Randy Bott was unarguably the most popular Brigham Young University religion (or any other) professor on campus. He’d just won a national student poll and was reigning US “professor of the year.” He taught the mission prep class and gave great lectures. He was an excellent scholar of LDS history and doctrine. You could say he was this generation’s Paul Dunn. He was similarly popular with the missionary force. Unfortunately, he met with a fate similar to that of Paul Dunn in the end. Only, unlike Dunn’s case, Bott’s denouement had less to do with self-promoting rumors and stretching the truth for a good story, than in engaging our modern, heavily weaponized 21st century American journalism armed only with a 19th century muzzle-loader filled with soggy old powder and a load of old cobblers.
Dr Bott’s first mistake was granting an interview with the Washington Post. His second mistake was thinking he’d have no trouble simply outlining what he understood to be the truth about Mormon Curse of Cain doctrine in such a national forum and then using his decades of experience in the LDS arena to satisfy any followup questions. And keep in mind that he was a tenured professor of religion at the LDS church’s premier institution of higher education. Keep in mind he’d been there preaching this selfsame “gospel” in the mission-prep class and all over campus for over 18 years. It would be easy to assume that since Randy Bott had been awarded his D.Ed. from BYU itself, that such an advanced degree should easily certify him to discuss and understand all 161 years of Mormon doctrine surrounding the LDS “Negro Question” perfectly well. Brigham Young was it now seems, the man who invented the whole system of LDS Curse of Cain mythology, and Young likewise founded the university from which Bott got his doctorate. I don’t know if there could be anyone with a closer connection to the subject than that. One might well imagine that asking a BYU religion professor a few questions about Mormonism would be a pretty safe proposition.
And you would be wrong.
In his office, religion professor Randy Bott explains a possible theological underpinning of the ban. According to Mormon scriptures, the descendants of Cain, who killed his brother, Abel, “were black.” One of Cain’s descendants was Egyptus, a woman Mormons believe was the namesake of Egypt. She married Ham, whose descendants were themselves cursed and, in the view of many Mormons, barred from the priesthood by his father, Noah. Bott points to the Mormon holy text the Book of Abraham as suggesting that all of the descendants of Ham and Egyptus were thus black and barred from the priesthood.
It’s not clear whether Joseph Smith, the religion’s founder, who ordained at least one black priest, supported the ban. But his successor, Brigham Young, enforced it enthusiastically as the word of God, supporting slavery in Utah and decreeing that the “mark” on Cain was “the flat nose and black skin.” Young subsequently urged immediate death to any participant in mixing of the races. As recently as 1949, church leaders suggested that the ban on blacks resulted from the consequences of the “conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence.” As a result, many Mormons believed that blacks were less valiant in the pre-Earth life, or fence sitters in the war between God and Satan. That view has fallen out of favor in recent decades.
“God has always been discriminatory” when it comes to whom he grants the authority of the priesthood, says Bott, the BYU theologian. He quotes Mormon scripture that states that the Lord gives to people “all that he seeth fit.” Bott compares blacks with a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car, and explains that similarly until 1978, the Lord determined that blacks were not yet ready for the priesthood.
“What is discrimination?” Bott asks. “I think that is keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them, right? But what if it wouldn’t have been a benefit to them?” Bott says that the denial of the priesthood to blacks on Earth — although not in the afterlife — protected them from the lowest rungs of hell reserved for people who abuse their priesthood powers. “You couldn’t fall off the top of the ladder, because you weren’t on the top of the ladder. So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.”
The LDS church Public Relations Department hurled back and almost instant response:
“Professors are free to speak when it comes to their research and subject,” she [church PR rep Jenkings] said, “but we ask that they do not speak on behalf of the Church or BYU.”
Photo Credit: Brigham Young University
Jenkins neither confirmed or denied rumors of Bott possibly being fired saying, “We are handling it internally.”
It didn’t stay an on-campus issue for long. It was very soon anything but an “internal” matter. National media was far more surprised and fascinated with the church’s untypically strong and swift denunciation of Dr Bott’s pioneer-era Curse of Cain dogma, than the dogma itself. The dogma, they’d all heard before. It was all online and just a few clicks away. And contrary to the Washington Post article, the last authoritative statement from the Brethren relegating the “Negro” to second-class status in the church was not 1949, but 1969, and it concurred wholeheartedly with Randy Bott’s sketch of the church’s historical summary of the “Negro’s” pre-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal spiritual disposition. Randy Bott’s assessment drew upon the consensus of essentially every prophet and president of the church from Brigham Young to Gordon B Hinckley, and has been tremendously well researched by numerous BYU historians, scholars, and professors of Mormon theology. The American popular media had heard it all before. They’d just never heard the Brethren back away from it so adamantly before.
And neither had Randy Bott.
Bott was the highest-rated professor in America in 2008, according to RateMyProfessor.com. He teaches large sections of required religion courses, including courses designed to prepare future missionaries, to as many as 3,000 students a year. This semester, more than 800 students are registered in Professor Bott’s classes. (Eleven are registered for BYU’s African-American history course this semester.) Professors at BYU routinely find themselves having to address racist and sexist content taught in Bott’s classes, and many are outraged and embarrassed by his rogue remarks to the Washington Post, say sources at the university. “Dr. Bott does not speak for BYU or the Church and his views are his own,” one religion faculty member told me.
But Professor Bott is no outlier. Especially among older Mormons, racist rationale for the priesthood ban—linking it to Old Testament pretexts, or to moral infirmity in a pre-earthly life by the souls of Africans and African-Americans, and other racist apologetic mental gymnastics exemplified in Bott’s statement to the Post—persist and circulate, generally unquestioned and unchallenged.
Poor professor Bott. When you work, fellowship, and socialize in the rarefied halls of BYU, you don’t realize that outside of the cozy Mormon seminary, BYU, or Sunday school classroom, Mormon Curse of Cain mythology sounds pretty ignorant and silly. And decidedly racist. It looks even worse in print in a national newspaper.
Those of you Saints born about 1978 may even be cheering the purge of this apparently bigoted, irrelevant old codger. But if you did that, in fairness, you’d have likewise cheer the passing of 161 years of LDS leadership. About the time you were old enough to understand what was going on, the whole issue of “Mormonism and the Negro” had been quietly dropped underneath the church’s doctrinal radar. You may even think Randy Bott’s just been all alone in spouting that hateful, racist nonsense because he’s an ignorant, mean-spirited old fossil. But that’s only because when you were growing up, you never had prophets and apostles give conference talks like this:
We are told that Michael and his angels fought, and we understand that we stood with Christ our Lord, on the platform, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” I cannot conceive our Father consigning his children to a condition such as that of the negro race, if they had been valiant in the spirit world in that war in heaven.George Albert Smith, Conference Reports, CR April 1939, Second Day‑Morning Meeting
Those of you born in the 50’s or who otherwise entered the church before about 1978 and the release of Declaration 2 have indeed been indoctrinated into the same theology Randy Bott has been very dramatically and suddenly been called to repent of. It’s been the great, Victorian elephant lumbering around the Mormon theological living room for more than a century and a half.
That wasn’t Randy Bott’s fault.
The positions attributed to BYU professor Randy Bott in a recent Washington Post article absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU faculty members do not speak for the Church. It is unfortunate that the Church was not given a chance to respond to what others said.
For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.
We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.
The “restriction” ended decades previously, yes, but Bott’s only overtly doctrinal error up to his conversation with the Washington Post, was adding a personal touch of apologetic embellishment at the very end of boilerplate LDS Curse of Cain theology that goes unbroken back to Brigham Young. And in this, his “car-keys” analogy and his “doing them a favor” analogy, he’s not unique. I’ve heard the same “doctrine” taught at BYU myself from 1977 to 1985, well after 1978 and Declaration 2, which is now being touted by many LDS “authorities” as the unspoken cutoff date after which none of this nonsense was supposed to be perpetuated.
Bott had been teaching Curse of Cain “doctrines” for decades, to thousands, no, to tens of thousands of BYU students and LDS missionaries. Scores of thousands. As best I can tell in his quickly evaporated online presence, he’d been at BYU in one capacity or the other at least since 1988. Apart from his official teaching duties, he ran a blog online called “Know Your Religion,” and did so for many years. On this blog he propagated the exact same “doctrines” answering Curse of Cane questions from the public and students alike. Why? Because Bott’s allegedly incendiary “racist” comments to the Washington Post can be found in equivalent paraphrase, openly in the works of General Authorities and prophets of the church, like Bruce R McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, George Albert Smith, Harold B Lee, Ezra Taft Benson, Delbert L Stapley, Mark E Peterson, and the full list is practically a roster of every LDS General Authority since Joseph Smith. Parley P Pratt for instance said:
Were the twelve Apostles which Christ ordained, Gentiles? Were any of them Ishmaelites, Edomites, Canaanites, Greeks, Egyptians, or Romans by descent? No, verily. One of the Twelve was called a “Canaanite,” but this could not have alluded to his lineage, but rather to the locality of his nativity, for Christ was not commissioned to minister in person to the Gentiles, much less to ordain any of them to the Priesthood, which pertained to the children of Abraham. I would risk my soul upon the fact that Simon the Apostle was not a Canaanite by blood, He was perhaps a Canaanite upon the same principle that Jesus was a Nazarite, which is expressive of the locality of his birth or sojourn. But no man can hold the keys of Priesthood or of Apostleship, to bless or administer salvation to the nations, unless he is a literal descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus Christ and his ancient Apostles of both hemispheres were of that lineage. When they passed away, and the Saints, their followers, were destroyed from the earth, then the light of truth no longer shone in its fullness.
–Journal of Discourses vol. 1, pp. 256-263
Pratt was one of Mormonism’s early intellectuals, and though his rhetoric is devoid of the overtly racist overtones of many of his other early fellows in the church, he clearly makes a case for restricting the priesthood from the legacy of Canaan—a sentiment backed up by Our Lord Himself in Mathew 15:
26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to adogs.
28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thyafaith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hourhttp://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/matt/15.32-38?lang=eng.
And of course today’s modern “enlightened” Christian sects have apologized their way around the literal truth in these Biblical passages: that even the Savior was well-aware of the lower-caste status of the Canaanites. Moreover, the Savior calls this humble woman, destitute mother, and Canaanite, a “Dog.” The “dog” concedes to being one, and begs its master for the blessing of the priesthood it is not allowed to have by caste and lineage. I repeat that: the DOG accepts the fact that it is considered to be a DOG, and argues with Jesus Christ for a FAVOR as a DOG. If you then connect Canaanites with black skin and Negroid features, you have an easy bridge to a Biblical verification of all the most common permutations of Mormon Curse of Cain theology–and you have it directly from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself, right in the “enlightened” teachings of the New Testament. No trolling the Old Testament, no need for Book of Mormon, “skin color” quotes, no Pearl of Great Price LDS-specific scriptures are at all necessary.
I’m not doing any second-guessing here, I’m just saying that if you accept the Bible to be the Word of God, a record going back to the Original Apostles, and believe it is more-or-less accurate and translated fairly correctly, you can’t simply dismiss the Biblical arguments made by Brigham Young and John Taylor and Parley Pratt or other early LDS leaders as entirely ignorant. You can’t honestly just claim out of hand that they were completely “winging” it. No, they had a lot, rather a lot, of Biblical, CANON law to consider. Now, they may have been racists on top of that, but they respected the canon. And they were functioning as an extension of Jewish and Christian tradition in an American social and political milieu of black, African slavery. All of this affected their logic and judgment. It dulled their openness to “inspiration” and receptiveness to higher enlightenment in the matter, if you choose.
So, Randy Bott’s third big mistake was not licking his finger, pointing it skyward, and checking which way the doctrinal winds had been blowing for at least the last couple of election cycles. Were there any signal flares fired up into the heavens for professor Bott to see? I certainly didn’t see any. Perhaps a memo went around while he was out of the office. I know I never got mine. Maybe the good Dr was so preoccupied blogging about the “Negro Question,” he forgot to check his email for a few decades. Perhaps he doesn’t watch PBS and missed Jeffrey R Holland’s interview in March of 2006:
One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. … I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. …
It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, … we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.
What is the folklore, quite specifically?
Well, some of the folklore that you must be referring to are suggestions that there were decisions made in the pre-mortal councils where someone had not been as decisive in their loyalty to a Gospel plan or the procedures on earth or what was to unfold in mortality, and that therefore that opportunity and mortality was compromised. I really don’t know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I’ve been able to live in the period where we’re not expressing or teaching them, but I think that’s the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils. … But I think that’s the part that must never be taught until anybody knows a lot more than I know. … We just don’t know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced. … That’s my principal [concern], is that we don’t perpetuate explanations about things we don’t know. …
We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic. …
It stands to reason that if you want a cutoff date to be enforced, you have to speak it. Unspoken rules seldom get heard. The rank-and file don’t get the message. That’s like drawing a line in the sand, without actually drawing one. It’s a theoretical line in the sand that only you as the elite hierarchy know about.
Randy Bott was the most popular professor of LDS theology at Brigham Young University. Brigham Young founded both the university and was the primary visionary and hereditary formative leader of the Utah-based “Mormon” church. Yet, Randy Bott didn’t get the message that it was all “folklore.” Randy Bott was not as many church press releases and popular media articles imply, a doddering old fart without a clue. He was right there at the heart of it all.
You can’t shoot the messenger for screwing up the message if you give him the wrong one. And Randy Bott quite accurately preserved and delivered the message you gave him. And “you” know who I’m talking about. I know I didn’t get the “right” or “new” or “corrected” message directly and authoritatively from the Brethren, until 10 December 2013. I’m a pretty smart guy. I actually wanted to keep up with the subject. Randy
Bott had a Doctorate in the subject. What does that say for the average Latter-day Saint puttering along with no specific contact with Mormonism’s “Negro” issue out there in sheltered, white bread pockets of Mormondom?
Do we all really have the message yet? Do you? I’m currently trying to get a word in edgwise on a Facebook page dedicated to Latter-day Saints for Racial Equality. The ignorance on both sides of the equation astounds me, and the testimonies coming from black, African LDS members, particularly African-Americans, leaves no doubt that they are still regularly contending with Wasatch Front product entirely immersed in age-old LDS Curse of Caine/Ham theology directly attributed to Brigham Young, Bruce R McConkie, Joseph Fielding Smith, prophets, apostles et al. To this day vast bodies of the Saints remain entirely unaware that Jeffry Holland declared it all a load of old wive’s tales in 2006, or that the current statement from the First Presidency of December 2013 even exists. And when quoted, it is common for many white Saints to claim the person referencing the quote essentially a liar, or a misinformed, ignorant idiot.
Jeffrey R Holland has no problem referring to the whole history of LDS Curse of Cain theology as an abandoned folklore as early as March of 2006. That’s 7-8 years ago as of this writing—before Randy Bott, before 10 December 2013’s Race and the Priesthood statement. He clearly concedes that these “folklore” based anti-Negro concepts were taught in the church and that he grew up being taught them. But Jeffrey R Holland is the first person I ever heard apart from myself, (and then only quietly around my wife and kids,) to clearly call any of it “folklore” in any “official” capacity even after Declaration 2. And I only heard it because of some very thorough searching for authoritative LDS quotes on that very topic–and it only came up after weeks of Googling almost by chance. There was a deafening, often stubborn silence on the matter from the First Presidency right up through president Gordon B Hinckley parting the veil and years beyond. Jeffery R Holland may have personally pronounced it all to be speculative, “folklore” on PBS in 2006. But, I didn’t see that casual interview. I had to look it up based on links connected with Randy Bott’s outing of these racist LDS dogmas in the Washington Post eight years later.
Whatever president Holland said in 2006, president Gordon B Hinckley, his superior, went to his grave in 2008 refusing to repudiate LDS Curse of Cain mythology, claiming that the 1978 Declaration 2 “said it all.” I followed it closely. That’s the last word I had heard publicly on it from a prophet of God.
The basis of Declaration 2, and numerous commentaries surrounding it from Bruce R McConkie, LeGrand Richards and others is that a revelation from God can only be repealed by a more current revelation from God. It was a big deal. A lot of Saints were worried a lot of other Saints wouldn’t accept the “new revelation.” So if a”revelation” was considered by the Brethren to be such a fundamental requirement in the opening of priesthood ordination to worthy black LDS males, it stands to reason there would be no need for a “revelation” to rescind “folklore.” None of the Brethen therefore, could have honestly maintained that in 1978 the ban on Negro priesthood ordinations was “folklore.”
Quite unlike Declaration 2, now in the LDS canon and widely distributed, Jeffrey R Holland’s 2006 speculation that the Mormon position on the “Negro Question” has always been mostly folklore was only seen by a handful of Saints on Public Television. Holland’s PBS ramblings were, are, and like the singular works or statements of any one LDS general authority, remain essentially unauthoritative in terms of advancing LDS “doctrine.” In actual church govenment, not even the word of the church president alone is canonical without the sustaining vote of the Council of Twelve–otherwise president David O McKay would have rescinded the ban on Negro priesthood ordinations some twenty years ahead of Declaration 2 all on his own say-so. (But that’s another chapter in the mystery.)
Assuming professor Randy Bott even caught the 2006 PBS interview with president Holland, as a D.Ed. in Mormon theology, why would he or anyone else weigh one casual answer by one apostle on PBS, against McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, or Fielding Smith’s Answers to Gospel Questions, or a whole Journal of Discourses full of apostles and prophets? There is little doubt that Holland’s musings on the “Big Bird” channel would have made no authoritative impression on Randy Bott whatsoever. And rightly so. If the #1 Mormon theology instructor at the #1 LDS institution of higher education was unaware of the radical reversal of LDS Curse of Cain/Ham theory, what are the odds that anyone else got the message from the Brethren on 10 December, 2013?
It’s easy to criticize Randy Bott for a less-than-optimal performance representing Mormon doctrine in the popular media, but you also have to look at how LDS authorities in general have not done as good a job on their homework as they might have either. More often than not even the most “chosen” LDS officials, presumed to be “prepared” for major media interviews, have in reality only allowed themselves to be “set up,” and then eaten up.
The documentary, released in March but yet to be broadcast Stateside, is called The Mormon Candidate and featured a sit-down interview in the LDS Church Headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City between British reporter John Sweeney and Holland.
Among Sweeney’s questions were several relating to whether U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney would have pledged to cut his own throat or disembowel himself before revealing the secrets of the LDS temple ceremonies. In edited footage, Holland said, “That’s not true.” He later says that vows would have been made “regarding the ordinances of the temple.” Such penalty oaths were taken out of the temple ceremony some time ago, one Sweeney interview subject said, albeit after Romney would have taken his temple oaths.
Sweeney asked Holland about church members shunning those who leave their faith. Holland noted that he would choose not to cut out of family life one of his children if they decided to leave Mormonism.
Other highlights of the interview include questions relating to the baptizing of dead Holocaust victims, similarities between the LDS Church and Masonic organizations and whether the LDS Church is a cult. By this point in the interview, Holland’s distinct unease had unraveled to almost cavalier frustration. “I’m not an idiot,” he told Sweeney—nor, he implied, are the 14 million members-plus members of his growing church.
Sweeney also brought up the “Strengthening the Members” committee, a group within the LDS Church that polices polygamists and other vocal apostates or breakaways from the church. Holland acknowledged their continued existence as a group dedicated to protecting the church’s membership from dangerous critics.
Perhaps the most interesting question is why the interview took place at all. The LDS Church is not known for allowing media to interview its hierarchy.
Defending the history and historical “doctrine” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints before a modern, shark-like, anti-Mormon, internationally linked media is a rough job even for an apostle of the Lord. But on the other hand, pretending it all went away in 1978 and trying to forget it even happened is not “preparation.” (And that seems to have been the “plan” if there ever was one–the Brethren thought X-number of generations would come and go and it would all pass away behind us.) But not even an apostle of the Lord is going to get away with pretending it didn’t happen. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has faithfully recorded doctrinal ramblings from nearly 200 years of Latter-day lay-clergy, often spouting things off the tops of their heads. Because we are Mormons, and a “record keeping people,” it’s all constantly being written down somewhere. Because this is the 21st Century, it’s all “written down” on the internet, and retrievable in a few seconds on any search engine. Not even an apostle of the Lord has the luxury of enjoying his quiet circle of provincial LDS peace, sheltered and surrounded by the faithful. Not if he’s going to testify of Christ to the world.
Accounting for the history of the church and its past leadership is an unavoidable pre-requisite to accomplishing the Great Commission. Warts and all, brothers and sisters. Warts and all.
For the moment, put aside the welling panic that seems to warn you that too many brain cells are being engaged to be truly “spiritual.” What is the current dogma that the current Brethren at the current moment, relative to the issue of Race and the Priesthood? It’s not a rhetorical question. Any one of us at any moment could have that local cable-access reporter in our faces with a microphone shoved at us and have to answer the question. So there you are, camera in face, microphone staring at you, what’s your answer to the “Negro Question?”
I’m more than happy to dismiss 161 years of stern sermonizing about the “Negro Question” from prophets and presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m happy to call it all “folklore.” What I have trouble with is pretending it was “unauthorized” folklore. That’s just an euphemism for “false doctrine.”
Randy L. Bott has taught mission preparation at BYU for 18 years and focuses on teaching his heavily-attended classes eight key principles of the gospel: The Atonement, resurrection, judgment, faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, and to endure to the end.
He focuses on these principles to teach them correct doctrine; he wants them to never be standing in an airport and not be able to answer the question, “What is the gospel?
“I concentrate on teaching them what they need to know to be ambassadors of the Lord,” Brother Bott said. “I want to teach them and help their testimony grow to be centered on Christ. Once they have that principle burning in their soul, they can go forth and preach.”
What is the gospel? As it turns out, Randy Bott couldn’t answer that question himself. With an open canon and ongoing revelation, you have to be prepared to embrace change. Randy L Bott wasn’t embracing change. He may have been the most popular BYU, LDS theologian of the current era, but he wasn’t looking forward. He was looking backwards. For 18 years he loaded up Mormon missionaries LDS Curse of Cain “mythology” and sent them out to convert the world to it. And he didn’t know any better. Didn’t think anything of it at all.
Randy Bott ran a blog called, “Know Your Religion” for years. Turns out he didn’t know his religion. One moment, we find the church promoting Randy Bott’s gospel competency as a main selling point for its missionary training program, and a year later we find him in full retirement only three months after his interview with the Washington Post. Problem solved. Randy Bott finally got the message. One down, 15 million to go.
Randy Bott is not an aberration. He is not one of a small cadre of fringe Mormon racists hiding in plain sight amongst the Mormon zealots at BYU. Certainly he was caught by the Washington Post with his inspirational pants down—but he was clearly teaching what has been mainstream LDS “doctrine” since the days of Brigham Young. You can call it “opinion” or “folklore,” or “speculation,” to further obfuscate its status, but in Mormon culture, a prophet’s or apostle’s “opinion” is generally called “doctrine,” and when they are spinning “folklore,” it’s regarded as “scripture” by the faithful. The Mormon church’s press reaction to Bott’s Washington Post article is enigmatic. Appreciated, yes, from my personal LDS perspective, but enigmatic. It is an almost ludicrous string of counter-intuitive assertions that are perplexing on many levels.
The church press office contends that a senior, tenured, professor of the Mormon religion, who’d acquired his D.Ed. at BYU, the church’s premier university, is not qualified, competent, or familiar enough with LDS “doctrine,” to offer to the public a simple synopsis of one of its most well-known, and most-researched tenets. Furthermore, the church’s response claims that Bott’s ruminations on the subject are entirely out of harmony with the teachings of the church, and it protests the lack of a chance for rebuttal, as if the Post were interviewing some foe who’d just done a hatchet job and was demanding an equal time response. The press office then proceeds with a blanket dismissal of everything Bott said in the interview, as if his comments were entirely foreign to LDS theological and historical roots.
The church itself, however, had barely stopped its publication of McConkie’s distinctly supportive Mormon Doctrine. That work was retired in October of 2011, only four months before Bott’s meet-and-greet with the Washington Post. Deseret Book had barely dried the binding glue as it finished off Bruce R McConkie’s run as the primary “authoritative” source of Mormon “doctrine,” which had started in a self-publishing effort in Tom Monson’s printing shop in 1958, and culminated some 53 years later, with Thomas S Monson in the LDS president’s office, and McConkie’s legacy volume terminating in a small edition of custom, Italian leather bound hard copies for presentation, library and archival purposes, after years of being published officially through Deseret Book, the authorized church press.
In his lifetime, Bruce R McConkie formally retracted only the timetable portion of his “eternal Negro curse” formula explained in Mormon Doctrine. He left essentially unchallenged the greater thesis of LDS anti-Negro, fringe “folklore.” In 1978 however, he did make a few changes in his prize work that should be noted:
In the providences of the Lord, the gospel and all its attendant blessings are offered to one nation and people after another. During Jesus’ mortal ministry he and his disciples took the gospel to the house of Israel only; after his resurrection the word went forth to the Gentiles also. Those who live when the gospel is not on earth may receive its blessings in the spirit world after death.
In all past ages and until recent times in this dispensation, the Lord did not offer the priesthood to the Negroes. However, on June 1, 1978, in the Salt Lake Temple, in the presence of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation from the Lord directing that the gospel and the priesthood should now go to all men without reference to race or color.
This means that worthy males of all races can now receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, perform ordinances, and hold positions of presidency and responsibility. It means that members of all races may now be married in the temple, although interracial marriages are discouraged by the Brethren…
This new revelation is one of the signs of the times. It opens the door to the spread of the gospel among all people before the Second Coming in fulfilment of many scriptural promises…
The official document announcing the new revelation, signed by the First Presidency (Spencer W. Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner, and Marion G. Romney) and dated June 8, 1978, is as follows:
- “He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood…We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known His will for the blessing of all His children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of His authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.”
- –McConkie Mormon Doctrine 1978 Versionhttp://en.fairmormon.org/Criticism_of_Mormonism/Books/One_Nation_Under_Gods/Use_of_sources/Mormon_Doctrine_and_race_issues
By the time McConkie’s 1978 edition was out I certainly had gone off using his book for a reference source anyway. I was never keen on it—read a first edition to begin with and it was downright bitter. This is the first time I’ve read his highly modified entry on the “Negro Question.” Two notes: McConkie continues an allusion that the ban was a Godly thing that dates back through all ages to pre-mortal times, and the “revelation” of Declaration 2 means the Negro was simply getting his “turn” as the church allowed his “black” nations to have the gospel at last. This neither explains why the Negro had always been banned from the priesthood, nor why he had to wait till what McConkie suggests is the “End Times” to receive this blessing, nor denies any of the conventional reasons already postulated for 161 years for this “curse.” McConkie doesn’t specifically claim there was a “curse” either, but in describing the consequences of having one, clearly suggests there was, and that it went back to pre-mortal life. And secondly, McConkie can’t resist making allusions to “race-mixing” or “miscegenation”–a theme that then president Spencer W Kimball was greatly concerned about. He gave a number of talks at BYU before and after Declaration 2, essentially saying this new revelation wasn’t a green light for inter-racial marriage.
But we see, McConkie’s “encyclopedia” is once again obsolete and out of harmony with the Brethren. Inter-racial marriage has now been expressly sanctioned. Also deemed as “folklore,” is not just the Negro-specific “Curse of Cain/Ham,” but so too, any related God-struck curse of black skin. Or darker skin. Keep in mind that above and beyond the “Negro” and any alleged Biblical curse assigned to him, LDS authorities have perpetuated a companion Book of Mormon mythology related to Native Americans and others being turned black or white, depending upon righteousness. That too is now obsolete. McConkie’s claim that the “Negro” has been banned from the priesthood from all time till 1978 is likewise apparently false doctrine, because the most current statements by the Brethren imply that there never was any such curse on Cain and his descendants in the first place and that Brigham Young invented the priesthood restriction in 1853. The whole belief in an “eternal” ban of the Negro from the priesthood that was ended by “revelation” in 1978 became doctrinally untenable sometime between Hollands’ 2006 talks at PBS, the church press offices responses to Bott’s Washington Post article 2012, and the latest statement on Race and the Priesthood of 10 December 2013.
Contrary to Holland’s suggestions on PBS, following Declaration 2 in 1978, there was certainly not any obvious, official LDS intimation that the ban had been lifted because it had been based merely on “folklore.” Bruce R McConkie would have labeled that sort of talk, a “Deadly Heresy.” It’s clearly not in Declaration 2 itself. There was no retraction of, either the blatantly racist 1949 or 1969 First Presidency statements on the “Negro Question prior to Randy Bott’s Washington Post interview. At the time Randy Bott was casually shooting the breeze with the Washington Post, both of these documents still stood as the “last official word of the First Presidency” on the matter, and both boldly testify that he faithfully paraphrased them in his comments to the Post. Both of these were officially statements made in the name of the First Presidency, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Council of Twelve, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
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…President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain…
–1st Presidency, 1949
From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.
Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, “The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God….
“Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man’s mortal existence, extending back to man’s pre-existent state.”
–1st Presidency , 1969
So, frankly, the most “authoritative” statements available to Randy Bott on 29 February 0f 2012 were quite in harmony with his message to the Washington Post. The only other readily available example of an “authoritative” statement Randy Bott might have accidentally run into, the only other evidence suggesting an utter abandonment of historical LDS Curse of Cain mythology, appeared in 2003. This was a reply to inquiries about same issued by Donald Jesse, who at the time was with the PR Department and spoke ostensibly for the church:
Note, the typo, it should read “1978.” Assuming it’s legitimate, well, then we have to admit that a handful of foaming anti-Mormons saw this release, and it didn’t mean anything ecclesiastically because it had no authority behind it. Between two formal statements from two sets of First Presidencies and Councils of Twelve from 1949 and 1969, and a quick note from Donald Jesse, I think I’d be inclined to say that Donald Jesse isn’t qualified or authorized to dismiss two generations of the church’s ruling councils by calling their official proclamations “opinions,” and “not the policy of the church.” But, this said, it’s clear that by 2003 at least, internally, “church” policy had changed, or rather, significant “doctrines” had been abandoned by it’s ruling bodies, regarding LDS Curse of Cain theology.
The first significant statement from any principle LDS authority applying the term “folklore,” to LDS Curse of Cain mythology, appears again, to be Elder Jeffrey R Holland’s interview with PBS in 2006. Holland suggests in his estimation that one man’s opinion does not a “doctrine” make—not even if that one man was a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thus, even had Bott heard Holland’s interview, it would remain quite reasonable for Bott to relegate Holland’s doctrinal positions–by Holland’s own criteria–to the category of nothing more than a personal opinion and utter speculation. The bulk of “authoritative” LDS doctrinal thought and evidence around 2006, actually still tended to refute anything Holland was claiming about “folklore,” making Holland the aberration, not Bott. But more to the point: Gordon B Hinckley served as president of the LDS church until he passed away in 2008, when the current First Presidency was formed under Thomas S Monson. (The man who first published McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine—against the pleadings of then church president David O McKay in 1958.) That post-dates Elder Holland’s repudiation of LDS Curse of Cain “folklore,” as he described it, by two years. President Hinckley thus had two years to adopt Holland’s repudiation of Curse of Cain “folklore” as an official position of the First Presidency, or even codify it and present it for canonization. Instead, he very openly and deliberately denied there was any reason to do so.
After president Hinckley passed away, and without express orders to change longstanding LDS doctrinal precedent, BYU religion professor Randy Bott was quite proper in assuming the answer to the “Negro Question” had remained at status-quo long after Declaration 2.
This is a good time to remind ourselves that most Mormons are still in denial about the ban, unwilling to talk in Church settings about it, and that some Mormons still believe that Blacks were cursed by descent from Cain through Ham. Even more believe that Blacks, as well as other non-white people, come color-coded into the world, their lineage and even their class a direct indication of failures in a previous life…. I check occasionally in classes at BYU and find that still, twenty years after the revelation, a majority of bright, well-educated Mormon students say they believe that Blacks are descendants of Cain and Ham and thereby cursed and that skin color is an indication of righteousness in the pre-mortal life. They tell me these ideas came from their parents or Seminary and Sunday School teachers, and they have never questioned them. They seem largely untroubled by the implicit contradiction to basic gospel teachings.
Now, England had been sharply condemned you may recall by Bruce R McConkie in a personal letter, for promoting his own gospel “hobbies” on campus. Some of his ponderings centered around the issue of defining the notion of “Eternal Progression,” relative to Deity. The details of the controversy are found in the above links. Another big theme in Eugene England’s theological explorations was developing apologetics that could help the faithful Latter-day Saint maintain a testimony of the truthfulness of the church and the inspiration of its leaders, in the face of more and more easily seen evidence of a generational trail of racism and bigotry openly and overtly displayed by LDS leadership through the years, relative to the singular issue of Race and the Priesthood.
Today, I can now offer the late professor England this:
SALT LAKE CITY —
The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. The Book of Mormon states, “black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.
People of all races have always been welcomed and baptized into the Church since its beginning. In fact, by the end of his life in 1844 Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opposed slavery. During this time some black males were ordained to the priesthood. At some point the Church stopped ordaining male members of African descent, although there were a few exceptions. It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended. Church leaders sought divine guidance regarding the issue and more than three decades ago extended the priesthood to all worthy male members. The Church immediately began ordaining members to priesthood offices wherever they attended throughout the world. (See also: Race and the Priesthood)
The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. In 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared that “no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.”
Recently, the Church has also made the following statement on this subject:
“The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.”
See also: Race and the Priesthood
So, the above official press release of 10 December, 2013, from the First Presidency arose directly in response to Randy Bott’s international expose of entirely accurate and historical LDS Curse of Caine theology, published in the Washington Post, on 29 February 2012. In it you will note that president Hinckley cautions against casting aspersions on the character of others due to racial makeup. That was in 2006. He does not however, take the opportunity of this quoted talk, to pronounce LDS Curse of Cain dogma a load of mythology and fairy tales. And he died two years later making no stronger statement repudiating historicalKDS racism than the brief admonition against name-calling quoted in the above.
Eugene England was a fine graduate of St Olaf’s College in Northfield Minnesota. I could go on for pages about how the Square Heads ran off Jesse James and the Younger Brothers and shot them out of town, but that’s another subject entirely. It doesn’t surprise me however, that coming from St Olaf’s, Scandinavian tradition of enjoying a brain cell-sweating, solid polemic debate, Greenland ran into problems with anti-intellectualism and constraining social ideology at BYU. Randy Bott and Eugene Greenland may come from left and right halves of the Mormon religious brain, but condemning either an Eugene England or a Randy Bott for researching Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, John Taylor, the several, “Alphabet” Smiths, Wilford Woodruff, and essentially the whole legacy of prophets that followed, is a far easier thing to do than calling fellow prophets, presidents, and apostles “racist,” or “confused.” Putting a Randy Bott or Eugene England between current and past church leadership, places an expendable red-shirted crewman between captain Kirk and the space monster.
In 1995, black church member A. David Jackson asked church leaders to issue a declaration repudiating past doctrines that denied various privileges to black people. In particular, Jackson asked the church to disavow the 1949 “Negro Question” declaration from the church Presidency which stated “The attitude of the church with reference to negroes … is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord … to the effect that negroes … are not entitled to the priesthood…”.
The church leadership did not issue a repudiation, and so in 1997 Jackson, aided by other church members including Armand Mauss, sent a second request to church leaders, which stated that white Mormons felt that the 1978 revelation resolved everything, but that black Mormons react differently when they learn the details. He said that many black Mormons become discouraged and leave the church or become inactive. “When they find out about this, they exit… You end up with the passive African Americans in the church”.
Hinckley, then church president, told the Los Angeles Times “The 1978 declaration speaks for itself … I don’t see anything further that we need to do”. Church leadership did not issue a repudiation.
Jackson’s basic argument was this:
Although the church’s leaders now proclaim racial equality as a “fundamental teaching,” the process of repudiating old doctrines remains difficult. “They feel like a lot of people may not believe the church is true because a lot of these things were said by previous prophets, and a true prophet of God shouldn’t make mistakes,” said David Jackson, a black Mormon who is among those calling for change.
The call for change comes at a time when the 10 million-member church is enjoying unprecedented growth in Africa and other developing countries. Several months ago the church’s president and prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, wrapped up a five-nation tour of Africa, where the church reports an estimated 110,000 converts as of the end of 1997. But black members of the church in the United States as well as some Mormon scholars warn that the “racist legacy” contained in various Mormon documents and authoritative statements risks undermining its mission unless they are disavowed. “In the absence of any official corrections, these speculative and pejorative ideas will continue to be perpetuated in the church indefinitely,” Armand Mauss, president of the Mormon History Association, wrote recently.
“What [the 1978 revelation on blacks and the priesthood] doesn’t say is we’re no longer of the lineage of Cain, that we no longer did these things in pre-existence. It does not say we are not cursed with black skin,” Jackson said.
David Jackson was something of a pioneer in the black Mormon community–a Mormon internal Civil Rights activist who did his best to use historical records to evoke some sort of official correction or at least and open address of previously “authoritative” Mormon leadership statements like this:
“Is there reason then why the type of birth we receive in this life is not A REFLECTION OF OUR WORTHINESS or LACK OF IT IN THE PRE-EXISTENT LIFE?
…[C]an we account in any other way for the birth of some of the children of God in DARKEST AFRICA, or in FLOOD-RIDDEN CHINA, or among the STARVING HORDES OF INDIA, while some of the rest of us are born here in the United States? We cannot escape the conclusion that BECAUSE OF PERFORMANCE IN OUR PRE-EXISTENCE some of us are born as CHINESE, some as JAPANESE, some as Latter-day Saints. …A CHINESE, BORN IN CHINA WITH A DARK SKIN, and with all the HANDICAPS OF THAT RACE seems to have little opportunity. But think of the mercy of God to Chinese people who are willing to accept the gospel.
IN SPITE OF WHATEVER THEY MIGHT HAVE DONE IN THE PRE-EXISTENCE TO JUSTIFY BEING BORN OVER THERE AS CHINAMEN, if they now, in this life accept the gospel and live it the rest of their lives they can have the Priesthood, go to the temple and receive endowments and sealings, and that means they can have exaltation. Isn’t the mercy of God marvelous?
Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood…. THIS NEGRO, WHO, IN THE PRE-EXISTENCE LIVED THE TYPE OF LIFE WHICH JUSTIFIED THE LORD IN SENDING HIM TO EARTH IN THE LINEAGE OF CAIN WITH A BLACK SKIN, AND POSSIBLY BEING BORN IN DARKEST AFRICA…. IN SPITE OF ALL HE DID IN THE PRE-EXISTENT LIFE, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. IF THAT NEGRO IS FAITHFUL ALL HIS DAYS, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. HE WILL GO THERE AS A SERVANT, but he will get celestial glory.”
LDS “Apostle” Mark E. Petersen, “Race Problems – As They Affect the Church,” Address delivered at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954, as quoted in Jerald and Sandra Tanner’s book entitled “The Changing World of Mormonism,” p. 294.
Randy Bott’s problem with Mormon theology is not that he knows too little about it. His problem is he knows too much about it. Come, listen to a prophet’s voice:
The Lamanites [Native Americans], now a down‑trodden people, are a remnant of the house of Israel. The curse of God has followed them as it has done the Jews, though the Jews have not been darkened in their skin as have the Lamanites.
What was that mark? It was a mark of blackness. That mark rested upon Cain, and descended upon his posterity from that time until the present. Today there are millions of descendants of Cain, through the lineage of Ham, in the world, and that mark of darkness still rests upon them.
Wilford Woodruff, General Conference, April 7, 1889; Millennial Star 51:339
And if any man mingle his seed with the seed of Cain the only way he could get rid of it or have Salvation would be to come forward and have his head cut off and spill his blood upon the ground ‑‑ it would also take the life of his children.
Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s personal diary, 4:97
OK. So much for the rugged, fiery prophets of 19th century Mormonism. What did the enlightened prophets of the new, progressive 20th Century Mormonism have to say about it?
The negro is an unfortunate man. He has been given a black skin….But that is as nothing compared with that greater handicap that he is not permitted to receive the Priesthood and the ordinances of the temple, necessary to prepare men and women to enter into and enjoy a fullness of glory in the celestial kingdom….What is the reason for this condition, we ask, and I find it to my satisfaction to think that as spirit children of our Eternal Father they were not valiant in the fight.
George Albert Smith, Conference Reports, CR April 1939, Second Day‑Morning Meeting
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.
George Albert Smith, Statement of The First Presidency on the Negro Question, July 17 1947, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, pp.46‑7
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.
George Albert Smith, Official Statement of First Presidency issued on August 17, 1951
The First Presidency under George Albert Smith doubled down on these sentiments in the first comprehensive, “official” LDS statement on the “Negro Question,” in 1949, a manifesto fully sustained by the Council of Twelve and distributed church-wide expressly to clear the matter up once and for all. And as we see above, the issue found its way into another minor statement in 1951. And again at the peak of the Civil Rights Era, the First Presidency reiterated yet another comprehensive statement on the Negro and Civil Rights, echoing all the above sentiments, in 1969.
But let’s study onward. How did the free-thinking LDS leadership grow in their understanding of the issue of Race and the Priesthood as America’s Civil Rights Movement swept through the nation, peaked with federal Civil Rights legislation, where the south was forcefully de-segregated, the schools were de-segregated, and hippies were singing about love, peace, and the universal brotherhood of man?
There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.
Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, p. 61
Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fullness of the blessings of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain. Moreover, they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning…. we will also hope that blessings may eventually be given to our negro brethren, for they are our brethren‑children of God‑not withstanding their black covering emblematical of eternal darkness.
Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, pages 101‑102
After the people again forgot the Lord and dissensions arose, some of them took upon themselves the name Lamanites and the dark skin returned. When the Lamanites fully repent and sincerely receive the gospel, the Lord has promised to remove the dark skin. The Lord declared by revelation that, ‘before the great day of the Lord shall come, Jacob shall flourish in the wilderness, and the Lamanites shall blossom as a rose.’ The dark skin of those who have come into the Church is no longer to be considered a sign of the curse. Many of these converts and delightsome and have the Spirit of the Lord. Perhaps there are some Lamanites today who are losing the dark pigment. Many of the members of the Church among the Catawba Indians of the South could readily pass as of the white race; also in other parts of the South.
Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, v. 3, p. 123, 1953
It is not the authorities of the Church who have placed a restriction on him [the black man] regarding the holding of the Priesthood. It was not the Prophet Joseph Smith…. It was the Lord!
Joseph Fielding Smith, The Glory of Mormonism, 1963, p. 154
(I might remind you that Joseph Fielding Smith was Bruce R McConkie’s father-in-law and McConkie’s theology closely followed Smith’s, carrying these exact anti-Negro, anti-black skin sentiments in print via Mormon Doctrine, right up to 1978 and beyond. Answers to Gospel Questions is still in print and commonly available, Doctrines of Salvation is still considered a principle LDS resource as is The Way to Perfection)
I know of no scriptural basis for denying the Priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the Book of Abraham (1:26); however, I believe, as you suggest that the real reason dates back to our pre‑existent life.
David O. McKay, Mormonism and the Negro, Part 2, p. 19
McKay was a bit ambivalent about the issue and getting feeble. He didn’t like upsetting the Brethren around him. He had Hugh B Brown urging him on, arguing that it was only a policy, not a revealed truth, and claiming that it wasn’t supported by canon and had a dubious history of prophetic authorization. Unfortunately, by the time came for a push on the issue, president McKay was physically and probably spiritually spent arguing with the Brethren over the years. And though he would never be sustained in his lifelong attempt to rescind LDS Curse of Cain theology, he did produce the most cogent and apparently still the most “correct” answer to the church’s “Negro Question.”
In 1954, Church President David O. McKay taught: “There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this church that the negroes are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the church of any kind pertaining to the negro. We believe that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.’
Unfortunately, McKay’s ultimate assessment of the policy and “folklore” surrounding LDS Curse of Cain theology, remained a very singular minority report for a couple of generations. It would take another 24 years before the Brethren would come around to McKay’s way of thinking.