William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On The Issue Of Criticism By Racists Of The LDS Church's Denial Of The Priesthood To Blacks

The comment was made:

"Authors of nearly every news story that discusses Africa, Church growth, or African American Mormons, seem to feel the need to bring up 1978 in depth. Maybe this is acceptable. It is, after all, a part of our history. What I object to is the tone of many of these articles, but oh well.

My question is this: when did the other American churches begin to allow blacks to fully participate in their leadership? How many were actually segregated, while LDS wards were not? In fact, baptist congregations are still among the most segregated in the country (see: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/7...g2.html?cat=47), althought voluntarily, and many religions continue to lack significant black leadership. Why is 1978 always brought up with us, but policy changes are rarely if ever brought up with other churches. Is it because it was a definitive date at which this changed, while other churches kind of fazed it in?

My point is that virtually ALL religions and churches have changed their approach to minorities, particularly blacks in the US. (As a point of fact, Jesus Christ changed his church's policy toward whites.) But the LDS continue to be hounded about their "overnight" change in policy.

As a side note, I personally believe the ban on the priesthood was a cultural, and not doctrinal policy, but that is my opinion. However, I loved Elder Sitati's quote in the trash tribune today:

It does not bother him that the church barred blacks from the priesthood until 1978.

"Christ came only to the Jews and not until the end of his mission did he commission the apostles to go to all the world," he said. "Different communities are invited to participate in the plan of salvation at different times. What is important is that the salvation to which they are invited is the same. It doesn't matter that the Jews were the first, if you like, and the Africans are the last."

Oh . . . and

Most of the current anti-Mormon attacks are imported from America, Sitati said. "Some people who are trying to protect their own faith spread bad stories about Mormonism. There is no indigenous hostility to the church."

To which I responded:

I have no sympathy for any racist who complains about the Church's practices regarding blacks and the priesthood. Hypocrites hardly have a leg to stand on.

That being said (and with the disclaimer that I am not an expert on the history on this subject), it is my belief that an examination of history will show that, although the LDS church was not at all alone in its failure to grant equal rights in the church to black members, there probably were quite a few religious organizations who were much more progressive and afforded blacks equal rights much earlier than the LDS church did. Also, many of the critics of the LDS church's history with blacks are not themselves racist and had no part in their own organization's history of discrimination. Those people may be, but are not necessarily, hypocrites. They would only be hypocrites if their own organization claimed doctrinal inerrancy but had a racist history. Most evangelicals do not belong to a coherent religious organization with a top-down institutionalized structure. They may come from a generalized "baptist," "methodist," or "pentacostal" background, but they do not generally have leaders who claim the right to exclusive prophetic revelation/authority on behalf of the world at large.

What gets the LDS church in trouble is the simultaneous claim of doctrinal inerrancy and the historical discrimination against blacks. (And anyone who maintains that the "policy" of not giving blacks the priesthood was non-doctrinal apparently has not read the sermons of Brigham Young and Mark E. Peterson). I am not aware of the LDS church ever having admitted error in any of its doctrines. Instead, it attempts to portray its current views at any given time as unquestionably error-free. When changes occur, it has the difficult obstacle of reconciliation. Various attempts to rationalize and reconcile doctrinal changes just leave us asking more questions.

The LDS church needs to face at least three facts, in my opinion:

1. For better or for worse, the true reason for ceasing the practice of polygamy in the late 1800s was not that God just happened to decide at that moment that the church should stop practiciing it, but rather that there was too much opposition from the powerful United States government.

2. The 1978 official declaration allowing male blacks to obtain the priesthood was not just because God happened to decide that "the time has now come" for blacks to have the priesthood, but rather that church leaders saw the writing on the wall: racism and discrimination are not reasonably supported by logic and reason, and the discriminative denial of the priesthood to blacks was a public relations nightmare for the church.

3. Admitting error by the LDS church, while it will inevitably shake the fragile faith of some people who apparently only have the ability to see things in black and white (no pun intended), will be much better off for the church in the long run and should instill in its leaders the humility that comes with understanding that we do not have all the answers and that some doctrines which we have long accepted as true may actually be erroneous.

*And in response to this comment, one person commented:

"William, there is a bigger problem here.

The LDS church is supposed to have prophets who communicate directly with God, who is really running the church.

Why did God, who is no respecter of culture, allow this ban to take place? And, even though his mouthpiece claimed that the blacks would not get the priesthood until all the sons of Adam, God caved?

Can you not see the difference between religions led by men who follow the culture of the times vs a church led by God?

Well, actually, neither can I. It sure appears that the LDS church is no more led by God than any other religion out there."

To which I responded:

Thanks for your input. I agree that these are major problems, but it seems you are implying that the LDS church cannot possibly be led by God any more than any other church if it denied blacks the priesthood. I respectfully disagree. Because humans including church leaders, are subject to prejudices just like the rest of us, they will err as we do. But I don't believe that necessarily proves that the church is without priesthood authority from God. What it does prove, in my opinion, is that there is no guarantee that church doctrine today is error-free. It also shows, in my opinion, that those who disagree with the church in good faith on a point of doctrine will not be punished God on the ground that their own conscience was at odds with the church. For my own part, I disagree with the church on many doctrinal points, but am willing to accept other doctrines which I feel truly speak peace to my soul. I realize others may have a different experience.

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