Criticism of Mormonism/Books/Mormonism 101/Chapter 16

< Criticism of Mormonism‎ | Books‎ | Mormonism 101

Revision as of 14:13, 13 April 2024 by GregSmith (talk | contribs) (top: Bot replace {{FairMormon}} with {{Main Page}} and remove extra lines around {{Header}})
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)

Contents

Response to claims made in "Chapter 16: Lamanites, Seed of Cain, and Polygamy"



A FAIR Analysis of: Mormonism 101, a work by author: Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson

Response to claims made in Mormonism 101, "Chapter 16: Lamanites, Seed of Cain, and Polygamy"


Jump to details:


Response to claim: 233 - Joseph Fielding Smith said, "I would not want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the Negro. 'Darkies' are wonderful people, and they have their place in our church"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

As they begin this chapter, the authors tip their hand with an improperly referenced thirty-nine-year-old quote from a popular magazine of the day that would be almost impossible for the average reader to find:

I would not want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the Negro. "Darkies" are wonderful people, and they have their place in our church.

President Joseph Fielding Smith LOOK magazine, 22 October 1963, 79 [sic]

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

NOTE: Commentator Sally Kohn, in a post titled "The Definitive Guide to Bigotry in the 2012 Republican Primaries (So Far)," Colorlines, News for Action (August 31 2011) spectacularly misinterprets the reference, confusing Joseph Smith, Jr. with Joseph Fielding Smith, and LOOK magazine with Life magazine,

In 1963, Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was quoted in Life Magazine defending his religion’s racism, saying, “Darkies are wonderful people.” (emphasis added)

One respondent notes, "That's a pretty impressive trick-- considering Joseph Smith died in 1844."

The authors cherry-picked their quote from Joseph Fielding Smith. We discuss the double standard that anti-Mormons apply to the LDS Church while nervously whistling past the graveyard of their own troubled religious history.

Critics appeal to an audience that is ignorant of the abysmal history of most of Christianity's dealings on race issues. They are obviously hoping their target audience will not notice that Latter-day Saints have always had integrated churches while other Protestant churches struggle with the residual division brought about by their own prolonged discrimination or outright expulsion of black members.

LDS are, of course, not immune from the same human foibles. We, like all Christians, might wish that we had played a larger role in correcting social injustices. We must all look at our past and learn from it. But for the here and now, the LDS do have a decided advantage in our centralized leadership and our historical practice of maintaining congregations based on geographical boundaries rather than personal preference or race. Our members have never traveled past a white or black church to get to their own. We cannot fire ministers who do not succumb to the wishes of a congregation to remain racially segregated. Yet, we join all concerned followers of Christ in acknowledging that we have work ahead of us in putting aside differences accumulated through centuries of misunderstanding and intolerance.

Last, it is time to ask a question of those who continue to pit racial groups against one another in the name of Christ. Are they guilty of engaging in a subtle but virulent racism by reducing the black race to nothing more than a convenient brickbat in their polemical assaults on other Christians?



Was the priesthood ban simply a policy or was it doctrine?

According to the Church, the priesthood ban was a policy implemented by Brigham Young

According to the Church, the priesthood ban was a policy implemented by Brigham Young. There was no priesthood restriction in place during the time of Joseph Smith.

Background

Members of the Church who were considered to be of African descent were restricted from holding the Church's lay priesthood prior to 1978. The reason for the ban is not known. There is no contemporary, first-person account of the ban's implementation. There is no known written revelation instituting the ban. In 1949, the First Presidency, led by President George Albert Smith, indicated that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord."

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.
—First Presidency statement, August 17, 1949

The First Presidency went on to state that "the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate." Because of this, understanding the reason for the implementation of the priesthood ban is difficult.

However, once the ban was in place—whether as a matter of revelation, or as a policy that arose out of the Church's 19th-century origins—members and leaders did not feel that they could simply "change" things.

Many modern Protestant denominations believe in a "priesthood of all believers," and settle doctrinal differences via councils, meetings, or plebiscites. As new social realities develop (e.g., the civil rights movement, women's suffrage, "gay rights," etc.), denominations adapt or modify previous stances.

This is not how the Church functions, and non-members may not appreciate this fact. Members or leaders of the Church do not feel that they have the right to alter previous practices or doctrines without direct revelation from God. Much as the ban confused and troubled many members—black and white—leaders did not feel at liberty to alter them without divine guidance. It is also important to realize that priesthood, in the LDS tradition, is not a right, nor is it something to be used to grant or enhance spiritual or social "status."

Furthermore, efforts to use political pressure against the Church may have slowed the change, since members do not believe that God will allow the Church to appear 'manipulated' by outside forces to create a convenient 'revelation' merely to satisfy social pressures.

It also important to give credit to Church members' strengths in the pre-1978 period:

  • Church doctrine never held that blacks were less than human or without souls, as some denominations did
  • Joseph Smith taught that any mental or economic weakness suffered by blacks was not due to any in-born defect, but simply due to not having ample opportunity to advance and receive the same education as whites
  • Church members were overwhelmingly abolitionist and were even persecuted and driven out because of their anti-slavery leanings (though slavery did become a practice among certain Saints during the Utah period).
  • the Church never had segregated congregations; all members worshipped together
  • the Church supported equal civil rights for many years before the 1978 revelation: to the Church, the issue of priesthood was not one of civil rights or granting status, but of revelation. There were, of course, those that opposed the Civil Rights movement such as President Ezra Taft Benson who thought it was a mere ploy for the implementation of communism in the United States. But Benson is an outlier among the dominant attitude of support for the CRM.
  • sociologic studies demonstrated that pre-1978 Mormons were no more or less racist than their contemporaries

Racist doctrine?

The most unfortunate legacy of the ban is perhaps an aspect that was least intended. Since many members were sincerely concerned about the justice of the ban, many sought to explain it through a variety of hypotheses. Such "doctrinal folklore" was never official, but became widespread as leaders uncritically adopted it and taught it frequently and as both leaders and members sought to reconcile their ideas about the justice and mercy of God with the ban's reality. In a good faith effort to understand, members drew on ideas about blacks then current in Protestantism generally.

Leaders of the Church have repeatedly emphasized that such explanations were misguided and never represented official doctrine.

For example, Elder Dallin H. Oaks pointed out that some leaders and members had ill-advisedly sought to provide justifications for the ban:

...It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we're on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that.... The lesson I've drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.
...I'm referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.
...Let's [not] make the mistake that's been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that's where safety lies. [1]

Interviewed for a PBS special on the Church, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

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 [apostles] to come along, ... we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place. [2]

Recent remarks by the current prophet, President Hinckley, demonstrate that members of the Church must put aside any thoughts or legacy of racial intolerance or unkindness:

Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.
Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you 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 of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?
Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.
Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.
Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such. [3]

Gospel Topics, "Race and the Priesthood"

Gospel Topics, (2013)
In 1850, the U.S. Congress created Utah Territory, and the U.S. president appointed Brigham Young to the position of territorial governor. Southerners who had converted to the Church and migrated to Utah with their slaves raised the question of slavery’s legal status in the territory. In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would "have [all] the privilege and more" enjoyed by other members.

Click here to view the complete article

Did Joseph Fielding Smith make derogatory racial comments in the 22 October 1963 issue of Look magazine?

The critics appeal to an audience that is ignorant of the abysmal history of most of Christianity's dealings on race issues

A statement by Joseph Fielding Smith in the 22 October 1963 issue of LOOK Magazine is used as an illustration of the Church's racism,

I would not want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the Negro. "Darkies" are wonderful people, and they have their place in our church.

President Joseph Fielding Smith Look magazine, 22 October 1963, 79 [sic][4]

Racism has become one of the most strident and damaging accusations that can be levelled in our society, and thus a useful weapon for those who wish to harm an organization or individual. As Southern Baptists know, "Few chapters in American religious history prove as embarrassing as the response of the American churches to the issue of race."[5]:33 Thus, the critics appeal to an audience that is often ignorant of the abysmal history of most of Christianity's dealings on race issues. They are obviously hoping their target audience will not notice that Latter-day Saints have always had integrated churches while other Protestant churches struggle with the residual division brought about by their own prolonged discrimination or outright expulsion of black members. Emerson and Smith assess the problem in the following manner:

Our examination of a variety of data and consideration of a variety of levels of social influence suggest that many race issues that white evangelicals want to see solved are generated in part by the way they themselves do religion, interpret their world, and live their own lives. These factors range from the ways evangelicals and others organize into internally similar congregations, and the segregation and inequality such congregations help produce; to theologically rooted evangelical cultural tools, which tend to (1) minimize and individualize the race problem, (2) assign blame to blacks themselves for racial inequality, (3) obscure inequality as part of racial division, and (4) suggest unidimensional solutions to racial division.[6]:170

Latter-day Saints are, of course, not immune from the same human weaknesses. We, like all Christians, might wish that we had played a larger role in correcting social injustices. We must all look at our past and learn from it. At present, Latter-day Saints do have a decided advantage in our centralized leadership and our historical practice of maintaining congregations based on geographical boundaries rather than personal preference or race. Our members have never travelled past a white or black church to get to their own. We cannot fire ministers who do not succumb to the wishes of a congregation to remain racially segregated. Yet, we join all concerned followers of Christ in acknowledging that we have work ahead of us in putting aside differences accumulated through centuries of misunderstanding and intolerance.

We can only hope that our critics will desist in their racially divisive campaign against other religions. We challenge them to focus their talents on the important question of pastor Gregory E. Thomas as he says, "we must again note that a predominant pattern of church life for black churches has been that of racial separation. The question remains: why?"[7]

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 233. ( Index of claims )

Bruce R. McConkie: "We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness, and all the views and all the thoughts of the past"

One statement alone, given by Bruce R. McConkie to Church seminary and institute teachers shortly after the 1978 revelation granting priesthood to all races, answers each and every objectionable statement or action that the authors can dredge up from bygone eras:

There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things… All I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness, and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter any more. It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year [1978]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the gentiles.[8]

A Look Through LOOK Magazine: Not one article, photo, or ad in a full 154 pages of this colorful oversized magazine interrupts its perky Caucasian landscape by featuring an African-American

Now that the reader is aware of the true position of the LDS church on the subject of racism, let us review the authors' favored medium for authoritative information, LOOK magazine. It provides an excellent lesson in how easily sources can be excised from the very surroundings that explain them when the intent is to sensationalize rather than to inform.

The cover of the October 22, 1963 issue reflects the prevailing social culture of the nation. It pictures a radiant Jackie Kennedy-like woman sitting in a new car, smiling with her laughing toddler who is standing on the car seat next to her. The child is dressed in an unbuttoned red cardigan, the collar of her crisp white blouse peeks over the sweater and her pleated plaid skirt is accessorized with stylish black and white oxfords and bobby socks.

This issue highlighted new 1964 cars. The full-page ad on page 55 tells us "what every girl should know." Women of that era evidently needed to know that "the man who drives a Super Torque Ford is a man of substance" and that she should "marry him at the first opportunity."

Not one article, photo, or ad in a full 154 pages of this colorful oversized magazine interrupts its perky Caucasian landscape by featuring an African-American. They are not to be seen in ads, Catholic schoolrooms, or even on a featured college football team. Looking at this slice of life from the sixties, the only reason one would have to think blacks even lived in the United States is one photo on page 118 where a few blacks are pictured as the recipients of charity. The patronizing hypocrisy of examining one small church's "attitude toward Negroes" in this sort of environment has, of course, not yet settled into the mainstream of American consciousness.

"Memo From a Mormon: In which a troubled young man raises the question of his church's attitude toward Negroes" is an article that indicates a growing awareness by the magazine of the need to talk about "Negroes," but there is no urgent need to talk to them or with them. The article itself is well done and fairly presented from the point of view of a young man who wished an end to the practice of allowing blacks full membership but restricting them from participation in the lay priesthood. The rogue quote used by the authors is only found in the "Editor's Note" attached to the article. William B. Arthur, managing editor of LOOK, interviewed Joseph Fielding Smith, then acting president of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. The full quote, following an explanatory paragraph, is as follows:

"I stand by every word in the article," President Smith said, after reading it aloud in Mr. Arthur's presence. "The Mormon Church does not believe, nor does it teach, that the Negro is an inferior being. Mentally, and physically, the Negro is capable of great achievement, as great and in some cases greater than the potential of the white race. He can become a lawyer, a doctor, a scientist, and he can achieve great heights. The word 'inferior' is indeed unfortunate."

Mr. Arthur asked President Smith if a Negro boy can pass the sacrament in the Mormon Church, as 12- and 13-year-old white Mormon boys do. President Smith replied, "No". He then was asked whether Negro boys could prepare the sacrament, as 14- and 15-year old white Mormon boys do. The answer was "No." "Can he bless the sacrament or perform baptism, as the 16-, 17-and 18-year old white Mormon boys do?" Mr. Arthur asked. Again the reply was, "no."

"The Negro cannot achieve priesthood in the Mormon Church," President Smith said. "No consideration is being given now to changing the doctrine of the Church to permit him to attain that status. Such a change can come about only through divine revelation, and no one can predict when a divine revelation will occur.

"I wouldn't want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the Negro. 'Darkies' are wonderful people, and they have their place in our Church."[9]:97

Interestingly, the article ends here. However, a statement from the body of the featured article is worth noting as it pinpoints the uncomfortable situation for LOOK's selectiveness in highlighting only Mormons.

The Negro who accepts the doctrines of the Church and is baptized by an authorized minister of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is entitled to salvation in the celestial kingdom, or the highest heaven spoken of by Paul.

It is true that the work of the ministry is given to other peoples, and why should the so-called Christian denominations complain? How many Negroes have been placed as ministers over white congregations in the so-called Christian denominations?[9]:76

A Convenient Double Standard

Perhaps the annoyance of President Smith over the double standard being applied to Mormons would be better understood if placed next to the image of Ferrell Griswold, pastor of the Minor Heights Baptist Church, addressing Klan supporters as Birmingham public schools began their first week of desegregation in the same year.[5]:41 Would the critics really have the reader believe there were no Christian leaders among those who refused blacks their basic civil liberties and denied them entrance to their churches, schools, civic centers and voting booths? While President Smith was quoted as saying "darkie" in 1963, what were other high profile white religious leaders saying and doing to give blacks basic rights, let alone positions of leadership within their own churches? Two scholars outline how white leaders left the battle for civil rights to the black churches.

In response to King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech that his children might one day play together with white children, [Billy] Graham, who had been invited but did not attend the 1963 March on Washington, said: "Only when Christ comes again will little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children." This was not meant to be harsh, but rather what he and most white evangelicals perceived to be realistic.[6]:47

Three years later on October 9, 1966, Martin Luther King gave his "The Pharisee and Publican" sermon to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in which he said:

So often Negroes in Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia and other places have been taken to that tree that bears strange fruit. And do you know that the folk lynching them are often big deacons in the Baptist churches and stewards in the Methodist churches feeling that by killing and murdering and lynching another human being they are doing the will of Almighty God? The most vicious oppressors of the Negro today are probably in church.[10]

It is easy to look at the worst in one another, as the critics have chosen to do. There are enough quotes indicting every religious tradition to make any thoughtful person cringe. There are also well-researched, honest and informative books and articles available from scholars on every aspect of race and religion. So one has to ask, with so many others, why do critics persist in this course of action? What purpose does it serve for them?

The critics' barrage of the most negative and obscure data they can muster against the LDS might lead one to conclude that all other Christian churches were fully integrated with all races participating in leadership positions in 1963, or even in 1978 when blacks were given the priesthood by the LDS Church. The following quotes from varied and respected sources are provided so the reader has the appropriate historical context. They are not meant in any way to criticize other churches who are working so diligently to close the racial divide.

Virtually all Protestant denominations have separate Negro churches, and thus the areas of association for religious purposes have been very small.[11]

By the 1830's most southern evangelicals had thoroughly repudiated a heritage that valued blacks as fellow church members.[12]

The black Methodist church, created not from a desire to be separate but from a desire to worship without discrimination at the hands of white brethren, was to become the most enduring legacy of Methodism's refusal to accord the black communicant all of the rights and privileges of membership in the body of Christ.[13]:318

After the war the southern churches, continuing the legacy of slavery, were among the first institutions to call for the separation of the races; by the twentieth century they had become bastions of segregation. With no desire to intrude into places where they were not welcome, most black Southerners were more comfortable in their own congregations.[13]:293

By November 1968 a survey research by the Home Mission Board revealed that only eleven percent of Southern Baptist churches would admit African-Americans.[14]

The most extensive research on integration was undertaken jointly by the United Lutherans, Congregational Christians, and Presbyterians (U.S.A.). They found that 1,331 out of 13,597 predominantly white churches have nonwhite members or attenders. That is just short of 10 per cent.[15]

Still in 1964, no more than 10 per cent of the white Protestant congregations had Negroes worshiping with them. Even these 10 per cent had only a few members or occasional attenders, so that throughout the US probably no more than 1 per cent of all Negroes worshiped in integrated congregations on Sunday mornings.[16]

According to the 1998 National Congregations Study, about 90 percent of American congregations are made up at least 90 percent of people of the same race.[6]:136

About eighty percent of all black Christians are in seven major denominations.[17]:68

In 1977, the American Baptist Churches in the USA had a larger number of blacks than any other non-black denomination… An interesting irony of the racial overtones still prevalent is that the American Baptist Churches of the South are now predominately a black sub-convention of the American Baptist Churches in the USA. There has been little white involvement since the influx of black Baptists.[17]:68-69

As can be seen by this parade of statistics, the critics' talents might be more profitably spent in their own congregations rather than in pointing at the proverbial mote in their neighbor's eye.

Critics' attempt to pass off centuries of Christian belief in a "curse" as being a uniquely Mormon invention

Now let us look at the critics' stumbling attempt to pass off centuries of Christian belief in a "curse" as being a uniquely Mormon invention. The authors of Mormonism 101 ask, "If the Mormon God has removed the curse that was once on the black race, why has he not also removed the mark?"[18] Again, we should review the widely available literature on the origins of this unfortunate concept:

This interpretation of Noah's curse was no southern invention; indeed, it had been in circulation long before the discovery of America. Even so, it proved especially useful to white masters of the South because they had been put on the defensive by the powerful emancipationist movement.[19]

The story of Noah's Curse was so ingrained into the orthodox Protestant mind that it was sometimes invoked far from the pulpit. Speaking before the Mississippi Democratic State Convention in 1859, none other than Jefferson Davis defended chattel slavery and the foreign slave trade by alluding to the "importation of the race of Ham" as a fulfillment of its destiny to be "servant of servants."[13]:107

Once again, the reader is left to decide whether critics are completely ignorant of the history of race theory, anthropology, and the centuries-old Christian use of the Bible to justify slavery or if they are simply race-baiting. One is truly forced to ponder this as they selectively use quotes and remove portions that may reflect positively on Mormons. They turn to such sources as little-known "Mormon writers" instead of using authoritative sources that the LDS recognize as accurately representing their beliefs. They relentlessly refuse to deal with modern Church practice and teachings that are well attested to by living leaders, preferring instead to use dated and out-of-context quotes that obviously clash with our modern social sensibilities.

Were blacks denied access to temple open houses?

There is no priesthood requirement to tour a temple during an open house, and all were welcome

A message to FAIR reads: "I heard that, prior to 1978, blacks were denied access to temple open houses because they carried the "mark of Cain."" Is this true?

It would be surprising and unfortunate if a black person in the 1960's was turned away from a temple open house during the period that the priesthood ban was in place. Blacks were certainly allowed in during a temple open house, and many did tour the temple during these times. There is no priesthood requirement to tour a temple during an open house, and all were welcome. This is not to say, however, that such an unfortunate denial of entry did not take place. Sadly, prevailing racial attitudes during the 1950’s and 1960’s make it quite possible that a member might have denied such entry, even going so far as to say that the person carried the "mark of Cain." Even highly placed Church leaders made statements during this period which would now be considered quite racist. Such attitudes are, of course, repugnant to modern Latter-day Saints.

FAIR is not aware, however, of any policy of forbidding entry to open houses to people of a given race or ethnicity.


Notes

  1. Dallin H. Oaks, Interview with Associated Press, in Daily Herald, Provo, Utah, 5 June 1988.
  2. Jeffrey R. Holland, Interview, 4 March 2006. off-site
  3. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006), 58–61.off-site
  4. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 233. ( Index of claims )
  5. 5.0 5.1 Andrew M. Manis, "'Dying From the Neck Up:' Southern Baptist Resistance to the Civil Rights Movement," Baptist History and Heritage (Winter 1999)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Richard O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
  7. Thomas, "Black and Baptist in the Bay State," 75.
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," an address to a Book of Mormon Symposium for Seminary and Institute teachers, Brigham Young University, 18 August 1978.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Jeff Nye, "Memo from a Mormon: In which a troubled young man raises the question of his church's attitude toward Negroes," LOOK (October 22, 1963)
  10. Marty Bell, "Fire in My Bones: The Prophetic Preaching of Martin Luther King, Jr.," Baptist History and Heritage (Winter 1999), 13.
  11. Thomas F. Gossett, Race: The History of An Idea in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963), 447.
  12. Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1989), 107.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Forrest G. Wood. The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth Century (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990).
  14. Dana Martin, "The American Baptist Convention and the Civil Rights Movement: Rhetoric and Response," Baptist History and Heritage (Winter 1999), 44.
  15. Robert Root, Progress Against Prejudice: The Church Confronts the Race Problem (New York: Friendship Press, 1957), 59.
  16. J.C. Hough, Black Power and White Protestants: A Christian Response to the New Negro Pluralism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968), 177.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Gregory E. Thomas, "Black and Baptist in the Bay State," American Baptist Quarterly (March, 2002).
  18. McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 243.
  19. H. Shelton Smith, In His Image, But… Racism in Southern Religion, 1780-1910 (Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1972), 131.

Response to claim: 234 - The authors claim that the "dark-skinned" Lamanites wiped out the "white-skinned" Nephites at the battle of Hill Cumorah

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that the "dark-skinned" Lamanites wiped out the "white-skinned" Nephites at the battle of Hill Cumorah.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: The Book of Mormon clearly indicates that by the time the final battle occurred, the Lamanites and Nephites had fully mixed. It is unlikely that the distinction between Lamanites and Nephites could have been made at the time based upon skin color.


Question: What was the Lamanite curse?

The Book of Mormon talks of a curse being placed upon the Lamanites

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. 2 Nephi 5꞉21

It is claimed by some that the Church believed that Lamanites who accepted the Gospel would become light-skinned, and that "Mormon folklore" claims that Native Americans and Polynesians carry a curse based upon "misdeeds on the part of their ancestors."

One critic asks, "According to the Book of Mormon a dark skin is a curse imposed by God on the unrighteous and their descendants as a punishment for sin. Do you agree with that doctrine? (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 12:22-23, Alma 3:6, 2 Nephi 5:21-22, Jacob 3:8, 3 Nephi 2:15-16, Mormon 5:15; references to the "Lamanites" are taken to be referring to Native American "Indians".)" [1]

Although the curse of the Lamanites is often associated directly with their skin color, it may be that this was intended in a far more symbolic sense than modern American members traditionally assumed

The curse itself came upon them as a result of their rejection of the Gospel. It was possible to be subject to the curse, and to be given a mark, without it being associated with a change in skin color, as demonstrated in the case of the Amlicites. The curse is apparently a separation from the Lord. A close reading of the Book of Mormon text makes it untenable to consider that literal skin color was ever the "curse." At most, the skin color was seen as a mark, and it may well have been that these labels were far more symbolic and cultural than they were literal.


Response to claim: 234 - In 1981 the Church changed "a white and a delightsome people" to "a pure and a delightsome people"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

In 1981 the Church changed "a white and a delightsome people" to "a pure and a delightsome people."

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim is based upon correct information - The author is providing knowledge concerning some particular fact, subject, or event


Question: Why was the phrase "white and delightsome" changed to "pure and delightsome" in the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon?

Book of Mormon Central, KnoWhy #57: What Does it Mean to be a White and Delightsome People? (Video)

This change was originally made in the 1840 edition, lost, and then restored again in the 1981 edition

This change was originally made in the 1840 edition but because subsequent editions were based off the European editions (which followed the 1837 edition), the change did not get perpetuated until the preparation of the 1981 edition. The change is not (as the critics want to portray it) a "recent" change designed to remove a "racist" original.

The idea that the Church has somehow "hidden" the original text or manuscripts of the Book of Mormon in order to hide this is simply unbelievable. Replicas of the 1830 Book of Mormon are easily obtained on Amazon.com, and the text is freely available online. In addition, Royal Skousen has extensively studied the original Book of Mormon manuscripts and published a critical text edition of the Book of Mormon. The claim by the critics that the Church has somehow hidden these items is seriously outdated.

The change in the 1840 edition was probably made by Joseph Smith

This change actually first appeared in the 1840 edition, and was probably made by Joseph Smith:

  • 2 Nephi 30꞉6 (1830 edition, italics added): "...they shall be a white and a delightsome people."
  • 2 Nephi 30꞉6 (1840 edition, italics added): "...they shall be a pure and a delightsome people."

The 1837 edition was used for the European editions, which were in turn used as the basis for the 1879 and 1920 editions, so the change was lost until the 1981 edition

This particular correction is part of the changes referred to in the note "About this Edition" printed in the introductory pages:

"Some minor errors in the text have been perpetuated in past editions of the Book of Mormon. This edition contains corrections that seem appropriate to bring the material into conformity with prepublication manuscripts and early editions edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith."

It’s doubtful that Joseph Smith had racism in mind when the change was done in 1840 or other similar verses would have been changed as well.

The "pure" meaning likely reflected the original intent of the passage and translator

Furthermore, "white" was a synonym for "pure" at the time Joseph translated the Book of Mormon:

3. Having the color of purity; pure; clean; free from spot; as white robed innocence....5. Pure; unblemished....6. In a scriptural sense, purified from sin; sanctified. Psalm 51.[2]

Thus, the "pure" meaning likely reflected the original intent of the passage and translator.


Response to claim: 234 - "the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

Apparently, the authors are not very comfortable disclosing LDS scripture and therefore quote very little of it. They make much of a few selected verses from the Book of Mormon, however, while leaving out any verses that could explain the use of "dark" or "black." They quickly quote the following from 2 Nephi:

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.[3]

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: The authors then interpret LDS scripture in the most inflammatory manner possible, again using outdated quotes.The facts: In contrast, we offer the authors an abbreviated tour of the Bible:

Many shall be purified, and made white… (Daniel 12꞉10)

When I looked for good, then evil came [unto me]: and when I waited for light, there came darkness… My skin is black upon me. (Job 30꞉26, Job 30꞉30)

Before their face the people shall be much pained: all faces shall gather blackness. (Joel 2꞉6)

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalms 51꞉7)

Are the authors completely ignorant of the repeated biblical use of black and white as symbolic references to good and evil? An African-American minister, Frederick Price, has a point that the authors and any others of similar mindset should contemplate:

If God cursed Ham and the curse was blackness so that all of his children came out black, then what shade of black would they be? Black people come in every shade-but if God cursed Ham, it would mean that every cursed black person would have to be the same shade… If Ham were cursed, the color could never change, because it would not be determined by genetics, it would be determined by the curse. The only way that a child could come out a different shade than a parent who carries the curse would be if the curse changed.[4]

The authors, not satisfied to leap frog through LDS belief and history, prattle on about a few hopeful expressions by LDS leaders that the disappearance of any "curse" would literally manifest itself in a change of skin color. However, scholars such as Forrest Wood plainly state that the Christian justification of slavery would come "crashing down" without a belief in a curse and "could be sustained only on the assumption that God either changed the color of Ham's skin instantly or that of his descendants in a relatively brief period. This was orthodox Christian thinking."[5]

  1. REDIRECTRepudiated ideas about race#What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "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 actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

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 actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[6]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [7]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [8]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [9]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [10]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [11]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [12]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [13]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. [14]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [15]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [16]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[17] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [18] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [19] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [20] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [21]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [22] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [23] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [24]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [25]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

It is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young…or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. [26]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[27]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

we recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background. Some of these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[28]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[29]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[30]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[31]J. Reuben Clark,[32] Bruce R. McConkie,[33] and Delbert Stapley.[34] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"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, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [35]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

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. ... 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[36]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[37]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[38]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you 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 of Christ...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.[39]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. Richard Abanes, Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism (Harvest House Publishers: 2005). 73, 367 n.138. ( Index of claims ); Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 43. ( Index of claims );Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (Revised) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997), 193, 235. ( Index of claims );Richard Packham, "Questions for Mitt Romney," 2008.;Simon Southerton, Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2004) 40, 184. ( Index of claims )
  2. Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828), s.v. "white."
  3. 2 Nephi 5꞉21; quoted in Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), 234. ( Index of claims )
  4. Frederick K.C. Price, Race Religion and Racism: A Bold Encounter With Division in the Church (Los Angeles: Faith One Publishing, 1999), 149.
  5. Forrest G. Wood, The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth Century (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), 88.
  6. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  8. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  9. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  10. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  11. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  12. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  13. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  14. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  15. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  16. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  17. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  18. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  19. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  20. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  21. Haynes, p. 8.
  22. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  23. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  24. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  25. Haynes, p. 161.
  26. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  27. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  28. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  29. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  30. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  31. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  32. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  33. Ibid., 73.
  34. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  35. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  36. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  37. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  38. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  39. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006), 58–61.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

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; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "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 actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

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 actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[1]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [2]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [3]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [4]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [5]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [6]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [7]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [8]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. [9]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [10]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [11]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[12] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [13] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [14] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [15] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [16]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [17] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [18] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [19]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [20]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

It is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young…or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. [21]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[22]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

we recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background. Some of these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[23]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[24]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[25]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[26]J. Reuben Clark,[27] Bruce R. McConkie,[28] and Delbert Stapley.[29] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"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, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [30]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

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. ... 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[31]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[32]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[33]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you 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 of Christ...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.[34]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  4. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  5. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  6. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  10. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  11. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  12. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  13. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  14. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  15. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  16. Haynes, p. 8.
  17. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  18. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  19. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  20. Haynes, p. 161.
  21. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  22. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  23. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  24. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  25. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  26. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  27. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  28. Ibid., 73.
  29. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  30. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  31. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  32. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  33. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  34. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006), 58–61.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

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; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "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 actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

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 actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[1]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [2]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [3]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [4]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [5]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [6]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [7]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [8]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. [9]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [10]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [11]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[12] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [13] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [14] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [15] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [16]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [17] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [18] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [19]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [20]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

It is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young…or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. [21]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[22]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

we recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background. Some of these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[23]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[24]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[25]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[26]J. Reuben Clark,[27] Bruce R. McConkie,[28] and Delbert Stapley.[29] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"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, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [30]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

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. ... 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[31]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[32]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[33]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you 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 of Christ...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.[34]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  4. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  5. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  6. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  10. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  11. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  12. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  13. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  14. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  15. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  16. Haynes, p. 8.
  17. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  18. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  19. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  20. Haynes, p. 161.
  21. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  22. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  23. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  24. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  25. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  26. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  27. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  28. Ibid., 73.
  29. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  30. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  31. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  32. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  33. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  34. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006), 58–61.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

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; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.

Response to claim: 235 - The author claims that Joseph Smith said that intermarriage with the Lamanites would produce a "white and delightsome posterity"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that Joseph Smith said that intermarriage with the Lamanites would produce a "white and delightsome posterity."

Author's sources:
  1. Sunstone (November 1992) fn. 5, p. 62.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The mistake: There is no copy of such a revelation.The facts: The only evidence for this revelation is a letter written by W. W. Phelps in 1861 in which he recounts from memory some of Joseph's comments in Independence, Missouri, on 17 July 1831.


Question: Did the Church suppress a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1831 which encouraged the implementation of polygamy by intermarriage with the Indians in order to make them a “white and delightsome” people?

The only evidence for this revelation is a letter written by W. W. Phelps in 1861 in which he recounts from memory some of Joseph's comments in Independence, Missouri, on 17 July 1831

It is claimed that the church "suppressed" a 1831 revelation in which the Church was commanded to make the Indians a “white and delightsome” people through polygamous intermarriage. The basis for this claim is a letter written by W. W. Phelps in 1861 (30 years after the revelation was said to have been given) in which he recounts from memory some of Joseph's comments in Independence, Missouri, on 17 July 1831. At present, the only evidence that an 1831 revelation was given is the 1861 document written by Phelps.

According to critics, Joseph Fielding Smith, who was Church historian at the time, stated that the principle of plural marriage was revealed to Joseph Smith in a revelation given in July 1831.[1] Critic Fawn Brodie claims that Joseph Fielding Smith told her about the revelation but would not allow her to see it.[2] Critics conclude that the “real reason” that the revelation was not released was because it commanded Church members to marry the Indians in order to make them a “white and delightsome” people.

The text of W. W. Phelps' 1861 recollection of the revelation

In 1861, 30 years after it was said to have been given, W. W. Phelps wrote from memory his recollection of what he claimed was the revelation given in 1831 by the Prophet:

Part of a revelation by Joseph Smith Jr. given over the boundary, west of Jackson Co. Missouri, on Sunday morning, July 17, 1831, when Seven Elders, viz: Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, W. W. Phelps, Martin Harris, Joseph Coe, Ziba Peterson, and Joshua Lewis united their hearts in prayer, in a private place, to inquire of the Lord who should preach the first sermon to the remnants of the Lamanites and Nephites, and the people of that Section, that should assemble that day in the Indian country, to hear the gospel, and the revelations according to the Book of Mormon.

Among the company, there being neither pen, ink or paper, Joseph remarked that the Lord could preserve his words as he had ever done, till the time appointed, and proceeded:

Verily, verily, saith the Lord your Redeemer, even Jesus Christ, the light and the life of the world, ye can not discerne with your natural eyes, the design and the purpose of your Lord and your God, in bringing you thus far into the wilderness for a trial of your faith, and to be especial witnesses, to bear testimony of this land, upon which the Zion of God shall be built up in the last days, when it is redeemed. …

[I]t is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome, and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.

Gird up your loins and be prepared for the mighty work of the Lord to prepare the world for my second coming to meet the tribes of Israel according to the predictions of all the holy prophets since the beginning; …

Be patient, therefore, possessing your souls in peace and love, and keep the faith that is now delivered unto you for the gathering of scattered Israel, and lo, I am with you, though ye cannot see me, till I come: even so. Amen.

Phelp's wrote his note 30 years after the revelation was said to have been given, after polygamy had been openly practiced for a number of years

A note written by W. W. Phelps in the 1861 document implies that marriage with the Indians coincided with Joseph Smith's planned intent to institute polygamy.

About three years after this was given, I asked brother Joseph, privately, how "we," that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives of the "natives" as we were all married men? He replied instantly "In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah; and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah; by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation."

It is important to note that Phelps wrote his note 30 years after the revelation was said to have been given, after polygamy had been openly practiced for a number of years.


Question: Was Ezra Booth commanded to take a wife from among the Indians?

The only contemporary report of a possible revelation on marriage with the Indians was written in a letter to the Ohio Star on 8 December, 1831 by Ezra Booth

The only contemporary report of a possible revelation on marriage with the Indians was written in a letter to the Ohio Star on 8 December, 1831 by Ezra Booth, who had apostatized from the Church.[3] This letter was republished in Eber D. Howe's anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unvailed. Booth states that,

...it has been made known by revelation, that it will be pleasing to the Lord, should they form a matrimonial alliance with the natives; and by this means the Elders, who comply with the thing so pleasing to the Lord, and for which the Lord has promised to bless those who do it abundantly, gain a residence in the Indian territory, independent of the agent....[4]

Booth makes no mention of polygamy, and instead implies that the "matrimonial alliance" was for the purpose of gaining "residence" in the Indian territory

Booth makes no mention of polygamy, and instead implies that the "matrimonial alliance" was for the purpose of gaining "residence" in the Indian territory.[5] One would think that if Booth, given his opposition to the Church at the time, had been aware of something as controversial as a proposal that polygamy be instituted among the Indians, that he would have been highly motivated to proclaim this in a public forum. In fact, Booth actually states that in order to marry one of the natives, that one elder needed to be "free from his wife." Booth does go on to say:

...It has been made known to one, who has left his wife in the State of New York, that he is entirely free from his wife, and he is at pleasure to take him a wife from among the Lamanites. It was easily perceived that this permission was perfectly suited to his desires. I have frequently heard him state that the Lord had made it known to him, that he is as free from his wife as from any other woman; and the only crime I have ever heard alleged against her is, she is violently opposed to Mormonism. But before this contemplated marriage can be carried into effect, he must return to the State of New York and settle his business, for fear, should he return after that affair had taken place, the civil authority would apprehend him as a criminal (emphasis added).[6]

This quote implies that it was not to be a polygamous union.

It was always implied that the process of becoming "white and delightsome" was to be achieved through the power of God—not through intermarriage

There are quotes from Church leaders indicating that they believed that the Indians were becoming "white and delightsome." However, it was always implied that the process of becoming "white and delightsome" was to be achieved through the power of God—not through intermarriage. Critics cite a statement made by Spencer W. Kimball in the October 1960 General Conference, 15 years before he became president of the Church:

I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today ... they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people.... For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised.... The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.[7]

Although this is an interesting statement by President Kimball, it has nothing whatsoever to do with polygamy or intermarriage with the Indians. It is simply President Kimball’s own observation that he felt that the Indians were becoming a “white and delightsome” people through the power of God. Then-Elder Kimball was likely unaware that Joseph Smith had edited the Book of Mormon text in 1837 to say "pure and delightsome," possibly to counter the idea that the change referred to was predominantly physical, rather than spiritual. This change was lost in future LDS versions of the Book of Mormon until 1981.

There is no evidence that the instructions contained in the revelation regarding intermarriage with the Native Americans were actually implemented

There is no contemporary evidence, other than that provided by Booth, that anyone was even aware of the revelation at the time that it was supposed to have been given. The only evidence that a revelation was even given is the 1861 document by W. W. Phelps, which he recalled word-for-word from memory 30 years later at a time when the Church was actively and publicly justifying the practice of polygamy.

It is also interesting to note that the typical critical argument against polygamy is that a revelation on polygamy was not received until 1843 and that prior to that time that Joseph Smith was living in adultery with his plural wives. Yet, in this case, the critics are perfectly content to argue the case for a revelation on polygamy actually existing in 1831 as long as it can be tied to making the Native Americans a "white and delightsome" people. While there is evidence that Joseph was discussing plural marriage by 1831, it is difficult to believe that Phelps' text is an exact rendition of any revelation Joseph may have shared with him.


Response to claim: 235 - Brigham Young: "the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors quote Brigham Young,

You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation...When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break the covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel; but by-and-by they will become a white and delightsome people.[8]

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: This claim contains propaganda - The author, or the author's source, is providing information or ideas in a slanted way in order to instill a particular attitude or response in the reader

The spin: Here is the full quote, with the sentence that the authors removed highlighted:

You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation; and they cannot tell. I can tell you in a few words: They are the seed of Joseph, and belong to the household of God; and he will afflict them in this world, and save every one of them hereafter, even though they previously go into hell. When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break the covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel; but by-and-by they will become a white and delightsome people.

The facts: Why is this one missing sentence so important that it had to be removed by the authors? This was said in an era in which there was active debate in the scientific and Christian community as to whether all races came from a common ancestor, an argument that was ultimately settled by Darwinism. This sentence leaps out as a declaration that Native Americans are not just descended from Adam and Eve--they are from the favored seed of Joseph.

Thus, the authors' attempt to use Brigham Young's racist-sounding but unfortunately typical nineteenth-century verbiage as an indictment against the modern Church brings up the question of their intellectual integrity. We have learned from sad experience that when anti-Mormon writers use ellipses, it is most likely not because the information is irrelevant but because there is something which must be removed to keep the picture uniformly bleak and, well, titillating.


Response to claim: 236-237 - The authors claim that Brigham Young taught that unrighteousness would "result in a black skin"

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that Brigham Young taught that unrighteousness would "result in a black skin."

Author's sources:
  1. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 5:332.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

Brigham's quote,

I feel to bless this people, and they are a God-blessed people. Look at them, and see the difference from their condition a few years ago! Brethren who have been on missions, can you see any difference in this people from the time you went away until your return? [Voices: "Yes."] You can see men and women who are sixty or seventy years of ago looking young and handsome; but let them apostatize, and they will become gray-haired, wrinkled, and black, just like the Devil. If we will stand up as men and women of God, the yoke shall never be placed upon our necks again; and all hell cannot overthrow us, even with the United States to help them. It is not pleasant to the natural feelings to be obliged to talk in this manner about fellow-citizens with whom we have been reared; but when they act like the Devil, it is impossible for us to bow to their unjust and illegal mandates without becoming as corrupt as they are. It is an honour to resist the wicked; and my name will be had in, honour, and so will Joseph Smiths, and so will your names, for not bowing to their iniquitous doings.


Response to claim: 237 - The authors claim that LDS believe that one's behavior in the preexistence determines race

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors claim that LDS believe that one's behavior in the preexistence determines race.

Author's sources:
  • Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:61.
  • Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Six, 349.
  • Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:64-66.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine, even though some believed it. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea.



December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "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 actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

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 actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[9]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [10]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [11]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [12]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [13]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [14]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [15]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [16]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. [17]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [18]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [19]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[20] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [21] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [22] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [23] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [24]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [25] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [26] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [27]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [28]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

It is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young…or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. [29]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[30]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

we recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background. Some of these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[31]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[32]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[33]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[34]J. Reuben Clark,[35] Bruce R. McConkie,[36] and Delbert Stapley.[37] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"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, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [38]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

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. ... 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[39]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[40]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[41]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you 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 of Christ...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.[42]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. The source is said to be a letter from Joseph Fielding Smith to J. W. A. Baily dated September 5, 1935.
  2. Fawn M. Brodie, No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1945), 184, footnote. ( Index of claims )
  3. Ezra Booth letter, Ohio Star (Ravenna, Ohio), 8 December 1831.
  4. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 220. (Affidavits examined)
  5. David Whittaker, "Mormons and Native Americans: A Historical and Bibliographical Introduction," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 18 no. 4 (Winter 1985), 33–60.off-site
  6. Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unvailed (Painesville, OH, 1834), 220. (Affidavits examined)
  7. Spencer W. Kimbal, Improvement Era (December 1960), 922-23.
  8. Brigham Young, "Re-Organization of the High Council, Etc.," (8 October 1859) Journal of Discourses 7:336., partially quoted in McKeever and Johnson, Mormonism 101, 235.
  9. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  10. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  11. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  12. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  13. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  14. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  15. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  16. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  17. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  18. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  19. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  20. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  21. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  22. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  23. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  24. Haynes, p. 8.
  25. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  26. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  27. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  28. Haynes, p. 161.
  29. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  30. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  31. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  32. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  33. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  34. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  35. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  36. Ibid., 73.
  37. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  38. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  39. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  40. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  41. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  42. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006), 58–61.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

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; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "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 actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

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 actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[1]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [2]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [3]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [4]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [5]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [6]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [7]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [8]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. [9]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [10]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [11]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[12] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [13] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [14] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [15] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [16]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [17] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [18] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [19]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [20]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

It is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young…or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. [21]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[22]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

we recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background. Some of these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[23]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[24]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[25]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[26]J. Reuben Clark,[27] Bruce R. McConkie,[28] and Delbert Stapley.[29] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"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, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [30]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

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. ... 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[31]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[32]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[33]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you 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 of Christ...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.[34]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  4. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  5. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  6. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  10. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  11. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  12. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  13. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  14. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  15. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  16. Haynes, p. 8.
  17. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  18. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  19. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  20. Haynes, p. 161.
  21. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  22. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  23. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  24. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  25. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  26. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  27. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  28. Ibid., 73.
  29. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  30. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  31. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  32. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  33. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  34. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006), 58–61.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

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; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition.

—Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
∗       ∗       ∗

Gospel Topics: "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 actions in a premortal life"

"Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

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 actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Since that day in 1978, the Church has looked to the future, as membership among Africans, African Americans and others of African descent has continued to grow rapidly. While Church records for individual members do not indicate an individual’s race or ethnicity, the number of Church members of African descent is now in the hundreds of thousands.

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons"24 and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.[1]—(Click here to continue)

Joseph Fielding Smith: "We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral"

We know of no scripture, ancient or modern, that declares that at the time of the rebellion in heaven that one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral. ... That one-third of the hosts of heaven remained neutral and therefore were cursed by having a black skin, could hardly be true, for the negro race has not constituted one-third of the inhabitants of the earth. —(Click here to continue) [2]

Was the idea that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven" ever official doctrine?

The "neutral in the war in heaven" argument was never doctrine. In fact, some Church leaders, starting with Brigham Young, explicitly repudiated the idea

This idea was repudiated well before the priesthood ban was rescinded. President Brigham Young rejected it in an account recorded by Wilford Woodruff in 1869:

Lorenzo Young asked if the Spirits of Negroes were Nutral in Heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said No they were not. There was No Nutral spirits in Heaven at the time of the Rebelion. All took sides. He said if any one said that He Herd the Prophet Joseph Say that the spirits of the Blacks were Nutral in Heaven He would not Believe them for He herd Joseph Say to the Contrary. All spirits are pure that Come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cane are Black Because He Commit Murder. He killed Abel & God set a Mark upon his posterity But the spirits are pure that Enter their tabernacles & there will be a Chance for the redemption of all the Children of Adam Except the Sons of perdition. [3]

The First Presidency under Joseph F. Smith also rejected this idea

there is no revelation, ancient or modern, neither is there any authoritative statement by any of the authorities of the Church … [in support of the idea] that the negroes are those who were neutral in heaven at the time of the great conflict or war, which resulted in the casting out of Lucifer and those who were led by him. [4]

Joseph Smith never taught the idea that those born with black skin were "neutral" during the war in heaven

Brigham Young, when asked this question, repudiated the idea. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:

December 25, 1869: I attended the School of the Prophets. Many questions were asked. President Young answered them. Lorenzo Young asked if the spirits of Negroes were neutral in heaven. He said someone said Joseph Smith said they were. President Young said no they were not. There were no neutral spirits in heaven at the time of the rebellion. All took sides. He said if anyone said that he heard the Prophet Joseph say that the spirits of the Blacks were neutral in heaven, he would not believe them, for he heard Joseph say to the contrary. All spirits are pure that come from the presence of God. The posterity of Cain are black because he commit[ted] murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity. But the spirits are pure that enter their tabernacles and there will be a chance for the redemption of all the children of Adam except the sons of perdition. [5]

The idea that anyone who came to earth was "neutral" in the premortal existence is not a doctrine of the Church. Early Church leaders had a variety of opinions regarding the status of blacks in the pre-existence, and some of these were expressed in an attempt to explain the priesthood ban. The scriptures, however, do not explicitly state that the status or family into which we were born on earth had anything to do with our "degree of valiance" in our pre-mortal life.

Other religions would not have had reason for such a teaching because they do not believe in the pre-existence or the "war in heaven."

The scriptures themselves do not state that anyone was neutral in the pre-existence.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Did Church leaders ever teach that Blacks were neutral in the "war in heaven?"

Yes, some Church leaders promoted the idea as a way to explain the priesthood ban

Despite the explicit denial of this concept by Brigham Young, the idea that people born with black skin as a result of their behavior in the pre-existence was used by several 20th century Church leaders in order to try and provide an explanation for the priesthood ban.

The First Presidency, in a statement issued on August 17, 1949, actually attributed the ban to "conduct of spirits in the premortal existence"

The First Presidency stated in 1949:

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality. [6]

Joseph Fielding Smith said in 1954 that there were no "neutrals in the war in heaven," but that rewards in this life may have "reflected actions taken in the pre-existence

In the 1954 book Doctrines of Salvation (compiled by Bruce R. McConkie), Joseph Fielding Smith stated that "there were no neutrals in the war in heaven," but suggested that the rewards received in this life reflected actions taken in the pre-existence:

NO NEUTRALS IN HEAVEN. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits. [7]

Bruce R. McConkie said in 1966 that they were "less valiant" in the pre-existence

The most well known of these was the statement made by Bruce R. McConkie in his book Mormon Doctrine. McConkie offered the following opinion:

Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. [8]

These statements by Church leaders reflected ideas which were prevalent in society during the 1950s and 1960s

These statements by 20th century leaders did not represent thinking that was unique to the Church, but instead reflected ideas which were much more prevalent in society during the 1950's and 1960's.

When the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978, McConkie retracted what he had said previously

Elder McConkie retracted his previous statements regarding the priesthood ban when it was lifted in 1978:

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. [9]

Did the Church repudiate the idea of neutrality in the "war in heaven?"

President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation

Some members and leaders explained the ban as congruent with the justice of God by suggesting that those who were denied the priesthood had done something in the pre-mortal life to deny themselves the priesthood. President Kimball was reported as repudiating this idea following the 1978 revelation:

President Kimball "flatly [stated] that Mormonism no longer holds to...a theory" that Blacks had been denied the priesthood "because they somehow failed God during their pre-existence." [10]

Modern Church leaders teach that everyone who came to earth in this day was "valiant" in the premortal existence

Elder M. Russell Ballard, talking of today's youth, said in 2005:

Remind them that they are here at this particular time in the history of the world, with the fulness of the gospel at their fingertips, because they made valiant choices in the premortal existence. [11]

Gospel Topics: "Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood"

Gospel Topics on LDS.org:

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances. The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.[12] —(Click here to continue)

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

What are the "curse of Cain" and the "curse of Ham"?

There is a distinction between the "curse" and the "mark" of Cain

The "curse of Cain" resulted in Cain being cut off from the presence of the Lord. The Genesis and Moses accounts both attest to this. The Book of Mormon teaches this principle in general when it speaks about those who keep the commandments will prosper in the land, while those who don't will be cut off from the presence off the Lord. This type of curse was applied to the Lamanites when they rejected the teachings of the prophets.

The exact nature of the "mark" of Cain, on the other hand, is unknown. The scriptures don't say specifically what it was, except that it was for Cain's protection, so that those finding him wouldn't slay him. Many people, both in an out of the Church, have assumed that the mark and the curse are the same thing.

When did a biblical curse become associated with the "Hamites?"

The origin of the "curse of Ham" pre-dates the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by hundreds of years

The basis used is Genesis 9꞉18-27:

And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japhethand Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noahand of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. Genesis 9꞉18-27 (emphasis added)

Although these verses clearly state that Canaan is cursed, it is not clear that the curse would be extended to his descendants. The use of Genesis 9 to associate a biblical curse with the descendants of Ham actually began in the third and fourth centuries A.D. [13] This "curse" became associated with the Canaanites. Origen, an early Christian scholar and theologian, makes reference to Ham's "discolored posterity" and the "ignobility of the race he fathered." [14] Likewise, Augustine and Ambrose of Milan speculated that the descendants of Ham carried a curse that was associated with a darkness of skin. This concept was shared among Jews, Muslims and Christians. The first "racial justification" for slavery appeared in the fifteenth century in Spain and Portugal. In the American colonies, the "curse of Ham" was being used in the late 1600's to justify the practice of slavery. [15] As author Stephen R. Haynes puts it, "Noah's curse had become a stock weapon in the arsenal of slavery's apologists, and references to Genesis 9 appeared prominently in their publications." [16]

When did the "mark of Cain" become associated with black skin?

The biblical "mark of Cain" associated with black skin by Protestants to justify slavery

The idea that the "mark of Cain" and the "curse of Ham" was a black skin is something that was used by many Protestants as a way to morally and biblically justify slavery. This idea did not originate with Latter-day Saints, although the existence of the priesthood ban prior to 1978 tends to cause some people to assume that it was a Latter-day Saint concept.

Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in New Orleans from 1956 until 1902, was a "moving force" in the Southern Presbyterian church during that period. Palmer believed that the South's cause during the Civil War was supported by God. Palmer believed the Hebrew history supported the concept that God had intended for some people to be formed "apart from others" and placed in separate territories in order to "prevent admixture of races." [17] Palmer claimed that, "[t]he descendants of Ham, on the contrary, in whom the sensual and corporeal appetites predominate, are driven like an infected race beyond the deserts of Sahara, where under a glowing sky nature harmonized with their brutal and savage disposition." [18] Palmer declared:

Upon Ham was pronounced the doom of perpetual servitude—proclaimed with double emphasis, as it is twice repeated that he shall be the servant of Japheth and the servant of Shem. Accordingly, history records not a single example of any member of this group lifting itself, by any process of self-development, above the savage condition. From first to last their mental and moral characteristics, together with the guidance of Providence, have marked them for servitude; while their comparative advance in civilization and their participation in the blessings of salvation, have ever been suspended upon this decreed connexion [sic] with Japhet [sic] and with Shem. [19]

Unfortunately, among some, the Protestant concept that God has separated people by race has persisted even into modern times.

God has separated people for His own purpose. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. (Letter to James Landrith from Bob Jones University, 1998) [20]

How did the "curse of Ham" or "curse of Cain" become associated with the Church?

Early members of the Church brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism

Prior to 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelatory prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

Early members of the Church were, for the most part, converts from Protestant sects. It is understandable that they naturally brought this culturally-conditioned belief in the "curse of Ham" with them into Mormonism. Many modern members of the Church, for instance, are unaware that Joseph Smith ordained at least one African-American man to the priesthood: Elijah Abel.

At some point during Brigham Young's administration, the priesthood ban was initiated. No revelation, if there ever was one, was published, although many throughout the history of the Church have assumed that the reason for the ban must be that blacks were the cursed seed of Cain, and therefore not allowed the priesthood (usually stemming from a misreading of Abraham 1). The correct answer as to why the ban was put into place is: we don't know. For further information on the priesthood ban, see Blacks and the priesthood.

Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, after the revelation granting blacks the priesthood:

It is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young…or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. [21]

Prior to this statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in 1978, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham and that they carry the "mark of Cain" was a belief among some members of the Church, and is occasionally heard even today. The dubious "folk doctrine" in question is no longer even relevant, since it was used to incorrectly explain and justify a Church policy that was reversed over thirty years ago. Prior to the 1978 revelation, however, the Saints used the "mark of Cain" to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent—a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever actually given.

The speculation was that in the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan (Genesis 4꞉11-15; Moses 5꞉23-25, 5꞉36-40), and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.

As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited in its support cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward, looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

Is interracial marriage prohibited or condemned within the Church?

Spencer Kimball prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban: "There is no condemnation," but rather concerns about "the difficulty…in interrace marriages."

In an address to Native American students at BYU in January 1965, then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball explained that there is no condemnation of interracial marriage:

Now, the brethren feel that it is not the wisest thing to cross racial lines in dating and marrying. There is no condemnation. We have had some of our fine young people who have crossed the [racial] lines. We hope they will be very happy, but experience of the brethren through a hundred years has proved to us that marriage is a very difficult thing under any circumstances and the difficulty increases in interrace marriages.[22]

Two years prior to the lifting of the priesthood ban, Spencer W. Kimball told a group of BYU students and faculty:

we recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background. Some of these are not an absolute necessity, but preferred; and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.[23]

Here inter-racial marriage is not recommended, but not as an absolute standard—it is grouped with other differences (such as socio-economic) which might make marriage harder, but not as absolutely necessary to success as sharing the same beliefs.

The Supreme Court declared anti-miscegenation laws in the 16 remaining states that still had them unconstitutional in 1967.

Church spokesman after the lifting of the priesthood ban: "So there is no ban on interracial marriage"

After the priesthood ban was lifted, church spokesman Don LeFevre stated:

So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him... if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church."[24]

The Church Handbook of Instructions say nothing concerning interracial marriages

On the Church website, Dr. Robert Millet writes:

[T]he Church Handbook of Instructions... is the guide for all Church leaders on doctrine and practice. There is, in fact, no mention whatsoever in this handbook concerning interracial marriages. In addition, having served as a Church leader for almost years, I can also certify that I have never received official verbal instructions condemning marriages between black and white members.[25]

There have been leaders that have openly opposed miscegenation in any form

It is important to note that their have been leaders that have voiced their opinion against interracial marriage.

Among leaders that have been opposed to it in any form are Brigham Young, Mark E. Peterson, George Q. Cannon,[26]J. Reuben Clark,[27] Bruce R. McConkie,[28] and Delbert Stapley.[29] Prior to 1978, leaders' statements about interracial marriage were generally harsh and reflected a desire for outright prohibition of it spiritually and legally.

Church leaders have generally followed the pattern of soft discouragement like that exhibited in Spencer W. Kimball's 1965 comment following the lifting of the priesthood and temple restrictions in 1978.

Was Brigham Young a racist?

Brigham Young: "race mixing punished by death"?

Why did Mark E. Petersen say that blacks would go the the Celestial Kingdom as servants?

Race Problems - As They Affect the Church

Elder Mark E. Petersen delivered a speech entitled "Race Problems - As They Affect the Church" back on August 27, 1954. It was delivered at BYU at the Convention of Teachers of Religion On the College Level. In it, Elder Petersen aims to give the Church's position on the issue of racial segregation and integration as well as intermarriage, the reasons for the priesthood and temple restrictions.

One can read a full reproduction of the talk elsewhere on the FAIR Wiki:

Elder Petersen makes several statements related to these issues that are considered entirely false today by the Church. For example, the rationale that blacks were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings because of the Curse of Cain or premortal neutrality/less valiance. Or the claim that interracial marriages are biologically wrong or spiritually sinful. Thus, the problems with Elder Petersen's talk are not limited to his unique statement about blacks being servants to sealed whites in the next life. Indeed, Elder Petersen, as far as this author is aware, is the only general authority to make a statement to that effect. The reader is encouraged to follow the linked articles to learn more about the Curse of Cain and other disavowed ideas that pop up in Elder Petersen's talk.

Not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine

Elder Mark E. Petersen said, " 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory."

First, it should be remembered that not everything said by a leader of the Church is considered doctrine. Just because an apostle says something, does not make it binding doctrine, especially if he was speaking at a Convention of Teachers of Religion, as Elder Petersen did. For more information, please read:

"Approaching Mormon Doctrine", Newsroom, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We believe revelation is continual, and we do not claim to have all the answers now, nor did we claim to have all the answers in 1952

We believe God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God. For more information, please read:

The 9th Article of Faith

It is important to understand that the term "servant" was not uniquely applied to black people

It may be assumed by some, based upon Elder Petersen's statement, that white people would not go to the Celestial Kingdom as servants. However, we must examine D&C 132꞉16 which Elder Petersen is basing his comments on:

Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory.

As you can see, the Doctrine and Covenants makes no mention that the servants are limited to any race. Blacks and whites will serve alongside each other.

Even Petersen's view that blacks can only serve alongside whites as servants in the Celestial Kingdom has been contradicted by almost every president of the Church since Joseph Smith

Here are some quotes from Mormon leaders that say blacks will be able to receive ALL blessings, including that of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom.

In regards to black people, Joseph Smith taught,

"They have souls, and are subjects of salvation."
—Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976), 269. ISBN 087579243X

Brigham Young, who clearly believed in the "Curse of Cain," said

"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, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to."
—quoted by the First Presidency, August 17, 1949.

Wilford Woodruff said,

"The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have"
—quoted by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949.

George Albert Smith reiterated what was said by both Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff in a statement by the First Presidency on August 17, 1949

David McKay taught,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation."
—(Mormonism and the Negro, 23).

In reference to black people, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith taught,

"Every soul coming into this world came here with the promise that through obedience he would receive the blessings of salvation. No person was foreordained or appointed to sin or to perform a mission of evil. No person is ever predestined to salvation or damnation. Every person has free agency."
—Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61.

In 1972, Harold B. Lee said,

"It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."
—Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.

In the 1950s, did the Church teach that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave?

The claim is likely based on talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior

Television personality Bill Maher said, "...[I]n the [19]50s, the Mormons preached that the only way a black man could get into heaven was as a slave." [30]

While it is unknown to what sources Bill Maher looks for his information about the Church, it is possible that they were influenced by a talk presented by Elder Mark E. Petersen at BYU in the early 1950s. Elder Petersen's comments were made during a very different time from the one in which we now live. At the time, much of American society believed that blacks were socially and culturally inferior, and that the nascent American civil rights movement was a bad idea. The 1978 revelation on the priesthood was almost 25 years in the future.

It has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves

It is unknown exactly what Maher was using as the source of such a comment, as it has never been a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ that blacks would enter heaven only as slaves. It is possible, however, that Maher misread and was referring to an address given by Elder Mark E. Petersen at Brigham Young University on 27 August 1954 entitled "Race Problems—As They Affect the Church." Elder Petersen said in this address:

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. ... 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 a celestial resurrection. He will get a place in the celestial glory. He will not go then even with the honorable men of the earth to the Terrestrial glory, nor with the ones spoken of as being without law.[31]

At the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members of the Church did not and could not hold the priesthood in this life. The reasons behind this are complex, and still debated.

Despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom

However, despite the restriction on priesthood, Elder Petersen asserted that black members of the Church who were faithful to their covenants would be exalted in the celestial kingdom, the highest degree of glory in LDS theology (see D&C 76꞉50-70). Those who attain to this glory are "the church of the Firstborn," brought forth in the "resurrection of the just," who have "overcome all things." They are "just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant."

It is not clear what he meant by saying a faithful black would have to go "as a servant." Glory within the celestial kingdom is not differentiated, since the "glory of the celestial is one, even as the glory of the sun is one" (D&C 76꞉96). Only the telestial kingdom has differentiated levels of glory between members in LDS theology, "for as one star differs from another star in glory, even so differs one from another in glory in the telestial world..." (D&C 76꞉98).

However, many LDS members and leaders have understood D&C 131꞉1-4 as teaching that there are three "subkingdoms" within the celestial kingdom. As Elder John A. Widtsoe explained this view:

To enter the highest of these degrees in the celestial kingdom is to be exalted in the kingdom of God. Such exaltation comes to those who receive the higher ordinances of the Church, such as the temple endowment, and afterwards are sealed in marriage for time and eternity, whether on earth or in the hereafter.[32]

Under this view, access to the celestial kingdom requires baptism (which black members could receive), while access to the two higher "subdegrees" requires temple ordinances, for which black members were not eligible to receive, in this life, under the pre-1978 policy.

As Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, without reference to black members or the priesthood ban:

...they who are clean in their lives; who are virtuous; who are honorable; but who will not receive this covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God, shall come forth-and they may even enter into the celestial kingdom, but when they enter there they enter as servants-to wait upon those "who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory." (italics added)[33]

The difference, of course, is that it was not that black members would not receive the "covenant of eternal marriage in the house of God," but that they could not because of the priesthood ban. The same is true of any person, of any race, who will not receive the covenant of eternal marriage, for whatever reason. Black members have always had the opportunity to eventually receive that blessing, even if after this life—though at the time of Elder Petersen's talk, the timing of that opportunity was unknown.

Given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants"

Thus, given the policy in place at the time of Elder Petersen's remarks, black members would be eligible for exaltation, though they like others who had not received all the ordinances would assist and help others as "servants." This is not slavery, but a partnership between exalted beings. A modification would have required a lifting of the priesthood ban. Elder Petersen appears to be pointing out that black members are candidates for exaltation, even if the priesthood ban was never lifted in this life. (The lifting of the ban was a subject of intense debate at the time.) This eventual exaltation would presumably mean that the priesthood would have been received in the spirit world after this mortal existence. It is clear from other comments in Elder Petersen's talk that he expected this eventuality.

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban

Elder Petersen acknowledged that leaders and members did not have full information on the removal of the priesthood ban, and that those who spoke of the timing of the removal were expressing their own ideas. In 1978, as a result of the revelation on the priesthood, further knowledge was available and the change was welcomed by virtually all members of the Church.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S.

Elder Petersen's comments were, to some degree, a reflection of the cultural beliefs of his time and generation in the U.S., and were based on his interpretation of the limited light and knowledge he had available. Many of the expressions he used in his speech are objectionable to a twenty-first century audience that has better learned the lessons of racial equality and tolerance.

It is clear from the context of this talk that Elder Petersen did not believe that any group or race would be slaves in heaven. That notion goes against all teachings concerning the nature of the Celestial kingdom. It is a notion that is completely reprehensible to any responsible member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Anyone who believes that there will be slavery in heaven is absolutely mistaken.

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past

Latter-day Saints need feel no responsibility to defend what may, by today's standards, seem to be racist statements attributed to fallible Church leaders in the past. No mortal man is above error, and there has been only one perfect person in all of human history. Each of us, to one degree or another, reflects the culture in which we are raised. As President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded Church members:

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you 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 of Christ...

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.[34]

No person will be judged by the fallible ideas or policies of men; "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there" (2 Nephi 9꞉41).

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is, unsurprisingly, available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.


Notes

  1. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org (2013)
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, "The Negro and the Priesthood," Improvement Era 27 no. 6 (April 1924), 565.
  3. Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 9 vols., ed., Scott G. Kenny (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1985), 6:511 (journal entry dated 25 December 1869). ISBN 0941214133.
  4. First Presidency letter from Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose, to M. Knudson, 13 Jan. 1912.
  5. Wilford Woodruff's Journal, entry dated Dec. 25, 1869.
  6. First Presidency Statement (George Albert Smith), August 17, 1949. off-site
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954) , 1:65-66. (emphasis in original)
  8. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1966), p. 527.
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.
  10. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 3; citing Richard Ostling, "Mormonism Enters a New Era," Time (7 August 1978): 55. Ostling told President Kimball's biographer and son that this was a paraphrase, but an accurate reporting of what he had been told (see footnote 13, citing interview on 10 May 2001).
  11. M. Russell Ballard, "One More," Ensign, May 2005, p. 69.
  12. "Race and the Priesthood," Gospel Topics on LDS.org. (2013)
  13. Stephen R. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002)
  14. Origen, "Genesis Homily XVI," in Homilies on Genesis and Exodus, translated by Ronald E. Heine (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 215, referenced in Haynes.
  15. Haynes, p. 7-8.
  16. Haynes, p. 8.
  17. Haynes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery, p. 127-8 citing Palmer, "The Import of Hebrew History," Southern Presbyterian Review 9 (April 1856) 591
  18. Haynes, p. 129, citing Palmer, Our Historic Mission, An Address Delivered before the Eunomian and PhiMu Societies of La Grange Synodical College, July 7 1858 (New Orleans: True Witness Office, 1859), 4-5.
  19. Haynes, p. 132, citing Cherry, God's New Israel, 179-180 who in turn is citing one of Palmer's sermons.
  20. Haynes, p. 161.
  21. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," address in the Second Annual CES Symposium, Salt Lake City, August 1978.
  22. "Interracial Marriage Discouraged," Church News, 17 June 1978, italics added; off-site.
  23. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce: An Address [adapted from an address to BYU students and faculty, Fall 1976] (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 1976), 10. GospeLink
  24. Don LeFevre, Salt Lake Tribune, 14 June 1978.
  25. Robert L. Millet, "Church Response to Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven," 27 June 2003off-site
  26. "The Journal of George Q. Cannon: February 1881," The Church Historian’s Press, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1 February 1881, Tuesday ... [J. Floyd King] asked me our belief respecting intermarriage with inferior races, particularly the negro. I told him our views, with which he was delighted. ... He predicted great things for us in the future; that we believed in procreation and in preserving the purity of the dominant or pure Aryan race. ... He had ... become disgusted with the attitude of the churches upon this important question. He said all the churches taught or consented to miscegenation, and he felt it would be the destruction of every people who practiced it ....
  27. See also Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst, The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 70.
  28. Ibid., 73.
  29. Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney, January 23, 1964. https://archive.org/details/DelbertStapleyLetter/page/n1/mode/2up?view=theater. "I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas."
  30. Bill Maher, Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, 16 February 2007. {{{1}}}
  31. Mark E. Petersen, "Race Problems—As They Affect The Church," address at Brigham Young University, 27 August 1954. This address is not available at the BYU Speeches web site. The text is (perhaps not surprisingly) available on various anti-Mormon web sites. Its absence from the BYU site would seem to suggest that the Church disavows the concepts taught in this address.
  32. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day, arranged by G. Homer Durham (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960), 200–201. GL direct link
  33. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 62.
  34. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006), 58–61.

Do the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence?

The Book of Mormon does not appear to have been used in a justification for the priesthood ban

It has been claimed that the Book of Abraham and the Book of Mormon link a person's skin color to their behavior in the pre-existence. Those who claim that the Book of Mormon is racist often cite Book of Mormon passages like 2 Nephi 5꞉21-25 and Alma 3꞉6-10 while ignoring the more representative 2 Nephi 26꞉33.

The Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence

Some contend that even though the doctrinal impact of pre-1978 statements have been greatly diminished, the LDS scriptures still retain the passages which were used for proof-texts for the ban and hence cannot be easily dismissed. A parallel can be drawn between Protestant denominations that have historically reversed their scriptural interpretations supporting slavery and a modified LDS understanding of their own scriptures that relate to the priesthood ban. Through more careful scripture reading and attention to scientific studies, many Protestants have come to differ with previous interpretations of Bible passages. A similar rethinking of passages unique to the LDS scriptures, such as Abraham 1꞉26-27, can be made if one starts by discarding erroneous preconceptions. Sociologist Armand Mauss critiqued former interpretations in a recent address:

[W]e see that the Book of Abraham says nothing about lineages set aside in the pre-existence, but only about distinguished individuals. The Book of Abraham is the only place, furthermore, that any scriptures speak of the priesthood being withheld from any lineage, but even then it is only the specific lineage of the pharaohs of Egypt, and there is no explanation as to why that lineage could not have the priesthood, or whether the proscription was temporary or permanent, or which other lineages, if any, especially in the modern world, would be covered by that proscription. At the same time, the passages in Genesis and Moses, for their part, do not refer to any priesthood proscription, and no color change occurs in either Cain or Ham, or even in Ham's son Canaan, who, for some unexplained reason, was the one actually cursed! There is no description of the mark on Cain, except that the mark was supposed to protect him from vengeance. It's true that in the seventh chapter of Moses, we learn that descendants of Cain became black, but not until the time of Enoch, six generations after Cain, and even then only in a vision of Enoch about an unspecified future time. There is no explanation for this blackness; it is not even clear that we are to take it literally.[1]

Richard L. Bushman, LDS author of a biography of Joseph Smith, writes:

...[T]he fact that [the Lamanites] are Israel, the chosen of God, adds a level of complexity to the Book of Mormon that simple racism does not explain. Incongruously, the book champions the Indians' place in world history, assigning them to a more glorious future than modern American whites.... Lamanite degradation is not ingrained in their natures, ineluctably bonded to their dark skins. Their wickedness is wholly cultural and frequently reversed. During one period, "they began to be a very industrious people; yea, and they were friendly with the Nephites; therefore, they did open a correspondence with them, and the curse of God did no more follow them." (Alma 23꞉18) In the end, the Lamanites triumph. The white Nephites perish, and the dark Lamanites remain.[2]

One faithful black member, Marcus Martins—also chair of the department of religious education at BYU-Hawaii—has said:

The [priesthood] ban itself was not racist, but, unfortunately, it gave cover to people who were.[3]

A more detailed treatment of all the relevant scriptures from the Latter-day Saint canon can be found at this link.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources

How can one reconcile the patriarchal blessings given to blacks during the priesthood and temple bans?

This is a doctrinal or theological topic about which there is no official Church doctrine of which FAIR is aware and/or about which we may learn more "line upon line; precept upon precept" (2 Nephi 28:30; Isaiah 28:10). Leaders and members may have expressed a variety of opinions or positions. Like all material in FAIR Answers, it reflects the best efforts of FAIR volunteers, not an official Church position.

Introduction to Question

From 1849 to June 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restricted African men from receiving its priesthood and restricted both African men and women from receiving sacred temple ordinances the Church considers necessary for exaltation.

During this time, members and leaders of the Church theorized that African men and women were descendants of Cain, Ham, and Canaan—lineages that were thought to be cursed. Members and leaders used these theories to justify the priesthood and temple restrictions.

Also during this time, patriarchs proclaimed African members of the Church as a part of these lineages during patriarchal blessings—ostensibly because the patriarchs were influenced to by leaders of the Church who, in official capacities, were proclaiming that blacks belonged to these lineages.[4] How can one reconcile this?

Response to Question

Another Article on Unfulfilled Patriarchal Blessings

FAIR has another article that they have written that gives several different possibilities for why this occurred. Members are encouraged to read it and come to their own conclusions about why this happened while remembering that the Church has no official position on this issue.

What the Church Has Disavowed and What it Has Not Disavowed

In December 2013, the Church published an essay on its website giving an explanation of what is known about the restrictions and what is not known about them.

Near the end of the essay, the Church disavows (a quite specific word) a couple of theories advanced in the past about the restrictions:

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; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.[5]

It will be important for those investigating this issue to note that the Church has not said that there was no one in the past that was part of the lineage of Cain, Ham, and/or Canaan. They specifically say that black skin is not a sign of being a part of those lineages. They also say that they do not affirm the idea that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse nor that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.

The Most Likely Explanation: Following Church Leaders

The most likely explanation for the practice is that patriarchs were following the inertia of Church leaders who claimed that blacks were part of those lineages.

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Watchman Fellowship, The Watchman Expositor (Page 1)

Notes

  1. Armand L. Mauss, "The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics", FAIR Conference 2003 FAIR link, #2 FAIR link
  2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 99.
  3. Marcus Martins, "A Black Man in Zion: Reflections on Race in the Restored Gospel" (2006 FAIR Conference presentation).
  4. Matthew L. Harris, "Mormons and Lineage: The Complicated History of Blacks and Patriarchal Blessings, 1830-2018," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 51, no. 3 (2018): 83–129.
  5. "Race and the Prieshtood," Gospel Topics Essays, December 6, 2013, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng.
  1. REDIRECTRepudiated ideas about race#Gospel Topics: "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 actions in a premortal life"

Response to claim: 237 - The authors provide a list of racist statements made by past Church leaders

The author(s) of Mormonism 101 make(s) the following claim:

The authors provide a list of racist statements made by past Church leaders.

Author's sources:
  1. George F. Richards, Conference Report, (April 1939), 58.

FAIR's Response

Fact checking results: The author has stated erroneous information or misinterpreted their sources

One statement alone, given by Bruce R. McConkie to Church seminary and institute teachers shortly after the 1978 revelation granting priesthood to all races, answers each and every objectionable statement or action that the authors can dredge up from bygone eras:

There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things… All I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness, and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter any more. It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year [1978]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the gentiles.[1]

  • Last and most important, the defining scripture that is binding on Latter-day Saints says, "he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."6
  1. REDIRECTUnderstanding pre-1978 statements about race#Gordon B. Hinckley: "I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ"

Past General Authorities made statements regarding the priesthood ban that are considered quite racist by today's standards. The Church has "disavowed" the theories advanced in the past by these leaders, and while specific leaders' statements have not been officially individually renounced, there is no obligation for current members to accept such sentiments as the "word of the Lord" for our time: They most certainly do not reflect the Church's current position and teachings.

Gordon B. Hinckley: "I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ"

Gordon B. Hinckley,

Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you 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 of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such. —(Click here to continue) [2]

Bruce R. McConkie: "Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation"

Bruce R. McConkie:

There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things.... All I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness, and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter any more. It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year [1978]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the gentiles.[3]

While Elder McConkie likely was limiting his remarks to mistakes made by past leaders in regards to the timing of the lifting of the ban, application of his insights can arguably be extended to a forgetting of all harmful "folk doctrines" about which post-1978 correlated church materials are either silent or have effectively corrected.

How have modern Church leaders reacted to the speculations of the past regarding the reason for the priesthood ban?

Modern Church leaders have advised us to avoid speculating without knowledge

Elder Dallin H. Oaks pointed out that some leaders and members had ill-advisedly sought to provide justifications for the ban:

...It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we're on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that.... The lesson I've drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.

...I'm referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.

...Let's [not] make the mistake that's been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that's where safety lies.[4]

Interviewed for a PBS special on the Church, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

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.[5]

Past leaders are not alive to apologize for statements that unwittingly contributed to difficulties for the faithful and stumbling blocks for those who might have otherwise have been more attracted to the overall goodness of Christ's gospel. Presumably they would join with another voice from the dust to plead for us to have charity towards them (Ether 12꞉35-36) despite their imperfections. Rather than condemning, we ought to "give thanks unto God...that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been" (Mormon 9꞉31).

Tolerance and equality are commanded

In 1972, Harold B. Lee cautioned:

We are having come into the Church now many people of various nationalities. We in the Church must remember that we have a history of persecution, discrimination against our civil rights, and our constitutional privileges being withheld from us. These who are members of the Church, regardless of their color, their national origin, are members of the church and kingdom of God. Some of them have told us that they are being shunned. There are snide remarks. We are withdrawing ourselves from them in some cases.

Now we must extend the hand of fellowship to men everywhere, and to all who are truly converted and who wish to join the Church and partake of the many rewarding opportunities to be found therein. We ask the Church members to strive to emulate the example of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, who gave us the new commandment that we should love one another. I wish we could remember that.[6]

How is it possible for a Church leader or prophet to have been influenced by racism, yet be consistent with the Lord not allowing prophets to lead the Church astray?

The goal of the Church is to bring people unto Christ

This is a difficult question. At face value, the idea that the Lord will not allow prophets to lead us astray seems to be in direct conflict with the Church acknowledging that early Church leaders and prophets were influenced by certain racist tendencies of their times. For example, how could the Priesthood restriction been allowed and yet be consistent with the prophets "not leading the Church astray?".

The first thing we must do is step back and see what the Church and prophets are all about.

What is the goal of the church?

According to Spencer W. Kimball, and reaffirmed by the other prophets it is as follows:

First, to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; Secondly, to perfect the Saints by preparing them to receive the ordinances of the gospel and by instruction and discipline to gain exaltation; Thirdly, to redeem the dead by performing vicarious ordinances of the gospel for those who have lived on the earth. (See Ensign, May 1981, p. 5.) All three are part of one work—to assist our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, in their grand and glorious mission "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39.) I renew that declaration today. [7]

The purpose of the Gospel is to bring people to Jesus Christ. The Church is the organization that Jesus set up on the Earth to bring people back to Jesus and back to God so we can be joint heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:17.)

The prophets will not lead the Church astray from the mission of leading people to Christ: This does not exempt prophets from saying or doing things at times that may be incorrect

Will the prophets knowingly lead us astray from this mission? No. They won't. They will keep us on that path and we should follow them.

Is it at least possible that they will say and do things that aren’t the best? Or that they may make unwanted speculation about things that they shouldn't? Certainly. Just as one example, Joseph Fielding Smith stated that it was doubtful that men would even go to the moon. He stated in the first edition of Answers to Gospel Questions:

Naturally the wonders in the heavens that man has created will be numbered among the signs which have been predicted—the airplanes, the guided missiles, and man-made planets that revolve around the earth. Keep it in mind, however, that such man-made planets belong to this earth, and it is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet.[8]

He later accepted a flag from the Apollo astronauts. When asked about this by a reporter, he stated, "Well, I was wrong, wasn't I?"

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church. He has promised he will make it all right in the end.

Karl G. Maeser taught:

On one occasion he was going with a group of young missionaries across the alps. They were crossing a high mountain pass on foot. There were long sticks stuck into the snow of the glacier to mark the path so that travelers could find their way safely across the glacier and down the mountain on the other side.

When they reached the summit, Brother Maeser wanted to teach the young elders a lesson. He stopped at the pinnacle of the mountain and pointed to those sticks that they had followed. And he said, "Brethren, behold the priesthood of God. They are just common old sticks, but it’s the position that counts. Follow them and you will surely be safe. Stray from them and you will surely be lost." And so it is in the Church. We are called to leadership positions and given the power of the priesthood. And we are just common old sticks, but the position we are given counts. It is separate and apart from us, but while we hold it, we hold it. [9]

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed.

Just a few examples from history (There are also reprimands in the D&C: D&C 105:2). They started doing Baptism for the dead in the river in Nauvoo - until God stopped them. They started doing sealings of adoption- until God stopped them. Why didn't God stop the race issue? He did...but He just did it later in his time frame for His purpose.

So again, If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything that might be wrong, we will be disappointed. Prophets are learning and are being taught just as we are learning and being taught. Bruce R. McConkie stated that quite clearly. [10]

But, if we go in with the expectation that the prophets will keep us on the Gospel path, complete with the ordinances we need to return to our Heavenly Father, then we will know what it means that the prophets will never lead us astray.

In John 6, Jesus taught hard things:

66 ¶From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

There is a possibility that we may get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ: He allows us to learn as we go along

Jesus has taught the words of eternal life. This is his Church. We will get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ. He allows us to learn as we go along. The prophets will not lead us astray from that goal of eternal life.

We should also fall back onto the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon in 1830. Nobody could have done that. There were things that Joseph Smith and scholars of the day did not know that are contained in the book. They would have written the opposite based on the science of the day.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. It also means we have a prophet today. Will they lead us astray? Is that statement even true that they won't? The prophets will not lead us astray from the Gospel path. Can they be incorrect on other issues-even involving the Church? Yes, they can. When they claim revelation and follow proper procedures to make something binding, then we bow to that. Brigham Young presented no formal revelation for implementing the priesthood restriction and there is no scripture that can justify the ban's existence. When the prophets haven't received revelation and are perhaps just trying to do good of their own free will as has been divinely mandated (D&C 58:27-28), then it is possible that they may get something wrong. We all have our free agency (2 Nephi 2: 16, 27; 10:23;) and the doctrine of infallibility is in direct contradiction to free agency.

Issues relating to the priesthood and temple restrictions are complicated ones, and we still have yet to learn more about them. As far as can be discerned, we haven't received any revelation as to why they happened. But, we should be open to the ideas that God allowed it to happen without revelation. Perhaps the restrictions were inspired and, like some of the fallen structures of the Old Testament, were inspired but also less than ideal (with the redemption of those fallen structures coming in New Testament times) and the Lord had a wiser purpose in mind in putting up with the restriction for the time it remained in place. Or perhaps they were simply a mistake like the Children of Israel and their appointment of a king when the Lord instructed them not to appoint one (1 Samuel 8: 5-22). Keep in mind that Israel had a king for 400 years while the restrictions lasted around 130. So the Lord can sometimes allow things to happen--even for a long time-- just so that we learn from mistakes. Perhaps, following a paradigm that Eugene England crafted and popularized, we can view the restrictions as something the Lord allowed so that we can learn today how to love those that have been most affected by it. As England put it:

Besides being the repository of true principles and authority, the Church is the instrument pro­vided by a loving God to help us become like him. It gives us schooling and experiences with each other that can bind us in an honest but loving community, which is the essential nurturing place for salvation. If we cannot accept the Church and the challenges it offers with the openness and courage and humility they require, then I believe our historical studies and our theological enterprises are mainly a waste of time and possibly destructive. We cannot understand the meaning of the history of Mormonism or judge the truth of Christ’s restored gospel unless we appreciate—and act on— the truth of the Church.

Thus the Church can give us all the necessary doctrines to learn the fullest meaning of love, but then it can also provide us all the evils, annoyances, discomforts, etc. of life so that we can have the opportunities necessary to put love into practice. Perhaps the existence of the restrictions can allow members not of African descent to learn how to relate to, empathize with, and heal the hearts of members of African descent from the pain they have experienced or do now experience because of the restrictions. Perhaps it can allow members of African descent the opportunity to learn forgiveness for a grave hurt that they have experienced at the hands of Church leaders and/or members. An approach similar to this is taken by Dr. W. Paul Reeve: a historian that specializes in the history of blacks and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[11]

All this said, we simply don't know why the restrictions happened and any speculation is as good as the next. Only time and revelation will allow us to understand why these things happened. Regardless, we can see that the Church can still be God's authorized vehicle for revelation and have the priesthood (thus still being true) and have the possibility of error.

What did Church leaders after Brigham Young think of the priesthood ban?

John Taylor conducted an investigation and concluded the policy had started under Joseph Smith, rather than Brigham Young

In 1879, John Taylor conducted an investigation and concluded the policy had started under Joseph Smith, rather than Brigham Young, despite receiving mixed information.[12] As part of this investigation Zebedee Coltrin recalled that Joseph Smith said in 1834 that "the Spirit of the Lord saith the Negro had no right nor cannot hold the Priesthood." However, this claim is suspect given Coltrin's errors on the circumstances of Elijah Abel's ordination, participation in Kirtland temple ordinances, and retention in the Seventies quorum all under the supervision of Joseph Smith.[13]

President George Q. Cannon in 1895 asserted that some of Young's teachings about miscegenation and the seed of Cain had first been taught by Joseph Smith.[14]

B.H. Roberts was the first to argue, based on the Book of Abraham, that the curse of Cain had continued to modern blacks through the lineage of Ham

Nearly forty years after the ban started, B.H. Roberts was the first to argue, based on the Book of Abraham, that the curse of Cain had continued to modern blacks through the lineage of Ham.[15]

Joseph Fielding Smith opined that blacks may have been less valiant in the pre-mortal conflict between God and Satan

In 1907 Joseph Fielding Smith rejected less valiance in the pre-mortal existence as an explanation for the restrictions entirely. In 1924, he wrote as if he were more open to it, though he still kept it in the realm of speculation. By 1931, he embraced the explanation wholeheartedly--opining that blacks may have been less valiant in the pre-mortal conflict between God and Satan (however, he rejected that they may have been neutral in the war in heaven).[16]

The First Presidency under George Albert Smith seems to have believed that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord"

The First Presidency under George Albert Smith seems to have believed that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord." There is a statement from them in 1949 that "was never released as a circular, officially read to congregations, or included in James R. Clark's comprehensive six-volume Messages of the First Presidency series. It was likely drafted as a letter sent in response to public inquiries."[17]

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.
—First Presidency statement, August 17, 1949.[18]

David O. McKay believed that the ban was "not doctrine but...policy"

  • David O. McKay believed that the ban was "not doctrine but...policy," as reported by Sterling McMurrin,[19] his son Llewelyn McKay,[20] and Elder Paul H. Dunn.[21] President McKay told Elder Marion D. Hanks that "he had pleaded and pleaded with the Lord, but had not had the answer he sought."[22] Sometime between 1968 and his death in 1970 he confided his prayerful attempts to church architect, Richard Jackson, "I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. The last time I did it was late last night. I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that the time will come, but it will not be my time, and to leave the subject alone."[23]
  • The "Missouri policy theory" attributing the ban to Joseph Smith arising from condition in Missouri was first popularized in 1970 by author Stephen Taggert,[24] and President Hugh B. Brown reportedly embraced it.[25] Other authors found this theory wanting.[26]

Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban

  • Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban,[27] though Church Historian Leonard Arrington
...asserts that President Lee, shortly before his death, sought the Lord's will on the question of blacks and the priesthood during'three days and nights [of] fasting in the upper room of the temple,...but the only answer he received was "not yet." Arrington relied on an unidentified person close to President Lee, but President Lee's son-in-law and biographer found no record of such an incident and thought it doubtful.[28]

Following Joseph Fielding Smith's death, President Lee did say, "For those who don't believe in modern revelation there is no adequate explanation. Those who do understand revelation stand by and wait until the Lord speaks...It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."[29]

President Kimball said that the day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but should the day come it will be a matter of revelation

President Kimball began his administration by holding a press conference. When asked about the ban, he said:

[I have given it] "a great deal of thought, a great deal of prayer. The day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but that day has not come yet. Should the day come it will be a matter of revelation. Before changing any important policy, it has to be through a revelation from the Lord."[30]

He had previously written to his son:

"...I have wished the Lord had given us a little more clarity in the matter. But for me, it is enough...I know the Lord could change His policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error (?) which brought about the deprivation. If the time comes, that He will do, I am sure."[31]

In 1976, he mentioned

"his concern for giving the priesthood to all men, and said that he had been praying about it for fifteen years without an answer...but I am going to keep praying about it."[32]

Repudiated ideas about race

Neutral in war in heaven

Less valiant in war in heaven

Interracial marriage

First Presidency

Brigham Young

Mark E. Petersen

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 16. ( Index of claims )


Notes

  1. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," an address to a Book of Mormon Symposium for Seminary and Institute teachers, Brigham Young University, 18 August 1978.
  2. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006)
  3. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," an address to a Book of Mormon Symposium for Seminary and Institute teachers, Brigham Young University, 18 August 1978.
  4. Dallin H. Oaks cited in "Apostles Talk about Reasons for Lifting Ban," Daily Herald, Provo, Utah (5 June 1988): 21 (Associated Press); reproduced with commentary in Dallin H. Oaks, Life's Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2011), 68-69.
  5. Jeffrey R. Holland, Interview, 4 March 2006.
  6. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 384.
  7. Spencer W. Kimball, "Remember the Mission of the Church" (April 1982)
  8. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions
  9. Boyd K. Packer, "It Is the Position That Counts" (June 1977)
  10. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike Unto God". (18 Aug 1978)
  11. W. Paul Reeve, "Race, the Priesthood, and Temples," in Raising the Standard of Truth: Exploring the History and Teachings of the Early Restoration, ed. Scott C. Esplin (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2020), 429–33.
  12. Neither White nor Black, 77–78.
  13. Neither White nor Black, 60–61, 77–78.
  14. Neither White nor Black, 79–81.
  15. B.H. Roberts, "To the Youth of Israel," The Contributor 6 (May 1885): 296–97.
  16. Stevenson, "For the Cause of Righteousness", 308-9;Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 65.
  17. Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 310.
  18. The period of Latter-day Saint history in which this statement was penned reflected the time in which the racial theories had become most crystallized in Latter-day Saint consciousness. Two previous official communications to Dr. Lowry Nelson (in which it was stated that "From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church...that the Negros are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel." and that interracial marriage was "most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now." and that it was "contrary to Church doctrine") demonstrate this. See Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness, 302–12 for an excellent commentary on the major documents of this period including the Lowry Nelson Letters, this 1949 First Presidency draft, and the evolution of Mormon thought from the turn of the 20th century to the 1950s that shaped attitudes surrounding the priesthood and temple restrictions.
  19. Sterling M. McMurrin and and L. Jackson Newell, Matters of Conscience: Conversations with Sterling M. McMurrin On Philosophy, Education, and Religion (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1996), 199–201; cited in Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), chapter 20, page 5, footnote 17. ISBN 1590384571 (CD version)
  20. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20, page 5, footnote 17.
  21. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20, page 5–, footnote 17.
  22. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20 working draft, 13.
  23. Edward L. Kimball, "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood," BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (Spring 2008): 21-22; Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 104; Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism 1830-2013 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014), 120; W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 259: "In contrast, McKay, as president, believed divine intervention necessary regardless of the restriction's origins, something he reportedly sought but did not receive."
  24. Steven Taggert, Mormonism's Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins (Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1970).
  25. Edwin B. Firmage, "Hugh B. Brown in His Final Years," Sunstone 11:6 no. (Issue #67) (November 1987), 7–8. off-site
  26. Newell G. Bringhurst, "The 'Missouri Thesis' Revisited: Early Mormonism, Slavery, and the Status of Black People," in Newel K. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith, eds., Black and Mormon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 13. ISBN 978-0252073564. ISBN 0252073568.
  27. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, 204–205.
  28. Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22, footnote 105; citing for the affirmative Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian and Arrington to author, February 10 and June 15, 1998; for the negative, L. Brent Goates, interview by author, February 9, 1998.
  29. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.
  30. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 1; citing Charles J. Seldin, "Priesthood of LDS Opened to Blacks," Salt Lake City Tribune (10 June 1978), 1A.
  31. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 4; citing letter of 15 June 1963 to Edward Kimball.
  32. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 7; citing F. Burton Howard to author, June 15, 1995; F. Burton Howard, interview by author, July 30, 2002.

Past General Authorities made statements regarding the priesthood ban that are considered quite racist by today's standards. The Church has "disavowed" the theories advanced in the past by these leaders, and while specific leaders' statements have not been officially individually renounced, there is no obligation for current members to accept such sentiments as the "word of the Lord" for our time: They most certainly do not reflect the Church's current position and teachings.

Gordon B. Hinckley: "I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ"

Gordon B. Hinckley,

Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you 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 of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such. —(Click here to continue) [1]

Bruce R. McConkie: "Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation"

Bruce R. McConkie:

There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things.... All I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness, and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter any more. It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year [1978]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the gentiles.[2]

While Elder McConkie likely was limiting his remarks to mistakes made by past leaders in regards to the timing of the lifting of the ban, application of his insights can arguably be extended to a forgetting of all harmful "folk doctrines" about which post-1978 correlated church materials are either silent or have effectively corrected.

How have modern Church leaders reacted to the speculations of the past regarding the reason for the priesthood ban?

Modern Church leaders have advised us to avoid speculating without knowledge

Elder Dallin H. Oaks pointed out that some leaders and members had ill-advisedly sought to provide justifications for the ban:

...It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we're on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that.... The lesson I've drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.

...I'm referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.

...Let's [not] make the mistake that's been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that's where safety lies.[3]

Interviewed for a PBS special on the Church, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

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.[4]

Past leaders are not alive to apologize for statements that unwittingly contributed to difficulties for the faithful and stumbling blocks for those who might have otherwise have been more attracted to the overall goodness of Christ's gospel. Presumably they would join with another voice from the dust to plead for us to have charity towards them (Ether 12꞉35-36) despite their imperfections. Rather than condemning, we ought to "give thanks unto God...that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been" (Mormon 9꞉31).

Tolerance and equality are commanded

In 1972, Harold B. Lee cautioned:

We are having come into the Church now many people of various nationalities. We in the Church must remember that we have a history of persecution, discrimination against our civil rights, and our constitutional privileges being withheld from us. These who are members of the Church, regardless of their color, their national origin, are members of the church and kingdom of God. Some of them have told us that they are being shunned. There are snide remarks. We are withdrawing ourselves from them in some cases.

Now we must extend the hand of fellowship to men everywhere, and to all who are truly converted and who wish to join the Church and partake of the many rewarding opportunities to be found therein. We ask the Church members to strive to emulate the example of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, who gave us the new commandment that we should love one another. I wish we could remember that.[5]

How is it possible for a Church leader or prophet to have been influenced by racism, yet be consistent with the Lord not allowing prophets to lead the Church astray?

The goal of the Church is to bring people unto Christ

This is a difficult question. At face value, the idea that the Lord will not allow prophets to lead us astray seems to be in direct conflict with the Church acknowledging that early Church leaders and prophets were influenced by certain racist tendencies of their times. For example, how could the Priesthood restriction been allowed and yet be consistent with the prophets "not leading the Church astray?".

The first thing we must do is step back and see what the Church and prophets are all about.

What is the goal of the church?

According to Spencer W. Kimball, and reaffirmed by the other prophets it is as follows:

First, to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; Secondly, to perfect the Saints by preparing them to receive the ordinances of the gospel and by instruction and discipline to gain exaltation; Thirdly, to redeem the dead by performing vicarious ordinances of the gospel for those who have lived on the earth. (See Ensign, May 1981, p. 5.) All three are part of one work—to assist our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, in their grand and glorious mission "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39.) I renew that declaration today. [6]

The purpose of the Gospel is to bring people to Jesus Christ. The Church is the organization that Jesus set up on the Earth to bring people back to Jesus and back to God so we can be joint heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:17.)

The prophets will not lead the Church astray from the mission of leading people to Christ: This does not exempt prophets from saying or doing things at times that may be incorrect

Will the prophets knowingly lead us astray from this mission? No. They won't. They will keep us on that path and we should follow them.

Is it at least possible that they will say and do things that aren’t the best? Or that they may make unwanted speculation about things that they shouldn't? Certainly. Just as one example, Joseph Fielding Smith stated that it was doubtful that men would even go to the moon. He stated in the first edition of Answers to Gospel Questions:

Naturally the wonders in the heavens that man has created will be numbered among the signs which have been predicted—the airplanes, the guided missiles, and man-made planets that revolve around the earth. Keep it in mind, however, that such man-made planets belong to this earth, and it is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet.[7]

He later accepted a flag from the Apollo astronauts. When asked about this by a reporter, he stated, "Well, I was wrong, wasn't I?"

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church. He has promised he will make it all right in the end.

Karl G. Maeser taught:

On one occasion he was going with a group of young missionaries across the alps. They were crossing a high mountain pass on foot. There were long sticks stuck into the snow of the glacier to mark the path so that travelers could find their way safely across the glacier and down the mountain on the other side.

When they reached the summit, Brother Maeser wanted to teach the young elders a lesson. He stopped at the pinnacle of the mountain and pointed to those sticks that they had followed. And he said, "Brethren, behold the priesthood of God. They are just common old sticks, but it’s the position that counts. Follow them and you will surely be safe. Stray from them and you will surely be lost." And so it is in the Church. We are called to leadership positions and given the power of the priesthood. And we are just common old sticks, but the position we are given counts. It is separate and apart from us, but while we hold it, we hold it. [8]

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed.

Just a few examples from history (There are also reprimands in the D&C: D&C 105:2). They started doing Baptism for the dead in the river in Nauvoo - until God stopped them. They started doing sealings of adoption- until God stopped them. Why didn't God stop the race issue? He did...but He just did it later in his time frame for His purpose.

So again, If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything that might be wrong, we will be disappointed. Prophets are learning and are being taught just as we are learning and being taught. Bruce R. McConkie stated that quite clearly. [9]

But, if we go in with the expectation that the prophets will keep us on the Gospel path, complete with the ordinances we need to return to our Heavenly Father, then we will know what it means that the prophets will never lead us astray.

In John 6, Jesus taught hard things:

66 ¶From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

There is a possibility that we may get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ: He allows us to learn as we go along

Jesus has taught the words of eternal life. This is his Church. We will get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ. He allows us to learn as we go along. The prophets will not lead us astray from that goal of eternal life.

We should also fall back onto the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon in 1830. Nobody could have done that. There were things that Joseph Smith and scholars of the day did not know that are contained in the book. They would have written the opposite based on the science of the day.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. It also means we have a prophet today. Will they lead us astray? Is that statement even true that they won't? The prophets will not lead us astray from the Gospel path. Can they be incorrect on other issues-even involving the Church? Yes, they can. When they claim revelation and follow proper procedures to make something binding, then we bow to that. Brigham Young presented no formal revelation for implementing the priesthood restriction and there is no scripture that can justify the ban's existence. When the prophets haven't received revelation and are perhaps just trying to do good of their own free will as has been divinely mandated (D&C 58:27-28), then it is possible that they may get something wrong. We all have our free agency (2 Nephi 2: 16, 27; 10:23;) and the doctrine of infallibility is in direct contradiction to free agency.

Issues relating to the priesthood and temple restrictions are complicated ones, and we still have yet to learn more about them. As far as can be discerned, we haven't received any revelation as to why they happened. But, we should be open to the ideas that God allowed it to happen without revelation. Perhaps the restrictions were inspired and, like some of the fallen structures of the Old Testament, were inspired but also less than ideal (with the redemption of those fallen structures coming in New Testament times) and the Lord had a wiser purpose in mind in putting up with the restriction for the time it remained in place. Or perhaps they were simply a mistake like the Children of Israel and their appointment of a king when the Lord instructed them not to appoint one (1 Samuel 8: 5-22). Keep in mind that Israel had a king for 400 years while the restrictions lasted around 130. So the Lord can sometimes allow things to happen--even for a long time-- just so that we learn from mistakes. Perhaps, following a paradigm that Eugene England crafted and popularized, we can view the restrictions as something the Lord allowed so that we can learn today how to love those that have been most affected by it. As England put it:

Besides being the repository of true principles and authority, the Church is the instrument pro­vided by a loving God to help us become like him. It gives us schooling and experiences with each other that can bind us in an honest but loving community, which is the essential nurturing place for salvation. If we cannot accept the Church and the challenges it offers with the openness and courage and humility they require, then I believe our historical studies and our theological enterprises are mainly a waste of time and possibly destructive. We cannot understand the meaning of the history of Mormonism or judge the truth of Christ’s restored gospel unless we appreciate—and act on— the truth of the Church.

Thus the Church can give us all the necessary doctrines to learn the fullest meaning of love, but then it can also provide us all the evils, annoyances, discomforts, etc. of life so that we can have the opportunities necessary to put love into practice. Perhaps the existence of the restrictions can allow members not of African descent to learn how to relate to, empathize with, and heal the hearts of members of African descent from the pain they have experienced or do now experience because of the restrictions. Perhaps it can allow members of African descent the opportunity to learn forgiveness for a grave hurt that they have experienced at the hands of Church leaders and/or members. An approach similar to this is taken by Dr. W. Paul Reeve: a historian that specializes in the history of blacks and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[10]

All this said, we simply don't know why the restrictions happened and any speculation is as good as the next. Only time and revelation will allow us to understand why these things happened. Regardless, we can see that the Church can still be God's authorized vehicle for revelation and have the priesthood (thus still being true) and have the possibility of error.

What did Church leaders after Brigham Young think of the priesthood ban?

John Taylor conducted an investigation and concluded the policy had started under Joseph Smith, rather than Brigham Young

In 1879, John Taylor conducted an investigation and concluded the policy had started under Joseph Smith, rather than Brigham Young, despite receiving mixed information.[11] As part of this investigation Zebedee Coltrin recalled that Joseph Smith said in 1834 that "the Spirit of the Lord saith the Negro had no right nor cannot hold the Priesthood." However, this claim is suspect given Coltrin's errors on the circumstances of Elijah Abel's ordination, participation in Kirtland temple ordinances, and retention in the Seventies quorum all under the supervision of Joseph Smith.[12]

President George Q. Cannon in 1895 asserted that some of Young's teachings about miscegenation and the seed of Cain had first been taught by Joseph Smith.[13]

B.H. Roberts was the first to argue, based on the Book of Abraham, that the curse of Cain had continued to modern blacks through the lineage of Ham

Nearly forty years after the ban started, B.H. Roberts was the first to argue, based on the Book of Abraham, that the curse of Cain had continued to modern blacks through the lineage of Ham.[14]

Joseph Fielding Smith opined that blacks may have been less valiant in the pre-mortal conflict between God and Satan

In 1907 Joseph Fielding Smith rejected less valiance in the pre-mortal existence as an explanation for the restrictions entirely. In 1924, he wrote as if he were more open to it, though he still kept it in the realm of speculation. By 1931, he embraced the explanation wholeheartedly--opining that blacks may have been less valiant in the pre-mortal conflict between God and Satan (however, he rejected that they may have been neutral in the war in heaven).[15]

The First Presidency under George Albert Smith seems to have believed that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord"

The First Presidency under George Albert Smith seems to have believed that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord." There is a statement from them in 1949 that "was never released as a circular, officially read to congregations, or included in James R. Clark's comprehensive six-volume Messages of the First Presidency series. It was likely drafted as a letter sent in response to public inquiries."[16]

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.
—First Presidency statement, August 17, 1949.[17]

David O. McKay believed that the ban was "not doctrine but...policy"

  • David O. McKay believed that the ban was "not doctrine but...policy," as reported by Sterling McMurrin,[18] his son Llewelyn McKay,[19] and Elder Paul H. Dunn.[20] President McKay told Elder Marion D. Hanks that "he had pleaded and pleaded with the Lord, but had not had the answer he sought."[21] Sometime between 1968 and his death in 1970 he confided his prayerful attempts to church architect, Richard Jackson, "I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. The last time I did it was late last night. I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that the time will come, but it will not be my time, and to leave the subject alone."[22]
  • The "Missouri policy theory" attributing the ban to Joseph Smith arising from condition in Missouri was first popularized in 1970 by author Stephen Taggert,[23] and President Hugh B. Brown reportedly embraced it.[24] Other authors found this theory wanting.[25]

Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban

  • Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban,[26] though Church Historian Leonard Arrington
...asserts that President Lee, shortly before his death, sought the Lord's will on the question of blacks and the priesthood during'three days and nights [of] fasting in the upper room of the temple,...but the only answer he received was "not yet." Arrington relied on an unidentified person close to President Lee, but President Lee's son-in-law and biographer found no record of such an incident and thought it doubtful.[27]

Following Joseph Fielding Smith's death, President Lee did say, "For those who don't believe in modern revelation there is no adequate explanation. Those who do understand revelation stand by and wait until the Lord speaks...It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."[28]

President Kimball said that the day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but should the day come it will be a matter of revelation

President Kimball began his administration by holding a press conference. When asked about the ban, he said:

[I have given it] "a great deal of thought, a great deal of prayer. The day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but that day has not come yet. Should the day come it will be a matter of revelation. Before changing any important policy, it has to be through a revelation from the Lord."[29]

He had previously written to his son:

"...I have wished the Lord had given us a little more clarity in the matter. But for me, it is enough...I know the Lord could change His policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error (?) which brought about the deprivation. If the time comes, that He will do, I am sure."[30]

In 1976, he mentioned

"his concern for giving the priesthood to all men, and said that he had been praying about it for fifteen years without an answer...but I am going to keep praying about it."[31]

Repudiated ideas about race

Neutral in war in heaven

Less valiant in war in heaven

Interracial marriage

First Presidency

Brigham Young

Mark E. Petersen

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 16. ( Index of claims )


Notes

  1. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006)
  2. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," an address to a Book of Mormon Symposium for Seminary and Institute teachers, Brigham Young University, 18 August 1978.
  3. Dallin H. Oaks cited in "Apostles Talk about Reasons for Lifting Ban," Daily Herald, Provo, Utah (5 June 1988): 21 (Associated Press); reproduced with commentary in Dallin H. Oaks, Life's Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2011), 68-69.
  4. Jeffrey R. Holland, Interview, 4 March 2006.
  5. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 384.
  6. Spencer W. Kimball, "Remember the Mission of the Church" (April 1982)
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions
  8. Boyd K. Packer, "It Is the Position That Counts" (June 1977)
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike Unto God". (18 Aug 1978)
  10. W. Paul Reeve, "Race, the Priesthood, and Temples," in Raising the Standard of Truth: Exploring the History and Teachings of the Early Restoration, ed. Scott C. Esplin (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2020), 429–33.
  11. Neither White nor Black, 77–78.
  12. Neither White nor Black, 60–61, 77–78.
  13. Neither White nor Black, 79–81.
  14. B.H. Roberts, "To the Youth of Israel," The Contributor 6 (May 1885): 296–97.
  15. Stevenson, "For the Cause of Righteousness", 308-9;Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 65.
  16. Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 310.
  17. The period of Latter-day Saint history in which this statement was penned reflected the time in which the racial theories had become most crystallized in Latter-day Saint consciousness. Two previous official communications to Dr. Lowry Nelson (in which it was stated that "From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church...that the Negros are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel." and that interracial marriage was "most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now." and that it was "contrary to Church doctrine") demonstrate this. See Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness, 302–12 for an excellent commentary on the major documents of this period including the Lowry Nelson Letters, this 1949 First Presidency draft, and the evolution of Mormon thought from the turn of the 20th century to the 1950s that shaped attitudes surrounding the priesthood and temple restrictions.
  18. Sterling M. McMurrin and and L. Jackson Newell, Matters of Conscience: Conversations with Sterling M. McMurrin On Philosophy, Education, and Religion (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1996), 199–201; cited in Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), chapter 20, page 5, footnote 17. ISBN 1590384571 (CD version)
  19. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20, page 5, footnote 17.
  20. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20, page 5–, footnote 17.
  21. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20 working draft, 13.
  22. Edward L. Kimball, "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood," BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (Spring 2008): 21-22; Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 104; Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism 1830-2013 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014), 120; W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 259: "In contrast, McKay, as president, believed divine intervention necessary regardless of the restriction's origins, something he reportedly sought but did not receive."
  23. Steven Taggert, Mormonism's Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins (Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1970).
  24. Edwin B. Firmage, "Hugh B. Brown in His Final Years," Sunstone 11:6 no. (Issue #67) (November 1987), 7–8. off-site
  25. Newell G. Bringhurst, "The 'Missouri Thesis' Revisited: Early Mormonism, Slavery, and the Status of Black People," in Newel K. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith, eds., Black and Mormon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 13. ISBN 978-0252073564. ISBN 0252073568.
  26. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, 204–205.
  27. Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22, footnote 105; citing for the affirmative Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian and Arrington to author, February 10 and June 15, 1998; for the negative, L. Brent Goates, interview by author, February 9, 1998.
  28. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.
  29. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 1; citing Charles J. Seldin, "Priesthood of LDS Opened to Blacks," Salt Lake City Tribune (10 June 1978), 1A.
  30. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 4; citing letter of 15 June 1963 to Edward Kimball.
  31. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 7; citing F. Burton Howard to author, June 15, 1995; F. Burton Howard, interview by author, July 30, 2002.

Past General Authorities made statements regarding the priesthood ban that are considered quite racist by today's standards. The Church has "disavowed" the theories advanced in the past by these leaders, and while specific leaders' statements have not been officially individually renounced, there is no obligation for current members to accept such sentiments as the "word of the Lord" for our time: They most certainly do not reflect the Church's current position and teachings.

Gordon B. Hinckley: "I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ"

Gordon B. Hinckley,

Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you 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 of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such. —(Click here to continue) [1]

Bruce R. McConkie: "Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation"

Bruce R. McConkie:

There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things.... All I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness, and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter any more. It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year [1978]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the gentiles.[2]

While Elder McConkie likely was limiting his remarks to mistakes made by past leaders in regards to the timing of the lifting of the ban, application of his insights can arguably be extended to a forgetting of all harmful "folk doctrines" about which post-1978 correlated church materials are either silent or have effectively corrected.

How have modern Church leaders reacted to the speculations of the past regarding the reason for the priesthood ban?

Modern Church leaders have advised us to avoid speculating without knowledge

Elder Dallin H. Oaks pointed out that some leaders and members had ill-advisedly sought to provide justifications for the ban:

...It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we're on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that.... The lesson I've drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.

...I'm referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.

...Let's [not] make the mistake that's been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that's where safety lies.[3]

Interviewed for a PBS special on the Church, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

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.[4]

Past leaders are not alive to apologize for statements that unwittingly contributed to difficulties for the faithful and stumbling blocks for those who might have otherwise have been more attracted to the overall goodness of Christ's gospel. Presumably they would join with another voice from the dust to plead for us to have charity towards them (Ether 12꞉35-36) despite their imperfections. Rather than condemning, we ought to "give thanks unto God...that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been" (Mormon 9꞉31).

Tolerance and equality are commanded

In 1972, Harold B. Lee cautioned:

We are having come into the Church now many people of various nationalities. We in the Church must remember that we have a history of persecution, discrimination against our civil rights, and our constitutional privileges being withheld from us. These who are members of the Church, regardless of their color, their national origin, are members of the church and kingdom of God. Some of them have told us that they are being shunned. There are snide remarks. We are withdrawing ourselves from them in some cases.

Now we must extend the hand of fellowship to men everywhere, and to all who are truly converted and who wish to join the Church and partake of the many rewarding opportunities to be found therein. We ask the Church members to strive to emulate the example of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, who gave us the new commandment that we should love one another. I wish we could remember that.[5]

How is it possible for a Church leader or prophet to have been influenced by racism, yet be consistent with the Lord not allowing prophets to lead the Church astray?

The goal of the Church is to bring people unto Christ

This is a difficult question. At face value, the idea that the Lord will not allow prophets to lead us astray seems to be in direct conflict with the Church acknowledging that early Church leaders and prophets were influenced by certain racist tendencies of their times. For example, how could the Priesthood restriction been allowed and yet be consistent with the prophets "not leading the Church astray?".

The first thing we must do is step back and see what the Church and prophets are all about.

What is the goal of the church?

According to Spencer W. Kimball, and reaffirmed by the other prophets it is as follows:

First, to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; Secondly, to perfect the Saints by preparing them to receive the ordinances of the gospel and by instruction and discipline to gain exaltation; Thirdly, to redeem the dead by performing vicarious ordinances of the gospel for those who have lived on the earth. (See Ensign, May 1981, p. 5.) All three are part of one work—to assist our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, in their grand and glorious mission "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39.) I renew that declaration today. [6]

The purpose of the Gospel is to bring people to Jesus Christ. The Church is the organization that Jesus set up on the Earth to bring people back to Jesus and back to God so we can be joint heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:17.)

The prophets will not lead the Church astray from the mission of leading people to Christ: This does not exempt prophets from saying or doing things at times that may be incorrect

Will the prophets knowingly lead us astray from this mission? No. They won't. They will keep us on that path and we should follow them.

Is it at least possible that they will say and do things that aren’t the best? Or that they may make unwanted speculation about things that they shouldn't? Certainly. Just as one example, Joseph Fielding Smith stated that it was doubtful that men would even go to the moon. He stated in the first edition of Answers to Gospel Questions:

Naturally the wonders in the heavens that man has created will be numbered among the signs which have been predicted—the airplanes, the guided missiles, and man-made planets that revolve around the earth. Keep it in mind, however, that such man-made planets belong to this earth, and it is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet.[7]

He later accepted a flag from the Apollo astronauts. When asked about this by a reporter, he stated, "Well, I was wrong, wasn't I?"

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church. He has promised he will make it all right in the end.

Karl G. Maeser taught:

On one occasion he was going with a group of young missionaries across the alps. They were crossing a high mountain pass on foot. There were long sticks stuck into the snow of the glacier to mark the path so that travelers could find their way safely across the glacier and down the mountain on the other side.

When they reached the summit, Brother Maeser wanted to teach the young elders a lesson. He stopped at the pinnacle of the mountain and pointed to those sticks that they had followed. And he said, "Brethren, behold the priesthood of God. They are just common old sticks, but it’s the position that counts. Follow them and you will surely be safe. Stray from them and you will surely be lost." And so it is in the Church. We are called to leadership positions and given the power of the priesthood. And we are just common old sticks, but the position we are given counts. It is separate and apart from us, but while we hold it, we hold it. [8]

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed.

Just a few examples from history (There are also reprimands in the D&C: D&C 105:2). They started doing Baptism for the dead in the river in Nauvoo - until God stopped them. They started doing sealings of adoption- until God stopped them. Why didn't God stop the race issue? He did...but He just did it later in his time frame for His purpose.

So again, If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything that might be wrong, we will be disappointed. Prophets are learning and are being taught just as we are learning and being taught. Bruce R. McConkie stated that quite clearly. [9]

But, if we go in with the expectation that the prophets will keep us on the Gospel path, complete with the ordinances we need to return to our Heavenly Father, then we will know what it means that the prophets will never lead us astray.

In John 6, Jesus taught hard things:

66 ¶From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

There is a possibility that we may get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ: He allows us to learn as we go along

Jesus has taught the words of eternal life. This is his Church. We will get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ. He allows us to learn as we go along. The prophets will not lead us astray from that goal of eternal life.

We should also fall back onto the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon in 1830. Nobody could have done that. There were things that Joseph Smith and scholars of the day did not know that are contained in the book. They would have written the opposite based on the science of the day.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. It also means we have a prophet today. Will they lead us astray? Is that statement even true that they won't? The prophets will not lead us astray from the Gospel path. Can they be incorrect on other issues-even involving the Church? Yes, they can. When they claim revelation and follow proper procedures to make something binding, then we bow to that. Brigham Young presented no formal revelation for implementing the priesthood restriction and there is no scripture that can justify the ban's existence. When the prophets haven't received revelation and are perhaps just trying to do good of their own free will as has been divinely mandated (D&C 58:27-28), then it is possible that they may get something wrong. We all have our free agency (2 Nephi 2: 16, 27; 10:23;) and the doctrine of infallibility is in direct contradiction to free agency.

Issues relating to the priesthood and temple restrictions are complicated ones, and we still have yet to learn more about them. As far as can be discerned, we haven't received any revelation as to why they happened. But, we should be open to the ideas that God allowed it to happen without revelation. Perhaps the restrictions were inspired and, like some of the fallen structures of the Old Testament, were inspired but also less than ideal (with the redemption of those fallen structures coming in New Testament times) and the Lord had a wiser purpose in mind in putting up with the restriction for the time it remained in place. Or perhaps they were simply a mistake like the Children of Israel and their appointment of a king when the Lord instructed them not to appoint one (1 Samuel 8: 5-22). Keep in mind that Israel had a king for 400 years while the restrictions lasted around 130. So the Lord can sometimes allow things to happen--even for a long time-- just so that we learn from mistakes. Perhaps, following a paradigm that Eugene England crafted and popularized, we can view the restrictions as something the Lord allowed so that we can learn today how to love those that have been most affected by it. As England put it:

Besides being the repository of true principles and authority, the Church is the instrument pro­vided by a loving God to help us become like him. It gives us schooling and experiences with each other that can bind us in an honest but loving community, which is the essential nurturing place for salvation. If we cannot accept the Church and the challenges it offers with the openness and courage and humility they require, then I believe our historical studies and our theological enterprises are mainly a waste of time and possibly destructive. We cannot understand the meaning of the history of Mormonism or judge the truth of Christ’s restored gospel unless we appreciate—and act on— the truth of the Church.

Thus the Church can give us all the necessary doctrines to learn the fullest meaning of love, but then it can also provide us all the evils, annoyances, discomforts, etc. of life so that we can have the opportunities necessary to put love into practice. Perhaps the existence of the restrictions can allow members not of African descent to learn how to relate to, empathize with, and heal the hearts of members of African descent from the pain they have experienced or do now experience because of the restrictions. Perhaps it can allow members of African descent the opportunity to learn forgiveness for a grave hurt that they have experienced at the hands of Church leaders and/or members. An approach similar to this is taken by Dr. W. Paul Reeve: a historian that specializes in the history of blacks and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[10]

All this said, we simply don't know why the restrictions happened and any speculation is as good as the next. Only time and revelation will allow us to understand why these things happened. Regardless, we can see that the Church can still be God's authorized vehicle for revelation and have the priesthood (thus still being true) and have the possibility of error.

What did Church leaders after Brigham Young think of the priesthood ban?

John Taylor conducted an investigation and concluded the policy had started under Joseph Smith, rather than Brigham Young

In 1879, John Taylor conducted an investigation and concluded the policy had started under Joseph Smith, rather than Brigham Young, despite receiving mixed information.[11] As part of this investigation Zebedee Coltrin recalled that Joseph Smith said in 1834 that "the Spirit of the Lord saith the Negro had no right nor cannot hold the Priesthood." However, this claim is suspect given Coltrin's errors on the circumstances of Elijah Abel's ordination, participation in Kirtland temple ordinances, and retention in the Seventies quorum all under the supervision of Joseph Smith.[12]

President George Q. Cannon in 1895 asserted that some of Young's teachings about miscegenation and the seed of Cain had first been taught by Joseph Smith.[13]

B.H. Roberts was the first to argue, based on the Book of Abraham, that the curse of Cain had continued to modern blacks through the lineage of Ham

Nearly forty years after the ban started, B.H. Roberts was the first to argue, based on the Book of Abraham, that the curse of Cain had continued to modern blacks through the lineage of Ham.[14]

Joseph Fielding Smith opined that blacks may have been less valiant in the pre-mortal conflict between God and Satan

In 1907 Joseph Fielding Smith rejected less valiance in the pre-mortal existence as an explanation for the restrictions entirely. In 1924, he wrote as if he were more open to it, though he still kept it in the realm of speculation. By 1931, he embraced the explanation wholeheartedly--opining that blacks may have been less valiant in the pre-mortal conflict between God and Satan (however, he rejected that they may have been neutral in the war in heaven).[15]

The First Presidency under George Albert Smith seems to have believed that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord"

The First Presidency under George Albert Smith seems to have believed that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord." There is a statement from them in 1949 that "was never released as a circular, officially read to congregations, or included in James R. Clark's comprehensive six-volume Messages of the First Presidency series. It was likely drafted as a letter sent in response to public inquiries."[16]

The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.
—First Presidency statement, August 17, 1949.[17]

David O. McKay believed that the ban was "not doctrine but...policy"

  • David O. McKay believed that the ban was "not doctrine but...policy," as reported by Sterling McMurrin,[18] his son Llewelyn McKay,[19] and Elder Paul H. Dunn.[20] President McKay told Elder Marion D. Hanks that "he had pleaded and pleaded with the Lord, but had not had the answer he sought."[21] Sometime between 1968 and his death in 1970 he confided his prayerful attempts to church architect, Richard Jackson, "I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. The last time I did it was late last night. I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that the time will come, but it will not be my time, and to leave the subject alone."[22]
  • The "Missouri policy theory" attributing the ban to Joseph Smith arising from condition in Missouri was first popularized in 1970 by author Stephen Taggert,[23] and President Hugh B. Brown reportedly embraced it.[24] Other authors found this theory wanting.[25]

Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban

  • Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban,[26] though Church Historian Leonard Arrington
...asserts that President Lee, shortly before his death, sought the Lord's will on the question of blacks and the priesthood during'three days and nights [of] fasting in the upper room of the temple,...but the only answer he received was "not yet." Arrington relied on an unidentified person close to President Lee, but President Lee's son-in-law and biographer found no record of such an incident and thought it doubtful.[27]

Following Joseph Fielding Smith's death, President Lee did say, "For those who don't believe in modern revelation there is no adequate explanation. Those who do understand revelation stand by and wait until the Lord speaks...It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."[28]

President Kimball said that the day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but should the day come it will be a matter of revelation

President Kimball began his administration by holding a press conference. When asked about the ban, he said:

[I have given it] "a great deal of thought, a great deal of prayer. The day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but that day has not come yet. Should the day come it will be a matter of revelation. Before changing any important policy, it has to be through a revelation from the Lord."[29]

He had previously written to his son:

"...I have wished the Lord had given us a little more clarity in the matter. But for me, it is enough...I know the Lord could change His policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error (?) which brought about the deprivation. If the time comes, that He will do, I am sure."[30]

In 1976, he mentioned

"his concern for giving the priesthood to all men, and said that he had been praying about it for fifteen years without an answer...but I am going to keep praying about it."[31]

Repudiated ideas about race

Neutral in war in heaven

Less valiant in war in heaven

Interracial marriage

First Presidency

Brigham Young

Mark E. Petersen

Source(s) of the criticism
Critical sources
  • Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson, Mormonism 101. Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), Chapter 16. ( Index of claims )


Notes

  1. Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," Ensign (May 2006)
  2. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," an address to a Book of Mormon Symposium for Seminary and Institute teachers, Brigham Young University, 18 August 1978.
  3. Dallin H. Oaks cited in "Apostles Talk about Reasons for Lifting Ban," Daily Herald, Provo, Utah (5 June 1988): 21 (Associated Press); reproduced with commentary in Dallin H. Oaks, Life's Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2011), 68-69.
  4. Jeffrey R. Holland, Interview, 4 March 2006.
  5. Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 384.
  6. Spencer W. Kimball, "Remember the Mission of the Church" (April 1982)
  7. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions
  8. Boyd K. Packer, "It Is the Position That Counts" (June 1977)
  9. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike Unto God". (18 Aug 1978)
  10. W. Paul Reeve, "Race, the Priesthood, and Temples," in Raising the Standard of Truth: Exploring the History and Teachings of the Early Restoration, ed. Scott C. Esplin (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2020), 429–33.
  11. Neither White nor Black, 77–78.
  12. Neither White nor Black, 60–61, 77–78.
  13. Neither White nor Black, 79–81.
  14. B.H. Roberts, "To the Youth of Israel," The Contributor 6 (May 1885): 296–97.
  15. Stevenson, "For the Cause of Righteousness", 308-9;Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 65.
  16. Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013), 310.
  17. The period of Latter-day Saint history in which this statement was penned reflected the time in which the racial theories had become most crystallized in Latter-day Saint consciousness. Two previous official communications to Dr. Lowry Nelson (in which it was stated that "From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church...that the Negros are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel." and that interracial marriage was "most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now." and that it was "contrary to Church doctrine") demonstrate this. See Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteo