The CES Letter seeks to demonstrate that the priesthood ban was a mistake and because of this mistake prophets can't be trusted. Let's discuss this more.
CES LETTER CLAIM
As you know, for close to 130 years blacks were not only banned from holding the priesthood but black individuals and black families were blocked from the saving ordinances of the Temple. Every single prophet from Brigham Young all the way to Harold B. Lee kept this ban in place.
Prophets, Seers, and Revelators of 2013 – in the Church’s December 2013 Race and the Priesthood essay – disavowed the “theories” of yesterday’s Prophets, Seers, and Revelators for their theological, institutional, and doctrinal racist teachings and “revelation.”
Yesterday’s racist doctrine and revelation is now today’s “disavowed theories.”
Additionally, the above-mentioned essay also withdraws “that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse” while ironically contradicting the Book of Mormon itself: (No it doesn't contradict the Book of Mormon)
2 NEPHI 5:21
“And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” (This verse doesn't contradict the church essay. It has zero to do with African Americans, Instead, it pertains to Nephi's views of his Lamanite brethren)
CES Letter, Page 65
Declaring that there are "very clear insights on the origins of the ban on the blacks" goes well beyond the evidence.
If the author of The CES Letter had done research on the documents concerning the relevant records, he has given us no evidence of his work. Is he aware of Parley P. Pratt’s April 1847 comments? Brigham Young’s comments in March and December of the same year? If he is convinced that the these insights are “very clear,” perhaps he could provide them to his readers.
If he knows the records as well as he implies that he does, it is odd indeed that he would cite only the 1949 “First Presidency Statement,” a document with a questionable provenance from over 100 years after the fact.
If the author of The CES Letter feels the records are “very clear,” then he should be able to report to us the month—or even the year—in which the priesthood restriction came into being. He should be able to point us to the document laying out the “revelation” (as he calls it) dictating the origins of the ban. Was it in February 1849 when Brigham Young first went on record articulating the ban? February 1852 when he articulated it in public? Or was it earlier in April 1847 when Parley P. Pratt expressed his support for the restriction? Runnells doesn’t say. For someone who claims to know that the records are “very clear” and someone who is allegedly committed to shedding light on a misunderstood topic, his offerings are scant indeed.
CES LETTER CLAIM
CES Letter, Page 65
The CES Letter's narrative is very neat and clean here—too neat.
It avoids Joseph Smith’s struggles with racial thought while oversimplifying Brigham Young’s decision to restrict peoples of African descent from receiving priesthood office or temple ordinances.
In April 1836, Joseph Smith defended slavery but allowed them to hold the priesthood and his 1844 presidential platform sought to free them. In March 1847, Brigham Young wholeheartedly supported African peoples receiving the priesthood, including Walker Lewis, both points that the author leaves out.
The CES Letter's superficial understanding amounts to a cartoon version of the evolution of Mormonism’s racial thought. Therefore, readers must beware of easily-packaged narratives on matters as complex as race relations. The author of The CES Letter seeks to contrast Joseph Smith against Brigham Young; however, there is more crossover between the two men than The CES Letter acknowledges.
Given the importance of race history, The CES Letter does no service to the cause of racial equality by deploying it primarily as a means of attacking the LDS church.
CES LETTER CLAIM
CES Letter, Page 65
The CES Letter takes Spencer W. Kimball’s quote out of context. In the same breath, Kimball chastises agitators “who would force the issue. . .cheapen the issue and certainly bring into contempt the sacred principle of revelation and divine authority.”
Here, The CES Letter plagiarizes the lyrics from “I Believe,” a song from the Book of Mormon Musical (“I believe that in 1978 God changed his mind about black people”).
The CES Letter also seems to be unaware of the lack of consensus among Church leaders about the restriction, with each generation of leaders accepting different rationales for the restriction.
Prior to 1847, Brigham Young accepted African-Americans as priesthood holders. Then, William (Warner) McCary, a black Mormon, complained to President Young regarding the way he was sometimes treated among the Saints intimating that his skin color was a factor: “I am not a President, or a leader of the people” McCary lamented, but merely a “common brother,” a fact that he said was true “because I am a little shade darker.” Brigham Young responded saying: “We dont care about the color.” And insisted, “we have one of the best Elders, an African in Lowell, [Massachusetts]—a barber,” which was a reference to Q. Walker Lewis, a barber, abolitionist, and leader in the black community there. Brigham was fully aware of Lewis’s status as a black man and priesthood holder and favourably referred to that status in his interview with McCary. Brigham Young offered Lewis as evidence that even black men were welcome and eligible for the priesthood in Mormonism.
Brigham Young gave two speeches to the Utah Territorial legislature in 1852. After the second, he articulated for the first time a restriction of the priesthood by a Mormon prophet-president. His declarations created controversy among other Church leaders who eventually accepted the position.
By the late nineteenth century, LDS leaders were unwilling to violate policies implement by Brigham Young and sometimes mistakenly remembered it had begun with Joseph Smith. By 1908, Joseph F. Smith solidified the priesthood and temple restrictions by advancing a position that failed to remember Elijah Abel, a black priesthood holder, and supported a white priesthood from the beginning.
This position became entrenched among leaders so that by 1949 the First Presidency declared that the restriction was “always” in place: “The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord.” Nothing was said of the original black priesthood holders.
Church leaders entertained the possibility of changing the ban. President David O. McKay pushed for reform on racial matters, but he was convinced that it would take a revelation to overturn the ban. Hugh B. Brown, his counsellor in the First Presidency, believed otherwise reasoning that because there was no revelation which began the ban, no revelation was needed to end it.
As early as 1963, however, Apostle Spencer W. Kimball signaled an open attitude for change: “The doctrine or policy has not varied in my memory,” Kimball acknowledged, “I know it could. I know the Lord could change his policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error which brought about the deprivation.” That forgiveness ultimately came with Kimball at the helm in 1978.
President Hinckley, second counselor in the First Presidency recalled his experience in 1978:
On this occasion [June 1, 1978] President Kimball raised the question before his Brethren -- his Counselors and the Apostles. Following this discussion we joined in prayer in the most sacred of circumstances. President Kimball himself was voice in that prayer. I do not recall the exact words that he spoke. But I do recall my own feelings and the nature of the expressions of my Brethren. There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. The Spirit of God was there. And by the power of the Holy Ghost there came to that prophet an assurance that the thing for which he prayed was right, that the time had come, and that now the wondrous blessings of the priesthood should be extended to worthy men everywhere regardless of lineage.
Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing.
It was a quiet and sublime occasion.
There was not the sound "as of a rushing mighty wind," there were not "cloven tongues like as of fire (Acts 2:2-3) as there had been on the Day of Pentecost. But there was a Pentecostal spirit, for the Holy Ghost was there.
No voice audible to our physical ears was heard. But the voice of the Spirit whispered with certainty into our minds and our very souls.
It was for us, at least for me personally, as I imagine it was with Enos, who said concerning his remarkable experience, "And while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind." (Enos 1:10.)
So it was on that memorable June 1, 1978. We left that meeting subdued and reverent and joyful. Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same.
All of us knew that the time had come for a change and that the decision had come from the heavens. The answer was clear. There was perfect unity among us in our experience and in our understanding.
CES LETTER CLAIM
CES Letter, Page 65
This is a dramatic statement that misrepresents church teachings.
The Gospel Topics essay "Race and the Priesthood" describes how cultural traditions apparently influenced a Church policy that has now been removed.
Brigham Young’s implementation of the restrictions over time were undoubtedly influenced by surrounding cultural norms. This does not excuse the ban, but it does provide context for the policy Brigham eventually implemented.
In 1978 through an official declaration from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, the priesthood ban was removed.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, a man responsible for vocalizing some of the Church’s justifications for a racial ban, denounced his own statements within months of the 1978 revelation. He told an audience at Brigham Young University to “[f]orget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or . . . whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” It was a statement that suggested prior teachings on race may have lacked “light and knowledge.”
The priesthood and temple restrictions were a trial for both white and black Latter-day Saints. In retrospect, it might seem like it was a needless trial that could have been easily remedied. However, the label of “needless” could be applied to many of the individual trials we each face daily.
While the trials associated with the priesthood ban were ultimately removed, dealing with its memory is a trial for many today.
CES LETTER CLAIM
How can we trust these “Prophets, Seers, and Revelators,” who have been so wrong about so many important things for so long while claiming to be receiving revelations from God?
Yesterday’s doctrine is today’s false doctrine. Yesterday’s 10 prophets are today’s heretics.
CES Letter, Page 65-66
The God of the Bible and of the Book of Mormon is a practical God. He holds the destiny of armies in His hands (D&C 117:6), but he also renders unto Caesar the things that are Caesars (Matthew 22:21; D&C 63:26). The timing of the withdrawl of the priesthood ban is no surprise.
The CES Letter fails to acknowledge the positive relationship being developed between the Church and the African-American community in the 1970s. Moreover, it refuses to acknowledge the positive work of faithful Latter-day Saints to promote civil rights legislation in Utah (James E. Faust, Adam Duncan, Frank E. Moss, Sherman Lloyd,).
The CES Letter ignores the role African Latter-day Saint communities played in prompting Church leaders to revisit their racial assumptions. LaMar S. Williams, an early missionary to Nigeria in 1961, left the country convinced that the priesthood restriction was no longer viable. Additionally, The CES Letter seems uninterested in the role that Brazilian Latter-day Saints played in pushing Church leaders to realize the limitations that the restriction placed on Church expansion.
The CES Letter is incorrect in his assessment of Church leadership’s adoption of civil rights platforms. In October 1963 Hugh B. Brown declared his public support for civil rights legislation, “call[ing] upon all men, everywhere, both within and outside the Church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God's children. Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the brotherhood of man.” In 1969, the First Presidency reiterated its support for such legislation.
The CES Letter is in error when it claims that the “LDS Church is the last major Church on the planet to adopt it.” In 2000, sociologist Michael Emerson demonstrated that 90% of church-going African Americans “attend predominantly black congregations, at least 95 percent of white Americans—and probably higher—attend predominantly white churches” (Divided by Faith, 16).
The CES Letter reflects some ignorance of how the priesthood was regulated in the Old Testament: “Christ’s true Church should have been the one leading the Civil Rights movement, not be the last major Church on the planet in 1978 to adopt it.” Jesus Christ acknowledged the importance of lineage telling the Twelve Apostles: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6; see also 15:24). Christ invited all to come and receive the blessings of the Gospel, but He first sent missionaries to the lost sheep of Israel.
Under the Law of Moses, only males from the tribe of Levi were permitted to hold the priesthood and officiate in temple priesthood ordinances. Limitations on priesthood ordinations have a long religious history.