"Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice." (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/od/2?lang=eng).
The above quote will sort of outline this entire post. And hopefully I'll keep it sort of short and to the point. During this faith journey, I have learned a lot of things. I've also learned to see things in new ways. My eyes have been opened to things I probably should have seen before, but didn't. And I've discovered things that I thought were one way, but are really another. A lot of this discovery is making me a better person (I hope). But some of it has caused me some grief. I feel betrayed, but by whom or what?
I always thought I was learning all the correct things while growing up in the church: Jesus is the Savior; God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are separate beings; Joseph Smith was the prophet through whom Jesus restored the priesthood power; The Book of Mormon was translated by using a breastplate and the Urim and Thummum; Temples are for redeeming the dead, and binding families for eternity; Etc. You grow up hearing this stuff; it's a narrative that the entire <correlated> church follows. It was drilled into my head to believe every Sunday as a kid. Eventually, it becomes what you believe. (In Utah especially--it's what you believe because it's all you ever hear and everyone around you seems to believe it too.) I never really found a reason not to believe, or even to question any of it while growing up. You hear it at church, and all of the people you trust believe it, so why wouldn't you? You hear it in seminary, and you feel good while going to seminary, so it must be true. You go on a mission, and these 19 and 20 year old KIDS are all preaching the same thing and swapping the same stories and sharing answers to the same questions--answers which sometimes turned out to be made up by one missionary or another. Eventually, I came to realize that going to church can be like taking Mormon 101. Every Sunday. Month after month. Year after year. Never graduating, just repeating the same survey course, over and over again. Hearing the same lessons. Giving the same "Sunday school answers." Until you stop going, or until you die. OK, I might be being slightly dramatic, but it really does feel like taking Mormon 101 and never graduating beyond the survey course.
At this point in my life, I've been sort of caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts. My mind is more open, more willing to hear truth. I'm inquisitive and curious. I thirst for knowledge, not only about my church, but about the world at large. I'm a biology major so I'm adept to using the scientific method and there has been some carry-over into religion, which doesn't always work but I try to apply it as much as possible.
Now, I'm only going to use this one example; there are more than a handful of other examples but I'll stick to this one for the sake of brevity. (Though don't hesitate to bring anything to the table if you leave a comment.) BLACKS AND THE PRIESTHOOD. You've probably heard of it; or you've heard someone refer to it like that. For those of you who are unfamiliar, I'll give you the cliff notes: In the early Mormon Church (1830 ish), under Joseph Smith, ANYONE worthy could hold the priesthood. But not a long way down the road, that was changed and from that time until 1978, the priesthood was withheld from Black people. The policy was undone via a revelation given to President Spencer W. Kimball, the prophet at the time. Most presently, the statement I quoted at the top of this post was given. To me, it reads like a little kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar, but shrugs his shoulders when his mom/dad ask, "Who ate all the cookies?" Now, anyone who likes to read church history books, or who likes to use Google, can find many quotes from Mormon prophets and general authorities--perhaps most notable is Brigham Young--stating the reasons for the ban on conferring priesthood on "the Negroes." ( "Those who were LESS VALIANT IN PRE-EXISTENCE and who thereby had
certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are
known to us as the NEGROES." LDS "Apostle" Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon
Doctrine, p. 527, 1966 edition. A similar statement by Young was recorded on February 13, 1849. The statement — which refers to the Curse of Cain
— was given in response to a question asking about the African's
chances for redemption. Young responded, "The Lord had cursed Cain’s
seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood." Brigham Young also said there could be no intermarrying between Whites and Blacks, or God would punish someone with "death on the spot." Etc...) However, this history is not generally talked about at church. Now that being racist is out of fashion, it's uncomfortable to discuss this uglier part of Mormon history. And so we don't; it's generally swept under the rug; avoided and ignored.
I served a full-time mission. Two whole years in the California Los Angeles Mission, both English and Spanish speaking. I LOVED it. I really did. Not always, and not everything. But I loved it and will always have fond memories of that time.
In Los Angeles, I spent most of my time knocking on doors and talking to Black people. And I gotta say, it was the first time where I was confronted with this whole "Blacks and the priesthood" issue. I was very much a correlated Mormon and I had never given it any thought. I remember thinking how cool those seminary videos were; the ones that showed the happiness of the African people to hear that they could receive the priesthood in 1978 and eventually go to the temple. But I hadn't considered the history of a policy I now consider nothing short of religiously justified racism. (And hey; who really had to justify it? The whole country was pretty racist during that time, right?) But as a missionary in Los Angeles, serving in areas like Long Beach, Compton, Norwalk and South Central, that whole Blacks and the priesthood thing scared me. I couldn't explain it. I had never really talked about it. And so I DEFINITELY wasn't prepared to talk about it with anyone I was teaching! I would avoid the subject. I hoped it wouldn't come up. I hoped I could get them baptized into the church before they'd ever find out. Once they were baptized, they'd have enough faith, and it'd be a while before they'd ever find out, right? Ugh...I have so much shame and regret over the way I handled such a dilemma. I was supposed to be there to serve the people of Los Angeles. I should have loved them enough to be completely honest. Sure, I had good intentions. But to me, the ends did not justify the means I often used.
Now, I feel betrayed. Betrayed because neither my primary teachers, nor my Sunday School teachers, nor my priesthood leaders, nor my bishops, nor my seminary teachers, nor my mission presidents, nor any general authority I have heard in my lifetime has tackled this issue with the candor and the forthright honesty it deserves. But I don't feel betrayed by those individuals. Most of them were just as oblivious and lost as I was. Most of them were just following protocol; teaching out of the Mormon 101 curriculum and textbooks. (That doesn't ACTUALLY exist, but...it kinda does.) And tonight, as I write this and get it off my chest to you (I soooo wish I could go to Los Angeles and meet with every person I ever taught and tell them that I'm sorry I didn't have more integrity than that) I realize I was betrayed by myself, I was betrayed by the general authorities who knew the answers--at least to a good degree--and I was betrayed by what I describe as the cancer of correlation; I was betrayed by a system that pushes for group-think, and a system that says: "Don't think; just believe."
Fast forward to right this minute: I have made peace with my own understanding of "Blacks and the priesthood." It was a racist policy, implemented by prophets, seers and revelators, who were also mere men and subject to being human. It wasn't from God and I'm glad, for whatever reason it took, that the policy was undone.
**I will probably cover the other handfuls of issues like this one at some point. And I will soon blog about why I should never have held the prophets in such holy regard; I should never have put them on the pedestals that I did. They aren't holy. They are mortal men, who God figured he could make a little useful.