Brigham Young and Race
CES Letter Core Question
Did Brigham Young hold racist views?
CES Letter, Page 69
Brigham Young was a product of his environment. He harbored racist views like most Americans in the 19th century. Thanks goodness for the Atonement. I believe as time has passed Brigham and others have received further knowledge and put away their flawed thinking.
The original issue was lineage, not skin color. The author of The CES Letter seems unaware that in the Old Testament 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.
Even 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). To blame Brigham Young for being concerned about ancestry is short-sighted.
Brigham Young’s implementation of the restrictions over time were undoubtedly influenced by surrounding cultural norms, a violation of which may have produced significant disdain and additional turmoil for the nineteenth-century Church. This does not excuse racism, but it does provide context for the policy Brigham eventually implemented.
In 1978 through a manifestation to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, the priesthood ban was removed.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, a man responsible for 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 that 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 (most) of the individual trials we each face daily by those who do not possess God’s vision. He had the power to prevent its implementation or to remove it earlier, but He did not.
While the trials associated with the priesthood ban were ultimately removed, dealing with its memory is a trial for many today. We are here to face trials and God ultimately decides what those trials will be, although our individual choices will greatly modify the types and number we encounter. When trials appear that are not a result of our choices, then God is simply testing our faith, which is why we are here on earth. The Apostle Peter explained: “The trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).