I have a deep desire to defend the church and sustain the Kingdom of God. The sense is that difficult days are ahead for the church. My generation has known no difficulty in being a Latter-Day Saint. We sit at ease on the shoulders of previous generations that endured and suffered greatly for the continuance of the restoration.
Because of this, and because I want to be as prepared and strong to carry any burden asked of me in order to sustain the kingdom, I am making an appeal to the leadership of the church to act now in truth, so that the burden is not increased in the future. The more we embrace truth, the stronger we will be.
And the inverse is true – if we fail to act truthfully now, the future will be weaker. And we will have less power of God to sustain us in our responsibility to sustain and build the church in preparation for the second coming of Christ.
Understanding our complicated past with race, racial doctrines, and attitudes that were produced by those doctrines, it is really important that we act with both precision and integrity in identifying our past mistakes. Not doing so only makes things worse. It doesn’t do anyone any favors.
With a laudable attempt to produce a transparent and frank explanation of the church’s racial history, the church produced an essay that explains and summarizes the church’s history on race and doctrine of the priesthood. In this essay the church chose to frame its 150 years of racial doctrine as a theory. Here are the excerpts from that essay.
Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else…
Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.(Race and Priesthood)
It also frames its prohibition of priesthood as a policy.
In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination….
Nevertheless, given the long history of withholding the priesthood from men of black African descent, Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter the policy, and they made ongoing efforts to understand what should be done.(Race and Priesthood)
Calling something that was taught as a doctrine of the church for 125 years a “theory” is a mistake that cannot be ignored. Referring to the ban as a policy runs contradictory to three generations of saints were taught formally that it had a doctrinal justification. These were not theories. These were not simply policies. They were teachings that were repeated by apostles and church presidents alike for three generations. It was doctrine that was ingrained in the hearts and minds of saints for over a century. It was core to our doctrinal understanding of priesthood.
To emphasize that these doctrines were more than theories and policies, consider the following teachings by the highest authoritative sources of Latter-Day Saint doctrine and thought. This first statement is from the First Presidency Statement (President George Albert Smith).
August 17, 1949
The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”
President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.”
The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.Statement of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, August 17, 1949, Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City
The doctrinal position of the church in inescapable. Not only was it settled by every President of the Church from Brigham Young to President Kimball, it was articulated by the most vocal and authoritative General Authorities from the church. President Joseph Fielding Smith, and Elders Bruce McConkie and Mark E. Peterson taught it authoritatively, broadly, and in texts that the church still draws upon widely even today. The most famously referenced book the LDS use for doctrinal instruction has been Mormon Doctrine. Even though McConkie was required to make revisions, one that was not required of him was the following.
“the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart, a people with whom the other descendants of Adam should not intermarry.Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine
When he told Enoch not to preach the gospel to the descendants of Cain who were black, the Lord engaged in segregation.
From Mark E. Peterson:
I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change that segregation?
Is there reason then why the type of birth we receive in this life is not a reflection of our worthiness or lack of it in the pre-existent life?…can we account in any other way for the birth of some of the children of God in darkest Africa, or in flood-ridden China, or among the starving hordes of India, while some of the rest of us are born here in the United States? We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Latter-day Saints. There are rewards and punishments, fully in harmony with His established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, rewarding all according to their deeds….
Let us consider the great mercy of God for a moment. A Chinese, born in China with a dark skin, and with all the handicaps of that race, seems to have little opportunity. But think of the mercy of God to Chinese people who are willing to accept the gospel. In spite of whatever they might have done in the pre-existence to justify being born over there as Chinamen, if they now, in this life, accept the gospel and live it the rest of their lives they can have the Priesthood, go to the temple and receive endowments and sealings, and that means they can have exaltation. Isn’t the mercy of God marvelous? Think of the Negro, cursed as to the Priesthood…. This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa – if that Negro is willing when he hears the gospel to accept it, he may have many of the blessings of the gospel. In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing…. to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the Celestial Kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory.
We must not inter-marry with the Negro. Why? If I were to marry a Negro woman and have children by her, my children would oil be cursed as to the priesthood. Do I want my children cursed as to the priesthood? If there is one drop of Negro blood in my children, as I have read to you, they receive the curse. There isn’t any argument, therefore, as to inter-marriage with the Negro, is there?Mark E. Peterson “Race Problems – As They Affect the Church,” Address given at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, delivered at BYU, August 27, 1954.
From Joseph Fielding Smith, with the assistance of his son-in-law, Bruce R. McConkie, who was more influential in crafting 20th century doctrine than any of his predecessors.
There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we come here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, p. 61
Not only was Cain called to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures…. they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning.Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, p. 101, 1935
The documentation is overwhelming.
The purpose of sharing these quotes (and there are many, many more) is not to shame the church over its doctrinal history regarding race – it is to show that these teachings were very much considered doctrinal, that they were from the Lord, and that in no way were they presented as “theories” to the church.
According to the church’s current standard for accepting doctrine they would unconditionally qualify. The church now declares that, in order to be considered authoritative, doctrine must fulfill the following conditions.
- The doctrine [of the Church] is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.
- It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk.
- True principles are taught frequently and by many. (see Church’s Website)
The church cannot escape the fact that it taught what it now declares as theories and policy something that was doctrinal and rooted in revelation.
Why does this matter?
It matters because the church was either wrong in its doctrinal teachings, or because it was right and now is embarrassed by its doctrine and wants to distance itself from it.
The purpose of this post is not to argue for or against a doctrine. It is to argue for doctrine itself. The church cannot be so dismissive in having taught a doctrine, from multiple presidents of the church, in many publications, establishing as fundamental in the hearts and minds of the members of the church, and then dismiss it out of hand as being “theoretical”.
If we don’t own the fact that we were taught false doctrines (which is the position of the church) how can we as a people repent of them?
If we don’t own our history we can’t sufficiently understand why we were wrong and how it came to be that we were wrong.
If we were doctrinally wrong on race, let us own it. Let’s call it for what it was. Let’s go through a collective repentance process and be taught the principles of how to detect false doctrine. This is the discussion we should be having in the church. It will make us stronger. And if the church collectively asked the question how to avoid this mistake again, perhaps the Lord would give us an actual revelation on the matter. It’s not a irrational request in a dispensation of “continuing revelation”.
I understand the resistance for the church to admit that these were false doctrines taught for 125 years. It’s not about race. It’s about undermining the central premise of the restored church – that you cannot be led astray.
But it is well established that the Latter-Day-Saints were led astray in core priesthood doctrine for many generations. In an effort to save a current false doctrine, a former false doctrine has to be cast as only a theory.
So we treat lightly and dismissively a former false doctrine, for a current one.
This undermines the actual authority and moral integrity of the modern church. If we want to have confidence in our leaders, and that they are leading us right, they need to take responsibility for their words and not throw them at the feet of the Lord unconditionally. They have to be responsible for revelation and their own actions, and stop appealing to the church that they will never be led astray. This teaching has been sufficiently disproven in light of our traditional doctrine on race.
If we don’t take responsibility for our words and teachings we undermine our integrity. Let me suggest an example.
How can the Latter-Day-Saints have faith in the current doctrinal views of the church when, with ease, they can be discounted as theoretical?
What if, in the coming years, the church announces that it disavows the theories of leaders in the 20th century regarding the nuclear family and marriage – that the Proclamation on the Family was just a product of the culture of the time.
The precedent is now established that the leadership of the church can easily disavow earlier teachings on family, sexual relations, and same-sex marriage and that all doctrinal declarations were simply, theoretical.
At what point does marriage between man and woman as God’s law become simply a “former policy”?
For those of us who are committed to defending the Kingdom of God into the future, who will fight for its truth and make the public case for its doctrine – we must be clear on something: The more we accept false doctrines to prevail and shape our views of teachings and our history, we will be weakened and exposed to greater difficulty and will lose members. Many people who leave the church do so because they cannot reconcile the dishonest positions the leadership takes.
Our moral authority to invite our people to repent is as strong only to the degree that the church collectively repents as an institution. If we don’t take seriously our failings, how as a people can we expect individuals to have courage to take seriously their own personal failings?
Because we want to maintain the doctrine that the brethren cannot lead us astray, ironically we’ve submitted the church to a deeper problem – the destabilization of all of its core doctrinal assertions.
In an attempt to secure the faith of the members of the church that they are being led right, generations of members now do not believe they carry the collective responsibility to also receive the same revelation and either sustain – or not sustain the current doctrine. It cannot be submitted to the church on the condition that the Lord cannot guide the leaders wrong. This core teaching has undermined the the church and will have continuing consequences that will prove much worse than we have seen up until now.
Can we not repent of the things we’ve taught are wrong? Can we not also receive redemption without the need to continue to perpetuate new falsehoods to cover for former ones?
These things may not ultimately kill us, but many are leaving the church because of this nonsense. The Lord has warned us that that which is not of him will shaken and destroyed. How much shaking will we choose to endure before we let go of all those doctrines that are not of him?