If you're not familiar with the new church essays, that have been posted on the Church's official website lds.org for about a year now, they deal with church historical and doctrinal problems. These problems have been the catalyst for many people's Mormon faith crisis. Since my faith crisis centered on the priesthood ban on the blacks, I will start with that essay entitled, Race and the Priesthood. To see the essay click here . For an in-depth analysis of the essay, go to Mormonthink.com
Blacks were not banned from the priesthood in the beginning! (who knew, right?)
The Church's essay says, "as the Book of Mormon puts it, 'all are alike unto God'." So the first thing they point out, in essence is, that our doctrine contradicted our scriptures. So, if "all are alike unto God" why did we have a priesthood ban on the blacks? The essay goes on to state that, "during the first two decades of the Church's existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. In other words, for the first 22 years of the Church's existence, blacks were not banned from the priesthood. Do I have to point out that, MOST MEMBERS HAVE NEVER BEEN AWARE OF THAT! It was certainly news to me. I'm in my fifties, I've been a member all my life, and I had never heard that before! Why would blacks have the ability to receive the priesthood for 22 years, then have it taken away?
Brigham Young or revelation behind the doctrine?
The essay says, "In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood..." The essay gives no explanation for Brigham Young's announcement. No angel with a sword came and threatened his life, like happened to Joseph Smith about polygamy. Remember how Joseph Smith didn't want to have to carry out the commandment to marry other women, but his very life was threatened by a sword-bearing angel? Brigham Young doesn't even seem remorseful about his new "doctrine". No angel threatening his life if he didn't carry this out. Why did God change His mind on the blacks ability to receive the priesthood? Where's the revelation? In this speech, that Brigham Young gives to the joint session of the Legislature on February 5, 1852, he unfolds this doctrine. He basically says that he understands the "principle of slavery," and that the "Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the priesthood nor his seed...people that are more commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the priesthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them, until the residue of the posterity of Michael and his wife receive the blessings, the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed...Now then in the kingdom of God on the earth, a man who has had the African blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of priesthood.." He goes on to say, "It is a great blessing to the seed of Adam to have the seed of Cain for servants..."
Yeah, you get the picture, no mention of a revelation from God, just a lot of Brigham Young hubris. So there you go, that's the starting point for our doctrine banning blacks from the priesthood, proclaimed in a Joint Session of the Legislator of all places! All the time, being taught from the pulpit, in Sunday school classes, in Seminary, that it was a revelation from God. That blacks had the curse of Cain on them, that they were less valiant in the pre-existence and therefore were born into that linage, and we bought it hook, line, and sinker. And the thing that bothers me the most and where the Church looses it's credibility in my eyes is when the leaders decided that, "none of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church" they didn't shout it from the roof tops; they didn't announce it over the pulpit; they didn't write it into their manuals; they didn't apologize to an entire race of people. If they had, it would have been so much more bearable. Instead we had to find out ourselves by chance, if we happened to catch a PBS interview with Elder Holland where he says that he doesn't know where this "doctrine" came from and the reasons given for it are "folklore." Or we happen to run across a website like Mormonthink that spells it all out. But still, 36 years later, the vast majority of members have no idea that the Church has admitted to such things. And the truth is, most members don't even know about the essays. I was in that group until recently myself. My very good friend, who's husband is a stake president, hasn't even heard of the essays, I asked her a few days ago if she knew what they were and she didn't.
Advancing the theories.
"Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions." When the essay says Church leaders, it means all subsequent Prophets, who are supposed to be prophet's, seer's, and revelator's, continued on with this doctrine, and the reasons for it. The essay refers to these reasons as 'theories', but they were never presented that way in church, I know, I was there, and so was anyone else who grew up in this church. The reasons for the ban were not taught as theories, or folklore as Elder Holland likes to call them.
It's a small thing.
As shocking and unsettling as all of this is to discover 36 years after the "revelation" to remove the ban on blacks is, the emotional trauma to an entire race of people is immeasurable. At least to anyone who was affiliated with the Church and just happened to have the curse of Cain on them. Mormon's are so cautious to question the Church, and I understand that in a way, because we think that the Church is literally run by Jesus Christ, and to question it is to question God. So I get the hesitancy to do so, but there comes a time when thinking just has to take over, or you really run the risk of becoming a dupe. As I mentioned in another post, when I told our friend about this issue, he said it was a "small thing." I don't think our friend is racist, I just think the natural reflex is to protect the Church, so it has to automatically become a "small thing." But let's analyze it and see if it's a small thing.
I'm 56 years old and my husband is 59. We were married one year when the ban was lifted in 1978. We were both born in the Church, we married in the temple and my husband served a two year mission, and both our parents are sealed in the temple. Now, lets just say that the circumstance remain the same but our race is black; how would things be different? Well, we both would have been raised in the Church, but our families would not have been sealed in the temple, my husband would not have served a mission because he could not become an Elder and go to the temple to receive his endowments. When we got married in 1977, we would not have been sealed in the temple. We would have been taught our entire growing up years, that we were of the lineage of Cain and therefore had a curse on us because we were less valiant in the pre-existence. How would that play into your make up as a person I can only imagine. And just because the ban was lifted in 1978, and we could then attend the temple and have our marriage sealed and our children sealed to us, there was no change in the doctrine, that we were less valiant in the pre-existence. We would still have carried that burden with us and all the people at church would have learned the same thing, and you would wonder what they thought about you. And there never has been an official end to that teaching, just because that teaching fell by the wayside, doesn't mean it was ended. And I guess you just had to discover for yourself that the Church no longer advances those "theories." See how damaging that is? And really unchristian to NOT shout it from the roof tops that we were wrong, we meaning the leaders of the Church, were wrong!! Is that really so hard to say? What are they so afraid of? That the illusion that they speak for God and receive revelation from God and that they are literally Jesus's Prophet and Apostles may be broken or marred a bit? They are willing to let people suffer, just so their image isn't tarnished. I hate to keep repeating myself, but that's not Christ like.
In a nutshell.
So in a nutshell what do we learn from the Church's essay on Blacks and the Priesthood? First, that our doctrine contradicted our scriptures, but no one seemed to notice. Second, for 22 years blacks were allowed to receive the priesthood, then our second Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, Brigham Young announced a change in the Church's doctrine, at a Joint Session of the Legislature February 5th 1852. He mentions no revelation, just gives his reasons for the blacks unworthiness to receive the priesthood. There's no revelation canonized in our scripture, as had previously been done with revelations received for the Church, by the Prophet. Third, we learn the reasons for this ban, that we were taught as doctrine, from the pulpit and in Sunday school and in Seminary are now described as "theories" instead of doctrine, and that none of these explanations are accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church. Having said that, the Church has done nothing officially to make amends to an entire race of people for their slanderous doctrine that excluded an entire race of people from the priesthood blessings and temple sealing's that are central to our faith, and family blessings through eternity. How is this possibly from a Church that claims to speak for Christ? Do any of these actions sound like something Jesus Christ would endorse?