Should the Church Apologize for the Ban?By: Mormon Heretic
Following up with the conversation on whether the timing of the 1978 revelation was correct, Brad Kramer and Marguerite Driessen disagreed on the necessity of whether the LDS Church should repent for the previous restrictions on black church members. You might be surprised at their stances. Here’s more of their conversation on whether an institution needs to repent, and whether an apology would undermine members’ faith in the LDS prophet. (If you’re interested in previous conversations, see what they said about Misunderstanding Racism.) Here’s the transcript; let me know what you think.
Dan Wotherspoon, “Gina, again from your list, you asked the question that I think a lot of us talk about, but let’s give it voice here again. Is the reluctance of the Church to respond in a more robust way, this worry that it’s going to undermine the members’ faith in prophetic revelation? Do you want to start us on that conversation? Do you guys kind of agree that this is—let’s at least air this one out for a couple of minutes.”
Brad, “Well, it’s something that I’ve encountered already in an interesting form which is that I’ve encountered a number of people who have responded to my call for contrition and disavowal. By saying like basically like well I can see why that’s needed here, but it just feels to me like you’re trying to set the stage for calling for the same thing on gay rights and women’s issues. In other words—“
Marguerite, “Slippery slope argument?”
Brad, “Well, they see the undermining—and they’re not entirely wrong you know. We’re not going to be—if something changes with regards to these questions that are sort of very salient at this very moment, something that is going to happen before that change is that people are going to re-evaluate, not necessarily lose faith, but they are going to re-evaluate what they think about the role of prophets, the role of church leaders, and that’s part of what is at stake in this question is are we willing to accept the possibility that on this one particular question, presidents of the church did lead us astray? They didn’t lead us astray in that they led the Church into capital A apostasy, but they led us astray from truth, and God corrected it and brought us back.
But we have to I think come to terms with that and come to terms within that newly created space with just a slightly scaled back sense of sort of absolute prophetic almost infallibility. I mean we constantly say that we don’t believe in that, but we kind of do. But when that gets scaled back and just tempered down just a little bit, then that opens up the space, it does raise the question, it does open up the possibility that the things that we feel really strongly about and that we use as sort of boundary markers for Mormons today are subject to change in the future.”
Dan, “Gina do you have anything to add on to that? Thanks Brad.”
Gina, “Yeah, I agree, and I think it’s kind of going down that rabbit hole. It’s kind of shoving/pushing dominos over. If you say ok in this respect perhaps prophets got that wrong or presidents of the church got that wrong, then what other aspects can we say that perhaps presidents got that wrong? We need to kind of—I suppose it comes back to the question what is the role of the prophet and once we’ve kind of determined that—is the prophet’s role just kind of to tell us where to put our potatoes like Brigham Young did, ya know, by the back door next to the brooms, or is a prophet’s responsibility, and I think kind of theologically we’d have to agree that a prophet’s responsibility is pointing to Christ, and that everything else can kind of go by the wayside. ‘Well, that’s his opinion.’ I speak as somebody from New Zealand, it would have been nice if someone—this is an American problem, this whole race issue, and rather than it being sort of washed up onto the tide, we’re having to deal with it. In Brazil for instance, the issue of race is not the same as it is in the United States. And so they look like, we want to build a temple, how can we do that because we can’t find any person in Brazil that doesn’t have at least some bit of black heritage, what do we do about that?
So, yeah, I just kind of come back to that notion that we have to clarify, as part of our maturing that we recognize that prophets have a particular role in telling us how to become more like Christ and pointing the way to become a Zion people. Now if they said everything that was the mind and will of God, they’d be God.”
Dan, “Hmmm, interesting.”
Gina continues, “So you know they have to filter this kind of, you know, speaking theologically they have to kind of filter all of these kind of promptings and thinking from kind of this omnipotent being through their kind of mortal framework and cultural locatedness. I think we need to own it, unless it is helpful for us to understand the mind and will of Christ, and backed up with scriptural canon. Some things can be disregarded just as kind of opinion.”
Marguerite, “I would add that there’s always the trouble, and this is where you are when you’re LDS you are supposed what—follow the prophet. Did you learn the song? [Sings] Follow the prophet. Follow the prophet…’ [Gina interrupts.]
Marguerite continues, “We learned it out whole life so that’s one of the reasons that there’s an issue here because there are times when—I actually might disagree here a bit with Brad in that there are things a prophet has said and done before they were prophets or while wearing other hats. It is rare, we do not have a spoken revelation on this race issue, or some prophet speaking at General Conference. We’ve never had it, and we’re going to need one probably to fix it all but there is several little sub-issues here. One, there are people in the Church who do not believe that any prophet ever in any aspect of their life could ever be infallible which then imbues anything they’ve ever said or done, including some paper they wrote when they were 21 for a sociology class with spiritual significance if they later become prophet of the church. There is that issue that exists among people.
There are some of us willing to accept that prophets are human beings and when they are speaking as the mouthpiece of the Lord we have been promised that they won’t lead us astray, but we still have something to do here which is we need to rely on our own instructions, and our own gift of the Holy Ghost and spirit of revelation to know when something is coming from this person as the prophet from the mouth of God, and when it is something else. Then you have to reconcile to yourself what to do with it. I mean I don’t want people to listen to this podcast and say that Dan and his panel of crazies are saying ‘don’t ever listen to the prophet because it’s really just his opinion.’ That’s not my opinion.
I’m telling you there are times when people who are prophets speak but when they are not speaking prophetically, and usually they give you some kind of clue. Like if they’re speaking from the pulpit at General Conference, maybe you should listen. But when they’re sitting there talking to the legislature as the governor of the state, take that with a huge grain of salt if you take it at all. You could shovel it out in the dust bin and it wouldn’t make a difference to your immortal status, you know, your obedience or lack thereof, your willfulness or lack thereof. I think that is something we need to come to grips with.
I think there are people who—I have a problem with people who won’t move forward unless there’s an apology for what happened in the past. Maybe that’s because I understand repentance, or I understand the idea of forgiveness and these things as related only to yourself. If you’ve wronged me, you’ve wronged me, and that’s on you. If I refuse to forgive you and move forward, that’s on me. So I want to be sure to tell people that look, you need to develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. You need to develop a relationship with God. You need to learn the doctrine, and the doctrine is inclusive. It is loving, and the end of 2 Nephi 26 absolutely says that God denies none—what’s the exact quote? It says he denieth none.”
Dan, “He inviteth all.”
Marguerite continues, “He denieth none! He denieth none that come unto him black and white, bond and free, male and female, and he, it says here specifically, remembereth the heathen and all are alike unto God, both Jew and gentile. There’s nothing more clear than that, and yet we haven’t gotten it right yet. We haven’t gotten it right yet. We’re working towards it, now we get to keep working towards it and having these conversations to tell us guys, if it’s not one of those all are alike things, if you’re treating people differently, that’s contradictory to what we’ve already been told. Don’t ask for a prophet to give you new revelation. You’ve already got revelation. How about you read it, and understand it, and then we don’t have to worry about making God tell us something else when he’s already told us, ‘hello. Why aren’t you listening?’”
Dan, “Right. I thought of that verse too, and it’s sort of speaking to what you were talking about Gina. This is the role of a prophet. That verse kind of has that ideal, that calling you to Christ’s deep teaching stuff, a lot different than whatever it was that stuff that started the ban. You know what I mean? I think there’s a way to do that. We need to be careful, and we need to watch what you guys are all warning about, this rabbit hole, the dominos and all that stuff, but I can see it being done and it would lead towards—
Brad interrupts, “Dan can I say something in response?”
Dan, “Yeah, sure.”
Brad, “I think that when the conversation focuses on apology on the need or lack of need for an apology, I think it’s actually a real distraction,
Marguerite, “Yes it is.”
Brad continues, “because there’s something more important than apologizing. Because you can apologize for the effects of something. You can apologize that something hurt somebody without actually acknowledging that it was wrong. An apology isn’t an essential step in the repentance process.
It may be, but it may not be, but what is absolutely essential is that you acknowledge the need of repentance in the first place. You acknowledge that it was wrong, and if the Randy Bott debacle and all of its aftermath has taught us anything, it is that we are not past this issue in the church.”
Dan, “For sure.”
Brad, “This is a source of pain, this is a source of problems, this is still a millstone around our neck, an Achilles heel or whatever metaphor you want to use. It seems obvious to me, you cannot get past this while at the same time refusing—we’re making it worse for ourselves because now we’re saying racism is bad, all racism, past and present, inside and outside the church is bad, is wrong we condemn it, but no comment on the ban.
That bespeaks a state of denial, an unwillingness to really come to terms with what the ban was, and the great evil that it entailed in the lives of millions and millions of children of God. If we are going to feel and experience and take in the full power of the atonement as a church, the power of the atonement to transform, to bring you back to a path of righteousness when you’ve gone astray, to lift you out of the mire of sin, we have to acknowledge it. We have to at least be willing to say, regardless of whether there’s an apology to somebody, we have to be willing to say, you know what, it was racist and it was wrong.”
Dan, “And then you’ve added in some language, we need to repudiate it, disavow it, you know, that’s a lot different than apologize for how it’s harmed. Yeah, and that’s clearly what your blog post points to.”
Brad, “Apology, no apology, it’s about contrition. You cannot have the full power of Christ in your life without a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”
Marguerite, “I would ask though, I don’t disagree with the idea that you have to acknowledge the sin in order to repent of it and open you heart and make sure the stain is gone, but the church is millions of individuals. How does an institution? An institution has no soul. It is merely the collection of everybody in it. I think that we don’t want to set up on a path where—I mean I want to acknowledge all the individuals to that introspection that Dan was talking about to that kind of individual repentance. If you get there, you’re done. You can be done. Does the institution itself have to say something? Can an institution repent the way that you’re talking about?”
Brad, “I think it can I think it has to.”
Dan, “I do too, yeah.”
Gina, “Yeah me too.”
Brad continues, “I think on the one hand we’re called to repent.”
Marguerite interrupts, “Yes, but that’s individuals, that’s people. That’s the individuals in the Church.”
Brad continues, “Churches and nations and people, entire peoples are called to repentance.”
Marguerite, “But that’s the individuals, that’s individuals who are called to repentance.”
Dan, “No, I, I….”
Marguerite, “How can an institution be condemned or saved? It’s the people. The church exists to save the individuals, and that’s why it exists.”
Brad, “The Church doesn’t exist for individuals, it exists to build Zion. It exists to achieve potential as—“
Marguerite, “Yeah but what Zion?”
Brad continues, “As an institution.”
Marguerite, “What Zion? But that’s just it. The Church like the Sabbath—man was not invented for the Sabbath, Sabbath was invented for man. And that’s the same thing as the Church. Man was not invented for the church. The church was instituted for man that we may learn and grow and get back to Heavenly Father. So as an institution—”
Brad interrupts, “We don’t just do it as individuals, we do it as a society. We depend on each other. We are sealed together as a community. Zion. The end result is not an individual association with God, it’s a kingdom.”
Marguerite, “No but its each individual has to be the part of that.”
Brad, “Right, I’m not saying—“
Dan, “It’s a both Marguerite. I think you’re playing up the individual piece of it. But I do think there’s a precedent for calling nations and things, especially this at this repudiation level, we have to absolutely not just explain it, we have to reject it. Reject those structures.”
Marguerite, “I agree that this stuff is necessary. The Church has to take the lead in eradicating erroneous teachings wherever it finds them. And this is a whole bunch of erroneous stuff out there, and they need to absolutely correct that. But the reason is because people’s belief in those erroneous teachings then cuts them off from God. It allows hatred and racism/discrimination to infect all of the individuals when the teaching is there. I think the Church has to get rid of that, but you know, sitting here as a black person, I don’t need anybody here to come and apologize to me.”
Brad, “I’m not asking anybody to apologize.”
Gina, “I want an apology.”
Dan, “All right! Go Gina.”
Marguerite, ”I’m sorry Gina!”
Brad, “What I want though is I want us to acknowledge if we’re going to say that we need to eradicate false teachings, and the false teaching that we need to eradicate most is the false teaching that there was nothing wrong with the ban, that the ban wasn’t racist.”
Marguerite, “I agree, although I have not yet, I haven’t heard the Church’s statements are not saying there was nothing wrong with it, they just say we can’t explain where it came from.”
Brad, “They’re refusing to say that there was something wrong with it though.”
Marguerite, “Ummm, I guess I have to look at that. The current press release doesn’t really address that one way or another. They acknowledge the existence of the ban, they say for a time it existed and they can’t explain why it existed. It ended in ’78 and then they go—“
Brad, “Completely passing on the question of there being anything wrong with it.”
Dan, “It’s missing for sure.”
Marguerite, “Yeah, that’s what it is. They’re passing on that. They have not actually affirmative stated there was nothing wrong with it, they also have not affirmatively stated that it was something terribly wrong with it.”
Brad, “President Hinckley stated there was nothing wrong with it several years ago. So it is something that does need—“
Marguerite, “What raised that? What were his exact words? Do you have that in front of you, because I actually read that just yesterday. He didn’t say, ‘Oh, there was nothing wrong with it, what he did was—“
Brad, “He said it wasn’t wrong.”
Marguerite, “Is that was the quote was? Because I don’t remember the ‘it was not wrong.’ I remember him deftly avoiding a couple of those questions that led directly to that and what he really said was it’s now over with and the revelation came and there was some language about, what was it? I don’t have it in front of me anymore but I just read it the other day. He did not say, ‘it was not wrong’, what he said was ‘this is over. We don’t have the source of that policy was, but it is now gone, and why can’t we move past this?’ He left with the same kind of language he did in the Larry King interview. You know why are we focusing on this when that’s past history. Let’s focus and move forward.”
Brad, “Yeah, I’m just assuming we’re reading different things.”
Dan, “Could be, yeah, yeah.”
Brad, “He probably got asked about it quite often.”
Marguerite, “Oh I’m sure he did, but by the time he was on Larry King, you saw it. He was expert at, he didn’t defend it, he didn’t condemn it. He said it was, it existed, we don’t know what the source was. It ended in ’78 and let’s talk about something else. That’s kind of been the script for several years for ya know…”
Dan, “New script coming, please. Let’s hope.”
Marguerite, “I don’t disagree that the conversation needs to happen, I just wanted to make sure that—I don’t want anybody’s focus, I don’t want any individuals, personal relationships or their testimonies with say the truths that are in the Book of Mormon and the truths that are in the gospel to be hindered by them waiting for a, you know an “I’m sorry”. There are black people who joined the church when the ban existed and that kind of faith I don’t want to trivialize or minimize the amazing steps, the path that these people walked that quite frankly I have no idea if I would be able to walk at that time with that kind of faith, and with that kind of grace in the face of all that difficulty, extant, not just past, not just lingering, not just the artifacts, but in their faces every single day. And that to me is tremendous faith in truths of the doctrine that isn’t tied to what other people think, what other people say. I don’t want to ever deny someone the ability to walk that path.”
Brad, “No, I agree, and I don’t think that-that’s why I began that conversations about apology are sidestepping the main issue, which is that our unwillingness to acknowledge that it was wrong is still a stumbling block.”
Marguerite, “Well, and I would just add too that there’s a lot of other stumbling blocks to that conversation that people don’t have a good understanding of discrimination, they don’t have a good understanding of racism, and as long as they believe that they are not racist unless they possess animosity, hatred based on race, then this question can never be asked. Because they will say there was no racism because there was no animosity. “
Marguerite , “What we have to do first is let people know that discrimination based on race is racism no matter what your motives, no matter what your understanding. If they have that, then people can start to do the light bulb will go off. Oh my gosh! That was discrimination, then that was racist. We need to have that other conversation first. We need to educate people as to ‘look guys this is discrimination.’ If somebody can be a religion professor at BYU for umpteen years and go into Washington Post saying that discrimination is merely denying people something that will be a benefit to them, we’ve got a lot of educating to do on that issue there before we can even get to the loftier issues that are the goal here.”
Dan, “Very good, thank you. Hey guys we got to wrap this up.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with Marguerite or Brad on the appropriateness of an apology? Can/Should an institution repent?