March 25, 2013

Mixed Messages Part II

Continuing my comments on the LDS church's latest edition of its scriptures, I would like to now address the new introduction to the second Official Declaration at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants. The introduction reads, in its entirety:

The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.
While I completely agree with the leaders' decision to finally remove the racial restrictions, I will focus my comments on two of the claims made in this new introduction. First, the statement "Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice" is a complete lie. Consider the following:

In 1947 the First Presidency issued this Official Statement:
From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel. (Statement of The First Presidency on the Negro Question, July 17, 1947, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, pp.46-7)
In 1949, The First Presidency issued the following statement:
The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. (The First Presidency on the Negro Question, 17 Aug. 1949)
And an Official Statement of The First Presidency, issued on August 17, 1951, reads:
The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes... Man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam's transgression.  If this is carried further, it would imply that the Negro is punished or allotted to a certain position on this earth, not because of Cain's transgression, but came to earth through the loins of Cain because of his failure to achieve other stature in the spirit world.
It is thus entirely clear that several Church documents outline the origins of the racial restrictions to the priesthood. They claim that it was direct revelation from God. The current introduction to the Official Declaration implies that it was somehow just a simple misunderstanding, but this is in conflict with the official statements by leaders that the restriction was doctrine because of God's direct communication of such. I find it repulsive that the leaders now easily disregard those past "revelations", and yet claim that Spencer W. Kimball's "revelation" was real. Which leads to my next point.

The new introduction states "Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance." This statement suggests that leaders were anxious to end the Church's racist practices, when in fact the LDS church was the last major U.S. organization to begin treating Blacks and Whites equally. Even after dozens of requests and inquiries as to the possibility of removing the restrictions based on race, church leaders held stubbornly to the practice, and continually claimed it to be God's policy, not theirs. 

Rather than minimizing this disturbing, systemic racism in the Church's past, it is time that leaders acknowledge that those past "revelations" were inspired by racism and ignorance, and were never the will of God. This is why I can find no faith in any LDS leader who claims to know what God wants me to do. Past leaders commanded incorrect, arguably evil, practices to be carried out against innocent people for over a century, and now do not even acknowledge that it was a horrible mistake. They continue to insist that they are and were God's voice to His children. If they are, then that is not a god I choose to follow.

March 22, 2013

Mixed Messages

The reader may be aware that the Church recently announced completing a new edition of LDS scripture. The new edition corrects some typographical errors, adjusts information in footnotes and chapter headings, etc. For this post, I will comment on the new edition's introductory paragraphs for the Official Declarations at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The introduction reads, in its entirety:
The Bible and the Book of Mormon teach that monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless He declares otherwise (see 2 Samuel 12:7–8 and Jacob 2:27, 30). Following a revelation to Joseph Smith, the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s (see section 132). From the 1860s to the 1880s, the United States government passed laws to make this religious practice illegal. These laws were eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the following Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church.
First, is that LDS scripture states that monogamy is God's standard for marriage. I have a difficult time understanding the language of it being a standard, "unless He declares otherwise". All the research I have done about polygamy in the Church has shown that plural marriage is the standard, and that God only tolerates monogamy when His people are unable to live polygamy. 

Although I agree that the text of both the Bible and The Book of Mormon make clear the superiority of monogamy (1 Corinthians 7:2; Deuteronomy 17:17; Ether 10:5; Jacob 1:15, 2:24, 26-27, 3:5; Mark 10:11; Mosiah 11:2; 1 Timothy 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6; also see D&C 49:16), LDS leaders and members have made clear their belief that God holds polygamy in higher esteem than monogamy. For example,
  • Brigham Young taught, "Since the founding of the Roman empire monogamy has prevailed more extensively than in times previous to that. The founders of that ancient empire were robbers and women stealers, and made laws favoring monogamy in consequence of the scarcity of women among them, and hence this monogamic system which now prevails throughout Christendom, and which had been so fruitful a source of prostitution and whoredom throughout all the Christian monogamic cities of the Old and New World, until rottenness and decay are at the root of their institutions both national and religious." (Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p. 128) 
  • John Taylor (1853) preached, "...the one-wife system not only degenerates the human family, both physically and intellectually, but it is entirely incompatible with philosophical notions of immortality; it is a lure to temptation, and has always proved a curse to a people." (p. 227) 
  • The Doctrine and Covenants contradict the idea of monogamy being a higher law than polygamy. D&C 132:3-4, 6 state, when introducing the principle of polygamy, “Therefore, prepare thy heart to receive and obey the instructions which I am about to give unto you; for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same. For behold, I reveal unto you a new and an everlasting covenant; and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory… And as pertaining to the new and everlasting covenant, it was instituted for the fullness of my glory; and he that receiveth a fullness thereof must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned, saith the Lord God.”
These statements suggest to me that polygamy is the LDS God's standard of marriage, unless God allows otherwise. Now the Church has released the contradictory introduction to the Official Declaration, suggesting that polygamy was a break from the norm.
Are they implying that the decades-long practice of the "new and everlasting covenant" by early members was simply a temporary break from the higher law of monogamy? If that is true, the Ruler of the Universe must have had a very compelling reason for it. I, therefore, ask again, what was the purpose of polygamy?

Secondly, it is incorrect that "the practice of plural marriage was instituted among Church members in the early 1840s". Joseph Smith had already married at least 3 women (including Emma Hale) by that time (Compton, 2001).

Third, the introduction suggests that LDS were legally practicing polygamy since its inception - as if they were simply appealing the practice thereof until the Supreme Court finally upheld laws against its practice. The claim is simply false:
  • The Illinois Anti-bigamy law outlawed polygamy. It was passed in 1833 (Revised Laws of Illinois) while the LDS were there. Most did not leave until 1846. Joseph Smith, Jr. took his first plural wife between 1833 and 1835. 
  • The introduction correctly cites the first federal legislation to outlaw polygamy, passed in 1862 (Embry, 2007). 
  • The introduction also correctly states that the Church finally issued the Official Declaration against polygamy in 1890, long after it had been made illegal, but the statement was not accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding; Polygamous marriages still took place until at least 1904 (Embry, 2007). 
  • In brief, everywhere the LDS practiced polygamy, it was illegal. This is the longest campaign of civil disobedience in American history (Bagley, 2007).
I am certain that church leaders went to great lengths to carefully word these introductions in order to appear historically plausible, while not too out-of-line with what the Church has taught for decades. It appears to me, however, that this is simply another attempt to hide the uncomfortable and disturbing details of the Church's past.