Brigham_Young_by_Charles_William_CarterYesterday as I was driving home from Michigan I got an email from a reader who wanted me to know that “The conversation on your blog is raging that blacks are all the descendants of Cain.”

So today I took a look at the comments, and I don’t see a “raging” discussion on that topic, nor do I see evidence that contemporary Mormons hold views that people with black skin are “descendants of Cain.” Am I missing something?

But several comments do take up the question of whether Brigham Young was a racist. Both sides offer some quotes from him, and then further debate about whether those quotations are in full and in context.

So let’s talk about it. (This is going to run a bit longer than my usual posts, because this is a complex issue. If you want to stop reading here, the answer to the titular question is “Yes, but . . .”).

John Turner’s biography of Young does an excellent job of putting the man in his historical context—on racial views as on many other issues. I highly recommend the book. As Turner puts it,

“Young’s harsh conclusions about both the earthly and eternal places of black people, and the passion with which he expressed them, were not unusual in the mid-nineteenth-century United States. The vehemence with which Young expressed his racial views, however, contributed to the long-term exclusion of black men from the Mormon priesthood and black men and women from the church’s most sacred ordinances.”

Young’s record is mixed, but so is early Mormonism’s more generally. Some Mormons exempt Joseph Smith from this because Smith adopted an abolitionist platform when he ran for president in 1844 and he ordained several black and biracial men to the priesthood before his death. (Smith also apparently approved one biracial man’s appointment as a member of the Seventy.*)

Also, one of the underlying reasons for the Mormons’ controversial expulsion from Missouri was residents’ fear that the Mormons’ comparatively integrated worship and way of life would “corrupt our blacks & instigate them into bloodshed.”

The truth is more complicated, however. Mormonism did not suddenly “turn racist” when Smith died. Even while Smith was alive and running the church, Nauvoo prohibited interracial marriage and restricted voting and office-holding to white men.

And during the earlier Missouri period when the Saints were accused of over-friendly relations with African Americans, Mormons tried to deny the charges by promising they would “prevent [free blacks] from being admitted as members of the Church.” Joseph Smith said in 1838 that “the curse” was “not yet taken off the sons of Canaan,” although he also struck several racist statements from the official history of the Church when it was compiled that same year.*

A mixed record, then, even before Brigham Young was president of the Church.

Under Young, though, racism became systematically entrenched and codified. Whereas Elijah Abel/Ables had been able to perform sacred ordinances on behalf of two deceased members of his family (both female, interestingly enough), during Young’s presidency blacks were denied not only the priesthood but all access to endowment, temple marriage, and other temple rituals, including baptism for healing.

As for priesthood, Young said that “any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him Cannot hold the priesthood, & if no other Prophet ever spake it Before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ.”

He went on to say that “the day will Come when all the seed of Cane will be Redeemed & have all the Blessings we have now & a great deal more”—presumably including the priesthood—but that “the seed of Abel will be ahead of the seed of Cane to all Eternity.”**

“All eternity.” In other words, Young thought whites would and should receive preferential treatment now and forever.

It makes me shudder.

Bottom line: Yes, Brigham Young was clearly a racist. If racism is as the dictionary defines it—“the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races”—then there is no denying it in Brigham Young.

Occasionally I get the vibe from conservative Mormons that they have to defend Young to the nth degree on this issue. Faced with Young’s statements, which are abhorrent by the standards of our time (and by basic human justice), they strain to either deny he ever said them or claim he was being misquoted.

He said them, folks. The question is now what we do with the fact that he said them.

Mormons today do not teach these terrible things. Church policy and doctrine (it was both, not just policy) have done a 180-degree turnaround. We emphasize that “all are alike unto God,” as the Book of Mormon puts it. In its recent Gospel Topics statement on race, the church has disavowed many of the things that Young and other leaders taught:

  • Race is not a divine curse for action (or inaction) in the premortal life
  • Mixed-race marriages are not to be considered sinful or wrong
  • People of any one race are not inferior to people of any other

Faced with these two realities today, some Mormons experience cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, Brigham Young was wrong about race, and the Gospel Topics statement makes this clear. On the other hand, they believe Brigham Young was a prophet.

But why should this be unreconcilable? It’s not like we don’t have scriptural examples of prophets and apostles being wrong, wrong, wrong about the wideness of God’s kingdom. Just to name two:

  • Jonah was a prophet who was mistaken in his exclusionist thinking, imagining that God would have nothing to do with a people so unholy as the Ninevites.
  • Peter was an apostle who, despite having received a full-blown vision from God announcing that it would henceforth be kosher to eat non-kosher food (Acts 10), was subsequently chastised by Paul for imagining that the kingdom of God was so small that he could refuse to sit at table with Gentiles (Galatians 2).

These were people who were called by God despite being culturally conditioned by the racism of their own times—their belief that they were part of a superior racial or ethnic group.

They were human; they were flawed; they were flat-out wrong. They were also prophetic leaders, inspired in many things.

I’m going to close with some wise words from the comments on Monday’s post.

Prophets do not need to be perfect to be prophets. If the Book of Mormon, a canonized book of scripture, can contain “errors of men,” as it says it may contain, why should General Conference be free of any error?

61 Comments

  1. ““All eternity.” In other words, Young thought whites would and should receive preferential treatment now and forever.”

    I’m not sure that is the right way to parse that. At very least, it’s not the only way. Taking BY’s understanding of eternal progression (which was tied to reception of priesthood and accompanying blessings), in which even God was progressing, then He is simply “ahead” of us. If that is the right framing, then simply by nature of “the seed of Abel” receiving those blessings chronologically *ahead* of “the seed of Cain,” then it would always be the case that Abel was “ahead” of Cain in terms of progression.

    As for Joseph Smith, his view was that Africans were not “naturally” inferior to whites.
    “They come into the world slaves, mentally and physically. [But] Change their situation with the white and they would be like them. They have souls and are subjects of salvation. Go into Cincinnati and find one educated and who rides in his carriage. He has risen by the power of his mind to his exalted state of respectability.” (Joseph Smith Journal 1842-43, pp. 40-41).

    He made a similar statement to that effect, but I can’t locate it in my notes at the moment. In that sense, he was quite progressive and opposed the speculative and nasty ideas then floating around about the genesis and nature of Africans.

  2. I sometimes wish that we heard more often things like Uchtdorf said about previous church leaders being wrong. Why do we have to justify things in the past, as if all prophets were perfect? I guess the idea that God would never allow a prophet to lead the church astray? I can’t say I think that statement can be taken as literally as it seems to be.

  3. Michael Riggs

    Nicely done Jana. The comment that, “Smith adopted an abolitionist platform when he ran for president in 1844″ I would classify more as a twist on the ideas of the American Colonization Society rather than any groups I’ve heard of among Radical Abolitionists. You mention the reason the Mormons were expelled from Missouri was a fear that their teachings might disrupt slave culture in the State. Let me provide an antidote that argues against the idea that Mormon thinking was anything close to homogenous in this early period. Two Southern LDS converts named John L. Butler and Abram O. Smoot’s step-father Levi Taylor were neighbors in the Marrowbone settlement located in Daviess County, Missouri (half-way between Far West and Adam-Ondi-Ahman). As a proto-Mormon, Butler had been given several slaves while living in the South as part of a wedding dowry. His family was anti-slavery, so Butler gave his newly acquired slaves their freedom. I found a document a number of years ago in the Daviess County courthouse where Levi Taylor gave power of attorney to Abram O. Smoot to recover a list of items he and his wife Sally had lost (stolen) during the 1838 Mormon War. Among the items listed were the names of their slaves.

    • Jana Riess

      Yes, the historical realities were all across the board. Young, for example, had changeable views on slavery, possibly the major political issue of the day in the 1850s. In 1852, he told the territorial legislature that “no property can or should be recognized as existing in slaves, either Indian or African”; in an about-face just two weeks later, he declared himself a “firm believer in slavery.” ! (See Turner, 225) He said, “Inasmuch as I believe in the ordinances of God, in the Priesthood and order, and decrees of God, I must believe in slavery,” maintaining that blacks were cursed by God with dark skin.

      Young enforced the Fugitive Slave Act and made Utah “the only part of the Mexican Cession open to black slavery.” But he also provided generous wages for a free black coachman and refused to send one slave back to his Mormon mistress when she moved to California. (Turner, 226 and 228)

      There’s just no simple caricature here, as your comment points out.

      • To add to the complexity, while Utah was officially a slave state, the slave laws passed during Young’s governorship and AFAIK without a hint of opposition from him required that all slaves receive at least some education, required that they be taken away from their masters is abused, and forbade selling them or taking them out of the territory without their permission.

        Brigham Young was one of those people that liked to speak in exclamation points. I’ve found it better to compare what he said to what he did or allowed for a better picture of the man.

        • Michael Riggs

          Ah, the benevolent master myth rears it’s ugly head in the conversation. Brigham Young wasn’t as bad as others, in fact he saw to it that the slaves were treated pretty well. Do you have any idea how offensive that sounds to people who understand the history of slavery in this country? This tactic is similar to the old southern apologetic line in response to abolitionists stories citing cruelty widely inflicted within the slave culture. It isn’t like there were not contemporary antebellum citizens of the United States who didn’t know better. Brigham Young was no William Lloyd Garrison, but given his pretense to the prophetic mantel, why wasn’t he? We now know which of them stood on the right side of history and it wasn’t Brigham.

          • Why Young wasn’t a Garrison, you could ask the same question of any of the prophets of the Bible, or even Jesus – as far as I know, not a single prophet in the Bible called for the elimination of the institution of slavery. But I don’t know what you mean about the “benevolent master myth,” since I was talking about the legal code rather than how masters actually treated their slaves, what few ever ended up in Utah. And laws matter, and there was no legal protection for slaves from the bad masters, the ones that weren’t in the mines or Mediterranean islands that were simply worked to death. The law codes and customs of the societies I’ve learned of (admittedly far from exhaustive), including the slave states in the US, treated slaves as dangerous walking, talking tools with no legal rights. Except for two exceptions, the Law of Moses and the Utah law code, both of which recognized the humanity of slaves and legislated accordingly.

          • Michael Riggs

            Brigham Young was merely in line with other slave owner elites like Episcopal Bishop of Georgia, the Right Reverend Stephen Elliott was a Harvard alum, but an ardent antebellum States rights advocate. Bishop Elliot was a leader of slave law reforms that would validate slave marriages, prevent separation of families, permit education and protect against cruel masters.

            Brigham Young being compared to Hebrew Bible or New Testament figures carries absolutely no moral authority to me. I was placing Brigham Young in the context of his own era and find him to be no progressive. I personally get more excited about historical figures that were on the cutting edge of modernity, rather than those, like Young, who were kicking and scratching against bending the arch towards justice.

          • Just how was Young a member of a slave owner elite? So far as I know, he never owned a slave. In fact, when Young was interviewed by Horace Greeley in 1859, Young said both that when Utah became a state it would be a Free State, and that he considered slavery to generally be a curse to the masters. Mind, both were for economic reasons rather than moral. He was hardly an abolitionist, he said that slavery would “not to be abolished until the curse pronounced on Ham shall have been removed from his descendants” (as best as Greeley could remember). But he wasn’t exactly an enthusiastic supporter of the institution, either.

            As for not comparing Young to the prophets of the Bible, your exact statement was:

            “Brigham Young was no William Lloyd Garrison, but given his pretense to the prophetic mantel, why wasn’t he?”

            That would mean that you believe that if Young was a prophet, then he would have been calling for the abolition of the institution of slavery. So let me ask again, what prophet in the Bible did so, that would lead you to expect him to? Or do you believe that none of them were prophets?

          • Michael Riggs

            One would not have to own slaves to be in support of the slave owning elite. Young was the theocratic leader of an area of the country where slavery was legal…that would place him as an ally of the institution whether he favored the South personally or not. The balance of power between free and slave States/Territories was critical in antebellum America…Much as they tried to, the Mormons did not live in a Geo-political vacuum.

            My use of the term prophetic mantel was generalized to mean anyone claiming to see the future (I don’t affirm that anyone can in a supernatural way, biblical figures or otherwise). I was merely pointing out that while William Lloyd Garrison’s vision for America’s future started off more radical than Young’s on this topic, it turned out to be much closer to what eventually came about..and Garrison wasn’t claiming to be a prophet.

  4. Most Mormons and most of their teachings seem to be pretty good.

    However I do not like how Mormons, (like many religious denominations) are divisive and condescending of other religious denominations/faiths. Mormons like all religions have skeletons in their closets. I think it’s hypocrisy.

    LDS tout that their church is the only “true” church because it is “restored”, the book of Mormon is the only “true” gospel because it is “restored” and that their priesthood is the only “true” priesthood because it is “restored”

    I cringe and my skin crawls every time they praise Brigham Young. Brigham Young clearly was a racist and seems to have only changed his position to save his own skin. I can’t understand how and why they hold Brigham Young in such high esteem. Brigham Young seemed to be a hate and fear monger. He seemed to have some violent genocidal tendencies. I get the impression that Brigham Young was a sociopath. They seem to have whitewashed and romanticized the accounts of Brigham Young in the typical
    modern-day church teachings.

    If the church and priesthood were restored and true, it fell away under Brigham Young. Churches and clergy are people that have faults and sin. I think it’s wrong for the LDS to be so divisive and condescending/hypocritical.

    I don’t know of any direct connection to Brigham Young, but I suggest others research the “Mountain Meadow Massacre”. I think Brigham Young’s hate speech’s may have contributed to paranoia, delusions and violent behavior.

    A Mormon militia allegedly; disguised as Indians (Native Americans) attacked a wagon train of emigrants bound for California. The Mormon militia under a white flag negotiated the surrender of the emigrants and agreed to give the pilgrims safe passage, then the emigrants were murdered in cold blood. Allegedly about 120 people were murdered in cold blood and only a few children were spared.

    At the time of Brigham Young (territory of Utah) was at war with the United States. I get the impression that the Mormons were trying to start a race war between Indians (Native Americans) and the United States.

    Brigham Young advocated “blood anointment” violent enforcement of some of the church laws. Brigham Young seemed to indicate that the penalty for interracial marriage could be death.

    Suggest googling and reading.
    Brigham Young’s Speech on Slavery, Blacks, and the Priesthood

    Please note that most if not all Mormons have renounced such practices. But I’m still spooked that they could hold someone like Brigham Young in such high esteem.

  5. Thanks Jana. A great article. It’s important that we recognize that brothern were and are only human. Their backgrounds and customs did, and will continue to effect church policy. As leaders in the church, they are often called to make decisions, and they do the best they can, based on their own experience. This important realization has made all the difference to me in maintaining my sanity in the gospel.

    • Jana Riess

      Thanks, Paul! Very helpful corrections. I’m glad you are publishing this and will look forward to the article. Also, I am going to make this a “featured” comment so your important note does not get buried.

      Readers: Paul Reeve is the author of “Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness,” forthcoming from Oxford. He teaches history at the University of Utah.

  6. Not sure…I’ve read your post a couple times through…..do you conclude the restriction on priesthood was valid and from the Lord…or are you surmising the restriction was the result of Brigham Young’s racist views of the day….???

    • Can only speak for myself, but about five years ago I did my best to explain “Why I Don’t Believe That God Instituted The Priesthood Ban”

      http://latterdayspence.blogspot.com/2009/06/why-i-dont-believe-that-god-insitituted.html

      Of course the latest best explanation of the ban in its context comes from the Church website:

      https://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng

      • I’d like to support the belief the restriction was from God. Not just the racist idea of Brigham Young.

        First, Brigham Young announced this in 1852, it was sustained by his two counselors and the 12 apostles, according to scripture they unitedly supported / sustained it. As we do in the church…we received it “as if from the Lord’s own mouth”.

        Second, every president of the church since Brigham Young continued the policy. And every apostle continued to sustain it.

        Third, most who did speak publicly about changing it, all said it would be by revelation from the Lord. The reasoning said it would be by revelation …..because they all knew it was a revelation from the Lord that instituted it.

        Fourth, it was changed by a revelation, not only to the president of the church, but unitedly to the quorum of the 12 and first presidency. Bruce R. McConkie of the 12 who was present…..said..”the Lord in his providences poured out the Holy Ghost upon the First Presidency and the Twelve in a miraculous and marvelous manner, beyond anything that any then present had ever experienced. The revelation came to the president of the Church; it also came to each individual present. “

        • HarryStamper, it sounds like you want to hold on to a belief that flies in the face of all the historical literature and research. You are, of course, entitled to believe whatever you want, but wanting to believe it doesn’t make it true. Facts are stubborn things. (Did you even read the Church’s statement I linked to above?)

          • Yes, I’ve read your blog post from 2009 , by the way, you write very well, well written…….and I have read the recent Press release by the church on Race and the Priesthood. Couple things, most experienced people in the church knew the priesthood restriction was a policy and not a doctrine. The rank and file did not understand this. I agree the misinformation ran rampant from the beginning of all of this 1852 on. All the key people who spoke so much on this, for example Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie knew they were speaking their own opinion and they knew it was not church doctrine or policy. The problem is it all was repeated so much it became a defacto doctrine.

            I believe the Church article and ” race and Priesthood” clarifies and disavows all the explanations surrounding the priesthood ban. For example, less valiant, fence sitters, curse of Cain or curse of Ham etc…..whatever. It disavows all that but does not disavow the ban. The Lord inspired Brigham Young to announce this policy and the brethren unitedly supported it. There was no explanation for the ban. All explanations surrounding it were opinions and speculation.

            You quoted Bruce R. McConkie, August 1978 speech at BYU regarding it, good stuff, I was there…he said it best….”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…….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.”

        • Harry, I’m actually replying to your next comment, which for some reason I can’t reply to. I don’t believe the policy-doctrine distinction actually holds water. I think over the years, as the priesthood ban became less popular, it evolved from “doctrine” to “policy.” There’s the 1949 official statement from the First Presidency on the “Negro Problem” which clarified that “it is not a matter of declaration of policy but of direct commandment from the Lord.” Don’t think you can get more clear than that. George Q. Cannon: “President Young held to the doctrine that no man tainted with negro blood was eligible to the priesthood; that President Taylor held to the same doctrine, claiming to have been taught it by the Prophet Joseph Smith.” I assume you would not include the First Presidency and George Q. Cannon as “the rank and file.”

          I believe David O. McKay was the first to officially refer to it as a policy or practice, and Spencer W. Kimball followed suit. It was absolutely taught as doctrine for years in the Church. Until it wasn’t. If it was merely policy, why did everyone think revelation was needed to change it?

          Just so you know, I am an active, recommend-holding member of the church. I believe the gospel is true. But it is pretty clear to me that the ban was a result of human error. Because prophets are human! I’ve got no problem with it. And it’s a bit perplexing to me that so many members do.

          • Hi Fred….thanks for the comments. Yes, I agree basically with some of your thoughts, sometimes we are splitting hairs, with doctrine, policy and procedure commentary. But, nevertheless…let me try…….The doctrine of the priesthood, it’s absolutely necessary to obtain it for full salvation….D&C 84: 33 “For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods…” that’s the doctrine….the policy / procedure for blacks delayed their obtaining the priesthood until 1978. But..the principles and requirements are the same for all. As Brigham Young said in 1852 announcing the ban…he said the day will come when it will be lifted and the blessings and more will come. Some called it doctrine, and as you pointed out so well…later, perhaps more correctly called it policy or procedure.

            Above you said..” pretty clear to me that the ban was a result of human error”….you also quoted the “1949 official statement from the First Presidency on the “Negro”……..it said…..” direct commandment from the Lord.” You then said…” Don’t think you can get more clear than that.”…you seem to speaketh with fork tongue…:):)
            Your helping to prove my point…the 1949 First Presidency statement was clear.

          • Well, much of what is in the 1949 statement has now been officially disavowed by the church as false teachings (the African race being cursed, less valiant in pre-mortal life), so I don’t think it’s very valuable as a way to prove that the priesthood ban came from the Lord. I was merely using it to demonstrate what the prevailing attitude toward the ban was at the time.

            Ultimately it’s a matter of personal belief, and there’s probably no “proof” that’s going to change anyone’s mind. To me it was such a bad thing I can’t believe it came from God (and “Race and the Priesthood” confirms this for me); you can’t believe that Brigham Young, as prophet, could institute something like that without divine input (and “Race and the Priesthood,” by not actually saying the ban didn’t come from God, confirms that for you). I personally think the church worded “Race and the Priesthood” carefully so that both types of believers could read it and be satisfied that they are right!

  7. matthew crandall

    Great post, well written. I wrote an article on the same topic a few weeks ago, perhaps it will be of interest to some of the readers here. http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2014/01/28/when_mormons_fail.html

    • Jana Riess

      Matthew (and everyone) — this is a terrific post. Very balanced. I would particularly call attention to this excellent concluding paragraph:

      “The LDS people are not perfect and neither are their leaders. This has led in the past and most likely the future, to teachings and policies that were made with ‘limited understanding.’ In short, the LDS church’s priesthood ban has taught us a very important lesson, one that Abraham Lincoln taught us long ago. We should not assume that God is with us; rather we should ask ourselves whether we are with God.”

  8. I have no problem with prophets being wrong. But and it’s a big but. In the examples you give from the bible, our leaders a quickly corrected, even Joseph Smith was corrected. I don’t see these corrections to day, lest they come after many years and under pressure, from members or outside forces.

    • Dan, there are some other examples from the Bible with much longer-term corrections. The problem of the rediscovery of Deuteronomy comes to mind, as also Ezekiel’s “correction” to Deuteronomy.

      • Jana Riess

        Ben, that’s an interesting point about Deuteronomy. If we believe the text literally, then we’re looking at about 600 years (yes? correct me if this is wrong) between when the text was supposed to have been written down and when Josiah’s reforms were instituted. And even those weren’t effective beyond Josiah’s own lifetime.

        Six hundred years is a pretty long time for God to allow an entire society to go off the rails unless God cares more for human agency than for “quick” correction of any erroneous doctrine and/or practice we might have fallen prey to.

  9. I guess the issue for most Latter-Day Saints is that they grew up in an era that taught them in no uncertain terms that Prophets don’t err. Now they find out that not only do Prophets err, those errors can be passed down from generation to generation. So why didn’t the Lord correct the error sooner? The blessing of having a prophet is that errors can be corrected quickly so that 120 years of Dark Skinned people are not denied the priesthood, denied the temple blessings and even denied the opportunity to go on a mission. The 1969 first presidency message regarding blacks is a statement from the first presidency, speaking as the mouthpiece of God. In it, it clearly states that Negro’s not receiving the priesthood was a revelation that all presidents of the church taught correctly. It points out that it dates back to the pre-mortal state. When the church now comes out and says it was racism by a prophet and not a revelation, how do you connect all those dots? Why did the Lord permit that first presidency message to the whole church? It wasn’t just Brigham, it was every prophet after that even until at least 1969. I think the challenging thing for Latter-Day Saints now is to wonder, what other things have been falsely promulgated over time? Certainly the Word of Wisdom has dubious origins, never has it be changed from a greeting to a commandment in the scriptures, will that holy grail be changed in the future also? The Temple ceremony has been changed dramatically over time, was it not given correctly to Joseph Smith originally? I think it was, so perhaps all the changes and cuts to it are the changes of men. God is an unchanging God! Just sincere questions…

  10. Jana, As a Catholic college student in the early 1970′s, I investigated the church prior to the revelation on the priesthood. The accusation of racism was a serious concern. I studied not only the doctrine but the attitude and demeanor of the members for two and a half years and discovered embedded in the fabric of Latter-day Saint culture NONE of the bitterness, anger and hatred that seems always associated with racism. To me, that is very telling. It was explained in a matter of fact manner that they did not know the reasons for the restriction but that one day blacks would hold the priesthood, and more importantly, none of the eternal blessings available to others would be withheld from any of the faithful. They were right. As a missionary we would typically say, “we do not know when blacks will hold the priesthood, it could happen tomorrow”. As a missionary in 1978, it happened. There was then and is now much joy as a result. No regrets after four decades.

    • Great personal experience….I appreciate the balance. But the point of the article was to point out Brigham Young as a racist and taught the doctrine of men. The members that followed the racist are all good and nice. It’s a wonder they still quote Brigham Young in conference and still use the Brigham Young priesthood manual.

      • I’ll take a stab at that. First, the fact that Brigham Young was a racist doesn’t mean he wasn’t a prophet and shouldn’t be respected as such, especially since that racism was the standard attitude of his time. As best we can tell, Paul had no problem with the institution of slavery, at least he never condemned it while he was writing of our equality in Christ. Does that mean we should disregard everything Paul had to say? Is Paul not still a prophet from who we draw a great deal of our theological understandings?

        Second, you can’t lay that blame solely on Brigham Young’s shoulders. Yes, he was the one that instituted the priesthood ban, but as far as I know none of the other General Authorities resisted it. And they weren’t shy about opposing Young when they thought he was wrong, either, as shown by the whole Adam/God issue. There, Young was opposed by a number of the General Authorities, including the Pratt brothers and his eventual successor, John Taylor. And Young lost that debate, all without using his position as president of the Church to quash his opponents. I would say that the fact that there apparently wasn’t similar opposition to the priesthood ban means the rest of the GAs either agreed with Young or didn’t think it was important enough to make a fuss about. So it isn’t just Young that was at least complicit in the ban, it was the entire upper Church leadership of the time.

        • Hey Doug…nice comments..thank you…I was being facetious in my comments. I’m sure as Jana surmises, I’m a supporter of Brigham Young and believe the restriction was directly authorized by the Lord. I’ll post why later.

          • I tend to favor the side that holds that Young set the policy himself, but either way that doesn’t answer why the policy stayed in place as long as it did.

    • Not sure what that has to do with the price of rice? But I guess I will comment in this way, God talks directly to his prophets and it’s God’s church, so why he let us live an error for so long was my point and affect so many for so long? Don’t know that the Missouri Legislature is his body to run…imperfect and evil men are always allowed to run their domains. If the church was an authority over the legislature, then I would likely ask the same question. Of course no one has ever been reportedly killed due to the Boggs order so no one was technically affected, whereas, who knows how many people of color were affected by the Error!

    • Michael Riggs

      Bob B, are you trying to equate in anyway the suffering of African Americans through hundreds of years of enslavement followed by Jim Crow with the paltry persecution of the 19th century LDS Church? Seriously?

      To answer your rhetorical question about why it took so long to reverse Gov. Bogg’s Extermination Order…it was because nobody even thought to see if it ever had been repealed until an RLDS member (Lyman Edwards) on a lark decided to see. When he couldn’t find where it had been repealed, he brought it to the attention of Gov. Kit Bond who used the issue to make a little political hay for himself with the Republican LDS Church members. I spoke at a historical conference held at the Missouri State Capital in 2006 where Bond told the story.

  11. What is more disturbing to me isn’t that Brigham Young started the ban, but that it wasn’t lifted until 1978. Many prophets since BY said they went to the Lord and were told that it wasn’t time to lift the ban. Some folks believe it was due to societal pressure that the ban was lifted, but if that were the case, it would’ve been lifted by the mid-1960s when you had the race marches and riots. While we don’t know all the answers, the Lord’s hand might have still been in it. We just don’t know why. Maybe He was saving African Americans from even more misery. After all, both the blacks and Mormons were so badly persecuted in the U.S., that black Mormons would have been doubly persecuted.

  12. My reference to Executive order 44, is only to demonstrate that with men many things take time. I’m sure you recall why the children of Israel were required to wander (and yes suffer) for 40 years. Through the atonement, all tears will be wiped away, perfect justice and mercy will prevail. The Lord (whose vengeance it is) will deal with unjust men and women. We mere mortals are required to forgive to be forgiven ourselves. This also means we must eliminate any bitterness, anger, hatred distain, disbelief etc. we have for any reason. Happy Easter everyone.

  13. There is so much to write about, but I’m going to try and stay focused.

    The following link is a speech that Bringham Young gave concerning the curse
    of Cain and blacks in the Mormon priesthood. Specifically paragraphs 2 and 3.

    Bringham Young Speech on Slavery, Blacks and the Priesthood (from the LDS Church Historical Department)

    www.utlm.org/onlineresources/sermons_talks_interviews/bringham1852feb5_priesthoodandblacks.htm

    Bringham Young claimed that black skin was the curse of Cain. Read Genesis chapter 4 verses 10 through 16 and you will discover that the mark that was put on Cain wasn’t a curse. The curse was that the ground would no longer cooperate with him and that he would be a restless wanderer. In verse 16 we discover the mark was to protect him from being killed. There was no curse of black skin.

    And if you are familiar with the account of the flood you will understand that whatever races there were up to that point, they were all wiped out except that of Noah, whatever his color of skin was.

    The Mormon doctrine that black skin is the curse of Cain is Scripturally groundless. In fact, Scripture proves that doctrine to be a lie.

    And if you read the second paragraph of the link above you will find that Bringham Young didn’t know who was older–Cain or Abel.

    Not only did Bringham Young, the second prophet of the Mormon religion, contradict Scripture…he was ignorant of the Scriptures.

    What else did he, and Mormonism, teach that is a lie?

    http://downtownministries.blogspot.com/

  14. The idea of the “curse” and the “mark” associated with black skin as the curse of Cain is found nearly 2000 years ago in Syrian Christianity. These were the Syriac-speaking Christians of Mesopotamia. The split between the Northern and Southern Baptist organizations arose substantively over slavery. At that time Baptist groups used black skin and the curse of Cain as a justification for slavery. Some 19th and 20th century Baptist ministers in the Southern United States taught that there were two separate heavens; one for blacks, and one for whites Baptists have taught or practiced various forms of racial segregation well into the mid-to-late-20th century. Only in 1995, (17 years after Mormons again began to ordain blacks to the priesthood) did the Southern Baptist Convention officially denounced racism and apologized for its past defense of slavery.The opinions of Brigham Young may well have been influenced by a couple of slave owning Baptist converts to Mormonism. In the U.S. and Europe the curse of Cain was referenced to support a ban on ordaining blacks to most Protestant clergies until the 1960s. Also, some Catholic dioceses in the pre-Civil War Southern US had a policy of not ordaining blacks to administer the Sacraments to or accept confessions from whites. There is more, downtown Dave, but if you are Baptist, Protestant, or Catholic, you don’t want to hear it. Absent electronic microphones and recording devices, there were undoubtedly numerous errors in the recording of the words of Brigham Young. Dyslexia was not invented in the 1970’s. If you are as sincere as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is about serving humanity, you will get it behind you, downtown Dave.

  15. “Prophets do not need to be perfect to be prophets.” Amen.

    Yes, Brigham Young had racist attitudes common to his day. Does that therefore mean he was uninspired in leading the persecuted Saints to safety in the west? Moses permitted slavery in his day. Was Moses therefore not inspired?

    I am personally glad for the fact that spiritually broken people who are sometimes deluded about some things, can actually be inspired at other times and still enjoy the presence of God in their life. I call it Grace. And yes, it is amazing. Where would any of us be without Grace? How could the human race progress if perfection were a pre-condition to revelation?

    Jesus was the only perfect person, and we know what the world did to Him.

    We say we believe in Grace, and yet we love to dwell on others faults. Why? When it comes to history, I think we fall into this trap for two basic reasons (doubtless there are others):

    First, we entertain shallow, cartoon-like expectations of religious people, especially leaders. Then we over-react when reality doesn’t match our caricature. Excepting Jesus, no good leader has never been, nor ever will be perfect. Life has never been nor ever will be a black-and-white cartoon. We will always struggle with complex, uncertain problems amidst conflicting pressures.

    Second, we want to think our values are superior and therefore not subject to debate. We therefore distance ourselves from others in history whose flaws embarrass us. Historians have a nice word for this fallacy called Presentism (look it up on Wikipedia). But I think it boils down to Arrogance. Arrogance makes us blissfully blind to our faults and keenly sensitive to others’ faults. I believe each generation makes roughly the same number of mistakes as the previous generation. It’s just that it is a different set of mistakes.

    A hundred years from now people are going to write disturbing expose’s about the good people living now. And these damning histories will be right, to some extent. Let’s just hope future historians do not overlook our good qualities too.

    Revelation is not an Olympic prize, awarded to the most “worthy” and morally upright soul on the planet. People can be inspired despite their faults, and that’s a good thing. Whether its an Old Testament prophet, a latter-day apostle, or just an ordinary person like me, inspiration is ultimately a matter of Grace.

    • Dr. King, enjoyed your perspective and agree. The issue I’m grappling with is not if Prophets are fallible, of course they are because they are men. The issue is connecting the dots between a) The prophet will not lead the church astray b) The church following Brigham’s erroneous teachings for 130 years c) Uchdorf’s recent message that men run the church so mistakes will be made d) J. Fielding Smith saying that the church is run by Jesus Christ not by men and is what I like to believe. So—-why would Christ not tell the next prophet that Brigham got us off track and correct it? IF the answer is the Lord was ok with the error, for a time, for some reason only known to him, then it was not an error by default, it was the will of God! But since the church came out recently and said it was an error, Brigham was a racist, sorry bout that, corrected the heading to Official Declaration, said Joseph ordained men of color, then church doctrine is now that it was an error and not the will of God! So why was the will of God not followed if he is directing the Church through Christ and Christ’s mouthpiece on earth, the prophet? Did Christ try to tell every prophet from Brigham until Spencer Kimball and none of them would listen to the prompting until Kimball? Does this extend a prophet’s fallibility to receiving revelation for the church? And if that is the case, doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole purpose of the Office of Prophet, Seer and Revelator?

      • Hi Roger,

        For me the overall question is: Why would the Lord ever “reveal” something less than perfect? I think this question includes the racism issue and other historical issues. I don’t have great answers, but I’ll share my thoughts:

        I think the Lord sometimes withholds knowledge from his people because they are not ready for it. When Moses came down from Mt Sinai he gave his people a lesser law, not the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I understand it, because the people were not “ready” for the fullness of the gospel, they got the Law of Moses. In other words, they were too stuck on their old religious ideas to accept something better. Moses probably knew better but was resigned to working with his people at their current level. And look how many generations passed before the gospel of Jesus Christ was openly taught.

        At other times the Lord reveals principles but waits a while before requiring the Saints to live by them. For example, the Word of Wisdom was revealed in 1838, but I don’t think personal compliance (as we understand the Word of Wisdom today) become a prerequisite for temple participation until roughly half a century later. And sometimes the Lord apparently reveals things we simply cannot understand. (I don’t know if I’ll ever appreciate, for example, why Hosea was commanded to take a prostitute to wife.)

        In my opinion, the reason the Lord waited so long before correcting the church’s position on ordaining blacks was that the general membership was not “ready” for it. (I want to emphasize I am expressing my personal opinion here.) We were like the Israelites in Moses’ day, unwilling to accept the fullness of the gospel. I’m not saying everyone was an outright bigot. Most suffered from more subtle forms of racism absorbed from the larger American culture. Until the 1960s came along, otherwise good people were hardly aware of their own prejudices. By and large, I think members’ attitudes aligned closely with those of other white Americans in their time. I grew up in California. I never saw segregated schools or public facilities. My high school had a very large group of kids from Spanish-speaking homes, but I remember only kid who was black. And he was popular. For me, racism was not my problem or so I thought. Looking back as an adult, I realized I sometimes made racial comments — not often, but time to time. I don’t know where I learned those attitudes. My point is, I don’t think I was a raging bigot. I was a pretty good kid who adopted some bad attitudes along the way from my community without realizing they were bad. I think a lot of people in the church were like that. Racism was subtle, not obvious.

        I was genuinely happy when the church allowed blacks to be ordained to the priesthood.

        Why does the presence of racism surprise anybody? If the subject were marital infidelity or lying or whatever, would people act shocked? People are sinful. Every civilization and religion I have ever studied has struggled with racism. Racism is a terrible snare for everyone and is right is up there with the other deadly sins. Does adopting a holier-than-thou attitude help or hurt the problem?

        I think the church as a body is moving beyond this. I live in a very interesting ward that’s about 40% minority. Active members include blacks, Polynesians, whites, and a few other races. Church for me is not the typical, white suburban ward I grew up with. I enjoy seeing the different smiling faces and sometime different styles of dress. We treat each other like brothers and sisters.

        I apologize for the long response, but I wanted to share a related thought. I believe the Constitution was an inspired document. But as original written, it had racist fingerprints all over it. Again, the problem was that some people were unwilling to live up to American ideals. The conflict of slavery came to a head during the Civil War. Lincoln was perhaps the most irreligious of all presidents, yet he spoke reverently during the Second Inaugural Address of God’s hand in the terrible war. He couldn’t explain how Northerners and Southerners who “read the same Bible and pray to the same God” could kill each other so readily. But he still concluded that “the Almighty has His own purposes.” For Lincoln, God’s hand was a mysterious but palpable presence in the political and military events of his day. He focused on the progress, not the past. He advocated “charity for all and malice towards none.” I feel the same way about the latter-day history of the priesthood. I can’t rationalize it. But I believe God’s hand still guides the church.

        • Dr. King, again, good points to ponder. Since 1978, the teaching that members were likely the issue, as we were not ready to accept it is certainly widespread. I don’t know the origination of the teaching, but this is certainly plausible as part of the explanation. Members drive policy quite often. We see the church becoming much softer on the Gay Marriage issue with gay member suicide rates skyrocketing and protesting by the gay community. We have watched the Temple Ceremony change due in part or wholly because Members being uncomfortable with aspects of it. However, I’m not sure if your examples of Moses giving the children of Israel the lesser law completely gets there for me. Not nitpicking, just trying to settle things for myself, but it is one thing to give them the lesser law, it is another thing to let people live and teach an error made by a prophet of God, at least in my mind. What we do know is Uchtdorf’s statement was clear, “I suppose the church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and his doctrine is pure. But he works through us — his imperfect children — and imperfect people make mistakes.” This sure sounds like God’s doctrine and Gospel is perfect, but the church is not because imperfect beings are running it, us! I think most members who really think about his might stress out. Which is funny to me because you can’t read the BofM and not see the church fail from within over and over again…Pride Cycle. So many people in the church want to believe that everything that a prophet says is Christ’s exact words and desires, I was once in this boat on my mission and in my twenties.

          But in 1852 Brigham publicly, speaking as a prophet, set the church doctrine on blacks and we know now it was personal bias based on the culture and his upbringing, etc. That policy morphed into teachings of lesser valiance in the pre-mortal existence by blacks, cursed race, and full support by all predecessor prophets of withholding temple and priesthood blessings from African Americans. People begged and begged for official church doctrine on Coke drinking, for years. The prophet resisted for years. There is just a desire by church members for more rules and policies rather than simple personal prayer and a little bit of wisdom in my opinion. Does God really condemn a second earring or a tattoo or could he care less? We do know we had a prophet didn’t like them and now people will judge young women with multiple earrings now as less valiant or a tattoo as a sign of the devil. A bikini at the beach on a LDS girl is next to denying the Holy Ghost. Sad consequences in my opinion. I think Love and charity is what the Lord really wants in his church. My point is that I don’t have a problem with a prophet having pet projects or skewed teachings because the bottom line they are imperfect and as Uchtdorf said, that isn’t going to change until Christ reigns again. I have got to believe that a man called to be the prophet who had a son that was raped by a gay man and watched it ruin his son’s life could lead the church on a much harder stance on the gay issue than a man that was called as a prophet who had a gay son, saw the bullying, loved his son and knew he was a great person and man, etc. This may be an extreme example, but I can see each leading the church in different policy paths because of their life experience and I don’t think that takes God out of the picture.

          I don’t have a problem with Hosea being commanded to take a prostitute to wife….shows the Atonement power and demonstrates God’s forgiveness power. Christ didn’t condemn the woman caught in the very act of adultery, shows the speed in which he doesn’t care about that stuff and didn’t even say, you really dissappointed me, he just says, go thy way and sin no more, or at least try not to because I know you aren’t perfect and will sin again. Joseph Smith married other mens wifes…either God’s will or Joseph’s failing, but either way I get it. Lot and his daughters were saved by God because they were righteous, Lot loses his wife, so these righteous girls that God saves get their father drunk and sleep with him and it raises up a righteous branch…we get Moab then Ruth who was an ancestor to Christ from this crazy situation. Joseph Smith said, “Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.”

          • Roger,

            Different things are easier or harder for people to accept based on their experiences and values. I have enjoyed your comments. I hope you find peace in this matter.

            We have a tendency in the church not to question what a leader says but rather to rationalize and support it. This gives us great strength in unity, but can also cause us significant harm, like in this case. This error has hurt the church, but I believe in time God can heal our wounds.

            What is doctrine? I attend church each week, but I often filter what I hear. When I listen to a talk or lesson or a comment from a member, I ask myself whether this particular topic will help draw me closer to God or help improve my life in some way such as a personal relationship. If I can’t readily answer Yes, I mentally label the topic as interesting (perhaps) but unimportant. To me, the jewels of the gospel are the Atonement of Christ, His resurrection, His love for mankind, and the worth of souls. I see other auxiliary doctrines like the Second Coming, the dispensations, the spirit world, the three degrees of glory, etc. more as thematic outlines than an exact itinerary of events. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a person will insist they know more than what is warranted. (For example, when I was a youth I heard a seminary teacher say the 2nd Coming would be in the year 2000.) I take such words with a large measure of salt. And then there are highly speculative subjects about which the scriptures provide only vague indications. When people talk about that stuff, I simply tune them out. (I’d rather discuss the Sermon on the Mount than the obtuse cosmic problems that my fellow High Priests sometimes pose in group meetings.) The church’s position on the priesthood belonged to that speculative category.

            When teaching, I try to stick to the subject as outlined in the manual (I didn’t always do this but I see the wisdom of it now.) When discussing beliefs, I try to remember that it is usually better to be loving than right, particularly when discussing something that is not a core principle.

            I wish you well.

  16. Raymond Takashi Swenson

    If you know who your 19th Century ancestors were, and have any substantial record of what they thought and said, it is highly likely they will have had some kind of racial or ethnic prejudice. Animosity toward Jews and Catholucs, American Indians and Mexicans and Chinese was common among our ancestors. Lincoln’s own thoughts on the egal rights of blacks developed as he saw their courage in fighting for the freedom of their fellow former slaves. People attack the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for not changing its priesthood ordination policy until 1978, but the entire nation, both North and South, had institutional racism in its laws and its universities and state governments until 1964 and beyond. Labor unions were segregated, as was professional sports. Television had few black stars or news reporters. People not aware of this.legacy are ignorant or hypocrites.

    Brigham Young was clearly less prejudiced against American Indians than most Americans of his day. The Indians appreciated that, too. Young assigned missionaries to teach and recruit Indians to the LDS Church, the most fampus missionary being William Hamblin.

    Young also sent missionaries to convert the native Hawaiians, and BYU Hawaii is a legacy of those efforts.

    In 1876, the Japoanese ambassador and his staff were en route from San Francisco to Washington, DC when the mountain passes were closed by avalanches. Young entertined the ambassador’s party for a month.
    Missionaries were finally sent to Japan in 1901, at a time when prejudice against Japanese was high in the US.

    So somehow Young was kind to people who were actively reviled by many other Americans, right up through the 1950s and 1960s. Indians, Polynesiuans and Japanese have been second class citizens in America, but Young sought to include them in his church. He was much less racist than many of his of

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  18. Racist is an insult. Racialist is the word you’re looking for. Yes BY was a racialist, like 100% of the population then, and 100% today. Please stop throwing insults around and projecting your inadequacies. I don’t care about you and your life, and you’re just using some dead and famous person’s name to boost your self-esteem. Bye now.

  19. Brigham Young was a slave owner, we used to talk a lot about it in LDS Seminary back in 81 82 and 1983, a few year ago I worked with a woman who’s great great grandmother was owned by Brigham Young, I’ve gone to her house and read her foremothers journal’s

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