Was 1978 the right year?

By: Mormon Heretic
June 4, 2012

As we come upon the 34th anniversary of the lifting of the priesthood/temple ban, I thought it would be interesting to discuss whether 1978 was the “right year”.  The priesthood and temple ban was lifted in a 1978 revelation given to President Spencer W. Kimball and the Twelve Apostles.  With Civil Rights being a big issue in the 1960′s, there are many who criticize the church for taking so long in lifting the priesthood ban on black men, and the temple ban on black men and women, or people who married black men and women.  Marguerite Driessen gave an interesting perspective in a panel discussion at Mormon Matters.  The following transcript comes from Part 2 of the discussion.  There is also an interesting speculation by Brad Kramer on why President McKay, who had prayed to have the ban lifted, did not receive inspiration to lift the ban during his lifetime.  I wanted to post the part of the conversation, and get your thoughts.

Marguerite Driessen, Adjunct Professor at BYU in Law and Communications

Marguerite, “I do think there are many issues that relate to why this is such a tender issue for some, and such an abrasive issue for others, and yet even a non-issue for some others, and people in those groups probably would surprise you. I’ve known white people much more offended and hurt by the ban—that they’ve come to call the Priesthood ban, but now after talking to Brad, I will call it a Temple Ban, I will just call it ‘The Ban’ or whatever, to make sure that we know it was more than just priesthood—much more hurt and offended by it than say I am, having joined the church in 1981 when it was over.  And I didn’t join in Utah, I joined out in Washington, DC.”

Gina interrupts, “Can I just ask a question?  If you had known about it, would you have joined the Church?”

Marguerite, “I had known that there was a priesthood restriction until ’78 when I joined the Church.  I also knew it wasn’t there anymore.  What I never heard before ’81 was the folklore that people had invented to support it.  So it actually didn’t affect me at all.  I get asked, how can you join a church that is so racist?

And I said, well the policy doesn’t exist anymore, so what are you really asking me?  And it turns out, well, they had this policy and they had it longer than other people.  And that point, I actually am really comfortable with, and perhaps have a very different perspective than some other people and perhaps it comes from my legal background, but I will tell you—I studied, I studied, the Civil Rights acts of ’54 or ’64.  I mean I studied those de-segregation cases and I even met say you know Brown vs Board of Education—famous U.S. case that ended segregation in public education, the girls who were the subject of that lawsuit came to speak at BYU when I was part of the hosting team and spent hours and hours with them over the course of the time that they were here.

You know, it’s a really interesting perspective to talk to really little girls who at the age of 7 had to be escorted to school by the National Guard, or by police because the policy changed from the top down, and the people were angry and resentful and they still had their racist attitudes, and those attitudes had not changed.  My perspective on this restriction and the lifting of it and the timing is that, you know, thank goodness God waited until ‘78 because what might have been the result had he moved sooner in other contexts?

I want to explain that which is that when I think of an 8-year old girl, a 7-year old, 9-year old, having to have police protection to walk to school, having excrement thrown at them, being sworn at, having people trying to beat them, throwing rocks, throwing food, throwing garbage, the image that came to me immediately was I knew to my soul that that is not the way that God wanted any of his children to have to go to church.  If this ban had come from the top down too soon, that is what people like me would have faced when we embraced the gospel.  The doctrine that did not contain the racist poison.

You know certainly there are some questionable texts, and that could be the subject of another Mormon Matters podcast, but I also think that part of those questionable texts, part of the reason that they have had the impact is because people look at them through a lens that is already darkened with racial prejudice through histories of institutional racism, and social racism that they have been trained to accept as normal, so that they think of things in racial terms that were not thought of that way at the time people were writing, and certainly not thought of that way say in the time of the Old Testament or New Testament.  But I know in my core that there’s no way Heavenly Father wanted his children to have to go to church with the National Guard to protect them because people around them didn’t want them there.

One absolute benefit of this revelation coming as late as it did is that it came at a time when the vast majority of the people in the church wanted it. A vast majority of people in the church were praying for it individually, and scores of them were writing and lobbying their church leadership to change this hurtful damaging policy for racial reasons, and for compassionate reasons, and for doctrinal reasons all of which were well and good, but what it really meant is [that] when that revelation came in ’78, it was greeted with joy. It was greeted with welcome, almost uniformly throughout the church even among people who still clung to some racist ideas, they believed that denying people blessings for any reason other than their own unworthiness was bad, and that is a benefit from this that is the one aspect of the discussion that we’re not talking about. I don’t deny that it was racist, not at all.  I don’t deny that it was horrible, and I don’t deny that it was hurtful. Coming into the church after it was over, I was spared all of that hurt, and I was spared that damage, and I was spared that marginalization, and only then had to deal with the residual, ‘how do you deal with a black person when you’ve been trained all your life to think of them as the cursed seed of Cain with whom you should not mix your blood?’  and people trying to work their way around that or through that.

But I see things, coming this way at it, and I don’t know Gina in answer to your question, had I found the gospel or the Book of Mormon before ’78, I don’t know that I would have had the courage or the faith of a Darius Gray to join the church anyway and to trust that it will all work out in the end.  I joined at a time when the policy was gone, and all I had to do was be able to have a thick skin about the people around me who had not quite caught up with the policy in terms of total equality of access to God’s love and God’s blessings.”

Dr. Gina Colvin, University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Gina, “Do you think though that Marguerite, that if the church had been allowed to thrive in black communities as kind of black LDS churches, that that might have been a safe place for people. Can you think of anything historically that might have impeded the possibility of…?

Marguerite interrupts, “No, not anything that would have impeded the possibility, but look around you right now.  Churches that allowed black congregations to exist and have black ministers, they exist.  My dad was Roman Catholic.  When we went to his parents home, or went to their church when we had his mom’s funeral, my grandmother’s funeral, there was a whole church full of black Catholic people. But guess what?  That is the church where all the black Catholic people went.  The white Catholic people to this day don’t go to that building, they go somewhere else. That is the kind of history we could have ended up with had there not been that 10 more years, and that’s really what we’re talking about here.

Ten more years in changing the policy from the top down resulted in a today, a today in which there is not the church on that corner where black Mormons go, and the church on that corner where the white Mormons go, which is the case with Catholics, which is what I have experience with; Methodists as well, which is what my mom was Methodist.  I have friends who are Southern Baptist, friends who are Episcopalian, friends who are in religions that did not have a formal priesthood ban or a priesthood restriction for black people until 1978, but to this day have segregated congregations, not by doctrine, not by ecclesiastical fiat, but simply by tradition where people grew apart racially, and now we, as the LDS Church have the opportunity truly to be of one heart and one mind, to be one fold with one shepherd, who is Jesus Christ, and not the pastor on that corner versus the pastor on the other corner.”

Gina, “Well, I mean we have such centralized control though.  I wonder if that would be such a bad thing.  Like in 2012 the big issue of course would be, how do we bring our two kinds of thriving communities, a black community and a white community into conversation with each other?  I’m just kind of throwing that out there.”

Brad Kramer - By Common Consent blogger

Brad, “Segregation is creeping back in because of immigration. There aren’t all-black units in Utah, but there are all Mexican units in Arizona.”

Marguerite, “Well, let me re-phrase, there are units, but they tend to be language units more than anything else. There is no law—the Church has always had a policy of allowing everyone to be taught the gospel in their own language, and so what we have to guard against is the potential for having a Spanish language branch or a Chinese language branch or something like this where people can congregate in their own tongue from becoming a culture apart, like the black Catholic church on one corner in Baltimore, and the white Catholic church across town.”

Brad, “That’s what I’m saying.  I know that there are language units everywhere in the church where there’s the need for it.  But what I’m hearing about what’s going in some parts of Arizona is that the division is hardening along these more culturally antagonistic lines.”

Gina, “Yes, absolutely.”

Marguerite, “Well, Arizona has some other issues though. Arizona also has the extremely harsh immigration laws.  There are other factors contributing to that…”

Brad interrupts, “Right, no question.”

Marguerite, “…in that location, but they do not yet exist everywhere else.  I’m not denying that they exist.  I’m not denying that they may be coming into existence, but I guarantee you other issues are playing into that in Arizona that are not playing into it as much in other places, where once people are comfortable in English, they don’t feel the need to only attend the Spanish branch anymore.”

Dan Wotherspoon, Host of Mormon Matters

Dan, “Cool.  Brad, I want to steer to you for just one second, and then Gina I want to go with you.  Brad, what I’m hoping is there was something in your blog post that sort of said similar things to what Marguerite said about perhaps the timing was right if it had happened when David O. McKay was petitioning the Lord.  Some of the things she was saying there.  Do you have any follow up, or did she articulate basically the point that you were making in your blog post or was there pieces that were left out?”

Brad, “No there’s a follow up that I wanted to make, a kind of perhaps slightly different, but also complimentary read on the sort of question we’re defining.  By the time this is becoming a real problem—for a long time the ban exists and it’s not a—nobody is treating it as a problem. Nobody considers it to be a problem.  It’s not until during the 20th century that you get to the point where anybody on the inside, certainly anybody at the center of the church is considering it a problem at all, and it becomes increasingly a problem.  So you have people starting to ask questions about it.

So then the issue becomes, from the perspective of God, you’ve got 2 problems.  You’ve got a church where this ban exists, it’s already there, regardless of where it came from, it’s already there, but it’s also a church that’s profoundly racist, and where lots of racist sentiment exists.  So then you’ve got to deal with the question well ok, if I the Lord end this policy by fiat right now, say it’s 1950, ok?  A little ahead of the curve so to speak.  I’m going to end this policy right now. Then it’s very easy to imagine that the consequence of that would have been black priesthood holders presiding over black units, black temple workers officiating in black temples.

In other words, racism can still exist in the church and all the really—you can basically approach the question as ok, blacks are still inferior but they can still have the priesthood now.  Those two things could have been compatible with each other.  So when I look at someone like David O. McKay, vigorously opposed Civil Rights legislation, and not just on the grounds of sort of constitutional technicalities, but opposed Civil Rights legislation because he was uncomfortable with integration, and because he was uncomfortable with what he would have described as race-mixing.

So if somebody like that is asking me, can the blacks have the priesthood? If essentially what he’s asking me is can we finally give this inferior race some priesthood here?  My answer is going to be stop asking, it’s not going to happen when you’re in charge—exactly the answer that he got.

Marguerite, “Well, and I would also add to that— we’ve been told as LDS people that God has a really interesting way of hiding the mysteries of the universe.  He doesn’t tell us anything if we just ask.  He will give us everything if we just ask.  But it’s not just asking.  Oliver Cowdery learned that.  What are you supposed to do?  You’re supposed to study it out in your own mind, you’re supposed to come up with an answer, and then you ask God if your answer is right.  So we know from historical events and conversations and statements that McKay made and others made, that McKay was taking a question to the Lord, but do you know what that question was?”

Dan, “Yeah, he wasn’t framing it right.”

Marguerite continues, “Do you know how it was framed?  The fact is, he was bringing a question to the Lord, but it very may not have been, ‘I have decided now is the right time.  Do you concur?’ It might have been something else.”

Brad, “Yeah, and it goes to this larger question of the relationship between the ban and the racist teachings. Because what ends up happening, the longer the ban persists, the more it becomes a sort of millstone around our neck.  It becomes an embarrassment, something to be boycotted, and a big problem and everyone is trying to deal with it and try to figure out what to do about it. People are digging their heels in to explain it and to rationalize it, and the effect of all of this pressure is that this pressure locks all of this racist sentiment in the Church to the ban.  And the longer the ban persists, the more the ban gets tied to the racist sentiment, and the racist teachings, and the racist idea about the differences between people of African descent, and people without African lineage.

And so the effect can then be that when God tells the church, and we don’t know what he said.  We don’t have the revelation, right?  Official Declaration 2 is the language that church leaders use to announce to the church that a revelation has been received. It’s not the language of any revelation.  We don’t know what the revelation was other than that the substance of it was, all worthy male members.  And so what happens is that all of this waiting, persistent waiting, this embarrassing sort of how long it’s taking, and all of the racist teachings and rationalizations lead to a moment when God can say, every worthy male member, and that alone can stand as a repudiation of all the racist nonsense.

Marguerite, “And that’s how Bruce R. McConkie interpreted it when he in his ‘78 in his devotional address said forget everything that everybody’s ever said cause they didn’t have the light that we now have.  Not that He gave us everything they gave him, that the presidency got.  As you said, we didn’t get the actual revelation.  We got the announcement, but Bruce R. McConkie specifically said, forget anything we’ve ever said about this explaining it.  Anything, it all came without the knowledge, with lesser light, lesser knowledge. It was wrong.  He acknowledged that. People still kept their pet theories.

Dan, “Right.  But it hasn’t come from a General Conference pulpit yet.  I think it needs to come from a First Presidency member in General Conference to really have the true effect, so we’ll hope for that.

If you’d like to see the previous conversation, I talked about Misunderstanding Racism with this same panel.  What do you think of Marguerite’s belief that 1978 was the right time?  What do you think of Brad’s speculation about President McKay?  Do you have any thoughts about the cultural problems in Arizona?

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66 Responses to Was 1978 the right year?

  1. pangwitch83 on June 4, 2012 at 7:44 AM

    no, the right time would have been to never do it. the fact is, it was a mistake, and it was made and continued by LDS prophets. the conclusion then is that LDS prophets can make mistakes when interpreting god’s will and instituting church policy. not something most mormons want to think about..

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  2. ji on June 4, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    I’m grateful for wonderful people like Marguerite Driessen. Brad and Dan and Gina want to paint a picture of racism and hatred — they want to divide people — but I like Marguerite’s approach better. She carried herself well in this discussion, it seems to me, as a sheep among wolves, and she carried the day.

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  3. Will on June 4, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    Great post.

    I think Marguerite hits the issue right on the head. Agree totally with JI.

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  4. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 4, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    which there is not the church on that corner where black Mormons go, and the church on that corner where the white Mormons go, which is the case with Catholics, which is what I have experience with; Methodists as well, which is what my mom was Methodist. I have friends who are Southern Baptist, friends who are Episcopalian, friends who are in religions that did not have a formal priesthood ban or a priesthood restriction for black people until 1978, but to this day have segregated congregations,

    I had never looked at it that way. That was an interesting perspective.

    Also enjoyed the discussion of how revelation can be limited by our framing.

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  5. MH on June 4, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    JI, if you read the other post on “Misunderstanding racism”, you will see that all four panelists don’t describe racism as race hatred. They define it this way.

    Kramer, “That’s one of these underlying factors that I’ve seen this response is that when I’ve been trying to make the case that the ban was racist, it turns out that people who are unwilling to see the ban as racist, are people who think that racism is a solely mental phenomenon. Racism is only carrying mean-spirited attitudes toward black folks or towards minorities. Therefore I say the ban is racist, and they say ‘how do you know? You don’t even know where it came from?”

    Dan, “Or why?”

    [Dreissen laughs.]

    Kramer, “It doesn’t matter where it came from. It doesn’t matter if it came from people who thought that black people were superior.”

    Driessen, “Right. It’s differential treatment.”

    Kramer, “It’s racism. It discriminates on the basis of race. It excludes on the basis of race. It is functionally racist. Its consequences and its effects are racist. It is racism. No matter what motivates it.”

    Dreissen, “Right.”

    Pangwitch, I agree with you that the ban should never have happened, but the horse is out of the barn and the ban did happen. Given that, would it have been better to lift the ban in the 1960s and risk violence, or, as Driessen states was it better to lift the ban with peace in 1978?

    Stephen, I agree with you. Marguerite had some really interesting perspectives here that were definitely worth sharing.

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  6. NewlyHousewife on June 4, 2012 at 10:15 AM

    My dad was living in one of the southern states (Louisiana or Alabama) when the ban was lifted. In his ward there were church members who participated in the KKK, lynchings, and actively fighting against desegregation laws. Those people left the church and their ward became a branch overnight. Quite a few stakes disappeared as well.

    If it happened sooner rather than later, the problem would have just gotten worse and chances are there would have been a much larger split from the church–this side has the temple ban (much better wording by the way) and this one doesn’t. I’ve heard the same theory applied to women and the priesthood.

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  7. Bonnie on June 4, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    Marguerite does a wonderful job of describing the problems of an activist church. As I get older I see the church as a narrowly structured salvatory institution in which priesthood power and covenants are protected (Zenos’ allegory), not as a cultural institution with a mandate to reform social policy. I think that the latter naturally occurs, but I think it’s the responsibility of converted people to do many things of their own free will and choice rather than a responsibility of the ecclesiastical structure to drive it. The comments by Richard Bushman in the transcribed Mormon Matters interview on your private blog regarding why the church shouldn’t publish and official history are precisely my point. Not only is activism hard on activists, it’s hard on everyone around them, even while its necessary. I really think God’s interested in keeping as many people at the table as he can and letting them come to themselves over time. Have to say, I really like this woman. What a balanced head on those shoulders.

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  8. Nick Literski on June 4, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    While there are always extremists in every group, I find the claim that lifting the ban prior to 1978 would have resulted in violence, feces-slinging, etc. by white LDS against African American LDS to be outrageous and offensive. While I understand that some would feel a high level of cognitive dissonance about this issue, resorting to this sort of demonization is just reprehensible.

    I’ll grant that some individuals would have left the LDS church if the ban was lifted earlier (just as some left in 1978!), the LDS church would only have benefited from their departure. To suggest that the National Guard would have been needed to prevent LDS members from throwing feces at one another is just beyond the pale.

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  9. Mike S on June 4, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    I don’t buy the idea that we would have segregated wards if the ban were lifted earlier, because we determine our congregations entirely differently than most people.

    For the majority of denominations, people can attend where ever they feel most comfortable. It may be because of a friend there. There may be an inspiring preacher. Or whatever. At the end of the day, people will tend to cluster where they feel most at home.

    In contrast, in our church, you are assigned a ward based on where you live. Here in Utah, it almost takes an act of God to try to get approval to attend a different congregation. Therefore, any given ward in the LDS Church will only be as segregated as the people that live in that ward’s boundaries.

    So, I don’t buy that argument at all.

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  10. Mike S on June 4, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    Also, in a way, things like the ban on the priesthood and polygamy give me hope. I am occasionally asked why I write things for this site. Why do I look for the things I might want to change? Why can’t I simply accept how things are and go along with it?

    It’s because of our history. We are not a static church. We are completely different in our practices from Brigham Young’s day. We will be different in the future.

    In looking at it, our changes are largely reactionary as opposed to being proactive. We didn’t change polygamy until enough people clamored for it to be changed. We didn’t change blacks and the priesthood until enough people clamored for it to be change. We allowed women to pray in sacrament meeting after all the issues around ERA. There are dozens of example.

    So, unless people clamor for it (whether internally from the members or externally from societal issues), it doesn’t seem much changes in the church. In my mind, God would proactively let our leaders know what should be done ahead of time, but it appears that that’s not the case. Perhaps, like Oliver Cowdry, they have to be pressured enough to at least study the issues and then ask God about change.

    So, I’ll keep writing, NOT that I have any say whatsoever in actual policies of the Church, but because if no one brought things up, there is essentially no chance things will ever change.

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  11. Nick Literski on June 4, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    Okay, I have to chuckle—what on earth would motivate someone to “dislike” a complaint AGAINST someone accusing past LDS of violent racial animus? Sounds like a personal issue to me. :)

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  12. NewlyHousewife on June 4, 2012 at 3:27 PM

    Nick, I find your argument that the problem wouldn’t be worst if it was done sooner lacking in evidence.

    Can you provide an example of when early action didn’t react in strong resistance only for that action to be taken back and then reinstated at a later time period? I can provide plenty for my point of view–Joseph Smith had to warm up his apostles to polygamy, word of wisdom–but can’t think of any for yours.

    Generally speaking it takes at least 3 generations for a controversial issue to become mute. In regards to the ban, my generation is the ‘mute’ one.

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  13. Nick Literski on June 4, 2012 at 3:37 PM

    NH, the OP suggests that if the ban had been lifted by LDS leaders prior to 1978, LDS members would have violently attacked and/or throw feces on African American members of their church, requiring intervention of the National Guard. This is not only offensive, but absurd on its face. Lifting the ban would affect how individuals who were already active members of the LDS were treated by the church. At worst, you could have individual LDS members refusing to take part in the ordination of an African American LDS member, or leaving the LDS church over the issue (again, good riddance if they did).

    The OP is attempting to compare granting the priesthood to already-active African American LDS members to court-ordered desegregation in the then-racially-bigotted South. I’m the first to criticize the LDS church where it’s due (and it is due on many counts), but this claim is simply asinine.

    BTW….”mute” means unable to speak. You meant to say “moot,” at least with regard to the issue. Since I don’t know your age, I’m not qualified to determine whether your generation is “mute,” but I suspect not.

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  14. Bob on June 4, 2012 at 3:42 PM

    Marguerite seened a little weak in her understanding of the Ban or the effects of it. Her history of it is bad.
    That aside, why are there facts missing in telling the story outcome of the lifting of the Ban? How many Black men got the priesthood in 1978? What was the name of the first man?
    What was the name of the first couple married in the Temple?

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  15. KMB on June 4, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    I’m kind of amazed that no one has mentioned there were black men ordained to the priesthood from 1836 to 1847, decades before the Civil War when slavery was still legal.

    If black priesthood holders could exist during *that* time without causing violence and massive social upheaval within the Church, it seems silly to think it would happen one hundred years later.

    Unless we’re thinking LDS enlightenment actually went backwards from Joseph Smith’s time to the present. Which may actually be arguable, but then we’d just have a chicken or egg problem: were LDS leaders after Joseph Smith reflecting the general membership of the time, or were the members after Joseph Smith’s time simply reflecting the less-progressive teachings of their leaders?

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  16. MH on June 4, 2012 at 4:18 PM

    Nick, you’re distorting what Marguerite said. Please stop. The girls she mentions were not Mormons, and did have “excrement” thrown at them, food, etc. in reaction to the 1954 Brown V Board of Education. Even a decade later, the Watts riots of California in 1965 were quite violent.

    Now, I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that violence would have occurred in pockets. Greg Prince in the McKay biography states a black couple in Cincinnati was asked to quit coming to church because their attendance offended whites. They acquiesced and didn’t come, but what if they had demanded to come? Are you telling me that they wouldn’t have been violently attacked? I think such opinions that the blacks would have been treated with open arms in the 50′s and 60′s shows a lack of understanding of the culture of the day. Now who knows if it was feces, vandalism or something else would have happened to them? (Marguerite is not predicting anything, but trying to draw a parallel here that is not as unreasonable is your distorted portrayals of her comments).

    The fact of the matter is that (at least this case in Cincinnati), their presence wasn’t welcome, let along priesthood or sealing ordinances. Please remember that people of the 50s and 60s didn’t have the same views as you, and WERE more likely to result in violence than today’s Mormons, and people in southern U.S. probably would have less tolerance for integration that other places. That’s not an unreasonable conclusion, and your distorted view of things is making this an unproductive conversation.

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  17. MH on June 4, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    Mike, as stated in the discussion, we do have “language” units of Somoan, Korean, or other language units. They even state some problems with culture between Spanish and English language units in Arizona, so I don’t think it is unreasonable that leaders in the 50′s or 60s could have been creative, and established segregated congregations. As you well know, Spanish branches aren’t really geographical. I have a few people in my ward here in Utah that go to a Spanish branch. We note this on our records so that there is no need to home teach or proselyte them, because we expect the Spanish branch to take care of those duties.

    So segregated congregations aren’t quite so far-fetched as you make it sound. They could have easily been created if McKay felt that was a reasonable solution to the problem. But by waiting, we don’t have black Mormon congregations and white Mormon congregations.

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  18. Nick Literski on June 4, 2012 at 4:25 PM

    MH, Marguerite’s OP specifically states:
    I want to explain that which is that when I think of an 8-year old girl, a 7-year old, 9-year old, having to have police protection to walk to school, having excrement thrown at them, being sworn at, having people trying to beat them, throwing rocks, throwing food, throwing garbage, the image that came to me immediately was I knew to my soul that that is not the way that God wanted any of his children to have to go to church. If this ban had come from the top down too soon, that is what people like me would have faced when we embraced the gospel. (emphasis added)

    Keep in mind that lifting the ban wasn’t a matter of allowing African American’s to suddenly “storm the gates” of LDS meeting houses. Rather, it was ordaining existing African American LDS members. You’re comparing apples and oranges.

    Not only that, but you’re making character assessments of 1960s-70s LDS that would get me banned from this blog if I were to make them.

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  19. MH on June 4, 2012 at 4:34 PM

    Bob, those are all interesting questions, but that wasn’t the focus of the panel discussion. I can’t remember the first black person after 1978, but I think Newell Bringhurst wrote about it in the book “Black and Mormon”. I’m sure you could look it up if you were interested in “good history.” This panel discussion wasn’t here to answer those questions.

    KMB, I did a post on Early Black Mormons before 1847. Here’s a short list: Black Pete (1830), Elijah Abel and Joseph Ball (1836), Isaac Van Meter (1837), Walker Lewis (1843), Enoch Lewis (1843), Warner McCary (1846). Once again, while the history is interesting, the panel weren’t historians and weren’t trying to get into the nitty gritty details.

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  20. MH on June 4, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    Nick, I don’t think Marguerite was saying (as your distortion stated), To suggest that the National Guard would have been needed to prevent LDS members from throwing feces at one another is just beyond the pale.

    That’s the distortion I’m taking issue with–that is a distortion of what Marguerite said, and is unproductive.

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  21. MH on June 4, 2012 at 4:44 PM

    Mike, one other thing: We didn’t change blacks and the priesthood until enough people clamored for it to be change.

    Armand Mauss has stated that in 1978, there was no more clamoring, and the issue was largely silent, especially compared to the protests under McKay in the 60s. Mauss felt that if people would stop clamoring, the issue would be resolved, and he was right. It really felt like the ’78 revelation was out of the blue. I was pretty young when it happened, and I remember thinking, “I didn’t know blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood.” (Growing up in Utah, I didn’t know any blacks anyway, so it wasn’t readily apparent to me that there was a problem.)

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  22. Bonnie on June 4, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    Exactly, MH. The problems of an activist church are many-fold, and one of them is that it cannot be about what the people want. There is a corollary in the Lord delaying his coming. We have to move past the point where we believe something must happen to accepting when the Lord decides it must happen. I know I beat the Job story to death, but the Lord’s response to all of our “this is the way it is” is often to wait us out and let our hearts and minds be calm and then he tells us the way it is. Just as when my kids clamor for something that’s guaranteed to increase the time until it happens (at least until they can be decent about it), we have to develop humility. I’m so amazed at individuals like Mauss. I try to emulate them in my own frustrations over issues.

    I grew up in the Midwest. There were pockets of sincere hatred there. It was an easier transition when it was later and so many of us had been praying so long for it. There were enough that weren’t that I could see some genuine schisms in the church. That doesn’t do anyone any good.

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  23. Bob on June 4, 2012 at 5:19 PM

    If you speak English, are assigned to a Spanish Ward?
    #16: MH: Maybe Nick is old enough to be one of the people of the 50s or 60s? (I am).
    There were large wards of all Blacks in the 50s and 60s in Africa. They had their OWN priesthood, and would not let Salt Lake send priesthood leaders to run those wards.

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  24. mh on June 4, 2012 at 5:40 PM

    Bob, I don’t know what large wards in Africa you are referring to. In around 1962,a group of Nigerians wrote to SLC asking for missionaries asking to be baptized. Press McKay called mission pres, but the Nigerian govt found out about the ban and wouldn’t allow travel. A coup followed and the political situation was unstable.

    As I understand it, about 3000 Nigerians called r themselves mormons, but weren’t baptized, and didn’t know how to run the church. None held the priesthood. Is this what you are talking about?

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  25. Rigel Hawthorne on June 4, 2012 at 6:46 PM

    I appreciate Marguerite’s comments but have mixed feelings about them. I’ve tried to put that into words, but it’s not working at the moment.

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  26. Bob on June 4, 2012 at 6:49 PM

    #24: MH,
    Yes, these are the people I am talking about. I believe I read about them on JI(?) Exactly, how they ran their wards, is unknown to me. But I believe they had all the priesthood offices, but not the priesthood(?)

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  27. prometheus on June 4, 2012 at 7:11 PM

    I found it interesting to consider some of these ideas. Not quite sure where I would draw my line in the sand, but I regret the might-have-beens if we had been willing to do it right in the 1840s instead of the 1970s.

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  28. FireTag on June 4, 2012 at 10:39 PM

    Very interesting post with questions to think about. I know that in the Community of Christ, when we decided it was God’s will that priesthood be extended to women, our Prophet had to start wearing a bulletproof vest for a while, and even a couple of years afterward, my sister-in-law, who was hardly the first woman ordained, was refused the right to act in her priesthood office by a local congregation. If you want to keep people together in the “one and only true church”, that may constrain how fast prophetic guidance can come. (In my case, that raises the further question of why that necessarily matters if you DO NOT believe any more in an “only” true church, but that’s my own issue.)

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  29. Taryn Fox on June 5, 2012 at 3:48 AM

    Social justice activism made the 1978 revelation possible, whether it happened inside the LDS church or outside it. Which is to say, it was made possible by people sympathizing with their fellow persons, realizing that what was happening to them was wrong, and taking action to make things better.

    Why is it that LDS church members are supposed to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause,” but only so long as it doesn’t offend anyone in authority? Whether it be civic or ecclesiastical. Why is the line drawn there, and not along the lines of “because this person is hurting?”

    Everyone here says “good riddance” to people who did, or would have, left the LDS church over the abolishment of its racial policies. But in advocating an activism-less, passive, obeisant church, you’re advocating one that was a safe space for racists, and that taught the doctrines which supported their racist beliefs.

    What would you do if you were teleported back in time to 1908? Would you be able to contain your revulsion, your anger, your pleas for justice, after hearing General Authorities talk about “darkies” and attending a minstrel show? How long would you keep attending the church? How many times would your conscience pain you? How many times would you have a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, from seeing someone you thought was good behave abominably towards a black person, and use current LDS doctrine to resist all your attempts to persuade them otherwise? Would you be disciplined? Would you be excommunicated?

    That’s how I felt, about the time that I left over its treatment of GSRMs (gender, sexual, and romantic minorities). Any god who would punish me for that, or expect me to obey those who are hurting innocent people, isn’t worth worshiping. Any LDS church member who would tell me I did wrong doesn’t understand what they’re saying.

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  30. Stephen M ( ethesis ) on June 5, 2012 at 9:56 AM

    Or, perhaps, you do not understand a God who does not fit in your box.

    Grand tactical is not strategic.

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  31. Taryn Fox on June 5, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    So God’s grand tactical plan (I thought strategic was the long-term and tactical was the short-run?) is to create a church that is hostile to black people and anyone who cares about them, but accomodating to racists. Because again, everyone says good riddance to the ones who left in 1978, but they didn’t leave until 1978. How many people left before then because of them? What would church leaders have taught about those who left, and have they ever apologized or reached out to them?

    Didn’t MLK say something about the proper response to people who say we should wait on activism? Something about how it’s never a good time for the people in power, but every time you ask the oppressed to delay you’re being complicit in their abuse.

    The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a gospel of abuse; of comforting the abusers, and afflicting their victims. His is an “activist church,” or it is not His.

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  32. Taryn Fox on June 5, 2012 at 3:53 PM

    Explain to me how there’s any benefit at all in creating a church like that. And if salvation is the issue, explain to me how a racist can be saved, or why your God would care more about them than “the least of these” that they drive out. And why he’d want them to attend a church that marginalizes them and makes the people who hurt them comfortable, instead of one of the ones that were on the front lines of the Civil Rights movement.

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  33. Taryn Fox on June 5, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    You know why the Civil Rights issue had quieted down in the church prior to 1978? Because everyone who was hurt by it had already left.

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  34. [...] Was 1978 the right year to lift the Priesthood ban [...]

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  35. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 6, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    Taryn: Grand Tactical (vs. operational or strategic) is expanding a tactical viewpoint to a larger scale — but remaining tactical in essence.

    Every time someone takes a narrow issue and attempts to expand it to a rigid approach that covers a larger scale, they have taken a grand tactical approach. Sometimes that is good.

    While Patton was an operational scale genius, much of what he did was grand tactical (vs. strategic).

    But it also can contain blind spots. As you demonstrate well, as you focus on your observation, insist that it scales and is the only one, and that God must fit into your box or not at all.

    The entire post is how God’s plan is to bring people past racism and create a Church that can embrace a non-racist approach, and how the delay appears to have made that more successful than the alternative approaches that others used which have entrenched racism in their de facto congregations, even today.

    Your response to that is to insist that it shows a God who does not care, rather than a God who took a path that worked better. And you do it by hammering tactical points that turn out, from a strategic view, to be false — and the core of what the OP was trying to explain.

    In this particular case you have massively missed the point. All by tactical thinking. Which, of itself is not bad (you can not have successful strategic approaches without any tactical implementation), but tactics do not equal strategic thinking.

    Sorry I was too terse in explaining that before.

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  36. Douglas on June 6, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    Once again, I’m looking out the window for airborne pigs, because I agree practically in lockstep with NL. I joined the Church shortly after the PH ban was lifted. I did not hear of any significant problems arising from it, including mass apostasy. Active LDS members taking part in Klan activities, including serious crimes against blacks? Call for reliable sources, this would be a barn-burner of a story if it were true, which I suspect it ain’t.
    1978 a “good” time? Intuitively I’d say yes w/o explanation if you accept the premise that it’s the Lord’s priesthood and he knows what he’s doing and doesn’t have to justify Himself. It’s well to come up with an explanation amongst we mere mortals. If you don’t, the discussion is moot.
    I would have preferred 1878 instead of 1978, or never was necessary to have a ban in the first place, but I’m not driving this bus; I’m just kicking it in the back wit my eighth-grade bud Shipley and shootings spitwads.

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  37. rah on June 6, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    It is really our inability and unwillingness to take a position on the origin of the ban that is the real issue not the timing of it being lifted. The hard question to wrestle with for most Mormons is either 1) God instituted it or 2) God allowed Brigham and the leadership to err so dramatically

    Now I am pretty confident we are dealing with #2 here, but regardless either one means that God will allow a people with a priesthood key holding prophet to actively inflict horrible spiritual suffering in the form of exclusion on people. I always find it fascinating that Mormon’s love to talk about everyone having an Abrahamic test or polygamy as an Abrahamic test and then try and justify the Ban by saying people would leave, we couldn’t handle it etc.

    If God will allow us to do such horribly wrong things to people, especially when the evil “world” is being a leading light for us, then I think the only recourse left is to interpret the timing of the revelation that was wholly dependent on our collective willingness (leader and member) to open our minds. The only way I can make sense of this is to adopt a model of God-Church-Revelation relations that indicates the link is sporadic and much fuzzier than I think common discourse in the church represents. The Apostles are meeting with Christ face to face ever couple of months. Hinkley I think probably gave us the biggest glimpse in his David Wallace interview. They operate primarily of the same still small voice promptings we do, not JS style dictation or big throne epiphanies. In fact, really JS only had those for a very short period of time it seems, until about Kirtland give or take.

    Now some may think this is blasphemy or a lack of faith/belief. Its not. I recognize the right of the leadership to lead the church. I believe they try and lead it by inspiration. They are more in tune with such promptings than I am. I even kind of believe each one has one or a small number of remarkable spiritual experiences that allow them to be special witnesses of Christ. What a precious gift for us all. But I think God asked us to be a record people keeping for a reason. I think facing the truth about how revelation seems to works at the moment is good not bad. Truth is always good. It is something to be struggled with. Who knows maybe it will change and we will again be recipients of major revelations. But if the ban has taught us anything it appears God will put up with a lot of bad behavior from his authority carrying people. He will put up with loads of bad scriptural exegesis and wrong headed ideas. He appears to wait for us to use our own agency as a people to recognize our own problems. At least this is the only thing I can think and keep my faith in the institutional church intact.

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  38. rah on June 6, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    *aren’t meeting face to face* sigh

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  39. Douglas on June 6, 2012 at 7:58 PM

    I can’t agree that “Gawd” allowed BY or any other President of the Church to lead it astray. True, a prophet is but a man and not immune from “hew-mon” foibles. However, we have been specifically assured that the Lord will not allow any one man to lead the Church astray. The present organization has checks on the First Presidency; in that, the other General Quorums (Apostles and Seventies) must concur. In general, the vetting process and ongoing participation by all the living Apostles keeps the ‘hiccups’ to a minimum. So, by virtue of believing that all the LDS Presidents to 1978 (and since) are called of the Lord, as much as it pains me to say, the PH ban was the Lord’s will, and by that same will it was lifted.
    Something about “my ways are not your ways” and “what I have said, I have said, and I excuse not myself; whether by mine own voice or that of my servants, it is the same.”

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  40. mh on June 7, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    So Doug, why did God want the ban? He didn’t want a ban in RLDS,Strangite, or Rigdonite/Bickeftonite churches, which all claim Joseph Smith a the original leader of their church. Why are there black members prior to 1847as mentioned inn my previous comment? Is God a racist?

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  41. Douglas on June 7, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    MH – I can’t answer for apostate splinter groups or factions, most of which are defunct. Cripes, the FLDS not only ban blacks from the PH, they won’t accept them as members or in their community – not that I believe that any black people ever tried to join that cult.
    There’s never been an issue of blacks becoming members of the LDS Church. With your familiarity with LDS history and practices, for you to insinuate thus is intellectually dishonest. Shame.
    AFAIK, Joseph Smith did ordain a few black men (ex, Elijah Abel) but would not ordain others. You may be forgetting about “line upon line, etc.”. On 6 April 1830, it’s not as if an angel handed Joseph Smith a five-hundred page Priesthood manual. My guess is that this was a subject that Smith didn’t spend much time on, but BY felt a need. AFAIK, Young respected his predecessor’s ordination of Abel and neither stripped him of it nor restricted his use thereof.

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  42. Mormon Heretic on June 7, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    Douglas, these groups I mention are all still alive and well. (Bickertonites are a worldwide church with over 10,000 members.) My point in bringing it up is not at all “intellectually dishonest” but very pertinent to the point. The Strangite Church is still alive though very small, and even has the original name, calling itself “Latter Day” instead of “Latter-day” Saints. The Rigdonite/Bickertonite Church is the 3rd largest Mormon group behind LDS and RLDS, so I think it is instructive to see that they don’t see Joseph Smith as initiating the ban. I think nearly all Mormon scholars attribute the ban to Brigham Young.

    As for FLDS, they date to the 1930s and attribute most of their doctrine to Brigham Young (including Adam-God), so I’m not surprised that they have a ban on blacks. Brigham was definitely the initiator of the ban and much of their doctrine, not Joseph.

    If you’ll read the link in comment 19, you’ll see that it was more than just Elijah Abel that held the priesthood prior to Joseph’s death. Others not only held the priesthood, but (1) Black Pete served a mission in Ohio in 1831), Joseph Ball was ordained a HIGH PRIEST and was BRANCH PRESIDENT after Joseph was killed in 1845. There was NO ban during Joseph’s lifetime. These “apostate” (as you derisively called them–SHAME ON YOU) groups knew there was no ban, and continued to take black Mormons, including the same Joseph Ball that I mentioned before. (Ball was recorded as a Strangite in 1849.) McCary was baptized, ordained, and married (to Lucy Stanton) in 1846 by apostle Orson Hyde. So there’s just no way to claim that the ban was instituted by Joseph. Not only do the other groups fail to recognize the non-existent ban, but our own records show that Ball was a branch president. Brigham Young in 1846 called Walker Lewis “one of the finest elders” that we have. So if this ban is God directed, why did Brigham do a 180 after 1846? Why did God allow all 6 of these black men to have the priesthood before and after Joseph’s death?

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  43. Douglas on June 7, 2012 at 6:35 PM

    I’m well-aware of the existence of the CoC (still nearly 200K strong even after a major schism, and they even built a big “temple” in 1994 in Independence, MO) and the Bickertonites (I have one of their BoM and Alice Cooper grew up in that faith). There have been about 115 discernable organizations that have broken off from the original LDS Church or subsequent breakoffs, only about twenty are known to still exist.
    Abel wasn’t the only black man to get the Priesthood but his son and grandson both did, so we can see that there were exceptions prior to BY and afterwards. It comes down to this: you either accept that BY and his legitimate successors were ordained of God, and they were executing the Lord’s, or not. If not, then the issue is moot, because you don’t recognize that they have any Priesthood to either confer or deny.

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  44. Taryn Fox on June 7, 2012 at 6:53 PM

    Stephen: I’m not missing the point, I’m rejecting it.

    The difference between the Mormon church’s approach and other churches’ isn’t that others split the fold down the middle, while Mormons chose the most inclusive policy. The difference is that Mormons excluded, drove out, silenced, and punished the people who cared about equality, just as they’re doing for people who care about GSRM (gender, sexual, and romantic minority) equality today.

    There’s also the matter of external pressures around 1978, such as people boycotting BYU games and the church’s tax-exempt status being called into question.

    Whatever god was calling the shots in the LDS church wasn’t using a brilliant stalling maneuver. He was defending a losing position, until he was finally forced to abandon it.

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  45. Taryn Fox on June 7, 2012 at 7:02 PM

    If God will allow us to do such horribly wrong things to people, especially when the evil “world” is being a leading light for us, then I think the only recourse left is to interpret the timing of the revelation that was wholly dependent on our collective willingness (leader and member) to open our minds.

    ^^^ This.

    And from there, you should ask: “Were church culture, teachings, and policies pre-1978 helpful or hurtful to people willing to do so?” What were the consequences of speaking out against something terribly wrong and messed up?

    If they were anything other than good, what you have in the LDS church pre-1978 is a terribly wrong and messed up church.

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  46. Taryn Fox on June 7, 2012 at 7:04 PM

    Finally, about how you shouldn’t be “an activist church”; what do you call a church that mobilizes its members to give huge donations and go door to door to support the activist cause of denying civil rights to people based on sexual orientation?

    You’re an activist church, alright. You’re just activists for the wrong side.

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  47. mh on June 7, 2012 at 8:23 PM

    Doug, surely you are smart enough to understand that there are other solutions to this conundrum, such as RAH has suggested with her option #2 above. I don’t need to be drawn into your false dichotomy. Brigham was a fantastic leader in many ways, even if he was misguided on this issue. It’s too bad that we don’t reference his earlier, more enlightened comments on race, but he made his bed and must sleep in it. But surely his leadership in guiding the saints was inspired and soul be recognized as exemplary.

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  48. mh on June 7, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    Taryn is coming on pretty strong, but I think she has a point. The church has moved to a conservative position because it provides more organizational stability. Christ was the ultimate social activist. If we are supposed to “be like Christ”, I think it is a question worth asking if Christ thought activism was more important than sustaining the authoritative structure of pharisees. Yes activism is not conducive to organizational stability, but I don’t think Christ was interested in stability.

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  49. Bonnie on June 7, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    I disagree that Christ was a social activist. He wasn’t interested in activism at all. He passed through crowds unseen rather than take people on, he found gentle ways to eliminate conflict (a woman thrown at his feet) rather than take on the obvious duplicity of the Pharisees in that event, and he repeatedly said that the faith was more important than raging against wrongdoing (Sermon on the Mount, anyone?) When he said that he was come to bring a sword not peace, he was stating that the gospel and adherence to it would cause schisms within families just as politics does. Everything about Christ was a statement that we give people time to come to themselves rather than take on social conditions, we plant seeds and let them grow organically and let that take care of social issues. He was loving and accepting of all but the most hypocritical. Paul, surely his greatest missionary, repeatedly taught that it was less important whether someone had a piece of skin in a particular place or not or ate certain meats or not than that they all work together as believers. I disagree that Jesus Christ was a social activist as we define it, carrying signs and marching in parades. He preferred to let the message work in people and let culture change slowly.

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  50. ji on June 7, 2012 at 9:21 PM

    Thanks, Bonnie. I also have always seen the Savior as a humble servant of and friend to all around him. He came to save individual souls one at a time, not to change societies and cultures.

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  51. mh on June 7, 2012 at 10:13 PM

    Christ didn’t come to change societies??? The good samaritan isn’t social activism? Christ didn’t rip on the pharisees and sadducees?

    yes he didn’t carry signs because most peasants were illiterate. but the triumphal entry and cleansing of the temple look to be civil disobedience.

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  52. Bonnie on June 7, 2012 at 10:40 PM

    Social activist and social commentator are two very different things.

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  53. ji on June 7, 2012 at 10:44 PM

    Jesus worked to save individual souls, one at a time — he wasn’t trying to rally crowds against Rome or Herod — he wasn’t trying to change any Governmental policy.

    The triumphal entry wasn’t big enough for the Romans to even notice.

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  54. Mormon Heretic on June 7, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    The cleansing of the temple got him killed. Both Roman and Jewish leaders noticed that. And the triumphal entry just a week before was probably seen as mocking the Roman emperor.

    Christ said the kingdom of God is within you, and he was the King. Is this not changing the view of society? It sure seems that he was rallying crowds–that is why the Jewish leaders had to catch him secretly, because if they did it in the crowds, there would be big problems with the followers of Jesus.

    Whether Christ changes hearts one at time or not is irrelevant. If enough one-at-a-time hearts change, that is going to change societies. Wasn’t MLK trying to change hearts one at a time too? How about Ghandi?

    Bonnie, I will agree with you that Christ wasn’t interested in activism for activism’s sake, but changing hearts one at a time is activism. Maybe it’s not your traditional view of social activism, but it certainly changed western society radically, and I can’t see how that is not social activism. Christianity is one of the 5 largest world religions; how is that not social activism (or at least religious activism creating immense societal change)?

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  55. Bonnie on June 7, 2012 at 11:29 PM

    MH, MY view of activism is immaterial. (Are we having fun with italics or what?) When we talk about activists, what people collectively understand is what it means.

    THAT (I’ll revert to shouting now) Jesus’ teachings brought about social change is an end result; his process was not the traditional activist process. He went out of his way to stay out of the spotlight to give himself more time one-on-one to accomplish his mission. His life was in danger long before the triumphal entry, which was why they hesitated to go to Jerusalem for quite some time.

    My point isn’t that Christ had no interest in changing society. It’s that he changed society through the individual, he did not try to reach the individual through societal change.

    MLK was an activist in every sense of the word. So was Ghandi. That Jesus was working in a totally different way is not irrelevant. Until a modern activist behaves as Christ did (and Mother Teresa is the closest I can imagine) we can’t compare.

    The fact that Christ was not interested in maintaining the authority structure of the Pharisees was because it was HIS authority structure and they had corrupted it. Think TRON, the boy who robbed the corporation of profiting from what the real owner wanted to have be free (hey, I have geek blood.) Even though he had every right to lead the people in revolt against the priests, his pathway was to teach people the behavioral keys to salvation and prepare them for the ordinances. He largely ignored the powers that be, except to send a scathing denunciation their way every now and then.

    The situation now is not analogous. The fact that we have a corporate church does not intimate that we have a corrupt church. If the head of that church didn’t agitate for the removal of a corrupt High Priest, I can’t imagine he would sanction our agitation when the structure isn’t corrupt.

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  56. Mormon Heretic on June 8, 2012 at 12:21 AM

    He went out of his way to stay out of the spotlight to give himself more time one-on-one to accomplish his mission.

    I don’t understand this statement. Crowds were constantly gathering around him to hear his sermons, or to be fed by one of his miracles. How is Christ staying out of the spotlight? His message forced him into the spotlight, despite his attempts to portray these ideas as not his own, but God’s. So, yes I agree with you that Christ kept trying to keep the message on the Father, but the spotlight kept shining on Him. But hey, the ideas were revolutionary, and we’re still talking about them 2000 years later, so why shouldn’t the spotlight be on him?

    At this point, it seems to me that we have different definitions of social activism. I’m not understanding how Ghandi or MLK is different than Christ for activating societal change in your eyes.

    I also don’t understand your last paragraph.

    Perhaps I should talk about the Good Samaritan a bit too. Christ used the despised Samaritan to illustrate a point, and it wasn’t simply to be kind to others that may be in need. It was to look at the despised people and see their goodness. In the context of this discussion, black slaves of Brigham Young’s day could have been viewed as the Samaritans of Christ’s day–despised. Christ was agitating for change in how we view the despised. We need to be less judgmental of the Samaritans, and our righteousness should exceed the Pharisees. Surely that seemed like a strange concept of the day, because the Samaritans were seen as wicked, and the Pharisees righteous. How ironic that Christ praised the Samaritan and spoke ill of the Pharisees. And how ironic that Jesus did his civil disobedience at the temple of all places, rather than the pagan center of Rome.

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  57. Bonnie on June 8, 2012 at 9:09 AM

    Yes, MH, I think it’s been clear for awhile that our definitions of activism are different. It probably would have been polite to acknowledge that and quit arguing (which is my usual MO) but I think this is significant and important. When agitators claim Jesus as their poster child it makes my eyebrows grow red hot, to defer to Dr. Seuss.

    Jesus stayed out of the spotlight because he was more interested in training apostles to do lead the kingdom and showing hotheaded Galileans that true change is not about overthrowing the government but about helping people to the Father. He asked people not to say who healed them, he avoided confrontations with social and religious leaders, he went as a lamb to the slaughter silent. What kind of activist doesn’t use his own death as a bully pulpit?

    Yes, his ideas were revolutionary, and yes that was the point. Repentance means to change course, “to turn,” and if people do that personally, then of course the culture and the masses will turn as well.

    Last Paragraph (55) – this discussion began with your observations about Taryn’s comment regarding the church. The situations are not analogous (Christ/Pharisees and activists/modern church). Christ did not sit from the sidelines throwing tomatoes. He spoke powerfully as the rightful heir to the High Priest office about HIS church. There is no mortal on earth who has or had the right to say what he said – he alone did. We can’t take him as our model in this sort of activism because we do not have the authority.

    Yes, I agree that everything Christ said was contrary to the prevailing norms and power structures. But he was advocating for personal change, that individuals treat one another with love and fulfill the terms of the law of Moses without regard for the behavior of the authority structure. He asked them to ignore it. To make the analogy, we don’t ask our authority structure to change, we ask ourselves to ignore it and do good. Again, I don’t think the structures are analogous, but if they were, our job would be to be loving personally, nonjudgmental, welcoming, and understanding. Again, it is only Christ’s right to speak ill of the Pharisees, as their creator, their savior, and their true High Priest. Righteous indignation is his – not ours.

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  58. ji on June 8, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    I think different people can see the same thing, and yet see something different.

    As I see it, Jesus Christ didn’t agitate against Herod or Caesar — and he didn’t even encourage rebellion against the Pharisees (do as they say, he said, but not as they do). Jesus didn’t come to teach politics or social justice or economics — he came to teach individuals to repent.

    Jesus’s purpose was to save souls, one at a time, by teaching them to repent.

    I really like the following from Third Nephi ch. 11, and it helps me appreciate how really narrow my definition of doctrine should be–

    29 For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

    30 Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.

    31 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, I will declare unto you my doctrine.

    32 And this is my doctrine, and it is the doctrine which the Father hath given unto me; and I bear record of the Father, and the Father beareth record of me, and the Holy Ghost beareth record of the Father and me; and I bear record that the Father commandeth all men, everywhere, to repent and believe in me.

    33 And whoso believeth in me, and is baptized, the same shall be saved; and they are they who shall inherit the kingdom of God.

    34 And whoso believeth not in me, and is not baptized, shall be damned.

    35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.

    36 And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.

    37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.

    38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

    39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.

    40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

    41 Therefore, go forth unto this people, and declare the words which I have spoken, unto the ends of the earth.

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  59. Bonnie on June 8, 2012 at 12:24 PM

    MH – one little aside: in (21) you note that Mauss felt that if people would stop clamoring, the issue would be resolved, and he was right. Have you changed your mind to state that clamoring (activism) is a good thing to do on other issues?

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  60. FireTag on June 8, 2012 at 1:22 PM


    Jesus Seminar scholar John Dominique Crossan suggests that Jesus neither agitated to reform the “system” or saved souls for the next world. He simply rejected the notion that ANY religious or political institution could inject itself between the individual and the Spirit and bypassed it like water flowing around a rock.

    God will grant priesthood to whom God wishes; institutional agency only extends to willingness to accept and testify of that ministry. Otherwise, the priesthood just “goes to another village”.

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  61. Mormon Heretic on June 8, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    FireTag, I love Crossan, and even played a video of him describing the parable of the Mustard Seed in Gospel Doctrine a few years ago. He makes me think, though I’m not quite sure how to interpret his comments in the context of this current discussion.

    JI, bringing in the Book of Mormon into the discussion seems to contradict you claim that Christ taught “one at a time”. Especially in the BoM, Christ taught “one to many”. I’m sure this “one at a time” concept brings you comfort, and yes I think it is nice to have a personal relationship, but Christ taught one to many on multiple occasions, so I just don’t think this one at a time concept is supported by scripture.

    Of the scripture you quoted in 3 Nephi, I think it is important to emphasize what you highlighted: ye must repent, and become as a little child. I agree, and we need to repent of racism and have childlike qualities of no respecter of race. I don’t think Christ would have instituted the ban, and I think He is glad the ban finally ended. I am glad our church has repented of the ban, but I hope we can complete the repentance process and more openly acknowledge the causes so that we can fully get rid of any remnants of racism.

    Bonnie, I think Mauss’s statement on the ban is interesting. Certainly, the social activism in the 1960′s contributed greatly to the Church leaders thinking on the ban. David O. McKay was ordained an apostle around 1912 without knowing that there ever was a ban. He asked George Albert Smith (I believe) if anything could be done, but Pres Smith said that was the current policy and nothing could be done. So, by the time the 50s and 60s rolled around, the issue was much more common than it was at the turn of the century. So I would say that social activism played an important role in bringing the issue to the attention of Church leaders, and indirectly in removing the ban. If there had been no agitation (as there was none in 1912), I doubt the policy would have changed when it did.

    The question then, for me is what is the proper type of activism? There are those that want “cleansing the temple” type of activism, which I think could be Christ’s way of “throwing tomatoes” in your parlance. There are others such as Mauss that said that when we can quit agitating for change, the General Authorities will quit digging in their heels and resisting change. I also view this as what happened. Where the balance between the two is, I just don’t know.

    The fact of the matter is that activism works. If Emma wasn’t an activist against tobacco spit during church meetings, I don’t think the Word of Wisdom would have been revealed. So, I don’t see activism as all bad. But I do think that certain types of activism can be problems too. As I’ve studied the Civil War time period, the abolitionists wanted to violently overthrow slavery, and they did. Half a million people died in that horrible war. Was that activism useful? Perhaps, but at a terrible cost. Joseph Smith proposed that to avoid war, we should compensate slaveholders through the sale of public lands. Certainly this was a type of much more palatable activism than the abolitionist impulse.

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  62. Bonnie on June 8, 2012 at 5:02 PM

    MH – I agree. There is something that comes of careful consideration of the voices around us; it’s rather like the crisis that brings revelation. I’m just not a fan of making the crisis any bigger or louder than it needs to be, as your Civil War example painfully demonstrates.

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  63. prometheus on June 8, 2012 at 5:17 PM


    “But he was advocating for personal change, that individuals treat one another with love and fulfill the terms of the law of Moses without regard for the behavior of the authority structure. He asked them to ignore it. To make the analogy, we don’t ask our authority structure to change, we ask ourselves to ignore it and do good.”

    I find this idea interesting. It is incredibly subversive when you look at it. Disregarding the authority structure is the greatest possible threat to that structure. Fighting against it creates battle lines, martyrs, conflict, and whatnot. Ignoring it altogether causes it to simply become irrelevant and powerless, which would be utterly terrifying for those in power.

    It is intriguing to consider the implications of this idea re: the modern church. What would happen if we were to ignore the behavior of the power structure and act according to the light within us without regard for what the authorities might say?

    I don’t want to derail the comments, but a clear example would be if the church promoted a certain piece of legislation and we all just ignored that directive and welcomed *all* people without exception.

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  64. Bonnie on June 8, 2012 at 10:00 PM

    Exactly, Prometheus. It is actually so much more effective to change individuals. Joseph Smith said, “I teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” Our apostles now say, “Get the spirit, feel revelation, be guided in your own life.” It’s terribly subversive this business of exercising your agency!!

    The church promotes all sorts of things and says, “this is the ideal – you make your own choice.” Women working out side the home, support for legislation — we have to choose. We cannot roll over and say, “the prophet made me do it.” We need to own our life, seek personal revelation, and act. Hopefully if a man with a good long view gives me advice, I will listen and carefully consider it. But it doesn’t rob me of my right and responsibility to choose, to be changed, to have an independent relationship with God.

    THAT is what Jesus came to teach. If the church works to help you move in that direction, as it does me, then it’s good to walk together. If it doesn’t, by all means people should walk the walk that avails them of the gift, and do so with a clear sense of having CHOSEN.

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  65. [...] of the timing with which the racial discrimination of the “priesthood/temple ban” was addressed by the LDS in 1978. That issue was resolved church-wide in essentially a single [...]

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  66. [...] Rick presented, and Marguerite Driessen, about whom Mormon Heretic has written a few articles transcribing Mormon Matters interviews featuring her, was the [...]

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