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Thoughts on “Race and the Priesthood”

By Christie Rasmussen

Official Declaration 2

A couple weeks ago, the Church quietly published an article online entitled, “Race and the Priesthood.” This understated introduction did not stop the piece from being littered across my social media feed. Many times, it was shared without comment—a silent plea to just follow the link and read the essay. With the same feeling (although not quite silent), I share a link here and humbly ask, if you have not already done so, that you read the article.

I feel fortunate to be raised in the time that I was. As a millennial, I feel much of society was earnestly trying to repair some of the prejudicial damage done the generations before me. I realize we’re not perfect and we have our own weaknesses, but I still feel we have come a long way from the generations previous in the terms of racism and race-related bigotry.

Reading this Church-published article, however, I wondered, “why now?” and “why not sooner?” Nothing in the piece struck me as news, or even controversial. Perhaps this standpoint is naïve, and maybe my age is showing, but the facts presented seemed like common knowledge. To me, such a piece would have been timely in the 20th century, not over a decade into the 21st. I wonder why we are bringing up such an archaic point now (in my imperfect experience, I have found few that will debate the revelation to extend the Priesthood to all races) when there are so many other timelier concerns that would benefit from an official Church statement. For example, while the article graciously made the point that “all are alike unto God,” it gave no explanation for why women are not extended the same privilege as men. I realize much has been said to this point over the pulpit, but I wouldn’t say no to such a thoughtful study as was given to race and the Priesthood in this article.

Still, truth is beautiful, and truth shone through. One of my favorite parts were these two forthright, and somewhat blunt, sentences:

Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.

I love the Church’s recent trend of increased transparency. While we can speculate and justify all we like, some things have no logical explanation. The Lord does not always function in the terms of what’s logical (“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.”) And sometimes certain policies exist because men and women are human and therefore fallible. Like President Uchtdorf mentioned in his General Conference address, “ . . . to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes.” Not to say that everything regarding race and the Priesthood was a mistake (since we cannot understand the Lord’s means and are not fit to judge how His gospel unfolds), but it’s comforting to see the Church admit when its leadership has stumbled. Even if innocently posed, rumors about the worthiness of members based on the color of their skin are definitely a stumble back.

I cannot explain the timing or catalyst for this article, but I still affirm its truth. I know I have been blessed by worthy Priesthood holders of every race and I am grateful so many are able to serve today. It is comforting to have such a concrete declaration from the Church on what has historically been a painful subject. I look forward to more pieces like this in the future. Like Holland said when fielding questions about the difference in missionary age across genders: “One miracle at a time.”

Did you read the “Race and the Priesthood” article? What are your thoughts? Do you feel like the author left out anything important? What other concerns do you wish the Church would speak out about?

About Christie Rasmussen

(Publicity and Blog Team)

9 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Race and the Priesthood””

  1. As one who had a dear (mixed race) convert friend leave the church in the past couple years due to this issue, I am grateful that the church has (some would say 'finally') come out with a compassionate, honest, and authoritative statement about our history with race. My friend was not so much upset about events prior to 1978, but was told shocking "doctrine" why blacks could not hold the priesthood by church leaders when she asked questions. She read quotes in Sunday School manuals about how mixed-race marriages weren't encouraged. She encountered resistance of white men in the church who didn't want to date her because she was black. I tried to explain several times that none of these things were doctrine, that "all are alike unto God," that we don't know why the priesthood ban was in effect for so long or why such misinformation still exists in the church today, but she'd had enough.

    I agree with you that there was nothing earth-shattering in the article; none of it was news to me, but the fact is that these myths and false-doctrines (however well-meaning) continue to be passed along (yes, even in 2013). Finally, there is a concise, recent, official source we can turn to when addressing these concerns.

    I love how the church completely owned its past and even refuted the exact tenets that used to be held as doctrine (by some). As you stated, I hope this trend continues and the church continues tackling sensitive topics with compassion and clarity.

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  2. Hi, I am visiting your blog. I had not heard of that church statement until I stumbled upon it. I found it interesting and wondered what the motivation was. I am African American and I joined the Church 6 years ago. Mormons have always been in my life in some form or fashion. I did not know about a priesthood ban, but I was always told that the Church did not accept Black people as members. But I remember in 1984-5 I met a married couple who were so friendly to me and helped me out, just like we do. And they invited me to Church. I asked what church and they told me they were members of the "Mormon Church". I remember my reaction was "I can't come to your church, I am Black", to which my friends said "Duh, so are we". I didn't go, and it wasn't until I met my husband almost 10 years later, who is white and a Mormon; that I had the courage to try it. So I joined, and received all of the blessings of the Priesthood: my endowment, sealing to my husband, everything. Now the irony is that I am the new Gospel Doctrine teacher in my ward. I love this calling, but I am aware of the "historical" landmines, and I really pray for guidance and revelation on how to bring out the lesson with proper respect . I realize that I am a part of the history of the church too.
    In teaching the lesson on Correlation ( which seems to be a landmine too) I found something profound in D&C 1:24-28. In vs 24 the Lord stands behind his commandments and those servants chosen to do the work. His word, being perfect was given to this servants in all of their weakness or the messiness of being human.
    In 25 and inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
    26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
    27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent
    28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.
    I believe that forgiveness is what this is about. Progress is where we are going. The Savior said that all thing would be made new, maybe this is the way.

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  3. I don't know how I feel about this essay quite yet. In the past, as a white life-long member, this wasn't an issue that I thought about much. Now, as a mother of a black little boy, this is something I will have to consider and be prepared to talk about with all of my children.

    One issue I have is this: The essay seems to imply that the policy of restricting blacks from receiving the priesthood and temple blessings was NOT doctrine. In describing the racial history of America, the essay describes how the Supreme Court first upheld 'separate but equal' facilities, but then reversed itself in the 1950's. How is it different what the Church did then? It held one policy/belief (but NOT doctrine) for many years and then reversed the policy in later years.

    This leads to major theological implications. When is something a prophet or apostle says doctrine, when it is merely policy, and when it is just plain wrong? President Uchdorf specifically said at the last conference that there have been times when "leaders in the church have simply made mistakes." Something I will be thinking about…

    Overall, I got the feeling that this statement was trying to smooth over the history, but left some major holes behind. I do appreciate the apparent increase in or at least attempted transparency. I feel like the Church is recognizing the need to address tough topics that are causing many to question or even leave the Church.

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  4. I'm grateful for the recent series of articles the church is quietly putting out there (there have been a few others, eg: the different versions of the 1st vision). I wish they'd have made more of a deal about it, vs. just quietly putting it online and letting The People discover and create the buzz. The one thing that makes me sad about this article is that it stopped short of apologizing. Not that people today can compensate for the mistakes of those in the past, but it would have been a nice gesture that would help heal some wounds.

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  5. I liked the summary but I feel that it was irrelevant because the church admired its racist history without talking about what steps it is taking to undo the stereotypes that it helped create for a century. That is why I do not see the point of this article even though it was a nice summary. If it really wanted to address this problem, this summary should have been read from the pulpit on sunday and the each ward should have dedicated the sunday lesson to talk about this issue and what they could do in their wards to prevent discrimination from happening and how they can integrate their black brothers and sisters better in their wards and friendships. This is the issue not what happened in the past.

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  6. I teach teens a large class of teens at church, and three of them told me in the fall about church teachers telling them as students of color in my class things like "you will be resurrected as a white person" and they were told about the curse of Cain. I was astonished. (I was 14 when the Official Declaration 2 was made. I thought all that nonsense was left behind in the 20th C.) When I mentioned the shock of seeing this persistent problem to another member who lives in my city, she replied with a long statement about the curse of Cain being the cause for dark skin. I couldn't believe these concepts were still floating around. So when a month later, I read about the update in the gospel topics, I printed out the intro, the conclusion and an affiliated statement on mormonnewsroom and gave it to my students. After the fact, I gave a copy to the SS president and the bishop. One of them asked me to please not bring up touchy subjects. (Too late! I already did. And the students brought it up first, anyway.) But I was so concerned about my students' pain for being treated as second class citizens at church that I wanted to draw their attention to the article if they wanted further assurance that those peoples' statements were wrong. One student asked if she could give her copy to a friend at school who had been asking about the church's position. The internet has a lot of information from a lot of sources about a lot of gospel topics. I think the Church is seeing a need to address issues directly that were kind of ignored. Race, polygamy, Mountain Meadow Massacre, etc. It's scary to do this, but honesty about some of the very human moments of church history works out to be better in the long run. It shows maturity, courage, and compassion in the present.

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  7. Awesome, thank you for doing that. i am African american and a recent convert. I grew up in Southern Baptist church's that were predominately black, and guess what was taught to us? You guessed it. Imagine the confusion of having your Pastor's preach this doctrine? Only to feel like "What's the use of going to Church then" if we are destined for a lesser alternative. I wondered how could God be "prejudiced" when he made us this way?
    I know that racism is insidious to the point of being generational, even family "doctrine". I am learning that this is a device of the adversary and a really potent one. It can only be stopped one by one, family by family. I am glad the Church is issuing those statements. In society today, there is always a demand for "apologies" and "justice" and restitution". If we believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the Restored Church, then the restorative process is ongoing. Sort of like a slo mo" version of Jesus cleansing the temple.

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  8. Wow is all I can Say.
    History of the Church, Volume5, pp.218-219 Joseph Smith stated "If I had anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species…"
    Journal of Discourses, Vol. 22 page 304 John Taylor 3rd President of the Church stated "it was necessary that the devil should have representation upon the earth" in describing the curse of Cain being black skin.
    The Way to Perfection, pages 105-106…President Brigham Young states that the negros were not neutral in the war in heaven and therefore are the posterity of Cain and cursed with black skin. On pages 110-11 President Brigham Young goes on to state "Ham, through Egyptus, continued the curse which was placed upon the seed of Cain. Because of this curse this dark race was separated and isolated from all the rest of Adam's posterity before the flood…and have been despised among all people." THIS DOCTRINE DID NOT ORIGINATE WITH PRESIDENT BRIGHAM YOUNG BUT WAS TAUGHT BE THE PROPHET JOSEPH SMITH.
    Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp.527-528 Apostle Bruce R. McConkie stated "..this inequity is not of man's origin. It is the Lord'd doing, is based on HIS eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of Spiritual valiance…"

    I could go on and on .. my point being, the church is VERY clear where this position and/or prophecy came from and to remain "unclear" and "misleading", throwing Brigham Young under the bus when it came from Joseph Smith, who did not want "blacks" is the state of Missouri and prevented them from membership in the Mormon church, brings into question all prophets inspiration and revelation. How do you explain redacting a prophets revelation? And, Bruce R. McConkie stating it is the Lord's doing is blaspheme.

    Fact: The Bible is the word of God and at no time has anyone attempted to redact or expounge what Jesus or any Bible prophet has said.

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