The Mormon Church very recently posted a new statement on “Race and the Priesthood” at LDS.org in which the blame for the Church’s historic racism is laid squarely at the feet of Brigham Young. According to the statement, the idea to deny Blacks the priesthood and Mormon temple blessings didn’t come from God. Rather, the whole doctrine (called a “policy” in the statement) was but a product of the racial discrimination that abounded all across America during the time of Brigham Young’s tenure as Mormonism’s second prophet and president. According to the Church’s statement,
“In 1850, the U.S. Congress created Utah Territory, and the U.S. president appointed Brigham Young to the position of territorial governor. Southerners who had converted to the Church and migrated to Utah with their slaves raised the question of slavery’s legal status in the territory. 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. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would “have [all] the privilege and more” enjoyed by other members.
“The justifications for this restriction echoed the widespread ideas about racial inferiority that had been used to argue for the legalization of black ‘servitude’ in the Territory of Utah.According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel. Those who accepted this view believed that God’s ‘curse’ on Cain was the mark of a dark skin. Black servitude was sometimes viewed as a second curse placed upon Noah’s grandson Canaan as a result of Ham’s indiscretion toward his father. Although slavery was not a significant factor in Utah’s economy and was soon abolished, the restriction on priesthood ordinations remained…
“The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.”
The Church’s statement points out that even after 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.”
And just so there will be no misunderstanding, the Church’s statement proclaims:
“…the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects 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. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
This is all so very interesting. The Church unequivocally condemns all racism, including past racism. This is good and commendable, even though the Church statement does not overtly admit that the Church’s attitude toward and treatment of Blacks was racist.
The Church “disavows” the various theories embraced by Mormons over the years to explain the restrictions on Black members. This is at least partially good and commendable; however, disavowing merely means that the Church denies any responsibility or support for these various theories. It is a distancing of the Church from what the institution believed and taught in the past.
But here’s the thing. Mormonism’s leaders have long insisted that the prophets, seers and revelators of the Church cannot and will not lead the Church astray. Yet the Church lived by Brigham Young’s false teachings for over 125 years. Ten Mormon prophets perpetuated Brigham Young’s errors on race, believing his restrictions on Blacks represented the will of God. And now the Church says it was all due to “a highly contentious racial culture” that Brigham Young mistook for God’s leading.
“I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 199)
“Keep your eye on the Prophet, for the Lord will never permit his Prophet to lead this Church astray” (Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Reports, October 1966, 123).
“As we look to the prophets for guidance, we can be confident that they will not lead us astray” (L. Aldin Porter, “Search the Prophets,” Ensign, April 2002, 31).
“Those who listen to and follow the counsel of living prophets and apostles will not go astray. The teachings of living prophets provide an anchor of eternal truth in a world of shifting values and help avoid misery and sorrow” (Preach My Gospel, 2004, 75).
“You can always trust the living prophets” (True to the Faith, 2004, 129).
“What time, since the organization of the Church, have any of the brethren exercising the Spirit of the Lord, ever taught this people that which was false? When have they ever said unto you that you should do that which was not right; that which would not make you better citizens and better members of the kingdom of God? You cannot, nor can any man, in righteousness, point to the time when any of them have wilfully stated anything that was contrary to the principles of righteousness, or that did not tend to make the people better in every way, that did not build them up in their salvation, temporally as well as spiritually….” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 3:297).
“Having in mind that this Church of ours is a practical Church, that it deals with temporal as well as with spiritual affairs, I submit that whatever comes from the voices of those who hold that authority is scripture, no matter of what they may speak. That conclusion to me is inevitable” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Conference Reports, April 1944, 112).
“Third, continuing revelation and leadership for the Church come through the President of the Church, and he will never mislead the Saints” (James Faust, “The Prophetic Voice,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1996, 7).
“Follow your leaders who have been duly ordained and have been publicly sustained, and you will not be led astray” (Boyd K. Packer, “To Be Learned Is Good If …”, Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1992, 73).
What does all this mean? The united voices of Mormon prophets, seers and revelators throughout the history of the Church say the prophet cannot lead the Church astray. Did Brigham Young (and subsequent prophets) lead the Church astray? Or was the LDS restriction on Blacks God’s desire for the Church after all?
This statement from the Church raises even more questions for me, such as:
• If the Church “disavows” all of the so-called theories “of the past” that black skin is a sign of God’s disfavor or a divine curse, what does it do with the Book of Mormon where these “theories” are taught? (See 2 Nephi 5:21 and Alma 3:6-9.)
• If the Church “condemns all racism” in any form, what does it do with the authoritative teachings of so many past Church leaders that advanced these racist theories?
• If placing a restriction on Black members as pertaining to the priesthood was culturally driven and not done by God’s direction, why is the doctrine found in Mormon scripture? (See Abraham 1:26.)
• If Mormon Prophet David O. McKay misunderstood Abraham 1:26 when he indicated that it represented a “scriptural basis for denying the Priesthood to Negros,” what other Mormon scriptures might LDS prophets have misinterpreted over the years?
• If President McKay’s interpretation of Abraham 1:26 was wrong, why did the Pearl of Great Price Student Manual (Religion 327) tie that passage to the Church’s 1978 lifting of the priesthood ban against Blacks?
• If the restrictions against Blacks began with Brigham Young, why did LDS Apostle and member of the First Presidency George Q. Cannon say at an 1895 meeting of General Authorities that the doctrine did not originate with Brigham Young but instead was taught by Joseph Smith?
Friends, this doesn’t add up. If Brigham Young taught false doctrine that was embraced by the Church for 125 years of its 183-year history, he led the Church astray. If the Mormon prophet led the Church astray, all of the subsequent leaders who claimed that that couldn’t happen were wrong – including members of today’s highest Church leadership. If Mormon prophets can indeed lead the Church astray, if they can misinterpret Mormon scripture, if they can misunderstand the voice of God, the so-called “continuing revelation” in the Mormon Church is worse than worthless – it is dangerous. Which is the very thing Christians have been warning Mormons about for the past 183 years.
Mormons, this is your Church. This is the organization you are trusting to get you safely to the celestial kingdom and into the eternal presence of God.
Run to Jesus.
More information on Racism in the Mormon Church:
A doctrine that was to always be (MRM.org)
Mormons to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the “Priesthood Revelation” (MRM.org)
Curse of Cain? Racism in the Mormon Church (UTLM.org)