A commenter on this site asked how is it that the LDS Church, which has a well-regarded habit of detailing its every move and decision, not know how the policy about Blacks not being able to hold the Priesthood was started or came about? As the commenter states, “The peculiar assertion that the Mormon Church itself does not know the details of its very own race-based policy of restricting the Blacks from holding the Priesthood is tremendously embarrassing for all Mormons and exceptionally degrading for anyone who actually believes it.”
I might say it’s curious, rather than tremendously embarrassing. I would say unrighteous behavior is degrading, and if in this matter there has ever been any unrighteous behavior on the part of Church officials or members then yes, that is degrading. I would not say the same thing about anyone who believes the statements of the Church with regards to the policy of Blacks and the Priesthood, rescinded in 1978, since whether or not such statements accurately represent the truth or not is, as yet, not objectively verifiable.
Regardless, it’s a reasonable question. How could the Church not know how this started? It seems members of the Church took copious notes on everything, but not this, something that has affected so many members and potential members and is of such importance?
To start with, two items:
1. Copious notes. While it is impressive how many notes and records there are of the early Church and many of the decisions made with regard to it, these notes are by no means comprehensive. One could easily say more has been left out than has been included. It seems to me to expect that every single decision, no matter how important, should have been recorded, is unrealistic given the circumstances in which the early members of the Church operated. It seems no stretch to me to see that such a decision could have come about without there being a record of the same.
2. Importance. While matters of race are a large issue today, they were different in the mid to late 1800s. Slavery was an issue–ordaining Blacks to the Priesthood somewhat less so. It is easy to judge those who came before us based on the standards of our time and place rather than theirs. What seems important to us today may not have seemed as important in their day. The idea that Blacks were inferior, separate, or different, while offensive and very wrong to us today, was the common sense of the time, and one held even by Abraham Lincoln.
Understanding that the recording of Church doctrine, events, decisions, etc. was not anywhere close to comprehensive, and that Blacks holding the Priesthood would likely have been no big thing, may help us to understand why there is no known record as to how exactly the ban on Blacks holding the Priesthood was started.
In my research, I have come across a website that purports to have some details on the matter, but I cannot vouch for its authenticity, not having researched all its sources. If accurate, it is quite interesting. “The Long-Promised Day”
How could the LDS Church not know how the ban on Blacks holding the Priesthood started? Could the Church not know, and yet there be no nefarious intent, no attempt at a cover-up? The question should not be so much whether it is probable or not, but whether it is possible or not. If it is possible, then one must accept at least the possibility that the Church has operated with the best of intentions. To assume the worst with a lack of proof is to want the Church to be in the wrong, and why would anyone want that?
I would invite anyone interested in studying the subject further to read:
- What do we know about the origin of the priesthood ban?
- Thirty Years After the ‘Long-Promised Day’: Reflections and Expectations by Marcus H. Martins, Ph.D., Presented at the Orem Utah Institute of Religion – 29 February 2008