In December 2013, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints released an article on its website, on the Gospel Topics page, entitled “Race and the Priesthood.” (https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng). It deals with the Church`s history with regards to black men and women of African descent and the priesthood and temple ordinances. From 1852 until 1978, black men could not receive the priesthood, and black families could not participate in temple ordinances, other than baptism and confirmation for the dead.
The Church published the article with no fanfare, so it took some members, detractors, and the media a while to figure out it was there. Of course, as one would expect, along with the praise for a new attitude (which it most assuredly was not) came the criticism and distortions from the media. One story actually claims that the church published the article “surreptitiously” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/darron-t-smith-phd/the-mormon-church-disavow_b_4440244.html), which is really kind of silly. Why would the church secretly post an article on its website that would eventually be discovered by those combing the web looking for stones to throw, given our present climate of attacks against the church coming from both outside and inside?
There have been a few misrepresentations by the media and others about what the article actually says. I intend to address each of these. However, my first word of counsel to my readers is this: READ THE ARTICLE. Don´t depend on anyone else to tell you what the article says. Read it for yourself. You may be surprised at the difference between what it actually says, and what the media claims that it says.
One of the media claims is that the article states the policy regarding blacks was just something that Brigham Young invented, and was not revelation from God. In other words, the Church is implying that Brigham Young was not inspired, not acting as a prophet, and that the policy was never actually the will of God, just of a racist Brigham Young.
Nowhere does the article state that God did not inspire the policy regarding blacks and the priesthood. The article states, “In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood. . .” It does not say that President Young just decided to institute a policy that he dreamed up. The article states it in this way because there is no official record of a revelation. That does not mean that the Lord did not direct him to institute the policy. There is a false impression that a prophet must say the words “Thus saith the Lord” in order for his words to be accepted as the word of God. The fact is, if the prophet, or First Presidency make an official pronouncement, you can take that to the bank.
The Lord instructed the Church, through Joseph Smith, “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. (Doctrine & Covenants 1:38, boldface added)
The fact that succeeding prophets did not discontinue the policy, also gives credence to it being the will of God. The article states, “Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple.” Further, “. . . given the long history of withholding the priesthood from men of black African descent, Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter the policy, and they made ongoing efforts to understand what should be done. After praying for guidance, President McKay did not feel impressed to lift the ban.”
Given that succeeding prophets allowed the restriction to continue, and in at least one case, actively sought its reversal, one must conclude that it was the will of God that it remain in place. Otherwise why would God allow what many felt to be an unjust policy to remain in place, seriously restricting His blessings for people of black African descent. There are only two choices. Either the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is led by Prophets who speak the mind and will of God, or it is not. Most people believe that it is not, and so they are free to believe as they see fit regarding the pronouncements of its prophets. But for those who claim to believe that the Church`s prophets are the representatives of God on the earth, shame on you if you now state that this policy was anything other than God`s will. If you believe the Lord has placed His Church on this earth, that it is guided by Him through His Personal representatives, then by default you must accept and follow their official pronouncements. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the gospel that it purports to preach, is not a smorgasborg; we don´t decide to follow a prophetic pronouncement because it is nice and acceptable, and reject those that are hard, or are contrary to popular opinion and philosophy, even when those opinions and philosophies appear to be right. If the prophetic pronouncements come via the accepted line of priesthood authority, then we who are a covenant people are bound to accept and follow them.
The question on which we must now focus, is not whether the doctrine was of God, but why He chose to place this restriction on black African men and women, and why it was not based on racism. We´ll discuss that in my next post.