Mormon priesthood, racism, and following the prophet

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racismI’m pleased that Bryndis Roberts’s guest post on Mormon racism has generated some important points of discussion. But I’m disturbed by several of the comments, especially the one that begins “I stand in defense of Brigham Young and the church leadership at the time” and then proceeds to outline why the racist priesthood ban was the will of God.

Early this morning, that same commenter offered “a few more indications the Priesthood restriction came from the Lord,” listing quotes from two prophets and the Encyclopedia of Mormonism to clarify the “fact” that the racist priesthood restriction had divine origins, was the correct thing to do at the time, and showed Mormon prophets’ faithfulness to the will of God, however unpopular their actions may seem now.

It’s not just that it is the very definition of circular logic to claim that LDS prophets were right about something . . . and then offer as the only evidence the statements of other LDS prophets.

It’s that such arguments constitute idolatry, pure and simple. They reveal the sad truth that some Mormons are more willing to throw the Lord God under the bus than they are to allow prophets to be human beings.

Their need for an idol runs so deep that they can recast the creator of the universe as a racist more readily than they can see Brigham Young as a man who was often inspired to do great and marvelous things but who was also, for better and for worse, a creature of inherent finitude. Like us.

An idol, remember, is any creature that we worship instead of God. Such a creature always promises us pleasure in some form, whether it is the pleasure of excitement (as when sex or money is the idol) or the more subdued prudence of promised security (as when Mormons cross the invisible line that separates loving and respecting our leaders from mistaking all their words for God’s).

Defending the priesthood ban as a righteous doctrine just so we can protect our need for to worship something predictable and in keeping with our own sinful expectations (in this case, our legacy of racism) is a violation of the first commandment.

It also, at its core, reflects a distinct lack of compassion for the suffering of others. And compassion, rather than blind obedience, lies at the core of following the Lord.

This month in Primary we have focused on prophets, and every week we have been learning verses to the song “Follow the Prophet.” You may remember the part about Enoch:

Enoch was a prophet; he taught what was good.

People in his city did just what they should.

When they were so righteous that there was no sin,

Heav’nly Father took them up to live with him.

The verse is faithful to the story. Like many Primary songs that are focused on imparting particular desired behaviors, the song draws a direct connection between the behavior of Enoch’s people and their immediate heavenly reward.

It wasn’t until I read Terryl Givens’s book Wrestling the Angel that I began to think about Enoch in a more expansive way. Givens calls attention to Enoch’s remarkable encounter with God, in which he speaks to God face-to-face about God’s remarkable capacity to empathize with human beings.

“How is it thou canst weep?” is Enoch’s refrain.

God replies along the lines of: “How could I not weep?” Indeed, how could God not weep seeing our misery, some of which is self-inflicted, and the terrible things we do to one another?

In the story God in some way grants to Enoch the privilege and terrible burden of seeing as God sees. The Scripture tells us that Enoch suddenly knew and looked upon the wickedness and misery of human beings, “and wept and stretch forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook” (v. 41).

And that is the moment that Enoch became like God. It had little to do with power or blind obedience – in fact, he continues throughout the chapter to question and plead with God — and everything to do with pain.

Here is what Givens has to say:

In this magnificent, if harrowing, imitatio dei — Enoch experiences his own moment of infinite, godly compassion and empathy. Enoch is drawn into the divine nature — his heart swells wide as eternity — through a shared act of vicarious pain for the spectacle of a suffering humanity. . . . Humans can become partakers of the divine nature through full integration into God’s heavenly family, but that implies a love that has its wrenching costs as well as supernal blisses. (305)

One lesson here for Mormons is that we have a mandate to test everything, even the words of the prophets, against God’s love and infinite compassion. If anyone teaches us to dehumanize our brothers and sisters, we will test that counsel against the Rule of Love. It’s important to note that Moses 7:22 itself would not pass the test: so we will also test the Scriptures against the Rule of Love.

And when we and our prophets make mistakes – as we inevitably will — we will repent with sincere compassion for the harm we have caused, rather than persisting in the willful pride of our idolatry.

  • Tammy

    The Rule of Love must also trump the tribal racist themes in the Book of Mormon, which might be a tall order. To study the Book of Mormon is to nourish the seed from which Mormon racism grows. A change of the words “white and delightsome” to “pure and delightsome” does not remove the underlying theme that skin color is a reflection of god’s favor or lack of it. I don’t see how the Mormon racism problem can be solved as long as the Book of Mormon is still revered as God’s word. The bible isn’t much better about it. Tribal, racist behavior is frequently encouraged by God. But the Book of Mormon really puts a cherry on it by directly referring to skin *color* rather than just tribe association as a visual indicator of who God likes and who God doesn’t like.

  • Grandpa in Idaho

    Jana, as a grandpa savoring my children`s efforts to teach their children the principles (right now, all of them!) they often chafed against while under my brief tutelage, I appreciate President Uchtdorf`s reminder of the truism that our Heavenly Father`s comprehension of eternal truths so profoundly exceeds ours. In the discussion of so many historical prophetic utterances and practices (especially biblical, and even more recent “racist restrictions”) there is MUCH room for humility (being “slow to judge”) in assuming that we are now, at last, in total command of the “eternal perspective.” Thinking otherwise is simply “modern” idolatry by new names such as liberalism, secular humanism, post-mormonism, etc. Such chest thumping reminds of that wonderful cartoon of twins in utero discussing the probability and meaning of “life after birth” and of body appendages/features rendered apparently meaningless by an umbilical cord.

  • Grandpa in Idaho: Yes to humility and the idea that there is so much we don’t know. We certainly don’t have an eternal perspective. We have glimpses of divinity and grace.

    On the other hand, that provisionality is exactly why our alarm bells should be ringing anytime we’re asked to consider another child of God as anything less than beloved.

    There is certainly a danger of modern or secular idolatry, as you say, but Mormon history has also shown us the dangers inherent in ascribing absolute perfection to human pronouncements.

  • Charles Randall Paul


    Thanks for this piece. The problem with a vulnerable God that identifies as Love for many it that such a God cannot force things that matter (like people loving each other) to happen; love requires radical freedom to be valuable. Therefore existence is still fraught with risk all the way forward. God always has problems, and those that want to become gods or if you prefer godlike, have to see heavenly joy as a strenuous life of sadness and happiness.

    For this reason, I would only push back on your choice of the term ‘rule’ of love. I do believe that love is what loving beings in collaboration decide to do next. The moment love become even close to a formula or repeated rule that can be measured and replicated, it turns toward certainty and away from the creative freedom that made it so valuable. The new and everlasting covenant captures this tension: ALWAYS NEW (unprecedented or radically original) and ALWAYS CONTINUOUS (the new emerges from the past without being determined by it). Whitehead in this regard would have enjoyed the LDS notion of a promise of loyalty between beings who are always changing. Love to you, Jana.

  • Grandpa in Idaho

    True. Alarm bells likewise go off when someone labels a statement or practice to be “hateful” or “unloving” while assuming full understanding of the originator`s intent or the “eternal context.” Reminds of the child`s insistence “but Daddy, if you loved me you would . . . ” That hopefully leads to important conversations, like we`re having, without labeling or casting aspersions, especially in matters where divine wisdom (James 1:5) reminds that we are all ultimately on the SAME team. His.

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  • SKJ

    I recently attended a RS activity regarding women’s place in the LDS Church, something I have struggled mightily with. As I left I was struck by the difference between the women in attendance and Bryndis. Bryndis was not willing to excuse racism or spend any time justifying its presence. The women I know, who experience a sexist culture and doctrine, are still doing both, excusing and justifying an oppressive situation. They seem to live in a space where gender differences are paramount and an acceptable rationalization, when to me these very differences are the most poignant reason for full inclusion and equality of opportunity. I love Bryndis’s perspective for what it teaches all minority groups within our culture–be one with God, stand for truth, work for change.

  • ron

    I for one will never point out perceived faults of the lords anointed because all that does is undermine faith. If the lord called them than he sustains them and if i dont agree im fighting against the lord. No good comes from it and it must be avoided like the plague. Alot of these racism, polygamy, and whatever other issues always becomes a “steady the ark” problem for the person that makes it an issue. I for one think that the atonement is so absolute and all encompasing that the atonement makes these nonissues if were willing to believe that the savior will make all things whole. Have faith in the savior and let it go.

  • maddy

    Question: “Do Latter-Day-Saints believe that prophets are infallible?”
    “Do Mormons consider their prophets to be infallible?”
    Answer: “Latter-day Saints do not believe that prophets and apostles are incapable of error, despite being called of God and receiving revelation.”

    At the bottom of the page it states:
    “Biblical prophets and modern prophets are divinely called, but clearly are not perfect.”
    And lists this example:

    “Brigham Young felt some personal prejudices against blacks, to the point of expecting the Lord to give them fewer blessings than caucasians”

    On the priesthood ban, FairMormon also states:
    “At some point during Brigham Young’s administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published,”

    Far from undermining faith, I can have greater faith and significantly less anxiety if I know my leaders from top-to-bottom can readily admit mistakes and demonstrate that they are humble and continuing to learn as they carry out their duties.

  • TomW

    Jana, you write: “It’s that such arguments constitute idolatry, pure and simple. They reveal the sad truth that some Mormons are more willing to throw the Lord God under the bus than they are to allow prophets to be human beings.”

    It is also a sad truth that some Mormons are more than willing to throw the anointed prophets and apostles of the Lord God under the bus than they are to allow for the possibility that the ultimate answers go beyond their own limited understanding as human beings as well.

    You continue, “Their need for an idol runs so deep that they can recast the creator of the universe as a racist more readily than they can see Brigham Young as a man who was often inspired to do great and marvelous things but who was also, for better and for worse, a creature of inherent finitude. Like us.”

    I would counter that the some people’s need to criticize the Lord’s anointed prophets and apostles runs so deep that they can recast the servants of the creator of the universe as racists more readily that they can permit at least a minimal shred of possibility that there is more to the story than the finite conclusions that they have drawn for themselves.

    Continuing: “Defending the priesthood ban as a righteous doctrine just so we can protect our need for to worship something predictable and in keeping with our own sinful expectations (in this case, our legacy of racism) is a violation of the first commandment.”

    I wouldn’t go so far as the person you are citing as to claim that the ban was particularly a righteous thing. What I am not willing to do is insist that it was implemented purely out of racist reasons on the part of Brigham Young, and continued for racist reasons by his successors. It is reasonable, whether or not it is pleasant, to maintain the possibility that there was a perfectly necessary reason for it, the reasons for which have not been revealed to us, and which require us to continue exercising faith that the Lord is at the helm and that He does not permit particularly sinister things to happen at the hands of His anointed leaders. They may be subject to human error, but not to the extent that a hurtful man-made policy is permitted to persist for a century, even after many a prophet has petitioned the Lord on the matter in the hope of having it reversed. At this point, if one TRULY believes that the church is indeed the restored kingdom of God on earth, one must take that leap of faith and give the benefit of the doubt to the Lord’s servants. If one doesn’t believe that the church is particularly of God, then none of this matters a whole bunch anyway.

    I reject the phraseology of “our legacy of racism,” because the term “racism” itself is loaded with imagery of hatred, and I do not see this as a legitimate manifestation of LDS teachings nor behavior toward blacks throughout the period of the ban. I think it is legitimate to refer to the policy as “discriminatory,” because it most certainly was, but it would be wise to withhold judgment as to the details of the ban’s origins and continuation, rendering mass judgment on people’s hearts.

    Jana writes, “It also, at its core, reflects a distinct lack of compassion for the suffering of others. And compassion, rather than blind obedience, lies at the core of following the Lord.”

    I absolutely believe that people need to do a better job of understanding and showing compassion toward others, regardless of whether one believes the ban was righteous, perhaps necessary with reasons unknown, or a man-made abomination. With regard to obedience, faithful obedience isn’t necessarily blind whatsoever. It is giving the benefit of the doubt to the Lord’s leaders even when we struggle to agree with them, because a lifetime of experience in heeding their counsel has demonstrated the wisdom in hearkening to their words.

    Continuing, “One lesson here for Mormons is that we have a mandate to test everything, even the words of the prophets, against God’s love and infinite compassion. If anyone teaches us to dehumanize our brothers and sisters, we will test that counsel against the Rule of Love.”

    It’s fine and appropriate to test things, but the question is where do we place our loyalty in the interim? Do we treat each and every teaching of the Lord’s servants with criticism and distrust as our default position? Or do we exercise faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and His servants as the default tentative position, and pursue deeper answers to our inner conflicts and concerns while faithfully following the direction we have been given? Sometimes our personal ideas of what constitutes compassion may not square with God’s eternal perspectives.

    Last item: “And when we and our prophets make mistakes – as we inevitably will — we will repent with sincere compassion for the harm we have caused, rather than persisting in the willful pride of our idolatry.”

    The scriptures teach of beams and motes. All of us might consider spending 99% of our efforts contemplating our respective individual motes rather than giving too much perspiration deliberating over the perceived errors of the Lord’s servants. He is at the helm and will take care of such things in His own way. We’ve got our own work to do.

  • Fred M

    TomW, I am all for trusting in the Lord and going on faith when there are things we don’t understand. I think there are many things in the church to which that philosophy can be applied. Why so few people in the history of the world have actually been exposed to the gospel during their lives. What families are going to be like in the next life. What anything is going to be like in the next life, for that matter.

    But I’m with Jana on this one. There’s no reason to apply that to the priesthood ban, unless you’re a lover of mental gymnastics. The evidence is pretty clear. For years leaders tried to credit it to Joseph Smith, but that has been proven false. It originated with Brigham Young. There is no documented revelation, and no general authority in the past fifty years has stated it came from God. The recent essay even went so far as to spend a lot of time detailing the racial climate at the time Brigham Young announced the policy–why do that if it came from God? The racial climate is only an issue if the policy was man-made–God isn’t influenced by the racial climate in the U.S. in the 1850’s! The fact that Pres. Kimball believed a revelation was needed to end the ban doesn’t demonstrate that he thought it came from God–just that enough members believed (and had been taught) it came from God that it would take an official revelation to put an end to the nonsense.

    We believe prophets are fallible. That they are human and make mistakes. So why cling to the idea that the policy banning black men from holding the priesthood came from God? I don’t see the point, and I think that members who continue to insist it came from God (something our current leaders emphatically do NOT do–if they have, I’ve missed it), are doing God and the church a huge disservice.

  • rah

    And thus you participate in the creation and support of idolatry. If we treat leaders as infallible then infallible they become in practice. You not only put the whole church in jeopardy but you do them no service either. Because they, like we, are human, treating them in such a way tempts them to act infallible, to feel infallible and to act in ways that the Lord warns us of in D&C 121. As humans we all need each other to help remind us, lovingly, of our limitations. We all need people to help us see and correct our faults. To deprive our leaders of this basic need is to hurt them as well as us. Your approach simply leads people to have faith in something that is simply not true – the infallible leader. I have seen far too many saints nurtured on the infallible leader myth struggle when they learn of their faults. They lose faith, not gain it. They have to reconstruct their faith from the ground up. Some of them never make it. Yours is a dangerous path, pure and simple.

  • Except leaders top to bottom rarely, if ever, admit to anything that resembles a mistake and one of them is on record very recently stating that the Church never apologises. That’s not quite the same as how it appears you see it.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    When the restriction on priesthood ordination for people of African ancestry was lifted in 1978, Bruce McConkie and others who had previously tried to rationalize the restriction did not try to defend what they had thought before. He said that anyone who came across those previous writings by him, or similar ones from anyone else, should disregard them, in the light of the new revelation which was explicit and endorsed by the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as a clear and unequivocal revelation from God. Anyone who is trying to rationalize or defend the restriction at this late date is disobeying the direct teaching of the modern apostles. One can look at the history of the issue, and review what people THOUGHT might be God’s rationale, but McConkie was clear that those were guesses that hold no weight against the simple fact that God had communicated that the priesthood must be offered to every worthy male Latter-day Saint.

    There is another point I would like to make. The claim that the priesthood restriction on people of black descent is proof that “Mormons were racist” is a gross oversimplification. During Brigham Young’s lifetime, serious efforts were made by the Church under his leadership to recruit Polynesians and American Indians into the Church, people who were regarded by many Americans as subhuman. In 1901, apostle and later Church president Heber J. Grant opened missionary work among the Japanese. Missionary efforts in Latin America grew during the first half of the 20th Century, in spite of the prejudice toward Hispanics among many in the US.

    Utah never had racially segregated schools. There were black Mormons in the Salt Lake City ward where I grew up, and they served as Sunday School and Primary teachers and in other callings. They were not segregated into separate buildings or congregations. Black slavery was not part of the economy of Utah territory, whose laws on the subject were made by Congress until 1896, when it finally attained statehood. The original Mormons were from New England and the states north of the Mason-Dixon Line. The bulk of Mormons in Territorial Utah were immigrants from Britain and western Europe, and did not participate in the slavery economy of the Southern US. Today in 2015, the majority of Mormons are not in the US, and speak languages in their homes other than English. Trying to levy charges of racism against Mormons in Tonga, Mongolia, Kenya, Dominican Republic, Brazil, and France demonstrates ignorance as well as religious prejudice.

    The LDS membership in 1978 was less than 5 million worldwide. it now stands at 15 million. Two thirds of Mormons have never lived in a church with the priesthood restriction, and I have never personally met anyone in my six decades as a member (including living in Maryland, Nebraska, California, Utah, Idaho, and Washington) who ever indicated they were anything but joyful when they heard the news, which relieved us all of a great burden. Many of us knew black brethren who could now be ordained, and we set out to do so.

  • David

    Jana, I am sure that you are aware that Joseph Smith taught that God is not the creator of the universe.

  • Old Guy

    Jana, I cannot say “Amen” enough to your article. In fact, it deserves at least a “Glory hallelujah”.

    With regard to human errors, I think sometimes we forget just how much God loves us. I had an insight about that over the weekend. We got a puppy recently (first for me) and I’ve noticed when I ignore him, he gets mad at me and makes a mess by tearing up a piece of paper.

    You know, I never get mad about it. I know why he does it. I pick up the mess and spend some time playing with him.
    Sometimes we get mad at God and make a mess by sinning. But God loves us so much, he never gets mad, but just gives us what we need to go on with our lives.

    I think that’s the way God deals with the prophets who make mistakes. He loves them. He understands. He isn’t angry. He gives us what we need to move forward.

  • Powerful post, Jana. You speak truth.

    I confess I stuggle to understand how anyone familiar with the actual history (not the false narratives so commonly believed) to conclude anything other that we were flat out wrong.

    I look to history, not to find fault, but to learn to be better in the present. When Dr. Lowry Nelson wrote to the First Presidency with his respectful questions and concerns about the racial priesthood and temple ban, I believe he acted in a Christlike manner. He wasn’t evil speaking against them falsely or diminishing them in the least. He was asking a faithful question and expressing a concern. They unitedly answered and even published a 1949 First Presidency statement that it was “doctrine” and even explained the “curse of cain” and also the idea that blacks were less faithful in the pre-existence. I suppose all 15 spoke unitedly about that at the time, but they turned out to be wrong about some things when they received further light and knowledge.

    The Church today has disavowed all of those racist theories and explanations that were once practically universally accepted even among the top leadership as doctrinal.

    So it’s fair for Latter-day Saints to try and make sense of what this means for today. (Not all conclusions are equally warranted but I think we have the responsibility to face up to the truth in a responsible way.) Is it fair to ask if they were acting as a prophets at the time? Is it fair to wonder how we would have responded if we lived back then and if our conscience didn’t fully align with the official statements back then? Is it fair to accept that even prophets can make serious mistakes and be wrong?

    This church doesn’t have a doctrine of prophetic infallibility. The Lord never said that men wouldn’t lead us astray. The Lord warned us to trust in Him and not put our trust in the arm of flesh. But because President Woodruff said that the Lord wouldn’t permit him to lead the Church astray (regardless of whether or not he was acting as a prophet when he said it) many Latter-day Saints believe that this means it’s a doctrine of the Church that we cannot be led astray. (As far as I know, the definition of astray has not been adequately defined. Does it mean that they’ll never be “wrong”? (i.e. infallible?) Or does it mean that they’ll never allow any huge soul destroying doctrine that will permanently ruin the Church? I tend to lean towards the latter. I clearly see in our LDS history where mistakes were made but I also take comfort that course corrections were made before things got out of control. Thus, for me, to “sustain” them means to love and support them and be respectful of their unique stewardship, charitable and humble even if wrong, but not that I should expect perfection from them. I trust them to sincerely do what they believe is right but I don’t trust them to be infallible. But often in the church I feel that members believe just that. Maybe we still have work to do to properly understand how to faithfully live even with fallible servant leaders.

    The priesthood/temple ban of course proved to grow into a big enough concern that apostle Spencer W. Kimball referred to it as early as 1963 as a “possible error” for which he asked forgiveness. Was Kimball being disloyal to his earlier Bretheren by questioning it? I don’t believe so. In fact, one of the reasons that the 1978 revelation didn’t come earlier is because President Kimball was SO loyal to his earlier brethren that it took him awhile to feel free to question it more rigorously and realize that perhaps the Lord’s will was different all along.

    Clearly these experiences from history inform my views today. My understanding of history does NOT mean I no longer think prophets are important. It just means that my expectations for them have been more realistically adjusted. They’re not the infallible standard many Mormons want them to be, but I now see that they were never intended to be in the first place.

    We as a church have successfully hammered home the message to “follow the prophet” but I’m not sure we’ve successfully hammered home how to discern when a prophet is even acting as a prophet. Many Saints largely believe the office of President of the Church is synonymous with “prophet” as though “prophet” was the office rather than the rare gift Joseph Smith taught about.

    Therefore I lean more on my conscience/moral compass/the Spirit because ultimately each of us must discern teachings for ourselves. Most of what the Bretheren say never raises much of a red flag and it resonates with my conscience. But I can’t pretend that ALL things they say pass the “fruits of the spirit” test. (Far more than me, I’m sure, so please don’t think that I think I’m any better than them, because I don’t.)

    I don’t expect them to be perfect in teaching truth so I’m not going to be upset if some of the things they teach today turn out to be wrong or it doctrine changes in the future, because history teaches me to expect doctrinal evolution and doctrinal development. That’s one constant I would bet on. But in the mean time I’m not going to set myself up against them fight against them because we’re all on the same team and I suppose we can all be wrong but we’re all trying to understand truth as best we can and we’re all trying to live as faithfully to what we believe as we can. I think I’m allowed and even obligated to seek individual discernment for myself and seek for a spiritual confirmation. Some people prefer not to think for themselves and just let the Bretheren do the thinking for them. But that wasn’t God’s plan.

    Terryl Givens put it this way: “We want a standard that is infallible because it relieves us of the burden of continually exerting ourselves to use discernment. The way that Dostoyevsky put it so beautifully is that ‘We want some person to be a keeper of our conscience’. The hard lesson is that there is never a moment when you can delegate your own volition to another individual.”

    I’m trying to faithfully carve out that middle ground between the two extremes of wholesale rejection of the prophets versus “blindly following”. I’m trying to articulate a faithful position that is true to what I know and believe and understand and hope for. If I’ve learned anything, this kind of faith is not easy.

  • Old Guy

    Interesting, that!

    “Many Saints largely believe the office of President of the Church is synonymous with “prophet” as though “prophet” was the office rather than the rare gift Joseph Smith taught about.”

  • Bonnie Flint

    Thank you, Jana. I always feel better after reading your words.

  • Fred M

    Beautifully put. I am right with you. Thanks.

  • GP

    Jana, I have no idea where you get the energy to try and change rigid thinking of some of the church membership… but more power to you. I really have to admit, I’m a bit stunned at some of the lingering justifications for the PH ban and how folks in this day and age can still harbor such thoughts. I thought that we were past this.

    I can only wonder if there is a moral compass on folks who claim they would do whatever another individual (“prophet”) told them to do. I see some religious zealotry in world news every day and I tell you, I worry that the line is very thin between those zealots in the news and some of the commenters who claim unwavering obedience to what 15 individuals say. I ask someone to explain the difference to me without using circular logic.

    Anyway… great follow-up post, and again, more power to you. I hope that your posts have influence to promote change for the better.

  • GP

    Sorry, but I cannot get an “eternal perspective” out of withholding the PH and temple ordinances from blacks. It [ironically] does not match my understanding of God/Christ as taught to me in my [post-1978] LDS church upbringing. To me, there is zero wiggle room for having this temporary ban which mimicked a racist culture that surrounded (and likewise influenced) LDS “prophets, seers, and revelators”.

  • DougH

    Jan, this is more of a side note, on your use of Enoch’s encounter with God to illustrate God’s compassion. Certainly what you say of God’s infinite compassion is all true, but it leaves out a large part of the story. A great deal of the pain and suffering that those God is mourning for is inflicted on them by His own hands, and it isn’t even entirely their fault:

    36 Wherefore, I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also, and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren.

    37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

    38 But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods; and behold, I will shut them up; a prison have I prepared for them.

    39 And That which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment;

    40 Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of mine hands.

    So yes, God is compassionate, and the pain we inflict on Him because of our own poor choices and outright rebellion is unimaginable, but it doesn’t stop Him from doing what needs to be done.

  • GP

    TomW: “It is reasonable, whether or not it is pleasant, to maintain the possibility that there was a perfectly necessary reason for it, the reasons for which have not been revealed to us…”

    I think that this is a cop-out. Pre-1978 LDS “prophets, seers, and revelators” taught a doctrinal basis for the ban. Post-1978 they disavow such theories. Believing that God would allow racist doctrinal statements from church leadership only to later label those as “theories” and leave no further explanation to His children makes no sense at all – especially when He supposedly has living prophets to clear up confusion like this. Perhaps you have wide breadth to what you allow, but this behavior simply is not the gospel of Jesus Christ as I was taught.

    TomW: “… [The Lord] does not permit particularly sinister things to happen at the hands of His anointed leaders”

    Have you ever heard of blood atonement?

  • HarryStamper

    I for one would like to defend the commentator whom you speak. His comments were insightful; he outlined several thoughtful responses to many statements and questions posed in the Bryndis Roberts post.

    Jana ….be careful, by noting his comments directly, it may go to his head…..or even more, I perceive you liked his comments, couldn’t get them out of your mind and are struggling with your thoughts. 🙂

  • HarryStamper

    Regarding this commentator……. You said, “But I’m disturbed by several of the comments, especially the one that begins “I stand in defense of Brigham Young and the church leadership at the time” ….Really…your disturbed by a faithful member of the church defending one of the church’s great leaders???

    Yes, we should all be so proud to have Brigham Young as a legacy. The church is proud, they use the Teachings of Brigham Young on a regular basis for priesthood and Relief Society instruction. The Church named a great University after him to which I’m proud to be a graduate. He served longer than any other as President of The Church, serving 24 more years after he announced the restriction on priesthood in 1853. He was the founder of a great city in Salt Lake and served as Utah’s first territorial governor. His leadership was instrumental in settling the Western United States. In spite of persecution from fellow citizens he was a faithful patriot.

    The Lord loved him, his fellow brethren loved him and there was no bigger defender of Joseph Smith than Brigham Young. Yeah…he was an all right guy.

  • HarryStamper

    In all seriousness, in the past, you’ve asked for good rational arguments without any emotion or personal sarcasm. My post was exactly that. Several commentators including Ms. Roberts indicate that the priesthood restriction could not come from God. My post provided 4 or 5 things to consider that indicate otherwise. I even prefaced my comments with…..” as to whether this restriction came from the Lord or not…..please consider…. “Encouraging a thoughtful debate. Other commentators said there was nothing in scripture to support the restriction…..I offered 3 Old Testament references indicating a priesthood restriction existed long ago….even thousands of years to ancient days. My post from last night began with (and you quoted it)…”A few more indications….” I used the polite phrases…”please consider”…and…”a few more indications”…..Please accept my apology if I offended, it was not my intent, I do realize I’m a guest on your well read Religion News Service.

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  • HarryStamper,

    My ultimate loyalty is to God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to men or the institutional church. WAY too many people conflate the church and the gospel. And WAY too many people conflate God and his prophets.

    You seem seem to conflate the prophetic mantle with the myth of infallibility:

  • Kelly

    While we can easily discard “negative” racism, such as the Priesthood ban on blacks, we don’t seem concerned about “positive” racism in the sense of the Jews being “God’s chosen people” or even the notion that our youth comprise “a royal generation”. I am surprised there is so little discussion of this. Doesn’t the abandonment of negative racism lead to the abandonment of positive racism?

  • Trenn

    If God favored the Nephites because of their skin color why were they destroyed by the Lamanites in the end? Why did the sons of Mosiah preach to the Lamanites if God has already decided he did not favor them? You clearly have a gross misunderstanding of the Book of Mormon.

  • Becca

    You words really resonate for me. I felt the Spirit as I read them, and they fed my soul. I especially liked this part: “And that is the moment that Enoch became like God. It had little to do with power or blind obedience – in fact, he continues throughout the chapter to question and plead with God — and everything to do with pain.” The idea that we become more like God as we develop God-like compassion and empathy seems very true and right to me. Thank you for writing this post.

  • Allen Warner

    In the context of pre-Columbian America, where no one had fair skin, white skin had a symbolic meaning. There is no reason the Book of Mormon could not also use skin color in a symbolic sense. If the Book of Mormon is what it says it is, then talking about righteous people as having white skin is not at all surprising and doesn’t need to be taken literally.

  • Allen Warner

    When I went to BYU in 1986 (a scant 8 years after the priesthood ban was lifted), I learned from an African-American Mormon friend that the ban was not initiated by Joseph Smith, but that he had ordained at least one black man to the priesthood. I later learned about Bruce R. McConkie’s famous words when he said to forget everything that had been said about it, because “we spoke with limited understanding.” Then I learned that no one knew how it had started or why, or even the exact date it was put into place. With all this information, it was not hard to decide that the policy of keeping people from the priesthood because they had African ancestors with dark skin was not inspired by God.

    Personally, I believe the scriptures that say God gives all nations the truth he wants them to have apply to the modern church and even to individuals. I think that he doesn’t give us truth we are not ready for. I think that explains the ban on blacks in the priesthood. Equality was not a truth that members of the church were ready for.

    Additionally, people say that lifting the ban came very late and that shows how racist Mormons are. I think that whether the church as a whole was ready to end the ban in 1960 or 1980 is a very small thing in the long run. Does it matter today that the United States ended slavery about 20 years before Brazil? No. What matters is how each nation treats people today.

  • HarryStamper

    Many comments about not following the prophet but it’s better to follow Christ. This is a backwards statement. The Father speaks to us through Christ, Christ speaks to us through His prophets and apostles. To receive them is to receive Christ. To emphasize the importance of this fact, members of the church have 5 opportunities each year to raise their right hand and publicly sustain them…..twice at general conference and twice at stake conference and once at your ward conference.

    Many of the comments refer to prophets as fallible. Yes they are, but when the prophet, his counselors and the 12 apostles speak or act united they are infallible…they will not lead us astray. The Lord refers to this many places in scripture, it is discussed in almost every general conference. Last October Russell M. Nelson, Sunday morning address…..” The calling of 15 men to the holy apostleship provides great protection for us as members of the Church. Why? Because decisions of these leaders must be unanimous.” Lehi’s dream, the iron rod is a visual depiction of this, holding to the rod allows a person to travel through the midst of darkness and remain on the path.

    Paul in Ephesians chapter 4 speaks about the church being founded on prophets and apostles…Why?… the members are not “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” Many commentators, including the authors are victims of this.

    Dear Jana, following the apostles without shame is not idolatry…….it’s discipleship.

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  • Eric Facer

    There is an elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about, but since I have an abiding affection for all pachyderms, I will.

    The commenter whose views Jana found so disturbing has been taught by the church, since his first day in Primary, never to question or criticize its leaders. Though the institution grudgingly concedes that its leaders are not infallible, it quickly substitutes an equally untenable position: “We are incapable of leading you astray.”

    When the church could no longer defend the doctrinal errors inherent in the priesthood ban, it to chose to blame one man: Brigham Young. This allows it to claim that the collective leadership—the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency—didn’t lead the members astray. But this is disingenuous since all succeeding church leaders and apostles through 1978 either actively or passively embraced President Young’s doctrine. Indeed, Elder McConkie continued to advance his race-based theories for the ban AFTER the 1978 revelation was received (Matthew Bowman makes this point in his book, “The Mormon People.”)

    The lengths to which the church has gone to disavow institutional responsibility for the priesthood ban reached their nadir in 2013 when it amended the preface to the 1978 revelation to say that its records “offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.” Really? So, in 2013 they had no clue as to the origins of the priesthood ban and then one year later they publish an essay that says: “We finally figured it out—Brigham did it!”

    You may be disappointed by the efforts of some commenters to defend the indefensible, but you should not be surprised. They have been inculcated to believe that church leaders cannot make big mistakes, and I suspect there are many in church headquarters that are pleased with their development.

    I have tremendous respect for the leaders of church and greatly admire the work they do. But the “sometimes-wrong-but-never-in-doubt” approach to church history does not work. Indeed, this strategy only exacerbates the problem.

    Whenever a man assures me that he is incapable of leading me astray, I count my spoons. By contrast, someone who openly acknowledges that he screwed up and that he will try to do better in the future, him I will follow to hell and back.

  • GP

    Eric – what an excellent and well-articulated summary of the dilemma.

    I agree with you… I value individuals who openly admit their fault (when in the wrong) and make efforts to improve.

  • Fred M

    HarryStamper, if you could find the scripture that says specifically that when the prophet, counselors and apostles speak unitedly they are infallible, I would appreciate it, because I don’t think that is doctrinally correct. There’s D&C 1:38, of course, but that doesn’t get nearly as specific as what you’re proposing. I’d also accept a statement from all 15 that says that!

    And what does it mean for all fifteen to act unitedly? You would assume all talks given in G.C. would have been vetted by these fifteen men, but are all G.C. talks infallible? Or do they only act unitedly on rare occasions, like official statements from the First Presidency? Or does a statement have to be signed by all fifteen to be infallible?

    I’m not being disingenuous, I really want to know what you believe the standard is. Because my understanding of the doctrine is that the Lord speaks to his prophets and their job is to bring his messages to the people. But that all prophets are still men with agency and some of them will make mistakes, resist the Lord’s efforts to send a message, etc. This is not an excuse for ignoring the prophets if you don’t agree with what they say. It’s a motivation for getting your own personal confirmation from the Holy Ghost that what they say is true, and then living your life according to that.

    Maybe this is a slippery slope. Maybe many people would be better off just following the prophet no matter what, convinced he can never lead them astray. But I don’t believe that’s the way we were intended to live our lives here.

  • Thanks! And also to you.

    I’m not wild about the “rule” word either, but it’s Augustine’s (or at least in its English translation).

  • These are very good points. I’d add that Mormons also reached out to Native Americans in the nineteenth century and were roundly criticized for it . . .

    I’m eager to read Paul Reeve’s new book on Mormonism and race, which deals not only with the history of Mormons and African Americans but also with the category of “whiteness” as an identity. When I do read it I’ll be sure to write about it here.

  • Joshua Bolding

    Thank you for so eloquently stating in your 2 comments what I have been feeling for much time now. Very appreciated.

  • Wonderful, wonderful comments. You’ve encapsulated so much of what I wanted to say: about why we study history, about prophetic authority, about faith.

    And you have raised an interesting question that deserves serious consideration: what does “astray” mean? If we believe that the prophet will not lead the Church astray, does that mean that no mistakes or misdirections will occur on the way to the eventual goal or destination? I don’t think so. The final destination is the point, and we will make mistakes as a people on the way.

  • HarryStamper

    I used the word infallible because it’s used by so many others on this blog…the church does not. The brethern use terms like voice, word, the will of the Lord. We will not lead you astray.

  • Kelly, great question. I don’t know.

  • Thanks for the comment. I highly recommend that book (“Wrestling the Angel” by Terry Givens), which is filled with fresh insights into Mormon theology.

  • Eric Facer

    Thanks for the kind words, GP.

  • Jen K.

    I’m not convinced that having compassion and empathy for others is necessarily soul-wrenching – at least not in a negative, soul-shrinking way. The Lord and Enoch wept because they love. There are different kinds of sadness – some (like anger, self-pity, fear) leave us feeling smaller & darker – but pure love and grief (especially grief felt in empathy & compassion for another) is not really soul-sucking – it seems to enlarge and enlighten us (‘heart swelled wide as eternity’) – at least that has seemed true for me personally. These 2 kinds of sadness(es?) are world’s apart – I think the distinction between them cannot be overstated.

    [“Holden went to his bungalow and began to understand that he was not alone in the world, and also that he was afraid for the sake of another, — which is the most soul-satisfying fear known to man.” (Rudyard Kipling)]

    I also think it’s important to define love and compassion more precisely. It too often spills into indulgence and/or sentimentality, which don’t help the object of our love at all, or ends up doing more harm than good. I agree with what Charles Randall Paul said previously here, about the ‘radical freedom’ inherent in love. “The moment love becomes even close to a formula or repeated rule that can be measured and replicated, it turns toward certainty and away from the creative freedom that made it so valuable.”

    But rules and formulas and replicating and measuring comfort us, make us feel safe – so I understand the longing behind some who find safety in “just follow the prophet” – How easy is that? ‘Don’t worry about a thing, just do as you’re told.’ I can’t imagine meeting my Maker and saying “You know, I just turned my heart and brain off and did whatever the church told me to do.” I cannot imagine any God being pleased with me for doing this – I can’t imagine the whole meaning of our lives is to be found in following any mortal – even prophets. And I certainly can’t see any benefit in denying their/our mistakes, or holding on to rationalizations and justifications for misdeeds of the past. That can’t be healthy or right, to anyone who has the will to think and feel for themselves. It eclipses one of the main points of living (trial and error, learning) – to pretend we or are leaders are (or were) anything close to perfection is absurd if you think about it.

    And amen to what Eric Facer said. There really is a subtext given in LDS culture that the leaders are, if not infallible, at least light years ahead of the rest of us – so don’t question them. (And if you do question but get a different answer from the brethren, try again, because you’re wrong.). Idolatry harms the worshippers and also the mortals we’ve turned into gods. I believe life expects more from each of us, and the church probably should too.

  • Fred M

    Got it. But can you find the doctrine that when all fifteen speak unitedly it is absolutely the voice and will of the Lord? You say it’s in the scriptures and mentioned in conference frequently, but I can’t find it. There are quotes like D&C 1:38, but we have multiple examples of prophets saying things with presumed prophetic authority that weren’t the will of the Lord (Adam-God theory, priesthood ban speculation, etc.).

    I agree with the quote from Elder Nelson about the protection offered by the unanimity requirement, but that’s not saying what you’re saying. I would love it if we had a clarification from the brethren as to which conditions when met guaranteed that what we were hearing was exactly what the Lord would say, but I don’t think that exists. I think your statement about all fifteen speaking unitedly may be your opinion, but not church doctrine. Which is fine–we are all entitled to our opinions!

  • ” The church is proud, they use the Teachings of Brigham Young on a regular basis for priesthood and Relief Society instruction.”

    In very carefully edited form, though, to remove mentions of blood atonement, Adam-God, the need for polygamy and the evils of monogamy, racist claptrap, etc.

  • Outstanding post, Jana. I love that you call the worship of an imagined infallible prophet out as idolatry. I think this is such a big issue in discussions of any type of possible change in the Church, whether it be as small as maybe not harassing women for wearing pants or as large as ending the ban on ordaining women, because so many people will leap to the defense of the status quo and say that if God wanted it to be different than it is, he would change it. Which of course would require an infallible intermediary.

  • HarryStamper

    Thanks Fred…I appreciate your comments……clarity is good….I suppose everyone needs to decide what is true… final comment……and then lets close the book on this….

    The church is built upon the “rock of revelation”…Matthew 16.  One may logically ask…If all 15 men whom we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators come out united with a declaration, clarification or new principle….it must be from the Lord….if it isn’t….then shoot…..darn it…when does the Lord speak?

    The brethren follow scriptural advice….” if ye are not one ye are not mine.” D&C 38:27…also…And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other—“ D&C 107:27…..and yes, it’s as simple as the one you quoted…. “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” D&C 1:38…….and from Brigham Young himself…..” In trying all matters of doctrine, to make a decision valid, it is necessary to obtain a unanimous voice, faith and decision. In the capacity of a Quorum, the three First Presidents must be one in their voice; the Twelve Apostles must be unanimous in their voice, to obtain a righteous decision upon any matter that may come before them, as you may read in the Doctrine and Covenants. Whenever you see these Quorums unanimous in their declaration, you may set it down as true. “  Teachings of BY, page 133……..Speaking of Joseph Smith, the Lord said….” For I have given him the keys of the mysteries, and the revelations which are sealed, until I shall appoint unto them another in his stead.”  D&C 28:7…….ahhhh Brigham Young was appointed in his stead, BY held the keys to mysteries and sealed revelations….these keys passed down with each successor through the years.

    The authors and most commentators on this blog refer to every statement made by an apostle as doctrine, revelation etc……..Everything Brigham Young said or speculated is quoted, many of these statements were given at firesides, July 4th outings and Pioneer Day celebrations in Ogden.  Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, written in the 1950’s long before he became an apostle…his own words in the preface….. “For the work itself, I assume sole and full responsibility”, Salt Lake City, Utah, June 1, 1958.  His and Brigham Young’s many commentaries were never part of any official church doctrine.

  • GP

    HarryStamper: “Everything Brigham Young said or speculated is quoted, many of these statements were given at firesides, July 4th outings and Pioneer Day celebrations in Ogden”

    Don’t construct a straw man here, especially when working with broad generalizations (i.e. who is quoting from what BY said on the 4th of July and Pioneer Day?)

    There are plenty of problematic (and some off-the-wall) quotes in Journal of Discourses. Do you consider the JoD a logbook of BY’s speculation in his role as a man on a July excursion or the words and direction of a prophet of God? How are we supposed to know when he is talking as a man or in a prophetic capacity? Because he certainly made very clear statements (some quasi-canonized) and didn’t preface it with “I believe” or “I think”.

    I suspect that you already know this but are trying to brush away any BY quotes that are uncomfortable by placing them in a container that you consider the philosophy of a man. Yet you do not provide a clear and consistent means of discerning prophetic statements from speculation. Why would God be so unclear to his children, especially when it comes to his mouthpiece on earth? Is it a cruel test of faith by defying reason yet still somehow expecting unwavering obedience?

  • HarryStamper

    Good comments….I agree…Thank you for clarifying

  • Trenn

    This is from regarding the Journal of Discourses.

    Questions have been raised about the accuracy of some transcriptions. Modern technology and processes were not available for verifying the accuracy of transcriptions, and some significant mistakes have been documented. The Journal of Discourses includes interesting and insightful teachings by early Church leaders; however, by itself it is not an authoritative source of Church doctrine.

    If you’re going to reference the Journal of Discourses you should at least know this much.

  • Well said… it might also help to remember that prophets are also “just” children of God, and He is mentoring and nurturing them in thier leadership responsibilities just like he is us. In that context, they are our older siblings who we look up to, but not our parent.

  • In this argument, I have yet to hear raised the question of why God withheld the priesthood from every inhabitant of the earth, regardless of race or color, for the years between the death of the last Christ-era apostle, and Joseph Smith. Taking this, and the eternal perspective into consideration, does it matter? The fact is, now everyone, by virtue of temple ordinances, can participate to the fullest extent in the blessings of the priesthood. If our time here on earth, as compared to the eternities, is but a mere pinpoint drop in the vast ocean of our existence, what does it matter? The priesthood was withheld from my white fore-fathers, until it was not. And now, because I can go to the temple and vicariously receive the priesthood on their behalf, they have the priesthood. The same is no less true of our black brothers who never had the opportunity; to my black brothers I would say go to the temple, do the work for your ancestors, make sure that the priesthood that had been withheld for so long is no longer withheld from them.

  • Trenn

    This thought has also crossed my mind, it makes so much sense and yet people will just disregard this fact. This is the best comment on this story I have read yet.

  • Eric Facer

    There is a profound difference between God withholding the priesthood from the entire earth and an erroneous decision by his servants to deny the priesthood to a class of individuals based solely on their race. Not only are the victims of such discrimination denied the ability to realize the full potential of their earthly probation, the moral character of the perpetrators, and those who they led down this unrighteous path, was undoubtedly damaged by such unchristian behavior.

    I don’t question the Lord’s ability to compensate for the misguided actions of His servants, but to suggest that those actions are without eternal consequences is absurd.

  • Trenn

    So are you saying that Brigham Young went against the will of God with that policy? Also the fact that it was denied them solely because of their race is only your opinion and nothing more. Exactly how are they denied the ability to realize the full potential of their earthly probation when they get the same exact ordinances as everyone else? Sorry, I can’t take this rant seriously.

  • The fundamental problem with Mormonism is Truth. Racism is simply one reflection of that problem, like polygamy, fraud, etc.!about/c2414

  • GP

    And not only that, but many of these leaders coupled the doctrine with racist statements (which now the church claims was “theories and speculation”). Anyone who claims that the ban was commanded of God bears the burden of explaining why they don’t see the connection between the ban and racist statements made by some of the leadership who instituted and perpetuated the ban. It is clear to me that they are tightly coupled together.

  • GP

    I am not aware of BY disavowing or correcting any of his statements in the JoD. If you can provide documentation of BY himself refuting the content, then I would be swayed. If not, then I can only surmise that the JoD is an accurate accounting of BY’s disposition. I can’t imagine having a quasi-canonized book made containing false information and it not being corrected by the source.

    Also remember that there are key LDS doctrines which are founded upon content in the JoD… so the church’s statement is weak since they are picking and choosing what stays or goes based without any clear criteria for keeping or discarding. It’s telling (but unsurprising) that the statement by the church is not specific as to which information is true or false… which is status quo for toeing the line of “problematic” history.

  • HarryStamper

    GP….you made an interesting comment..”there are key LDS doctrines which are founded upon content in the JoD”…..I’m curious to know a few of these key doctrines. I agree there are a lot of interesting and what we would consider unusual statements.

  • GP

    HarryStamper – I was primarily thinking of doctrines from Joseph Smith. However, there are details in the JoD which I’ve heard the general membership perpetuate as beliefs such as the semi-human/God nature of Christ. FairMormon acknowledges that some of the JoD teachings are still present in the current curriculum… and some are discounted.

    When a prophet of God has lectures printed and distributed to the general membership along with statements about the words of the prophets being the same as canonized scripture, I expect doctrine, not the philosophies of men mingled with scripture (sorry, couldn’t resist the quote)… especially when there are no prefaces of “I think”, “I believe”, or “speaking as a man”.

  • Jen K.

    Kelly – to say it doesn’t really matter is to sweep a whole lot of pain and mistreatment of blacks under the rug (mistreatment from the very highest levels of leadership in the church). Not very long ago (if we’re going to take the eternal, life is a pin drop view) apostles and prophets proclaimed (Officially! As doctrine!) that blacks were less valiant, curse of Cain, inferior overall – they didn’t count like white people counted, & if they counted at all it was only a fraction. How can this not matter??! There are still members (of my own family – albeit, they’re older) who still believe being black is the mark of the curse of Cain. We can’t really do a quick ‘nevermind’ sweep of the hand to undo all the indoctrination millions of people heard repeatedly about blacks being inherently less worthy. All those teachings don’t just go away with one ‘Nevermind. Our bad. Forget what we said about it.’ because what was said was a LOT, over many, many years. Perhaps try to think how differently you might see this issue if you were black. Really. For a caucasian (or any other race besides black) to say it doesn’t matter now seems pretty callous and unkind – at least to me.

  • Tiani

    Yes. Beautifully stated, Jana.

  • HarryStamper

    GP…thank you for the comments…I agree and like the way you phrase it. Couple things….I realize prophets say many things….and they should be accountable for sermons given..regardless of where or when. That being said, the church has always had what’s official…… and what’s policy….. and then even what’s doctrine…sometimes all similiar but often announced a little differently. My point earlier, many on this blog wonder when and what’s official…..all I’m trying to say….when the brethren act united then you can assuredly accept it…follow it…etc….many don’t…but that’s the teaching pretty consistently from day one….

    Yes….I agree, the Journal of Discourses had an almost scripture like respect in the church, especially in the early days….maybe not as much the last 70 years or so….perhaps because the early General Conference talks recorded in them. Interestedly, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith is used and quoted without reservation or dispute….at least I’ve never heard it.

    Brigham Young today, if he were around, I bet if asked to explain or speak about any of his old sermons, I suspect he would say……mighty fine sermon…solid doctrine. An interesting thing is judging people of different generations, especially 150 years later by current standards…..I heard in Sunday School last month…..If you were around in Jerusalem at the time of Christ, were there with Him, you may have asked Him….”So your the God of the old testament……Jehovah…???”… mean your the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah??? destroyed lots of Egyptians??? Commanded Joshua and the 12 tribes to cleanse the promised land of Canaanites etc etc….I’m sorry I don’t think a loving God would do that…..I’m not sure at all what answer could be given……..

  • GP

    HarryStamper – thanks for the reply. You make a few interesting comments that are in-line with comments that I have heard from other members of the church, and they are:

    1. The brethren need to act united to be “official”; and
    2. Joseph Smith’s words were not disputed, but Brigham Young’s words were

    First, we know in the early church that the brethren were rarely united. There was plenty of room for discussion/debate and at times it was encouraged. There were many who left the church (“apostatized”). I know that in recent decades (especially in the wake of Bruce McConkie), unanimity has been emphasized.

    Second, from a believer’s perspective, is there some kind of caste or levels/degrees of the prophetic calling? Is Joseph Smith more or less of a prophet than his successors? Did Joseph Smith have more authority than his successors? If so, then why? I ask because I find it curious how willing some members can be to throw succeeding LDS prophets under the bus but never would do so when it comes to Joseph Smith. I don’t understand the inconsistency…

  • Listening Closely

    As I read this discussion on the Priesthood and racism. I cansee there are Anti-Mormon sentiments invoked in this. We live in an era of contradiction. What use to be right is now wrong and what use to be wrong is now right. if Jesus were alive today how many would jump on him for calling a Canaanite woman a dog? (Matthew 15:22-28) But we will bend over in contortions to make it appear that he was not serious or it wasn’t meant that way. But the woman confirms that she knew what Jesus meant in verse 27, when she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which falls from the masters table. In verse 24, he made it plain who he was sent to; the lost sheep of the house of Israel. A question you have to ask yourself is, did anyone outside of the Israelite’s have a right to hold the Priesthood? the Gentile world was not to be taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ at this time. Jesus made it a point to the twelve in Matthew 10:5-6 Go not unto the way of the Gentiles or the Samaritans. Verse 6, Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Would you stand as an accuser of Jesus as being a Racist?
    Some of the greatest testimonies I have heard come from Black people who had joined the church before they were allowed to hold the Priesthood. They saw the truth not the mirage presented today.
    So Jana, the question i ask you and all the others who can’t come to grips with this situation about the Blacks and the Priesthood and many other things.
    Did God come to any of you and tell you personally that you should cause dissension in the church? Did He tell you, you will become the new church built upon what is right and what is wrong?
    The church is true Heavenly Father established it and it continues to grow because people are looking for the truth. Not you or anyone else can bring it down.

  • HarryStamper

    Hello GP…..Yes, clearly Joseph Smith carries more weight and probably stands as a presiding authority in relation to all apostles since. We are told he presides over this last dispensation. Personally, I wouldn’t use the phrase “throw under the bus” in reference to past prophets or apostles…….sounds a little harsh. But…You mention the “wake of Bruce McConkie” …..give me more….I was around during his time, obviously read his books……I’m aware some have criticism of his works but I really don’t know the specifics as to what or why…..

  • GP

    Hi Harry – what I’m asking is [from a believing perspective] if a revealed doctrine from Joseph Smith carries more weight than a revealed doctrine from a subsequent LDS prophet. If so, then do you have a reference for this claim? I’ve never heard it taught that revelations from any LDS prophet (including Joseph Smith) carried more weight than another LDS prophet.

    As for McConkie, yes, I was referring to the controversy. For example, the publication of the first edition of “Mormon Doctrine”, his recanting of past statements regarding the ban of blacks from the PH post-1978, and his tit-for-tat with Eugene England (interestingly enough in that exchange he acknowledges the Adam God as a doctrinal teaching of BY).

  • HarryStamper

    Hi GP….yes, my perspective, Joseph Smith’s teachings seem to carry more weight than others regarding doctrinal issues, seems like older long time members believe this. Have I heard it taught, not really, more an unspoken practice out of respect for the Prophet of the Restoration. Scripture….this is used many times…. D&C 5:10 “ But this generation shall have my word through you;” and by extension, even though Joseph is gone…our generation and all generations continue to have his word. Doctrinally, the Doctrine and Covenants is the canon of scripture directly given for the church today, virtually all written by Joseph Smith.

    By the way, several people say Joseph never taught the priesthood restriction and there’s no scriptural evidence….I pointed out earlier… Abraham 1:27 “ Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood,”……Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham.

    The McConkie issues, all I can say, most of it is overblown. I’m more from that era and even spoke with many involved directly. I’ve heard Elder McConkie directly explain some things, there are always 2 sides to most stories, and I served in the mission field with the Bookcraft publisher and heard different versions of things. I won’t attempt to relive meetings and conversations from the 1970’s. Elder McConkie was loved and respected by the brethren they asked and wanted his Messiah series published by Deseret Book and he did exactly that.

    Scripturally…..McConkie conveyed this message to England… D&C 52:9 “ saying none other things than that which the prophets and apostles have written,” v.36 “ none other things than the prophets and apostles,” It’s a message to all missionaries and teachers of the gospel, expound what the current brethren teach, not our own views or interpretations. Especially when doing so publicly, at church or BYU.

  • GP

    Thanks for your follow-up.

    Yes, It has been my experience too that culturally members of the church seem to give more weight to what Joseph Smith said than subsequent LDS prophets. It seems odd though because I would expect that modern-day prophets would be just as much of a mouthpiece of God as any other prophet. I’m not aware of any official teaching that indicates Joseph Smith was capable of more prophetic insight than any others. Perhaps this is just a cultural extension as a result of the reverence that LDS members give to Joseph Smith.

    As for your comment relating to McConkie/England: “It’s a message to all missionaries and teachers of the gospel, expound what the current brethren teach, not our own views or interpretations. Especially when doing so publicly, at church or BYU.” This summarizes a big portion of why I am no longer involved with church. I allow myself to have my own views and interpretations… and I lost trust in the Q15 (and subsequently a belief that God was leading them) because they don’t have a very good track record. I’m stunned at how so many (including myself at one time) allowed circular logic of identifying the Q15 as men of God to dictate millions of lives. Thankfully the church has calmed down a bit and there is no longer a practice of polygamy/polyandry or blood atonement. This kind of unwavering obedience can be (and was) dangerous and unhealthy.

    I didn’t understand your comment about Pharaoh and how it relates to the PH ban on the blacks. We already know that the PH was restricted to the lineage of Aaron – no surprises there. And we know from Joseph’s viewpoint that Pharaoh wasn’t black due to Joseph’s interpretation of Facsimile #3 from the BoA. Curiously, Joseph identified the only black figure in F3 as being a “slave” to Pharaoh… the introduction of an American racist anachronism into an Egyptian funerary scroll.

  • While everyone with the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a prophet, seer, and revelator; The Prophet, in Latter-day Saint terms, is the president of the Church. He, his two (or more) councilors and the twelve (or more) apostles all hold the same keys to the kingdom. Only the President of the Church is authorized to use all of the keys to govern the whole of the Church. In this sense, the prophet is like the bishop, he can call people to positions in the Church and make policy. Yet, he is also imperfect and unless he introduces new scripture, what he says is just his opinion and may or may not be from God.

    To tell when the President of the Church is speaking as a man; as an inspired man; or prophesying, seeing or revelating, the Scriptures can help guide us.

    “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” – Deuteronomy 18: 18-22

    This scriputre clearly marks the prophet and the Lord’s safety nets as for when and how to follow him.

    1. God will put His words in the prophet’s mouth
    2. When the prophet speaks God’s Word, that is Law to all followers of Christ
    3. If the prophet claims he is speaking God’s words but is not, or speaks the words of another god, God will kill him (this prevents him from leading us astray, however it is unclear is this is speaking of literal death or spiritual death)
    4, Not all words of the prophet are from the Lord
    5. If the prophet is wrong, but doesn’t die, then the Lord didn’t tell him to say it
    6. We shouldn’t fear or follow the prophet (making his words scriptures) when he is speaking as a man

    The prophet has authority over the church and will be held accountable for his mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we should make them too.

  • Jen K.

    Dave – you brought up some helpful points – we (adults) are responsible for seeking to know if our leaders’ words are true and/or right. We are entitled to our own confirmation from the spirit – not only entitled, I believe it’s required of us, a duty we should not abdicate. [Of course I will *listen* to prophets and apostles, and give their words extra weight and consideration – but I can’t imagine God expecting (or approving of) blind obedience & blind following.]

    I had an interesting email exchange with a Catholic friend of mine. He said something that really struck me: “If I ever found myself considering any idea in terms of approval of the leaders or founder, rather than the merits of the viewpoint itself, then I’d drop it immediately as false, if not highly dangerous.”

    This is what bothered me about a sentence in our latest magazine (I think the New Era) – it described listening to General Conference as “receiving our marching orders.” Whoa. Marching orders? That bothers me. I find it curious that many are asking & wondering what Joseph Smith, Jr. (or other prophets) said or thought about things, to try to glean what is and is not doctrine. Why aren’t we critically and humbly examining our own opinions and practices? I think every point of doctrine should be viewed and considered by its own merits, like my Catholic friend said. When people throw out the scripture “For my thoughts are not your thoughts”, that doesn’t really help us in terms of other mortals, even prophets. God’s thoughts are certainly not my thoughts, but mortals’ thoughts and words should never be automatically viewed as above reproach. I wish our church culture taught this. We need critical thinkers now more than ever.

  • GP

    Dave, are you saying that the way to know if the prophet is speaking as a man leading the church astray is to observe his physical or spiritual death? If you’re unsure of the context of “death” (physical or spiritual), then how is one to use this as a means to discern? Your criteria as quoted from Deuteronomy is not clear enough to be helpful.

    Similarly, you mention prophets being accountable for their “mistakes”, but don’t mention any examples. I’ve yet to hear a clear acknowledgement of mistakes for key statements that previous prophets have said on controversial subjects like polygamy/polyandry, blood atonement, priesthood ban, etc. The church seems to intentionally use ambiguous statements in an attempt to placate many factions much like a skilled politician to a broad constituency. This is what causes confusion and is why we’re left to discuss these topics online and why you see such a broad range of theories raised by believing members. It’s like trying to nail down jello.

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