Teaching the Priesthood/Temple Ban at BYU

By May 6, 2015

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 then 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).

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Interesting, Steve, especially in light of the Trib’s article yesterday. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by J Stuart — May 6, 2015 @ 8:53 am

  2. Thanks for sharing, as always. I’m curious whether you considered introducing more recent justifications for the ban (or at least recent perpetuations of the justifications). For example, the 1951 first presidency statement that said the ban and its justifications were revealed doctrine. Or the 1967 apologetic work “Mormonism and the Negro,” which relies on the 1951 statement, as well as FP correspondence with BYU professor Lowry Nelson, and discusses bans on interracial marriage as doctrinal. And of course, it’s helpful to see the church’s response to BYU professor Randy Bott in the 2012 Washington Post.

    Perhaps these more recent sources are too “hot” for this class, but I think we do a disservice if we set up the youth to think that serious mistakes were only made 100+ years ago, rather than understand that they are still with us today.

    Comment by Dave K — May 6, 2015 @ 9:27 am

  3. Interesting! Thanks.

    Comment by Saskia — May 6, 2015 @ 9:48 am

  4. Thanks, J. Yeah, that played a role in motivating this post.

    Dave, good points. I felt like I implied that the “less-valiant” narrative was around until not that long ago, but maybe I could have been more specific. Going over every statement seemed like overkill to me, but I certainly didn’t mean to imply that it had only happened 100+ years ago.

    On the issue of interracial marriage, I did note that I felt like that one had stuck around longer and told them I had heard that a number of times on my mission from some local leaders in the 90s and in some other contexts. That’s why I brought up the Anderson quote and noted that it had not been taught as official since the 70s (even if it was treated as official a long time after that).

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 6, 2015 @ 9:56 am

  5. Thanks, Saskia.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 6, 2015 @ 9:57 am

  6. Good work, Steve. It is interesting to see different approaches in different contexts. I appreciate that.

    In terms of folklore, I usually use a Holland quote about excising all of the folklore and McConkie’s quote about speaking not according to revelation. Considering his history BRM’s quote is always really useful in terms of getting them to think. I think it helps to have a list of the folklore…fence sitters, lack of valiance etc. We don’t walk through all of them usually, but just to be sure that they see them in case any of them have been perpetuating such things.

    Comment by jjohnson — May 6, 2015 @ 10:27 am

  7. Thanks, Janiece. Sounds like a good approach to use.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 6, 2015 @ 12:09 pm

  8. Very nice lesson!

    What would you tell a student who asked about this conundrum?

    “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse…”

    2nd Nephi chapter 5:
    21 And he [God] had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

    22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

    23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

    How do we reconcile the statement that God cursed the Lamanites with black skin because of their unrighteousness while at the same time believing that black skin is not a sign of divine curse?

    Comment by Cm — May 6, 2015 @ 8:24 pm

  9. That passage no doubt can raise a lot of questions, Cm, but if that were asked in class I would just note that it would be problematic to universalize a local relationship between the Nephites and Lamanites to all dark skinned peoples in all times and all places. It would be specifically problematic to apply that notion to Africans and those of African descent nearly 3000 years after Nephi, when the passage is clearly not referring to them.

    But what it all means, I’m not totally sure, though there have been several thoughtful attempts to make sense of the passage.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 6, 2015 @ 9:57 pm

  10. Maybe the essay only disavowed the concept of a divine skin color curse in relation to the negro race. I interpreted it as more of a general statement.

    Comment by Cm — May 6, 2015 @ 10:22 pm

  11. I see it as general also, but the issue of race and priesthood was the central issue the essay was dealing with.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 6, 2015 @ 11:14 pm

  12. Still, if a nonmember asked me, “does your church believe dark skin can be a sign of divine curse?” I’d have to say yes. Essay notwithstanding. (Even though I’d rather believe otherwise and personally do)

    Comment by Cm — May 7, 2015 @ 6:26 am

  13. Okay then.

    It still may be useful to look at some of the interpretations of these passages by Eugene England, John Sorenson, and Jared Hickman. http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/qa-with-jared-hickman/

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 7, 2015 @ 6:51 am

  14. CM, if modern church leaders could mistakenly believe that skin color reflected divine disfavor towards african races, it stands to reason that Nephi could have made the same mistake in regards to the lamanites.

    Comment by Dave K — May 7, 2015 @ 7:33 am

  15. If modern church leaders and ancient church leaders all got this wrong, it stands to reason we have a disconcerting trend.

    Comment by Cm — May 7, 2015 @ 8:21 am

  16. Cm, no doubt this is a tricky issue and as Dave points out, there are are number of ways to make sense of it.

    Still, I really like Joseph Smith’s quote: “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.”

    I don’t know what all the BoM’s talk about skin and curses means exactly, but as JS said “ignorance supe[r]stition and bigotry” can get mixed in with the pure stream, but can also eventually be “purged out by the way.”

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 7, 2015 @ 9:38 am

  17. This quote is in the Aaronic Priesthood manual 3, which was replaced only a few years ago by the Come Follow Me curriculum.

    “We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question? (“Marriage and Divorce,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1977], p. 144).”

    It’s not as far behind us as we’d like to think.

    Comment by BYUParent — May 7, 2015 @ 11:07 am

  18. I agree, BYUparent, and that’s why I wanted to give special attention to the issue. But as I told my students, this hasn’t been taught in official speeches for 40 years (1976), despite it being repeated in manuals. So I would still put in in the category of things not taught anymore. If it’s important, Anderson suggests, the leaders will talk about it in conference. And it’s been quite some time since that’s happened, despite it sticking around in other ways.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 7, 2015 @ 11:14 am

  19. With the Book of Mormon skin thing, I’ve always found 3 Nephi 2 curious where Lamanites have the curse lifted from their skin upon conversion to the gospel, and their children described as outwardly indistinguishable from the Nephites. Having one’s genetically-determined skin color change drastically within one or even two generations is very unlikely. The description of dark vs. fair in my mind seems to have more to do with attitudes or culturally-influenced traits (clothing, hair styles, piercings, etc.) rather than genetics. The description in 4 Nephi of the entire population (surviving Nephites and Lamanites) as fair and delightsome also indicates this description may be more related to righteous attitudes rather than genetics.

    Comment by Mary Ann — May 7, 2015 @ 1:22 pm

  20. Cm and Mary Ann, you might consider looking at the Blacks and the Scriptures series. It does a great job of walking through these skin color issues in an internally consistent manner. Here is a link: http://blacksinthescriptures.com/
    I would add that the “skin of blackness” curse in the BofM was never applied by BY to Africans or African Americans. He relied upon the “curse of Cain” in the Bible for his justification to withhold the priesthood from black saints. He claimed that the mark God put Cain was black skin and a flat nose. 19th Latter-day Saints understood the BofM curse to apply to Native Americans not Africans and it was reversible. The interesting irony is that the curse in the BofM is the wrong color. Both BY and JS referred to Native Americans on occasion as their “red brethren” but never black. There are internally consistent ways of reading those passages metaphorically and not literally. The Blacks and the Scriptures series walks you through the evidence.

    Comment by Paul Reeve — May 7, 2015 @ 3:05 pm

  21. Thanks Paul.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 7, 2015 @ 9:15 pm

  22. It’s interesting that you like the argument that the civil rights movement may have been inspired to move to church away from racist attitudes and practices.

    The Church’s essays on the subject now proclaim that the ‘theories’ put forth in the past were false, and contrary to the will of God. Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that those theories were based on statements by sitting prophets (I guess ex-post we can determine they were speaking as men, not prophets) or stated in *signed letters issued by the First Presidency* (where they certainly were acting in their capacity as priesthood key-holders) and the necessary recognition of his he fallacy that the prophet cannot lead the church astray. The prophets were leading the church astray, misrepresenting the will of God, and denying *saving ordinances* to many church members while placing a road block in front of non-members searching for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    Instead, what does that argument say about God’s ability to give the Church and its leaders revaluation?! I can accept that the Church and its culture were and are influenced by society, and as a result attitudes of society contrary to the will of God were present in the church. However, if society and the Church were not in tune with God’s will, what should be the order for moving to the will of God? I would suggest that God would reveal his will to his Prophet, who would declare the will of God to the Church. The leadership of the Church would lead the Church to Gods will, and would set the example of Christlike love and acceptance for society to follow.
    In fact, we saw the exact opposite. Society apparently got the message before the church. And when the message came to the Church, it came to the members of the church first. The leadership opposed the groundswell of support for moving closer to (what we now acknowledge is) Gods will, excommunicating those who called for change. Indeed, when those holding the keys of prophecy seers hip and revalation met, discussed, prayed and voted on the subject, they came up with an answer we now disavow.
    There lies the major issue in my mind. How can we claim deference to the opinions of Church leaders, when the Church itself now says that on something as basic as showing Christlike love and an attitude of equality for all, and as important as providing the opportunity to receive saving ordinances, not only did the general population of the church come in line with Gods will much sooner than the prophets seers and revelators, most of (the generally wicked!) society did as well? And those with the keys fought the move for decades, on multiple occasions issuing sanctioned statements we now declare ito be naccurate.

    Comment by Colin — May 8, 2015 @ 3:16 pm

  23. Colin, no doubt many of the issues involved with the ban are perplexing and upsetting, but let’s not forget that leaders had been praying over the issue for some time before 1978. It’s a mistake, I think, to say that the membership was ahead of the leaders (whose opinions varied) on the issue, and, based on Mauss’s research that I cited in the OP, I think it’s a mistake to argue that “society” (a large and varied group of people) was ahead of the church. Yes many advocated against the church’s policy, but again, Mauss found that church members were a little less segregationist in their attitudes that was the general populace. The church’s attitudes improved over time, perhaps suggesting they underwent the preparation they needed to have the ban lifted. The United States, I believe, has a lot of good things in it, and I don’t see anything wrong with saints and prophets benefiting from that.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 8, 2015 @ 5:24 pm

  24. Colin,

    A thought that came to mind – it is not always the wisest course of action to uproot the tares that have been sowed, particularly while the wheat is still young. That doesn’t take away from the fact that they are indeed tares and ought to be removed in time, but immediate removal is not always best option. Or another way to put it, it is better to remove the bad branches slowly and graft in the good ones in proportion to growing strength of the roots, that the tree is not lost in the process.

    Jacob 5
    65 And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard.
    66 For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.

    Comment by Steve S — May 8, 2015 @ 8:30 pm

  25. Regarding the link above which convinces us that the phrase “skin of blackness” in 2nd Nephi is nothing more than a metaphor for spiritual blindness (which is admittedly a MUCH more comfortable interpretation for everyone)…

    It’s claimed that the 1978 revelation gave our leaders a flood of new light and knowledge on this subject and led to the inspired footnote changes that clue us in to the non-literalness. It’s odd that this flood of light and knowledge is being communicated so many years later by these other people rather than general conference talks over the past 36 years by the prophets themselves.

    Comment by Cm — May 8, 2015 @ 8:46 pm

  26. Nice thoughts, Steve.

    Cm, yeah, this all gets a little tricky and many questions remain.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 9, 2015 @ 1:44 pm

  27. Steve, thank you for your comments. First, let me apologize, I was (and am) typing on an iPad, and the text box does not allow me to go back and reread and edit the post past the few lines visible on the screen. I meant ‘revelation’ and it auto-corrected to revaluation in my post.
    The data on attitudes of the members and society on segregation is interesting, but doesn’t quite speak to the point. The doctrine wasn’t about segregation, it was about equality in the eyes of God. (A member could have held a ‘separate but equal’ viewpoint, where the priesthood was available but segregation was somehow sanctioned.). More importantly, the members’ attitudes were certainly informed by their knowledge of the statements of sitting prophets and the policies of the church. The argument is then sitting prophets teach false doctrines, but God can’t correct them because too many members believe the prophets.
    Is God’s method to wait for the general population of the church to fall in line, then ‘reveal’ through the leadership the truth the members are now comfortable with? That doesn’t strike me as revelation — or leadership for that matter. While the majority of society and the majority of the church may or may not have been in line with God’s will prior to the prophets, seers, and revelators understanding God’s will, a very significant portion of the society and the church certainly were in line with Gods will, far before 1978. I agree that the leadership had considered and prayed about the issue prior to 1978; the trouble is they received the exact wrong answer! They issued signed statements by the first presidency we now believe to be inaccurate,
    When the essays on the priesthood ban were released, my initial thoughts were ‘that would make sense if the policy was changed in 1959, at the outset of the civil rights movement, and been passable had the policy been changed in 1969, shortly after the courts ruled on the subject. But to claim the Church’s false doctrine was a result of societal attitudes that couldn’t be changed until 1978 is grasping at straws.
    My points remain: 1) the prophets led the church astray on a very significant issue — equality in the eyes of God and the availability of saving ordinances 2) the top down revelation model failed. Society came in line with Gods will (in its legal framework) before the Church did. A significant portion of the Church was advocating for change before the leadership changed the doctrine. When the leadership — the prophets, seers and revelators — petitioned God, they issued signed statements with the exact wrong answer for 20 years.
    The implications for issues before the Church today are obvious. Could it be that Church policy is wrong because it was influenced by the biases of society? Can the statements by Church leaders that affirm policies continue to be misguided for decades as a significant and increasing portion of the church membership advocated for change in those policies? And directly from your line of reasoning, that God was waiting to correct the false doctrine until the attitudes of the members will allow it, are we hastening the will of God by continuing to question policies and questioning leadership?

    Comment by Colin — May 10, 2015 @ 8:21 am

  28. Good questions, Colin, and I would just reiterate the complexity and challenges of all this. We do have a few possible ways to understand this like having kings in the Bible and Book of Mormon when God didn’t want it but the people did. That would suggest that the attitudes of the people matter and that’s why I pointed to Mauss’s research.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 10, 2015 @ 9:10 am

  29. I just happened to be reading in Alma today about the Amlicite battle. In describing the physical appearance of the Lamanites (red mark on forehead, shorn heads, naked except for skin about loins, armor and weapons, etc) the very next sentence says:

    “And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression…”

    “and this was done, that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren…that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions”

    It’s sure hard to interpret “dark skin” here metaphorically when it’s lumped in with the physical descriptions. It wasn’t included in the above presentation because it doesn’t contain the word black.

    Comment by Cm — May 10, 2015 @ 7:42 pm

  30. Note however, there are also other stories in which Nephites and Lamanites cannot be physically distinguished. Brant Gardner has something on these.

    Comment by Ben S — May 10, 2015 @ 10:05 pm

  31. “How do we reconcile the statement that God cursed the Lamanites with black skin because of their unrighteousness while at the same time believing that black skin is not a sign of divine curse?”

    Because we are not (or should not be) scriptural fundamentalists? We don’t hold to a “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” approach? Prophets are just as fallible in scripture as they are today?

    Mormon and Moroni were not first-hand witnesses to hundreds of years of history. They had to rely on the textual records and interpret them through their own inspired but human lenses. There’s no warrant for us to read their comments as if they were unmediated divine pronouncements made in a cultural vacuum.

    Comment by Ben S — May 10, 2015 @ 10:15 pm

  32. I would love to believe that the whole Book of Mormon is non-literal. I’d like to take it for what it says and then feel free to learn both good and bad from it. I would like to do the same with Joseph Smith’s teaching and life. Unfortunately that is not the reality of our religion, from my experience.

    I feel like most of our leaders, institutional and local, insist on fundamental belief (except maybe in situations like this where there is no other good option to reconcile the contradictions- in which case they just largely remain silent). I do not feel the liberty to believe what I actually do believe. And it’s a shame because I feel at home with the wonderful people in Mormonism. I feel torn between my conscience and my community and there is a real cost either way. Thanks for allowing me to express my thoughts here at least and being willing to discuss.

    Comment by Cm — May 11, 2015 @ 6:41 am

  33. Glad to give you the venue, Cm, and again, this stuff is no doubt complicated.

    Thanks for you thoughts, Ben.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 11, 2015 @ 8:58 am

  34. Colin,

    You said, “I agree that the leadership had considered and prayed about the issue prior to 1978; the trouble is they received the exact wrong answer!”

    My comment in #24 was about this sentiment. I want to reiterate, because I’m not sure how clear that was. While admitting the priesthood/temple ban was not inspired / not of God (tares planted / bad branches, etc.), it doesn’t necessarily mean that the answers received thereafter to not immediately lift the ban were not inspired, but perhaps it rather needed to be removed in the due time of the Lord in balance with the growing strength of our roots.

    Comment by Steve S — May 11, 2015 @ 2:14 pm

  35. Steve, I’m curious about your statement.

    “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.)”

    Isn’t that the crux of the issue…the church has avoided going into any sort of detail until recently because it was ‘a little too gritty’?

    At what point would you consider your students to be mature enough to handle the exact quote?

    Comment by BYUparent — May 12, 2015 @ 8:19 am

  36. There’s thousands of gritty details I could have shared, but I think they got the gist. Lots of factors to consider, time restraints, etc. That is, I would have found dealing with the quote as somewhat distracting from the central issue.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 12, 2015 @ 8:54 am


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