Thursday, June 07, 2007

Priesthood Ban: The Last Shall Be First

This post contains thoughts related to a post on By Common Consent. In 1969, the First Presidency issued a letter on the preisthood ban which is considered by many to most closely refect the view of the LDS church on this matter. (see below)

This First-Presidency statement on the priesthood ban make the following points. The LDS church has always favored civil rights for blacks. The church maintains it's historical abolisionist, anti-slavery position. The LDS church believes that the priesthood ban was God’s will, came through revelation and was taught by Joseph Smith. However, God did not reveal the reason for the ban. According to God's will, the church maintained the ban and considered such action to be it's first amendment right. Yet at the same time, the First Presidency made it clear that blacks are spirit children of God, and descendants of Adam and Eve and that members should continue to pray that the ban would one day be lifted and suggests that the ban will only be temporary and eventually the blessings of the priesthood and temple would be available to everyone. This also suggests that many if not all the President's of the church have continually prayed that the ban would be lifted.

Despite this letter, Elder McConkie and others continued to speculate and justify the ban though a racial interpretation of scripture. Their assumption was that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were inspired to institute the policy. So, they interpreted the Bible to explain why such a racist policy would be heavenly justified. That lead them to racially interpret passages of scriptures which spoke of the "noble and great" in the pre-existence. They also adopted southern christian interpetations which were used historically to justify slavery which had to do with descendancy theories through Cain and Ham. This kind of reasoning led to some rather unfortunate opinions and statements.

However, after the ban was lifted, Elder McConkie in August of 1978 said, "Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...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." This statement is not saying that Elder McConkie believes the original ban was not inspired. This quote serves as a statement of retraction by Elder McConkie's for previous arguments which speculated about the ban and attempted to scripturally support the church's policy. However, Elder McConkie confesses all these arguments were wrong. Therefore, I feel no need do defend them; as they do not represent Mormon Doctrine.

Despite this example of the inherent dangers of speculation, I believe the ban was inspired and temporarily necessary. The reason the ban may have been temporarily necessary was not because God is racist, or the prophet; but I may have been simply because the individual members in the chruch were racist. And our racism inside and outside the church may have severly limited the reach of the church.

Had the gospel been preached to the slaves and in Africa from the beginning, those humble, spiritual people would have joined immediately. Unfortunately, my racist ancestors then would never had joined the church. Therefore, like Christ teaching to the bigoted Jews first and then to the Gentiles, the gospel was to go the the more bigoted Gentiles first and then to the rest of the house of Israel. "The first shall be last and the last shall be first" and "Ephraim shall not envy Judah and Judah shall not vex Ephraim."

The learned racism within the individual members of the church would have had other grave consequences. I imagine that many of our prayers in the temple would have been more ineffectual because the spirit of the Lord would have been restrained due to a greater level of unkind and racial feelings.

That said, the ban is now lifted and the church is no longer under condemnation and our prayers inside and outside the temple are much more effectual now then ever before. Since God has seen in his wisdom that his church was ready for the ban to be revoked I have witnessed the the windows of heaven opening up and showering blessings from heaven upon his church. Thank Our Heavenly Father the ban is lifted.

December 15, 1969

To General Authorities, Regional Representatives of the Twelve, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, and Bishops.

Dear Brethren:

In view of confusion that has arisen, it was decided at a meeting of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to restate the position of the Church with regard to the Negro both in society and in the Church.First, may we say that we know something of the sufferings of those who are discriminated against in a denial of their civil rights and Constitutional privileges. Our early history as a church is a tragic story of persecution and oppression. Our people repeatedly were denied the protection of the law. They were driven and plundered, robbed and murdered by mobs, who in many instances were aided and abetted by those sworn to uphold the law. We as a people have experienced the bitter fruits of civil discrimination and mob violence.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States was divinely inspired, that it was produced by “wise men” whom God raised up for this “very purpose,” and that the principles embodied in the Constitution are so fundamental and important that, if possible, they should be extended “for the rights and protection” of all mankind.In revelations received by the first prophet of the Church in this dispensation, Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the Lord made it clear that it is “not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.” These words were spoken prior to the Civil War. From these and other revelations have sprung the Church’s deep and historic concern with man’s free agency and our commitment to the sacred principles of the Constitution.

It follows, therefore, that we believe the Negro, as well as those of other races, should have his full Constitutional privileges as a member of society, and we hope that members of the Church everywhere will do their part as citizens to see that these rights are held inviolate. Each citizen must have equal opportunities and protection under the law with reference to civil rights.

However, matters of faith, conscience, and theology are not within the purview of the civil law. The first amendment to the Constitution specifically provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”The position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affecting those of the Negro race who choose to join the Church falls wholly within the category of religion. It has no bearing upon matters of civil rights. In no case or degree does it deny to the Negro his full privileges as a citizen of the nation.

This position has no relevancy whatever to those who do not wish to join the Church. Those individuals, we suppose, do not believe in the divine origin and nature of the church, nor that we have the priesthood of God. Therefore, if they feel we have no priesthood, they should have no concern with any aspect of our theology on priesthood so long as that theology does not deny any man his Constitutional privileges.

A word of explanation concerning the position of the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes its origin, its existence, and its hope for the future to the principle of continuous revelation. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, 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.

Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, “The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God….“Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man’s mortal existence, extending back to man’s pre-existent state.”

President McKay has also said, “Sometime in God’s eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the priesthood.”

Until God reveals His will in this matter, to him whom we sustain as a prophet, we are bound by that same will. Priesthood, when it is conferred on any man comes as a blessing from God, not of men.

We feel nothing but love, compassion, and the deepest appreciation for the rich talents, endowments, and the earnest strivings of our Negro brothers and sisters. We are eager to share with men of all races the blessings of the Gospel. We have no racially-segregated congregations.Were we the leaders of an enterprise created by ourselves and operated only according to our own earthly wisdom, it would be a simple thing to act according to popular will. But we believe that this work is directed by God and that the conferring of the priesthood must await His revelation. To do otherwise would be to deny the very premise on which the Church is established.

We recognize that those who do not accept the principle of modern revelation may oppose our point of view. We repeat that such would not wish for membership in the Church, and therefore the question of priesthood should hold no interest for them. Without prejudice they should grant us the privilege afforded under the Constitution to exercise our chosen form of religion just as we must grant all others a similar privilege. They must recognize that the question of bestowing or withholding priesthood in the Church is a matter of religion and not a matter of Constitutional right.We extend the hand of friendship to men everywhere and the hand of fellowship to all who wish to join the Church and partake of the many rewarding opportunities to be found therein.

We join with those throughout the world who pray that all of the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ may in due time of the Lord become available to men of faith everywhere. Until that time comes we must trust in God, in His wisdom and in His tender mercy.Meanwhile we must strive harder to emulate His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose new commandment it was that we should love one another. In developing that love and concern for one another, while awaiting revelations yet to come, let us hope that with respect to these religious differences, we may gain reinforcement for understanding and appreciation for such differences. They challenge our common similarities, as children of one Father, to enlarge the out-reachings of our divine souls.

Faithfully your brethren,The First Presidency


R. Gary said...

I think you are making unwarranted assumptions about what Elder McConkie meant when he said: "Forget everything I have said ... that is contrary to the present revelation."  Not every lineage related doctrine previously taught by McConkie was discredited by the revelation.  Elder McConkie himself continued to publish certain things that are considered offensive by some today but which were obviously not offensive to him or his Brethren; not considered "contrary to the [1978] revelation."

BRoz said...

Elder McConkie just happened to live in my neighborhood growing up and one of his son's was my next door neighbor. He was a great, kind, and gracious man. And it is my opinion that anything he may of said on this policy is not offical LDS Doctrine. None of the lineage stuff fits the 4 criteria the LDS church has recently re-stated as necessary to be considered LDS Doctrine.

R. Gary said...

Here's what I think McConkie meant when he said: "Forget everything ... contrary to the [1978] revelation":  That which is contrary to the 1978 revelation is now wrong, all of it; "everything."  However, that which is not contrary to the 1978 revelation, we will continue to teach.

An example is his article on "Races of Men" where McConkie says "the race and nation in which men are born in this world is a direct result of their pre-existent life."  (Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., 1979 printing, p. 616.)

The Church's Eleventh Prophet, President Harold B. Lee, spoke in General Conference about the nations into which men are born in this world:

-------------- quote --------------
"All these rewards were seemingly promised, or foreordained, before the world was.  Surely these matters must have been determined by the kind of lives we had lived in that premortal spirit world.  Some may question these assumptions, but at the same time they will accept without any question the belief that each one of us will be judged when we leave this earth according to his or her deeds during our lives here in mortality.  Isn't it just as reasonable to believe that what we have received here in this earth life was given to each of us according to the merits of our conduct before we came here?"  (Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 5.)
-------------- end quote --------------

Currently, President Lee's above quoted comment is taught by the Church as doctrine in "Doctrines of the Gospel" (Student Manual, Religion 430 and 431, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2004, p. 56).