Sunday School Lesson #42

November 6, 2005 | 17 comments
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Here are my notes. I decided to focus on OD-2.

Write on the board: CAUSE(S) EFFECTS

Introduction
–Read OD-2.
–We are, unsurprisingly, not very good at talking about the history of blacks in the Church.
–Two reasons:

(1) We aren’t entirely sure why there was a ban. The official position of the Church (regardless of what you have heard from other sources) is that we do not know. Even President Kimball (in a private letter to his son, with some tentativeness) suggested that he didn’t know if the ban was a mistake, or not a mistake, or what the root cause of it was. Hence, when we ask why—an obvious question—we can end up with speculation and contention.

(2) We are vaguely embarrassed by the ban.

–Discuss difference between cause(s) and effects. We aren’t going to talk about the former. We are going to talk about some of the effects of the ban, not its causes. I am not conflating the two: I am not suggesting that these results are the reason for the ban, just that they happened, and we can learn from them.

Black Saints showed a faith that I can only aspire to.

Ask: Think about your ethnic background. If tomorrow President Hinckley announced that people of your background could not hold the priesthood or be endowed or married in the temple, would you stay active in the Church? What would it take for you to stay active in the Church? Think about this experience:

In 1974, Helvecio and Ruda Martins [Brazilians with black ancestry] and their son Marcus received extraordinary patriarchal blessings that promised things that seemed impossible. The patriarch . . . promised their son Marcus that he would preach the gospel, and the language the patriarch used suggested to them a full-time mission. Despite their uncertainty the Martinses opened a mission savings account for Marcus. . . .Helvecio Martins was called as public communications director for Northern Brazil. His responsibilities included publicity about the upcoming temple dedication. One day after a committee meeting, Helvecio and Ruda toured the construction site of the temple they expected never to enter, even though they both contributed financially to it (Sister Martins even sold her jewelry and donated the proceeds.). (This is quoted from the new bio of President Kimball.)

That’s amazing faith. This from Marcus H. Martins (from the talk on his website, “All Are (Really) Alike Unto God,” which I think is the single best article on the topic of the priesthood ban):

A few individuals have asked me: “Was it hard to not hold the priesthood?� or “How could you be a member of this Church without the priesthood?� I make mine the answer given by Peter, found in the New Testament, at the end of John chapter 6. After some of the disciples left the Savior because they were offended by the “Bread of Life� sermon, the Savior turned to the Twelve and asked: “… Will ye also go away?� And Peter answered: “… Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.� . . . I answer that in my heart and in my mind I had found the words of eternal life taught by true living prophets and apostles. My parents and I had nowhere else to go.

Note how he was focused on essentials. How you are treated at Church is not essential. The truth is essential.

The ban gave everyone a chance to show their true character.

This excerpt from the personal history of Jane Elizabeth Manning James, a black convert, tells of her arrival in Nauvoo. Her group arrived, after walking hundreds of miles, losing their possessions, wearing out their shoes, and being harassed by authorities who thought they were runaway slaves at the home of Joseph and Emma. How do you think they treated these bedraggled souls? Here is Sister James’ description:

When we found [the Smith home], Sister Emma was standing in the door, and she kindly said, “Come in, come in!”

Brother Joseph said to some white sisters that was present, “Sisters, I want you to occupy this room this evening with some brothers and sisters that have just arrived.” Brother Joseph placed the chairs around the room and then he went and brought Sister Emma and Dr. Bernhisel and introduced them to us. Brother Joseph took a chair and sat down by me and said, “You have been the head of this little band, haven’t you!” I answered, “Yes sir!” He then said, “God bless you! Now I would like you to relate your experience in your travels.”

I related to them all I have above stated–and a great deal more minutely, as many incidents has passed from my memory since then. Brother Joseph slapped Dr. Bernhisel on the knee and said, “What do you think of that, Dr.? Isn’t that faith?” The Dr. said, “Well I rather think it is. If it had have been me, I fear I should have backed out and returned to my home!” [Joseph Smith] then said, “God bless you. You are among friends now and you will be protected.”

They sat and talked to us awhile, gave us words of encouragement and good counsel. We all stayed there . . . one week. By that time, all but myself had secured homes. Brother Joseph came in every morning to say good morning and [see] how we were. During our trip I had lost all my clothes–they were all gone. . . . One large trunk full of clothes of all descriptions–mostly new!

On the morning that my folks all left to go to work, I looked at myself–clothed in the only two pieces I possessed– [and] I sat down and wept. Brother Joseph came into the room as usual, and said, “Good morning. Why–not crying, [are you]?” “Yes sir. The folks have all gone and got themselves homes and I have got none.” He said, “Yes you have. You have a home right here, if you want it. You mustn’t cry; we dry up all tears here.”

When you consider that this was the 1830s, you can see the character of the Prophet Joseph Smith from this incident. Note, also, how he set the tone for others to act by inviting the sisters to listen.

Also read Darius Gray’s experience from pg 372 ft 21 of the SWK bio draft.

Think: What situations are tests for you and how are you doing with them?

Our leaders, even the most dogmatic among them, are humble, teachable, and remarkably free of ego.

Elder McConkie was known for his explanations of the ban said, after the revelation was received (from “All Are Alike Unto God”):

I would like to say something about the new revelation relative to our taking the priesthood to those of all nations and races…. There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, ‘You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?’ 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. 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 get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. 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. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of [1978]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them.

I am impressed by his humility and his teachableness because I personally have a hard time with those things. Can they be developed? How? I know that I would have wanted to rationalize what I had said in the past instead of just swallowing it.

The prophet knows who the head of the Church is (and he isn’t it).

The priesthood ban received extensive consideration by the prophets going back at least to President McKay in the 1950s (the next two quotes are from the new bio of President McKay):

[President McKay’s daughter-in-law] Mildred Calderwood McKay, who served on the general board of the Primary . . . expressed her anguish that black male children, who commingled with white male children during their Primary years . . . were excluded from the Aaronic Priesthood when they turned twelve. “Can’t they be ordained also?� she asked. He sadly replied, “No.� “Then I think it is time for a new revelation.� He answered, “So do I.� [On another occasion Elder Marion D.] Hanks related an incident from a prior trip to Vietnam, in which he had comforted a wounded black LDS soldier. As he told the story, McKay began to weep. Referring to the priesthood ban, McKay said, “I have prayed and prayed and prayed, but there has been no answer.�

Church architect Richard Jackson recalled the following:

I remember one day that President McKay came into the office. We could see that he was very much distressed . . . . He said, ‘Well, I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. The last time I did it was late last night. I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that the time will come, but it will not be my time, and to leave the subject alone.’ . . . I can still see him coming in with a bit of a distraught appearance, which was unusual for President McKay.

Ask: What do you learn about prophets from President McKay’s experience?

“What’s their problem?� “Maybe I’m the problem.�

This is from the new bio of President Kimball:

During the time Harold B. Lee was President . . . he asked Marion D. Hanks what answer Elder Hanks gave when asked about the policy on race and priesthood. Elder Hanks responded that he believed change would come through inspiration when whites had sufficiently matured spiritually.

I’m not breaking my rule about ‘causes’ even though Elder Hanks was looking at causes. I want to make the point that while most people were trying to figure out what was wrong with black men that kept them from the priesthood, Elder Hanks looked at what was wrong with whites.

[Incidentally, it is reported that President Lee also prayed about lifting the ban and was told ‘not yet.’]

Asking ‘why’ is useless and probably dangerous

In 1988 Elder Dallin H. Oaks, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, gave an interview to the Associated Press. And this is what he said in the interview:

… It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that. … “The lesson I’ve drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it. … I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking. … Let’s [not] make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that’s where safety lies.

Note: I’m too lazy to write out the proper citations and links to the quotations, but if you really want them, I will.

Bonus: Go to www.soulsaints.com and you can listen to some of the most dirge-like LDS hymns done gospel style.

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17 Responses to Sunday School Lesson #42

  1. Taylor on November 6, 2005 at 10:22 pm

    Julie, I would really like the proper citations of these quotes, especially the one about the church architects recollection of a conversation he once had with Pres. McKay.

  2. Julie M. Smith on November 6, 2005 at 11:17 pm

    OK, OK, Taylor.

    I think the clearest way is for me to just put all the quotes below with citations below them so there is no confusion.

    n 1974, Helvecio and Ruda Martins [Brazilians with black ancestry] and their son Marcus received extraordinary patriarchal blessings that promised things that seemed impossible. The patriarch . . . promised their son Marcus that he would preach the gospel, and the language the patriarch used suggested to them a full-time mission. Despite their uncertainty the Martinses opened a mission savings account for Marcus. . . .Helvecio Martins was called as public communications director for Northern Brazil. His responsibilities included publicity about the upcoming temple dedication. One day after a committee meeting, Helvecio and Ruda toured the construction site of the temple they expected never to enter, even though they both contributed financially to it (Sister Martins even sold her jewelry and donated the proceeds.).

    from Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, page 206 (part is from the working draft only and not the final book)

    A few individuals have asked me: “Was it hard to not hold the priesthood?� or “How could you be a member of this Church without the priesthood?� I make mine the answer given by Peter, found in the New Testament, at the end of John chapter 6. After some of the disciples left the Savior because they were offended by the “Bread of Life� sermon, the Savior turned to the Twelve and asked: “… Will ye also go away?� And Peter answered: “… Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.� . . . I answer that in my heart and in my mind I had found the words of eternal life taught by true living prophets and apostles. My parents and I had nowhere else to go.

    from http://w2.byuh.edu/academics/religion/martinsm/Papers/AllAlike.htm
    under the heading “A few personal insights”

    When we found [the Smith home], Sister Emma was standing in the door, and she kindly said, “Come in, come in!� . . .You have a home right here, if you want it. You mustn’t cry; we dry up all tears here.�

    from http://www.blacklds.org/manning.html

    I would like to say something about the new revelation relative to our taking the priesthood to those of all nations and races…. There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, ‘You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?’ 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. 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 get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. 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. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of [1978]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them.

    from Elder McConkie, http://www.zionsbest.com/alike.html

    [President McKay’s daughter-in-law] Mildred Calderwood McKay, who served on the general board of the Primary . . . expressed her anguish that black male children, who commingled with white male children during their Primary years . . . were excluded from the Aaronic Priesthood when they turned twelve. “Can’t they be ordained also?� she asked. He sadly replied, “No.� “Then I think it is time for a new revelation.� He answered, “So do I.� [On another occasion Elder Marion D.] Hanks related an incident from a prior trip to Vietnam, in which he had comforted a wounded black LDS soldier. As he told the story, McKay began to weep. Referring to the priesthood ban, McKay said, “I have prayed and prayed and prayed, but there has been no answer.�

    Church architect Richard Jackson recalled the following:

    I remember one day that President McKay came into the office. We could see that he was very much distressed . . . . He said, ‘Well, I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. The last time I did it was late last night. I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that the time will come, but it will not be my time, and to leave the subject alone.’ . . . I can still see him coming in with a bit of a distraught appearance, which was unusual for President McKay.

    Both of the above quotations are from David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, pages 103-104.

    During the time Harold B. Lee was President . . . he asked Marion D. Hanks what answer Elder Hanks gave when asked about the policy on race and priesthood. Elder Hanks responded that he believed change would come through inspiration when whites had sufficiently matured spiritually.

    from Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, the working draft, I don’t think it is in the finished book; same source as this data point:

    [Incidentally, it is reported that President Lee also prayed about lifting the ban and was told ‘not yet.’]

    In 1988 Elder Dallin H. Oaks, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, gave an interview to the Associated Press. And this is what he said in the interview:

    … It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that. … “The lesson I’ve drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it. … I’m referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking. … Let’s [not] make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that’s where safety lies.

    This is quoted by Marcus Martins:
    from http://w2.byuh.edu/academics/religion/martinsm/Papers/AllAlike.htm

    You owe me ;)

  3. Ben S. on November 7, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    The citation of Elder Oaks also appears in Robert Millett’s talk/article What is our Doctrine?

    A nice collection of relevant citations, thanks.

  4. Adam Greenwood on November 8, 2005 at 2:10 am

    I’m curious about the context of Elder Oaks’ statement. I’m pretty doubtful that it would work as a general rule, and I’m even more doubtful that anyone actually applies it as a general rule. We’re all pretty free, for example, with coming up with reasons why p*rnography is wrong, or sex before marriage, or adultery, or stealing, or tricking people into interacting with your false identity on your fake blog. It seems that we usually deploy it when we’re uncomfortable with the reasons that are being offered.

  5. Marc D. on November 8, 2005 at 2:57 am

    I have never understood why they needed a revelation to stop the ban.
    We know that Joseph Smith gave the priesthood to blacks like Elijah Abel. I have never heard of a revelation that says blacks can’t have the priesthood, I’ve only heard of an interpretation of a scripture in the pearl of great price.

  6. Kurt on November 8, 2005 at 7:49 am

    Marc,

    It was generally assumed there was a revelation saying blacks cannot have the priesthood (see pages 6-7 of this for a reference), and there are some rather poor scriptural proof texts suggesting that is the case. All of that has been wiped away now, but its a matter of hindsight being 20/20.

  7. Ben S. on November 8, 2005 at 10:55 am

    “I have never understood why they needed a revelation to stop the ban.”

    Read the McKay biography. He understood the ban as a policy, not a doctrine, but believed that it was one only God could change, hence his prayers, which came back negative.

  8. Marc D. on November 8, 2005 at 3:29 pm

    Thanks for the link, Kurt.

    Ben, I’ve heard that statement of President McKay before but the strange thing is that he was a counselor in the First Presidency when they made this statement:

    In 1949 the First
    Presidency reaffirmed the Lord’s command:
    “The attitude of the Church with reference
    to the 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.�

    Also blacks were given the priesthood after the organization of the Church so this doesn’t make sense.
    I’m still confused.

  9. Kurt on November 8, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    Marc,

    Youre not going to be unconfused anytime soon. The history is messy and frought with socio-cultural, political, and religious pitfalls that are not easily dealt with and are not uniquely Mormon. There is a long, messy history between race and religion, and that impacted Mormonism. There are no neat, clean answers to these kinds of questions.

  10. Julie M. Smith on November 8, 2005 at 8:40 pm

    Adam–

    All I know of the Elder Oaks comment is that quote, but I agree with you that the context would be interesting. Can one access the AP files? I don’t know. However, I *can* think of other circumstances where the rule holds: I *hate* it when people try to jutsify the WoW, or why women can’t serve missions until 21, etc.

    I think the larger problem is this: God says don’t do X. We have to teach a lesson on X and so we present 10 reasons why X is a bad idea. But a student realizes that in her situation, not one of our reasons apply and so decides to do X anyway. That’s why, per Elder Oaks, we should focus on the commandment and not the reasoning.

  11. Aaron Brown on November 9, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    Julie, this is the WORST post title, ever! You’d probably have 100 more comments than you do if you’d actually used a more provocative title.

    Aaron B

  12. Julie M. Smith on November 9, 2005 at 8:50 pm

    Aaron B–

    We discussed this very thing on the email list! Let this be a lesson to you all:

    controversial topic + boring title + boring first line = no flame war

    I may be testing this theory in the next few days ;)

  13. Jonathan Green on November 9, 2005 at 10:07 pm

    Julie, your post was one of the nicest summations of GA statements, and most sensitive framing of a difficult issue, that I’ve ever seen. Thanks for putting it together. Thanks, too, for eschewing the provocative title just for the sake of controversy.

  14. Julie M. Smith on November 9, 2005 at 10:51 pm

    Thanks, Jonathan, I appreciate that.

  15. Mark IV on November 12, 2005 at 1:28 pm

    Well, that is the drawback of just looking at the title of a post. We are a couple of weeks behind you, I guess, so I put off reading about lesson 42 until today, and I am the poorer for it.

    Julie, I just wanted to second what Jonathan said. I really like everything about this post – the facts, the tone, the straightforward handling of a delicate topic, the spirit that I felt when I read what you have written. Many thanks.

    While I agree with you and Adam that it would be nice to have the entire interview with elder Oaks, I think we have enough of it to stand on. He is clearly speaking about the priesthood ban, and about the futility of trying to guess at God’s purposes when none have been given. Elder Oaks obvously wants to prevent us from being “spectacularly wrong” in the future. If I accept that:
    1) God’s ways are not my ways, and
    2) God has better perspective than I do, and
    3) God is smarter than I am, then
    it should not be a surprise to me that occasionally I don’t understand something, and therefore the best course of action is to persist in faith. As you point out, citing elder Hanks, the only speculation that is almost always appropriate is when we ask, as Jesus’ disciples did, “Lord, is it I?”

    Thanks Julie. In my opinion, this is the bloggernacle at its best.

  16. Julie M. Smith on November 12, 2005 at 4:33 pm

    Thanks, Mark IV. I life your thought process in the final paragraph; reminds me of Mosiah 4:9.

  17. Julie M. Smith on November 12, 2005 at 4:35 pm

    Oh, and one other thing: I guess I’m a little slow: I’d been over this material at least ten times and it wasn’t until last night that I realized that Marcus Martins (second quote) must be the son of Helvecio and Ruda (first quote).

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