Monday, March 05, 2012

Minding God's Business

Last week's Washington Post article about the Mormon priesthood ban quoted BYU professor Randy Bott. The LDS Newsroom responded with not one, but two statements (see here and here), both of which condemn "racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."

One of the two statements adds this warning from President Gordon B. Hinckley's talk in the April 2006 General Conference:

"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."

Not satisfied with the Church's response, Kevin Barney published a blog post at BCC titled "Thinking Strategically about a Ban Disavowal" wherein he said this:

"We can either defend the racist statements and practices of prior church leaders, or we can defend and protect the Church itself as an institution.... Our focus simply has to be on fostering the best interests of the Church NOW. And in my judgment, a disavowal would best serve those interests."

In an early comment, Matt W. suggested that Gordon B. Hinckley had already disavowed the ban:

"I’d have thought President Hinckley’s statements were such a disavowal, but they apparently were not detailed enough nor absolute enough." (Comment #14; emphasis added.)

Matt would have us believe that President Hinckley's target audience included his predecessors and the restriction they upheld for more than a century. But this conclusion requires Matt to disregard what President Hinckley said when asked whether the restriction was wrong. He answered:

"No I don't think it was wrong."

Not by any stretch of the imagination was President Hinckley's 2006 talk a repudiation of previous Prophets or the ban they enforced. That is not what President Hinckley was trying to say. But Matt takes a few of the President's words out of context and creates a meaning Hinckley never intended.

As with Hinckley, so also the current Newsroom statements. They are not directed at the priesthood restriction itself. They are directed at those individuals who would presume to explain what God has not revealed, that is, why the restriction existed. I believe this includes ALL explanations, including accusations of racism among pre-1978 Church Presidents.

In a later comment on Kevin's post, blogger Ray claims he "can read a repudiation into the Church’s latest statement quite easily." (Comment #46.) Again, Ray doesn't seem to care what the Newsroom press release is actually trying to say. He just sees a few words he can take from the press release and to which he can assign his own desired meaning. In doing this, Ray is forced to disregard the Church's article on "Priesthood Ordination before 1978," which has been posted at LDS.org for a number of years and which contains this paragraph:

"Ever since biblical times, the Lord has designated through His prophets who could receive the priesthood and other blessings of the gospel. Among the tribes of Israel, for example, only men of the tribe of Levi were given the priesthood and allowed to officiate in certain ordinances. Likewise, during the Savior’s earthly ministry, gospel blessings were restricted to the Jews. Only after a revelation to the Apostle Peter were the gospel and priesthood extended to others (see Acts 10:1–33; 14:23; 15:6–8)."

At this point in the discussion, we hear from Matt again:

"One thing we should definitely do is start by removing the following content from our website and institute manuals." (Comment #47.)

Matt then quotes the paragraph I cited above on "Priesthood Ordination before 1978," along with the first paragraph in the chapter on Official Declaration 2 from the Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (Religion 324 and 325) found at Institute.LDS.org.

The web article has NOT been removed and the manual has NOT been rewritten. And we will all just have to face the likelihood that God's authorized apostles and prophets are very much aware of the Church's web content and Institute manuals.

In 1974, Church President Spencer W. Kimball was asked by the press about the priesthood restriction. He said:

"We are under the dictates of our Heavenly Father, and this is not my policy or the Church’s policy. It is the policy of the Lord who has established it."

Five years later, looking back to the 1978 priesthood revelation, President Kimball said:

“Those of us today who are sustained by you as prophets, seers, and revelators came to feel in the spring of 1978 much as the early brethren did when the revelation came to the effect ‘that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs ... and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel’ (Eph. 3:6). This was a thing, Paul said, ‘which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto the holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit’ (Eph. 3:5). (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball.)

David O. Mckay has been quoted as saying it was a "practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed." Yet we find the same McKay saying the restriction was "not something which originated with man." And so it goes, back through the administration of Church Presidents for more than a hundred years.

Speculative theories about why the priesthood restriction existed have been condemned by the Church; the restriction itself has not. And I think those who are clamoring for an apology or a repudiation from the Church should stop minding God's business. He most likely doesn't need your help on this one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My concern is with the recent statement by the Church regarding "racism". Most of those commenting on the Deseret News article about the statement are glad to see the church officially "condemn" the past policy of withholding the priesthood from the Blacks (which the world defines as racism).

I am not glad to see the church officially condemning the past, because I always felt it was a policy instituted by God in his wisdom.

Even, if the church statement about "condemning past racism" didn't refer to the policy of the priesthood being withheld, but only to the speculative stories as to the reasons why, the statement was very poorly written.

The evidence that it was poorly written is because of the overwhelming response of the public that the church has finally admitted it was wrong!

3/05/2012 06:54:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Anonymous: I don't see the shallow-mindedness of a few Deseret News readers as evidence that the Church statement was poorly written.

3/05/2012 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger DavidH said...

The official statement does not state that the prior practice/policy/doctrine was instituted by God. It says the why, how, and when the priesthood ordinations stopped are unclear. It is also the first official statement I can recall that acknowledges that Joseph did ordain African Americans. If the official teaching of the Church is that God directed Joseph or Brigham to stop ordaining black men, why does the official statement not say so?

3/05/2012 07:38:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

DavidH: You are not seriously asking me why an official Church statement does or does not say something. There are fifteen men called of God to whom the LDS Newsroom answers. Those who prepared the two statements don't answer to me. Therefore, I can't answer your question.

However, I will repeat what I said in my post. The current Newsroom statements are not directed at the priesthood restriction itself. They are directed at those individuals who would presume to explain what God has not revealed. My post also quotes McKay, Kimball, and Hinckley, who state that the restriction did not originate with man, was established by the Lord, and was not wrong.

3/05/2012 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Casey said...

I think you can make a defensible reading of church comments as a repudiation of the ban, regardless of whether it was intentional. Forgiving my appeals to the authority of Wikipedia, the logic is:

-(via Wikipedia) Discrimination is "excluding or restricting members of one group from opportunities that are available to another group." The ban restricted priesthood and was therefore discriminatory.
-(via Wikipedia) Racism is "the belief that inherent different traits in human racial groups justify discrimination." The traits that justified priesthood discrimination were solely racial (we'll set aside the how problematic "race" itself is as a manmade and nonscientific classification).
-Therefore, the ban was racist.

Which leads us to:

-The ban was racist
-God instituted the ban
-Therefore, God instituted racism

I reject that. I take it as a given that racism is evil; some would (unfortunately, in my view) disagree, which at least frees them from logical conundrums. Since I believe that God does no evil, then the ban could not have been of divine origin and I am left to search for its beginnings elsewhere - and there is plenty of historical material to work with.

Clearly the church would like to hold to the "divine origins" argument, as you demonstrate. However, if it is serious about denouncing racism then such arguments can't hold. Racism and the ban are intertwined; there is no separating the two.

Thank goodness the church has moved away from "black people are the cursed seed of Cain/Canaan," but ultimately the "we don't know" argument just passes the responsibility to God without dealing with the necessary implication that He becomes the author of evil as a result. I believe (hope, perhaps) that the church is serious about rejecting racism, and therefore I hope it will eventually accept the reasonable conclusions of its modern position instead of a dissonance that forces it to call evil good. I suspect the BCC writers you quote are coming from a similar perspective.

3/05/2012 10:10:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Casey: When Kevin Barney says, as I've quoted him in the opening post,

        "Our focus simply has to be on fostering the best interests of the Church...,"

he is addressing the First Presidency and Twelve (FP/12), as if he were a stockholder performing the legitimate function of advising his board of directors.

The problem, Casey, is that the Church has no stockholders and no board of directors. So when people like you and Kevin set out to tell the world how a Church statement supports your cause "regardless of whether it was intentional," it still just boils down to minding God's business.

Your comment does make it clear to me how you feel, but ultimately the Church is run by the FP/12; not their critics. And announcements of Church policy and doctrine will always come from the FP/12 or those assigned by them, such as the LDS Newsroom, to speak for the Church.

3/05/2012 10:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Aaron said...

I have always refrained from criticizing church leaders who worked within the knowledge and light they had at the time, but I have no doubt that the church's policy encouraged racism among its members, especially at BYU and church-owned businesses. I was there. I witnessed it.

3/06/2012 04:41:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Aaron: Did you not read the first paragraph of my post? Last week the Church condemned "any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."

3/06/2012 07:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the ban wasn't wrong, and it was correct to prohibit black men from receiving the priesthood before 1978, why then did we immediately start giving those same men temple blessings posthumously after 1978?

You refer to the quote where it talks about God withholding the priesthood from certain people at certain times. But why was it wrong for a man who died in 1977 to receive his endowment in 1977 before he died, but it was right for someone to retroactively give that same man his endowment, posthumously, in 1978?

3/06/2012 09:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Matt W. said...

Thanks Gary: It's good to know someone cares enough to read what I'm writing.

3/06/2012 10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Jettboy said...

R Gary, can you find as many quotes and the actual places of reference where prophets state that the ban came from God? I also believe that it did and that the prophets have upheld by the command of the Lord this "policy" until the revelation of Pres. Kimball. I for one don't need "The Revelation" that says Thus Saith the Lord on this issue when there are so many "Thus Saith the Lord" comments from past Prophets. Knowing where the quotes came from will, I believe, bolster your argument.


By the way, I knew you would be the one setting the record straight when it comes to the actual words of past prophets and apostles. They might have been giving speculative reasons for the ban, but they were very clear on the divine nature of the ban.

3/06/2012 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Casey said...

I don't care for Kevin's approach and won't defend it, but the issue isn't church leadership structure and my (in)ability to influence things. The question is simply whether the church's position is logically and morally consistent. I maintain that it obviously isn't. Being a fan of the church, I simply wish it would correct that. You've sidestepped the issue by denying the validity of (faithful) critics saying anything rather than addressing the criticisms. Neat trick, but not very substantive.

3/06/2012 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Casey: You might want to watch for the next Coach's call-in show and tell President Monson all about how the Church's position isn't morally consistent. Let me know how that goes.

3/06/2012 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger Clean Cut said...

Gary, all those quotes about it being the Lord's policy, etc. were made with limited light, knowledge, and understanding. It's okay if (an infallible) someone believes it wasn't wrong. But they'd be wrong.

3/06/2012 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger ed said...

Can you tell me, to the best of your ability, exactly what the policy was before 1978? Exactly who could, or could not, be ordained to the priesthood? I'm not sure I understand exactly who was excluded by the policy.

3/06/2012 03:06:00 PM  
Blogger ed said...

Let me clarify my last comment. The article "Priesthood Ordination before 1978" that you link to says you could only be ordained if "not of black African descent."

Who is "of black African descent?" For example are you of black African descent? Am I? How could you tell?

3/06/2012 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Clean Cut: Gordon B. Hinckley was a personal witness of the events that occurred in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. On that day, thirteen members of the First Presidency and Twelve, including Gordon B. Hinckley, received a revelation about the holy priesthood.

Twenty seven years later, President Hinckley was asked whether the restriction was wrong. He answered: "No I don't think it was wrong." That statement of President Hinckley was NOT spoken with a limited understanding or without the added light and knowledge that came into the world in 1978. Gordon B. Hinckley was not wrong.


ed: In a 1996 interview with Mike Wallace, Gordon B. Hinckley was asked about the priesthood ban. He responded: "It's behind us. Look, that's behind us. Don't worry about those little flicks of history." That's how I feel. Ever since 1978, questions such as those you ask in your comment have been irrelevant to me.

3/06/2012 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger Clean Cut said...

Gary, are you saying that A) it's your opinion that President Hinckley wasn't wrong or B) that it is impossible that President Hinckley couldn't have been wrong?

(By the way, I clearly meant "fallible" rather than "infallible" in my previous comment--President Hinckley included)

3/07/2012 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Clean Cut: I get it that you disagree with Hinckley's assessment. I just hope you get it that a lot of us think Hinckley had sufficient light and knowledge to speak authoritatively.

3/07/2012 10:05:00 AM  
Blogger Clean Cut said...

Roger that. I get that. Likewise, I assume that even if we agree someone is speaking authoritatively (in this case apparently we do not), their statement doesn't automatically become correct or true by virtue of said authority.

3/08/2012 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Clean Cut: When someone is speaking authoritatively for God, making an unauthorized accusation that the statement is incorrect or not true is the very essence of minding God's business. Good luck with that.

3/08/2012 09:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymoose said...

"It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine."

The church stated that it does not why, how, or when the ban began. The church does not know if the early church leaders received instruction from God to institute the ban or if the reason for the ban came from God at all. The idea that God instituted the ban is simply speculation and opinion, not doctrine. Others, including church leaders, may have said differently in the past, but this is what the church is saying today. We should listen to what they are saying today.

3/08/2012 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Clean Cut said...

So the crux of our disagreement is that I don't accept that everything that comes from the mouth of an authority is the equivalent of God speaking.

Fair enough.

Having said that, in a very real sense you and I are both "God's business". God's work is us, and perhaps we're supposed to be about tending to God's business, each in our own way, because God works through us. We need not wait for "authorization" before we use the light and knowledge God gave us. Clearly I'm not speaking for the Church, but I appreciate the well wishes nonetheless.

3/08/2012 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Anonymoose and Clean Cut: This is for both of you. In my opinion, the scriptures answer your question: "For you shall live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God." (D&C 84:43.) This verse refers to the words of the prophets: "Hearken to the words of my servants the prophets." Jer. 26:5.) Latter-day scripture corroborates: "How oft have I called upon you by the mouth of my servants." (D&C 43:25.) Both of these verses refer to "my servants" And who are these "servants?" Again, scripture answers: "And the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people." (D&C 1:14.) Latter-day Saints sustain Thomas S. Monson as "prophet, seer, and revelator and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." We also sustain his counselors in the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles as "prophets, seers, and revelators." God speaks to us in our day by the mouth of his servants the prophets. Those servants are the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Of their words, God has said: "Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same." (D&C 1:38.) God's apostles and prophets represent Him on earth. They teach His word and help us understand the words of earlier prophets. When prophets speak for God, it is as if God himself were speaking. And in that sense, they become God's mouth to us. New revelation for the whole Church comes only through the Church President. He is "the prophet." However, he is not the only prophet on earth today. His two counselors are prophets and the Twelve Apostles also have the calling of prophet. I believe a Latter-day Saint who feels discouraged when apostles and prophets speak against that person's personal opinions should consider carefully the advice of a Pharisee named Gamaliel. He counseled moderation when criticizing the Apostles, "lest haply ye be found even to fight against God." (Acts 5:38-39.) When I talk about minding God's business, I'm talking about the fact that they report to Him, not us. We are allowed to disagree with them, of course, but not to trumpet our disagreements before the world. If they need correction, that's God's job. Not yours. Not mine.

3/08/2012 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymoose said...

Exactly, which is why we should accept what the church is saying now, that the origins of the priesthood ban are unknown. We should follow and accept what the apostles and prophets are saying today.

3/12/2012 06:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Ray said...

"Ray doesn't seem to care what the Newsroom press release is actually trying to say."

I'm not even going to try to respond to such an insulting, incorrect, simplistic character assassination other than to state once again what I said before:

The press release condemns ALL racism (explicitly, in those words). The Priesthood ban was, by every reasonable definition, racism. (There is no getting around that, using any reasonable definition of the word.) Therefore, it is easy to read the press release as condemning the ban.

Challenge that simple statement (that the ban was racism by any reasonable definition); don't resort to ridiculous accusations that are 100% incorrect.

3/17/2012 07:35:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Ray: Two and a half weeks ago, on Feb. 29th, the LDS Newsroom issued two statements about racism (see here and here).

The LDS Newsroom speaks for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both Feb. 29th statements condemn racism past or present "by individuals." Please note carefully, Ray, that the LDS Newsroom did NOT condemn "the Church" or anything the Church has done past or present.

In my post, I challenged you to respond to the Church's article on "Priesthood Ordination before 1978," which has been posted at LDS.org for a number of years. I hereby renew that challenge.

That "Study by Topic" article on LDS.org was approved by the Church at many levels, including the First Presidency. How in the world can anyone possibly read a repudiation of "the Church" into either of those two LDS Newsroom statements?

P.S. Your name calling is childish and contributes nothing to this discussion.

3/17/2012 08:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...

R. Gary, the exact quote in the press release is:

"We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."

This does NOT say that the Church condemns ONLY racism that is promoted by individuals, no matter how you spin it. It says it condemns racism - period - *including* all past racism by individuals. Thus, the past racism by individuals is a sub-set of racism writ large, and racism in its entirety is condemned by the Church.

That is a straight-forward, faithful reading of the actual text, no matter how you try to spin it. Therefore, if the ban was racist by very nature (and it's impossible to argue that it wasn't, according to every reasonable definition of the word), the Church's press release condemns it. There is no other way to read the actual words of the press release and stay consistent with what it actually says.

Are you arguing that the LDS Church doesn't not condemn the racism of Nazi Germany as an organization - that it only condemns the racism of individuals within the organization? Are you arguing the same thing with regard to the KKK? Understand, I'm NOT saying the ban was equal to those examples, but your exclusion of the actions of an organization and focus solely on the words and actions of individuals would lead to that conclusion.

Again, the word is "including" - NOT "only" or anything else like unto it.

3/18/2012 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Ray: If and when the LDS Church ever condemns its own "Priesthood Ordination before 1978" (both the LDS.org article and the restriction itself), the press release will be worded so plainly that you and I won't be discussing its meaning.

I appreciate your deep personal desire to see such a condemnation, but in my view you are jumping ahead of the Lord's authorized servants on this issue and you have no guarantee that they are going to follow you.

3/18/2012 09:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Then let's just end this by me reiterating that I care deeply about the wording and that I think the press release is extremely plainly worded, but that I respect your right to disagree with that assertion.

3/18/2012 09:42:00 PM  

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