Monday, July 14, 2008

the problem of the church and the negro (updated)

here's a little something i found and added to my paper...

This problem is not only for Millet’s and Oman’s models of determining doctrine, but lies at the heart of Mormon doctrine, truth, and modern revelatory authority. If a Church leader at T1 is supposed to be understood to be teaching true doctrine, and if any later Church leader at T2 could preach a revelation that supersedes or contradicts the previous leader, then theoretically any true doctrine at T1 can at a later T2 become a false doctrine. Similarly, any false doctrine condemned at T1 can be overturned and considered a true doctrine at T2.

A great example of this problem can be found in John Lewis Lund’s The Church and the Negro, published in 1967.

Brigham Young revealed that the Negroes will not received the Priesthood until a great while after the advent of Jesus Christ, whose coming will usher in a millennium of peace. . . .

In view of what President Young and others have said, it would be foolish indeed to give anyone the false idea that a new revelation is immediately forthcoming on the issue of the Negroes receiving the Priesthood. If the prophet of God were to receive a revelation tomorrow giving the Negroes the Priesthood it would be certainly be accepted regardless of what Brigham Young or any other previous prophet has said. This is because the words of the living oracles relate more specifically to the era in which we live. . . .

Mormons view a prophet as God’s literal mouthpiece on earth. . . . The faithful Latter-day Saint accepts the prophet’s words as God’s will. Prophets do not inspire God; God inspires prophets.[1]

For Lund, the doctrines taught by Brigham Young and other church leaders would have precluded the idea of a later revelation giving blacks the priesthood before the second coming. Such an idea would be ‘foolish’ and ‘false’ because that revelation would contradict the teachings of Young and others which were supposed to be true and representative of God’s will. Both could not be true because either the priesthood would not be given to blacks saints before the second coming or it would be. Despite this, Lund is apparently open to the idea that a new revelation might come which would equally be true and representative of God’s will. This should of course raise the question as to how the statements by Young should be understood were the priesthood ban to be lifted prior to the revelation (as it was eleven years later). Can a Latter-day Saint accept both as being absolutely true doctrine? It seems that the latter[-day] revelation would show that the prior teachings by Brigham Young and other Church leaders were false. Bruce R. McConkie addressed this very issue when he said,

Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon 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.

We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.[2]

While according to Millet, the hard issue for Latter-day Saints deals with the rest of Young’s past teaching in light of others like this. It is the question of why a Mormon should accept the rest of Brigham Young teachings as true doctrines if others have been proven false. However, this also reveals harder issues of why a Latter-day Saint should accept the teachings of a modern leader as a true doctrine when it apparently contradicts the doctrines of so many other leaders of the past; or why the teachings of a modern day leader be considered a true doctrine when leaders of the past have mistakenly taught false doctrines - if a Church leader of the past could be wrong about X, why should a Church leader of the present be trusted in being right about Y?

[1] John Lewis Lund, The Church and the Negro: A Discussion of Mormons, Negroes and the Priesthood (Glendale, Calif. : Paramount Publishers, 1967), 45. Emphasis added.

[2] Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike unto God,” address given at the CES Religious Educators Symposium on 18 August 1978.


  1. i just typed the worlds best response and when i tried to add it, my computer decided it didn´t have internet connection any longer. bitter am i!

    but here is a shorter version:
    do not disparage the present or the future because the past was working with incomplete knowledge or with its human weaknesses of prejudices or whatever.

    was moses a false prophet because christ superceded the mosaic law with the higher law?

    questions are valid when they are seeking answers not when they are encouraging strife.

  2. What would be wrong with a generally fallibist approach. The idea would be if any church leader speaks x under circumstances y, then there is good reason to believe x, without any counter evidence.

    In other words, one could still be epistemically justified in believing the rest of BY's teachings, but rejecting others.

  3. ang and gnostic,

    i agree with both of you. i see no problem with mistakes by church leaders. however, when you combine these mistakes with a notion of absolute, never-wrong,unwavering truth that spills directly out of god's mouth (the prophets), then you've got some problems.

  4. very interesting. I think the best one can do, if one still has a testimony, is follow what the latest prophet is saying. I would think that god cant really get pissed or hold one at fault for following what is being spoken by the current mouthpiece.

    Are you really reading those books on the right hand side? In all of my avid geekyness, i got really excited when i saw the dragon reborn there.

    please dont tell anybody.


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