Imagine yourself living in the year 1964. The Civil Rights Act has just passed in the United States, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Despite national progress for the equal treatment of African Americans, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently does not allow blacks to hold the priesthood. Many people in and out of the Church see this as wrong, and call for it to be changed.
The First Presidency has addressed the issue, in public and in private, and have defended the priesthood ban as God’s will. At worst, it was taught that they were unfaithful as a race, and that the priesthood ban was a result of God’s just cursing (scriptures in the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price justified this bigotry taught from the pulpits). At best, they simply didn’t know why the ban was there, but trusted that God had a good reason for it.
A few brave people challenged the Church (like Stuart Udall and Lowry Nelson), calling for them to give the priesthood to every worthy male, regardless of skin color. Despite the fact that 2016 leadership and members of the Church now agree with those that were pushing for change and inclusion, pre-1978’s leadership did not feel the same way.
“Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species and put them on a national equalization.” – Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1:378-79
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” – Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Volume 10, page 110.
“I would not want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the Negro. “Darkies” are wonderful people, and they have their place in our church.” – Joseph Fielding Smith, Look magazine, October 22, 1963, page 79.
“From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.” – First Presidency to Lowry Nelson, (17 July 1947)
Members of the Church loyally defended Church leadership’s positions. Regardless of their personal feelings or inner moral compass, the Church gives greater weight to a sustaining vote of obedience over conscientious dissent. The following letters to Stuart Udall after he wrote an op-ed calling for blacks to receive the priesthood show how Church member’s only priority was to sustain the brethren and protect the Church:
“To your way of thinking, a true Latter-Day Saint may be a bigot and may not conform to “the great stream of modern and social thoughts” but at least true believers know that our Prophet’s wisdom is far greater than that of others existing on earth today and we dare not undo revelation that took the struggle of thousands of people, many of whom lost their lives, to defend!” (Negative Letter to Stuart Udall 40, archive.org)
“Although your statements may have caused untold damage or harm to our church I hope you can discuss this with your Bishop. Then you will understand this very important truth that our church doesn’t teach the doctrine of men but of our Father in Heaven. Since this is true the very character of Mormonism can’t be distorted or crippled by adherence to what our Heavenly Father has revealed.” (Negative Letter to Stuart Udall 35, archive.org)
I cannot understand your statements in light of the following scriptures: Moses 7:8 …Moses 7:12 …Moses 7:22 …Abraham 1:27 …Ezra 2:62 – I know, that no doctrinal changes will come through, secular pressure.” (Negative Letter to Stuart Udall 22, archive.org)
“I have just read an article in the Honolulu Advertiser which said that you urged the Church to change it’s attitude as far as the Negroes go. I firmly believe that the Church is divinely inspired as are ALL of it’s teachings. … If you really consider yourself to be a member of the Church, then you would realize that we practice not letting Negroes hold the Priesthood because we have been commanded to do so by our Heavenly Father. (Negative Letter to Stuart Udall 32, archive.org)
Now we see the whole situation play out from a 2016 point of view. In regards to its racist past, the Church shrugs its shoulders and says “today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse… or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” Through a clever balance of wordsmithing, moving the goalposts, and incredible mental gymnastics, the Church has created a narrative that says follow the brethren, they will never lead you astray despite the historical record clearly demonstrating that they did lead the Church astray. The Church of Jesus Christ should be leading unpopular change for social good, not be reluctantly pulled along. Remember, the 1978 priesthood “revelation” came a full 14 years after the 1964 Civil Rights Amendment. The Church’s gospel topics essay says that it’s Church leaders lived in a time where racism was just part of their generation’s worldview. I mean, how could we expect these prophets to rise above the popular culture of their time?
Why bring this all up? Blacks and priesthood is simply one of the many reasons to show that the Church is a poor standard of morality or humanity’s progress. Recently at a YSA Devotional, President Nelson redefined a true millennial as someone who knew the gospel of Jesus Christ™ before this life and shares it in this life. He then tried to make a case that a “True Millennial” must support the “revelation” in order to stand for morality. This makes me sick. The fact that many of the people I love will set aside their good hearts in order to follow what they believe to be God’s will makes me even sicker still. Church leaders make bad policy and members are expected to get on board or shut up.
Just take a look at FAIRMormon’s blog post “What Should I Do If I Think I’ve Received Revelation Different from Apostles and Prophets?”. They offer a 5 step guide to reconciling your differences:
The author then in his conclusion uses this quote from Elder Ballard:
Beware of those who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets and who actively proselyte others with reckless disregard for the eternal well–being of those whom they seduce. – Elder M. Russell Ballard, October 1999 General Conference
How about this: Beware those who speak and publish in opposition to the golden rule, who set themselves up as God’s very voice, who actively hurt others with reckless disregard for the well-being of those who they claim to be saving.
I don’t care what FAIR says: I will publicly disagree with the brethren on the definition of millennials. I will go to the secular, worldly source of Merriam-Webster, found through Google, who defines true millennials as “a person born in the 1980s or 1990s —usually plural.” But if millennials’ responsibility truly is to bring in the “millennial day”, it will be because we are committed to making Earth as heaven-like as possible – not because President Nelson the world is at the end of the 11th hour. We don’t need to wait for Jesus to try and make the world a better place. Being one of President Nelson’s “true millennials” is worth infinitely less than being someone who stands up for morality.
If I was born in the a generation earlier and opposed the priesthood ban, would I be lacking morality? Or is opposing racism more morally reprehensible than supporting it?
This idea that whatever the Church decides is right and that the problem is with you if you do not agree is toxic. The Church is not a good standard of morality. Despite President Nelson’s best attempts, he is not God. Despite Elder Bednar’s declaration that “I am scripture”, he doesn’t get to call his gut feeling the voice of the Lord. Whenever Church leaders have pulled that card, where has that gotten us? Polygamy, polyandry, false translations, Adam-God, blood atonement, sexism, racism, and homophobia. Noticeably, God hasn’t provided any revelation on expanding women’s rights, justice, loving gays, freeing slaves, opening financial records, caring for our environment, income inequality, combating terrorism, or anything else that affects more than 0.01% of His Children. The Church is not morality, and could do a better job of teaching it.
This policy calling homosexual married couples apostates and banning their straight children from baptism (now rebranded as revelation) is not from God. It is not consistent with Mormon doctrine (which incidentally isn’t consistent with itself). There is more scriptural basis for racism in Mormonism than scriptural basis for homophobia. If God can give a revelation for the inclusion of all races, He can certainly give a revelation for the inclusion of all sexual orientations.
I must acknowledge that the Church has lots of good in it. The issue isn’t all black and white. I grew up in it, and I like to think that the values it taught me are what makes me feel the need to stand up and something against it. The Church is capable of doing so much good in the world. A greater focus on serving outside of the Church, and welcoming everyone to serve in it, will not bring destruction. It would create a greater force for good. But if the Church does not wish to be that vehicle for human progress, I don’t need to ride along and give them gas money.
My goal isn’t to destroy the Church. It isn’t to “prove it wrong”. I no longer feel like I need to justify my decision to leave, but I feel the need to raise a voice for the people the Church is continually hurting through backwards theology.
To my fellow youth of the noble birthright: You have been born in a glorious time. You won the universal lottery. The power to make good, positive change is in your hands. You are responsible for your part in this. Study history – both church history and world history. Educate yourself. Talk with people who don’t think like you, who disagree with you. Let ideas compete. Let ideas stand on their own merit. Don’t reject something just because it doesn’t agree with you. Follow truth wherever it leads. And then, stand up for what your heart feels is right. That is what a true millennial would do.