Thursday, June 18, 2009

Priesthood Ordination before 1978

I've been blogging for more than four years now.  A regular topic in the bloggernacle has been the Church's previous denial of priesthood to blacks and the various teachings that were suggested over the years as reasons for that denial.  A particularly sensitive aspect of this discussion was brought up last week, when Clean Cut published his belief that the priesthood denial was the "result of human weakness and prejudice" and was "not God's will."

Well, I believe it was God's will.  I believe that from the days of Adam, God has always said who could and could not receive the priesthood, and this includes both the latter-day restriction and the 1978 revelation that ended it.

The following three paragraphs represent the Church's own explanation of the former priesthood restriction.  Click anywhere on the image to read the article at LDS.org.  I endorse these paragraphs without reservation and hope they will have a positive influence on future bloggernacle discussions of the subject.




Blogger Steven Montgomery said...

Kudos Gary, I couldn't agree more.

6/18/2009 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Are you aware of Mark E. Peterson's remarks on segregation? Do you believe them to be the words of God?

6/19/2009 04:14:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Steven Montgomery:  Thanks.


Tim:  Borrowing a phrase from Elder Dallin H. Oaks on the issue, I'll just say that Petersen was "spectacularly wrong."  But you have to make a distinction between the priesthood restriction itself (from God) and all of the stuff that grew up around it (from man).  For example, President Gordon B. Hinckley was asked about the former priesthood restriction: "So in retrospect was the Church wrong?"  He answered, "No I don't think it was wrong."  I'm sticking with Elder Oaks and President Hinckley.

6/19/2009 06:23:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Nielson said...

Good idea Gary.

6/19/2009 06:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Justin said...

I endorse these paragraphs without reservation...

Do you endorse this sentence?

"Before that time only worthy male members who were not of black African descent were ordained to the priesthood."

I don't.

6/19/2009 07:24:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Justin:  In the Church, we take care of the rule first and deal with the exceptions later.  The sentence you've singled out is a description of the former rule.  Exceptions are not addressed in this short article.  Indeed, they need not be.  Yes, I endorse the paragraphs without reservation.

6/19/2009 07:52:00 AM  
Blogger Clean Cut said...

R. Gary, while it's no secret we disagree on whether or not the ban was "God's will", I'm of the conviction that we can still have a reasonable and respectful conversation here. My motivation is not to prove you wrong and me right, but to simply better understand where you're coming from.

First off, I don't think we actually disagree too much about the fact that Priesthood has indeed been withheld in the past, and that therefore people in our own dispensation without one racist drop of blood in them could have felt justified in withholding the Priesthood from Blacks--it had been withheld before, right? I understand that, and frankly, it's a lot better way of thinking than some of the teachings put forth by Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie that it had to do with their "first estate", or the pre-mortal existence. I also believe we can both conclude (with Elder Holland) that that teaching was indeed "wrong".

But about the scriptural precedent of denial, to me personally, while that's "better" than other justifications, it's still bordering on giving "reasons" for the ban that are not definitive.

I do greatly appreciate that you made the distinction here for your readers that there was much of "wrong" surrounding the history of the folklore of the ban and the way people went about teaching it as truth, even if you don't think the ban itself was "wrong".

Some follow-up questions I would like you to specify more in detail would be what exactly do you mean when you say that it was "God's will". In other words, what part or aspect of it was God's will in your perspective?

Second, as a follow-up to that, on what are you basing your belief that it was God's will? After all, it didn't begin with a revelation and there is no record that Joseph Smith ever taught anything about it. So I'm naturally curious why you feel that God intervened. This particular policy doesn’t seem to have come from Him, but rather from the Church.

Those are my questions. For those who don't know me, I have a deep and abiding love for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I defend it with all I've got. But I don't think anyone should pretend that the Church is perfect and can't make mistakes. The gospel is perfect, but the Church is not. Since we really have no evidence that the policy began with revelation, I'm left to conclude (based on evidence we do have) that Brigham Young started the policy believing it was the right thing to do (and God's will) but he simply messed this one up. And that's not a big deal to me. It's just how things work sometimes. It doesn't change my faith in the truth a bit.

6/19/2009 07:59:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Clean Cut:  Thank you for making two comments and please forgive me for not publishing the second one.

Yes, Elder Holland said some teachings were wrong.  But he did not specify, as you did, Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie.  On principle, I tend to agree with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland.  You don't enjoy the same advantage.

The particular aspect of the priesthood restriction that was God's will is explained in the Church's Gospel Topics article above.  My belief that it was God's will is based on the fact that all of the prophets who enforced it did so on the basis that it was God's will.  I follow the prophets.

I think you're usurping authority when you say Brigham Young "simply messed this one up."  I think you should leave Brigham Young's judgment to the regularly constituted councils of the Church or to God.

Stop by again.

6/19/2009 08:45:00 AM  
Blogger Clean Cut said...

Thanks Gary. The thing is, I don't feel that when Brigham Young, for example, responded in an interview (before the Civil War) that our position on slavery was that it was a "divine institution", that I need to "leave Brigham Young's judgment to the regularly constituted councils of the Church or to God."

He was just wrong. And that doesn't change the fact that he was a prophet and a great man. But he also wasn't raised in a cultural vacuum.

Can I ask why you decided not to publish my second comment?

6/19/2009 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Clean Cut:  Yes, you and I both are justified in disagreeing with anyone who says slavery was a "divine institution."  You are entitled also to disagree with President Gordon B. Hinckley as I've quoted him above saying the Church was not wrong about the former priesthood restriction.  On the other hand, what Brigham Young did while not acting as a prophet doesn't change the fact that he was a prophet.  And acting as prophet he enforced the priesthood restriction, as did ten Church Presidents who succeeded him.  In my view, the actions of these ten Prophets is a strong witness against your claim that Brigham Young "simply messed this one up."

6/19/2009 09:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Christopher said...

Gary, I understand your position on this issue is a result of your decision to support and stand by God's prophets. That seems simple enough.

I'm curious, though, if you've given any further thought to the priesthood ban than that. That is, how does this square with your own understanding of who God is, what his purposes are, and His love for His children, etc.?

6/19/2009 01:20:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...

Christopher:  My wife and I were married and had six of our nine children when the 1978 revelation came.  We were old enough to understand the significance of it.  Earlier, while I was in Europe during the civil rights era, I faced hard questions about the priesthood ban as a missionary.  And even as a child, there were questions because we had black neighbors.  So yes, over the years I've given it serious thought.  But that doesn't mean I have all the answers.  My understanding of God includes the fact that He knows much more than any of us knows.  And sometimes I just trust Him to know what He's doing.

6/19/2009 02:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly the official statement does not identify when the priesthood/temple ban started--it does not indicate whether it started with Brigham Young, with Joseph Smith, or whether there was a priesthood/temple ban based on race lineage at the time of Jesus, whether it traces back to Ham or to Cain. I think it leaves open all of those possible positions, and I believe it was intentionally written that way because the Brethren are not in agreement as to when the practice actually started. Just my opinion, affected by my legal training parsing language.


6/19/2009 10:42:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


DavidH:  I appreciated your comment last week on Clean Cut's blog.  And I appreciate your visit here tonight.

It is true that the Church's Gospel Topics explanation of the former priesthood restriction doesn't talk about when the latter-day restriction began.

Some have suggested it began under the Prophet Joseph Smith.  See, for example, Ronald K. Esplin's 1979 BYU Studies article, "Brigham Young and Priesthood Denial to the Blacks: An Alternate View" (it begins halfway down the page).  Esplin has been director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History at Brigham Young University and is currently executive director of the Church's Joseph Smith Papers project.

An official 1969 Church statement says: "From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that [Blacks] were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man" (as quoted in Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith, pp.295-296).

I'll point out further that there is yet another aspect of this issue not addressed in the Gospel Topics article:  It doesn't mention any reasons for the restriction.  And I believe it was intentionally written that way.  Why?  Because I think the Brethren all share the view of Elder Dallin H. Oaks, who said that, in the past, "some people put reasons to the [priesthood restriction] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong."

But I think there is one thing that is crystal clear in the Gospel Topics article about priesthood restriction:  It was God's will.

6/19/2009 11:50:00 PM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Steve EM has left a comment, given here in edited form:

-------------- quote --------------
I'm with Clean Cut [and his] explanation of the priesthood ban.

How is it uncanonized policy like the priesthood ban made it so far into the modern era, requiring a revelation to kill it?

It seems to me that orthodoxy always leads to apostasy because mistakes are inevitable and orthodoxy prevents needed reforms to get the church back on path.
-------------- end quote --------------

Steve EM, my occasional friend, that's a good one:  "orthodoxy always leads to apostasy."  Nice.

And I suppose that means the priesthood restriction "made it so far into the modern era" simply because it was sanctioned and carried forward by a long string of latter-day prophets who were apostate because they were orthodox.  Wow!

And you, being unorthodox, are sure about this.  Well, I'm not.  In fact, I'm not sure about any of it.  In spite of which, I'm glad you stopped by.

6/21/2009 05:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Steve EM said...


Love you too man! But do you edit my comments because I’m Evangelical?

To clarify the irony of orthodoxy always leading to apostasy, if a church President like BY commences a priesthood ban, or HJG makes the WofW a requirement or some other such change in direction, that is their prerogative under our LDS system of church governance. Yeah, the other GAs will sustain it, but that’s a rubber stamp function in practice, not a meaningful check and balance. Since we don’t teach prophet infallibility, it is remotely possible that at least occasionally such changes are mistakes. Under our orthodox traditions, later church Presidents continue such mistakes, and the mistakes then blossom into entrenched apostasy, with what was a policy change error growing doctrinal roots and man made justifications over time.

In short, orthodoxy allows no mechanism of reform away from inevitable policy mistakes. Thus orthodoxy dooms us to apostasy. That is not to say that things sometimes get so bad we reach a boiling point forcing change, but why should things have to get to that point? A prudent balance between orthodoxy and reform would serve us much better IMHO.

6/22/2009 06:41:00 PM  
Blogger Jetsam said...

To Quote you, Gary:

An official 1969 Church statement says: "From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that [Blacks] were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man" (as quoted in Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith, pp.295-296).

This is a nice quote, unfortunately it is flat wrong as we have solid evidence that black men were ordained to the priesthood and sent on missions during Joseph Smith's tenure as president of the church. Elijah Abel was acquainted with the prophet and known as an Elder.

6/26/2009 01:30:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Trevor:  I think it would be difficult for a person to follow the discussions at LDSBlogs.org for any length of time without being aware of the "solid evidence" you mention.  Here's how I see it.  First there is the rule, as stated at LDS.org:  "Before [1978] only worthy male members who were not of black African descent were ordained to the priesthood."  Then there are the exceptions, you mention this one:  "Elijah Abel was acquainted with the prophet and known as an Elder."  But the exceptions don't nullify the rule.  So if you think the quote from LDS.org is "flat wrong," I believe the Church welcomes your feedback.

6/26/2009 03:58:00 AM  
Blogger R. Gary said...


Joe, Trevor:  This post highlights the Church's current statement.  Even if the statement is wrong or damaging, I can't change it, so tell someone who can change it:  Follow this link and share your wisdom with the LDS Church.

6/26/2009 12:39:00 PM  

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