In 1969 president McKay actually moved the business of removing the black priesthood ban to a vote amongst the Brethren, and the resolution was passed. Absent on church business from that vote however, Harold B Lee demanded a re-assessment, and argued that it was God’s express will to maintain the ban. Delbert Stapley supported that contention, and Ezra Taft Benson was at the time, preaching over the pulpit that the Civil Rights Movement was a Soviet plot to invade the US. McKay represented the majority view in wanting to end the ban but it was a weak majority facing off against some very forceful speakers and debate artists. The 1969 effort was ultimately held up by Lee’s challenge that McKay would need to receive a bona-fide revelation to reverse a previous “revelation.”
In response to his efforts to secure Divine intercession in solving the “Negro Question,” McKay claimed on several occasions to have had a number of answers to his inquiries of the Lord:
There are at least three anecdotes of McKay’s prayers and different answers.
Marion D. Hanks said McKay reported receiving “no answer”. Lola Timmons, a former secretary in the Church office building said McKay reported receiving an answer “not yet”. Richard Jackson, an architect in the Church Office Building, said McKay reported God’s telling him “not to bring the subject up again.” David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism at 103-04.
On November 17, 1964, the New York Times reported that, when asked whether the Church would change its policy withholding priesthood from Black members, McKay replied, “Not while you and I are here.”
President McKay, of course, disliked rocking the boat, or confronting other Brethren. And some of them were quite set in favor of the policy (and some opposed civil rights–see letter from Elder Stapley to George Romney
Instead of rescinding the ban on Negro priesthood ordination, McKay’s First Presidency ultimately issued the second major official statement on Race and the Priesthood in that same year, 1969. It supported the notion of Civil Rights for the Negro, but otherwise utterly reiterated the classic, LDS Curse of Cain theology of the church’s first statement on the matter in 1949. Both documents entirely embraced the very positions Randy Bott represented to the Washington Post on 29 February, 2012.
Following McKay’s passing in 1970, Joseph Fielding Smith ascended to the presidency. His adherence to historical Mormon Curse of Cain theology with all its overtly racist overtones can be found in Answers to Gospel Questions, Doctrines of Salvation etc. His son-in-law, Bruce R McConkie, and his epic encyclopedic dissertation on everything Mormon and doctrinal, titled oddly enough, Mormon Doctrine, immediately became even more popular than it already was, and far more available. Though still a self-published work at this point, by this time Mormon Doctrine was for all practical purposes the LDS priesthood manual. Obviously, Joseph Fielding Smith’s new title as Prophet Seer and Revelator gave anything and everything he’d ever written implicit, ultimate doctrinal authority. By association, and in Utah cultural estimation, by bloodlines, this mantle of authority was extended to McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine.
Eugene England is alleged to have first come to the attention, or rather, fell under the scrutiny of Bruce R McConkie during debates in the 1960’s with his father-in-law, who I believe was president of the Quorum of Twelve around that time, who as I say, was Joseph Fielding Smith:
What stands out also in my mind is that (with all due respect) the 12 hadn’t done their homework on this yet either during the McKay administration. It is obvious from the McKay biography that several members of the Quorum of 12 were steadfastly against the possibility of change in the policy. In fact, several of them would have said “doctrine” instead of policy. Eugene England tells of challenging Joseph F. Smith during the 60′s about a scriptural basis for the ban. Apostle Smith said that it certainly was a doctrine based in scripture, but in a personal meeting with England where they reviewed the scriptures in question, he ultimately said “It’s not in there, and I always assumed it was”.
Eugene England asked [Elder Joseph Fielding Smith] in a 1963 private interview whether it was necessary for a faithful Latter-day Saint to believe that black men were denied priesthood because of their activities in the preexistence, Elder Smith said, “Yes.” But when England asked for scriptural substantiation, Elder Smith reread the relevant passages, reflected, then finally stated, “No, you do not have to believe that Negroes are denied the priesthood because of the pre-existence. I have always assumed that because it was what I was taught, and it made sense, but you don’t have to believe it to be in good standing, because it is not definitely stated in the scriptures. And I have received no revelation on the matter.”4
And while England claims to have elicited something of a confession of error in Joseph Fielding Smith’s doctrinal orientation concerning the Negro in private, N Eldon Tanner, who was party to the McKay era debates on the priesthood ban, and Joseph Fielding Smith’s second counselor, had this to say about it in public:
The Church has no intention of changing its doctrine on the Negro. Throughout the history of the original Christian church, the Negro never held the priesthood. There’s really nothing we can do to change this. It’s a law of God.
N. Eldon Tanner, Seattle Magazine, December 1967, page 60
Following president Smith, we had Harold B Lee, from 1972-73. I see no point in quoting him to prove what his disposition was on the Negro, since Lee was the sole agent who hung up the resolution to rescind the ban on Negro priesthood ordination in 1969, and who led the Brethren to lobby president McKay and his counselors to not only forget about sanctioning a repeal, but persuaded McKay’s administration into sending out yet another detailed, official, and authoritative proclamation that LDS Curse of Cain theology wasn’t ever going to change in any expected lifetime or occur even within the known universe. So as Neil Armstrong was landing on the moon and “we came in peace for all mankind,” was the slogan of the day, the Brethren in the Valley were hunkering down in 1969, defending what looked to the rest of the world like unmitigated bigotry and racism.
Which brings us up to 1974 and Spencer W Kimball, the Mormon church president who finally repealed the church’s priesthood ban on black African members. And though he spearheaded the repeal with great conviction, president Kimball was not yet entirely purged of the attendant, LDS racial or skin-color based theology:
At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen‑year‑old daughter we represent, the little member girl—sixteen—sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents—on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather…. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness.
Spencer W. Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, General Conference, October 1960; Improvement Era, December 1960, pp922‑923
These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.
Spencer W. Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, General Conference, October 1960; Improvement Era, December 1960, pp922‑923
When I said you must teach your people to overcome their prejudices and accept the Indians, I did not mean that you would encourage intermarriage.
Spencer W. Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball, “The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball,” p. 302
President Kimball made similar racial observations to the end of his days, including a very strong couple of warnings against interracial marriages. In fact mixed-race marriages were illegal in Utah until 1963.
In 1985, Ezra Taft Benson assumed the mantle of church president, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator. He too is notably quoted and officially logged all over the historical record as opposing any change in policy or doctrine on the “Negro Question.” Though he eventually muted his rabidly anti-Communist and anti-Civil Rights sermonizing from over the pulpit, and in general mellowed in his old age, I really only need to include one passage from Ezra Taft Benson to give an overview of his opinion on Race and the Priesthood:
What do you know about the dangerous civil rights agitation in Mississippi! Do you fear the destruction of all vestiges of state government?
Ezra Taft Benson, 135th Annual Conference
Gordon B Hinckley became LDS church president in 1995. His position on the “Negro Question” by that time was that he just didn’t know much about the whole thing. His only defense or clarification was that he thought there was no point raking over the coals of the past:
I don’t see anything further that we need to do. I don’t hear any complaint from our black brethren and sisters. I hear only appreciation and gratitude wherever I go. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Mormon Leader Defends Race Relations,” Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1998
Until Randy Bott opened up for the Washington Post in 2012, Gordon B Hinckley had been the last LDS church president to make any truly firm and authoritative declaration on Mormon Curse of Cain mythology. And he basically said: “No comment.” That was in 1998. Fourteen years later, Randy Bott found himself in a game of doctrinal football where he thought he was kicking a field goal for the home team, aiming it straight through the uprights, but the second the ball hit the air, the goalposts faded right, then left, then ran for the opposite end of the field. It was as if the jolly old professor had left his team briefly to take a powder during the halftime briefing in the locker room, and missed some very important rule changes that were announced by new management, while he was blissfully answering nature’s call.
And many would say that overtones of the old LDS theology surrounding the Negro-priesthood ban were still evident over the pulpit at the the occasion of the first church wide address by the first black LDS General Authority, JOSEPH W. SITATI in his talk at the October General Conference in 2009:
We see that as the restored Church began to be established on the earth, the living prophets sought and followed the will of God about how the gospel should go forth among the nations.
I have lived to see the time foreseen by the prophet Zenos in the allegory of the olive tree, when the righteous from all nations of the earth would become partakers of the covenant of God with Israel. 16
(The church video crew definitely needs to learn how to light people with dark skin tones. But that’s another issue. Bob Sink is sorely missed…)
The whole thesis of the Sitati talk seemed to be a very subtle nod to traditional LDS Curse of Cane theology, suggesting that the gospel had been offered to all the “white” races first, and now it was time to open up Africa and give Canaan his chance. There’s a lot of assumption and “reading into” the Sitati text in that analysis, but at the time the Saints were desperately looking for some clear leadership on the question and getting silence in return. And yes, there still remained the constant allusions from various Brethren to God authoring the priesthood ban on some unknown pre-mortal pretext, and other statements from General Authorities claiming the Negro had never at any time either in the eternities or just from the first Christian Church been allowed to have the priesthood. It all simply sounded like “code” talk for saying the same thing they’ve been saying for 161 years about the Negro, without the risk of sounding politically incorrect. Apart from the Negro getting his “turn” at the priesthood by way of having served out his penance in some vague, End-Times allusion, all the rest of the traditional LDS Curse of Cain dogma hadn’t appeared to have changed one iota.
Which brings us up to February 29 of 2012.
If you were surrounded by reference materials and 67 years of memory and personal encounters with the Brethren and other LDS authors of the entire history of Mormon Curse of Cain mythology, what possibly could there have been in anything even the prophets themselves ever said or did after 1978 to spell out to general LDS membership or even BYU professors of religion, that the church was dropping the whole thing, and dismissing it as pioneer era ignorance and racism? What is there in the entire history of Mormon doctrinal development that would wave off Doctor Randy Bott from telling the Washington Post exactly what the highly respected professor had been taught from childhood? Why would a BYU D.Ed. “Filter,” LDS religious talking points that were by most estimations, still entirely unchallenged by LDS leadership?
The BYU Daily Universe reports that although Professor Bott told them he was not available for comment, he later released a statement saying he fully endorsed the Church’s statement regarding the article in the Washington Post. Furthermore, his students said he discussed the interview in class and said he felt he was misrepresented. “He said they had a nice long interview, like two hours long,” said Quinn Rice, a freshman in Bott’s mission prep course. “He said that he was misquoted, and misrepresented. He’s such a great and spiritual professor. He wouldn’t go against the Church’s principles.”
Meanwhile Carri Jenkins, who also explained that BYU’s media policy is that they ask members of their campus community not to speak for the university or the Church, added that Jason Horowitz, the author of the Washington Post article, made no attempt to contact the University Communications office when he arrived on campus. “We were aware when [Horowitz] came. He did not make any contact through our office,” Jenkins said. “He did not contact us before he came. We were made aware through members of our campus community, but he did not work through our office. I know that in some cases he simply appeared in people’s offices.” The fact that Horowitz did not contact the Communications office has triggered speculation that he was hoping to portray the LDS Church as racist by entrapping BYU people into giving unfiltered statements.
Statements like the above censure of Bott from official church communications sources leave the entire church with a far more serious doctrinal problem than the immediate issue of justifying its historical banning of Negroes from the priesthood. Now we have to face the bigger question: Who are we, and what do we believe?
Oh really? You know what we believe? Really? Do we really believe that? Oh yes, you really think you know we believe that–but are you sure?
Randy Bott thought he was sure. He spent 67 years and earned a Doctorate at “The Lord’s University” trying make sure he was sure. But in the end, obviously, even a professor of LDS theology was not sure enough.
15 The Prophet Joseph Smith himself is quoted in Documentary History of the Church as admonishing us that prophets are mortal men with mortal frailties, so that “a prophet (is) a
prophet only when he (is) acting as such” [History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Period I, History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, by Himself, edited by B.H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1902-1912), 5:26]. The complications in identifying which directives from Church leaders are to be understood as binding on the Saints were extensively addressed by President J. Reuben Clark in a lengthy Church News article of July 31, 1954. See the reprint of that article, “When are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12:2 (Summer 1979), 68-81. Applying all of this to Brigham Young’s 1852 declaration in a political forum (the Utah Legislature), despite his citing of prophetic authority, leaves us with an interesting quandary, considering that today’s Church leaders (at least since 1969) have clearly retreated from Young’s ideas on race, priesthood, and many other things.
But not too many decades before all this indignant outrage at Randy Bott’s “rogue” doctrine, “Mormonism” was defined at the street-level by whoever collected whatever “teachings” or observations of any one or group of apostles or prophets or historians. Missionaries in particular would quite simply fly by the seat of their pants:
They would often hold what they called “cottage meetings,” which, in theory, would allow them to speak to large groups of people and, in a dream scenario, lead to mass baptisms; I’m sure dreams of Wilford Woodruff preaching at Benbow Farm were common. But the reality was often sparcely-attended gatherings where ill-prepared young men either read from pamphlets or stumbled through their own recitation of the First Vision.
My grandfather’s 3-volume “Mormon Doctrine.”
As a result of their limited direction, missionaries were left to construct their own curriculum, both for teaching and learning. Pamphlets written by prominent LDS leaders were thus an important part of missionary life. For many, it was their original source to gospel principles and Mormon history beyond what they learned in sunday school prior to their mission. Similar to the many print-outs and copies-of-copies of “deep doctrine” passed around by missionaries today, Mormon pamphlets were bought, traded, and collected in large numbers. They were used both as tools to teach interested observers as well as studied for private instruction. In 1949, a year into my grandfather’s mission, an idea came to mind: to collect all the pamphlets in circulation and combine them into a more permanent and useful format. So, he took 36 pamphlets, totaling 1,784 pages, bound them into three volumes, and added his own tables of contents that listed the name and length of each insert. He titled these books “Mormon Doctrine.”
The statement on Race and the Priesthood from the First Presidency on December 10 2013 helps immensely to understand current LDS thought on the “Negro Question.” It still isn’t “canon” but it is much appreciated. It’s just that it comes about 35 years too late to be of any help for rather a lot of former Saints and one-time potential Saints. If you were born after 1978 you grew up in the “silent era.” You may not be aware there ever was a “Negro Question.” But if you’re Randy Bott or achieved teenhood any time around 1978, you grew up with Mormon Curse of Cain mythology integrated into the very matrix of all other church doctrine. So, on some level you bought into that so-called “folklore” or were forced to concede that this “folklore,” was “gospel” for ten, twenty, thirty, or more years.
Here’s a summary of J Reuben Clark’s 1954 essay on divining correct doctrine from false doctrine and personal opinions. This may be a new concept to many of you:
Here we must have in mind–must know–that only the President of the Church, the Presiding High Priest, is sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator for the Church, and he alone has the right to receive revelations for the Church, either new or amendatory, or to give authoritative interpretations of scriptures that shall be binding on the Church, or change in any way the existing doctrines of the Church. He is God’s sole mouthpiece on earth for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the only true Church. He alone may declare the mind and will of God to his people. No officer of any other Church in the world had this high right and lofty prerogative.
So when any other person, irrespective of who he is, undertakes to do any of these things, you may know that he is not “moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” in so speaking, unless he has special authorization from the President of the Church. (D.C. 90:1-4, 9, 12-16; 107:8, 65-66, 91-92; 115:19; 124:125; D.C. 2:477; 6:363).
Thus far it is clear.
But there are many places where the scriptures are not too clear, and where different interpretations may be given to them; there are many doctrines; tenets as the Lord called them, that have not been officially defined and declared. It is in the consideration and discussion of these scriptures and doctrines that opportunities arise for differences of views as to meanings and extent. In view of the fundamental principle just announced as to the position of the President of the Church, other bearers of the Priesthood, those with the special spiritual endowment and those without it, should be cautious in their expressions about and interpretations of scriptures and doctrines. They must act and teach subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church. It would be most unfortunate were this not always strictly observed by the bearers of this special spiritual endowment, other than the President. Sometimes in the past, they have spoken “out of sum,” so to speak. Furthermore, at times even those not members of the General Authorities are said to have been heard to declare their own views on various matters concerning which no official view or declaration has been made by the mouthpiece of the Lord, sometimes with an assured certainty that might deceive the uninformed and unwary….
There have been rare occasions when even the President of the Church in his preaching and teaching has not been “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” You will recall the Prophet Joseph declared that a prophet is not always a prophet.
How shall the Church know when these adventurous expeditions of the brethren into these highly speculative principles and doctrines meet the requirements of the statutes that the announcers thereof have been “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”? The Church will know by the testimony of the Holy Ghost in the body of the members, whether the brethren in voicing their views are “moved upon by the Holy Ghost”; and in due time that knowledge will be made manifest….
But this matter of disagreements over doctrine, and the announcement by high authority of incorrect doctrines, is not new.
It will be recalled that disagreements among brethren in high places about doctrines made clear appeared in the early days of the Apostolic Church. Indeed, at the Last Supper, “there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest”; this was in the presence of the Savior himself. (Luke 22: 24.)
The disciples had earlier had the same dispute when they were at Capernaum. (Mark 9:33; Luke 9:46.) And not long after that, James and John, of their own volition or at the instance of their mother, apparently the latter, asked Jesus that one of them might sit on his right hand and the other on his left. (Matt. 20:20 ff.; Mark 10:35 ff.)
This matter of precedence seems to have troubled the disciples.
There were disputes over doctrine. You will recall that Paul and Barnabas had differences (not over doctrine, however), and, says the record, “the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other.” (Acts 15:36 95.)
Paul had an apparently unseemly dispute with Peter about circumcision. Paul boasted to the Galatians, “I said unto Peter before them all ….” (Gal. 2:14.)
Peter, replying more or less in kind, wrote: ” . . . even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (II Peter 3:15-16.)
This same question regarding circumcision became so disturbing to the Church that “the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter,” in Jerusalem. Paul, Barnabas, and Peter were there and participated in the discussion. The Pharisee disciples stood for circumcision of Gentiles. James delivered the decision against the necessity of circumcising the Gentile converts. (Acts 15:1 95.)
All through the history of the restored church doctrinal controversies have raged. Does God really live on a planet near the star Kolob? Does God’s God have a God? Is God eternally progressing? Do we really have a mother in heaven, or is it several mothers in heaven? Did Jesus wed Mary Magdalene at Cana? Did they have kids? Did heavenly father physically procreate with Mary to conceive Jesus? Where did Cain get his wife? Is God really God only because we sustain him as God? (Come on you Skousenites…let’s go!) Was Jesus just the most intelligent of all intelligences, or does he really have to be more intelligent than all intelligences combined? Was Adam God? If God was a man living on a planet, did he have a Christ and a Father in Heaven as well? Is Harry Reid a tool of the Devil? Will temple garments actually stop bullets and make the wearer immune to flame? Is sugar a poison? Will eating chocolate violate the Word of Wisdom?
But those aren’t the sorts of obtuse, casual mysteries we have to solve here. The real problem before us is one president Clark doesn’t directly entertain. He probably didn’t dare to. The problem we have before us now, is a string of prophets and church presidents, with whole quorums of apostles and General Authorities backing them up, declaring unanimously for 161 years that the Negro was cursed. Now the current Brethren, rather abruptly, tell us, no, the Negro is not cursed and apparently never was. We do not get that in a “revelation,” and an official declaration, canonized and published in the Standard Works. No, instead, we get that from a couple of press releases from the media office on the church website, and one PBS interview of Jeffrey R holland that almost nobody saw, over 8 years ago. And so far, there are no prophets and presidents of the church backed up by whole quorums of apostles and General Authorities, precisely defining and declaring this change of “policy” in writing and canonizing it.
If a senior, tenured professor, who had specifically been granted a Doctorate of Education out of BYU, the flagship Mormon educational institution, is unclear in any way about what constitutes Mormon doctrine, the fault lies in the institution, not Randy Bott. Randy Bott is not a loose cannon or a fringe element or a senile, anachronistic old codger who just didn’t “get it.” He taught his “folklore” openly and widely for decades all over campus, educating perhaps 70,000 thousand young Mormon skulls full of mush directly in his tenure, and less directly, maybe as many as two hundred thousand or more by various human networks or online, sending most of them off to the “mission field” and across the world of Mormondom and beyond, to spread the selfsame anti-Negro Mormon “folklore,” throughout the world.
In Dr Bott’s twenty years or so at BYU, he didn’t set off any alarms, no whistles were blown, no red flags were thrown, neither the Brethren nor the Board of Regents or HR never called him in for a little “talk.” He never spent a second in the penalty box. The only Mormons in the BYU religious loop disturbed at all by his theology, Dr Bott’s only offended casualties of his “gospel,” were a handful of “ethnic-types” of black and off-white coloration, who were too intimidated to speak up to anyone, until the Washington Post came calling and the church press office gave them permission to show a bit of spine. Moreover, they no doubt found Bott’s “folklore” so universally supported elsewhere in LDS literature and culture, that they didn’t see the point in debating it. So, for 18 years or more, Randy Bott sat comfortably in front of his rapt audience at the pinnacle of the Mormon Mars Hill of education, certain of his mastery of all things Mormon, and preached the same doctrine he preached to the Washington Post. And nobody ever corrected him, because Mormon Curse of Cain mythology sounded “just fine” to his peers and superiors as well. There was nothing to correct.
How could the Brethren and other trustees of BYU, let alone its administration, not know what goes on in BYU religion classes? How could they not know what’s taught in the missionary preparation course? Every BYU freshman learns in a month or two that there’s far weirder stuff than Randy Bott’s “Negro with the car-keys” doctrine going on in those classes every day.
The same peer-pressure, the same social phenomenon happens at the University of Minnesota on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum. Some young, bright-eyed Mormon kid, a big fan of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, talk radio and the Tea Party, sits through week after week of some English class where the professor spouts on and on about the melting glaciers and ice caps, starving polar bears, and the imminent threat of the global warming crisis, while the Right-Wing Mormon kid rolls his eyes and just writes the assigned essay on the dangerously rising sea levels that will flood Manhattan by 2015 because he needs the grade and he needs the diploma. And nobody on campus, much less staff is going to sympathize with his protestations that “global warming is far from settled science.” Everybody from the university president to the dean of the English department, to the janitor just hired to clean toilets, knows what’s being taught in that guy’s English class instead of English. But they’re all in on it. They don’t see any problem with it. It seems perfectly reasonable to them. And he’s getting some English in there too. So what’s your beef? How bad do you want this diploma?
Or in Bott’s case: how bad do you want to be a Mormon? You are forced to decide if you can you put up with this offensive “Negro stuff” because the rest of it is so great.
Professor Randy Bott, BYU religion professorial archetype, reached over 3000 students a year with his “anachronistic folklore,” indoctrinated them all, ran a blog dedicated to continuing the mission of answering any and all “gospel” questions out in the blogosphere. He wasn’t shy about it. He wasn’t hard to find. And he wasn’t alone in his “folkloric” professions on campus, in the LDS local community abroad, or the church in general. If Bott never got the “message,” it’s not Bott’s fault. Nobody of any sufficient authority ever gave him the message.
Randy Bott was simply quoting the last, most intelligible transmission from leadership.
The Brethren have said a lot of things about a lot of things, and they often differ in opinion. But the one thing they’ve almost unanimously agreed upon, right up to Holland’s 2006 PBS commentaries, is that the Negro priesthood ban was a commandment from God that needed a revelation to remove. That was the whole point of Declaration 2. And more specifically, not even the 10 December statement of 2013 precisely denies the righteousness of the ban from a canonical perspective. There is still enough authoritative wiggle room for those who care to keep justifying the notion straight out of the canon that the Negro had always been banned from the priesthood up until 1978, and that it had to do with “something” in the pre-mortal or “spirit world.” And from the Book of Mormon it’s just plain blatantly easy to justify skin-darkness as a sign of Godly disfavor. The Brethren I suppose, imagine that time and generational, popular liberalism will eventually bring about generations who don’t see or care to see any great significance in any of those previously pivotal “racial” passages, without anyone having to outright admit they’ve been getting it wrong for going on two centuries now.
Prior to 1978 and Declaration 2, the Brethren were almost unanimously promoting a litany of openly racist justifications for banning Negroes from the priesthood. When the ban was just as unanimously lifted, they then changed the narrative to claim that the “reasons” for this ban in the first place were “unknown,” and would remain so. One cannot know the mind of God, but one must obey God’s will. Thank you John Calvin. Thanks a lot.
Since “Bottgate,” the official LDS response has now been advanced to a cautious admission that the Brethren do know the reasons, and it was down to Brigham Young. The ban, it is now explained, was based on pioneer racism, bigotry and politics, and had nothing whatsoever to do with revelation or doctrinal truth ever, at any time. And furthermore, the whole Curse of Cain, Curse of Ham thing, canonical references aside, was all “folklore.” This rationalization ostensibly goes back to the time of Christ, back to Moses, Abraham, and Adam as well. It implies that the writers of those canonical records were likewise writing out of ignorance and racism or cultural bias. That, or their preservationists and translators were. So what then, are we to make of these previously vital canonical expositions on Race and the Priesthood? The Brethren haven’t quite spelled that out.
Personally, I’m taking the cautious route in re-examining the canon. I wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. What I do bear witness of, is that this final disavowing of LDS Curse of Cain mythology ostenisbly by the Brethren, in December of 2013, would likely have never been motivated in my lifetime had Mitt Romney not been running for president, and had Randy Bott not agreed to talk to the Washington Post in an effort to help America better understand Romney’s Mormon system of beliefs.
I think we all owe a nod of gratitude to Randy Bott. And I suppose the liberal Democrat hacks at the Washington Post who set out to do a hatchet job on Mitt Romney in February of 2012 just as his campaign was hitting its stride.
It’s all well and good to have this issue mostly, but not completely clarified by the Brethren’s official post on www.ldschurch.com, on 10 December 2013. The article on Race and the Priesthood there however, would have been even more helpful had it been penned in 1978. I can personally testify that when I stood teaching a large class of Sunday School teens in my high council room in the early years of this new century, around 2004-2005, looking at a large panel of combined Sunday school class kids made up of youth in their mid-to-late teens, my youngest son included, I had no apologetic exit strategy to escape the questions coming at me from the six or eight Liberian and African-American kids asking me to answer the church’s “Negro Question” for them. All I had was McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine, Joseph Fielding Smith’s Answers to Gospel Questions, Doctrines of Salvation, a host of other antiquated “authoritative” commentaries, and over 20 years of shoulder-shrugging out of church headquarters concerning any follow-up insights on Declaration 2. Even McConkie’s “corrected” 1978 version was rare, and only odd little interviews from obtuse journalists had dug out any further insight into the matter from the Brethren, and none of it was widely circulated compared to 161 years of openly available, deeply ingrained and popular “folklore” concerning the “Negro Question.”
Interview with Apostle LeGrand Richards
By Wesley P. Walters and Chris Vlachos
16th August 1978
Church Office Building
(Recorded on Cassette)
WALTERS: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: I’ve heard that Joseph Smith appeared; and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had, had a concern about this for some time, and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Are any of those stories true, or are they all?
RICHARDS: Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it’s hard to get leaders that don’t have Negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It’s going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising the money to build that temple. If we don’t change, then they can’t even use it. Well, Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it.
He asked each one of us of the Twelve if we would pray – and we did – that the Lord would give him the inspiration to know what the will of the Lord was. Then he invited each one of us in his office – individually, because you know when you are in a group, you can’t always express everything that’s in your heart. You’re part of the group, you see – so he interviewed each one of us, personally, to see how we felt about it, and he asked us to pray about it. Then he asked each one of us to hand in all the references we had, for, or against that proposal. See, he was thinking favorably toward giving the colored people the priesthood.
Then we had a meeting where we meet every week in the temple, and we discussed it as a group together, and then we prayed about it in our prayer circle, and then we held another prayer circle after the close of that meeting, and he (President Kimball) lead in the prayer; praying that the Lord would give us the inspiration that we needed to do the thing that would be pleasing to Him and for the blessing of His children. And then the next Thursday – we meet every Thursday – the Presidency came with this little document written out to make the announcement – to see how we’d feel about it – and present it in written form. Well, some of the members of the Twelve suggested a few changes in the announcement, and then in our meeting there we all voted in favor of it – the Twelve and the Presidency. One member of the Twelve, Mark Petersen, was down in South America, but Brother Benson, our President, had arranged to know where he could be reached by phone, and right while we were in that meeting in the temple, Brother Kimball talked with Brother Petersen, and read him this article, and he (Petersen) approved of it.
WALTERS: What was the date? Would that have been the first of June, or something?
RICHARDS: That was the first Thursday, I think, in May. [June?] At least that’s about when it was. And then after we all voted in favor of it, we called another meeting for the next morning, Friday morning, at seven o’clock, of all the other General Authorities – that includes the Seventies’ Quorum and the Patriarch and the Presiding Bishopric, and it was presented to them, and there were a few of the brethren that were out presiding then in the missions, and so the Twelve were appointed to interview each one of them.
WALTERS: Now when President Kimball read this little announcement or paper, was that the same thing that was released to the press?
WALTERS: There wasn’t a special document as a “revelation”, that he had and wrote down?
RICHARDS: We discussed it in our meeting. What else should we say besides that announcement? And we decided that was sufficient; that no more needed to be said.
WALTERS: Was that the letter you sent out to the various wards?
RICHARDS: And to the Church; and to the newspapers, yes.
VLACHOS: Will that become a part of “scripture”?
RICHARDS: Yes, I’ve already thought in my own mind of suggesting we add it to the Pearl of Great Price, just like those last two revelations that we’ve just added.
WALTERS: Will this affect your theological thinking about the Negro as being less valiant in the previous existence? How does this relate? Have you thought that through?
RICHARDS: Some time ago, the Brethren decided that we should never say that. We don’t know just what the reason was. Paul said, “The Lord hath before appointed the bounds of the habitations of all men for to dwell upon the face of the earth,” and so He determined that before we were born. He who knows why they were born with black skin or white and so on and so forth. We’ll just have to wait and find out.
WALTERS: Is there still a tendency to feel that people are born with black skin because of some previous situation, or do we consider that black skin is no sign anymore of anything inferior in any sense of the word?
RICHARDS: Well, we don’t want to get that as a doctrine. Think of it as you will. You know, Paul said “Now we see in part and we know in part; we see through a glass darkly. When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away, then we will see as we are seen, and know as we are known.” Now the Church’s attitude today is to prefer to leave it until we know. The Lord has never indicated that black skin came because of being less faithful. Now, the Indian; we know why he was changed, don’t we? The Book of Mormon tells us that; and he has a dark skin, but he has a promise there that through faithfulness, that they all again become a white and delightsome people. So we haven’t anything like that on the colored thing.
WALTERS: Now, with this new revelation – has it brought any new insights or new ways of looking at the Book of Abraham? Because I think traditionally it is thought of the curse of Cain, coming through Canaanites and on the black-skinned people, and therefore denying the priesthood?
RICHARDS: We considered that with all the “for’s” and the “against’s” and decided that with all of that, if they lived their lives, and did the work, that they were entitled to their blessings.
WALTERS: But you haven’t come up with any new understanding of the Book of Abraham? I just wondered whether there would be a shift in that direction. Is the recent revelation in harmony with what the past prophets have taught, of when the Negro would receive the priesthood?
RICHARDS: Well, they have held out the thought that they would ultimately get the priesthood, but they never determined the time for it. And so when this situation that we face down there in Brazil – Brother Kimball worried a lot about it – how the people are so faithful and devoted. The president of the Relief Society of the stake is a colored woman down there in one of the stakes. If they do the work, why it seems like that the justice of the Lord would approve of giving them the blessing. Now it’s all conditional upon the life that they live, isn’t it?
WALTERS: Well, I thank you for clarifying that for me, because you know, out in the streets out there, there must be at least five, ten different stories about the way this happened.
RICHARDS: Well, I’ve told you exactly what happened.
WALTERS: Right. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
RICHARDS: If you quote me you will be telling the truth.
WALTERS: Ok, well fine. You don’t mind if we quote you then?
WALTERS: Ok, that’s great!
Perhaps, worse than the Brethren taking the risk of authoritatively guessing wrong in the matter of the Negro issue, was saying nothing at all. Or at least, nothing definitive or useful. That left the lowly Sunday school teacher or even the greatest BYU religion professor of 2012 and the modern era, with nothing but “folklore,” and “unauthorized guesswork” to fill the void. The best I had in my devotional arsenal when I found myself forced to do the hard research and come up with a real answer for a real black, African Latter-day Saint, was to stick to the canon, highlight the “Mark of Protection,” elements of the narrative, honestly confess I had no idea what was going on between Ham and his old man, and if forced, cop to the undeniable truth that the “pre-mortal slacker” theory still seemed to be the LDS Party-line justification for the previous ban on Negro priesthood ordination.
We also see, that as brother Richards explains it, at the same time the “Negro Question” was being all but eradicated from LDS doctrine as far as he was concerned, Richards eagerly cited clear canon in the Book of Mormon still indicating that dark skin was a curse from God, even if it didn’t specifically relate to the Curse of Cain or priesthood denial. Very little of the overall tone of “White Supremacy”in LDS doctrine and culture if you will, was “cleared up” by Declaration 2 in 1978. LeGrand Richards and the Brethren may have decided behind closed doors to just drop the subject, but nobody put the word out to me. “We don’t know the reason,” was not a good enough answer for generations of potentially LDS “Negroes,” then, before then, and still to come. When I faced down a generation of smart, earnest, and very black LDS kids in Sunday school a generation back, all I could honestly add was that I personally didn’t buy any it. Several of those warm, intelligent, black, African, and African-American youth left the church anyway. One of them left specifically due to reading Mormon Doctrine, Answers to Gospel Questions, and doing all the online research I’ve outlined here. Five minutes online is all the longer it took for that young man to discover generations of overtly racist, ostensibly authoritative pronouncements coming from LDS leadership at all levels, tracing all the way back at least allegedly, to Joseph Smith. And unfortunately, it was all most easily found in grossly anti-Mormon contexts. Rather than help him keep his testimony, I believe he felt I had just been whitewashing the issue. (Pun intended, but it’s more sad than funny.)
And he was right. I was tap-dancing all around hoping to distract him from what clearly appeared to be the central LDS doctrine about the “Negro Question.” I’ve since adopted a motto: “Do what is right, let the consequences follow…” My whitewashing days are over. And thank the Lord, I don’t have to any more. But I must observe, Mormons need to own this conversation, not pretend it isn’t happening. The conversation will be had with us in it or not, and without us in it the door is open wide for a thousands of other entirely bogus anti-Mormon charges to enter the discussion unchecked and uncontested. Mormonism has real problems, and this is one of them. If we deal openly with our real problems, it makes it just that much easier for enemies and investigators alike to see the pretended, imaginary problems for what they are.
So now what? We just had the Gospel Doctrine lesson a week or from Genesis 3 about Abraham sending a servant out to recruit a wife for Isaac from the ostenisbly pagan, idiot relatives back in his father’s idolatrous region.
According to LDS tradition, the reason Abraham’s pagan kinsfolk were preferable to the locals is that Issac couldn’t possibly take a woman of Canaan to wife, she not being “of the covenant,” meaning quite specifically that any resulting offspring would be ineligible for the patriarchal covenant just like his wife. That’s not just Mormon tradition. That’s pretty much the whole Jewish, Christian and Muslim take on it. And as cleaned-up the lesson manual had been, there remained the allusion that Isaac and his offspring would then be denied the inherently priesthood-based patriarchy of the House of Israel because of…yes, figure it out. What else would there be to explain it? Right there would be where the whole “Curse of Cain/Curse of Ham” theology in LDS interpretation, just naturally plugs right in. So even the current statement on Race and the Priesthood of December 2013 doesn’t work out all the kinks. In fact, it just makes more and bigger kinks. If the “Negro” wasn’t the offspring of Cain or Ham, and if the Canaanites weren’t either, just what was the problem that excluded the Negro from priesthood ordination in 1853? Is the current statement by the Brethren really saying it all entirely down to frontier American racism, that Brigham Young and his apostolic peers were just bigoted on the matter? Was there never any canonical basis for LDS anti-“Negro” theology or the policy of banning the “Negro” from the priesthood at all? Is that what I am supposed to accept? I for one am not entirely sure–I know what I’d like to teach about it, but would I be entirely in harmony with the Brethren on it? I can’t say. And LeGrand Richards’ notion of brushing it aside with permission to “think of that as you may,” just don’t count it as “doctrine” is how we got into this problem in the first place.
As for Randy Bott, well he’s on the church’s “Master Retirement Plan,” and that’s not bad on it’s own. Combined with Social Security and his Deseret Mutual Savings and Investment Plan, he’s probably sitting pretty. I’m not losing any sleep over the professor’s fate. The church is actually a very fair and decent employer. But I will offer just one more bit of Randy Bott insight:
Bott, a popular religion professor at BYU and the highest-rated professor in America in 2008 according to ratemyprofessor.com, told students in his missionary preparation class Wednesday that he gave the interview to the Post because he was under the impression that the reporter had permission from the church to talk to him.
“He said he had been misquoted,” said Katie Cutler, a junior in linguistics from Yorktown, Va. “He said he just shared the scriptures with the reporter and told them that the church hasn’t given an official reason for the priesthood ban.”
Stephen Whitaker, a BYU graduate who now lives in New Haven, Conn., wrote a concerned email to Professor Bott after reading the story in the Washington Post. Whitaker said that in a “very kind” return email Bott indicated to him that he felt he had been misrepresented in the Post, and that he regretted that the reporter had not given him an opportunity to review his quotes before the story was published.
“He said that if he had been able to read his quotes in advance he would have made significant changes,” Whitaker said.
“I feel sorry for him,” said Daniel C. Peterson, who is also a BYU religion professor but who says he has never met Bott. “I’m confident, though I don’t know him, that he’s a good, well-intentioned man.”
Writing in his own blog, however, Peterson said he disagrees profoundly with what Bott said to the Post.
“Our speculations as to the reason(s) (for the priesthood ban) have been essentially worthless, and sometimes harmful,” Peterson wrote. “God has not seen fit to explain why he commanded or at least permitted the denial of priesthood to blacks.
“We certainly don’t know that God withheld the priesthood from blacks in order to protect them, or because they weren’t ‘ready’ for it, or because it ‘benefited’ them to be denied access to the temple or opportunities to serve missions, and the like,” he continued. “We just don’t know. And if we ever learn the reason, that knowledge will come through the Lord’s chosen prophets and apostles, not through BYU professors like me.”
I don’t for one second believe Randy Bott was misquoted. However, hey there brother Peterson–you’re not so up-to-speed either. We do know the reasons. The “Lord’s chosen prophets and apostles” just told us: it was racism. God didn’t withhold the priesthood from blacks at all. It was all LDS Utah-Mormon, Brigham Young-based “folklore.” Read the 10 December 2013 First Presidency statement on Race and the Priesthood. I know you think you’re winning points with the Brethren sticking your two cents worth into the mix here—but you’re lagging dangerously behind the revelation of the day and begging for retirement too. Oops! My mistake. You got fired:
I was talking with my source about how the Mormon Church is seeking tactical advantage in projecting a new-and-improved image of the Mormon Church through use of Mormon Mitt’s run for the White House roses.
Our conversation focused on how Romney has had a significant history of flip-flopping on issues, and how this apparent tendency on Romney’s part to reverse field at a moment’s notice for political advantage does not serve him well in presenting himself to larger society as a Mormon supposedly committed to telling the truth and maintaining a consistent moral standard.
We also talked about how Romney steadfastly refuses to discuss with reporters in any meaningful detail the official doctrines (and their related history) of the Mormon Church but, rather, insists on speaking only about his personal experiences in the Mormon Church as what he describes as an LDS “pastor” position, as well as his experiences and beliefs as an individual member.
My source observed that Romney simply could not address matters of Mormon doctrine and history because it would render his campaign untenable.
Then, according to my source (who said the following had been relayed to the source by a staff employee at the Maxwell Institute), the Mitt Romney campaign had contacted the Maxwell Institute to complain that the extreme Mormon apologetics of Peterson were hurting the Romney presidential campaign.
Subsequently, the source said, Peterson was fired from his editor position at the Maxwell Institute.
Take that one for what it’s worth. The timing is just, uh… ironic. Peterson knifes an old colleague in the back, issuing a patronizing eulogy for his dated contribution to the “Negro Question,” smugly shuffling him off to historical and cultural irrelevance, then the same month, Peterson is kicked to the curb, likewise, without any warning, for making the same sort of ostentatious public defenses of LDS “doctrine.” And if you want to digress enough to read the following sources, Peterson’s ouster was made because he was too personal and vehement in his defense of what he considers to be genuine LDS doctrine and history.
Apparently there’s an ongoing war being settled between present management IE: THE BRETHREN, BYU administration, and FARMS/FAIR, Dialogue, the Juvenile Instructor, the Maxwell Institute and other apologetic LDS think tanks, regarding the overall strategy of whether to explain away the whole “Negro Question” thing, or just confess it was all down to “folklore,” throw Brigham Young et-al under the bus and get on with it.
Randy Bott apparently isn’t the only one not getting the secret memos. I’m not taking sides here so much as just pointing out a bit of disagreement on “approach” to presenting this and many other former and present “tenets” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A little bit of friendly fire. Or as Jesus once said:
…49John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.” 50But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.”
But I suppose, it seems that’s an old paradigm. Today, apparently, some of our strongest supporters are also our biggest liabilities. Go ask Randy Bott. And Daniel Peterson.
A comment posted by “Eric” to the BYU Student Review story records the reaction from “Ryan Bott,” identified as the son of Randy Bott:
“As many of you know, my dad (Randy) has been in the news… The explanation is simple… yes, he did grant an interview to Washington Post to discuss ‘Mitt Romney’. The reporter told him that he had cleared the interview with BYU and the Dean of Religion – which he found out this morning was a lie. The reporter misquoted and misrepresented the majority of the interview. My dad has been asked by BYU and the church to remain silent, but I feel his side should be told.
Some have noticed that we have deactivated the Know Your Religion Blog [Ed. Note: webcache available HERE]… This was not done as an admittance of guilt, but was done at the request of BYU until things settle down.
Any of you who personally know my father, know that he is definitely NOT a racist, as the media would have you believe. It amazes me that no one at BYU or the church seem to care to give him the benefit of the doubt, investigate what was really said; instead it seems easier to just believe a liberal Washington Post Reporter, go on ‘hear-say’, and throw my dad under the bus.
Unfortunately for the professor’s son Ryan, assuming this post is legitimate, comments left at the Know Your Religion site betray the fact that Randy Bott had published pretty much the same sentiments aired in the Washington Post, for years.
The Washington Post reporter did not “trick” BYU’s top professor of religion into giving “unfiltered” comments that were distorted and taken out of context. BYU’s top professor of religion gave the Washington Post a fairly accurate synopsis of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ longstanding historical theology on the subject of Race and the Priesthood. And out in the light of day, it sounded pretty damned racist. I’m not hurling epithets at either Randy Bott or the Lord’s Anointed. I’m just telling the truth. As best I see it.
That’s a commandment you know. And I’m using “damned” in the Biblical sense.
30 All truth is independent in that asphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.