Mormonism and racial issues/Blacks and the priesthood/Repudiated ideas

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    Repudiated early Church teachings regarding race

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Blacks and the priesthood:


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Questions


Church leaders have taught things regarding the priesthood ban which were later repudiated.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responds to these questions

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics, (2013)


Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.
(Click here for full article)


SUBTOPICS


Ideas related to race that have been repudiated by the Church

There exist previously taught ideas which have been repudiated by Church leaders since the ban. Among these are the notion that Blacks were somehow not as "valiant" in the pre-existence, and that interracial marriage is forbidden. (Click here for full article)

  • Less valiant or neutral in the pre-existence during the "war in heaven"
    Brief Summary: It is true that LDS scripture states that those with lighter skin color "are favored because of what they did as spirits in a pre-earth life?" Is it true that some Church leaders taught that people who were born with dark skin were "neutral" in the pre-existence? (Click here for full article)
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  • Inter-racial marriage
    Brief Summary: Even prior to rescinding the priesthood ban, the Church advised against inter-racial marriages only because such marriages might have more difficulties in being successful. Leaders lumped such advice together with advising married partners to seek those of the same culture and socio-economic level. The counsel was specifically stated not to be absolute, but merely general advice for maximizing marital success. (Click here for full article)
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  • The "curse of Cain" and "curse of Ham"
    Brief Summary: We often hear that Latter-day Saints believe and teach that blacks are descendents of Cain, and that they are cursed. In fact, on some occasions prior to 1978, blacks were denied access to temple open houses because they carried the “mark of Cain.” What critics never point out, however, is that the "curse of Cain" is a Protestant invention that was created in order to justify slavery in the 1800's. One would get the impression listening to critics that the Latter-day Saints originated the idea of the curse, and they point to the priesthood ban as evidence of such, while ignoring that fact of segregated congregations in Protestant churches of that era. (Click here for full article)
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  • LDS scriptures cited in support of the ban?
    Brief Summary: Is it true that the LDS scriptures link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence, and that the Book of Mormon is racist and promotes the idea that the "white" race is superior? Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1:26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. (Click here for full article)
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Detailed Analysis

Although there is much we do not know about the ban, some past ideas have been rejected by part or current leaders of the Church. These include:

Do we know the reasons for the ban?

Many leaders have indicated that the Church does not know why the ban was in place:

  • Gordon B. Hinckley in an interview:
Q: So in retrospect, was the Church wrong in that [not ordaining blacks]?
A [Pres. Hinckley]: No, I don't think it was wrong. It, things, various things happened in different periods. There's a reason for them.
Q: What was the reason for that?
A: I don't know what the reason was. But I know that we've rectified whatever may have appeared to be wrong at the time.[1]
  • Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
If you read the scriptures with this question in mind, 'Why did the Lord command this or why did he command that,' you find that in less than one in a hundred commands was any reason given. It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do, we're on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that.... The lesson I've drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.
...I'm referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.
...Let's [not] make the mistake that's been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that's where safety lies.[2]
  • Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. ... I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. ... They, I'm sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. ...
It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don't know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. ... At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, ... we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.[3]
  • Elder Alexander B. Morrison:
We do not know.[4]

Is interracial marriage condemned?

This idea has been repudiated on two levels. The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Even prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

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 these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[5]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[6]

On the LDS Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost 30 years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[7]

Is racial prejudice acceptable?

  • President Hinckley in priesthood session of General Conference:
Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.
Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?
Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.
Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.
Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.[8]

Notes

  1. Anonymous, "On the Record: 'We Stand For Something' President Gordon B. Hinckley [interview in Australia]," Sunstone 21:4 no. (Issue #112) (December 1998), 71. off-site
  2. Dallin H. Oaks cited in "Apostles Talk about Reasons for Lifting Ban," Daily Herald, Provo, Utah (5 June 1988): 21 (Associated Press); reproduced with commentary in Dallin H. Oaks, Life's Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2011), 68-69.
  3. Jeffrey R. Holland, Interview, 4 March 2006.
  4. Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), chapter 24, page 4; citing Alexander Morrison, Salt Lake City local news station KTVX, channel 4, 8 June 1998.. ISBN 1590384571 (CD version)
  5. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  6. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  7. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003 off-site
  8. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006), 58–61.


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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