Nelson Mandela, Race and the Priesthood, and Other Issues

Mormon Priesthood Authority

Introduction and Caveat

On Tuesday, 10 December 2013, I posted some remarks on my Facebook page about the issue of race and the Priesthood in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called the “Mormon” Church by the media and others). A substantial amount of conversation was generated as a result of the comments that I had made. My first comments were followed by a letter to a friend on Thursday, 12 December 2013. I have here combined both thoughts on this issue into one.I am sincerely grateful for the many blessings that I am continuously proffered as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, therefore, it is not my intent to offend any brother or sister by the comments that I am about to share. It is, however, my sincere hope and prayer that I am able to convey my thoughts in a clear, concise, and understandable way. These are just a few of my personal thoughts on the issue, and I invite the readers of this treatise to share their thoughts. I also ask for forgiveness, if anything that is said here is offensive to anyone in any way. That is not the intent. These thoughts are humbly offered as food for thought.

On 5 December 2013, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement at the passing of Nelson Mandela. At about the same time, the Church released a new study topic on “Race and the Priesthood.” Since then, it seems that the issue of race and the Priesthood restriction which once existed in The Church of Jesus Christ, has become a “HOT” topic of discussion which in some cases has caused the terms “racist” and  “racism” to yet again rear their ugly heads.

This author will admit that an unexplainable “wrong” was seemingly committed against a race of people, but the point that too many people are missing is that the Priesthood restriction was more of an African lineage issue than it was a seemingly all-out attack against the African-American race as some are purporting it to be. It was not the Church’s intention then, nor is it the Church’s intention today, to deny anyone the rights, privileges, and full blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

LDS First PresidencySo, why did the Priesthood restriction take place? When did it actually begin? There are no definitive answers that have ever been given. With that being the case, who exactly are some Blacks expecting to shoulder the blame, and who are they expecting to answer for the things that occurred? Those whom they are demanding an apology from are not necessarily the ones who pronounced the Priesthood restriction, but they are the ones who are striving to build bridges of understanding and forgiveness.

I liken the behavior of demanding a formal apology from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to a Black who approaches the descendants of a former slave owner and demands that they pay restitution and give a formal apology for the wrongs that he believes were committed against his ancestors. Does that seem just and fair? Does that even make rational sense? In reality, is that not a form of “racism” in action? Why should those descendants be demanded to give an apology for something that occurred many years ago and that they themselves had no part in?

Elijah Abel Mormon Priesthood

Elijah Abel was ordained an Elder by Joseph Smith, the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The certificate of ordination is dated 3 Mar 1836. In December 1836, Elijah Abel was ordained a Seventy. The Ordination was performed by Zebedee Coltrin according to the ordination certificate.

 

Another very important point that many people are forgetting is that in spite of the Priesthood restriction, Blacks continued to join The Church of Jesus Christ and were allowed, and did indeed hold, callings in the Church. Also, it should be carefully noted that prior to his martyrdom, Joseph Smith ordained a few Blacks to the Priesthood. It bothers me that some Blacks who have been faithful members for many years, are suddenly joining the ranks of those who are demanding the Church to give them a formal apology. The question that begs an answer is, “After they have received their “apology”, then what?” What is next? If the ones who are demanding the apology would pause to think about what they are doing, would they not have to come to the honest conclusion that their actions could be construed as the actions of racists?

Have there been errors, perhaps even some grave errors, made throughout the Church’s history? Absolutely there have been. Why? Because the leaders are imperfect mortals who are prone to faults and error. This is not news to our Heavenly Father, and it should not come as surprise to any of us.

Jesus ChrstMy personal concern with all of this is that too many people see religion in general as Black and White. However, religion is not a Black and White issue. Those who get tangled up in that chaotic web are missing the entire message of the Gospel. That is what is truly missing in these discussions – the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are too many “Christians” who decry that they have been wronged and focus solely on the supposed wrongs, and seemingly dismiss the teachings of the Savior Himself when He taught that all men will know that we are His disciples by our love for one another. Notice that He did not mention anything about race or the color of our skin. I don’t personally feel much love radiating from those who are up in arms over this issue.

Do I think that it was right that Blacks were denied the Priesthood? No, I do not, but at the same time, I do not know all the reasoning behind it. And regardless of what others may be saying, God did allow it to take place. What were His reasons? None of us can answer that question because we cannot begin to know or comprehend the mind of God.

It does, however, sadden me that some of the discussions that are buzzing about are filled with hatred towards another, bitterness, contention, and yes, dare I say, racism. Racism by any other name is still the same. I see too many “Christians” lashing out in anger and trying to find someone, anyone, to blame for their anger. As a result, their displaced anger is turning into hatred, almost to the point that the tone of some of what is being said would lead one to believe that perhaps some of those whose anger is raging have intentions of leaving the Church because of this issue. In my humble opinion, a person who is willing to throw away blessings that he has received because he does not agree with something is insanity at best.

Blacks Receive the PriesthoodNone of us can turn back the hands of time and make things the way that we wish they would have been. We cannot eradicate from the annals of history the injustices of slavery, the inhumane actions that occurred during the Civil Rights movement, or even the Priesthood restriction. Those events occurred. There is no way to deny that, but WE can either choose to pitch our tents in the lands of the past and play in the mud of what we believe to be transgressions against us, or we can take up our tent stakes and move forward to lands of hope, brighter tomorrows, and forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the key. By now demanding an apology after all these years, have those who are demanding said apology truly forgiven those whom they believed trespassed against them? I believe that so long as people harbor malice and content in their hearts towards another; so long as they continue to “demand” apologies; so long as they refuse to forgive, they only hurt themselves by stifling their own spiritual progression.

As a 55-year-old Black man who has been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 10 March 1998 when I was baptized in Reykjavík, Iceland, I have enjoyed the blessings of serving in several leadership positions. I have also been respected for my service in those positions, and there are people who look to me as a person who is not afraid to teach and preach the gospel as it should be taught and preached, or to discuss issues in a loving, caring way as the Savior Himself would do. There are other Black leaders in the Church who have also been proffered such blessings.

Even if a “formal apology” from The Church of Jesus Christ is given to Blacks, this author believes that it will still not be enough for some. Even if more Blacks are assigned to speak in General Conference, it will still not be enough for some. Even if more Black members were to be added to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, it will still not be enough for some. Where does the vicious cycle end? If a person looks long and hard enough, he can find “fault” and a reason to “blame” for anything. If, however, a person wants to partake of the blessings of the Gospel and the joy and the peace that it brings, he can find that as well. The main focus needs to be on the things that matter most, and the higher ground needs to be sought in this and all other matters.

This author also believes that there are too many “Christians” who are looking for a “perfect” Church – a church where no fault is ever  found. Name any Church out there, and if a person looks long and hard enough he will be able to find issues that he disagrees with. Another problem perhaps is that there are too many people who are entangled in a power struggle. They want to be the ones in charge of everything. It is like the women who argued over wearing pants to Church; then they argued over being able to give the opening and closing prayers; then they argued over not being ordained to the Priesthood or even allowed to attend the Priesthood Session (which by the way, can now be viewed online as it is taking place). Give this careful consideration: Pants, Prayer, Priesthood – – – -> POWER. This author believes that the proverbial handwriting is on the wall.

It is understandable what people are saying and where they are coming from, but a lot of hearts are in the wrong place. Too many “Christians” are wanting to return to the days of the Roman Colosseum and throw those whom they are in disagreement with to the lions. However, throwing them to the lions is not enough, they want to stand by and applaud and cheer as the lions devour them. What a glorious day it will be when we can all sit down at the welcome table together, bury our weapons of hatred and racism towards each other, and vow to war against each other no more.

As a 55-year-old Black man who has faced many struggles in his life, and who has been blessed to overcome those struggles, and to enjoy the blessings of the Lord, I choose to emulate the love of my Savior, and to live at peace with all humanity. I choose to put my trust and confidence in Him. I choose to rely on the arms of Jehovah. For my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ precious blood and His righteousness. On Christ the Solid Rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

I am satisfied to know that whatever the reasoning behind the Priesthood restriction, the Lord knows all about it and allowed it for reasons known only to Him. I will not sit and speculate as others have done and are now doing as to the reasons. At the end of the day, does it really matter what the reasons were? I choose as a 55-year-old Black man, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 15+ years, to be thankful for the full blessings of the Gospel that I am proffered, to include the blessings of being a Priesthood holder. I do not have the time, nor will I take the time to play the “blame” game. Instead, I choose to be thankful and to enjoy the blessings thereof.

What Other Readers Have Said

Brian Skinner – “Very good post.”


Natalie Bagwell Taylor – “Thank you Keith! Margaret Young said something similar this weekend about forced apologies. I feel so strongly that I must teach my children to move forward and help create the Zion that we long for!”John L DeLand – Mr. Brown is a noted author and spokesman for our Lord Jesus Christ. He studied for the ministry with the Baptist Church.

Andrea J. Rasmussen – “You have a beautiful way of expressing the thoughts of your heart. Thank you for sharing that. I am a white mother of an African American daughter. I intend to print your thoughts and share them with her!”

Melissa Reed Escobar – “I agree….”

Caralyn D. Mcauley – “I think this comment, especially the last paragraph is one of the best witnesses I have ever heard. This issue was the first to be thrown at me when I joined the Church. When I was told it was from God…I pushed away all the flack and accepted it the same as I accepted the description of the Lamanites…I could not go forward spiritually IF I CHARGED GOD FOOLISHLY. The blacks I met in the Church were like this dear man…with testimony of the God who loves us and governs all things. If we want to find a reason to hate or fight and quarrel…we will surely find it…if we want Light and Truth we will surely find that. Forgiveness is a huge key that unlocks the Heavens….leave it on the Lord’s doorstep.”

Rayma L. Parcher – “Thank you so much for your comment…I agree”

Niya St-Hill – “I respect your perspective, but this is how I feel on the matter. First of all, since you mentioned slave masters…let’s not forget that they used the same Bible to justify slavery, and their gross mistreatment of our ancestors. Even with the abolishment of slavery, black people never really had the full rights and privileges of white people. I think that they deserved more than just an apology, since they basically built America, 40 acres and mule was a more than fair request, but they didn’t get that either. There is no “bandwagon” brother, all an apology says is that they care, it shows empathy. Spencer W. Kimball in his 60 minutes interview, when asked about the history of the church towards black people replied very nonchalantly, “look, it’s behind us.” I felt very disappointed with that answer because that was his opportunity to address the situation with a response that showed he actually did support the black members of the church worldwide. Brigham Young used very foul, and offensive language when he spoke about black people. He insulted our physical features, and insinuated a down right disgust…for his fellow brethren in the “true church of Jesus Christ”. If it was simply a matter of, “hey, we are just following order here”….those words would never have brewed in his heart to spew out with such bitterness. Despite all of this, black membership in the church has been growing strong. Some feel like you, and others have their own feelings about it. Whether they were wrong or right we will all find out, just as the wheat and the tares shall grow together.

Fabrício Conceição – Dear brother Brown. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am also a black man, a priesthood holder and I agree with you in many points. About the ban of black men as priesthood holders, we have to consider that the Gospel has had and still has restrictions and we do not understand fully why. In the time of Christ and of the first apostles, the preaching of the Gospel was restrict only to the people of Israel. Such a restriction was banned by Paul. Black men have been prohibited to be ordained to the Priesthood and women, as far as I know, have never been ordained as priesthood holders. Nevertheless, I think that an official apology from the Church for its attitude towards black people would be adequate and welcome, though I think the Church does not have any obligation of doing so, for I see it as a past and overcame subject.

I’m grateful for having a testimony of the restored Gospel and for being a priesthood holder. It’s time to enjoy the blessings we have through the Gospel.

Brad Parkinson – I have really been thinking about the apology discussion. Having a biracial family has caused me to be very careful about these thoughts. Brother Keith I hope that my son will face such challenges as you have. I am very grateful that you have shared your thoughts. I can tell that you have felt inspired to share this with all of us. I believe that you have been inspired. I thank you again.

David Grant (CEO, More Good Foundation) – Great post, Keith! In a way you remind me of many of the saints that entered the valley in 1847. I believe it was by the next year there was a huge celebration during the 4th of July on Main Street where they honored America, the land that allowed them to be harassed, beaten, expelled, murdered and robbed when they should have been protected. Somehow, in ways that I cannon fully appreciate, they shared a longer view of things. Maybe it was their certain belief in revelation given in the Book of Mormon and D&C. I would someday like to review the speeches given around that time.

I had one other thought. It is sad that today there are more slaves than there ever have been in the history of the world, and that only counts physical slavery. It seems like the energy and thought time spent seeking an apology would be more efficaciously spent putting a dent in human trade through activism. If you really hate slavery oppression and bigotry, there is more to do going forward that there is to do going back.

Can’t wait for you to come visit again.

Take care!

Gary Hartman – Keith, your messages are so clear and benevolent to all of us and I am so glad you proffer your writings to so many. I think this message coming from a Black man who has grown up with the prejudice and hatred that many of us White people never see or hear about lends credibility to true issue. Namely we are all sons and daughters of Heavenly Father and we need to start acting like it. Martin Luther King had a dream for all of us, not just a few. I believe Nelson Mandela had the same dream of equality as witnessed by the astounding life he led.

The only reason to look to the past is to be sure we do not make the same mistakes. Hatred begets hatred, it always has and always will. We need to look to the future and make those dreams become reality. It did my heart good to see the outpouring of sympathy from the entire world for Nelson Mandela. Integration does not start in the streets, or the schools, or the workplace; it starts in the heart. If we truly get our hearts in the right place then issues disappear. We have to start somewhere, if not here, then where? If not now, then when?

By the way, my family came from Germany in 1750. They were a wealthy family in Germany and through a series of misfortunate circumstances they lost all their possessions in travel to this country. So when they landed in Philadelphia they could not pay the passage fee and were forced to indenture all their children except for the baby, which was my great-great grandfather. The family never saw each other again. Through intensive genealogy research I have never been able to reconnect the family. A sad story but I look to it to strengthen me not to find fault of blame.

I dropped out of Face Book because someone kept trying to hack my account. But I did want to respond and voice hope for our future (TOGETHER).

Gary