July 21, 2010

The Worthiness of Souls

Imagine being a fly on the wall in a bishop's office in 1977. A warm and friendly bishop sits across from a middle-aged, stereotypical member. The bishop interviews him for a temple recommend renewal (the questions have been abbreviated for space's sake, and modernized for familiarity's sake).

Bishop: "Brother Johnson, do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?"

J: "Yes sir."

Bishop [after more questions]: "Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator; and do you recognize him as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?"

J: "Absolutely!"

Bishop: "Do you sustain the other General Authorities and the local authorities of the Church?"

J: "I do."

[answers more questions satisfactorily]

Bishop: "Are you a full-tithe payer? Do you keep the Word of Wisdom? Do you consider yourself worthy in every way to enter the temple and participate in temple ordinances?"

[Brother Johnson answers each question in the affirmative.]

Bishop: "Marvelous. Well everything seems in order." [the bishop begins to sign the recommend and makes some small talk] "So what did you think of Sister Young's talk today?"

J: "On genealogy? I thought it was perfect timing. I had just completed a big chunk of my genealogical record."

Bishop: "Really? That's wonderful. I hope you're finding some interesting things [hands recommend over]."

J: "Yes. As a matter of fact, I was surprised to find that I actually have a great great great great grandfather who was a freed slave! Imagine that!"

Bishop [suddenly serious]: "Wait a moment. You mean he was African?"

J: "Well yeah. He was born on a plantation in Georgia, but was given his freedom after rescuing his master's wife from a wolf! Amazing story really. After that he moved out West where he met my great great great great grandmother, a Swedish immigrant."

Bishop: "I see. Well I'm afraid this changes everything."

J: "I'm sorry?"

Bishop: "Brother Johnson, I'm afraid I'll have to ask for your recommend" [Bishop tears it up and discards it].

J: "I don't understand."

Bishop: "Well, it turns out that you're not temple worthy. In fact, you've never been temple worthy. That African blood flowing through your veins disqualifies you from entering the temple, and I'm afraid that this nullifies your sealing to your wife and children."

J: "But I answered all of the questions honestly! I've done nothing out of accordance with Church teachings!"

Bishop: "I know, and I appreciate your efforts and honesty, but if I'd have known about the grandfather, I never would have let you enter the temple in the first place. In fact, you should probably try to forget everything you learned there. I apologize for the misunderstanding. Oh, but before you go, the Lord would like to extend another calling to you..."

Fictional? Yes. Unrealistic? Not at all;
  • Presidents and other authorities of the LDS church before 1978 stated that even one drop of African blood would make a person cursed concerning the priesthood (source).
  • Jane Manning James, the first documented African American pioneer, repeatedly petitioned the First Presidency to be allowed to enter the temple and have her children sealed to her, but her requests were denied each time even though she was worthy by every other standard. The only reason she was not allowed in the temple was the color of her skin (Embry, 1994).
D&C 18:10-11 states, "Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore He suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him." It seems, however, that every LDS prophet from Brigham Young up until Spencer W. Kimball (10 presidents of the Church) interpreted that scripture differently. They apparently were told by God that it meant "...He suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him, except for blacks. They cannot repent sufficiently to come as close as a white man unto him." How is it that some still claim this racism was due to "limited understanding" (e.g., McConkie, 1989, p. 165)?
  • Wilford Woodruff said, "I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty” (Official Declaration - 1).
  • Harold B. Lee (1968) said, “God will never permit him [the president of the Church] to lead us astray. As has been said, God would remove us [the leaders] out of our place if we should attempt to do it. You have no concern.”
According to these quotes, there is no validity to the argument that 10 prophets spoke with limited understanding when declaring that Africans were an inferior race. Either they spoke the truth, or they were not called by God. The answer seems clear to me. Why do so many members still offer these men the protection of their faith after such an obvious and grievous violation of Christ's teachings?


Embry, J. L. (1994). Black saints in a white church: Contemporary African American Mormons. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

McConkie, M. L. (Ed., 1989). Doctrines of the restoration: Sermons & writings of Bruce R. McConkie. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.

Lee, H. B. (1968, July 8). The place of the living prophet, seer, and revelator. Address delivered to seminary and institute faculty, Brigham Young University, p. 13.

July 8, 2010

Pleading Ignorance

A common response to my position on the Church from believers is essentially that God approves of erring on the side of ignorance as long as one believes it is in His service. That is, believers sometimes admit that there are no explanations for many of my concerns, and that my concerns certainly appear valid, but that even if we critics are right about these things, they will somehow gain a greater reward if they follow the Church anyway. I've been told by several members that they just don't worry about these things right now. They wonder about them, but put them on the cognitive back-burners to be addressed at some undetermined point in the future: probably death. Believers seem to insist that even if these disturbing criticisms are true, as long as they are doing what they are told to in the present, that will be enough. It is as if they say, "Although there is no reasonable answer for this, I believe God wants me to follow it anyway. He rewards faith, not investigation."

I often wonder what God might say to them upon their deaths if my criticisms are correct. I wonder if he would meet them at the pearly gates and say,

"You did pretty well down there, but you died a member of the LDS church?"

The believer would defend his or her actions, "Well, yeah! That's what I was taught you wanted!"

God might say, "No, that's what they told you I want. I tried to send you the real message."

The believer wonders, "What message?"

God responds, "I directed you to discover Joseph Smith's dozens of wives, on your mission I led you to speak to that Jehovah's Witness who mentioned Brigham Young's racism, and when you were researching for that talk I kept trying to get you to read all that evidence that Joseph Smith's translations were a bunch of nonsense! You kept ignoring all of my attempts to lead you to the truth!"

Believer: "Well, yeah, but all that contradicted what you have revealed."

God: "You mean what the LDS church says I revealed. Did it ever occur to you that all those things weren't a trial of faith for you, but a message from me?"

Believer: "No. But even so, I figured if I remained obedient, that was the most important thing."

God: "But you were obedient to a church. That is not the same as being obedient to me. I gave you conscience, intelligence, and curiosity. I never wanted you to drown those things out for the sake of obedience to a false message."

Believer: "But I ignored those things out of love for you!"

God: "I know that. But you also loved your church. If you really loved me more than your church, you would have done everything in your power to find out the truth, even if it meant that your church was wrong. Instead, you showed me that you loved your church more than the truth. You loved comfort more than honesty."

Believer: "Well, why didn't you give me something more obvious?"

God: "What more did you want? I gave you every opportunity to learn for yourself, and when that didn't work I sent people who had learned to tell you face to face. You called them 'deceived sinners'. You even knew about Joseph Smith's polygamy and you did nothing!"

Believer: "That's not true. I talked to my bishop about it."

God: "...And he gave you some vague answer that helped to quiet your conscience about it long enough for you to ignore it again. The fact remains that Smith had more than 30 wives with no justification, and you still thought he might be my prophet?!?"

Believer: "The bishop told me I would learn the reasons for it later."

God: "And instead, you're learning that you were wrong - misled by the cunning and craftiness of men for your whole life. Going so far as to ignore what I placed right in front of you. You spent all that time waiting to learn what I was trying to tell you right then."

Of course, I don't know what that conversation may look like, if it ever happens. But I feel that, if nothing else, I can honestly say that I have done all I can to know whether or not the LDS church is His church. In closing, I will end this post with a quote from the LDS god:

"It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance." D&C 131:6