Monday, March 4, 2013

I'm Confused

Race discrimination is a delicate topic in the U.S. (and in other parts of the western world).  If you want to preserve your reputation, you simply do not bash members of non-white races.

Mark E. Petersen
The Mormon Church came under fire in the 1970's because it denied priesthood ordinations to black men.  Its longstanding policy was articulated by Mark E. Petersen in this speech

Spencer W. Kimball
The hue and cry reached a fever pitch in 1978, and the Church's Council of the Twelve saw no other option but to surrender to public sentiment and alter its policy.  The Church was facing immense pressure regarding its new temple in Sao Paolo, Brazil.  Church president, Spencer W. Kimball, had been confronting criticism for several years.  In June, of 1978, Kimball announced that through "revelation" he (and the Twelve) had been directed by God to start ordaining negroes.  You can read about these events here, but I have been unable to find a copy of the alleged revelation to Kimball.  Perhaps he considered it too personal and not for general publication.

Last week the Church announced a batch of changes it has recently made to its canon of holy writ - the four "Standard Works" (read this article in the Salt Lake Tribune).  Among the recent edits are "tweaks" to the portions of the scriptures that address race.  Part of Peggy Fletcher Stack's article reads:

 - - - The lead-in to Official Declaration 2, which describes the church’s 1978 announcement to lift its ban on black males holding the faith’s priesthood, makes clear that Mormon founder Joseph Smith had previously ordained several black men.
Subsequent LDS officials "stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent," the new introduction says. "Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice."

The new edition does not dispel any of the theological myths that arose to defend the practice, saying only that Mormon leaders believed it would take a revelation to undo the ban. 

"I am thrilled by the new statement regarding blacks," says Darius Gray, former president of the Genesis Group, a support organization for black Mormons. "The language is more forthcoming than anything we’ve previously had on the past priesthood restriction, so I take great pleasure in seeing the changes." - - -

So, as an external observer, I find my self confused by the mixed arguments made by the Church regarding its policies towards negroes and the priesthood.  The Church's two contrasting explanations can be summed up by the following:

1.  Blacks were denied priesthood throughout and since Bible times.  Joseph Smith eventually came to understand this proscription and retracted the ordination of Elijah Abel (a negro) after having given him the priesthood in error.  Negroes remained ineligible to receive priesthood until 1978, when God deemed them finally worthy (lifting the "Curse of Cain"), and He directed Spencer Kimball to start ordaining them, admitting them to the temples, and sealing them to white people. 

2.  Blacks have been worthy to hold priesthood since the days of their first ancestor.  Joseph Smith ordained them rightfully.  Joseph Smith's successors INEXPLICABLY suspended the ordination of negroes, - - - - and, no matter how hard we look, we cannot find a single treatise in the "records" of the Church to help us understand why blacks were refused priesthood.  So, when we woke up in the 1970's, we realized what a silly oversight this was, and we hurried and corrected it (especially in light of the huge international outcry against our doctrines).

Aren't you just as confused as I am?  Do you get the impression that the Church's doctrines have a half-life of about 20 years, and depend wholly on the prevailing tide of fashion and public sentiment?

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