Misrepresenting Church leaders for fun and profit

I have a guest post regarding a fairly egregious misrepresentation of Elder L. Whitney Clayton’s BYU Commencement address.

I’ve noticed the same false claims on other anti- and ex-Mormon sites, which suggests that either none of these folks are bright enough to check the original citation, or they are intentionally distorting the record for their own purposes. Or, perhaps some of both is going on.


Cafeteria Christians

As General Conference begins, may I be preserved from any desire to be a “Cafeteria Christian.”

Our relationship to living prophets is not one in which their sayings are a smorgasbord from which we may take only that which pleases us. We are to partake of all that is placed before us, including the spinach, and to leave a clean plate!

Neal A. Maxwell, Things As They Really Are (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1978), 74.

Is delusional too strong a word?–Part II

Part II: Previous Remarks from Church Leaders

If Kelly wishes to stick to her guns and declare that anything Church Public Affairs says bears absolutely no relation to the Church’s official position on these matters, we could sigh heavily and pull out some recent—and not-to-recent—remarks from the leaders she claims to want to hear from.

Elder Neil L. Anderson

Elder Anderson directly addressed the question that Kelly and OW say they want an answer to:

Some may sincerely ask the question, “If the power and blessings of the priesthood are available to all, why are the ordinances of the priesthood administered by men?”

When an angel asked Nephi, “Knowest thou the condescension of God?” Nephi answered honestly, “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

When we speak of the priesthood, there are many things we do know.

We know that God loves all His children and is no respecter of persons. “He denieth none that come unto him, … male [or] female; … and all are alike unto God.”

As surely as we know that God’s love is “alike” for His sons and His daughters, we also know that He did not create men and women exactly the same. We know that gender is an essential characteristic of both our mortal and eternal identity and purpose. Sacred responsibilities are given to each gender….

While there are many things we do know about the priesthood, seeing through the lens of mortality does not always give a complete understanding of the workings of God.  But His gentle reminder, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” reassures us that with time and eternal perspective we will see things “as they really are” and more completely understand His perfect love.

We all willingly serve. Sometimes we feel underwhelmed with our calling and wish we were asked to do more. Other times we are grateful when it is time for our release. We do not determine the callings we receive.[1]

Elder Dallin H. Oaks

Elder Oaks’ remarks in April 2014 conference got a great deal of attention (if you haven’t read them, you should read them all). Kelly and many others, however, seem unaware that this is not a “new” take on things, or something novel. Elder Oaks taught virtually the same thing (though in less detail) more than twenty years ago:

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that the Prophet’s action opened to women the possibility of exercising “some measure of divine authority, particularly in the direction of government and instruction in behalf of the women of the Church.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1965, p. 5.) President Smith explained: “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, … that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. Authority and Priesthood are two different things. A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, p. 4.)….

Under the priesthood authority of the bishop, the president of a ward Relief Society presides over and directs the activities of the Relief Society in the ward. A stake Relief Society president presides and exercises authority over the function to which she has been called. The same is true for the other auxiliaries. Similarly, women called as missionaries are set apart to go forth with authority to teach the everlasting gospel, and women called to work in a temple are given authority for the sacred functions to which they have been called. All function under the direction of the priesthood leader who has been given the priesthood keys to direct those who labor in his area of responsibility.[2]

The answer that Kelly claims to want has been available the whole time.

Elder M. Russell Ballard

Elder Ballard likewise cautioned us against Kelly’s specific tactics more than twenty years ago:

In these latter days, we see people, increasing in number, who urge others to feel and voice dissent when frustration and hardship enter their lives. They would have us believe that the Church or its leaders are unfair to women, or that women are denied opportunities to realize their full potential within the gospel framework. Sisters, we know that the Church is made up of mortals, that priesthood leaders are fallible, and some may not always handle their stewardships with suitable sensitivity. However, I want you to understand this plain truth: the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the only way for women or men to achieve their full potential as children of God. Only the gospel can free us from the terrible effects of sin. Only by following God’s plan for us, with faith and determination to live ultimately in eternal families, can we qualify for eternal life in His presence. Ideally, the Church and the family do not inhibit our progress. They expedite it by putting our feet firmly on the gospel path that leads us back to God. We each have the privilege to carefully and prayerfully seek the Lord’s will for us regarding our individual challenges and dilemmas. Personal revelation is personal, indeed. It is not based on gender or position but on worthiness. It comes in response to sincere inquiry. However, revelation for the Church comes only through the Lord’s prophets, seers, and revelators.

In these confusing times, keeping our feet on the gospel path can be difficult. We hear many persuasive voices urging us to turn our backs on revealed truth and embrace the philosophies of the world.[3]

He also pointed out:

Let me also observe that none of the Twelve are shrinking violets. We each have strong personalities. So when we are unified in a decision, you can rest assured that we have counseled together and come to that decision after much prayer and thoughtful discussion. [4]

And, the leaders do not (contrary to Kelly’s caricature) need a massive sidewalk protest to help them realize that this is an issue:

I have heard that some people think the Church leaders live in a “bubble.” What they forget is that we are men and women of experience, and we have lived our lives in so many places and worked with many people from different backgrounds. Our current assignments literally take us around the globe, where we meet the political, religious, business, and humanitarian leaders of the world. Although we have visited the White House in Washington, D.C., and leaders of nations throughout the world, we have also visited the most humble homes on earth, where we have met and ministered to the poor.

When you thoughtfully consider our lives and ministry, you will most likely agree that we see and experience the world in ways few others do. You will realize that we live less in a “bubble” than most people.[5]

President James E. Faust

President Faust could have saved Kelly some tactics that could not work, had she listened. He spoke more than a decade ago:

Continuous revelation will not and cannot be forced by outside pressure from people and events. It is not the so-called “revelation of social progress.” It does not originate with the prophets; it comes from God. The Church is governed by the prophet under the inspiration, guidance, and direction of the Lord.[6]

Even if Kelly doesn’t believe this, she should at least be savvy enough to realize that those in charge do believe it, and so aren’t likely to respond well to her approach—as she was told over and over again.

Sister leaders too!

And, if Kelly even were to insist that she’ll only listen to women—no XY chromosomes allowed—even that message is available, were she willing to hear it. Said Sister Elaine S. Dalton, the general Young Women’s president:

Young women, you will be the ones who will provide the example of virtuous womanhood and motherhood. You will continue to be virtuous, lovely, praiseworthy, and of good report. You will also be the ones who will provide the example of family life in a time when families are under attack, being redefined, and disintegrating. You will understand your roles and your responsibilities and thus will see no need to lobby for rights.[7]

One really has to ask–what’s wrong with all of the above that makes Kelly think she hasn’t gotten an answer until now?



[1] Neil L. Anderson, “Power in the Priesthood,” Ensign (November 2013).

[2] Dallin H. Oaks, “The Relief Society and the Church,” Ensign (May 1992).

[3] M. Russell Ballard, “Equality Through Diversity,” Ensign (November 1993).

[4]M. Russell Ballard, “Be Still, and Know That I Am God,” CES Devotional for Young Adults, San Diego, California (4 May 2014).

[5]M. Russell Ballard, “Be Still, and Know That I Am God,” CES Devotional for Young Adults, San Diego, California (4 May 2014).

[6]James E. Faust, “Come Out of the Darkness into the Light,” CES Fireside for Young Adults (8 September 2002).

[7]Elaine S. Dalton (YW Gen Pres), “Prophetic Priorities and Dedicated Disciples,” BYU Devotional, 15 January 2013.

Church Public Affairs goes Rogue? Riiiight.

It is becoming strangely popular in Church dissident circles to claim that when the Church’s Public Affairs department speaks, this does not really reflect the opinions or positions of the prophets and apostles.

I know, I know. This is the same group who are often claiming that some apostle or other is power-mad and out of control, imposing his will willy-nilly (like making sure a dissident gets summoned to a disciplinary council). But this makes for a strange juxtaposition–an out-of-control Church department full of Church employees that the poor apostles simply cannot rein in or fire, while the apostles nearly simultaneously exert their autocratic influence into wards in Washington, DC or Logan, Utah staffed by volunteer clergy.

An odd claim, to say the least.

Section A: Statements from Church Public Affairs

Church Public Affairs has issued statements that make their role clear:

Church Public Affairs “does not act independently of church leadership,” spokesman Scott Trotter….“Official statements on the [LDS] church websites are approved at the highest level.” He added, “The church is naturally concerned when some members deliberately misrepresent its leaders and actions. In such cases, the church reserves the right to publicly correct the record.”[1]

In 2014, Michael Otterson (managing director of Church Public Affairs) wrote:

First, it’s important to understand that the Public Affairs Department of the Church does not freelance. For Public Affairs to initiate or take a position inconsistent with the views of those who preside over the Church is simply unthinkable, as anyone who has ever worked for the Church will attest.
As managing director of the Public Affairs Department, I work under the direct supervision of two members of the Twelve apostles, two members of the Presidency of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishop, and alongside a remarkable and devoted staff of men and women.
This group of senior General Authorities often refers matters of particular importance to other councils of men and women leaders, to the full Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and to the First Presidency for further discussion or decision.[2]

He elsewhere wrote:

Please also understand that no Church spokesperson…issues statements on behalf of the Church that are not either initiated or approved by members of the Twelve and, at times, by the First Presidency. We stand by the statement that was issued on their behalf, and which was accurate in every detail.[3]

Section B: Statements from Church Leaders

Ah, but my readers are a sagacious and clever bunch. “That’s just what a rogue Church PA office would say, isn’t it?”

Well, I salute to your powers of deduction, gentle reader. Bowing to your logic, I offer Elder Quentin L. Cook’s take on the matter:

It’s interesting. People who disagree with anything that is either sent by letter or put in the Newsroom, or however it’s done, can find interesting ways to say that it really doesn’t mean what it says.

You look back at the history of Wilford Woodruff’s announcement on polygamy in 1890 and there were still people quibbling about that for a long, long time.

The Church uses, the First Presidency and the Twelve use, whatever means will be most effective depending on what the issue is and who it affects. Most often that will be a letter to stake presidents and bishops, and it will be sent all over the world. But sometimes it’s for a particular area.

Sometimes we use news releases. Sometimes we use the Newsroom site to put those up, particularly with community issues that are important. When something is put up on the Newsroom or an announcement is made in a different way, that is the Church’s policy.

It’s interesting to me that the announcement that the priesthood would be available to all worthy male members regardless of race was a news release. Ultimately there was a letter sent out, but it was announced at a press conference with the Managing Director of Public Affairs. Some people have chosen to say they’re not going to believe it unless it’s in a letter. Others have said that the prophet will have to tell them personally. I think that kind of tells you where they are when they make those kinds of statements.

When something goes up on the Newsroom site, you can be sure that the approval process is such that those official statements have the complete support of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.[4]

Given the above, on second thought I think the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve could probably squash the sorts of claims we saw in section A–so my wise readers (all five of you–Hi, Mom!) should maybe not toss those out too quickly either.



[1] Peggy Fletcher Stack, “Some LDS conservatives now at odds with their church,” Salt Lake Tribune (28 April 2011).

[2] Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church Public Affairs), “Context missing from discussion about women,” letter (29 May 2014), 4

[3] Michael Otterson (Managing Director, Church public affairs), “Dear Sister Reynolds,” letter (April 2014).

[4] Quentin L. Cook, “Understanding Our External Environment,” Leadership Enrichment Series (23 February 2011).

Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 8

Joseph F. Smith:

Those who defend us, do so not infrequently with an apologetic air. The Saints are never safe in following the protests and counsels of those who would have us ever and always in harmony with the world. We have our particular mission to perform; and that we may perform it in consonance with divine purposes, we are running counter to the ways of man. We are made unpopular. The contempt of the world is on us, and we are the unloved child among the peoples of the earth.

– Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, edited by John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1919), 118.

Harold B. Lee:

Mark well those who speak evil of the Lord’s anointed, for they speak from impure hearts. Only the “pure in heart” see the “God” or the divine in man and accept our leaders and accept them as prophets of the Living God. …

Conference Report (October 1947): 67.

Boyd K. Packer:

It seems that there comes, each generation or so, a time when the faithful of the Church are under great criticism, even under attack. That has always been true of those who are under covenant to the Lord. As part of our way of life, we must expect, on occasion, to stand condemned by those outside the Church who oppose the standards the Lord has directed us to keep.

Occasionally one inside the Church joins the ranks of the critics. Beware of covenant breakers. It is one thing for nonmembers to criticize and attack the Church and its leaders. It is quite another when someone within the Church does so, after he has entered into solemn and sacred covenants to do otherwise. It makes a very big difference indeed….

Beware of covenant breakers, inside the Church and out. Beware of those who mock the prophets.

– Boyd K. Packer, “Ordinances,” The Things of the Soul (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 193-194 [Address given to 14-stake Brigham Young University fireside, 3 February 1980.]

(One Reason) Why I Love Brigham Young

I’ve let the ol’ blog go a bit to seed.

I’m really not what great bloggers are made of–too many seem to think that people want to read the least thing that drops from their lips.

(And, honestly, on the few blogs I follow that’s actually true–I do simply enjoy those writer’s company. They don’t have to be constantly dropping wisdom and bon mots; it’s a little like a college bull-session between classes. So, hopefully someone out there finds the same pleasure in a few minutes of my virtual company.)

Image But, it occurs to me that it is Brigham Young’s birthday today, and that has shaken me from my slumber. And, in stake conference we were encouraged again to engage in these types of conversations.

Brigham Young

Brigham was the second–and longest serving–leader of my faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He kept the Church together following the murder of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, and got them out of Illinois (and the United States) when citizens of that state and nation were trying to kill them, as other citizens had before.

Much has been said and written about and by Brigham–we have a much more robust record of his sermons and actions than we do of Joseph, for example. He was a powerful personality.

One thing that often gets lost, however, in accounts of Brigham is why he was as successful as he was.

Why was he–despite his rough edges, which were evident even to his contemporaries–almost universally supported, and even loved? Why did people follow him out into a desert, and persist despite persecution, famine, bad harvests, grasshoppers, Indian raids, US Army expeditions, and all the rest?

I found an account from my great-great-great-grandfather’s history that is little known outside the family, and I think it gives a window into part of the answer to that question.[1]

My grandfather’s background

He and his family lived outside of Nauvoo, and they were poor people:

My father was wont to go up to Nauvoo twice a year to attend conference, but never had the privilege of gathering with the saints until long after they were driven into the wilderness….The fact of our [327] being Mormons brought much persecution on our family of which I had my full share. Notwithstanding most of my playmates were relatives of one grade or another, mostly cousins on my mother’s side, I found myself early subjected to ridicule, taunts and many times to blows on this account. Our house was frequently stoned, the windows smashed in. Such was frequently the lawless and mobocratic spirit that prevailed in those days throughout the whole of the western country wherever a Latter-day Saint could be found….

…my father was taken with some disease which disabled him from working more or less for years, and we were as a consequence in poverty and distress, and this was the reason for not gathering with the Saints in Nauvoo….

Impending marriage

Isaiah discussed his love and impending marriage for a non-LDS woman, and noted:

[336] I had already caught the spirit of the gathering, and I knew that sooner or later it was my duty to gather with the Church….I at last laid my entire history before Elder Erastus Snow, one of the Twelve, and asked his counsel as to what I should do. He advised me to keep my engagement with Sarah, to marry her and leave the event with God….

Isaiah was teaching school in an area in which he was the only member. Despite being the only Mormon family, prejudice was sufficient to threaten his lifelihood:

[338]…Many of my patrons became highly incensed at the idea of their school teacher being a Mormon and began to withdraw their children from school and to clamor for my dismissal. I knew that eventually I should have to quit. About this time, an uncle of [my wife’s]…came on a visit….When he learned that I was a Mormon, his fury knew no bounds. Being a giant in physical proportions and strength, he seriously contemplated annihilating me utterly….[My wife] was afraid of him from the first, and when he threatened to follow me to the frontiers, if I started with her and to kill me wherever he found me, her mind that had all the time been wavering on the subject of accompanying me, was made up that she would remain. I told him flatly that I should go to Utah when spring opened and that I would take my wife with me if she wished to go.

In the meantime my once thriving school was now almost deserted, and I saw myself daily become more and more isolated from the community. Very few of my old friends stood by me in this trying hour. If my wife had been one with me I should not have minded it, for I had fully calculated on everything else; but she too was drifting away from me, and this it was that drove me almost to distraction. Still I labored on heartsick and weary until the 6th day of April when I went again to St. Louis to attend conference. While there I again sought the advice of Bro. Snow. After hearing me through he said, “You can have your choice of two things, either go on a mission to England to preach the gospel or go home to the valley. If you go to England your wife will likely repent while you are gone and be willing to go with you anywhere by the time you get back; if she sees you starting for the valley she may change her mind even at the eleventh hour and conclude to accompany you.”

After a night’s reflection on the subject, sleeping none, praying much, I decided to go with the emigration to Utah, be the final decision of my wife what it might. “Very well,” said Bro. Snow, “that is as I would have decided myself. It is the best thing you can do.”

Trip to Salt Lake

Isaiah’s wife did not decide to go with him.

[339]…when I came to part with my wife, my heart sank like lead within me. Henceforth, we were to see each other no more in this life…Hurrying away I entered the wagon that was waiting, buried my face in my hands, and looked not up again until [the town] and all its near and dear associations were left far behind. If I had not turned to a pillar of salt or ice, the sight of my beloved wife standing in the door would have melted my heart within me and I should have returned, and thereby braved the displeasure of the Almighty and perhaps have yielded little by little to the voice of the tempter until I, with her, should have been eternally lost and shut out form the presence of God and the holy Angels. The responsibilities resting upon me were too great. My father, brothers, and sisters tied hand and foot in Babylon with the iron chain of poverty, looked to me as a deliverer; they expected me to go ahead and open the way for them to come. A long line of ancestors who had died without the gospel in the ages past were calling to me with their spirit voices and bidding me go up and assist in rearing a temple wherein to officiate for them that they might come up and receive blessings equally with the living. And last, though not least was the consideration that I was obeying the voice of God and that I was taking a course that would secure my own glory and exaltation and that would eventually either in this life or that which is to come enable me to bind my wife to me in bands that could not be broken. She was blind then but the day would come when she would see….

[344] The year of my arrival in the valleys was one of hard times. The grasshoppers had preyed on the crops until starvation seemed to stare the people in the face. Grave apprehensions were entertained by many, of a famine. Being a thousand miles from the frontiers with no connecting railroad on which to bring supplies, we found ourselves thrown on our own resources of sustenance. Under the same circumstances any other people would have starved to death. But the Saints hearkened to the counsels of the prophet and were saved. A public feast was proclaimed every week and what was thus saved was distributed to the poor. Every man who had bread divided with his neighbor and thus the community was saved from the horrors [345] of famine. I heard of no instance of rich or well-to-do men taking advantage of the necessities of the poor. President Young himself set the example in this respect and dealt out to the people as long as any remained in his bins. Greens, wild roots, etc., were freely eaten by all classes so as to spin out the bread stuff until the harvest of [18]56….

Conclusion: Birth of a son and what followed

We come now to my point about Brigham. It’s taken a bit of time to get here, but you need the background to understand what comes next.

We’ve seen Brigham function on a broader scale–the territory-wide food shortage. But, he remains a somewhat remote figure, as he’d almost have to with thousands of members spread out over a huge area.

In spring of 1856, Isaiah learned that his estranged wife had given birth to his first child, a son.

…[345] I longed for the power of an immortal that I might transport myself in a moment to the side of my wife and babe. I felt as if I were caged, bound hand and foot and I struggled in spirit to free myself. And yet I was not sorry for what I had done. I could not however put out of my mind the intense longing to see my loved ones. It seemed as if I could not contain myself. While in this state of mind I one day met Bro. Erastus Snow and as he had always taken a very kindly interest in my welfare, I told him the news I had received and my feelings in relation to it. He advised me to go to President Young and lay the whole matter before him and then act on any counsel he might give me. I lost no time in adopting this advice.

During the whole of this recital [President Young] sat with one hand on my knee, looking in my face and listened attentively to what I had to say. At the close he took me by the hand in his fatherly way and said, “Bro. Coombs, you had better take a mission to the States this fall to preach the gospel and to visit your wife. Brother Snow had represented your case to me before. He is going to start on a mission to St. Louis in a few days and will be in charge. He would be pleased, I know, to have you as a co-laborer. Travel under his directions; visit your wife as often as you please; preach the gospel to her, and if she is worth having she will come with you when you return to the valley. God bless and proper you.” Such was the counsel of God’s prophet to me and I need not say that it sounded to my ears like the voice of my Father. It was sweet—-it was just what I had hoped he would say to me, and it was entirely satisfying to my soul. I felt as if I had suddenly been transported to the seventh heaven, so great was the joy that filled my bosom (emphasis added).

His wife never did accept Mormonism. Yet, Isaiah would love and honor Brigham for the rest of his life–and was eventually employed as one of Brigham’s clerks.

Here we have a young, poor member of the Church. He was not from Nauvoo; he did not move in the circles of Church power and influence. He doesn’t come in to the histories of the period.

His family was destitute, and still back in the east. He was, quite literally, a nobody—or, so you would think. But, Brigham evidently didn’t think so.

I think Brigham’s behavior and treatment of this troubled, unimportant young man speaks for itself. And, I think it shows why Isaiah and thousands of other Saints loved Brigham, and followed him to the ends of the earth.

So, whenever I hear someone criticize Brigham, I think of this story. And, I think my grandfather would have my hide if I ever turned on “Brother Brigham.”


[1] Kate B. Carter, ed., Isaiah M[oses] Coombs from His Diary and Journal (Salt Lake City, Utah: published by Daughters of Utah Pioneers through Utah Printing Company, n.d.). Page numbers have been inserted into my citations in square brackets.


“We don’t know” really does mean “we don’t know”

The Church has recently released some excellent resources on Church history and doctrine. There is a good summary of various accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, as well as the common canard from sectarian anti-Mormons claiming that we aren’t Christians.

The most recent release deals with the pre-1978 priesthood ban, which restricted blacks of African descent from holding the Church’s lay priesthood.[1]

The most unfortunate thing about the priesthood ban was the reasons which some leaders and members offered for the ban’s existence. This new resource repudiates these ideas:

Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church….

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….

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.

This repudiation is not new—various Church leaders have said the same over the years, but it is wonderful to have it on an official webpage approved by the First Presidency.[2]

A slight downside

Nothing good ever seems to be without its potential for abuse, however. Some have recently used this web page to declare that “the Church has admitted that the priesthood ban was a mistake due to racism.” That is, they insist that God had nothing to do with the ban’s beginnings, and fallible mortals had to finally decide to get rid of it.

But, this is precisely what the page does not do. And, it seems to me, it is quite careful not to do it:

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.

The justifications for this restriction echoed the widespread ideas about racial inferiority that had been used to argue for the legalization of black “servitude” in the Territory of Utah.

Note the careful separation of two issues:

  1. The origin of the policy of the restriction;
  2. The justifications offered for that policy.

This distinction is made repeatedly in the Church’s on-line materials. For example, a Church newsroom article labeled as an “Official statement” writes:

At some point the Church stopped ordaining male members of African descent, although there were a few exceptions. It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended….

Recently, the Church has also made the following statement on this subject:

The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.” (emphasis added)

Note again the separation between the “origin of” and “some explanations” for the priesthood ban. An earlier official statement said:

For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent.  It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.

We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.[3]

When the Church says that “it is not known precisely why…this restriction began,” that would seem to disprove the claims of some, who say that the Church has admitted that the ban originated because of Church members’ racism and was thus “a mistake.” If we knew that, then the Church would not say that the origins are “not known” and “not entirely clear.”

If it was racism, does this mean God was not involved?

For a moment, however, let us presume that those enthusiastic to blame racism for the ban’s origins (rather than the explanations, which were clearly rooted in racism) are correct.

Does this mean that God was not involved in the process? I do not think we can draw this conclusion too readily, though those who offer it are often keen that we do so.

For the sake of argument, let us presume that the ban had its origins in Brigham Young’s and his contemporaries’ racism. (We are here engaging in speculation, just as those who engaged in the racist speculation of the nineteenth century did. So, tread cautiously!)

Even if the ban had its origins in leaders’ racism, it does not follow that God was not involved in the process. If Brigham and other nineteenth century Mormons were racists, certainly most of American and European society was as well. The dynamics of race relations (which would contribute to America’s bloodiest war within a decade of the ban) in the United States must be borne in mind.

The Church’s progress could have been affected by the innate racism of western society. And thus, while God may not have wanted the ban to be necessary, and would have been happy to have it lifted at any time, He may well have recognized that the weaknesses of mortals in and out of the Church made it necessary—or, at least, a viable option among many.

Simply put, it may have been that a Church with a lay ministry, which did not segregate its congregations, would have had even more difficulties in the racially polarized American 19th century if blacks exercised spiritual authority over whites. My experience with some in the American South even today—and what others have told me of their experiences from a generation or two ago—suggest that this potential difficulty persisted well into the twentieth century.

It is thus possible that God commanded the ban as a type of “lesser of two evils,” in the racist 19th century. Or, alternatively, God could have used a ban that he did not initiate as a means of managing the racism which instigated it.

Evidence from later in Church history suggests that one of these scenarios is correct.

Later evidence

President David O. McKay was inclined to dispense with the ban, and prayed about the matter. He told 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.[4]

This evidence account leads us to one of four conclusions:

  1. President McKay lied about revelation to silence critics on the issue of the ban;
  2. President McKay projected his own racism onto God, perhaps subconsciously, thus allowing him to keep the ban in place;
  3. President McKay was mistaken about his revelation;
  4. The ban persisted not entirely (and perhaps not at all) because of past or present leaders’ racism, since God here has a leader willing and even anxious to dispense with the ban, but he is told not to.

Most members, I think, would reject options #1, #2, and #3. That leaves us, however, with option #4—whatever the origins of the ban, God seems to have been using it for some purpose. And, in 1968–70, that purpose had yet to be accomplished, because he forbade the ban from being rescinded and told the prophet to quit asking about it.

There is a similar account from President Harold B. Lee, though it is less well documented.[5] We know for certain, however, that he had a similar view:

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.[6]

Previous leaders’ statements

This same distinction between the ban’s origins and the faulty explanations for it has been made previously by LDS leaders.

For example, President Gordon B. Hinckley was interviewed as follows in 1998:

Q: So in retrospect, was the Church wrong in that [not ordaining blacks]?

A [Pres. Hinckley]: No, I don’t think it was wrong. It, things, various things happened in different periods. There’s a reason for them.

Q: What was the reason for that?

A: I don’t know what the reason was. But I know that we’ve rectified whatever may have appeared to be wrong at the time.[7]

Elder Dallin H. Oaks said in 1988, and republished in 2011:

If you read the scriptures with this question in mind, ‘Why did the Lord command this or why did he command that,’ you find that in less than one in a hundred commands was any reason given. 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 priesthood 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 (emphasis added).[8]

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in 2006:

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 priesthood ban 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.[9]

Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy, when asked about the ban’s origins in 1998, replied:

We do not know.[10]

It would be strange indeed if the Church and its leaders were intending to repudiate these recent statements, as the claims of some would require.

An additional perspective

Interestingly, President Boyd K. Packer recently discussed how his perspective regarding the ban has changed in the present as the work flourishes in Africa:

We have had puzzling things. We had the matter of the priesthood being withheld from a part of the human family. That seemed so inconsistent with the rest of human life and humanity and the doctrines and tolerance. We couldn’t figure that out. That’s gone now, but why was it there? I’m not sure, but I do know this: it had the effect of keeping us out of [most of Africa] until we were ready and mature enough, and they were ready and mature enough. Looking back it is easy to see things that you don’t see looking forward.[11]

We see again how the ban’s existence is “puzzling,” “we couldn’t figure that out,” and even now he’s “not sure” why it was in place.

Yet, the ban’s existence also kept the Church from extensive missionary work in Africa until recently. There are significant economic and cultural challenges to working in Africa—a premature enthusiasm for work there might have resulted, for example, in many converts but an unsustainable infrastructure. I have had private discussions with those involved who describe the economic obstacles as something the Church could not have coped with even a few years ago—and they challenge us even today.

Thus, even a ban that was rooted in the difficulties of 19th century racism could ultimately serve God’s purposes, and so be either tolerated or implemented by Him.

God is, after all, the ultimate multi-tasker.


What I am suggesting, then, is that even if one insists or concedes that racism was the origin of the priesthood ban (a concession the Church has not made, and has been at pains not to make), this does not mean that its continuation and its cessation were not firmly in God’s control.

It was necessary to respond to the racism of members and leaders of the Church, as well as potential members of the Church, and the often-hostile societies which surrounded them. The ban is one potential option—though whether God instigated it directly, or whether he simply allowed it and declined to remove it when asked by President McKay, we cannot say.

“I do not know the meaning of all things,” wrote Nephi, but “I know that [God] loveth his children” (1 Nephi 11:17).

It is easy—too easy, for some—to simply decide that this entire episode is all simply fallible mortal power plays or administration, with God lurking in the background (if he exists at all).[12]

One can draw that conclusion if one wishes. Many have and will. But, they ought not to be allowed to claim that the Church has admitted as much.

“We don’t know” really does mean “we don’t know.”

But, we do know God calls prophets, and that there is safety with them, notwithstanding the twists and turns of telestial complexity and mortal fallibility.

[1] The ban was rescinded by revelation in 1978. See Official Declaration 2.

[2] “The church’s First Presidency approves each of the enhanced topic pages….’ The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve both have been very supportive of this process,’ Elder Snow said.” – See Tad Walch, “LDS Church enhances web pages on its history, doctrine,” Deseret News (9 December 2013).

[3] See also Joseph Walker, “LDS Church condemns past racism ‘inside and outside the church’,” Deseret News (29 February 2012).

[4] Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 183.

[5] 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.” – Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 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.

[6] Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published 16 November 1972.

[7] “On the Record: ‘We Stand For Something’ President Gordon B. Hinckley [interview in Australia],” Sunstone 21/4 (Issue #112) (December 1998): 71.

[8] 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.

[9] Jeffrey R. Holland, Interview, 4 March 2006.

[10] Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 24, page 4 (CD version); citing Alexander Morrison, Salt Lake City local news station KTVX, channel 4, 8 June 1998.

[11] Boyd K. Packer, “Lessons from Gospel Experiences,” new mission presidents’ seminar, 25 June 2008, disc 4, track 12, 0:00–0:54. I first cited this information in “Shattered Glass: The Traditions of Mormon Same-Sex Marriage Advocates Encounter Boyd K. Packer,”  Mormon Studies Review 23/1 (2011), footnote 72.

[12] As I will detail later, such a conclusion also provides the Church’s critics and complainers with definite rhetorical advantages in the here and now, so their enthusiasm should not surprise us.

Impeccable education and impeccable conclusions

A pseudo-sophisticated society is especially likely to dismiss someone who does not have impeccable educational credentials.

–          Neal A. Maxwell, Sermons Not Spoken

And, often, even the credentials are not enough.

Thus, we too often hear how your conclusions are special pleading, evidence of being an “apologist” (as if every bit of demonstrative discourse was not advocacy for—and thus an ‘apology’ for—some view or other). You are not a neutral, balanced, disinterested scholar—while my conclusions are merely the dispassionate working out of the evidence toward the inevitable conclusions to which I am compelled, like Newton’s apple being drawn irresistibly toward the sandy ground, even against my will or preferences.

Thus, one’s education must not only be impeccable, but one must use it in the prescribed way and come to the “proper” impeccable conclusions. To fail such a litmus test is to almost immediately have one’s credentials disparaged or minimized—which may be fair game if one’s credentials are dubious and you’ve been waving them around. But, if one has merely made an argument, perhaps the argument ought to be given first priority before hasting to cast someone out of the secular scholarly synagogue.

And, the “proper” conclusions will have been determined (as they must) by some criteria outside of the evidence or strictly rational processes. Otherwise, a sober presentation of the data would suffice.

But, to point that out is considered gauche beyond belief.

The most deadly bias is the one we ignore or deny—in others, to be sure, but especially in ourselves.