Friday, April 18, 2008

Racial Priesthood Ban

I was recently asked why there existed a past LDS policy which denied temple entrance to Blacks. The official doctrine of the church is "we don't know." Which is my position. But I followed that up with a few things that I have heard and feel right to me on the subject.

After President Kimball received the revelation on priesthood, Elder McConkie said "forget what he or Brigham Young or anyone said that was contrary to the present revelation." LDS were always against slavery. The LDS church was severely perscecuted for this very fact. Joseph Smith originally started to ordain blacks to the priesthood but then for some reason stopped. The unfortunate speculation by McConkie and others in response to this policy rightly assumed that the racial ban was inspired. However, the folowing speculation led to many racially interpret scripture. McConkie and others use the same flawed logic that the Baptist church used to justify slavery (cain doctrine) with the added racist interpretation of Abraham (pre-existence). It was wrong, and McConkie clearly retracted.

So, if the ban was inspired, why was it necessary? The same reason I think the ban was necessary is the same reason why Christ came to the Jews and not the Gentiles at first. It is because he went to the most biggoted people. We know how biggoted the Jews were. They would even walk around Samaria through the desert to go to Galilee to avoid having to go through the Samaritan land. But God didn't judge the Jews because racism and bigotry is learned. But after the fullness of the Jews then the gospel went to the Gentiles. And then after the fullness of the Gentiles the gospel will go back to the Jews. And the first shall be last and the last shall be first and Ephraim will not envy Judah and Judah shall not vex Ephraim.

In the temple prayers, participants are asked if there are any unkind feelings toward other members of the group that those people would excuse themself so the Spirit of the Lord may be unrestrained. Because of our learned racism (better than many other groups; remember we were abolitionists), Joseph Smith felt that it wasn't time yet to integrate the church. Was the church under condemnation -- YES. And every president of the church has prayed that the ban would be lifted, and every president of the church has asked the members to pray that the ban be lifted. And not until Pres. Spencer Kimball got a revelation (which is said to have been a Pentecostal-type event), was the general membership sanctified by the grace of Chirst and the power of the Holy Spirit of its racism and bigotry enough to worship together in the temple.

So, the basis for the temporary ban has precedent in the Bible but has nothing to do with that Blacks were more or less worthy in the pre-existence, but that our parents and grandparents were too racist to commune and fellowship together and keep the Sprit of God working in them and in the church. Now, LDS churches are some of the most integrated churches in the world becaue of geographically defined congegations. There are no white churches or black churches or competing mega-chruches and small poor churches (except branches) and have all things (spiritually) in common. But we all worship together and the Spirit of the Lord is less restrained than it ever has been.

Also, because temple ordinances can be done for the dead, Joseph Smith knew that the ban was not denying these blessings to blacks permenantly. Now we have the opportuninty to do the work and make up for our past racism. That is part of what it means that "we without them cannot be made perfect neither they without us." We can repent and make restitution through temple work.

11 comments:

Ben said...

"LDS were always against slavery."

This isn't entirely true. While Joseph was not fond of slavery (although he disagreed with abolitionists), Utah was a slave state, and Brigham ratified slavery in 1852.

"Joseph Smith originally started to ordain blacks to the priesthood but then for some reason stopped."

The second part of that statement isn't entirely true either. Joseph continued to ordain black men in Nauvoo, including ordaining Elijah Able as a seventy (Elijah was originally ordained to the priesthood in Kirtland, as you obviously know). While I am somewhat sympathetic to the notion that Joseph began restricting the priesthood as a development connected to the priesthood, there is simply no historical background for this.

"And every president of the church has prayed that the ban would be lifted, and every president of the church has asked the members to pray that the ban be lifted."

While this is true for a handful, it is definitely not true for a majority.

I understand what you are trying to show in this post, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion (when all is said and done, despite my historical reservations, I still have to agree with your "we don't know"), this argument is simplistic and problematic.

kuri said...

So, the basis for the temporary ban has precedent in the Bible but has nothing to do with that Blacks were more or less worthy in the pre-existence, but that our parents and grandparents were too racist to commune and fellowship together and keep the Sprit of God working in them and in the church.

So... what you're saying is basically that God excluded black people for the sake of keeping racist white people in the Church? Wouldn't it have been a lot fairer to let in the black people and kick out the racists?

S.Faux said...

To me, the racial ban was a very sad chapter in our Church. Personally, I would not call it inspired. It was a policy, not a revelation. And, I am SO glad the ban has been entirely eliminated forever. See my essay: Racism has no place.

R. Gary said...

Regarding the so-called "racist interpretation of Abraham," here's what a current Church manual says:

"From the dispensation of Adam until the dispensation of the fulness of times, there has been a group of people who have not been allowed to hold the priesthood of God. The scriptural basis for this policy is Abraham 1:21–27." ("Doctrines and Covenants," Student Manual, Religion 324 and 325, 2001, p.364.)

Regarding the effect of pre-existence on each person's mortal life, Church leaders continued to publish lineage related doctrine after 1978. For example, "the race and nation in which men are born in this world is a direct result of their pre-existent life." ("Races of Men," Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., 1979 printing, p.616.) More importantly, college students are taught the same thing today:

"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?" (President Harold B. Lee, as quoted in "Doctrines of the Gospel," Student Manual, Religion 430 and 431, 2004, p.56.)

Ben said...

R. Gary: And those are the exact "racist interpretations" that we are still in the process of rooting out. Here's hoping I'll get to see it in my lifetime.

R. Gary said...

Ben,

In "Doctrines of the Gospel" Chapter 21, is it just the Harold B. Lee quote that bothers you, or are there other "doctrines" in that chapter that you find offensive?

Ben said...

R. Gary,

Good question. I can't say that I had looked over that chapter before just now, but now that I have, there is not much I disagree with. In fact, President Lee's comments don't bother me that much, because they focus on spiritual rewards rather than lineage. McConkie's statements, both from hist post-78 MD as well as both of his quotes in the manual, do strike me as off because I just don't see the linial argument holding strong with todays developments in geneology, science, etc. I don't think it is possible to see me as the seed of Jacob while a faithful saint in Africa is not.

I personally believe that the whole "house of israel" thing, including our lineages proclaimed in our inspired patriarchal blessings, should be read as figurative more than literal. Our last Presiding Patriarch, Eldred G. Smith, has said as much in one of his last conference addresses.

As for the literal lineage reasons given for the priesthood band, I find them extremely problematic. Saying that only this limited group of people are the only ones to have Ham's blood seems quite far-fetched.

The only other reservation I have with the whole "believing blood" notion (which is what the house of israel talk seems to be), along with the notion that we have been chosen to come to earth at specific times because of our righteousness, is that they set up a form of elitism that I believe has no place in the Church. While it is not meant to happen, someone who believes that they were born into the Church because of their valiancy in the pre-existence will immediately view those not priveleged to be born during a time of the gospel as people less valiant. I would rather see us as "no respector of persons," and hold much more charitable doctrines shown towards our fellow man.

End of threadjack.

Anonymous said...

"And not until Spencer Kimball got a revelation (which was a Pentecostal-type event)"

Gordon B. Hinckley, “Priesthood Restoration,” Ensign, Oct 1988, 69 explains it as thus:

On this occasion he raised the question before his Brethren—his Counselors and the Apostles. Following this discussion we joined in prayer in the most sacred of circumstances. President Kimball himself was voice in that prayer. I do not recall the exact words that he spoke. But I do recall my own feelings and the nature of the expressions of my Brethren. There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. The Spirit of God was there. And by the power of the Holy Ghost there came to that prophet an assurance that the thing for which he prayed was right, that the time had come, and that now the wondrous blessings of the priesthood should be extended to worthy men everywhere regardless of lineage.

Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing.

It was a quiet and sublime occasion.

There was not the sound “as of a rushing mighty wind,” there were not “cloven tongues like as of fire” (Acts 2:2–3) as there had been on the Day of Pentecost. But there was a Pentacostal spirit, for the Holy Ghost was there.

No voice audible to our physical ears was heard. But the voice of the Spirit whispered with certainty into our minds and our very souls.

Steve M. said...

Now, LDS churches are some of the most integrated churches in the world becaue of geographically defined congegations

I'm not sure this is correct. Unfortunately, in the United States at least, neighborhoods are still often separated along racial lines. And even in areas with large minority populations, the Church still tends to be very white. For instance, while the city I currently reside in is about 45% white and 44% African-American, there are only a few African-American members of our ward. We're very, very white.

BRoz said...

I know there are some generalizations here but thats how I write. Ill try and be more careful but it gets too wordy when you have to qualify everything.

My attempt in this blog was to present a theory which still assumes that the ban was inspired like McConckie an others assumed.

Clean Cut said...

There's a very informative chapter about "Blacks, Civil Rights, and the Priesthood" in "David O. Mckay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism" that I recommend. It provides insight into some of the issues faced as the Church came to grips with the "policy" and the background behind it.