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.

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