Gospel Topics Essays: Race and the Priesthood

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sjsrsee
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Gospel Topics Essays: Race and the Priesthood

Post by sjsrsee » 12 Jan 2018, 01:28

Recently I have been struggling with my faith, specifically about this one point I thought of while reading the essays on lds.org... The only reason I made an account on this site is to ask others if they ever had this thought, and if there was any answer or solution that satisfied them.

The essay on Race and the Priesthood mentions that Joseph Smith had no problem ordaining black men with the priesthood. However, Brigham Young changed the policy, and every prophet followed his lead until the late 1970s. I also know that 2 Nephi 5:21 talks about dark skin being a curse because of sin. So why would God say that in Book of Mormon times, then change his mind when Joseph Smith was prophet, change it back when Brigham Young was prophet, and change it again when Spencer Kimball was prophet? It doesn't make sense that- believing all the presidents of the church are truly prophets, seers, and revelators of God & every church policy is a result of this- God would change his mind so frequently about this. Aren't Heavenly Father's standards eternal, no matter what may be common in the day? That's what I was always told when talking about modesty and chastity.
Yes, I am aware of the scriptures that say all men regardless of skin color etc. are alike unto God. I also know that Brigham Young predicted there would be a day when black men would be equal to white men in the church. This still doesn't satisfy my concerns at all- it just doesn't make sense to me.

More than this though, I have had a very hard time working through another sentence from the same essay. "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life." After reading this, I did some research and found that these were actual teachings by past prophets. The essay refers to them as theories, but back in the days of certain prophets, they were taught that this was the word of God. Brigham Young taught that black skin was the "curse of cain," as did John Taylor and Joseph F. Smith (these 3 are the only I could find proof of teaching these things). These were just the prophets; there was a ton of apostles teaching the same thing. To the members of the church that followed these prophets, these things weren't "theories," they were modern revelation. The prophets didn't present them as theories, they presented them as fact, the official position of the church, and if you were to truly follow the prophet, you must believe these things too. So I really, really don't understand how if these men were truly called of God to be prophets, seers, and revelators, they could teach something that the church now says is not true. Today, we call them theories, but if you were a part of the church before 1978, it was what you were told was true. If what Brigham Young and other prophets taught really isn't true, how can we be sure that the teachings of Thomas Monson- or any of the other prophets for that matter- aren't later going to be relabeled as "theories" and no longer followed by the church? if I am being totally honest, after reading this essay, I felt very hurt and almost betrayed by the church. Even right now I feel like I'm going to cry because ever since I began investigating the church up until today, I have ALWAYS been told to follow the prophet. But now I feel like I can't trust him. I have heard people say that the prophets who said these things were "acting as men rather than the prophet," but they taught them to the church as truth, as facts.

It also calls into question the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. 2 Nephi 5:21 specifically says "And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them." It very clearly refers to their black skin as a curse. But the essay clearly says that the church "disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse..." How can they say this when the Book of Mormon so clearly says otherwise? I thought that it was the most true book on Earth? How can they claim that while directly contradicting 2 Nephi 5:21? I don't understand it and it's incredibly frustrating. I know that 2 Nephi 26:33 says "and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female..." but that doesn't make me feel any better about the other 2 Nephi verse.

I'm not saying any of these things to bash the church or say it's untrue. I have real concerns about these things and I don't know how to get past them or make sense of them. It's really confusing and upsetting for me, especially because I haven't been a member for very long and there's probably still a lot that I don't know or understand about the church. I wish I had real answers that would help me feel better about this piece of church history.
Yes, I have prayed a lot about these things, and I haven't gotten any answers that make sense. And, if I'm being honest, the only answers from God that would comfort me are promptings to find actual information that eases my concerns about this. Just feeling the spirit as an answer isn't going to do it for me. I cannot have a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon or the prophets with such glaring problems I haven't been able to make sense of.

I'm sorry if someone else has posted about this, I just don't know what to do or think right now. I truly do want real answers to these questions and would appreciate any input people may have about how to get past this.

AmyJ
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Re: Gospel Topics Essays: Race and the Priesthood

Post by AmyJ » 12 Jan 2018, 07:26

sjsrsee wrote:
12 Jan 2018, 01:28
The essay on Race and the Priesthood mentions that Joseph Smith had no problem ordaining black men with the priesthood. However, Brigham Young changed the policy, and every prophet followed his lead until the late 1970s. I also know that 2 Nephi 5:21 talks about dark skin being a curse because of sin. So why would God say that in Book of Mormon times, then change his mind when Joseph Smith was prophet, change it back when Brigham Young was prophet, and change it again when Spencer Kimball was prophet? It doesn't make sense that- believing all the presidents of the church are truly prophets, seers, and revelators of God & every church policy is a result of this- God would change his mind so frequently about this. Aren't Heavenly Father's standards eternal, no matter what may be common in the day? That's what I was always told when talking about modesty and chastity.
If I read this correctly, there are 2 parts to your question.

1) Modern Day Revelation - Which is it?
I choose to believe that for prophets Young down to Kimball the revelation(s) they received were their impressions of revelation in part influenced by their experiences, and the experiences of the saints, and the world around them. I think that some of the prophets and apostles might have had personal weaknesses towards prejudice that influenced the information they got from God. Since I believe decisions have to be decided in unison by the council of 15 people - I find it easier to believe that there were enough of these men struggling with this weakness each time to produce this effect.

2) Book of Mormon Revelation - Which is it?
When I read the Book of Mormon, I get the sense in those scriptures that skin color (if true) was more of a marker of team in the Us vs. Them that was that time period. I think the prophets who wrote about it were interested in segregating their side from the other (unrighteous) side - both in general and in their narratives. I can't really fault them because I can see where their life would literally depend on being able to tell if you were talking to a Nephite or a Lamanite on sight.

I don't see it as God changing his mind about anything, more like people mis-interpreting the information given and/or seeing information that they as people wanted to see.

I think that in the early days of the church a lot of "facts" were handed out like candy - useful for solidifying groups and improving morale. The fact that these "facts" don't match our current understanding on multiple levels with ongoing additional evidence is incidental.
sjsrsee wrote:
12 Jan 2018, 01:28
So I really, really don't understand how if these men were truly called of God to be prophets, seers, and revelators, they could teach something that the church now says is not true. Today, we call them theories, but if you were a part of the church before 1978, it was what you were told was true. If what Brigham Young and other prophets taught really isn't true, how can we be sure that the teachings of Thomas Monson- or any of the other prophets for that matter- aren't later going to be relabeled as "theories" and no longer followed by the church?
As part of my faith transition, I take everything the leaders say with a huge grain of salt. There is a lot of mental "They are doing the best they can with what they have - including their experiences and perspective. I need to do the best I can with the experiences and perspective I have - trusting that we are likely touching different parts of the same elephant."

In general, I trust their words more if backed up by outside (non-church) evidence by experts.
And our leaders give a lot of good advice/messages that may be inspired and useful to me at this time.

But I also fully embrace the fact that I can ask for confirmation from God about what I need to know and do.
sjsrsee wrote:
12 Jan 2018, 01:28
Iif I am being totally honest, after reading this essay, I felt very hurt and almost betrayed by the church. Even right now I feel like I'm going to cry because ever since I began investigating the church up until today, I have ALWAYS been told to follow the prophet. But now I feel like I can't trust him. I have heard people say that the prophets who said these things were "acting as men rather than the prophet," but they taught them to the church as truth, as facts.
If I were there and authorized to do so, I would give you a HUGE HUG. I can relate to your feelings of hurt and betrayal - it does hurt, and it is real. I wish it were easier for you, and I wish I could do more to help you. You are not crazy. You might want to look into the Stages of Faith stuff - it HURTS when you are launched (accidently or deliberately) from being comfortable in stage 3 to starting a stage 4 process.
sjsrsee wrote:
12 Jan 2018, 01:28
It also calls into question the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon... I'm not saying any of these things to bash the church or say it's untrue. I have real concerns about these things and I don't know how to get past them or make sense of them. It's really confusing and upsetting for me, especially because I haven't been a member for very long and there's probably still a lot that I don't know or understand about the church. I wish I had real answers that would help me feel better about this piece of church history.
I can relate about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I have been there to. So far, I believe the Book of Mormon has inspiration in it. I believe the Book of Mormon is true in that I believe that Joseph Smith did not write it himself. I believe that God interacted with Joseph Smith and that the world is a better place because of that. I think the stories and some verses are important for my personal development - there is still good in it. I think the men who wrote the Book of Mormon were as flawed as we are, and did the best they could with what they had (including what they understood about the nature of God).
sjsrsee wrote:
12 Jan 2018, 01:28
Yes, I have prayed a lot about these things, and I haven't gotten any answers that make sense. And, if I'm being honest, the only answers from God that would comfort me are promptings to find actual information that eases my concerns about this. Just feeling the spirit as an answer isn't going to do it for me. I cannot have a testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon or the prophets with such glaring problems I haven't been able to make sense of.

I'm sorry if someone else has posted about this, I just don't know what to do or think right now. I truly do want real answers to these questions and would appreciate any input people may have about how to get past this.
HUGS. Even if you got the information you are requesting, you will still need to work through the feelings of hurt and betrayal - and that takes time.

GO SLOW. Don't do anything in haste. Don't burn any bridges you don't have to in the choices you make.

I will promise you 2 things:
1. It gets different... Just like growing up from being a teenager to an adult changed things for you, your spiritual understanding can change.
2. The people here are amazing, and know a few things about what you are going through. There is an essay on the home page that deals with this stuff - I read and re-read it regularly to remind myself where I am in my faith transition and what I am trying to accomplish.
Last edited by AmyJ on 12 Jan 2018, 12:09, edited 1 time in total.

nibbler
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Re: Gospel Topics Essays: Race and the Priesthood

Post by nibbler » 12 Jan 2018, 09:06

sjsrsee,

Welcome.

It's going to be tough for me to know when to dial back my opinions but I'll do my best. ;) I'll start out by saying that yes, this is a struggle that many people share. It is hard but there is a path forward. Don't hurry things, let the path be the path.
sjsrsee wrote:It doesn't make sense that- believing all the presidents of the church are truly prophets, seers, and revelators of God & every church policy is a result of this- God would change his mind so frequently about this. Aren't Heavenly Father's standards eternal, no matter what may be common in the day?
I want to draw a distinction here, it's similar to what AmyJ said. How does god communicate his standards to us? There are many methods, I'll single out two:
1) God communicates to a prophet, a prophet communicates to us, we receive confirmation through the spirit.
2) God communicates directly to us via the spirit.

When we listen to a prophet we don't get god's unadulterated message, we get a message that is through the perspective of the prophet. Even when we receive communications directly via the spirit we aren't getting an unadulterated message, the message is still interpreted through our lens. I think we tend to assign more weight to the words of prophets that are canonized in scripture but at the end of the day they are still regular folk.

Take the book of Revelation by John as an example, lots of crazy stuff mentioned in there. John was speaking from his perspective and we try to derive meaning... but what if we were given the exact same vision? Would we describe it in the same way, or would we use different words to describe things? John may look at something in the vision and call it a locust with the power of a scorpion. I may look at the same vision and say, "That's just an Apache helicopter." We'd both be correct in our own way because we'd be speaking from our frame of reference, what we're able to understand. John doesn't know what a helicopter is. I don't know what it really is either, but it reminds me of an Apache helicopter.

Communication is a funny thing. Each time god's message is propagated down the line it includes the biases of both the person communicating and the person listening. The more intermediaries, between god and the recipient, the further away from purity the message becomes... if you want to look at it that way. Another way to look at it... with each retelling someone adds their insight, experience, wisdom, etc. That's just me saying that introducing a person like a prophet as a middleman instead of trying to access god directly isn't always a good thing or a bad thing. There are pros and cons.
sjsrsee wrote:More than this though, I have had a very hard time working through another sentence from the same essay. "Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life." After reading this, I did some research and found that these were actual teachings by past prophets. The essay refers to them as theories, but back in the days of certain prophets, they were taught that this was the word of God.
That's right.

Recently we had a lesson during Sunday school where the teacher talked (negatively) about members that held out hope that the church would change its stance on gay marriage. The teacher then asked the difference between a doctrine and a policy. I won't get into the answers shared, but IMO we label something a "policy" (or in this context a "theory") when a "doctrine" changes and suddenly we have to resolve the cognitive dissonance created by a belief in an unchanging god.

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LookingHard
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Re: Gospel Topics Essays: Race and the Priesthood

Post by LookingHard » 12 Jan 2018, 09:18

sjsrsee wrote:
12 Jan 2018, 01:28
if these men were truly called of God to be prophets, seers, and revelators, they could teach something that the church now says is not true. Today, we call them theories, but if you were a part of the church before 1978, it was what you were told was true. If what Brigham Young and other prophets taught really isn't true, how can we be sure that the teachings of Thomas Monson- or any of the other prophets for that matter- aren't later going to be relabeled as "theories" and no longer followed by the church?
You zeroed in here on one of the core issues facing Mormonism today. My $0.02 is that the MO of the church has been to "just stop talking about" things they want to go away and after a generation or two this generally worked. It is no longer working given the ease and anonymity someone can find historical details. Not only is it no longer working, the fact that items have been intentionally covered up is magnifying the issue and making many like you feel very betrayed. To me the essays are an attempt to put as positive a spin on ground that the church has already lost, but not so much started teaching. To me they feel like an attempt to have a TBM read them, not follow the footnotes, and maybe not even think too much about them. But read them and feel like, "OK, I know the issue and I am not THAT bothered by it" and get back to life as normal. That will work with some.

It sounds like you are at the start of your faith crisis. I think everyone at this site has compassion for you and knows just how gut-wrenching it can be. And like the saying, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall." I think a convert of a year or two can probably walk away from the church without much angst. But for someone that really put all of their eggs into the Mormonism basket, it is a HUGE issue. It can be a full-blown identity crisis and the stakes for some can be their marriage and other family relations. I had a mother that passed away about a decade ago. I feel my faith crisis was more painful than dealing with her death. But I will tell you it gets better.

You have come to a great site to help you decide what you will do. Please keep bringing items. I think this helps you work through it. I also recommend finding someone you can talk with this honestly about. I didn't start healing until I was able to do that. You can even ask here at this site if anybody would be willing to call or even meet with you just to talk. It is therapeutic. There will be ups and downs in your future. Take is slow, be compassionate to yourself and others, and you will make it through this just fine.

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Re: Gospel Topics Essays: Race and the Priesthood

Post by Curt Sunshine » 12 Jan 2018, 12:05

My two cents about the Book of Mormon, from the angle of it being actual, ancient history OR it just being set in "ancient" times:

People are racist by nature. The Nephites were racist. The Lamanites intermarried with a large, darker-skinned, indigenous people (which is the only way the population statements later on in the book make sense). The Nephites saw them as apostate, which is exactly what the Israelite reaction would have been at the time. They saw the darker skin as a "mark" of that sinful status. They wrote about it - even though a major prophet of their past had said God doesn't value any sex, race, or freedom factor above any other. They were "natural" men, and they couldn't overcome their traditional biases.

My two cents about the early saints and leaders:

People are racist by nature. The early Mormons were racist, generally speaking . A black Mormon man wanted to be sealed to a white Mormon woman. Brigham Young couldn't deal with that, which is exactly what the general Protestant reaction would have been at the time. He resurrected from the ancient accounts the darker skin being a "mark" of a sinful status. He made it policy - even though the founding prophet of his time hadn't said a word about it and actually had ordained black men to offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood). Subsequent leaders continued the policy - most out of ignorance and some out of racism. They were "natural" men, and they couldn't overcome their traditional biases.

The essay does a pretty good job of saying that last paragraph without stating it quite as bluntly. It's the only explanation that makes sense to me, and it explains the Book of Mormon verses perfectly and in a historically accurate way.

Also, to stress this point, the Book of Mormon contains NO racist statements after the visitation of Jesus and the intermingling of the people. There stopped being a light-skinned people and a darker-skinned people, so recorded racism ceased. Likewise, once the Church leadership saw an area of high conversion possibility where "pure" race essentially didn't exist (where it would be almost impossible to establish the Church's leadership structure with a race-based ban in place), they realized that race couldn't matter anymore.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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Re: Gospel Topics Essays: Race and the Priesthood

Post by nibbler » 12 Jan 2018, 12:18

Curt Sunshine wrote:
12 Jan 2018, 12:05
Subsequent leaders continued the policy - most out of ignorance and some out of racism. They were "natural" men, and they couldn't overcome their traditional biases.
To this list I would add, "some out of loyalty."

Curt Sunshine
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Re: Gospel Topics Essays: Race and the Priesthood

Post by Curt Sunshine » 12 Jan 2018, 12:22

Absolutely. Thanks for adding that.
I see through my glass, darkly - as I play my saxophone in harmony with the other instruments in God's orchestra. (h/t Elder Joseph Wirthlin)

Even if people view many things differently, the core Gospel principles (LOVE; belief in the unseen but hoped; self-reflective change; symbolic cleansing; striving to recognize the will of the divine; never giving up) are universal.

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." H. L. Mencken

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On Own Now
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Re: Gospel Topics Essays: Race and the Priesthood

Post by On Own Now » 12 Jan 2018, 14:45

sjsrsee,

Welcome to the forum.

For myself, I have found it useful to step back and see things from a bit of distance. Rather than try to reconcile everything, I try to recognize that people are not infallible and they are not consistent; taking divergent paths at different times and places. Doing so doesn't answer all questions, but it does serve to take the bite out of the questions.

It might be helpful to contemplate how Thomas Jefferson, a man of enlightenment who gave us the Declaration of Independence, was a slave owner. Not only so, but he fathered children with his favorite slave-girl. I mean, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard to think about it, and yet he had a significant extremely positive influence on the birth of our nation and its transition into legitimacy.

Similarly, BY was a man of his times... and in his times race was an issue directly related to commerce. Individual rights operated within a framework of economy.

I believe men like JS and BY thought of themselves as being inspired by God, even when what they did was patently wrong (priesthood ban, polygamy), and which they would have considered wrong if it hadn't come from their inspired thoughts.
"Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another." --Romans 14:13

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SamBee
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Re: Gospel Topics Essays: Race and the Priesthood

Post by SamBee » 12 Jan 2018, 14:56

The best way to deal with this is to think it is part of our past and not our future.
DASH1730 "An Area Authority...[was] asked...who...would go to the Telestial kingdom. His answer: "murderers, adulterers and a lot of surprised Mormons!"'
1ST PRES 1978 "[LDS] believe...there is truth in many religions and philosophies...good and great religious leaders... have raised the spiritual, moral, and ethical awareness of their people. When we speak of The [LDS] as the only true church...it is...authorized to administer the ordinances...by Jesus Christ... we do not mean... it is the only teacher of truth."

sjsrsee
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Re: Gospel Topics Essays: Race and the Priesthood

Post by sjsrsee » 12 Jan 2018, 16:23

I want to thank everyone who posted replies to this. Everyone offered great commentary from perspectives I haven't considered. I am still working through it and have even gone to a couple of close friends to get their advice. A close friend of mine even emailed her professor at BYU to get his opinion on this question. It's a big thing and I do think I am at the beginning of a faith crisis but I'm still coming to terms with it. You have all helped me a lot and I am very grateful.

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