Mormonism and racial issues/Blacks and the priesthood/Understanding pre-1978 statements
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Critics claim that statements from some Church leaders or members were racist, especially before 1978. How should these statements be understood?
Recent remarks by President Hinckley, demonstrate that members of the LDS church must put aside any thoughts or legacy of racial intolerance or unkindness:
- 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.
Understanding pre-1978 statements
Critics frequently parade justifications for the ban by past General Authorities that are considered racist by today's standards. While these have not been officially renounced, there is no obligation for current members to accept such sentiments as the "word of the Lord."
Bruce R. McConkie
Bruce R. McConkie expressed it this way:
- There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things.... All I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness, and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter any more. It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year . It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the gentiles. 
While Elder McConkie likely was limiting his remarks to mistakes made by past leaders in regards to the timing of the lifting of the ban, application of his insights can arguably be extended to a forgetting of all harmful "folk doctrines" about which post-1978 correlated church materials are either silent or have effectively corrected.
Avoid speculating without knowledge
Elder Dallin H. Oaks pointed out that some leaders and members had ill-advisedly sought to provide justifications for the ban:
- ...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.
Interviewed for a PBS special on the Church, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:
- 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.
Past leaders are not alive to apologize for statements that unwittingly contributed to difficulties for the faithful and stumbling blocks for those who might have otherwise have been more attracted to the overall goodness of Christ's gospel. Presumably they would join with another voice from the dust to plead for us to have charity towards them (Ether 12:35-36) despite their imperfections. Rather than condemning, we ought to "give thanks unto God...that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been" (Mormon 9:31).
Tolerance and equality commanded
In 1972, Harold B. Lee cautioned:
- We are having come into the Church now many people of various nationalities. We in the Church must remember that we have a history of persecution, discrimination against our civil rights, and our constitutional privileges being withheld from us. These who are members of the Church, regardless of their color, their national origin, are members of the church and kingdom of God. Some of them have told us that they are being shunned. There are snide remarks. We are withdrawing ourselves from them in some cases.
- Now we must extend the hand of fellowship to men everywhere, and to all who are truly converted and who wish to join the Church and partake of the many rewarding opportunities to be found therein. We ask the Church members to strive to emulate the example of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, who gave us the new commandment that we should love one another. I wish we could remember that.
- [note] Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006), 58–61. off-site
- [note] Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," an address to a Book of Mormon Symposium for Seminary and Institute teachers, Brigham Young University, 18 August 1978. off-site
- [note] Dallin H. Oaks, Interview with Associated Press, in Daily Herald, Provo, Utah, 5 June 1988.
- [note] Jeffrey R. Holland, Interview, 4 March 2006. off-site
- [note] Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 384. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)