This was very thoughtful, I thought.
Two women* looked out from the same bars.
One saw mud; the other, the stars. Continue reading Mud and Stars
“Geez Cousin you are super into this whole thing.”
I had posted a link to Kate Kelly’s excommunication letter, released by Ordain Women, on Facebook. I thought that it provided an interesting counter to some of the claims that Kelly has made about the process she has gone through. It wasn’t the first time I’d posted or written about the recent controversy, either: Continue reading “This is for the Record”
I didn’t have many close Mormon friends in high school. There were a few of us, of course – California is no Utah, but neither is it the Eastern U.S. – but us Latter-day Saints didn’t really hang out in the same circles.
This is by no means a lament – I had wonderful friends, inside and outside the Church, and I’m all the better for them. Being part of a diverse crowd, however, did give me the chance to see how other churches did things. Continue reading Camp. With Girls.
Kate Kelly published a commentary on her upcoming disciplinary council. I’d like to comment on that commentary, and I decided the best way to do that was within the text itself. You can find it below, along with my thoughts.
I feel sad, because it sounds like Kelly’s resolved to leaving the Church, and using this as a catalyst to maintain media attention for however long her 15 minutes lasts. Too bad. Continue reading Sugar and Spice and RIGHTEOUS FURY!!!
In light of yesterday’s Supreme Court case, many people are (understandably) drawing a connection between the Mormon Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and past positions on blacks or polygamy. In doing so, they suggest that a change on gay-marriage is coming in the future.
Now, I’m not the prophet of the Church, so I can’t say what will happen for sure. Still, I’m fairly confident that this position, for better or worse, will not be changing. This FAQ may explain why, and I’m hoping this format makes the issues easier to grapple with.
As a side note, these are my own answers, so I would ask that you excuse any error in them. I don’t presume, and never have, to speak for the Church.
Q: When did Mormons practice polygamy?
A: Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy early in their history. We don’t know exactly when it began, except that it was likely sometime between 1830 and 1840. It ended with Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto in 1890. Anyone currently practicing polygamy is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Q: Why did Mormons practice polygamy?
A: There are only a couple scriptures that mention polygamy. Jacob, an early Nephite prophet, mentioned it while teaching about chastity. He said,
“For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people (to practice polygamy); otherwise they shall hearken unto these things (and practice monogamy)” (Jacob 2:30; see whole chapter).
In this verse, and similarly in Doctrine and Covenants 132:63, polygamy is identified as a method to “raise up seed”. We’re never explicitly given reasons beyond that.
Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is biblical and righteous when it is sanctioned by the Lord. It may have been practiced by Joseph Smith as part of the “restoration of all things” (he never fathered any children by any of his plural wives).
Other reasons have been suggested, but anything else is speculation. For more on this question, see here.
Q: Isn’t polygamy breaking the commandments?
A: Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is the exception, and monogamy is the rule, but that polygamy is not contrary to the commandments when it is directed by the Lord. There has never been, in the Church, anything like “self-nominated” polygamy – it was always at the direction of the president of the Church.
We believe this position to be biblical. A more in depth answer won’t be provided within this short FAQ.
Q: Why did polygamy end? The timing of Woodruff’s “revelation” is pretty convenient.
A: It’s not difficult to see that Latter-day Saints were willing to follow what they believed to be a divine commandment regardless of the cost. Convenience would have dictated abandoning polygamy much, much earlier. Church leaders did not end the practice until there was literally no other course of action that would prevent dissolution of the Church.
Woodruff later wrote the following about why polygamy ended:
“The Lord has told me to ask the Latter-day Saints a question, and He also told me that if they would listen to what I said to them and answer the question put to them, by the Spirit and power of God, they would all answer alike, and they would all believe alike with regard to this matter.
“The question is this: Which is the wisest course for the Latter-day Saints to pursue—to continue to attempt to practice plural marriage, with the laws of the nation against it and the opposition of sixty millions of people, and at the cost of the confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead?
“The Lord showed me by vision and revelation exactly what would take place if we did not stop this practice…. I saw exactly what would come to pass if there was not something done. I have had this spirit upon me for a long time. But I want to say this: I should have let all the temples go out of our hands; I should have gone to prison myself, and let every other man go there, had not the God of heaven commanded me to do what I did do; and when the hour came that I was commanded to do that, it was all clear to me. I went before the Lord, and I wrote what the Lord told me to write….
“I leave this with you, for you to contemplate and consider. The Lord is at work with us.”
We may not always understand why the Lord does things, but it’s not difficult to argue that he is often pragmatic, and the dissolution of his church would certainly have been contrary to his will. In that respect, the timing of the revelation was not only convenient, but essential.
Q: What about blacks? They were kept from holding the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances until the 1970’s.
A: During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a number of blacks were ordained to the priesthood. Early in Church history, Church leaders stopped ordaining blacks. No official explanation was given for this practice, and later Church leaders believed that a revelation was needed to alter it. They received this revelation in 1978.
Divinely sanctioned discrimination is not without precedent in biblical history. We don’t know why it was practiced by the Church in modern times. Further, it’s common to find accounts of members, prior to the Church lifting the ban, expecting it on the horizon. Of course there were racist Mormons, too, but many believed intently that the discrimination was going to end – it just hadn’t ended yet.
Many blacks were baptized and remained faithful throughout all of Church history.
I’m white myself, so it may be worth seeking out accounts of active, black Latter-day Saints and seeing what they have to say about their faith.
For more on this subject, see my post about the “Bott-gate” fiasco.
Q: This “revelation” seems awfully convenient, too.
A: It might. Yet much as was the case with polygamy, convenience would have dictated that this change happen much sooner – perhaps as much as 20 years or more sooner – than it did.
Q: So you have no idea why your Church practiced polygamy, and you have no idea why your Church discriminated against blacks. What’s the deal?
A: The deal is that sometimes we’re expected to have faith. We are often not told explicitly why we need to obey one commandment or another. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said,
“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 [have] put reasons to [commandments] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong.”
We have seen examples of this in relation to both polygamy and the Church’s dealings with blacks. Sometimes, we just don’t know why the Lord does things.
Q: That’s a cop out, and you’re describing blind obedience. That’s one reason why people think Mormons are a cult.
A: And people are free to think what they want, but there’s quite a difference between blind obedience and faithful obedience. The former is passive, but the latter is quite active.
N. Eldon Tanner said,
“We do not suggest blind obedience, but obedience by faith in those things which may not be fully understood by man’s limited comprehension, but which in the infinite wisdom of God are for man’s benefit and blessing.”
Even though we may not comprehend everything behind the Lord’s commandments, we can still have faith in Jesus Christ and his servants. We gain this faith by actively studying out the issues and praying that God will confirm what we’ve learned and decided.
Brigham Young said,
“I will say a few words in regard to your belief in being led, guided, and directed by one man. …Our enemies hate the fact of our being led by one man. Thousands of times my soul has been lifted to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, to make that verily true in every sense of the word, that we may be led by the man Jesus Christ, through Joseph Smith the Prophet. You may inquire how we are to know that we are so led. I refer you to the exhortation you have heard so frequently from me. Do not be deceived, any of you; if you are deceived, it is because you deceive yourselves. You may know whether you are led right or wrong, as well as you know the way home; for every principle God has revealed carries its own convictions of its truth to the human mind, and there is no calling of God to man on earth but what brings with it the evidences of its authenticity….
“What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually.”
Q: What’s so wrong about expecting the Church to change it’s mind on homosexuality and same-sex marriage? We just talked about how the Church did it before with polygamy and blacks.
A: It may happen. With the changes in 1890 and 1978, there’s certainly precedent. One Latter-day Saint, writing about this same question, argued that change was possible and said,
“For those readers who might argue that it was the Lord that dictated the LDS Church’s positions — pro and con — on polygamy and equal rights for blacks, I argue that they allow themselves to dwell on the possibility that the Lord may also intervene on behalf of gay marriage as well.”
I can’t disagree, and this is why I gave my brief disclaimer early on. The Lord, through his prophet, may absolutely change the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage and homosexuality. If that happens, I doubt that we’ll know any more about the reasons why than we know now about the reasons behind changes with polygamy and priesthood discrimination.
Q: But you’re not sold on that idea.
A: No, I’m not. I think that, at best, our understanding of the principles behind polygamy and the priesthood ban is vague. Additionally, neither was related to sinful behavior. With homosexuality, it’s different. The principles behind that position are not only well understood, but central doctrines to Latter-day Saints and core to the Plan of Salvation. Let me explain.
Look at polygamy, for example. It was never practiced widely in the Church, nor do Latter-day Saints believe that polygamy is essential to salvation. Additionally, even today it’s not recognized as a “mistake” by modern Latter-day Saints; it’s culturally and socially abhorrent to us, as it was to those in the early days of the church, but we believe it was a divine principle initiated by revelation and discontinued by revelation. The purposes for that initiation or discontinuation are unclear, but Latter-day Saints do not believe that its legitimate practice was ever contrary to the commandments.
And what of the racial discrimination? President David O. McKay, in 1954, said,
“There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes (sic) are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.”
Why was the policy in place? We’ve already discussed that we don’t know. The same President McKay said that, while blacks were children of our Heavenly Father, they
“were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.”
Whether we know the reasons or not, it remains that while the ban was practiced, it was not founded in any doctrine.
The Church’s position on same-sex marriage is borne of much more fundamental doctrines that will not change.
Many of those doctrines are found within The Family: A Proclamation to the World. It reads,
WE, THE FIRST PRESIDENCY and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.
ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.
IN THE PREMORTAL REALM, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.
WE DECLARE the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.
HUSBAND AND WIFE have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.
THE FAMILY is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.
WE WARN that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.
WE CALL UPON responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.
A number of the fundamental doctrines covered in this proclamation include the eternal nature of families, the rights of children to a home with mothers and fathers, and the eternal nature of gender. These principles, which are not subject to change, are not the product of an individual church leader’s musings or theorizing. This proclamation represents the testimony of the unified body of men that lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and as such, commands a much greater influence over gospel cannon than “that one thing Bruce R. McConkie said that one time” or “that sermon Brigham Young gave way back when”.
Additionally, the law of chastity is applied to everyone, not just homosexuals. True, homosexual Latter-day Saints are expected to be celibate, but so are single heterosexual Latter-day Saints who don’t marry, whether it’s because they are just plain goofy or it’s because they have some physical or mental handicap that prevents it.
This is an unimaginably difficult circumstance for those who feel same-gender attraction, and I will never fully understand that plight. Perhaps Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ words apply here. When asked if he could describe this enormously complex question in a couple of basic principles, he said,
“God loves all of His children. He has provided a plan for His children to enjoy the choicest blessings that He has to offer in eternity. Those choicest blessings are associated with marriage between a man and a woman by appropriate priesthood authority to bring together a family unit for creation and happiness in this life and in the life to come.
“We urge persons with same-gender attractions to control those and to refrain from acting upon them, which is a sin, just as we urge persons with heterosexual attractions to refrain from acting upon them until they have the opportunity for a marriage recognized by God as well as by the law of the land. That is the way to happiness and eternal life. God has given us no commandment that He will not give us the strength and power to observe. That is the Plan of Salvation for His children, and it is our duty to proclaim that plan, to teach its truth, and to praise God for the mission of His Son Jesus Christ. It is Christ’s atonement that makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins and His resurrection that gives us the assurance of immortality and the life to come. It is that life to come that orients our views in mortality and reinforces our determination to live the laws of God so that we can qualify for His blessings in immortality.”
For more on this complex issue, see Mormons and Gays and the Interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder Lance B. Wickman on Same-Gender Attraction.
In the Pearl of Great Price we learn more about the Enoch of the Bible, who “walked with God: and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). He was the leader of a city so righteous that it was taken up into heaven.
From time to time I hear variations on a common fable dealing with this scriptural account. For example, someone teaching about keeping the Sabbath day holy will joking say that the City of Enoch was taken up into heaven on a Sunday afternoon when some less committed citizens were out fishing, instead of worshiping as God commands. We, therefore, should be careful to keep the Sabbath day holy rather than going boating on Sunday in case (jokingly) the Savior comes again during Sunday school!
Another variation I’ve head is that, similarly, we should be careful to attend the Saturday night adult meeting (one session of the bi-annual stake conference) in case (jokingly) the Savior comes again then! (It is never as well-attended as it should be.)
Ironically, during the last stake conference I attended, the adult meeting was moved from Saturday night to Sunday night. I’ve heard whispers that this was to accommodate the BYU football game that was taking place on Saturday.
I’m not sure how I feel about that.
But that is neither here nor there.
These just-for-fun fables make sense, but I’ve always thought that it won’t be during Sunday school (to the peril of the boaters), or during the adult session of stake conference (to the peril of the football fanatics), that the Savior will come. Rather, it will be during the closing prayer of the general conference priesthood session, right after waves of men and boys have skipped out.
Why would the Savior come then? It is because, for some reason that is literally beyond my comprehension, scores of people get out of their seats as the closing speaker says “Amen” in a mad dash for their car, presumably to beat the traffic.
Spoiler: There’s not that much traffic coming out of a stake center. It was in college before I noticed any traffic at all. I had a father who’s expectation was for his sons to help set up chairs. By the time the chairs were put away, the parking lot was a ghost town.
Still, without fail, people – whether at a stake meeting, or a general conference meeting, or BYU devotional – will get up and leave during the closing song.
It boggles my mind.
You Can’t Pick
Why is this on my mind tonight?
Or rather, why is this on my mind other than the fact that I watched it happen in front of me, again, just last night?
Let’s take a step back to one of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned in a sacrament meeting.
I forget most of the content of the talk that this particular woman was giving, but a line that sticks out to me was this:
“You can’t choose the commandments your children break.”
I will do a horrid job of paraphrasing the talk of this wonderful woman, but I will try to explain her meaning. She was talking about parenthood, but it applies to being an example in any setting.
What she was saying was this: we will, through the choices we make, influence the perceptions of others. While we have control over how we act, we do not have control over how people perceive us. We may bend the rules in a case where we think the exception is acceptable, but those who see us won’t learn that it’s acceptable to bend the rules in that specific case; they will learn, rather, only that it’s acceptable to bend the rules. We don’t have control over the way they then bend the rules, or the cases where they deem it acceptable.
In short, as exemplars we can inspire or excuse, and in the instances we excuse, we have little control over what we excuse.
These men that jump from their seats as soon as the closing hymn begins may be exemplifying that it is acceptable to leave a meeting early if you want to beat traffic, or if you have a dinner at home getting cold.
The problem is that others may be perceiving that it is acceptable to become casual in our relationship with God when it’s more convenient to cut corners.
A Necessary Balance
As I was discussing this with my mother-in-law (who I love dearly), she gave me a bit of kind-hearted grief about being too invested in something that wasn’t worth the attention I was giving it. As she told me,
“It’s not worth having it rent space in your brain.”
Now, let me say this – her advice was very wise, and to tell you the truth, I can usually use a little grief.
And she’s right! This can be perfectly filed with other “pet peeves” of mine that don’t deserve a second thought, like when the young men who bless the sacrament wear goofy ties with Simpson characters, or adult priesthood holders wear bright orange shirts to church meetings even though they may be asked to officiate in some way. These are my personal standards, the gospel according to AlohaLarsen, if you will, and they should not be imposed on others who don’t feel the same way.
(Read: Don’t give me crap for drinking Dr. Pepper. That may be fine for you, but I love my “leaded” soda, and will drink it for years to come.)
But that does not make the principle any less true. We should be mindful of the example which we set before others who identify us with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In other words, don’t worry about leaving meetings early to beat the traffic, or wearing a goofy tie when you’re exercising your priesthood, or wearing bright shirts to church when you may be exercising your priesthood. I’ll think you’re kind of a dweeb, but that’s my problem – that tendency is a character flaw I’m still working on.
What should you worry about, though?
Actions Fit for Bearers of God’s Priesthood
In the priesthood session last night, Elder David A. Bednar spoke on priesthood, and told a personal story from his childhood. His father was not a member, but still attended the LDS Church like one. Elder Bednar says,
As a boy I asked my dad many times each week when he was going to be baptized. He responded lovingly but firmly each time I pestered him: “David, I am not going to join the Church for your mother, for you, or for anyone else. I will join the Church when I know it is the right thing to do.”
One week the conversation they had was different. Elder Bednar continues,
I believe I was in my early teenage years when the following conversation occurred with my father. We had just returned home from attending our Sunday meetings together, and I asked my dad when he was going to be baptized. He smiled and said, “You are the one always asking me about being baptized. Today I have a question for you.” I quickly and excitedly concluded that now we were making progress!
My dad continued, “David, your church teaches that the priesthood was taken from the earth anciently and has been restored by heavenly messengers to the Prophet Joseph Smith, right?” I replied that his statement was correct. Then he said, “Here is my question. Each week in priesthood meeting I listen to the bishop and the other priesthood leaders remind, beg, and plead with the men to do their home teaching and to perform their priesthood duties. If your church truly has the restored priesthood of God, why are so many of the men in your church no different about doing their religious duty than the men in my church?”
This is not a terrible question. If the LDS Church is true, and the men he met at the local ward really held God’s priesthood, then why did local ward leaders have to so desperately urge them to do their duty, week after week?
Elder Bednar concludes,
I believe my father was wrong to judge the validity of our Church’s claim to divine authority by the shortcomings of the men with whom he associated in our ward. But embedded in his question to me was a correct assumption that men who bear God’s holy priesthood should be different from other men. Men who hold the priesthood are not inherently better than other men, but they should act differently….
I have never forgotten the lessons about priesthood authority and power I learned from my father, a good man not of our faith, who expected more from men who claimed to bear God’s priesthood. That Sunday afternoon conversation with my dad many years ago produced in me a desire to be a “good boy.” I did not want to be a poor example and a stumbling block to my father’s progress in learning about the restored gospel. I simply wanted to be a good boy. The Lord needs all of us as bearers of His authority to be honorable, virtuous, and good boys at all times and in all places.
As Elder Bednar says, it is wrong to gauge the truthfulness of the Church based on the imperfections of Church members, but there is a stinging hint of truth in that question. As holders of God’s holy priesthood, what does it say when we don’t act in accordance with what we know to be true?
More importantly, what does this tell others?
In this case, it told a father that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not an organization he wanted to join. How tragic!
(Luckily, this changed some time later, and Elder Bednar was able to baptize his father.)
Actions Fit for the Lord’s Ministers
I don’t wish to belabor the point, so perhaps a short final example will suffice.
A prophet in the Book of Mormon named Alma had a number of sons who acted as missionaries. Most were faithful, but one son, Corianton, made some visible mistakes. His father told him,
“And now, my son, I have somewhat more to say unto thee than what I said unto thy brother…
“Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.
“And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
“Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted” (Alma 39:1-4).
And what was the result of Corianton’s poor example? His father continues,
“Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words“ (Alma 39:11).
Let us be mindful of the examples we set, even when it’s something so simple as leaving a priesthood meeting early to beat traffic. Let us consider the lesson we’re teaching.
The Book of Mormon Girl
Joanna Brooks, an English professor at San Diego State University, is the creator of the blog “Ask Mormon Girl” and author of “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith”. Her blog is an interesting one, and her opinions ones that I often agree with (as if that somehow gives them greater credence), but she also drifts from what I would consider doctrinal sensibility (in Meridian Magazine’s articles here or here her perspective is referred to as “Mormon Lite”).
For example, at “Camp Courage”, Brooks gives what a Meridian Magazine author called a fair synopsis of “The Book of Mormon Girl”. Quoting from the latter article above,
My name is Joanna, I say. And I am a straight Mormon feminist.
(Cheers. The crowd cheers.)
I grew up in the orange groves of Republican Orange County. I was raised to believe in a loving, kind, and powerful God. …
In 1993, one of the leaders of my church declared feminists, intellectuals, and gays and lesbians enemies.
I felt as if someone had thrown my heart to the concrete and dropped a cinderblock on it.
In 1997, my church started giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the anti-gay marriage initiatives.
I felt as if someone had thrown my heart to the concrete and dropped a cinderblock on it.
…But I went back to church so that my daughters could know the same loving, kind, and powerful God I was raised to believe in.
Just a few months later, my Church mobilized a huge campaign for Proposition 8.
And again I felt as if someone had thrown my heart to the concrete and dropped a cinderblock on it.
I did what I could. It wasn’t enough. But I am a Mormon. And I am not giving up.
I’m not sure this is the kind of person I want speaking for my faith. She tends to reinterpret Mormonism to fit a personal agenda.
As an aside, my microscopic popularity assuages any fears I have of being seen myself as speaking for my faith.
As a further aside, those who really speak for my faith will be speaking this very weekend! How awesome is that?!
A Sense of Community
I felt that background important going into the rest of this post.
The BYU newspaper “The Daily Universe” wrote an article about Brooks recently. She visited UVU (a university nearby BYU) and did a reading from her book. She also had the opportunity to tell a part of her story. She says,
“I’ve never stopped thinking of myself as Mormon, and I don’t consider myself as ever having left the church. But there was a time for about eight years where I did not attend church. I was going through what I would call a faith transition and a re-evaluating of my relationship with the Church because of excommunicated feminist intellectuals and the church’s stance on same-sex marriage.”
Her reactivation in the Church came because of her two young daughters. Singing primary hymns with them, she realized
“that I could, by myself, teach them the doctrine, but I couldn’t give them that sense of how to belong to a community and to this crazy, beautiful thing called Mormonism. They helped me be brave enough to go back and be with other Mormons.”
So, the most vital thing, the most essential thing, the most important thing, that her daughters needed out of Mormonism when simple doctrine would not suffice was a “sense of how to belong to a community,” or, more specifically, the “crazy, beautiful” community of Mormonism.
“Our Most Distinguishing Feature”
Recently at Harvard Law School, Jeffrey R. Holland spoke on a sort Mormonism 101. Towards the end of his presentation, he said,
“For today, we are unique in the modern Christian world regarding one matter which a prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called “our most distinguishing feature.” That is, divine priesthood authority to provide the saving sacraments—the ordinances—of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The holy priesthood, which has been restored to the earth by those who held it anciently, signals the return of divine authorization. It is different from all other man-made powers and authorities on the face of the earth. Without it there could be a church in name only, and it would be a church lacking in authority to administer in the things of God. This restoration of priesthood authority eases centuries of anguish among those who knew certain ordinances and sacraments were essential, but lived with the doubt as to who had the right to administer them. Breaking ecclesiastically with his more famous brother John over the latter’s decision to ordain without any divine authority to do so, Charles Wesley wrote:
“How easily are bishops made
By man or woman’s whim:
Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,
But who laid hands on him?
“In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we can answer the question of “who laid hands on him” all the way back to Christ Himself. The return of such authority is truly “the most distinguishing feature” of our faith.”
His question and answer portion (found here) also included a question, and fantastic answer, on the same subject.
It comes as no surprise that Brooks considers the deficit of her “home-church Mormonism” a loss of a sense of community, and not this most distinguishing feature. It is this feature, the keys of power of the priesthood that Church leaders hold, and their subsequent authority to speak and act for God, that are primarily behind my own support of the Church’s position on Proposition 8. Who knows but that we feel the same about this issue; the difference is that I sustain Church leaders as prophets.
It is this uniqueness, this most distinguishing feature, that influences practically everything that makes Mormonism what is it, including the “only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30).
What do you think is the most important feature of the true church?
Mitt Romney, one of the Republican presidential candidates, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His campaign has caused increased interest in the Church, and the limelight shined on our beliefs has not always been positive.
And so far, the negativity has pretty much been all our fault. We don’t need critics to muddy up the water; we do it just fine on our own.
This post will deal with racism and the Mormon church as it relates to a recent statement made by Randy Bott, a BYU religion professor. I’ll argue that:
- Bott was not misquoted, as can be seen by similar statements in the context of his blog post. Racism unfortunately still exists within the LDS Church.
- Racism is, and has always been, contrary to the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ
- We don’t know to this day why the ban existed
Despite what others may think, I’m actually okay that this has happened. It gives us a chance to talk about a very serious issue, and dispel popular Mormon folklore that still plagues the Church.
To see how this folklore was depicted in the musical “The Book of Mormon”, see my post on the song “I Believe”.
Bott’s Racist Quote
Jason Horowitz from the Washington Post wrote an article entitled “The Genesis of a church’s stand on race”. Horowitz interviewed Randy Bott, a BYU religion professor, as part of his article. Bott said,
“God has always been discriminatory” when it comes to whom he grants the authority of the priesthood, says Bott, the BYU theologian. He quotes Mormon scripture that states that the Lord gives to people “all that he seeth fit.” Bott compares blacks with a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car, and explains that similarly until 1978, the Lord determined that blacks were not yet ready for the priesthood.
“What is discrimination?” Bott asks. “I think that is keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them, right? But what if it wouldn’t have been a benefit to them?” Bott says that the denial of the priesthood to blacks on Earth — although not in the afterlife — protected them from the lowest rungs of hell reserved for people who abuse their priesthood powers. “You couldn’t fall off the top of the ladder, because you weren’t on the top of the ladder. So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.“
(First of all, “Keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them” is not a great answer to the question, “What is discrimination?”)
Many people were outraged by Bott’s condescending suggestion that blacks were akin to small girls asking to drive before they were ready. It sounds uncomfortably similar to the sentiment expressed in Rudyard Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden”. Bott’s statement was blatantly racist.
Bott said that he was misquoted, and that this was taken out of context. I can appreciate that journalists sometimes do this, and it may have even happened in this case.
Still, I can’t see how, given any context, this quote be seen as anything but racist. What’s more, you can compare this for yourself to a similar statement in a blog post on Bott’s blog, Know Your Religion (which has since been taken down). The post called “Blacks and the Priesthood” can be found below in its entirety (thank goodness for Google cache!). Some of my comments can also be found there.
The Official LDS Response
The day after the Washington Post article was published, the LDS Church released an official statement. In it they denounced the quote attributed to Bott and racism everywhere.
“The positions attributed to BYU professor Randy Bott in a recent Washington Post article absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU faculty members do not speak for the Church. It is unfortunate that the Church was not given a chance to respond to what others said.
“The Church’s position is clear—we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form.
“For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.
“We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.”
In the past, the Church has said this about racism:
“The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. The Book of Mormon states, “black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.
“People of all races have always been welcomed and baptized into the Church since its beginning. In fact, by the end of his life in 1844 Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opposed slavery. During this time some black males were ordained to the priesthood. At some point the Church stopped ordaining male members of African descent, although there were a few exceptions. It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended. Church leaders sought divine guidance regarding the issue and more than three decades ago extended the priesthood to all worthy male members. The Church immediately began ordaining members to priesthood offices wherever they attended throughout the world.
“The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. In 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared 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. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.”
“Recently, the Church has also made the following statement on this subject:
““The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.””
“Forget Everything that I have Said”
As you can see in the above Church statements, and as I repeat unequivocally, we don’t know why the ban was in place or why it was lifted when it was. In a 1970 statement, the First Presidency stated that the reasons “we believe are only known to God, and not to man”.
After the priesthood ban was lifted, Bruce R. McConkie spoke about past suppositions made by Church leaders, including himself. His statement could rightly be used to confront people like Bott. He said,
“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.“
Church leaders have condemned racism. President Gordon B. Hinckley has said,
“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. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.“
Others Weigh In
- Daniel Peterson’s blog posts “An Unfortunate Attempt to Explain the Pre-1978 Priesthood Ban” and “Further Thoughts on That BYU Professor, Racism, and His Alleged Explanation for the Priesthood Ban”.
- Joanna Brooks’ blog post “Racist Remarks by popular BYU Religion Professor Spark Controversy”.
- The BYU newspaper, The Daily Universe, published an article “Washington Post article on black priesthood ban spurs concern, outrage”.
- Local Utah news station KSL story, “BYU students react to professor’s controversial comments”.
Know Your Religion’s “Blacks and the Priesthood”
I have been asked the “Black and the Priesthood” question for many years. It wasn’t until I was a mission president that the issue became much clearer. Let me begin (up front) by saying that I still don’t understand all of the ramifications on “Why God gives Priesthood to some and not to others.” However, I have explicit faith that He knows the reasons and when we eventually see as He sees, we’ll be completely satisfied that what He has done has been the wisest thing to do.
Perhaps an example is the fastest way to teach how I handle the question. I was sitting in the Mission Home one Sunday afternoon waiting to leave for another Stake Conference. The telephone rang and the woman on the other end of the line explained that she was a Stake Missionary and had a Black investigator who wanted to talk with me about the “Black and the Priesthood” issue. I invited them over.
The investigator was working on a Master’s degree and seemed to be very confident and articulate. After introductions he immediately attacked me with a barrage of questions. “Why are you prejudiced against Blacks?” he asked. “I didn’t know I was!” was my reply. He said: “Don’t play mind games with me. I understand you have a doctorate degree and I am fairly educated myself, so let’s get to the meat of the issue. Until 1978 Mormons withheld the Priesthood from the Blacks and I want to know why?” He was just assertive enough to kindle my combative spirit a little—it wasn’t like a bash session but more a spirited exchange.
I said: “You seem to be rather bold in coming into my home and attacking me. Would it be alright if I asked you some questions?” He agreed. I asked him what his definition of the Priesthood was. He replied that it was his understanding that it was “the power of God….” and then he continued on. I stopped him and said, “Can we just agree that the Priesthood is the power of God?” He agreed. I asked him if he thought the priesthood was a real power to which he responded in the negative. Then I followed with a rather incredulous question: “Why, then, are you upset with the Mormons keeping a ‘non-real thing’ away from your people?” He didn’t know what to say.
I continued. “For sake of discussion, let’s assume the Priesthood is a real thing. Who then would control it?” He answered: “Well, I guess God would since it is His power.” I asked: “Does He have to account to you on why He does what He does?” To which he recoiled and answered: “Certainly not. That would border on blasphemy!” to which I agreed.
Then I asked who held the Priesthood during Old Testament times after the Exodus. He rather proudly demonstrated his understanding that it was only the Tribe of Levi. I asked: “Would you show me in the Old Testament where the other 11 tribes, which include Judah—through whom the Savior was to be born, and Joseph—the new chosen, birthright son, picketed up and down in front of the Tabernacle demanding the Priesthood?” He admitted that he couldn’t and stated that he had never looked at it quite like that before. I suggested that God has always “discriminated” with regard to who could hold the priesthood.
(In my opinion, this is where the gospel ends and the unfortunate supposition starts.)
Then I decided to help him see discrimination from a different perspective. I said: “Since you brought it up, let’s talk discrimination for a minute. Up until June 8, 1978 a Black could be a member of the Church, have the Holy Ghost, partake of the sacrament, and serve in the Church in whatever capacity that didn’t require the Priesthood. They could be administered to, receive blessings, etc. The instant they died they could have their names submitted to the temple for temple work because there was no reference on the form as to race. Therefore, all the blessings of not only Salvation (which come from Baptism and the Holy Ghost) were available to them, but also the blessings of Exaltation (which require Priesthood for the males and temple endowments and sealings), were also available. However, they could not become “sons of perdition” because the unpardonable sin had to be committed before the dissolution of the body.” Since I had just been studying it, I knew the reference, so I excused myself and retrieved my copy of the Teaching of the Prophet Joseph Smith where Joseph taught:
(Now, I haven’t studied this subject, so I may be wrong, but it seems that Bott makes an inappropriate jump here that he does not back up. In relation to becoming a “son of perdition”, Joseph says nothing of the priesthood, but rather the reception of the Holy Ghost.)
“A man cannot commit the unpardonable sin after the dissolution of the body, and there is a way possible for escape. Knowledge saves a man; and in the world of spirits no man can be exalted but by knowledge. So long as a man will not give heed to the commandments, he must abide without salvation. If a man has knowledge, he can be saved; although, if he has been guilty of great sins, he will be punished for them. But when he consents to obey the Gospel, whether here or in the world of spirits, he is saved.
“A man is his own tormenter and his own condemner. Hence the saying, They shall go into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone. I say, so is the torment of man.
“I know the Scriptures and understand them. I said, no man can commit the unpardonable sin after the dissolution of the body, nor in this life, until he receives the Holy Ghost but they must do it in this world. Hence the salvation of Jesus Christ was wrought out for all men, in order to triumph over the devil; for if it did not catch him in one place, it would in another; for he stood up as a Savior. All will suffer until they obey Christ himself.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Six 1843–44, p.357)
I continued: “So up until June 8, 1978, only a white, Melchizedek Priesthood bearing male could be come a son of perdition. Now thanks be to the Lord, since 1978, you too can become a son of perdition.” I thought he was turning pale white in front of me.
He stammered a little and said: “I had never looked at it that way before!” I assured him that most people hadn’t. Then I turned to the Sister Stake Missionary who had brought the Black investigator, and said to her: “Up until this very day, God is still discriminating against 50% of His children in not allowing them to hold the priesthood– they are women. But (I continued), I vote that women can also hold the priesthood and they too can become sons of perdition!” By this time their entire demeanor had changed.
(So can women not be “daughters” of perdition either? That seems like a stretch to me as well, but again, I could be wrong. Hopefully it’s more than additional sexism.)
I concluded by explaining that God’s stated objective for not only mankind in general but for each individual son or daughter was to give them immortality and eternal life (see Moses 1:39), and that God assured us in 2 Nephi 26:24: “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.” As our belief in and trust of God increases, we are more content to allow Him to be God and us to be His children.
I then explained that mortality (when viewed in God’s time, which is that one day with God is equivalent to 1000 years with man—Abraham 3:4) if we lived for 72 years would only constitute a one hour 43 minute and 41 second test away from God. That we had lived with God for countless years before coming here and the God had designed our mortal existence so that, if we would take advantage of it, the time and the condition under which we were born and lived out our lives would enhance our quest for exaltation faster than any other that could possibly be. Therefore, by trying to dictate to God what should happen to us, what powers we should hold, etc. we were actually demonstrating our lack of faith in God’s plan for us and placing ourselves in a position of superiority to God—which is blasphemy.
The conversation ended on a very congenial note with the Sister Stake Missionary forcefully declining to accept the responsibility of the priesthood and gratefully being content to enjoy the blessings of the Priesthood—just as the Blacks had before 1978.
You see, it isn’t really an issue of the Black and the Priesthood or anything else. The question is, do we trust God to do the very best for us He possibly can without destroying our agency nor giving us too much too fast and thus enabling us to destroy ourselves.
(Again, here it is – it was the white man’s burden to take on the greater the responsibility, and greater risk, of priesthood ordination. Before 1978, blacks were completely unprepared for that responsibility. How can this not outrage someone?)
I hope this short explanation will give you some ideas to help all people, no matter what color to understand a little more about how God lovingly works with His children for their salvation and exaltation.
Know Your Religion’s “When did the Priesthood Ban for Blacks Begin?”
Besides Abraham 1:26-27 (which I don’t really understand), I have never read anything that stated blacks being excluded from the Priesthood. The only mention of it is when it they say that men of any race could in 1978 in official declaration 2. I have often been curious when the practice of the Priesthood ban began. I’ve read on your web site that we don’t know why there was a ban, and I understand that it doesn’t really matter now anyway. I am just curious to know when it started. I’ve heard that Joseph Smith ordained Elijah Able (a black man) to the Priesthood. Did this happen before Joseph Smith revealed these verses in Abraham? This made me wonder if the Priesthood ban was revealed later by another prophet other than Joseph Smith. I briefly spoke with you after class about this and you told me that Joseph Smith had later asked Elijah Able to stop using the Priesthood. I was just wondering if you had a reference to where that is documented so I could research more.
As far as I know, there is no evidence that the ban on blacks receiving the Priesthood occurred during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. Jessie L. Embry wrote the article on blacks for our Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History). She states on page 107 that “sometime in the 1840’s Church leaders announced that blacks could not hold the priesthood.” As you can see, that statement leaves a lot of leeway (I have attached a copy of that article).
Alan Cherry and Jessie Embry wrote the article on blacks for The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. They state in volume 1, pg 125-126: “Joseph Smith authorized new ordinations in the 1840s and between 1847 and 1852 Church leaders maintained that blacks should be denied the priesthood because of their lineage.” (Joseph died in 1844).
Richard Bushman, in his new biography entitled Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, states on page 289: “The exclusion of black men from the priesthood was publicly stated only after [Joseph Smith’s] death….Nothing was done during Joseph’s lifetime to withhold priesthood from black members.”
I am sorry I do not have any information about Joseph Smith’s conversation with Elijah Abel about him not using his priesthood. I hope this is helpful. Have a nice day.
Blacks and the Priesthood
For unknown reasons, the Church denied blacks priesthood and temple blessings from sometime after Joseph Smith’s death until 1978, a policy that limited missionary work and conversions throughout the world, especially in Latin America and Africa. Like other New Englanders, early Latter-day Saints generally opposed slavery. While at least two black men Elijah Abel and Walker Lewis were ordained during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, sometime in the 1840s Church leaders announced that blacks could not hold the priesthood. Nevertheless, black Mormons were among the first pioneers to Utah in 1847. A few blacks throughout the United States and in countries such as Brazil continued to join the Church and remained faithful.
Church leaders, however, did not issue an official public statement on this priesthood denial until 1949, when they explained that the restrictions on priesthood were not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord (Bringhurst, p. 230). In 1963 the Church issued a statement that attempted to separate priesthood exclusion from the Civil Rights movement, but African Americans still publicly attacked the Church. In 1969 the First Presidency issued another statement confirming priesthood denial.
By the late 1970s most protests had died down. As a result, many Mormons were shocked when, in June 1978, Church President Spencer W. Kimball announced the revelation providing that all worthy men “may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color” (see D&C, Official Declaration 2). Before this revelation, Church leaders had advised missionaries not to teach blacks during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. For example, the first missionaries to Brazil worked mainly with German immigrants. No missionaries were sent to Africa, and in the United States they generally stayed out of African American neighborhoods and rarely taught blacks unless approached. But, as early as 1946, blacks in Nigeria had asked for missionaries, even organizing churches using the Book of Mormon. During the 1960s and 1970s the Church had experienced tremendous growth in Brazil, and determining who was black was a sensitive issue in the racially mixed country. Construction of a temple there in the mid 1970s focused attention on this delicate matter.
Following the 1978 revelation, the Church opened missions in Africa. Ten years later leaders organized the first stake in black Africa in Nigeria. Missionaries throughout the world, including the United States, started working in black neighborhoods. Because Church records do not list race or color, it is impossible to determine how many blacks have been baptized except in some parts of Africa. It is clear, however, that blacks have joined the Church in increasing numbers. They have received temple blessings and marriages and served as missionaries and ward and stake leaders. Brazilian Helvecio Martins served as a member of the Second Quorum of Seventy from 1990 to 1995.
Ministering with Power and Authority
While I was a missionary in Hawaii, I spent some time as a Zone Leader. With my companion, I watched over the other missionaries within our (can you guess?) zone. From time to time we were expected to train these missionaries, and we would often try and come up with fun ways to teach principles so that they would “stick.”
One training I gave in Waipahu has pertinence to this discussion of priesthood, and I thought I might include it here. While it was tailored for missionaries, it definitely has application to all priesthood holders. I’ll include the “rap” we made up at the end in case an ex-Hawaiian missionary stumbles upon this and it’s good for a laugh or two (with hyper links included to help with the inside jokes).
The Missionary MIB Rap
We are the best kept secret in the universe.
Our mission is to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.
We are your best, last, and only line of offense.
We work with power, we exist by authority.
And we dress in black.
The good guys dress in black, remember that
On a bike, car, bus, we make contact
The title held by me: MISSIONARY
Teaching with great power and authority
You know we won’t cruise, or the spirit’s gone
Conservative suits with the Wembley ties on
Walking urgent, with a purpose
Eating up all of the members’ surplus
And yo, we ain’t got no strings attached.
Our flaxen cords are cut so we don’t detract
See something cute, turn our back
Cause we’re keeping holy where the MIB’s are at
Now from the hottest of Waipahu‘s streets
On the horizon white shirts enter the sight tight
Faithful men, 10 on a scale of 10
And then like BOOM white shirts fill the room up
Learn what we teach, that’s the way we kick it
Know what I mean?
I see all my commitments getting wicked on ya
We’re you’re best, last, and only line of offense against the worst scum of the universe
So don’t fear us – hear us!
If you ever get near us you’ll see that we’re fearless
MIB’s leading up alls your pack
“What’s that stand for?” Men in Black.
Alright, check it, let me tell you this in closing
I know we might seem imposing
But trust me – if we ever come your direction
Believe me – it’s for your own election
We don’t be teaching what we need not teach
And we don’t be speaking what we need not speak
So come unto Christ, cut this apostate crap
Show love to the black suit, cause that’s the Men in Black