Imagine a 1970 Journal Entry from a Mormon on Blacks and Priesthood
11 May 2012 (updated 3 July 2015)
In 1978, the LDS Church extended priesthood to blacks. Prior to that time, some Mormons doubted the divinity of the priesthood ban. Subsequent to that time, some Mormons doubted the divinity of the priesthood extension. This evening, I was imagining what it might have been like in the early 1970s for a Mormon who thought blacks should receive the priesthood. What would such a Mormon have written in his journal? Here’s a guess.
“Blacks should have the priesthood. That’s what my heart tells me, but what if I’m wrong? Is it inspiration, or just my own carnal desires? Do I just want the popular thing? Well, that’s complicated. It’s popular enough outside the Church, but not so much within. I want to believe some of the leaders see things the way I do. They want change, as I do. I hope. Maybe they just can’t see how to do it without destroying the Church, undermining the faith of the members? I love the Church too. Why can’t we just change? The haunting feelings return. Maybe I’ve overlooked something. Maybe I’m wrong.
“I haven’t been there, but I’ve heard about the crowds. They’ve gathered outside our temples, harassing us, charging us with racism. I wish they could understand. Sure: some of us are racist, but most of us aren’t. Some of us want the priesthood ban to end, just like they do. They just don’t understand how much more is at play, how much more there is to our faith, and how we’re torn. Even most of us that don’t necessarily think the ban should end aren’t racist. We believe it’s God’s decision, and not ours; or we respect our commitment to support our leaders. Some of us hold to the notion that we can’t be wrong when we follow our leaders, even if they’re wrong. God will hold them accountable. I think that’s a bad idea for all kinds of reasons, but that’s part of what’s going on.
“What if the leaders are wrong? What does that mean for the Church? Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time. I know that, but most members don’t seem to know our history well enough to know that. They appeal to the scriptures, suggesting that God will remove our leaders out of their place if they try to lead the Church astray. However, the scriptures don’t say whether we’ll recognize when God has removed our leaders out of their place. I hesitate to think this. What would others think if they knew? How would they react? It would frighten or threaten some. This is dangerous.
“Some say the priesthood cannot be given to blacks perhaps until the end of the Millennium, when God changes them. I don’t understand why God would make them wait. It seems more likely to me that we haven’t understood God, and that we’ve allowed the human tendency toward racism to affect our perspectives. It seems more likely that inspiration has always called us away from our racism, but we haven’t been ready to listen.
“Imagine, though, the problems! If it’s just racism, what does that make of the scriptures that support the priesthood ban? Are the scriptures racist too? And if the scriptures are racist, to what extent does that diminish their value? How human are they? How divine? If we’re to find inspiration in them, we’ll have to think with more nuance and acknowledgement of negative influences on the context in which the scriptures were recorded, copied, translated and shared with us. Some would just reject the scriptures entirely, if ever we acknowledge racism in their pages. They expect perfection, and if it’s not found there then they’ll lose their trust.
“Blacks should have the priesthood. I hope I’m not wrong. I can see through the challenges. There are ways to reconcile. The important principles can stand, perhaps brighter than ever before, polished by the friction of challenge wiping away the imperfections. We never claimed our scriptures or prophets were infallible. We never claimed to have all truth. We claimed to teach the fullness of the Gospel of Christ, and we claimed the need to continue applying the principles of that Gospel in our lives, each of us and all of us. Why shouldn’t that include the Church itself? Why should we expect anything different than new revelation coming with the need to change, even to repent?
“Joseph taught that if we’re to come out real Mormons then we’ve got to embrace all truth from all sources. If we’ve learned then let’s change. Let’s keep faith in real Mormonism, expecting perpetual change through revelation and repentance, while keeping our eyes fixed on the goal: our progressive transformation into the body of Christ, to which we have been called.
“I don’t know how things will work out, but I trust they will and that we’ll be better for it. I have to follow my conscience, carefully. I don’t want to strain my relationships arbitrarily, but I also can’t live with myself if I don’t do what I feel is right. I have to consider the effects of my words and actions on my wife and children. I have to consider the effects on my career. What a tightrope to walk! If only they could know my heart! If only I could know theirs! How much do we slow our pace because we don’t trust each other? How much do we hold each other back from the change, revelation and repentance that we need, that we even want, because we fear each other? How much because we fear God?
“The scriptures say there’s no fear in love, that God is love, and that those who love may have boldness in the day of judgment. I aspire to that, but the fear returns. It would be so beautiful, strong and full of light! Then there’s fear. I’ve heard the stories of disciplinary councils, excommunications, and disfellowships. I’ve heard of wives and children with broken hearts because their father, the priesthood holder, is no longer esteemed as he was. Why should we fear this? If what we feel in our hearts is right, why should we fear?
“What if I’m wrong? What if blacks shouldn’t have the priesthood? What if God has made that clear to our leaders, and they’re just doing their best to work through the ramifications? These are hard thoughts. They’re contrary to all I feel. They’re contrary to the best of my reasoning. I can imagine it, but then what is that God to me? If that God doesn’t work with my heart and mind, to the best of my ability to think and feel, according to whatever wisdom or inspiration I might have, what is that God to me? I can’t meaningfully say I even want to follow such a God. That would be a lie. Harder than the challenges and risks of living up to my conscience is the meaninglessness of not maintaining such integrity.
“I must believe. Blacks should have the priesthood. My heart and mind tell me so. God tells me so, if ever God has told me anything at all. Now I have to figure out how to make this work for me, my family and my community. I pray for grace.”