“We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” George Orwell (1946)
Those who know me know I have issue with the LDS history regarding treatment of those of African descent yet some don’t see why it is such a stumbling block in my testimony. Before I begin I must give a cautionary warning. This will not be an apologetic approach to previous Mormon position to help reconcile the shady past. It is a full-fledged rant.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, in his autobiography The Living of These Days stated: “The fact that astronomies change while the stars abide is a true analogy of every realm of human life and thought, religion not least of all. No existent theology can be a final formulation of spiritual truth.”
On a positive and optimistic day, Fosdick outlines my feelings regarding the history of this issue. On less than favorable days, my feelings border on dissent and apostasy. The problem with reviewing the history of this particular topic is that one realizes that the Church and its leaders can be wrong. There are some in the faithful flock who will fall in line and shrug off years of institutional racism and false doctrine preached by general authorities and even by Prophets but I can't seem to do it. Not on this issue.
"It's behind us. Look, that's behind us. Don't worry about those little flecks of history." (CBS "60 Minutes." Mike Wallace interview with Gordon B. Hinckley, broadcast 7 April 1996)
I’ll give Hinckley the benefit of the doubt and assume he has never heard or read the hundreds of statements from previous general authorities because if he had, calling them “little flecks of history” is blatantly offensive to anyone capable of intellectual reasoning.
While I can share any number of statements (I do have a hundred plus years worth to choose from), I’ll just share a couple that have had the most lasting and damning effects upon the minds of generations of Mormons.
Our 2nd Prophet Brigham Young said: “Cain slew his brother....and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin...”_(Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, pages 290-291) This is the quote that invoked Hinckley’s comment.
What about the personal revelations of Apostle Bruce R. McConkie that he felt compelled to share with the general membership? “Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the Negroes" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 527, 1966 edition).
How about more from Brigham Young: “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot, this will always be so.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, page 110)
Well, forget what that past Prophet said, just follow McConkie’s advice “And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet.” Obviously he’s teaching us that while past Prophets clearly have the ability to be wrong, CURRENT Prophets are never wrong…
Or are they? Do you believe the statement from Wilford Woodruff that “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray… If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God…”
To me, if a doctrine has proven itself to be false, then I can no longer believe it. I cannot accept that “never lead us astray” means “never teach false doctrine.”
My point is backed up by Bruce R. McConkie in his All Are Alike Unto God BYU address, he said, “Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world… We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.”
Setting aside my disdain for his speech as a whole (maybe I’ll review his whiny, sniveling blasphemous speech another time), the problem with making the above statement without following it up with corrected doctrine (or counter-arguments) regarding the African race to oppose the lies and “limited understanding” is that it rings hollow and comes off insincere. It is like the kid who is more upset that he got caught rather than feeling sorrow for committing sin.
So where do we stand with this? Either the Church was right or the Church was wrong. Those are the options.
If the Church was right, well, McConkie told us to throw that out the window. We can’t rely on any statements from pre-1978 revelation. Or we can say that the Church was right but God changed His mind due to the negative effect that being known as a racist church would have upon the "stone cut out of the mountain." Yeah well, that leaves us one other option.
If the Church was wrong, then the doctrine was never inspired of God. The problem with that option is like opening Pandora’s box. If they were wrong about this, what else were they wrong about? Everything comes into question now.
The point I'm trying to make with this rant is that Hinckley and any other future Prophet shouldn't be able to get away with saying "that's all behind us" when it comes to the racist doctrine of Mormonism. We all understand we are a global church and everything is like a rainbow coalition now, that’s great, but the current head of the Church is not off the hook just yet. He still needs to give a full explanation as to why the doctrine was introduced in the first place. I want to hear more than racially friendly PR talking points. I want President Monson to address this from a logical standpoint. Heck, skip that and just apologize for crying out loud.
I realize that the LDS Church wasn't the only religion to have a racist history. However, they are the "only true and living church" that claims a Prophet as a mouthpiece who speaks for the Lord, "as if from (His) own mouth." The LDS Mormon church was also 13 years late making the 'social' correction. While other Christian churches made efforts to embrace folks of color after the Civil Rights Movement, the LDS church showed no signs of moving. Until Brazil. And the IRS.
President Hinckley gave the most honest answer I’ve heard when asked why it took so long for blacks to receive the priesthood. Unfortunately the answer, as honest as it is, it scares the hell out of me. He was the Prophet, the mouthpiece for the Lord and he doesn’t know why the Church didn’t allow any with African blood to hold the Priesthood until 1978?
He was an apostle, "One sent forth to serve as a special witness of Jesus Christ." He was the Prophet. "The only person on the earth who receives revelation to guide the entire Church." If he doesn't know, who would know then? And if he didn’t know, why wasn’t he asking God?
I did find this statement from Hinckley on the LDS.org website and had to chuckle, “no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church.” I wonder how Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph Fielding Smith, and many other former Prophets and Apostles would feel about that stinging criticism? Ahh, but they’re just dead Prophets, "They don't matter anymore", they are just “little flecks of history.”
Explain this to me, why is it that in a record-keeping church that has meticulous files of so many previous revelations and journal entries that we use today for doctrine (and/or quasi-doctrine, Journal of Discourses), why is there not one iota of historical proof of a revelation placing a ban on those of African descent? If the curse was lifted why are people still born black? I guess we can throw that one out the window...
Why were there blacks that held the priesthood in Joseph Smith’s day? Click HERE to read more about them at a fantastic blog posting by Mormon Heretic.
I do not share Elder Boyd K. Packer’s belief that “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not…Some things that are true are not very useful.” (“The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect", 1981, BYU Studies, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 259-27)
Who is he to decide what level of truth I receive? History (even Church History) is NOT required to be faith promoting before availability and dispersion to the general public.
I end, with sadness and new understanding, upon the words of Friedrich Nietzsche: “I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.”