holland warned of.

Bruce in Montana - The link you provided is to a site that states, "The purpose of this site is to document problems with the claims of Mormonism." Correct me if I'm wrong here, but you don't come across as sincere in your claim of following the admonitions of the 1st prophets.

adamf said...

Jared, I was also thinking that the Lord could have prevented a lot of things, in the church and out, but that does not necessarily mean he approves. There is agency involved, and imho, even prophets exercise agency, and can make mistakes.

Bruce in Montana said...

Sorry, that website is indeed an anti website. I only used it because they "red letter" that particular BY speech.
I'm fundamentalist and did not mean to start an argument...only offer another viewpoint and food for thought.
Happy Easter everyone.

adamf said...

Bruce, thanks for the clarification. Honestly, I thought you were either being cynical or you were fundamentalist, but the link swayed it towards the former. Happy Easter to you too! :)

adamf said...

Btw Ray, thanks for putting this together. I think I may print it off and put it in my scripture case, just in case it ever comes up in a church meeting again. Fortunately I have not heard anything in church for 2-3 years, but it does come out occasionally.

Jared said...


Your point is well taken. I don't know the answer. I'm surprised that after all these years this topic is still being discussed. I think many black LDS have come to peace about the history. It seems that white LDS are troubled more.

I don't think the best way to deal with this issue is to say that the early church leaders were somehow mistaken for over a hundred years on such an important issue. I think the Book of Mormon gives some clues, but I'm not interested in keeping this issue on my mind. I say let it alone and let the black LDS handle it. It's a great time to be black, in the church and out.

adamf said...

Jared, I'm surprised it's still being discussed as well... that it even has to be. But as long as people in the church still believe racist ideas that have been denounced by modern prophets, we need to know how to answer them with truth.

As for prophets being mistaken or not, that does play into it and is a topic that has probably been discussed ad nauseam online. I personally believe that God allows all kinds of things, and rather than view them as mistakes, per se, I see them as part of mortality. We see through a glass darkly. Others however, including good friends of mine, are more comfortable with the "prophets don't teach anything incorrect" view, and that's okay too. That way of thinking just doesn't fit with me, however. To each their own. :)

Blake said...

Let me join in the call to repudiate any notion that the priesthood ban was justified by some scripture or doctrine. It was the result of prejudice and cultural overbeliefs.

Nate W. said...


the Lord could have prevented the "ban" from the beginning. He didn't. What are we to conclude from this fact?

I guess that we could conclude that he approved, and similarly approves of the holocaust, every evil act and all human suffering, since he is omnipotent and could stop all of those things from the beginning. This naturally being the case, a) there must not be a God, or b) God is not good.

Or, we could recognize this as another dimension of the problem of evil, realize that trying to draw a conclusion from the ban would inevitably rest on fallacious logic, and conclude that because God did not prevent something from occurring teaches us absolutely nothing about God's love, justice or plan for the happiness of his children.

Jared said...


I can't help but think of the scripture: ...whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. D&C 1:38

This scripture sets the Lord's servants, and the issues they deal with in a special position--subject to revelation.

The problems of evil you pointed out in your comment, the holocaust and etc, exist in an entirely different category. Issues with the priesthood are fundamental to the restoration of the gospel.

Having said that, I don't accept the idea our leaders are infallible. So it really boils down to how we view "infallible". Personally, I am troubled accepting the view that they got this issue wrong from 1830 to 1978. I can hold that view without suggesting the answer is found in pre-mortal neutrality. Like one black LDS said about the priesthood ban: the Lord's way are inscrutable. That is where he leaves it. I like his explanation best.

Papa D said...

Everyone, I've been at the temple with my son (his first time) all day, and I just got back. Thank you for the discussion. I enjoyed catching up.

I can't address everyone personally at this point, so I apologize to those I don't mention by name. Right now, however, I want to address Jared's last citation of D&C 1:38 - since I believe we tend to over-apply the statement in it WAY too broadly.

The passage is, "whether by my voice or the VOICE of my SERVANTS, it is the same". I capitalized "voice" and "servants" to highlight the fact that the words are SINGULAR and PLURAL. To me, that means the "servants" MUST be united AS ONE SINGULAR VOICE for this passage to apply.

When it comes to the Priesthood ban, there was NEVER a singular, unanimous voice of the Q12 and FP regarding what some saw as doctrine, others saw as policy and others saw simply as wrong. That's important, since I believe it takes the ban outside of what we can state with certainty as being the word of God expressed as the voice (singluar) of his servants (plural).

That doesn't PROVE it wasn't God's will, but I think it absolutely proves that it MIGHT not have been his will - and I personally think it is reasonable evidence that it wasn't the will of God but rather the incorrect tradition of our fathers.

Papa D said...

Oh, and just so it's clear to everyone, by "fundamentalist" Bruce in Montana means he is NOT affiliated officially with the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He belongs to a religious group that broke away from the current LDS Church when polygamy was abandoned.

I don't want this thread to be used to discuss that any further; I just want to make it clear that he is not "Mormon" as most people reading this thread would think of that term.

I appreciate your input, Bruce - if only to highlight another aspect of difference between our two groups. I don't want to hear any justifications you use (*grin*), but I do thank you for pointing out the difference.

Jen said...

Thanks for putting these statements together, they are great to have on hand.

This is one of those issues that, unless we are given some greater spiritual understanding, we just aren't going to understand fully why things happened the way they did. I am just happy that things are the way they are now and that the past is behind us.

Nate W. said...


This really is just a subset of the problem of evil. The general question of the problem of evil is if God knows everything, is all-powerful and is a just and loving, why does he allow evil and suffering in the world? The question you ask is similar: if God leads the church and is just and loving, why does he allow the church to do things that are not just and loving? The answer to these questions are the same: either a) he allows humans to choose, b) there is purpose in the injustice, or c) our premises about God are wrong. Since c is untenable, we are left with a or b.

However, we cannot divine between a and b based on the existence of the ban. I fully agree, therefore, with the choice of the word "inscrutable." Because a tradition existed within the church does not mean that God approved of it. Likewise, just because we (rightly, IMO) find the practice abhorrent does not mean that it was without greater purpose. As I said, we cannot deduce anything about God's plan from the existence of the priesthood ban, and while I am not opposed to wild doctrinal speculation, it's important to identify it as such in cases where people have spoken on this issue with so much confidence and so little knowledge in the past.

Jared said...


I like the way you logically approached the subject. I wish I had more skills that way. I'll bet You could substitute for "Ask Marilyn" from Parade Magazine. I have a lot of respect for Mensa members, that is, until I look at our tax code (grin).

I'm glad we agreed on inscrutable.

Papa D said...

Just so it is clear, the comment from Bruce in Montana that I deleted was NOT because of anything Bruce said in it. His personal statement was:

"I don't know...personally I follow the admonitions of the 1st prophets of the restoration when today's leaders want to contradict them."

Bruce is not "anti-Mormon" as I view that phrase - and his subsequent comments show that, imo. I deleted the comment for one simple reason: It contained a link to an anti-Mormon website (and organization) I personally LOATHE - and I won't have that site or organization attached to one of my posts.

Again, the comment was deleted to remove the link, NOT Bruce's own personal statement.

chelle said...

Ray- I love reading your posts and hearing you speak. It is nice to hear from someone who is a deep thinker when I often only express surface emotions.
I didn't comment on any post but this..but I love'd them all.

R. Gary said...

Ray, in all of this discussion I just hope we don't forget that our premortal choices do affect our mortal lives.

Papa D said...

I agree with that general statement, R. Gary. It does need to be emphasized that these quotes do NOT repudiate the entire concept of fore-ordination.

I simply accept the current apostles' and prophets' statements that race isn't part of that equation - at least in the way that the earlier leaders interpreted it in order to justify the ban. In other words, I don't believe pre-mortal spirits were born black-skinned as a punishment for pre-mortal ambivalence or any other shortcoming, transgression or sin. That particular idea is the core concept repudiated in the statements I've quoted here.

Papa D said...

SteveEM, you are new to commenting here, so let me explain why I deleted your comment. Please read this entire comment.

1) I will NEVER delete someone's comment simply because I disagree with it. That is NOT why I deleted yours.

2) **I actually agree with much of your comment, even though I would have worded it very differently.**

3) My main focus here is to have completely civil discussions with NO name-calling and the associated drama that causes.

5) This is not a forum that allows me to edit comments. I need to leave them alone or delete them entirely - or delete them but leave the name of the commenter intact.

6) I left your name intact, so I could address this comment to you - and so that you would see that your comment had posted then been deleted. PLEASE, re-post your comment. Simply do so with words that don't call the leaders who didn't reverse the ban cowards for not doing it.

In other words, disagree with the actions of past leaders to your hearts content, but do so without calling them names and using terms and phrases many who read this blog would find offensive. (I was raised in farm country; those phrases aren't offensive to me in a personal conversation. This, however, is a public forum, so I try to be aware of others' sensibilities and honor them.)

I am sincere when I ask you to re-post your comment, but with more civility.

Steve EM said...

Hey, it’s ok. It was just my two cents. Please don’t be so apologetic. I’m a thick skinned native New Yorker albeit now in Houston. Here’s my attempt at toning things down by inserting some euphemisms in place of some of the somewhat charged words:

My two cents: BY held certain racial attitudes that were the norm for his day, hence the policy. I don’t go too hard on him for that. What I have difficulty forgiving is later leaders waiting far too long to reverse BY. I have similar feelings about HJG taking four don’ts from the WofW and making them a new barrier to entry into the kingdom, ~2000 years after such barriers to entry were supposed to have been dropped. No leader since has probably even contemplated reversing HJG. Both are classic examples of orthodoxy entrenching apostasy. In short, such errors are inevitable, and periodic reform is needed to correct things.

It’s all kind of ironic because from BY’s time to present we don’t seem to have much problem reversing The Great Prophet JS, be it BY on polyandry, later leaders on BofM interpretations or GBH putting the nails in the coffin of the KFD. I have no problems with any of these modifications as more light and knowledge came forth, but our leaders seem loath to reverse errors after JS, and that neglect harms the church.

Papa D said...

Thanks, SteveEM, for re-posting your comment.

Your comment hints at one of the reasons (probably the biggest reason) I believe the justifications that were used prior to 1978 were so improper - other than simply being wrong. It's one thing to have a policy or belief based on the incorrect traditions of our fathers, but it's entirely another thing to have such a policy or belief that has been given the pseudo-legitimacy of what appears to be rational justification. Human nature dictates explaining the policy, but the very act of attempting to explain it makes it harder to overturn in the future. Unfortunately, those justifications are accepted and internalized by others, especially as the broader community begins to reject them and assert pressure externally - which makes abandoning them contingent on the type of unanimity and overt revelation of 1978.

The end result is our current situation - where apostles and prophets have stated unequivocally that we need to trash those ideas and not perpetuate them, but some members (ironically, including many of the ones who are most vocal in their support of "the voice of my servants") simply can't let go of what they internalized. In some cases, they even create new justifications in the name of compassion and love - when, in reality, the new justifications merely reinforce the racist conclusions of the past justifications.

I hope we can move on as we have been asked to do.

Chas Hathaway said...

This is probably the best discussion on the subject I've come across yet. Thanks for posting it. If people do have questions, I plan on sending them here.

- Chas

Tristan Baier said...

This collection of statements is outstanding in its balance and real helpfulness. Sincere thanks for this fine contribution to understanding.

Papa D said...

I meant to say this earlier, but I completely forgot:

I think it's interesting to realize that Elder Holland's statements "at the very least" and "the least that we can do" imply quite strongly that there is more that can do. I believe that the "more we can do" includes opening our hearts, minds, homes and church worship to ALL, regardless of race or ethnicity - or religious ideology. I think we need to be "no respectors of persons".

I am editing the original post to include that last paragraph.

Papa D said...

I wanted to add a little to the concept of fore-ordination as it has been mentioned here. I wrote the following comment on another blog, and I am pasting it here:

"My only concern with fore-ordination is the way it is used to justify the way we do things - not necessarily what God would do if He forced His will upon us. It's fine and dandy to say that God fore-ordained ONLY those who actually have been called, but that would deprive those of true agency AND it would dictate that no human mistakes could be made in any way that might impact the fore-ordained.

Don't get me wrong; I believe in fore-ordination. I just don't believe in fore-ordination to the extent that it really does become pre-destination - and especially when it is used like it was pre-1978 as a justification to keep black men and women from holding the Priesthood and attending the temple. It's precisely that type of thinking that led to the justifications Elder McConkie said were devised from limited light and knowledge - and that our current apostles and prophets are telling us to not endorse now.

When I read the current statements, it is clear to me that fore-ordination CANNOT be used to justify the Priesthood ban. Period."

Richard Alger said...

I would update your post to include the source of that last statement,

Papa D said...

Thanks, Rich. I can't believe I didn't do that. I'll update it right away.

Unknown said...

I have no problem with blacks holding the priesthood. I have a personal testimony that that is according to the will of the Lord. Nor do I have a problem with the idea that a church leader, or even a prophet of God could make a mistake. I do, however have a problem with the implication that 10 or 11 Prophets of God were all wrong and uninspired.

"In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." (D&C 6:28)

In the case of the priesthood ban, we have way more than just two or three witnesses, all testifying that it was in accordance with the Lord's will at that time. How is it possible to imply that all previous prophets were wrong and uninspired without calling into question the inspiration of our current Prophet? I think that implying that 10 or 11 previous prophets were all wrong and uninspired is destructive of faith. Is it not possible that the ban and the lifting of the ban were both inspired of God?

The very words of the Official Declaration 2, itself, seem to imply that there was a time foreordained for the blacks to receive the priesthood:

"He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood." (OD 2)

Again, the very words of the Official Declaration itself seem to imply that there was a "long-promised" day set ahead of time, when the priesthood would become available to "every faithful, worthy man in the Church." I see no reason to believe that the original ban and the lifting of that ban were both inspired of the Lord.

On that point, see the quote in Gary Prince's book on David O. McKay. Apparently, David O McKay had asked the Lord about the ban and the Lord specifically told him that it was not time yet and to shut up and stop bugging Him about it. Assuming that David O. McKay told the truth, that sort of contradicts the idea that all previous prophets were both wrong and uninspired.

Papa D said...

Michael, my view on the ban is much more complicated than your conclusion. If you want a fuller understanding of how I view it, read all the posts here at this blog under the label "Race".

The point of this post is to stop the justifications for it, since our own modern prophets and apostles have unanimously asked us to do so - going so far as to state that they were all "spectacularly wrong".

Papa D said...

"they" meaning the justifications