For the D&C class I taught at BYU, (see my previous post on teaching polygamy), when we got to Official Declaration 2, my objectives were to cover the difficult issues and present some possible frameworks by which to make sense of those issues.
The students had read the church’s essay, so they had some good background, but I wanted to get a little more specific on a few items. I began with a quiz where I just asked for thoughts and questions on the topic. They pretty much all had the same one: why did we do this? So I just started into my PowerPoint.
For my first slide, I juxtaposed two quotes from Brigham Young. First his statement to William McCrary in 1846: “Its nothing to do with the blood [from] one blood has God made all flesh, we have to repent [to] regain what we [h]av[e] lost — we [h]av[e] one of the best Elders an African in Lowell [Massachusetts].” Then his statement to the Utah legislature in 1852: “Any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain] … in him cannot hold the priesthood, and if no other prophet ever spake it before I will say it now.”
“So the question is, ‘what happened’ between those two quotes,” I asked rhetorically and the class was pretty curious.
So I gave a little context, noting that in the 1846 quote, Young was talking about Walker Lewis and how in 1847, William Appleby had reacted negatively to Walker’s son Enoch’s marriage to a white woman. I put up a quote from Appleby’s letter to Brigham Young on the subject, “This Lewis I was informed has also a son who is married to a white girl and both members of the Church there. Now dear Br. I wish to know if this is the order of God or tolerated in this Church ie to ordain Negroes to the Priesthood and allow amalgamation. If it is I desire to Know, as I have Yet got to learn it.”
I then mentioned that Young discussed the issue that winter and was upset by Enoch’s marriage (I didn’t give Young’s exact quote [about having the couple executed] I figured that was a little too gritty. I just said he was pretty freaked out.)
I then went back to Young’s 1852 statement and highlighted the phrase “if no other prophet ever spake it before I will say it now,” which suggested that Young seemed to acknowledge that Joseph Smith did not teach it.
Then to help frame some of the discussion, I put up a quote from Elder Neil Anderson’s October 2012 talk: Some “find a statement made by a Church leader decades ago that seems incongruent with our doctrine…. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find. The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men.” I wanted to use the quote for a few reasons: 1) that BY’s statements are not currently considered doctrine, 2) we acknowledge that some past statements have been mistaken, and 3) I wanted to use the quote to highlight the church’s rejection of some ideas that I was going to discuss later.
I then put up a slide with the heading “Problems” and asked the students: “Does anyone see any problems with President Young’s logic?” A whole bunch of hands went up and they listed things like “all are alike unto God” and “we’re not supposed to be cursed because of our ancestors.”
I then added a few of my own like how the Bible and Book of Moses don’t say that Cain’s curse was blackness (I mentioned the common idea that the time that the seed of Ham was used to justify slavery at the time); how we become the seed of Christ when we repent and are baptized (Mosiah 5:7); how Young himself had said in 1846, “[from] one blood has God made all flesh, we have to repent [to] regain what we [h]av[e] lost,” suggesting that he acknowledge at that point that there were not particular cursed lineages; and that DC 84:42 suggests that all should come to the priesthood, “Wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood which ye have received.”
Next I gave a little history of justifications that were used for the ban: Orson Hyde’s 1844 statement about blacks being less valiant in the pre-existence (I noted that he didn’t mention priesthood at that time, but that he just wondered if that were why blacks had it so hard) and a 1869 statement from Young rejecting the idea that the priesthood ban had anything to do with pre-existence, but was instead because of Cain. I then noted that the idea of being less valiant in the pre-existence became a popular claim after BY’s death. I concluded that point by putting up the disavowal in from the essay: “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 unrighteous actions in a pre-mortal 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.”
I wanted to spend a little more time on the issue of interracial marriage because from my experience, that one hung around a little longer. I noted that leaders had made statements discouraging such a long time ago and then put back up Elder Anderson’s quote: Some “find a statement made by a Church leader decades ago that seems incongruent with our doctrine…. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find. The leaders of the Church are honest but imperfect men.” I noted that this hadn’t been officially taught by church leaders for a long time so it would fit under this “not teaching it anymore” category.
I then put up 4th Nephi 17 “There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God,” and 11 “And they were married, and given in marriage, and were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them.” I told them I felt these passages suggested that when things were really good among the Nephites, there were no more manner of “ites” and they seemed to all intermarry. The Nephite restriction on not marrying the Lamanites applied when the Lamanites were not keeping the covenant but did not apply when they were. I stressed that in the church we should not hold on to notions of tribal divisions, but that we should seek to become one.
I then used my wife (who was there to watch) and myself as examples. I noted that we were very similarly racially (white folks from the British Isles) but had rather different upbringings: I was raised in the church by pretty orthodox parents, she’s a convert to the church who was raised by (for lack of a better term) hippies. This created some cultural differences but that we loved each other, took our covenants seriously, and were able to work through differences. I noted that major cultural differences could indeed by an added challenge, and that one should be aware of any challenges he or she is undertaking, but that interracial marriage was not sinful or counseled against.
I then put up a slide that had the heading “Why?” and posted the statement from the essay that said, “After praying for guidance, President McKay did not feel impressed to lift the ban.”
I then let the question hang there for a bit: why? (I know, sort of a tough question, but I think it brought some useful discussion). Two students tentatively raised their hands. One wondered if it could have something to do with Christ going to the Jews first and then the Gentiles. I acknowledged that there was precedent for priesthood restrictions in the Old Testament but then pointed out that the apostles very quickly went to the Gentiles and seemed to have had no restrictions (and he seemed to agree). Another tentatively wondered if the ban helped us face less persecution in places like the South (he was the same student who mentioned that on his “quiz” but the noted that the church practiced polygamy which was very unpopular suggesting that being popular didn’t seem to be a priority). My one African-American student then raised her hand and said that she didn’t think that made sense because we were still allowing blacks to join and that only having a priesthood restriction would not have resonated with white southerners. I said that was a good point. Again, I thought discussing those issues what helpful.
I then mentioned how when I was at BYU, I had read an op-ed in the Daily Universe by an African-American student who said that he believed the Civil Rights movement was inspired by God to help the church overcome its racism so that the ban could be lifted. I just noted that I thought that was an interesting idea that I had not considered before. The students looked at little perplexed by that assertion but my one African-American student (who I was trying not to look at because I figured she’d be really uncomfortable if I stared at her the whole time) seemed to nod in agreement (out of the corner of my eye).
I ended by putting up a quote from Armand Mauss’s All Abraham’s Children (253) related to polling he had done on Mormon racial attitudes from 1972-2000. “American approval of segregated communities declined slowly but steadily during the three decades [1970-2000]. Mormon rates of approval for segregation were smaller than the national average across all three periods and declined as fast or faster than in the national data…. The Mormons joined the rest of the nation in giving up segregationist preferences and might even have moved a little faster in that direction after the church policy on priesthood was changed in 1978.” I then asked them what they thought of the quote and noted the improvement.
I concluded by saying that church leaders aren’t perfect (a theme we had discussed), that we often came short of the ideals of Zion (another major theme), but that we could improve and keep moving toward that goal.
I thought it went well. It was a lot easier to teach than polygamy.
So I wanted to ask them a questions related to all this on the final and I thought that a quote from Joseph Smith’s March 20, 1839 letter from Liberty Jail was a useful way to possibly frame the issue: “ignorance supe[r]stition and bigotry … like the torant of rain from the mountains that floods the most pure and christle stream with mire and dirt … obscures evrything that was clear” but “as time roles on may bring us to the fountain as clear as cristal and as pure as snow while all the filthiness flood wood and rubbish is left and purged out by the way.” Yet I was a little hesitant to be too overt on connecting that quote to the priesthood ban (the word “bigotry” can be a little off-putting), so after that quote I just asked, “What are some examples you see of this happening in church history?” A little vague, I know, but again, they didn’t have to answer the question (they only had to answer 5 out of 8) and I thought it would give any students who did see a connection between this quote and the priesthood ban an opportunity to say so.
Not very may students answered the question and of those who did, only two linked it to the ban. The others talked about things like the trials that had purged the early saints or the current progress of the church.
But I did like the two answers I got:
1) Elder Neil L. Andersen clarified this truth recently in conference that out doctrine is easy to find! Many fish up old things and let it shake their faith. Our Church History is rough at time, but we see the things that are “purged out by the way.” When we focus necessary attention on the truths that are consistently taught by many.
One of these obscurities was with Blacks and the priesthood and inter-racial marriage. I was recently reading in the Book of Alma, and I can better understand why some people [?] the view of Blacks ever receiving the priesthood and making such statements that interracial marriage was a serious transgression [he then explained that chapter]
In our history, we are blessed that the rolling waters continued to roll forward and that President Kimball inquired of the Lord. Because he did this many false notions and false spirits were done away with. All men were entitled to all the rights and privileges to the Holy Priesthood. Our Doctrine is everywhere and it is easy to find!
2) I think a huge example of this is blacks and the priesthood. We’re not really sure/positive as to why it all started. It has created ENORMOUS amounts of bigotry and “superstition” if you will, throughout the years. Yet, as revelation has been received to change this way of doing things, much of that rubbish has been flung away and many people have been led to that “fountain” of truth and light (which both come from God), and ignorance, “superstition” (related to Cain … 🙁 ) and bigotry are and have been “purged out by the way.” Truth can then be beheld!!!
Another example is polygamy (of course, the two biggest and most traumatic things we talk about, generally speaking, regarding the Doctrine and Covenants.)
Polygamy wasn’t (still isn’t) understood fully. Both purposes and understanding of polygamy were practically nil. However, after much agonizing, it was gone through with. And, oh, the problems! Holy Toledo! So much grief and doubt and turning away from the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Church over polygamy. Over the years, however, more people began to more readily accept this as a commandment form God and so were more ok with it. When finally discontinued, some people held onto it.
Now, more light and understanding and truth concerning polygamy and the reasons behind it have been received and, just as Joseph Smith said, “as time roles on [the rain and stream] may bring us to the fountain as clear as cristal and as pure as snow …” God has revealed more light and truth to us in His own way and time and He will continue to do so until, finally ALL of the ‘filthiness … wood and rubbish [will be] left and purged out by the way.”
“Trust in the Lord with all they heart…” (Proverbs 3:5)
“Let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion, for all flesh is in mine hands: Be still and know that I am God.” (DC 101:16).