Narrating the Priesthood Ban and Constructing Selves

December 19, 2007 | 68 comments
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The way we see and define who we are is usually closely related to how we understand the past. Most of us have overlapping identities that require us to negotiate compromises between them and these compromises shape our narratives of history. African American members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have two dominant identities, black and Mormon, and as such, they have the burden of negotiating a compromise between these identities in relation to their understandings of the priesthood ban. As sociologists O. Kendall White, Jr. and Daryl White argue, “The explanations LDS African Americans offer for the priesthood ban enable us to examine the relationship between racial and religious identity” (295). In their 1995 article, the Whites presented an analysis of over two hundred interviews with black Mormons conducted from 1984 to 1988 by black Mormon Alan Cherry for the Charles Redd Center for Western History at BYU.[1] The interviewees were selected from most demographic categories, although there was a bias toward active and middle class black Latter-day Saints. The Whites outlined five distinct narratives or categories presented by the interviewees, concluding that “[t]he five categories constitute a continuum ranging from the acceptance of traditional Mormon racial ideology at one end to a complete rejection and replacement with a different ideology, in ways that reverse culpability for the priesthood ban, at the other” (295). Here are the five categories or narratives, with the authors’ summaries.

1) Acceptance of the traditional (white) ideology.

Embracing the most extreme version of traditional Mormon racial ideology, this position generates the widest gap between religious and racial identity. Dissonance is reduced by minimizing the importance of priesthood or by discrediting blacks while exonerating white Mormons who are identified with both the priesthood and the ban. (300-301)

2) Belief that the ban was the result of revelation, without knowing the reason for it.

Since the specific cause of the ban is not identified, this position assumes a less explicit judgment on black culpability. Even so, blacks are denied opportunities and privileges enjoyed by others because of divine will, which implies some degree of inferiority. Thus defining oneself as Mormon, given this position on the ban, requires subordination of racial identity to religious identity. (301)

3) Relegation of the ban to the past while focusing on the present and the future.

While these explanations for the priesthood ban range from divine will to human action, the common thread of relegating it to history while concentrating on the present enables adherents of this position to balance their racial and religious identities. However, those who attribute the priesthood taboo to divine factors, though choosing to leave it behind, achieve balance with somewhat greater emphasis on their religious rather than racial identity. In contrast, those attributing the ban to human factors place somewhat greater emphasis on racial identity. Even so, both groups reduce the dissonance between their religious and social identities by ignoring troublesome features of Mormon history which enables them to achieve a relatively symmetrical balance between their Mormon and African American identities. (303)

4) Construction of historical and sociological accounts linking the prohibition to prejudice and discrimination.

By identifying the policy with historical forces and/or associating it with institutional failures, these African American Mormons celebrate their racial identity, demanding that their religious identity accommodate their racial identity. Neither Mormon racial history nor their own experience as African Americans can be separated from or subordinated to their identity as Mormons. Since the church, not God or black people, was responsible for Mormon racial policy, this perspective affirms racial identity and achieves an integrated self by demanding that religious identity acknowledge the integrity of African American experience. Not surprisingly, a challenge for the church to recover and celebrate African Americans from its own past often appears among individuals adopting this position. (305-306)

5) Construction of a new ideology by reversing the culpability of whites and blacks.

Like those who attribute the priesthood taboo to historical factors or institutional failure, these new theologians celebrate their racial identity and demand its affirmation in their religious identity. A benevolent God withheld the priesthood to protect both blacks and His church from white racism. Explanations attributing the priesthood ban to the moral failure of whites preserve the dignity of blacks. Thus, an integrated self, for the new theologians, demands a conception of being Mormon that embraces black dignity. Accordingly, those who find divine purpose in the priesthood ban by reversing the roles of whites and blacks necessarily reject any meaning of being Mormon that falls short of this affirmation. Whatever dissonance is created between conflicts in their religious and racial identities is reduced by modifying the former to meet demands of the latter. Consequently, the new theologians, like those offering naturalistic explanations, encourage the church to discover and celebrate the role played by African Americans in Mormon history. (308)

I find this analysis by White and White to be a fascinating window into the world of many black Mormons and the strategies used to negotiate compromises between their identities and their understandings of the priesthood ban. It would be intriguing to see a similar study of interviews conducted today to see if time and the availability of historical literature on the origins of the priesthood ban have shifted and shaped explanations. I don’t know many African American Mormons, but my guess is that the majority today would find options four and five the most appealing.

Where do most white Mormons fall in this continuum? Are there additional categories and narratives that whites use to explain the priesthood ban? An admittedly unscientific poll was conducted a few weeks ago at the Juvenile Instructor, and the majority of ‘nacle voters split White and White’s fourth option by 1) seeing the ban as the understandable results of Brigham Young’s racial environment and 2) an inexcusable and racist policy, even given the conditions of the time. Neither seems to acknowledge a direct role for God in the ban’s origins. My sense is that most ordinary Mormons (those that are not inclined to read books on the subject) fall between White and White’s first and third categories. If possible, I’d like to keep this discussion within the realm of examining these narratives not in terms of whether they are right or wrong, but rather within the bounds established by White and White, asking what these narratives can tell us about contemporary Mormon identities. Discussing other narratives that you’ve heard is acceptable. A fine analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the various narratives can be found here.

___________

[1] O. Kendall White, Jr. and Daryl White, “Integrating Religious and Racial Identities: An Analysis of LDS African American Explanations of the Priesthood Ban,” Review of Religious Research 36, no. 3 (March 1995): 295-311.

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68 Responses to Narrating the Priesthood Ban and Constructing Selves

  1. California Condor on December 19, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    I’m a little surprised that there are Black Mormons who believe in option #1.

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever read or heard of option #5. I think it’s a little bit of a stretch because I’m not sure if the LDS Church would have been attacked for giving blacks the priesthood prior to 1978, despite all of the racism in the United States.

    I think #4 has a lot of merit.

    By the way, it’s funny that the 1995 study you mention was written by not one, but two guys with the last name “White.” It made your final paragraph a bit confusing to read.

  2. David Grua on December 19, 2007 at 2:56 pm

    A simplified version of #5 would be to say: “The priesthood was witheld from blacks prior to 1978 because whites in the church were not ready to accept blacks as equals.” I’ve heard that narrative quite a bit, actually.

  3. Trever on December 19, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Eugene England gave his theory of the ban in a Dialogue article, “The Mormon Cross,” published in 1973. It was essentially a version of #5: “I believe that historical conditions in our country, essentially unique in the world, and the resultant attitudes of Church members, brought about a situation in which it was in the best interests of all involved for the Lord to institute a lower law for us to live (denying for a time the priesthood but only to those blacks of African descent-those who had been subjected to slavery and its aftermath in our country) until we are ready to live the higher law (accepting blacks fully into the priesthood with all of the natural consequences, including black leadership over whites in the Church and the extremely close relationships and trust that the lay leadership structure of the Church requires).”

  4. California Condor on December 19, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    David Grua (2),

    Are you sure that’s what the authors meant by #5? They say “protect… His church from white racism.”

  5. Christopher on December 19, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    David, thanks for the summary of White and White’s study. I imagine you’re right “that the majority [of black Mormons] today would find options four and five the most appealing.” It was somewhat surprising then, that an individual (identified as “a black Mormon official” from Los Angeles) who called the Hugh Hewitt Show the other day (when Lawrence O’Donnell was on discussing his previous remarks on Mormonism), seemed to explain the Priesthood Ban largely in terms of number two. His reasoning was that God has always withheld Priesthood privileges from one group or another, citing examples from the OT and NT. Lawrence O’Donnell’s response was that Ancient Israelites and New Testament Christians, like Mormons, were clearly racists.

  6. David Grua on December 19, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    CC (#4): Here’s a quote from that section in the article:

    Robert Stevenson, a former vice president of the Brigham Young University student body, never accepted traditional explanations of the priesthood taboo. Instead of identifying it with blacks, either through the curse of Canaan or the premortal existence, Stevenson (OH 1988:25) believed that “a wise, kind, loving Heavenly Father, looking forward a couple of thousand years …saw that we lived in a society that could not handle a mixed, integrated church.” Whites would not accept blacks in positions of authority. Since the gospel could not flourish in a segregated society and the church may be destroyed, God withheld the priesthood from blacks. (307)

    I think that’s how we should read “protect… His church from white racism.”

  7. manaen on December 19, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    A few thoughts from a different perspective (mine). I was one of the enthusiastic celebrants of the 1978 revelation.

    I personally fall closest to #2. One reason is that DOM stopped trying to drop the ban when he received inspiration to stop. I can see that it either was the result of something for which our black brethren were personally accountable or that it was some kind of difference in calling. My provenance lies mostly in northern Europe. That indicates that we’re predominantly *not* from the House of Israel — and so my people did not hold the priesthood for about the same periods of the earth’s history that our black brethren could not. Maybe we, like the non-Levite Israelites, didn’t hold the priesthood for some reason other than our own behavior/accountability. My people and blacks needed Paul’s revelation before we could even hear the gospel.

    If we accept that the ban was inspired and that it was the result of something for which my people and Blacks were accountable, IMHO that would be exactly why we would *not* be told the reason. For example, I was disfellowshipped nearly 15 years ago and one of the important contributors to my healing was that the cause was kept confidential. Although some people may be aware of my disfellowshipment, I’m grateful that the reason for it isn’t the first thing they know about me when we first meet — would make a heckuva first impression! Likewise, *if* these priesthood bans were for something my people and blacks did, we would be grateful that is not what people first know about us when they see my blue eyes and blacks’ darker skin.

    I fervently disagree with this sentence in #2, Even so, blacks are denied opportunities and privileges enjoyed by others because of divine will, which implies some degree of inferiority. Since my disfellowshipment, I NEVER have been treated as inferior by anyone working in an official Church capacity because I cannot now exercise the priesthood nor do I believe/feel that I am inferior nor do I (now) believe that other sinners are inferior. This is one of the key points of Christ’s message, that all come short of the glory of God — and he loves and saves us anyway. Please note that if this sentence were true, substituting “women” for “blacks” in it would leave us in a place we’d rather avoid!

  8. California Condor on December 19, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    David Grua (6),

    Fair enough. White & White could have written their summary better. I’ll cut them some slack since they’re sociologists.

  9. Ardis Parshall on December 19, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    I’m in category 3. I couldn’t vote in your JI poll, David, because all the options were too simplistic and because several of the choices were based on scholarly, not inspired, conclusions.

    I remember when, at 10 or 12, I heard something about the ban, I don’t recall how or what, and went to my mother in tears saying that it wasn’t fair to treat people differently in the church because of skin color. “They couldn’t help being born black,” or something like that. My mother thought a moment and said, “Do you think God chose which spirits would be born in which bodies?”

    People can easily jump all over that response, seeing it as perpetuating the “sin in the pre-existence” canard, or as an excuse not to better any shortcomings in mortality “because God willed it that way.” My mother did not mean it that way, though; I understood her as meaning that everything, fair or not, was in the hands of God, and that he was aware of what was happening. That’s really all I needed to know at that time — and since I don’t believe we do know why the ban was instituted (I’m not spiritually convinced by the scholarly arguments), that really is just about all she could have said.

    Still, I’ll never forget how I felt hearing the radio announcement in 1978, instantly believing it despite its coming from a radio announcer and not a church source, and also the thrill in the eyes of the LDS fire inspector who came into the office a few minutes later and, without saying a word, picked me up and swung me around in a dance, as the only way he could express his immediate joy.

    That’s what I want to remember, with the ban in the past and the emphasis on the future.

  10. David Grua on December 19, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Christopher (#5): I remember that now. Interesting. I remember using that that narrative to explain the priesthood ban in high school, so I suppose that that one is accepted contemporaneously as well.

    Ardis: I suspect that the majority of Latter-day Saints, including President Hinckley, adhere to #3.

  11. Mark B. on December 19, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    Give me a 2.5.

  12. Patrick on December 19, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    Way to contribute something meaningful to the discussion, Mark. B.

  13. Ardis Parshall on December 19, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    10: So I’m in good company. (But why do I have a nagging suspicion that you don’t plot yourself at 3?)

  14. David Grua on December 19, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    13: I suppose you could say that officially I’m at 3, although you can find me wandering around in 4 on occasion.

  15. DavidH on December 19, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    The problem with explanation 2 is that there is no recorded revelation stating that blacks of African descent should not be entitled to priesthood or temple blessings.

    The stories about Presidents McKay and Lee being told “not yet” when they prayed about it are second or third hand.

    On the other hand, the First Presidency did state in 1949 that the withholding of the priesthood and temples blessings was from “direct commandment” of the Lord. And Elder Oaks told PBS that “the Lord revealed through his prophets that people of [black] African ancestry would not have the right to the priesthood for a time.” http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week1034/cover.html

    So, perhaps, there was a revelation someplace on the subject.

  16. Jack on December 19, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    “I’m a little surprised that there are Black Mormons who believe in option #1.”

    I’m not so surprised. I’ve even heard Hispanics talk of how one day their skin might turn white–you know, like Lamanites of old. Crazy.

  17. Sarah on December 19, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    I’m somewhat, but not especially, partial to #5, with the “readiness to accept as equals within the same Church” definition of “white racism.” This essentially melds #1 and #4, though, in the sense that God provided this via revelation (#1) but because of the frailties of men (#4) rather than because of Divine Truth. It’s like they went so far along the spectrum of belief that they almost landed back where they started. As a practical matter, I’m usually in position #3 — but then, this is like, Churchy Issue number 5,432 in my life. I spend far more time, over all, wondering why we can’t bake cookies in the stake center kitchen.

    I’ve long thought it interesting that this seems to be one of the few revelations which ended a practice and generated so much rejoicing. Did people dance in the streets when Official Declaration #1 was released? If President Hinckley said tomorrow that no one had to pay tithing anymore or that drinking beer isn’t against the Word of Wisdom would we all be moved to tears? And perhaps more interestingly, at what point did the Church arrive at the point where ending this particular practice would result in that reaction generally? That is, if it had been announced in 1935, or 1901, or 1875, what would the response from the general membership have been? This is probably what prompts me to have a preference for viewpoint #5: maybe the divine standard isn’t “willingness to tolerate” but “burning desire to welcome as.”

  18. Kevin Barney on December 19, 2007 at 10:39 pm

    The authors seem to see 3 as flowing from 2; i.e., those who want to put it in the past and concentrate on the present and future accept a divine basis to the ban. But a 3 attitude can also flow from 4; i.e., of course Brigham Young was racist, like virtually every other white American of the time, the ban was culturally conditioned (God had nothing to do with it), but what’s past is past and let’s do better now and grow and progress into the future.

  19. Tammy on December 19, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    I do think that it was the result of revelation and yet I reject this statement:

    “Even so, blacks are denied opportunities and privileges enjoyed by others because of divine will, which implies some degree of inferiority”

    As a woman who obviously does not hold the priesthood, I do not believe that my lack of priesthood implies any unworthiness on my or any woman’s part. In the same way, I don’t think that the ban on priesthood necessarily implied a lack of worthiness on the part of african american members.

  20. Christopher on December 19, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    Tammy, but the justifications for and the traditions surrounding the why of the ban did, in fact, imply “a lack of worthiness on the part of African American members.” If Church leaders taught that women didn’t hold the priesthood because of unrighteousness in the premortal life or because of a “curse” resulting from a woman’s sin long ago, would you feel differently?

  21. Bob on December 19, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    #17: Sarah, I was not going to post on this, because I am one of the “I don’t know”s. But I was 33 when the Ban was lifted, and I don’t recall ‘rejoicing” in the Church. That’s not to say it did not happen. My memory is most Mormons I spoke with felt there would be little chance. That Blacks would not be joining the Mormon Church anyway.

  22. David Grua on December 19, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Kevin: You’re right; number 3 accomodates both positions. I should perhaps amend my number 10 to say that most members, including President Hinckley are at 2 and 3.

  23. Patrick on December 19, 2007 at 11:18 pm

    Bob, so you weren’t excited about black people getting the priesthood?

  24. Bob on December 19, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    #23: No, but that’s not a good test, I don’t get excited by much. But I am glad it ended. Again, I think at the time, most thought Blacks would not join the Church anyway, and at least Mormons didn’t have to deal with being called racist any longer. For me, a bigger issue then was school busing, much closer to my family’s life.

  25. Ardis Parshall on December 20, 2007 at 12:12 am

    There certainly was rejoicing. I don’t recall thinking about or discussing whether blacks would join the Church in large numbers or not — certainly we never dreamed of what has happened in Africa — nor did the idea of accusations of racism enter my apolitical mind. But the rejoicing I recall was very personal, both on behalf of the few black members we knew (there was a single family in our stake), and, in the case of people like me, for the sheer sense of revelation we experienced. I knew the radio bulletin was accurate, and knew the doctrine was right, and I don’t know how better to describe the feeling, or the reaction of my fire inspector friend, than “rejoicing.”

  26. Jonovitch on December 20, 2007 at 1:29 am

    Ardis (9), you hit the nail right on the head: “I’m not spiritually convinced by the scholarly arguments.” That statement represents exactly how I’ve felt about the matter, even though I’ve never been able to express it that way. In all the studying I’ve done on the subject, which isn’t terribly much, admittedly, I’ve never quite felt confident that we know enough to give it a definitive answer. I don’t think we will know much more, officially, for quite a while, either. “It was what it was, and now it’s over. Thank God.” is about the best we’ve come up with.

    Jon

  27. Ray on December 20, 2007 at 1:34 am

    Of my acquaintances at the time, those who “rejoiced” (to some degree or another) outnumbered those who were glad they “didn’t have to deal with being called racist any longer” at least 20 to 1. That was in rural Utah, so it was, by and large, a reaction largely devoid of real-life experience. I can believe the ratio might have been different in the Deep South where I spent a few years in the early 90′s – since a measurable percent (not very high, but definitely measurable) hadn’t reached a state of rejoicing even 15 years later.

  28. Patrick on December 20, 2007 at 1:44 am

    Ray, are you asserting that Southern Saints in 1993 were more racist than rural Utah Saints in 1978? Not to challenge your “at least 20 to 1″ statistic, but that’s a little hard for me to swallow.

  29. Ray on December 20, 2007 at 1:45 am

    Where is the option for me – someone who takes a tiny bit of #2 (applied to the length and not the origin), a slightly larger dose of #3 (in not spending much time thinking about it anymore), most of #4 (as to the actual reason for the ban) and a modified version of #5 (again, applied to the length and not the origin) and creates a 3.8 – 4.2?

  30. David Grua on December 20, 2007 at 1:47 am

    Ray, you’re free to create new categories, if that fits your identity better.

    Where do most white Mormons fall in this continuum? Are there additional categories and narratives that whites use to explain the priesthood ban?

  31. Ray on December 20, 2007 at 2:01 am

    Patrick, I can’t make that claim, but there is a difference between “intellectual racism” and “practical racism” – since it is much easier to let go of racist attitudes when you don’t have an actual history of racially influenced actions that become habitualized – and that require you change your actions toward real people in the face of others (from both races) who refuse to do so. I CAN say that I knew more Southern Saints in 1993 that still were racist than rural Utah Saints in 1996, when I lived there again for a year.

    I grew up in a town that fed into a high school that had students who lived in multiple communities within 15 miles from the school. In my entire school career in that school district, I attended school with ONE Black student – for ONE year – a student from Africa who lived with one of our Seminary teachers. In all those years, I never once heard someone addressed by a racial slur. It’s hard to develop deeply personal racism when you don’t know or interact with those of other races – and when many of those around you have served missions where they learned to love those of other races. Otoh, I taught in a school in the Deep South that was established originally as a “white-flight” school after desegregation – that had a handful of Black students out of hundreds. Yes, I saw an obvious difference – **among a “not very high” percent of members**.

    To illustrate: When I served back then in the Stake Mission Presidency, I had one of the strongest impressions I have ever experienced in a calling. It was, essentially, that the work among the African-American community in that area would explode IF the Saints *and* the Black community *both* could let go of the racism that still plagued them to varying degrees.

  32. Paul Reeve on December 20, 2007 at 2:19 am

    “Where do most white Mormons fall in this continuum? Are there additional categories and narratives that whites use to explain the priesthood ban?”

    I see it more as a blessing given and a blessing tragically taken away. I see it as a policy that jelled over time under Brigham Young and John Taylor and became so entrenched that we needed a revelation to restore the blessing that was lost. Why did we have to wait until 1978? I don’t have a clue.

    If Elijah Abel could hold the priesthood then why couldn’t every other black man between the 1870s and 1978? If it was permissible for one, why not for all? Why couldn’t Jane Manning James get her endowments out? She didn’t need the priesthood for that. I have a difficult time believing the ban was somehow the result of revelation when no one can produce that revelation as proof. What other “hidden” revelation have we adhered to. We canonize revelations, not tuck them away for safe keeping somewhere.

    I also have a hard time with the version articulated by David in comment #2, white Mormons were not ready to accept black Mormons into full fellowship until 1978. If so, then why were they ready in the 1840s when Elijah Abel was ordained? Something radical, progressive, and beautiful was going on with Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and All are Alike Unto God. Blessing given, blessing taken away.

  33. Blain on December 20, 2007 at 3:47 am

    I think I’d be option 6: Serenely accepting that I (along with everyone else) will probably not know in mortality the cause of it, trusting that God runs the Church, glad that it’s in the past, and not expecting to have it tied up in a tidy little bow.

    This mortality was not designed to work according to our tastes, nor for our convenience. The ground was cursed for our benefit, because it’s good for us to struggle. It’s important for us to struggle. It’s not important for us to find answers for every question we might have, and it’s far from important that the (true) answers we find be comfortable. We are in better shape accepting the true answers God gives us and trying to use them to better understand eternal Truth than in trying to shove those true answers into more palatable shapes for the benefit of our comfort zones..

    “Life is pain, Princess. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.” Eat your spinach and liver and get off my lawn, you darn kids.

  34. DymockDude on December 20, 2007 at 4:17 am

    Some random thoughts about the topic at large:

    Can anyone realistically imagine a black Mormon bishop or stake president presiding over a white–or even mixed congregation–in America (or Europe) in 1836, 1857, 1875, 1889, 1910, 1933, 1956 . . .? What would have happened if the Church had sent black missionaries to Georgia or Mississippi or Alabama or Tennessee or South Carolina in 1850, 1861, 1873, 1929 . . . ? Do you think any of the missionaries would have escaped being lynched–and all the converts as well? I have a hard time imagining even William Lloyd Garrison in the most enlightened state of the union (Massachusetts?) submitting himself to the pastoral care of a black Mormon bishop in 1865.

    Mormonism (specifically polygamy) was linked as a “twin relic of barbarism” (slavery) in the Republican political platform in 1854. Could the Church have survived at all had it openly embraced full ecclesiastical status for blacks at that point in history?

    I wonder (speculate) if the Lord decided not to intervene until the sanity and civility of American culture matured to the point that His foundling Church had grown a thicker trunk and was finally able to withstand tumultuous politcal tornadoes. Quite frankly, I don’t believe the Church could have taken on the black issue along with the polygamy issue (not to forget Mountain Meadows) in the 19th and early 20th century and lived to tell about it. Polygamy nearly laid us out flat on the pavement–Church disincorporated, including the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, Church leaders both on the local and general levels doggedly pursued, prosecuted, and imprisoned (not only disrupting continuity of leadership but seriously debilitating family relationships), and members denied the right to vote, sit on juries, hold public office, and teach school, etc. About the only thing left to heap on the Saints was physical assault.

    Another thought. Did the older generations of Church leaders who grew up with American cultural mores (including varying degrees of racism) need to pass away (sort of like the Children of Israel who wandered in the desert or early Church members who were addicted to infractions of the Word of Wisdom) before the Lord decided we were ready to accept higher laws? I admire and feel very sorry for those early black Saints who enjoyed only the basics of the gospel while they lived here on Earth. I also believe the Lord will somehow make up to them what they were denied while our nation’s and ancestors’ hearts and attitudes evolved and mellowed out.

    And finally, another random thought that might give insight into the issue of blacks being denied the Priesthood for 148 years. The Lord kept the blessings of even the basic gospel (e.g. baptism) away from millions of white and black people for about fifteen centuries until He could raise up someone in a place where His selected Prophet wouldn’t have been immediately beheaded, boiled in oil, disemboweled, or burned at the stake for the long and arduous process of reestablishing light and truth in a scoffing and profane world.

    Okay, one more comment and then I’ll go away.. As for Elijah Abel (God bless him), can anyone supply a reliable contemporary source that states that Joseph Smith knew for sure that Bro. Abel was black before he was ordained to the Priesthood? There is probably one or more out there, but I’m just not familiar with it/them. I recently saw a photograph of Bro. Abel published in Ed Kimball’s most recent biography of President Kimball, and he doesn’t look, at least to me, like he has many distinguishing black features. I think I read someplace he was considered to be an octoroon (1/8 black). Based on the photo in the book, he doesn’t look much at all like artists’ renderings of him as a full-blooded black African that we always see in publications. Interestingly, this photograph of him apparently just came to light in recent years. Not sure where it’s been hiding for so long, or why?

  35. Bob on December 20, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    I literally grew up in a “Ghetto”. In 1947, when my family moved from Utah to the San Fernando Valley, the Realtors ‘placed’ us, as Mormons, in Pacoima, along with Blacks and Jews. ( I learned this many years later studying the History of the Valley doing my Family History). There was already a large base of Mexicans. The Ward I grew up in had a large number of Polynesians. David O.McKay, had declared them “white”, therefore they were full members, and not under the Ban, but were very “black” in there appearance. ( We had no “real” black ward members). I can only say we had no “not ready” problems with them or their leadership callings.

  36. Vada on December 20, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    I have to say that I think the majority of white church members born after the ban was lifted adhere to number 3. If they get into a discussion of it with someone else they might use a bit of number 2, a little more of number 5, and quite a bit of number 4. But for themselves, it’s mostly number 3. I think it’s just harder to have as great a sense of the significance of the ban and its lifting when it all happened before you were born. I think this will only become more true as more people grow up without the ban having ever been part of their lives. The discussions are somewhat like those of polygamy — why it was instituted and why it stopped. It’s something to discuss sometimes; there are lots of theories and no real answers. We discuss it because it’s part of our history, but it really has no bearing on our selves or our everyday lives.

  37. Bob on December 20, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    #36: “..but it really has no bearing on our selves or our everyday lives.”
    Except we still have an Age Ban and a Gender Ban in place.

  38. Ray on December 20, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    Wow, Bob, I’ve never once heard an “Age Ban” discussed. If anything, I’ve heard criticism that the age is too low as it stands – although that’s almost totally from the outside looking in. That’s a complete non-starter for me.

  39. Bob on December 20, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    #38: Ban until 12 for AP, Ban until 18 for MP. I was only trying to respond to ” I think it’s just harder to have as great a sense of the significance of the ban and its lifting when it all happened before you were born.” Your right, Age Ban was kind of a trick.
    By the way, I know you are in Ohio, but do you know how I can fix my Snow Globe on my front lawn? It has a slow leak.

  40. Ray on December 20, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    Bob, thanks for the laugh. That one came out of left field and brought a smile to an old man’s face.

    Short answer: Not a clue.

  41. Y Stephenson on December 20, 2007 at 2:33 pm

    I like the word exemption so much better than ban. A great man in a Catholic country once said it take four generations to get all the Catholic out of them (speaking of people who accept the gospel). When he is correct, the membership of the church and its institutions still have a ways to go in letting go of longstanding biases and stereotypes that existed prior to 1978. I do believe that the Saints needed a time of preparation in order for a significant majority to be ready to accept the 1978 declaration. The 5 to 10 preceding 1978 and the controversy they generated help prepare people for the change, although that controversy was not the impetus.

  42. Dr. B. on December 20, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    White and White is an interesting construct. An interesting book of the subject is:

    Bringhurst, Newell G. and Darron T. Smith, editors. Black and Mormon. Champaign: Illinois: Univ. of Illinois Pr., 2004. 174 pp. ISBN 0-252-02947-X, $34.95.

    The authors compiled a series of eight essays on the progress Blacks made in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) during the past twenty-five years. In 1978 Spencer W. Kimball, President/Prophet of the LDS Church extended the priesthood to all worthy male members irregardless of race. Since that time the LDS general authorities have for the most part not commented on past practices of exclusion but encourage inclusion of Black members in an effort to be a worldwide church. The essays examine why White lay members today still grapple with problems of racism perpetuated through past, mostly folkloric writings by deceased Mormon writers that purported Blacks were descendants of Cain. The essays point out that Black members don’t always feel comfortable in the predominately Eurocentric congregations. Four essays explore the historical and scriptural rationale of the folklore and four essays focus on the present day situation looking at progress enjoyed, problems that continue, potential that has yet to be fulfilled. The first four essays were inconclusive in establishing any clear doctrinal or scriptural practice for exclusion. The final four essays were more helpful, raising our consciousness that LDS members need to be more culturally and racially sensitive. The book wouldn’t be of interest to the general reader but would appeal to someone with a focus on Black Mormon studies.

  43. Bob on December 20, 2007 at 4:48 pm

    #41: “I do believe that the Saints needed a time of preparation….”. I have never agreed with this. The ” Bias ” came from the top, not the bottom. When the Ban was started, most Saints had no history with which to grapple. . Most had come from England, or Scandinavia, or New England. If you look at all the ” Foreigners”, that were easily accepted into the Church, a few blacks would not have sunk the ship. Other churches seem to have deal with it. Even the military dealt with it 30 years earlier.

  44. East Coast on December 20, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    I know this is going back awhile in the discussion but I do find myself returning to DymockDude’s statement (#34) “About the only thing left to heap on the Saints was physical assault.” The church was operating in the American South after the Civil War and they were subjected to death threats, missionaries marched out into the woods and shot, meetings broken up, other meetings held only because the mission president wasn’t afraid to hold them with a stack of rifles in front of the speaker. Even a brief reading of the history of the Southern States mission during Reconstruction shows the discrimination and violence that the church was subjected to and the leaders in Salt Lake City were very aware of. How much of a part did this play in the continuing segregation within the church? How would the missionaries have been received in the South if they had been integrated? Who knows. It’s for sharper minds than mine to grapple with, but there are many members of the church today who trace their ancestry back to the missions of BH Roberts, John Morgan, etc.

  45. Patrick on December 20, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Conclusions we can draw based on recent comments:

    1) Some people, like Bob, don’t care whether black people hold the priesthood. As long as it doesn’t directly affect his personal life, all is well. He was, however, relieved that he “didn’t have to be called racist any longer.” In addition, Bob can’t imagine why black people would want to join the church.

    2) Everyone in the South is racist. Much moreso than anywhere else. Furthermore, God decided to withhold blessings from black people all over the world because those dirty, rotten racist Southern Saints would have protested anyone but the chosen white Mormons holding the priesthood. The evidence is irrefutable.

    3) Despite being omnipotent, God would not have been able to keep His church intact if He would have allowed Black people to enjoy the full blessings of that Church (again, those dirty Southern Saints).

    4) Lastly, as Vada so eloquently puts it, all of this “really has no bearing on our selves or our everyday lives.” Except for the fact that it does very much have bearing on our everyday lives, she is correct.

  46. Josh Smith on December 20, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    The Whites explain Blacks’ Mormon identities. That’s awsome.

    A while back I saw a documentary where three authors (Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow) wrote a physics paper on the formation of heavy elements in the early universe. Too bad my last name is Smith.

    Number 3 doesn’t do much for me. It seems our past is essential to our understanding of the present and the future. The issue of religious inclusion/exclusion is still a living issue: non-U.S. members, homosexuals, women, men with blue shirts (just kidding).

    I’ve openly advocated number 2 in church, but I don’t entirely accept it. Relegating the issue to the unknown diminishes what was done. It tries to bury it (maybe appropriate in SS), but, like I said above, the issue is alive in many ways.

    My mind says number 4. It looks to me like Mormonism isn’t immune from the prejudices of the day. I see the hand of the Lord in much of church history, but I do not see His hand in refusing Blacks the priesthood. This is a view of limited church fallibility; it puts more responsibility on members to discern truth; and it allows us to ask an important question: What prejudices do we now harbor that we need not hand down to future generations?

  47. Bob on December 20, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    #45: Note: It was not me who withheld the Priesthood, it was either God or Church leaders. The Church told me not to care and told me to tell everyone else not to care. The rest refers to how I felt on a day 1978, and why I did not rejoice. I admit I was wrong as how many Blacks would join the Church.
    I guess you are lucky you have never been called a racist because your Community withholds things from people because they are Black?

  48. Ray on December 20, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    #45 – Patrick, if #2 somehow was extrapolated from my comments, go back and read them again. I never said what you conclude in your comment – not even close. Sensitivity is one thing; this type of hyperbole is quite another.

  49. Jacob M on December 20, 2007 at 8:08 pm

    47 & 48 – you should just ignore the comment instead of attacking it. You’re giving it more credit than it deserves.

  50. Horebite on December 21, 2007 at 8:31 am

    #46. While I’m more in the “I don’t know” camp, I tend to lean towards #4 also. However, I do find an inconsistency in that position that I haven’t been able to fully answer for myself yet. If you’re going to say that the ban could only be the result of human racism (because God would never be so prejudice), then how to you reconcile that with the ban on women having the priesthood? It seems the logical next step in that position is to argue that denying women the priesthood is really just a man-made policy based on our prejudices against women (because God would never be so prejudice). The real question is this: Is worthiness the only factor that God can consider when deciding who to give the priesthood to, or can he consider other factors, such as gender and race? If he can’t consider race, then why should he be able to consider gender?

    I’ve asked this question on a number of threads now and been ignored, so apparently people don’t like the question, but in my mind it is very important. I’m perfectly willing to accept a well-reasoned answer, but I haven’t found one yet. Like I said, I lean towards #4 myself.

  51. Vada on December 21, 2007 at 11:08 am

    While none of you may agree, I think it’s valid to say that the priesthood ban has never had a direct effect on the everyday lives of many members. Just as polygamy has never had a direct effect on my life. I’m sure I was a teenager before I ever knew that the church had once banned blacks from holding the priesthood. It’s something that never came up, and something I never thought about. I knew there were a lot fewer black members than white members in my ward, but the same was true of our town, so it wasn’t that odd.

    The one way the ban does affect on my life is that if black men were once barred from the priesthood, but then given the opportunity to receive it, the same could someday be true for women. I hope it is. But even that is not something I think about every day.

  52. Bob on December 21, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    #50: I can’t answer your question directly, But Race and Gender are different. Race or Racism is man-made, there is only the Human Race.A person could be 13% black or white and not even know it. ( Obama is 50% black *?*). Gender is different, I am Male or Female. The different “roles” exist in Nature, and are not man-made. So you can challenge “White men can’t jump.”, but you can’t challenge “Men can’t have babies.”
    Again, this does not ‘Reconcile’ why women don’t hold the Priesthood, or that there may be differences between male and female that Nature/Science doesn’t show us. But it maybe answers part of your question.

  53. Ardis Parshall on December 21, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    Vada, I’m glad you defended your earlier comment against an unfair misrepresentation of what you said. It’s reasonable and understandable that you wouldn’t have the same emotional involvement in an issue that was resolved before you were born, and your analogy to polygamy was an apt one. We may still be facing the aftermath of both issues, and discussing the origins of both issues, and dealing with people who refuse to accept the changed order in each case, but anybody who expects either issue to be a daily factor in the life of someone without a direct connection to it is rather monomaniacal.

  54. Bob on December 21, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    #51: “… a direct effect on the everyday lives of many members”. In general, I agree.But, being picking: most members don’t have a Black Bishop, none has a Black GA.
    Also, “We don’t know”, seems to uncomfortably hang in the air like burnt toast for a lot of members who like having all the answers. (grin)

  55. Ardis Parshall on December 21, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    Bob, you seemed determined to repeat to a disturbing extent the mistaken notion that the priesthood ban and its aftermath affect only black members, of which there are so few it doesn’t really matter, and that only the rarest white member (one who has a black bishop) has any business thinking about the issue.

    You are wrong. You are offensive. This is a formal request that you cease such comments in this forum.

  56. Kevinf on December 21, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Horebite, # 50, I’ll echo what Bob said, with one additional comment. Church doctrine, including the Proclamation on the Family, seem to indicate that gender is an eternal characteristic, whereas race is not . Still, even as a faithful member, I do have questions, but that may be a more direct explanation.

    That being said, I think it is best to remember that any explanation of a race-based ban on priesthood that is divine in origin is essentially a house of cards, swept away by the 1978 revelation. There are absolutely no restrictions based on race or ethnicity now, including doing the temple work for those who were banned prior to 1978. So unless one can construct some sort of time-related doctrinal explanation, it would appear to me that the ban came out of misunderstandings and the cultural climate of the times. The timing of the ending of the ban is interesting on so many levels, as the pressure on the church had somewhat dissipated from the late sixties and early seventies. But I can find no doctrinal foundation for the ban, anywhere I look.

  57. Kevinf on December 21, 2007 at 1:24 pm

    In # 56, I was agreeing with Bob’s # 52, but he used nature in describing gender, and I just wanted to add the eternal/doctrinal aspect of gender, as the church currently teaches.

    But I agree with Ardis, this issue affects us all. In the early 70′s, Gene England described the ban as “The Mormon Cross”. Even though the ban has ended, it’s legacy is still with us, and as such is still a cross we have to bear as members of the church, regardless of race.

  58. Bob on December 21, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    #55:I am sorry I didn’t write my #54 better. If you read it again, you will see it is a challenge to those who DON”T see the Ban has having an effect on the lives of ALL the Church members. My example: those who do not a black bishop or that there are no black GAs. I shall now cease with this thread.

  59. Horebite on December 22, 2007 at 1:30 am

    #52 and #56: I’ve had thoughts along the same lines, that race is different than gender in that we believe men and women in general have different eternal roles, whereas race is only a superficial characteristic (I was going to say that race is only an earthly characteristic, but I’m not sure that’s exactly accurate for 2 reasons–(1) Then what color are we after we die? I’ve been taught we’ll look like we do now, and (2) mortal lineage does have some meaning after death).

    Still, I can’t help but wonder if in 50 years we will look back at that sort of talk about different roles for men and women the same way we look back on how church leaders spoke of blacks. Don’t get me wrong–I believe whole heartedly in the proclamation–but many members probably believed the justifications for the priesthood ban prior to 1978. On the other hand, no church leader is saying that women were less valiant in the pre-existence of anything like that, so perhaps the two issues really are different.

    In any case, I still lean toward #4 and will just have to accept, at least for now, the answer to my question in #50 is that race is different than gender, and so a male-only priesthood is still justified even if a while-only priesthood is not. Seems like thin ice to walk on though, especially viewing from the outside. Imagine this:

    Political Talk Show Host: “Was the priesthood ban on blacks wrong?”
    Generic Mormon Presidential Candidate: “Yes, or course! God would never condone such a prejudice policy of restricting his children from receiving a blessing because of their race.”
    PTSH: “Then is the priesthoon ban on women wrong?”
    GMPC: “No, of course not. Men and women have different roles. And really the priesthood is used to bless the lives of others, not as a blessing to the priesthood holder.”

    Viewing this from a non-Mormon perspective, this seems hard to defend, but maybe I shouldn’t be looking at things from a non-Mormon perspective.

  60. Carlton on December 22, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    Thank goodness, that even though blacks weren’t allowed the Priesthood, they could still be baptized and enjoy all the blessings of the temple including all exalting ordinances (i.e. sealing, initiatory, endowments, etc.) just like women today. It was just a ban from holding the Priesthood, right? God is great!

  61. David Grua on December 22, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    Carlton: Hmm. Um, you do know that without the priesthood males cannot receive temple ordinances, right? And black women, well, they weren’t allowed into the temple either prior to 1978.

  62. Carlton on December 22, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    What? So how the heck were they supposed to get to the the celestial kingdom? Could they have at least been a servant there?

  63. Ray on December 22, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    I love such insightful comments that bring unique and profound understanding. Thanks SO much for the enlightenment. My life is forever changed.

  64. Ardis Parshall on December 23, 2007 at 1:08 am

    Ray, you can sure spot ‘em. I sometimes need technology to tell me when someone who has never commented before is a Bible-belt troll, but you can spot ‘em just from the crudity of their unique understanding and imperfectly imitated Mormon-speak. Awesome!

  65. Ray on December 23, 2007 at 1:15 am

    Yeah, Ardis, a part of me doesn’t want to acknowledge them, and another part wants to scream that I’m sick of decades of hearing the same old same old from people who think they are being cute and unique. I guess I’m too old to ignore it, as hard as I try, so I end up settling for sarcasm and trying to repent afterward.

  66. Ray on December 23, 2007 at 1:16 am

    Sorry, everyone else. Back to our regularly scheduled program.

  67. Carlton on December 23, 2007 at 1:54 am

    So with a little research I found this (Jane Manning James) to answer my own question above,

    “When Wilford Woodruff became president of the church, he compromised and allowed Jane to be sealed to the family of Joseph Smith as a servant. This was unsatisfying to Jane as it did not include the saving ordinance of the endowment, and she repeated her petitions. She died in 1908, true to the faith, bearing testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel.”

    So obviously the church wasn’t completely racist before the lifting of the ban. I wish I was more clear on these sorts of details fifteen years ago. While on my mish in SLC, a black companion, Elder Cook from Maryland, had deep concerns about what the ban was. We both talked to the Mission President and his wife and learned that blacks were allowed access to the temple before 1978 but no Priesthood ordination. Sounds like they were only partially correct. I often wonder where Elder Cook ended up and if he’s still a member.

  68. Carlton on December 23, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    I didn’t get it quit right on my mission either – Utah, SLC 1991 – 1993. Your Zionist hubris is nostalgic, very reminiscent of my first area, Cottonwood Heights.

    Quick story about Elder Cook and his trainer Elder Tapasoa. They were tracting (rare thing to do in SLC) on the east side just south of the U. After knocking on a door, they could hear people inside and could tell they were being examined through the peep hole. Cook and Tapasoa heard one of the family members whisper, “Come check this out, a light n****r and a dark n****r!” The family let them in where the two elders learned the family was an active legacy-Mormon family. When relaying the story to us during district meeting Cook tried to laugh it off, but it was clear his world was turning upside down. I gave him my best seminary excuses, which now I realise, were inaccurate.