by Sharon Lindbloom
4 June 2018
Last weekend the LDS Church celebrated the 40th anniversary of its discontinuance of a long-standing ban that denied black Mormons the full benefits of Church membership (i.e., priesthood, endowment, sealing/temple marriage). The celebration, “Be One,” focused on a continuing effort to unite all members of the Church without regard to race. As part of this celebration, Dallin Oaks (of the First Presidency) spoke of the day that the withholding of certain spiritual blessings from black people came to an end.
“As I told [my sons] that all worthy male members of the Church could now be ordained to the priesthood, I wept for joy. That is the scene etched in my memory of this unforgettable announcement 40 years ago — sitting on a pile of dirt and weeping as I told my sons of this divine revelation…” (“President Oaks’ full remarks from the LDS Church’s ‘Be One’ celebration”)
President Oaks was not alone. Many people wept for joy at that announcement in 1978. Many others shook their heads in disbelief, wondering how this racially discriminatory practice could have ever been a prominent part of this church, and how it could have still been in effect so late into the 20th century.
The reason the LDS Church continued to ban black people from its priesthood and saving temple ordinances for so long was because the racial restriction was believed to have been commanded by God; and, an essay at lds.org notes, “Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter the policy.”
Many people questioned the “why” of this LDS commandment in the first place. Speaking of the years before the lifting of the priesthood ban, Mr. Oaks said,
“I observed the pain and frustration experienced by those who suffered these restrictions and those who criticized them and sought for reasons. I studied the reasons then being given and could not feel confirmation of the truth of any of them. As part of my prayerful study, I learned that, in general, the Lord rarely gives reasons for the commandments and directions He gives to His servants. I determined to be loyal to our prophetic leaders and to pray — as promised from the beginning of these restrictions — that the day would come when all would enjoy the blessings of priesthood and temple…
“Institutionally, the Church reacted swiftly to the revelation on the priesthood.
“Ordinations and temple recommends came immediately. The reasons that had been given to try to explain the prior restrictions on members of African ancestry — even those previously voiced by revered Church leaders — were promptly and publicly disavowed.”
The reasons that had been circulating in the LDS Church had to do with “widespread ideas about racial inferiority,” the opinion that “blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel” so “God’s ‘curse’ on Cain was the mark of a dark skin,” and that “blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in [Mormonism’s doctrine of a] premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.” However,
“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.” (“Race and the Priesthood”)
Before 1978 Dallin Oaks prayerfully studied these reasons but “could not feel confirmation of the truth of any of them.” Disturbingly, all of these reasons were taught by LDS prophets as they fulfilled their callings while acting in their official Church capacities. These reasons were also taught by LDS apostles who are recognized in Mormonism as “prophets, seers, and revelators.” So, Dallin Oaks prayed about the reasons that LDS prophets presented regarding the position of blacks in the Church; he did not receive a testimony of their truth, suggesting that these teachings of past prophets were actually false. Dallin Oaks is not the only Mormon apostle to dismiss these LDS prophetic teachings as false. In a PBS interview in 2006, Jeffrey Holland said,
“One clear-cut position is that the folklore [i.e., the reasons LDS leaders provided for the priesthood ban] 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.” (Ellipses in the original.)
The official stance of the entire current Church leadership agrees. The Church now “disavows” these authoritative teachings given by past prophets, seers, and revelators.
But consider this. LDS.org says,
“We can always trust the living prophets. Their teachings reflect the will of the Lord, who declared: ‘What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same’ (D&C 1:38)” (“Prophets”).
How is it, then, that LDS prophets, seers, and revelators don’t believe or trust the teachings of past LDS prophets, seers, and revelators? LDS apostle M. Russell Ballard taught,
“False prophets and false teachers are those who arrogantly attempt to fashion new interpretations of the scriptures to demonstrate that these sacred texts should not be read as God’s words to His children but merely as the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural biases.” (“Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers,” Ensign, November 1999, 63–64. Note that Church leaders state that the official words of LDS prophets are scripture.)
Using Mr. Ballard’s description, who is the false prophet in this situation?
Is it Brigham Young (and all LDS prophets who followed and upheld Brigham Young’s teachings)? After all, the “Race and the Priesthood” essay at lds.org suggests that Brigham Young’s teachings on race were due to “a highly contentious racial culture,” a product of the racial discrimination that abounded all across America during the time of his tenure as Mormonism’s second prophet and president. Here there is application for Mr. Ballard’s words, “the utterances of uninspired men, limited by their own prejudices and cultural biases.”
Or is today’s LDS Church itself to be recognized in Mr. Ballard’s description of a false prophet, in that the Church has “fashioned new interpretations,” suggesting that past prophets’ sacred teachings “should not be read as God’s words to His children but merely as the utterances of uninspired men”?
For over 100 years Mormon prophets, seers, and revelators perpetuated Brigham Young’s teachings on race. Some LDS prophets even added additional insights to what Brigham Young revealed as the reasons for God’s priesthood ban. But these teachings are now rejected by the current LDS leaders. From my Christian perspective, I say rightfully so. But from an LDS doctrinal perspective that hangs its hat on latter-day revelation, the authority of its prophets, seers, and revelators as they speak for God, and the continued assertion that LDS prophets cannot lead the Church astray, one prophet’s rejection of another prophet’s revelation looks an awful lot like the false prophets and false teachers of LDS apostle Ballard’s warning.
If today’s LDS leaders don’t believe and trust yesterday’s LDS leaders, why should anyone believe any of them?
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” -Matthew 7:15-20