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Interesting Thoughts on Blacks and the Priesthood

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But let's not forget that the civil rights movement was at least supported by many "apostate" churches and at most played a pivotal role in advancing civil rights.

Seems the apostates were ahead of the lds curve on this one.

This statement fails to recognize the still-current segregation of congregations in the American South. When I served my mission in TN and KY, I was stunned at the explicit segregation of churches. More than once I was asked by a black investigator whether they would be able to attend church with me because I'm white.

In short, I wouldn't get too excited about patting yourself on the back too much regarding your perception of curve progress.

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I don't mean to pick on you, but this is one of those explanations I was talking about that irritate me. For one they make no sense. Gentiles isn't by blood, because gentile is whoever isn't jewish....that would include black people. Not to mention lingeage is never that straight foreward. All of those lines within a few generations would have mixed here and there. There is no scriptural evidence that all blacks are decendants of Ham...it's a pupular notion from the 19th century. Any more than that Japheth is the great-great of asians, gentiles, or whoever else it's been believed he fathers. Anymore than Shem is the decendant of all europeans as well as jews. What it does fit well is the ideas of race that have grown over time. Namely that there are three types, that these three types are fundamentally different, and that it can be found in biology (specifically ancestory in this case).

THis is not based on a good scriptural basis, but a couple of points expanded into a theory.

With luv,

BD

In support of the correct observation about popular notions on race and the 19th century, I've posted on this periodically, to remind people that LDS readings of scripture aren't necessarily scripture, nor, in this case, are they originally LDS:

Recommended reading on the topic:

David M. Goldenburg, "The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam" (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2003)

Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse; The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002)

Stirling Adams reviewed both books in BYU Studies vol 44. n 1, 2005. He discussed the issue online at By Common Consent a while back. The point of both books is that the readings of the Ham story that were used to to justify slavery only arose in medieval times, and were read very differently before that. Such readings were absorbed by the LDS who were raised in an nation that practiced slavery. They were neither original to the LDS, nor justified by the original texts.

The statements by LDS individuals must be read in their proper historical and social context to be understood. Wrenched from context, such quotes can function rather like wrench in a game of Clue. But that kind of use involves deliberate misuse of a tool. The tool was design for repair, rather then mayhem.

And of course, a very helpful context for considering the statements of various LDS people, authorities and lay members alike, over the years should be this bit of esoterica in D&C 1,

24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.

25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;

26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;

27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;

28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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I'd like to see the announcement of the lifting of the ban on black women. They suffered equal discrimination yet have no announcement of revelation lifting the ban for them. Up until 1978 black men and women had equal stature of that of a white 8 year old in the church yet they had no future opportunity in the priesthood or by sealing or endowment in the temple.

It would also go a long way to repeal the sealing of Jane Elizabeth Manning James into Joseph Smith's household as his eternal servant. The humiliating story of having a black servant sealed to her white master(Joseph) remains a uncorrected legacy of racism for the church.

Phaedrus

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"The statements by LDS individuals must be read in their proper historical and social context to be understood. Wrenched from context, such quotes can function rather like wrench in a game of Clue. But that kind of use involves deliberate misuse of a tool. The tool was design for repair, rather then mayhem."

Questions:

1. Is the prophet really the mouthpiece for the Lord? In other words, is the Lord's hand really guiding the church through the prophet?

2. If the answer to 1 is yes, does the Lord's will for His church change according to historical and social context?

3. How do we applaud the WoW, for example, as the Lord's will as evidenced, in part, by its contravention with conventional wisdom of the day - and, at the same time, excuse the Priesthood Ban by reference to the prevailing views of the day?

I guess I get hung up on the fact that one would expect the Lord that declared "all alike" unto Him would stay silent while His church headed down a racist path.

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We have always been able to deny any piece of doctrine. If we do not sustain it then it isn't doctrine.

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because the people of that time were not willing to have otherwise. (How well it fits the times they lived in is very parallel: from the onset of fear of miscigenation, to the enforcement of the one drop rule in the end of slavery). And the only reason I've been frustrated is when the beliefs people developed over the years to justify or make sense of the ban creeps up in conversation still today. I've never felt angry.

With luv,

BD

I've never understood this line of thinking.

I've never seen anything in my study of Church history or 30+ year experience in the Church that would indicate LDS as a people wouldn't have accepted it. As far as I know, LDS have never had a problem with Mexicans, or Japanese, or Chinese, or Native Americans, or people of any race, getting the priesthood and serving as Church leaders. Why would this be different with African-descended blacks?

And how much misunderstanding and prejiduce was fostered because of the racial ban? How many blacks stayed away from the Church because of it? How many LDS adopted racist beliefs with a conviction that they were supporting doctrine?

If Brigham Young had prayed and asked God "Should the black man receive the Priesthood?", what would have happened if God had given this answer?

"Thus saith the Lord, give unto all men mine Priesthood in righteousness, for all are alike unto me. The Lord your God doth not look upon the outer man, but instead purify the hearts of Zion, my people, that they may glorify Me with works of righteousness, that they may be holy unto me. Let each man be your brother, that all men may be free to do according to commandments which I have given thee. And also when the Book of Mormon talks about "skin of blackness", it's a metaphor."

Would LDS of that time have complained? Would LDS of the 1920's complained? The 1950's? If LDS of these eras had grown up in a Church that accepted black men as fellow citizens in the Priesthood, might that have somewhat affected their views on racial matters?

If LDS of that era weren't "ready" to accept blacks as priesthood holders, then the ban probably acted to make the situation much, much worse by justifying their feelings, and spreading such attitudes throughout Church leadership and doctrine for generations to come.

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Hi, Cinepro. I agree with you in a general way. The Saints of any earlier decade would happily have embraced Africans as priesthood holders had the Lord so instructed. They have done so now with joy and rejoicing for the most part. It would have been the same regardless of when it occurred.

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I was born in a samll town in rural Mississippi in 1944 and am a lifetime LSD member. I remember being told all of my life that the Blacks would one day have the priesthood. A more racist small southern town would have been hard to find, but everyone in my small branch knew that the day would come when this prophecy would be fulfilled. It was an accepted fact and everyone was glad when the time finally came and the ban was lifted. I have no idea why the ban was given in the firt place, but accept that there must have been a reason.

It was all a bad trip.

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Hi, Cinepro. I agree with you in a general way. The Saints of any earlier decade would happily have embraced Africans as priesthood holders had the Lord so instructed. They have done so now with joy and rejoicing for the most part. It would have been the same regardless of when it occurred.

And apparently the institution of the ban didn't come from mass appeals of members in the first place. Interesting that its genesis was after the exodus - where the saints were in relative isolation, isolated enough to avoid participation in the Civil War and the on-the-ground slavery issues in the states.

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Hi, Cinepro. I agree with you in a general way. The Saints of any earlier decade would happily have embraced Africans as priesthood holders had the Lord so instructed. They have done so now with joy and rejoicing for the most part. It would have been the same regardless of when it occurred.

I agree with you specifically.

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I've never understood this line of thinking.

I've never seen anything in my study of Church history or 30+ year experience in the Church that would indicate LDS as a people wouldn't have accepted it. As far as I know, LDS have never had a problem with Mexicans, or Japanese, or Chinese, or Native Americans, or people of any race, getting the priesthood and serving as Church leaders. Why would this be different with African-descended blacks?

They haven't had a directly institutional one....it doesn't mean there weren't (and still aren't) issues. And it would be different with those of African decent because of the time period they came from. Japanese, mexicans, chinese, or NA's were not (largely) slaves. Blacks were. Not that these groups didn't get it bad, but it was fundamentally different.

And how much misunderstanding and prejiduce was fostered because of the racial ban?

Not much. Yeah, I know that sounds off, but mormons were just about as racist as everybody else in that time. They had a different flavor of racism, but not an increased intensity. There were people like Joseph Smith, people like BY (who actually comes off as pretty moderate in views), slave-owners, and everything in-between. I'm really interested into history of people who are mixed. One thing I've looked at is miscegenation (old school word for race mixing) back in the 1850's and 60's you could see news articles that would call the party that was more abolitionist the miscegenation party (as an insult), and then the abolitionsists claiming that the people in the pro-slavery groups were doing it to try and hide their sins of miscegenation. People would scare people into maintaining the social order (both before and after) by pointing to the fear of becoming a mulatto nation....pointing to all those poor conflicted souls that were almost white, but not really and stuck with plenty of physical and mental problems because of this ungodly mix. There were already plenty of religious sects coming up with their own flavor against different races and race mixing. LDS just found another flavor of the same racist ice cream being eaten at the time.

How many blacks stayed away from the Church because of it?

Who knows.

How many LDS adopted racist beliefs with a conviction that they were supporting doctrine?

I know one already: My mom. No joke. The woman who's only had relationships with black and brown men has stated similar sentiments like the one mentioned about lineage of Ham, wondering about the whole pre-existance thing, and even wondering if I would be in the tribe of manasseh cuz she'd heard somewhere that people who had some black or brown in them were often from that tribe (I'm not, fyi, I'm from Ephraim). In fact if you can think of some odd-ball belief that's sprung up in the past, my mom might believe it. Once instigated, they're hard to shake....like the belief that race (as we see it now) is solely biological, that we're mostly colorblind, that certain groups are naturally inclined to this or that. It's a world where I sat and listened to a girl try to make an argument that Obama was really white because he's rich (it was a sociology class that was using famous biracials to show that race was really a social concept) or listened to a friend explain why she would never date black people without blinking an eye at the fact that she's talking to a girl who's mixed (her parents would disapprove cuz they're thuggish and all). Or when my director of a multicultural dance group was asked whether our audience would be proper (because brown people our disruptive, loud, obnoxious, etc.)It doesn't surprise me that there were plenty....that people made up some more justifications to fit into their world, instead of looking into themselves and wondering is this really right. We do it all the time.

Would LDS of that time have complained?

THe funny thing is that they already had plenty of scripture that should have risen an eyebrow or two. We look at proclamations that people should all be one in Christ, that all are remembered and welcomed by God, stories like Moses and his Ethiopian wife, and even the Nephite/Lamanite dichotomy, where issues of righteousness, capability to preach, etc were never bound by the differences between them in ancestry.

And if all of that weren't enough, you could look at people like Elijah Able's family. Obviously the whole Ham's lineage wasn't that big of a deal....cuz there was Elijah, with the priesthood and with his decendants having the same. They had plenty of things to make someone stop and wonder but they didn't. They saw and lived within the caste-like inequalities of their world and instead of wondering what's wrong with this they asked how can we explain this to make it right in our heads. How can we justify our racism in our hearts? And they'd find plenty of rationalizations. Just as we find rationalizations to divorce our spouce (we were going our seperate ways), to have a world divided by class (the wealthy have earned what they make....and some of the poor just don't work to get ahead), to the racial issues that still persist today (black, latinos, asians, etc. are just fundamentally different/naturally inclined to be (fill in the blank)), etc. It is a rare instance when we look inward and think to ourselves, something must be wrong with us. Us as a world, in-group, and individual self. Cuz even if we can see the world is wrong, we might think our in-group was/is better (think hoops), and even if we note that our in-group may be wrong, we might not believe that we ourselves may hold those same prejudices and incorrect beliefs.

Would LDS of the 1920's complained? The 1950's?

Who knows if they would complain, but I think it wouldn't enter their minds that they were wrong either. Not just a little wrong, but bucket loads of wrong all over. They didn't ask the question because they thought they had the answer. People began asking questions in the 1950's (or earlier....I'm sure people were from the get-go), but the hearts of the people were not ready to hear it. They all believed that blacks would get it...one day. But certainly not theirs.

This question is like asking if the israelites would have asked if they should have the higher law what would God have said. Yes, they should, but they'd already proven they wouldn't by the choices the people had made. Should blacks have the priesthood? Yes, they should have -some blacks and mixed folk already did - but the people rejected this and chose something less than. I doubt they had some solemn assembly of sorts to do it, but the results is written in our history and their words.

If LDS of these eras had grown up in a Church that accepted black men as fellow citizens in the Priesthood, might that have somewhat affected their views on racial matters?

Again, a hypothetical that's really sort of moot. The if is HUGE and in some ways had already happened and was subsequently rejected. The church in the beginning had done this, the people later rejected it. So the answer is no, they wouldn't. IF they could have gotten over their own prejudices, of course it wouldn't have been a problem. They wouldn't have had slaves, wouldn't have felt conflicted about slaves in the first place, wouldn't have a problem with mixing, and would think that a black leader over a district, territory, state, or country wouldn't be a bad thing. But that's a big if.

If LDS of that era weren't "ready" to accept blacks as priesthood holders, then the ban probably acted to make the situation much, much worse by justifying their feelings, and spreading such attitudes throughout Church leadership and doctrine for generations to come.

To me, the ban wasn't a catalyst, but a result. It didn't make their racism worse, it was the manifestation of it.

And apparently the institution of the ban didn't come from mass appeals of members in the first place. Interesting that its genesis was after the exodus - where the saints were in relative isolation, isolated enough to avoid participation in the Civil War and the on-the-ground slavery issues in the states.

Just because they moved to the mountains, didn't mean they put in check years of belief and the world as a whole. They didn't come to Deseret and suddenly become the perfect zion people, free from the troubles that was inflicting the world at that time. They were a product of their environment, working towards betterment but nowhere near perfect.

With luv,

BD

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"The statements by LDS individuals must be read in their proper historical and social context to be understood. Wrenched from context, such quotes can function rather like wrench in a game of Clue. But that kind of use involves deliberate misuse of a tool. The tool was design for repair, rather then mayhem."

Questions:

1. Is the prophet really the mouthpiece for the Lord? In other words, is the Lord's hand really guiding the church through the prophet?

I played the trumpet when I was young, so I know the implications of a mouthpiece metaphor for a prophet. It is an inert piece of metal through which the player blows. As a metaphor for what a prophet actually is, it fails. A prophet is not an inert mouthpiece anymore than a prophet is God's own sock puppet.

I wrote a detailed study for FAIR earlier this year on "Biblical Keys for Discerning True and False Prophets." Part of that includes a survey of the arguments given by people to reject true prophets, which all boil down to people making judgments based on either, "It's not what I think," or "It's not what I want." Not my theory, not my ideal. The real question should not be whether a prophet lives up to my theories and expectations, or whether a prophet meets my personal ideals, but whether the inspiration that a prophet claims is Real. I personally believe that the LDS prophets demonstrate an abundance of divine inspiration. I have also seen that an insistence that a prophet lives up to an arbitrary expectation, or a subjective ideal never serves as much help in discerning that inspiration. To insist on perfection is a way of making imperfection, and only imperfection, decisive in observing and evaluating prophets. And it tends to be a one way standard, obscuring the need to be self-reflective, considering our own limitations.

However appealing might be the notion that a prophet speaks and does only the mind of God at all times and places, the scriptures provide no evidence that that is the case, and much evidence to the contrary. Given a more realistic expectation of what a prophet is, I have no trouble seeing and accepting abundance evidence for prophetic inspiration in LDS leadership. The humanity does not bother me, since I have plenty of that myself.

2. If the answer to 1 is yes, does the Lord's will for His church change according to historical and social context?

God has to deal with us where we are. As Joseph Smith said, God adapts himself to our capacity to understand. Which means, as the Book of Mormon says, he remembers even the heathen, and he recognizes the cultural contexts in which we are raised. Those raised according to erroneous traditions are to be judged only according to the light they have received, and not according to that which they have not received. All are invited, however, to learn more. And all are accountable for such opportunities to learn more. All need to repent.

In a general sense, the Lord's will for his church is the same as for the world. All are to repent and come unto Christ. In working out the particulars, the Lord's will can and does respond to historical and social contexts. For instance, in the 1830, the Lord wanted his people to gather to Kirtland, then to Missouri, then to Illinois, and in the 1847 and later, to Utah. And that later changed. I personally do not see such changes as paradoxical contradictions that undermine my faith.

3. How do we applaud the WoW, for example, as the Lord's will as evidenced, in part, by its contravention with conventional wisdom of the day - and, at the same time, excuse the Priesthood Ban by reference to the prevailing views of the day?

Pure knowledge greatly enlarges the soul, which, as Enos demonstrates, enlarges his concerns from just himself, to his family and kin, and people, on out to embrace his enemies. Impure knowledge does the opposite. If I can better understand the social and cultural circumstances that account for the priesthood ban, and put myself in that context, it can enlarge my soul relative to them. That does not mean I have to agree with the ban, nor approve of the ban, nor justify the ban. It means I can understand the cultural conditions that inspired it. Many years ago I read an account of a debate between Alexander Campbell Sr. and Robert Owen, an Atheist, that took place in the 1820s. One of Campbell's proofs of the existence of God came as a reference to the Noah's curse and its fulfillment in the slavery of the blacks. The books I cited demonstrate that this line of thinking about that text started in late medieval times, but also that such thinking permeated western culture. One of the functions of a mythology, Joseph Campbell explains, is to sustain the social order. That kind of thinking did just that relative to the existence of slavery. The early LDS got that thinking from the larger culture, not from revelation, and not from LDS scripture.

I guess I get hung up on the fact that one would expect the Lord that declared "all alike" unto Him would stay silent while His church headed down a racist path.

A closer look at anything always brings surprises. I've been willing to take a look at the dubious sources of my own expectations, in favor of what is real. I can ask, "What should I expect?" rather than setting up stakes at where ever I happen to start, and kept that limited view as the measure of all things. I find that it enlarges my soul without eroding my idealism. As irritating as the ban was, I've also looked at accounts like The Lynching of Black America, about the frequency and carnival atmosphere that went with it for 75 years, the Tulsa Massacre, the slave trade...

What I see in LDS history does not come close to that degree of racism. What I see is not the LDS heading down a racist path, but rather, coming up from one. The LDS saw the indigenous peoples as the House of Israel, and treated them accordingly. The LDS sent missionaries to all the world, and as questions arose about different peoples, ordained Native Americans, Hispanics, Polynesians, Maori, Orientals, an ever increasing variety, and ever more insistent questioning of the ban, change being urged earlier, resisted by fewer and fewer, and embraced fully when it came, even by an arch conservative like Elder McConkie. I was in Salt Lake City on the day the ban was lifted, and I had lived through the 1960s as a teenager when the tensions on the topic were highest. I felt the overwhelming joy and palpable excitement, heard the honking of car horns. I soon attended a Temple session in Oakland when it was black hand that came through the veil. And I've seen my parents fully embrace their interracial great-grandchildren, born under the covenant in a temple marriage.

If your questions focus on perfection, only imperfection is decisive. No amount of good can resolve a question of perfection. Only failures and errors answer the question. But if you ask what is Real, the perspective changes radically. What is important, what is most important, what matters most, and what matters less, all change.

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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What I see in LDS history does not come close to that degree of racism. What I see is not the LDS heading down a racist path, but rather, coming up from one. The LDS saw the indigenous peoples as the House of Israel, and treated them accordingly. The LDS sent missionaries to all the world, and as questions arose about different peoples, ordained Native Americans, Hispanics, Polynesians, Maori, Orientals, an ever increasing variety, and ever more insistent questioning of the ban, change being urged earlier, resisted by fewer and fewer, and embraced fully when it came, even by an arch conservative like Elder McConkie. I was in Salt Lake City on the day the ban was lifted, and I had lived through the 1960s as a teenager when the tensions on the topic were highest. I felt the overwhelming joy and palpable excitement, heard the honking of car horns. I soon attended a Temple session in Oakland when it was black hand that came through the veil. And I've seen my parents fully embrace their interracial great-grandchildren, born under the covenant in a temple marriage.

That is the most eloquent argument for the "tragic mistake" theory I've ever read.

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You mean they didn't support slavery, but considered it a curse to have black skin? Seems strange.

"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."

2 Nephi 5:21

See, this is what comes of ignorant prooftexting, Hughes. The guys with the "skin of blackness" were Lamanites, who were never denied the Priesthood.

Which just goes to show how easy the race-baiting game is: even completely ignorant people can play.

I'd like to see the announcement of the lifting of the ban on black women. They suffered equal discrimination yet have no announcement of revelation lifting the ban for them. Up until 1978 black men and women had equal stature of that of a white 8 year old in the church yet they had no future opportunity in the priesthood or by sealing or endowment in the temple.

And another example of the same phenomenon. The ordinances of the Temple are inseparable from the Priesthood. There was one ban, not two, and the lifting of the Priesthood ban sorted everything out.

Regards,

Pahoran

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