Friday, July 23, 2010

A Different Way to View Right and Wrong: Considering the Priesthood Ban

There is a HUGE difference between something not being God's ideal and something being "wrong" - in the sense that it could have been done differently. Let me use my own life as an example, first.

There are things I do that are not according to God's ideal. In a vacuum, they are - each and every one - "wrong". There also are things that my wife does that, in isolation, are "wrong". I flat out refuse, however, to insist that she change those things now - and I refuse to nag her and publicly say that she "should" be able to stop right this instant. As long as she (and I) is sincere in her heart and is trying to change, I accept fully her current ability to live the best she knows how - despite those areas where she still falls short of her own and God's ideal. She is who she is, and I love her dearly and unconditionally. I don't apologize for her, privately or in public; that would be judgmental and even more "wrong" than her weaknesses are in and of themselves.

An historical example:

Why do we assume that the early Church (meaning its living and breathing members, NOT the impersonal organizational entity), had to have been able to have our current racial understanding and acceptance - and why do we feel the need to apologize for them? Merciful heavens, they sacrificed and suffered in ways that I'm sure would have destroyed me. Just because they couldn't rise above their racism, why should we condemn them? Why should we insist that God should have MADE them do what they couldn't do - be who they couldn't be - and why do we assume God isn't crying over our own inabilities to live His law even while allowing us to stumble in our own weakness?

I believe, personally, that God allowed the Priesthood ban to exist and continue as long as it did specifically because He is so gracious and merciful and loving toward His children. I know that is counter-intuitive and sounds harsh when viewed from the perspective of those who were denied that blessing, but I desperately want Him to treat me that way, so I strive to allow Him to have treated racist but otherwise wonderful people the same way. "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." I can't express how much I desire to obtain mercy, and if that requires that I quit demanding others be who they aren't ready to be - in this case, to quit demanding past leaders not have been racist or demanding that current leaders claim to know what they simply don't know (e.g., why the Priesthood ban happened) - then that is something I am willing to do.

Do I think the ban "originated" from God - that God revealed it to the Church? NO - unequivocally. Do I think God allowed it to happen without forcing revelation that the Church probably couldn't have handled? Yes. Do I believe that inter-racial temple marriage would have caused schisms in a church soon to be torn by the practice then cessation of polygamy - perhaps destroying it in its relative infancy? Perhaps, and I lean toward, Yes. I believe the ban was the product of racism, but I'm not sure it was "totally wrong" - in that I'm not sure it could have been different, given the composition of the membership and the time in which they lived. Just as a start, to avoid the ban, someone else other than Brigham Young would have had to have been the prophet, and I'm not sure the Church would have survived without "The Lion of the Lord" at its helm during those years. The more I study the more I believe that, even with his flaws and speculation and strong- and sometimes narrow-minded opinions, he literally saved the Church during those hellish years.

The point is, I don't know if the ban was "wrong" in that sense, even though I think it was not what God wanted in His heart - not "right" from a moral sense. I just don't know. So I have no problem when our leaders say they don't know.


Michelle said...

I would take this a step further and say that our concept of 'right' and 'wrong' can sometimes just be wrong. ;) I think it's a bit arrogant of us to assume that our worldview is the 'right' one with which to judge all other times and seasons on 'right' vs. 'wrong.' Sometimes things that are wrong now could have had their place in a different time. I suppose that in a way is some of what you are getting at, yes?

I also tend to go a step further in another way...I personally think it's a bit much to declare absolutely that it wasn't a revelation but I know I'm in the minority in the 'nacle on that point. But ultimately -- I think we have had enough speculation turned folklore along the way...I worry that too much attempt at explanation can risk creating more that we'll have to go back and undo later. I worry that people base their faith in unauthorized explanations of hard questions like this and I'd rather see them focus on the Savior than on explanations that could end up being wrong.

But I really like the mercy with which you approach our forebears in recognizing that they did their best with what they had -- and I believe for God it was enough. If it's enough for Him, it should definitely be enough for us.

One last thought -- to judge the ban based on what blessings were temporarily denied is to miss what the Atonement is all about. There are a whole host of blessings denied for a time for a good majority of God's children. That's fallen existence in a nutshell. I think sometimes we end up not leaning enough on the Atonement to salve our wounds on hard topics and questions because ultimately, all other things must fail, but His love won't. And I think those who lived pre-1978 who were not able to receive those blessings had that faith. I admire it so much, and think when we talk about it, we could be more like them in that way.

Papa D said...

Amen, Michelle - especially your last paragraph.

Unknown said...


What are you reacting against here, exactly? What drew this post out?

Papa D said...

Hearing people condemn Brigham Young and the early saints for being racist. I have a hard time with condemnation of others for not being able to live everything we see as part of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ - especially when we would be condemned according to that same standard.

I believe all the law and the prophets really do hang on love, and I believe passionately in the ideal of "Judge not, that ye be not judged."

That's pretty much it in answer to what prompted this post.

Unknown said...

Fair enough, but where have you heard these "condemnations?" I have seen a lot of race talk in the bloggernacle, but yet nothing that comes across like what you say, as condemnatory.

What specific stuff?

Papa D said...

A few within the "Bloggernacle" (defined loosely, generally at a couple of sites and from a couple dozen commenters); the vast majority at sites outside what I accept as the Bloggernacle.

Notice I never mentioned the Bloggernacle in my post or follow-up comment - because those in response to whom this was written by and large aren't actively involved there.

Unknown said...

I think you're perception is off, unless you're talking about Anti-Mormon sites. I have yet to see anything like what you characterize from practicing LDS. Can you not come up with a few specific examples? I don't see anyone condemning anyone in the way you characterize, and I keep pretty well up on this issue.

If you won't name specifics, I will. I'm thankful for the work of Margaret Young, Darius Gray and of scholars such as the historians at the Juvenile Instructor who bring such keen insight on race issues, and that from a believing perspective. Someone who has done fantastic work but who is not LDS is Connell O'Donovan. I do sense a bit of an edge in some of his stuff, but I think overall he tries to keep it balanced. But aside from him, perhaps, I don't see anyone "condemning" anyone, and he's not within the tradition (though he was).

Papa D said...

Latin American, I will repeat, just as carefully as I said the first time, that this is in response to a "few" within the Bloggernacle (only a couple of sites and no more than a couple of dozen commenters) defined "loosely" - which means sites that think of themselves as within the Bloggernacle but are outside the Bloggernacle when defined by many within it.

I've been a very active participant in the Bloggernacle for nearly four years now (VERY active - in fact, one of the most active of all), and I think probably all of the main Bloggernacle stalwarts would agree with me - that there are a couple of sites and some commenters who actively condemn Pres. Young for instituting the ban and scorn the early saints for continuing it. That's a small number, but it's a vocal number.

I'm not claiming this is widespread - not in the LDS Church or the Bloggernacle, especially the "center" of the Bloggernacle. I think most highly active members in the Bloggernacle view this much the way I do - again from very active participation there. There are, however, very vocal voices at some sites who really do speak in condemnatory tones about the ban - and that is what I am addressing here.

Anti-Mormon sites are another matter altogether. What I am addressing is the de facto norm at many of them.

Papa D said...

Oh, and I know Margaret and Darius. Wonderful people, and "No Man Knows" is a tremendous project that every member should see and own.

Unknown said...

That's "Nobody Knows," (No Man Knows was Brodie on JS) and I agree that it should be owned far and wide.

Again, without any examples, this is quite frustrating, what you view as "condemnatory" may not be so viewed by others--there's no way for anyone to evaluate your claims--convenient. Again, I think you're assuming a bit much. And maybe not all of us are as "Stalwart" as you around the "bloggernacle," excuse me. The snottiness notwithstanding, without some specific references to what you're attacking and just vague references to the "center", etc, this post smacks of vain philosophy and does not help edify but perhaps a few that can decipher your coded references, which I find unfortunate.

Even so, as to your original point, you're view of what is right and wrong is no better than the one you find yourself condemning. And what gives you the right to condemn THEM (whoever they may be)?

I would hope that all would reject the doctrines that Brigham Young taught and that others picked up along the way from society about the inferiority of blacks. Since when has "everyone else is doing it" been an acceptable excuse? I think it's right for people to reject it and to speak against it in our history. I don't think in doing so one is being unkind or "condemning" anyone.

Papa D said...

Latin American, I am going to say this very carefully and meekly - and I am going to try to be as comprehensive as possible. I apologize in advance for the length of this comment, but I don't want to keep perpetuating what appears to be a fundamental understanding of what I am saying and the purpose of this blog.

You are addressing things I have not claimed. You are assuming things about me that simply are inaccurate. Specifically, I am NOT asking people to accept Pres. Young's justifications for the ban. I never have, and I never will.

I have advocated strongly throughout the Bloggernacle for open and unqualified repudiation of the justifications for the Priesthood ban. In one post, I compiled quotes from modern apostles and Prophets saying that we need to drop those justifications. (Seach the "race" and "racism" categories here, if you are interested in what I've written about this topic.) I have stated in this very post that I believe those justifications were the result of the racism that was rampant in that time period - not God's will.

Finally, if you haven't seen examples of condemnation I accept that as accurate. I'm sure you are being honest, and I am not going to argue about that. However, this blog is not intended as a place to condemn others personally - and I almost never name people who believe things differently than I do here on this blog. This blog is about my beleifs and perspectives - and this post is about not condemning people even when I disagree with their beliefs.

I have not condemned anyone here in anything I've written. All I have done is describe what I have read at a couple of sites from a few commenters and explain why I disagree. Also, by "stalwarts" I meant simply those who have participated for years - those who have read enough around the Bloggernacle to have an historical view of topics like this.

Ardis Parshall (especially), Steve Evans, J. Stapley, Scott B., kevinf, Thomas Parkin, Tracy M, hawkgrrrl, FMH Lisa, Heather Oman, SilverRain, Margaret Young, etc. - I am confident each and every one of them would agree that Brigham Young and the early saints are condemned occasionally in a few comments at sites that consider themselves to be part of the Bloggernacle. There was no snotiness in using that term; it simply means those who have been committed to the Bloggernacle for a long time.

I am not going to get into an argument about who is right and who is wrong - especially since I was serious when I said I believe you are being honest and accurate in saying you have not seen what I describe. Just grant me the same consideration, please - by accepting that my own experience might be different while still being honest and accurate.

Otherwise, I simply will bow out of this conversation - since I'm not about to try to convince you that I am right. All I can do is assert once again that it is an accurate presentation of my own experience - and that I know of quite a few other participants in the Bloggernacle who have had similar experiences.

Papa D said...

I just remembered in checking the categories that I merged the two categories I mentioned into one category - "Race". Again, if you want to read what I've written about race, please click on that link and read the posts that address race directly.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Ray. You are right on in your assessment of the Bloggernaccle and Brigham Young.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your kindness in answering. I apologize if I came off abrasively. I'm sincerely trying to understand where you're coming from but it's impossible without examples of what you are reacting to. I want to know what this is and evaluate it for myself.

If you don't want to do it publicly, fine enough, but would you please let me know privately? I don't think you're trying to force your view, but it's impossible to know what you're perspective is without knowing where you're coming from. Joseph Smith said this much when talking about understanding the parables of Jesus. You have to see what drew the original story out and that will unlock the parable. So here you have a parable of sorts and there is no way for me to unlock it without knowing what drew it out. If you'd be so kind, please email me... I will stop hijacking your post now, I am sorry. []

Mauro Fernandes

Papa D said...

Thanks for your thoughtful response, Mauro. I really appreciate it.

Honestly, I hesitate to point people to sites where the condemnation occurs if they haven't found them on their own - mostly because I don't believe there's much benefit to it for those who have carved out a pattern of activity in the Bloggernacle that works for them without such statements and focus.

The Bloggernacle is a wonderful community that I really love - whether more rigidly or loosely defined. People interact in all kinds of ways at many different sites and combination of sites - again, whatever works for them. However, I will consider your request and decide whether or not to provide examples privately. Understand, it's not what I do naturally, but I promise I will consider it.

Again, thanks for your willingness to read what I write carefully - especially with such a sensitive topic.