This is an archived copy of a post written by Conflict Of Justice (conflictofjustice.com). Used with permission: Conflict Of Justice may not agree with any alterations made.
We Don’t Know Why
|Brigham Young did not explain why he instituted the ban. From 1852 until 1978, people of African descent were not allowed to receive the priesthood in the LDS church. Modern prophets are not magicians who can summon the spirit of Brigham Young and ask him why. All we can do is consider the circumstances and context of the policy to theorize some explanations. Skeptics rake the Mormon church over the coals for the racist policy, but really the church should be proud of their history with civil rights. Mormons were persecuted and expelled, and Joseph Smith was murdered largely because he ran a political platform of abolishing slavery. Mormons were resoundingly attacked in the 19th century newspapers because of their race integration:|
- Priesthood leadership has often been restricted throughout history. The sons of Levi could only hold it in the Old Testament. Jesus conferred it to his Jewish disciples, and commanded them to hold off preaching to the Gentiles for a while. It is up to God to decide how best to organize church leadership.
- All had the opportunity for salvation. Priesthood leadership is not necessary to get to heaven. Those who were prevented from receiving temple ordinances, along with everyone in life who does not get an opportunity to hear about them, will get an opportunity in the future. Mormons believe in vicarious baptisms on behalf of the dead, as well as all the other saving ordinances.
Letter To Ernest Wilkinson
This 1949 private letter to Ernest Wilkinson from the first presidency gives no explanation or justification. It only explains the policy. It references Brigham Young’s announcement of the policy in which he said one day race would no longer be an issue when it comes to priesthood:
“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.”
We find this principle in the Book of Mormon, where Lamanites excluded themselves from the gospel and priesthood because their fathers rejected it. But this does not necessarily apply to Blacks in America, and offers no insight into the origins of the policy. The point he was making is that the policy will operate by introducing all worthy men to priesthood leadership once the blessings of the gospel spread throughout the world.
Wilford Woodruff Statement
|“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.”|
Wilford Woodruff’s (1807-1898) statement has been misconstrued by anti-Mormons to mean exclusion is a punishment from before birth. But he didn’t say that at all. Really, he was only observing that some people are born into nice circumstances and other aren’t. Is this not true? Don’t Leftists today talk about this same idea, calling it “white privilege?” Same thing. Woodruff does not speculate why this privilege exists or why some people are born with “handicap” challenges. Just that not receiving the priesthood is another handicap.
This is not justification for the policy. It could be people who couldn’t get the priesthood were more righteous in the pre-existence and needed a greater challenge in this life? Woodruff does not say what it means.
No Disavowal Or Apology
CES Letter complains:
“Along with the above First Presidency statement, there are many other statements and explanations made by prophets and apostles clearly ‘justifying’ the Church’s racism.” (CES Letter)
None of these statements justified the policy, nor did they explain the origins. They simply clarified what the policy was.
CES Letter quotes the Official Declaration header that overturned the racial policy and claims it is contradictory:
“‘Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. ‘… So, the 201 3 edition Official Declaration 2 Header in the scriptures is not only misleading, it’s dishonest. We do have records – including from the First Presidency itself – with very clear insights on the origins of the ban on the blacks.” (CES Letter)
Neither the Declaration’s explanatory heading nor the 2013 Essay from the church disavow the concepts explained in the above first presidency quotes. Mormons still believe that people have historically been excluded from the priesthood due to behavior of their fathers, and that circumstances of birth, including handicaps, are part of the plan established pre-birth. We see both concepts still in operation today: In Communist China, people have little access to the gospel because the government closed its borders to the church many years ago. Is that fair to the Chinese? No, but it is a realistic observation.
We don’t know why Brigham Young instituted the racial policy, and I think it is foolish to try to speculate. We gain a better understanding when we consider circumstances of the 1880’s. America was a racially divided society and Mormons were heavily persecuted for their anti-slavery activism. Political pressure from pro-slavery states, rapid church expansion in wide-ranging cultures, and Marxist infiltration in liberal movements may have contributed to the ban.
The Left is allowed to admit their racist history and evolve, but Mormons cannot do this because they paint the Mormon culture into a culture where policy is not allowed to change because they think doctrine and policy are the same thing. None of us were around in those times and we don’t know the circumstances. We can’t judge why the policy happened or what it means about Mormons today. The important thing is how we view race relations today.
The Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 26 says God accepts all:
“For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”
This is the doctrine of salvation and it does not relate to who got to hold the priesthood at any given time in history. The prophet Joseph Smith’s views on race were ahead of their time:
“My cogitations, like Daniel’s, have for a long time troubled me, when I viewed… two or three millions of people are held as slaves for life, because the spirit in them is covered with a darker skin than ours… The wisdom which ought to characterize the freest, wisest, and most noble nation of the nineteenth century, should, like the sun in his meridian splendor, warm every object beneath its rays; and the main efforts of her officers, who are nothing more nor less than the servants of the people, ought to be directed to ameliorate the condition of all, black or white, bond or free; for the best of books says, “God hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth.”
How long did it take other 19th century institutions such as the Democrat Party to catch up to this? Divine revelation is superior to social justice, and even today you see the misdirection of those on the Left, who tear down statues, give unmerited rewards, and spread racial division in the name of equality. If the LDS would just stick by their principles–let the army come, let the newspapers print their cartoons–they would always be on the right side of history.
We should celebrate our church’s history. The racial restriction with the priesthood was unfortunate and inexcusable, but our doctrine regarding race has had it right all along. The doctrines of popular culture continue to push racism, and we need to stick by the classical principles that we’ve had from the beginning.
CES Letter Logical Fallacies
|Falsehood||CES Letter incorrectly claims the policy was “doctrine and revelation.” CES Letter quotes statements that describe gospel concepts but they do not talk about the origin of the ban. Nor has the church ever disavowed these concepts. The premise of CES Letter‘s argument is false.|
|Non Sequitur||Descriptions of a policy are not justification or explanations for the origins of the policy. If skeptics want Mormons to not be racist, why are they complaining about “throwing” doctrines “under the bus” when Mormons get rid of a racist policy? CES Letter claims this argument is “secondary to all of the” previous arguments. If so, why is this argument pretty much the same as the argument they made earlier on p.51?|
|Repetition||CES Letter repeats earlier racism claims. This entire argument is a repeat of their argument on p.39. CES Letter repeats the general slogan they have repeated many times already: “Yesterday’s revelation and doctrine is today’s ‘disavowed theories.’ Yesterday’s prophets are today’s disavowed heretics.” CES Letter also repeats their sarcastic slogan: “prophets, seers, and revelators”|
|Ad Hominem||“not only misleading, it’s dishonest.”|
|False Dilemma||Withholding people from priesthood leadership does not mean God is punishing them.|
The church does the right thing and ends race restrictions, and what do we get? Anti-Mormons complaining that we are throwing earlier prophets “under the bus.” The racial priesthood ban is one of the most powerful anti-Mormon attacks because it shifts focus away from the history of Mormons on the front of civil rights. Mormons were expelled and Joseph Smith was killed because their southern-state neighbors did not like their anti-slavery activisim. Fundamentally, Mormon doctrine is that all people are children of God. Do anti-Mormons believe all people are children of God?
Mormons cannot express the outrage they rightfully feel about being attacked like this because, after all, the ban on priesthood leadership did happen, and there is no justifying racism. God is constant, so either the prophets were racists who came up with it on their own, or the church was forced into having this policy because of historical circumstances. Non-Mormons have the luxury of believing in “evolving” truth, so they don’t need to worry if their political party, or their church, or their university, or their government, or their ideological group once had a discriminatory policy. That’s all in the past But with Mormons, it is an original sin.
This is why many Mormons don’t even recognize the big hypocrisy coming out of anti-Mormons–they are outraged because the church changed its policy! CES Letter condemns us because Brigham Young said some racist things. But what does this racial policy have to do with me? I didn’t cause it.
Perhaps what is most remarkable about CES Letter‘s argument is what they don’t say. They act outraged that the Mormon church changes its policy–apparently commandments and operational structures are supposed to remain static throughout all human history–but how much moral outrage do they actually express about racism? Where do they say everyone is a child of God and deserves equal treatment and equal dignity? Where do they say rewards should be based on merit rather than skin color? I don’t see them say this, and it is definitely a Mormon belief that everyone deserves equal dignity and reward based on merit. Do anti-Mormons believe this?
CES Letter makes it clear that the problem is the Mormon church held on to this racial policy for so long. They repeat over and over the number of years and number of prophets that this policy spanned in history. The problem is Mormon justice does not evolve like it does for Marxists. The church is not politically active. We aren’t political activists protesting in the streets. Anti-Mormons demand that we lead political crusades, yet then they complain when we actually do, like with the gay marriage opposition. Then it is inappropriate for the church to become politically active. So which is it? Should we be politically active or not? In another 130 years, will anti-Mormons complain that we didn’t do enough to defend traditional marriage?
This all goes back to what anti-Mormons believe in: evolving truth and agitating for class consciousness. Mormons believe in reward from merit rather than strict equality, personal excellence rather than being defined by class distinction, personal approbation rather than rights and handouts from the government. The issue for them is not really individual dignity and merit but becoming conscious of as a class of people.
From day one, no Mormon considered the policy to have any affect on salvation or exaltation. People always get what they deserve in the end based on their works and who they make themselves. Anti-Mormons apparently believe a person’s rank in the priesthood and status as church leader makes them better or gives them extra reward.
Use Opponent As Authority Tactic – This is a popular Marxist tactic that anti-Mormons use. They use Mormonism’s own authorities to discredit the faith, such as an alleged Mormon scholar. What makes this argument powerful is:
- Deceptively discredits the vast libraries of study on Book of Abraham by LDS professionals.
- Gives more focus to a phony frame that attacks the Mormon church.
- Divides the ranks of the church.
- Establishes a frame that demands a clear, modern explanation in the Book of Abraham for every religious issue in existence, and that it be exactly corroborated by every other Mormon source.