Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cain's Race

Just recently the LDS church has officially released a testament concerning race problems in their official policy; called “Race and the priesthood” the testament was put up on LDS.org which is the official outlet for all things Mormon. This message was preceded by a new digital edition of the Mormon scriptures which was put up on LDS.org in March of this year. Amongst the substantive changes was an introduction to Official Declaration 2 in the Doctrines and Covenants (prophet Kimball’s revelation that people with dark skin tones could receive the priesthood). I should remind readers that “priesthood” in the Mormon Church is a designation given to most eight-year-old boy children of church members.

“Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance.” – D&C digital 2013

The idea that there were no clear insights into the origins of the practice suggests that the Church historians were not aware of Prophet Brigham Young’s 1852 speech to the joint session of Utah’s legislature. The December 2013 communication does casually reference Young’s “two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852”. Brigham was fairly specific.

“Now I tell you what I know; when the mark was put upon Cain, Abels children was in all probability young; the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the preisthood nor his see, until the last of the posterity of Able had received the preisthood, until the redemtion of the earth. If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the preisthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon the, until the resedue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings, the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed; and hold the keys of the preisthood, until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the earth, and from michals seed. Then Cain's seed will be had in rememberance, and the time come when that curse should be wiped off.” -- Brigham Young to the Joint Session of the Legislature in Salt Lake City, February 5th, 1852.

The December 2013 communication on race does mention, in one sentence, the origins Brigham espouses at length, but they do not attribute them to Brigham.

“The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions.” – “Race and the Priesthood” from LDS.org December 2013

The communication suggests that Brigham Young prophesized that people of dark skin tones would be given the priesthood “one day”. Referencing the terms of acceptance into the priesthood for blacks young places the bar higher than the recent communication suggests:

“Church leaders pondered promises made by prophets such as Brigham Young that black members would one day receive priesthood and temple blessings.” -- “Race and the Priesthood” from LDS.org December 2013

“Let this Church which is called the kingdom of God on the earth; we will sommons the first presidency, the twelve, the high counsel, the Bishoprick, and all the elders of Isreal, suppose we summons them to apear here, and here declare that it is right to mingle our seed, with the black race of Cain, that they shall come in with with us and be pertakers with us of all the blessings God has given to us. On that very day, and hour we should do so, the preisthood is taken from this Church and kingdom and God leaves us to our fate.” -- Brigham Young to the Joint Session of the Legislature in Salt Lake City, February 5th, 1852.

By 1978 conferring the priesthood was not as synonymous with being employable in Utah as it had been during the 126 years priesthood was denied to blacks. The world had begun catching up with the LDS church, and the segregation was not profitable enough to maintain the official segregationist policy. In early June Spencer decided to open the priesthood to blacks, and about four months later he revealed to the Mormons of the world this revelation.

On September 30, 1978, at the 148th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the following was presented by President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church:

“He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.” -- Spencer W. Kimball June 8, 1978

Spencer may have been interpreting Young’s warning that the priesthood would be taken from the Mormons when they accepted blacks as a specific warning about interbreeding. Kimball famously, and repeatedly, warned against the mixing of races.

“When one considers marriage, it should be an unselfish thing, but there is not much selflessness when two people of different races plan marriage. They must be thinking selfishly of themselves. They certainly are not considering the problems that will beset each other and that will beset their children.” -- Spencer W. Kimball

“We are unanimous, all of the Brethren, in feeling and recommending that Indians marry Indians, and Mexicans marry Mexicans; the Chinese marry Chinese and the Japanese marry Japanese; that the Caucasians marry the Caucasians, and the Arabs marry Arabs.” -- Spencer W. Kimball

“We recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question.” (Spencer W. Kimball, “Marriage and Divorce,” in 1976 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1977], p. 144)

But these warnings of what sounds like enhanced inconvenience does not capture Brigham Young’s attitude towards interbreeding. He suggested that one should kill people who slept with members of different races.

“In the preisthood I will tell you what it will do. Where the children of God to mingle there seed with the seed of Cain it would not only bring the curse of being deprived of the power of the preisthood upon themselves but the entail it upon their children after them, and they cannot get rid of it. If a man in an ungaurded moment should commit such a transgression, if he would walk up and say cut off my head, and kill man woman and child it would do a great deal towards atoneing for the sin. Would this be to curse them? no it would be a blessing to them. -it would do them good that they might be saved with their Bren. A man would shuder should they here us take about killing folk, but it is one of the greatest blessings to some to kill them, allthough the true principles of it are not understood.” -- Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, dated Feb. 5, 1852, located in the LDS Church Historical Department, Salt Lake City, Utah

I, for one, am glad that the Church is softening its stance on race relations. I would prefer that they did not obfuscate history in doing so, but when your leaders speak directly to god it is hard to discount what they have said in the past unless you can make it magically disappear.

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