Not only does the church dismiss the previous racist doctrines of the church in today’s church essays, but the church publications and leaders also do the same.
From the mid-1800s, the Church did not ordain men of black African descent to the priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple endowment or sealing ordinances. Over the years, a variety of theories were advanced to justify the restriction. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has emphasized that those theories given in an attempt to explain the restrictions are “folklore” that must never be perpetuated: “However well-intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. … We simply do not know why that practice … was in place.”Ensign, June 2018: Commemorating the 1978 Revelation, Extending the Blessings of the Priesthood
One Prophet’s Revelation is Another Prophet’s Folklore
This Ensign article quotes Elder Holland as saying that we don’t know why the priesthood ban was in place. Does Holland really not know why the priesthood ban was in place or is he just deflecting the questions and the controversy? It was clearly in place because Brigham Young put it there and when he did, he also explained clearly why it was there and that it came from God and why it came from God. Holland can’t really dismiss the policy since it was in place for such a long time, but that doesn’t stop him from dismissing the reasons for it as “folklore that must never be perpetuated”, even if “well-intended.” These dismissals are completely dishonest though.
This article also adds a convenient ellipsis to the quote. What part are they cutting out? His full sentence there is “we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place”. He calls it a practice, a policy and a doctrine here, but since the church wants to make some distance from it as a doctrine, they are sure to cut that part of his quote out.
Taking a closer look at Elder Holland’s interview, there was a lengthy discussion regarding the priesthood ban and how wonderful the church is for finally removing the ban that it brought him to tears, but he also dismisses all the doctrines and explanations for the ban as folklore, even though they came from the mouth of the presidents of the church and prophets as church doctrine for over a century!
Where were you when you heard that the ban was lifted on blacks in the priesthood?
I can remember exactly where I was. For us that’s the “where we [were] when Kennedy was shot,” this deep, deep, spiritual, emotional moment in the history of the church. I was a very young commissioner of education, still in my 30s, and I was coming over from my office in the church office building to the suite of General Authority offices for something or other. … I walked into the office of the General Authority I was going to see, and he said, “Have you heard the news?” This was barely moments out of the temple meeting and the announcement where it was official. And I said: “What news? I haven’t heard any news.” And he said all worthy men — regardless of race or status or circumstance — all worthy men are to receive priesthood.
You’re going to think all I do is cry, but this is in the same family as that missionary experience I described to you. I started to cry, and I was absolutely uncontrollable. I felt my way to a chair … and I sort of slumped from the doorway into the chair and held my head, my face in my hands and sobbed. …
There’s no issue in all my life that I had prayed more regarding — praying that it would change, praying that it would come in due time. I was willing to have the Lord speak, and I was loyal to the position and the brethren and the whole concept, but there was nothing about which I had anguished more or about which I had prayed more. And for that to be said in my lifetime, when I wasn’t sure it would happen in my lifetime, … it was one of the absolute happiest days of my life.PBS The Mormons, Jeffrey Holland Interview, March 4, 2006
I’ve talked to many blacks and many whites as well about the lingering folklore [about why blacks couldn’t have the priesthood]. These are faithful Mormons who are delighted about this revelation, and yet who feel something more should be said about the folklore and even possibly about the mysterious reasons for the ban itself, which was not a revelation; it was a practice. So if you could, briefly address the concerns Mormons have about this folklore and what should be done.
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 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.PBS The Mormons, Jeffrey Holland Interview, March 4, 2006
What is the folklore, quite specifically?
Well, some of the folklore that you must be referring to are suggestions that there were decisions made in the pre-mortal councils where someone had not been as decisive in their loyalty to a Gospel plan or the procedures on earth or what was to unfold in mortality, and that therefore that opportunity and mortality was compromised. I really don’t know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I’ve been able to live in the period where we’re not expressing or teaching them, but I think that’s the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils. … But I think that’s the part that must never be taught until anybody knows a lot more than I know. … We just don’t know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced. … That’s my principal [concern], is that we don’t perpetuate explanations about things we don’t know. …
We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic. …PBS The Mormons, Jeffrey Holland Interview, March 4, 2006
Can we believe Elder Holland when he states that he really doesn’t know why this was in place? He states that he “grew up hearing” these explanations that blacks were less faithful in the pre-mortal councils. We know this is what Brigham Young taught when he initiated the priesthood ban on blacks. Then Holland even states “we don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught”!? But that’s what he’s doing in this whole interview, he’s pretending that they weren’t taught as doctrine. He dismisses the things “he grew up hearing the most” as the folklore today. He wasn’t hearing it as folklore at the time though, he wasn’t hearing it in speculative conversations, they were in church talks and church publications from authoritative church leaders. He may as well call everything the church teaches folklore!
He says, “All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong.” He thinks that almost all of the explanations are inadequate and/or wrong… What about the one’s that are not inadequate and/or wrong? For being so adamant that we don’t teach false folklore, he’s very vague on what exactly it is.
He really just wants us all to stop talking about it. He knows the faith of the membership is safer if he remains quiet. “It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters.” He has learned the important lesson here, it’s “advantageous to say nothing”.
How many times in this interview did he say he “doesn’t know”? But I thought “I know the church is true” was a hallmark. But he doesn’t know the details of things he grew up hearing the most, because he knows he’d better keep his big mouth shut. He knows that today it’s even moreso “advantageous to say nothing”. He’d better be quiet or the whole game could be up. The members might be on to these leaders who want to cover up the “hard” things.
How did these types of messages help or hinder your personal faith transition? Did they help you see the light or did they marginalize your truth-seeking? This site hosts faith deconstruction stories, consider yourself invited to contribute your own story!
Note: the online Ensign article references the Gospel Topic Essay in the footnote with a broken link. This could be a simple error and oversight from when the church rebranded the whole website and church as decidedly not Mormon, but they also have a clear attitude that they don’t want to drive people to the essays anyway, so this broken link, though it has been reported to them, will likely remain busted.