Sunday, June 03, 2007

Racism and Priesthood: Inspired or Uninspired

Armand L. Mauss wrote an excellent article published by FAIR, whcih presents a credible opinion to explain the historical LDS policy of race and priesthood. The paper begins with a quote by Elder McConkie in August of 1978 who says, "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 quote confessed that Elder McConkie's previous arguments to biblically defend the church's policy which denied priesthood to the blacks, was wrong.

Before the 1978 revelation, Elder McConkie and others tried to support the church racial policy with the Bible. Their assumption was that Brigham Young was 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. McConkie and others were of the opinion that God must have denied the black race the priesthood because the blacks were spirits who were less righteous in the pre-existence. This argument is shocking to the 21st-century ear. However, Mauss cuts McConkie some slack by saying that he was faithfully, yet blindly, trying to justify an uninspired racist policy. However, after the revelation in 1978, McConkie immediately realized God's mind and will and that his previous rationalizations to defend the policy were wrong.

It is doubtful that the policy to deny the priesthood to blacks originated with Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith himself confirred the priesthood upon his friend Elijah Able. The article says that the later church policy was not inspired by God but was a product of widespread 19th-century racism and concessions by Brigham Young during his battles with the national government for statehood. The Mormon's were the most politically radical group in the nation. Mormon's opposed slavery, practiced polygamy, and were governed by a theocracy. In an attempt to gain acceptance by the political mainstream, Brigham Young relaxed or reversed some of these policies. Mauss seems to say that Brigham Young may have instituted this policy because the national goverment feared the abolishionist mormons would start preaching and converting all the slaves and encouraging them to escape to the west (not a bad idea).

Mauss argues that all christian churches were racist at that day. All the main-stream christian denominations supported slavery, denied blacks the priesthood and/or had a policy of racial segregation. These racist policies only began to change during the civil rights movement in the 1960's. However, if all the other christian chuches had begun to change their racist policies, why did the LDS church wait until 1978? No other christian churches get flack for having a racist past. Had Mormons changed with everyone else in the 1960's, we would have gotten the same pass as all the other churches. So, why did the church wait intil 1978? LDS believe that it is because it wasn't until 1978 that God finally revealed his will on the matter to Spencer W. Kimball, who was President and Prophet of the LDS church.

However, Mauss goes on to argue that the evidence supports the conclusion that the LDS church policy was not inspired but a consquence of wide-spread 19th-century racism. I'm not sure I agree with Mauss' conclusoin. I do agree that the LDS church didn't change it's race policy during the 1960's civil rights movement with everyone else because the church does not do anything that important until it receives revelation from God to do it. However, it does't make sense to me to believe the church policy is uninspired on one hand but require inspiration to revoke it on the other. Also, I don't think the Brigham Young's arguments to defend the policy are evidence for against the policy being inspired.

Brigham Young looked to the Bible to defend the policy to deny Blacks the priesthood just as he did all the doctrines and policies of the church. Many of the arguments used by McConkie and others using the doctrine of the pre-existence or the lineage of Cain, Ham etc. go back to Brigham Young. However, just because Brigham Young tried to find justification for the race policy doesn't say, one way or the other, whether the policy was inspired or not. Brigham Young would have sought to find biblical justification for the policy either way. Therefore, Elder McConkie's confession of misunderstanding in his defense of the policy cannot used as evidence that the policy itself wasn't inspired.

I disagree with Armand L. Mauss, and give as my opinion that Brigham Young would not have instituted such an important policy without first seeking and obtaining inspiration. The policy of the church was racist, but that does not necessarily mean that it couldn't also have been temporalily necessary. Just because Elder McConkie admitted after 1978 that their pevious arguments were in error, doesn't mean that the original policy wasn't given by inspiration. See my previous post for a possible argument which assumes the race policy was inspired and temporarily necessary.

That said, I am glad the priesthood is now available to all and that the church of Jesus Christ is no longer under condemnation for living briefly under a possibly preparatory and lesser-law. The Church has experienced such a great outpouring of blessings since 1978.


R. Gary said...

I agree with you about the Armand Mauss article.

I believe you will enjoy Ronald K. Esplin's article "Brigham Young and Priesthood Denial to the Blacks: An Alternate View" (html version here and pdf version here).  Esplin has been director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History at Brigham Young University and is currently executive director of the Church's Joseph Smith Papers project.

Dave said...

It seems like you are starting with the premise that LDS doctrines and policies are always true or inspired, then, after reciting some facts about the ban, concluding that the pre-1978 policy was nevertheless inspired because it was an LDS policy. In other words, you are just restating your initial assumption, which seems immune to any set of facts, even Elder McConkie's admission that the pre-1978 LDS position was not correct or doctrinal.

ted said...

let me see if I got it.

The policy was inspired by God, so it is ok. Its ok to be racist if God tells you to be racist, no apology necessary.

I have no beef with that line of thinking, although I don't respect it, I do respect your right to have that belief or any belief for that matter. every individual has a right to hold racist beliefs if they so choose, just as long as they don't ask others to accept or even take those beliefs seriously.

BRoz said...

Yes, I do start out with the assumption that all LDS policies are inspired. This is based on personal revelatory knowledge that Joseph Smith was a prophet and the Book of Mormon is God's word. Because I already know this, I approach other questions from a position of faith rather than doubt.

Yes, it is absolutely okay to do whatever God asks you to do. God asked Abraham to kill his son Isaac. God told Abraham to lie and tell pharoah that his wife Sarah was his sister.

The reverse is also true. It is absolutely wrong to do anything Satan asks you to do. Even if it seems harmless like eating a piece of fruit.

You may say that many evil acts are justified by this reasoning, and you would be correct. However, the abuse of this principle doesn't mean its not true.

I don't like that the church had this policy until 1978. Noone liked that the church had this policy. We are all glad its been resended. If you study about the LDS church in Africa and the african saints who wrote letters pleading for baptism, you would know that the church leaders were constantly pleading with God to revoke the policy. Finally the revelation came. If we had just made it up, then why didn't we cave under the pressure of the civil right's movement?

Dave said...

BRoz, it seems like that's more than just an assumption. If neither Mauss's review of the facts nor McConkie's admission that his "previous arguments to biblically defend the church's policy which denied priesthood to the blacks [were] wrong" (your summary of his statements) can modify your opinion, it's not going to change. It seems like you've created your own personal doctrine of LDS infallibility (it's certainly not an official LDS doctrine) and are using it to evaluate the facts rather than the other way around (using facts to enhance or modify your opinions).

I suppose I'm exaggerating a bit for effect. I guess I'm puzzled why you go to the trouble of having a nice discussion of Mauss and McConkie, then simply bracket their ideas and endorse the view that LDS policy is always inspired -- which is just your original assumption restated.

Anonymous said...

Peter was called by God to be a prophet. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Saints in the Meridian of Time was inspired by God. I have personal revelation regarding these two facts; therefore, all policies taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Saints in the Meridian of Time are inspired by God and cannot be uninspired in any way.


BRoz said...


I did not say the LDS church or Brigham Young is infalliable. I agree that Brigham Young's racial interpretation of scripture was wrong according to the Elder McConkie quote.

I disagree with Mauss because he uses the McConkie quote as evidence that Brigham Young's original motivation was uninspired. It may have been uninspired. My point is that just because McConkie said his and Brigham's interpretation was wrong, that doesn't necessarily mean that Brigham didn't rightly feel that the church should temporarily adopt a racist policy.

My point is, we don't know what came first; the racist interpretation of scripture or the racist doctrine. If the incorrect racist interpretation of scripture came first, then we can assume that the the racist policy was uninspired.

If however, the policy came first, then it is possible that Brigham and others, tried to come up with an interpretation of scripture afterwards that corresponded with the policy but, in the end, failed to arrive at the right conclusion.

BRoz said...

I'll agree with that anonymous. I believe that the Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the closest church in doctrine to the 1st-century Church of Jesus Christ of Meridian-day Saints.

Anonymous said...

Broz, you keep referring to the policy as a "policy" and that's exactly what it was, just a policy not a doctrine. Brigham Young thought that Joseph Smith had preached against the blacks having the priesthood and he was wrong. Brigham Young was a racist just like everyone else in his day and God allowed it just like he allowed Brigham to wear a beard in order to fit in with the culture.

Revilo said...

If the priesthood that we hold is from God, then any restriction on its application is also from God. If the priesthood we hold is not from God, then we literally withheld nothing of any value. Implicit in any criticism of withholding priesthood ordination from someone is an acknowledgment that we have the priesthood.

The church stood virtually alone in Missouri in its abolitionist stand, and suffered dearly for its anti-slavery principles. The church was so liberal in its views on Black equality that it drew mortal enmity from the political power in Missouri. So how do we reconcile this quite liberal philosophy with the withhold of priesthood from the Blacks?

I believe that God holds those who receive the oath and covenant of the priesthood to a very high standard. Inherent in criticism is a presumption that the priesthood is a privilege; but in truth it carries solemn irrevocable obligations. Blacks have been sorely mistreated in this free land, and arguably had their ability to comply with priesthood obligations hampered by the chains and traditions of slavery and culture. In my opinion, God mercifully withheld priesthood obligations from Blacks, not because Blacks were flawed in any way but because the societies they were embedded in were flawed.

We were always taught that the time would come when Blacks would receive the priesthood.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that the timing for this revelation occurred at a contemporary point in time when modern Blacks have been freed from the last vestiges of legal shackles that previously had limited their ability for self-determination.