Category Archives: Racial Issues

FairMormon Frameworks 15: Jim McConkie on Preserving and Nurturing Faith

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Jim McConkie, author of Looking at the Doctrine and Covenants Again for the Very First Time, and nephew of Bruce R. McConkie, talks about how he has maintained his own faith and how he helped prepare his own children to face difficult issues that can challenge our faith.

The opinions expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of FairMormon.

 

A New Church History Seminary Manual

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The cover page of the new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History seminary manual.

[Cross-posted from Ploni Almoni: Mr. So-and-So's Mormon Blog.]

The Church has released a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History manual for seminary students. One of the remarkable aspects of the new manual is that it includes a discussion of several sensitive topics in church history. These topics include the following.

1. The various accounts of the First Vision are highlighted in the new manual. “There are nine known accounts of the First Vision—four written or dictated by Joseph Smith and five written by others retelling his experience,” the manual states (p. 20).

The multiple accounts of the First Vision were prepared at different times and for different audiences. In these accounts, Joseph Smith emphasized different aspects of his experience of the First Vision, but the accounts all agree in the essential truth that Joseph Smith did indeed have the heavens opened to him and see divine messengers, including God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Because the 1838 account was part of Joseph Smith’s official history and testimony to the world, it was included in the Pearl of Great Price as scripture. (p. 20)

The manual then recommends students to read articles by Milton Backman and Richard Lloyd Anderson published in the Ensign discussing the various accounts of the First Vision (pp. 20, 22).

2. There is an entire chapter devoted to the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Utah War (Lesson 151). The manual gives a brief historical overview of the events leading up to the massacre and acknowledges the participation of “Latter-day Saint leaders and settlers” in the crime (p. 523). Besides citing an article on the Mountain Meadows Massacre published in theEnsign, the manual also reproduces this quote given by President Henry B. Eyring at the 150 year anniversary of the massacre.

The gospel of Jesus Christ that we espouse, abhors the cold-blooded killing of men, women, and children. Indeed, it advocates peace and forgiveness. What was done [at the Mountain Meadows] long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct.

3. In a chapter on the history of the Pearl of Great Price there is a brief overview of the history of the Book of Abraham, including the loss and recovery of several papyrus fragments once in the possession of Joseph Smith (pp. 524–526). Included in the discussion about the Book of Abraham is this (which is actually reprinted from the Church’s Pearl of Great Price Student Manual).

In 1966 eleven fragments of papyri once possessed by the Prophet Joseph Smith were discovered in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They were given to the Church and have been analyzed by scholars who date them between about 100 B.C. and A.D. 100. A common objection to the authenticity of the book of Abraham is that the manuscripts are not old enough to have been written by Abraham, who lived almost two thousand years before Christ. Joseph Smith never claimed that the papyri were autographic (written by Abraham himself), nor that they dated from the time of Abraham. It is common to refer to an author’s works as ‘his’ writings, whether he penned them himself, dictated them to others, or others copied his writings later. (p. 525)

(Incidentally, yours truly has written a thing or two on this subject over at the Interpreter blog, which you can access here.) The manual also states, “Although we do not know the exact method Joseph Smith used to translate the writings, we do know that he translated the book of Abraham by the gift and power of God” (p. 525).

4. The new manual has material covering the practice of plural marriage, including an entire chapter on Joseph Smith’s plural marriage (Lesson 140) and a mentioning of Post-Manifesto plural marriage. Below are a few pertinent excerpts from the manual.

In this dispensation the Lord commanded some of the early Saints to practice plural marriage. The Prophet Joseph Smith and many other Church leaders found this commandment difficult, but they obeyed it. After receiving revelation, President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, which was accepted by the Church as authoritative and binding on October 6, 1890. This led to the end of the practice of plural marriage in the Church (see Official Declaration 1). (p. 204)

While Joseph Smith was working on the inspired translation of the Old Testament in 1831, he read about some of the ancient prophets practicing plural marriage (also called polygamy). Under this practice, one man is married to more than one living wife. The Prophet studied the scriptures, pondered what he learned, and eventually took his questions about plural marriage to Heavenly Father in prayer. . . . the Prophet Joseph Smith was reluctant to begin the practice of plural marriage. He stated that he did not begin the practice until he was warned that he would be destroyed if he did not obey. . . . Because of a lack of historical documentation, we do not know about Joseph Smith’s early attempts to comply with the commandment. However, by 1841 the Prophet had begun to obey the commandment and to teach it to some members of the Church, and over the next three years he married additional wives in accordance with the Lord’s commands. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s obedience to the Lord’s commandment to practice plural marriage was a trial of faith for him and his wife Emma, whom he loved dearly. (pp. 477–478)

Practicing plural marriage brought additional challenges. Because the practice was initially kept very quiet, rumors began to spread about Church leaders marrying additional wives. These rumors greatly distorted the truth, slandered the names of the Prophet and other Church leaders, and contributed to increased persecution against the Saints. (p. 479)

A small number of Latter-day Saints continued to enter into new plural marriages after the Manifesto was given. In 1904, President Joseph F. Smith announced “that all [plural] marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage he will be . . . excommunicated”. . . . This policy continues today. (p. 530)

Towards the end of the chapter on Joseph Smith’s plural marriage, the manual warns, “Much unreliable information pertaining to plural marriage exists on the Internet and in many print sources. Be cautious and wise with such information. Some authors who write about the Church and its history present information out of context or include partial truths that can be misleading. The intent of some of these writings is to destroy faith” (p. 479). I myself have raised a similar point in this post. The manual then concludes by recommending, “Reliable historical research concerning the practice of plural marriage can be found at josephsmithpapers.org and byustudies.byu.edu” (p. 480).

5. On describing the nature of the Joseph Smith Translation, the manual says the following.

Around the fall of 1830, Joseph Smith was commanded by the Lord to translate the Bible. He did not translate the Bible from one language to another; nor did he have an original biblical manuscript to work from. Instead, Joseph would read and study passages from the King James Version of the Bible and then make corrections and additions as inspired by the Holy Ghost. Thus, the translation was more of an inspired revision than a traditional translation.The Joseph Smith Translation is estimated to have affected at least 3,400 verses in the King James Version of the Bible. These differences include additions (to clarify meaning or context), deletions, rearranged verses, and complete restructurings of certain chapters. The Joseph Smith Translation clarified doctrinal content, especially the mission of Jesus Christ, the nature of God, the nature of man, the Abrahamic covenant, the priesthood, and the Restoration of the gospel. (pp. 180–181)

6. The historical circumstances surrounding the priesthood ban and President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1978 revelation are discussed in a chapter on Official Declaration 2 (Lesson 157). As part of this discussion, the manual reprints the introductory material to OD 2 printed in the 2013 edition of the scriptures.

The Book of Mormon teaches that ‘all are alike unto God,’ including ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. 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.

There is also the recommendation at the end of the chapter for students to “go to Gospel Topics on LDS.org and search for ‘race and the priesthood’” to learn more about the priesthood ban (p. 545).

7. Finally, in discussing section 77 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the manual straightforwardly says, “The 7,000 years [in vv. 6–7]  refers to the time since the Fall of Adam and Eve. It is not referring to the actual age of the earth including the periods of creation” (p. 280).

I am sure there is more that could be said about the new manual, but suffice it to say from the above examples that the Church is implementing productive measures towards introducing these sort of issues in a faith-promoting, safe, and positive environment (seminary). This will hopefully serve to “inoculate,” to use the popular metaphor, seminary students against the often highly debatable claims and negative information one can currently find on the Internet. While one might perhaps quibble over how certain issues are addressed in the new manual, that there is even a discussion at all in Church curriculum is, in my estimation, a step in the right direction.

Mormon Fair-Cast 185: Race and the Priesthood

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RussellStevensonIn this episode of the Mormon History Guy podcast, Kate Kelly Harline interviews Russell Stevenson (author of Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables and author of the forthcoming, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Documentary History of Blacks and Mormonism,  1830-2013). They discuss the meaning and ramifications of the LDS Church’s new statement on “Race and the Priesthood.”  Russell traces the origins, course, and trajectory of the Saints’ relationship with the black community and racial exclusion.

This podcast is posted here by permission of Russell Stevenson. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of FairMormon or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Exaggerated Death of Apologetics

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In 1897, Mark Twain’s cousin became seriously ill. Some people confused the two men, leading Mark Twain to remark a few weeks later, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Similarly, it may be that as long as people have been calling themselves “anti-Mormons,” critics of the Church have been predicting the demise of the Church and have been pronouncing efforts to defend it as futile. All such declarations of impending doom have proven, at the very least, to be exaggerated.

One such example is in the occasional rumblings from some quarters that “the Brethren” or the institutional Church is at odds with lay members who engage in a reasoned defense of the faith, or “apologetics.” Over the past year, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute (formerly known as FARMS) has adopted a more secular approach to the academic discipline of Mormon Studies, and has moved away from an overt defense of the Church. Some have wondered if this indicates that the “institutional Church” is distancing itself from a reasoned defense of the faith. Indeed, there are some who argue that “the brethren” want nothing to do with apologetics and surmise that President Uchtdorf’s talk in this year’s October General Conference must have come as a severe blow to Mormon apologists.

While it is true that what was once known as the FARMS Review has morphed into an annual journal with a secular focus, rather than a faith-building focus, the Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture has taken its place and is accessible, technologically advanced, and prolific. It seems that the changes at the Maxwell Institute have simultaneously created a new base for the emerging secular discipline of “Mormon Studies” while at the same time serving as the impetus for revitalized interest in publishing works in a peer-reviewed, academic journal that provide a reasoned defense of the faith.

With regard to whether or not “the Brethren” are distancing themselves from efforts to directly defend the Church against charges of its critics, Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke in September at BYU-Idaho and not only bore his testimony of Joseph Smith, but also offered many reason-based responses to attacks against the Church. In doing so, he cited publications by FairMormon twice.

When President Uchtdorf spoke in General Conference the next month, all of the defenders of the faith that I know were thrilled to hear his words and saw them as consistent and supportive of efforts we have been making for years. Nevertheless, some people have wondered aloud whether apologists have been left disheartened and confused by President Uchtdorf’s remarks. It is hard to imagine why defenders of the faith would be at all disturbed by President Uchtdorf’s words. These people seem to assume that defenders of the Church must have been surprised to hear President Uchtdorf say that ex-Mormons aren’t simply lazy or sinful. They further seem to assume that those who defend the Church all believe that the only reason people leave the Church is because they are lazy or sinful. However, I don’t know of anyone at FairMormon who has ever said that. Unfortunately, some rank-and-file members do say such things, and, rather than support that view, I argued against it on the FairMormon Blog some time ago.

The other problem is that some people are misinterpreting what President Uchtdorf actually said. He did not say that ex-Mormons are never lazy or sinful. (Every conceivable group, including Mormons, ex-Mormons and non-Mormons includes people who are lazy or sinful.) He simply said that being lazy or sinful are not the only reasons people leave the Church. Here is the exact quote: “Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.” Far from an indictment of those who defend the Church, the fact that a member of the First Presidency has publicly declared that people sometimes leave the Church for reasons other than mere laziness or sin signals a greater need for a rational defense of the faith. To the extent that some of those other reasons involve Church history or doctrine, defenders of the faith are well-equipped to address those concerns.

Finally, in addition to the efforts the Church has made through the Joseph Smith Papers Project to illuminate its history, the most clear example that the institutional Church has not abandoned or disavowed a reasoned defense of the faith is the simple fact that the Church has been providing reasoned responses to critical arguments for the past year on its main webpage, LDS.org.

While the Sunday School curriculum has focused this year on Church history, the Church has been posting articles that directly address issues that have sometimes been confusing to members and a target for critics. Two examples are this article about Oliver Cowdery’s apparent use of a divining rod, and this article putting the apostasy of Thomas B. Marsh into context.

More recently, the Church has published articles addressing the question of whether Mormons are Christians, exploring the differences in the various accounts of the First Vision, and setting forth the history of blacks and the priesthood, in which it is explicitly stated “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.”

Rather than being shocked and dismayed by recent actions of the institutional Church, now more than ever, faithful believers and scholars have concluded that it is an even more exciting and important time to stand up in defense of the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

FairMormon Frameworks 6: Russell Stevenson and “Elijah Ables”

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RussellStevensonRussell discusses with us today his his research into the life of the first black priesthood holder in this dispensation, Elijah Ables. We also extend to talking about the Priesthood ban, it’s history and implications, and what it means for one struggling today. 

Russell Stevenson is the author of  “Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables,” which is available on Amazon as an E-Book -Black Mormon: Story of Elijah Ables.

Benchmark Books – Story of Elijah Ables

Amazon – Hardcopy

 The opinions expressed in this podcast and in the referenced books, presentations, podcasts and articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or of FairMormon.

 

Subtle . . . and Significant! Our New 2013 Edition of the Scriptures Address Controversies

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On Friday, March 1st, the Church announced the immediate availability in digital format of a new edition of scriptures in English that incorporates changes, updates, and improvements over the 1981 edition that has served Church members for 32 years. On its website, the Church stated that the reason for the updates was to take advantage of the need to replace the printing master plates in use since 1979 and 1981 by making corrections and updates.

Such changes to scriptures are not new.  The most significant changes in recent history were made to the 1981 print edition, which included updated chapter headings, an enhanced Bible Dictionary, a more comprehensive index, cross-referenced footnotes, pronunciation guides, improved and updated maps, as well as a few changes of substance that added clarity to scripture readings. Continue reading

Mormon FAIR-Cast 131: Blacks and the LDS Priesthood

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In this episode, Darius Gray provides a partial chronology concerning Blacks and the LDS priesthood. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established in 1830, at which time, its first president and prophet, Joseph Smith ordained all men unto the priesthood.  The only qualification is that they embrace the teachings of the Savior Jesus Christ and the promised restoration in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ.  After the death of Joseph Smith at the hands of a mob, it would be three years before Brigham Young was officially named as the next president, leader and prophet of the church.

In 1847, President Brigham Young began the practice of withholding the priesthood only from men of Black African descent.  It would be another two years before any official statement was made.  Even though there was never any clear explanation as to why there was a change in course from what the prophet of the restoration had begun, the practice was continued on through the years with a number of exceptions.  Enoch Abel, the son of Elijah Abel who was a Black man and ordained to this priesthood by Joseph Smith himself, was ordained to the priesthood in 1900.  Then in 1934, his son, Elijah, was also ordained to the priesthood.  There was much speculation as to why the priesthood was withheld from Blacks, in addition to attempts by church leadership to squash the ever growing possible reasons.  However, in light the absence of the originating justification and the inequality of man at the time, the created folklore permeated the LDS church.

The practice even managed to survive through the Civil Rights Movement, and then in 1978, then President Spencer W. Kimball announced a revelation which ended the priesthood ban.  At that time, many of African descent came into the church from all over the world.  It was genuinely assumed that the problem was now officially over.  However, again in light of the lack of explanation as to why the change in course, as well as the addressing of prior teaching, the majority of the members of the church continued, and continue to teach those things which the mere occurrence of the change contradicts.

This has created an incredible stumbling block for people of all races in and outside of the LDS church.  Missionaries and members don’t know how to answer the questions had by critics or investigators, and those who think they do unintentionally reinforce the discriminatory reputation the church is labeled with.  Many who see the blessings of the gospel or who would see them, can’t or won’t allow themselves to “look” because of the inability to receive adequate answers to past teachings and current scriptural passages.

This episode is an audio version of segment 4 of the Blacks in the Scriptures DVD Series . The complete DVD can be purchased at the FAIR Bookstore here. This presentation has been provided courtesy of Blacks in the Scriptures. The opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily represent the official views of FAIR or of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormon FAIR-Cast 130: Equality and Priesthood

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Marvin Perkins provides a scriptural compilation of the Lord’s command for all to be equal and to ordain to the priesthood all who will embrace the gospel work.

This episode is an audio version of segment 3 of the Blacks in the Scriptures DVD Series . The complete DVD can be purchased at the FAIR Bookstore here.

This presentation has been provided courtesy of Blacks in the Scriptures. The opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily represent the official views of FAIR or of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormon FAIR-Cast: 129: Skin Color & Curses

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How can the Church better reach African Americans? What do the scriptures mean when they say that a person is “black?” Does it refer to skin color or is it metaphorical? What do the scriptures mean when they say that a person or people are cursed?

This episode is an audio version of segment 2 of the Blacks in the Scriptures DVD Series . The complete DVD can be purchased at the FAIR Bookstore here.

This presentation has been provided courtesy of Blacks in the Scriptures. The opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily represent the official views of FAIR or of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormon FAIR-Cast 128: Blacks in the Bible

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In a study performed by the Higher Education Institute, in association with UCLA, which concluded in 2005, African Americans ranked number one in seven of the twelve spirituality categories measured.  These deeply spiritual roots have been passed on from generation to generation of church goers and Bible faithful.  This commitment is especially impressive in light of the absence of positive religious teachings, mentions or artistic renderings of Black African ancestors in today’s Christian religions.

There are many who regularly mention Cain and Ham and the curses associated with them, leaving and reinforcing the impression that Black equates to cursed or less than.  Was there a positive Black presence in the biblical days?  If there was, wouldn’t the entire world benefit from this knowledge?  Those of African descent could gain a greater sense of self.  This could also help to repudiate much of the confusion about race and encourage unity.

Blacks in the Bible is the first of four segments in the Blacks in the Scriptures DVD series. The complete DVD can be purchased at the FAIR Bookstore here.

This presentation has been provided courtesy of Blacks in the Scriptures. The opinions expressed in this podcast do not necessarily represent the official views of FAIR or of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.