Renaming the “Priesthood Ban”

Today, by way of celebrating thirty years since the lifting of what’s commonly referred to as the “priesthood ban,” I wonder whether we can come up with a phrase that’s equally economical but more descriptive. To my knowledge, the “priesthood ban” comprised the following policies:

A. Men of African descent were prohibited from holding the priesthood.

B. Men of African descent were therefore prohibited from participating in temple ordinances.

C. Women of African descent were also prohibited from participating in temple ordinances.

Obviously B was contingent on A, and accordingly these two facets of the policy are mentioned separately, but apparently in conjunction with each other, at the beginning of OD2: “a revelation had been received . . . extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church.”

But how does C fit in? From time to time the argument is advanced in various forms that endowed women hold the priesthood, and indeed this very policy of shutting black women out of the temple under the rubric of a “priesthood ban” can be adduced as evidence to this effect. At least implicitly C is surely also contingent on A, by way of B (in a Church with an entrenched gender hierarchy it would hardly be conceivable to exclude men of a particular race from certain ordinances while welcoming women’s participation). And there are some tantalizing ways in which women are permitted to officiate in ordinances exclusively in the temple, although the impropriety of touching a member of the opposite sex–i.e. convenience–has obviously played a significant role in this anomalous allowance. Nevertheless, if we accept the idea that women hold the priesthood but are simply not ordained to priesthood offices then the scope of the policy becomes much more doctrinally transparent.

However, I don’t find this solution at all satisfactory. First of all, in both its common and current official usages in the Church, “priesthood” refers to specific ecclesial privileges open to and incumbent on individuals who are ordained to offices in one or both branches, the Aaronic and the Melchizedek, all of whom are male, and not to members wielding a conjectural free-floating latent “priesthood” with a very narrowly circumscribed scope of authority. We can split semantic hairs over whether our definition of “priesthood” can encompass women, but we’re simply deferring the issue.

Secondly, OD2 itself never mentions women’s situation explicitly but merely hints in veiled language at the ways women would also be affected by this volte-face: “This . . . has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church [does this mean male and female?] all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords.” And indeed, the privileges and blessings of the gospel open to other women were extended to black women as well. The declaration goes on to announce that every worthy man could now receive ordination and “enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple.” This latter quotation seems to be a fairly clear reference to women’s access to the temple, but if so, the way it’s phrased implies that (a) women would wait to be endowed until marriage, since their access to the temple is seemingly contingent on their husband’s access, and (b) black women would not marry outside their race. (These assumptions undoubtedly made sense in 1978, although now they’re perhaps obsolescent.) Notice that the way black women would be impacted is framed as one of the blessings black men would enjoy.

In light of this, I think it’s clearly not the case that our reference to the “priesthood ban” as a policy banning certain women from temple participation conceals an assumption that women actually hold the priesthood by virtue of their having received temple ordinances. Quite the contrary–OD2 is rather explicit on the point that only worthy males will receive the priesthood. Instead, the presuppositions we uncover in this text are that black women will not attend the temple until black men take them there; thus, their access to the temple is dependent on ordaining black men and is best viewed as attendant to it and not meriting significance in itself.

The effect of the policy on women is thus elided both in the declaration and by our shorthand phrase of choice (“priesthood ban”). Is there a better way of referring to the policy (“priesthood-temple ban”? “exaltation exclusion”?) in such a way that we show awareness of the breadth of its effects? Or is the point immaterial?


  1. *confused* This is the first time I’ve heard that black people weren’t allowed in the temples. I’ve always understood the ban to mean that they couldn’t officiate but that they could participate.

  2. I stopped using the “priesthood ban” phrase awhile ago because it doesn’t explain that what was really happening was that all blacks (men and women) were denied exaltation.

    I think it much more accurate to reword the phrase to reflect the significance of the fact that black members could not marry for eternity and were thus relegated to the lower kingdoms in the hereafter. Exaltation Exclusion is much more accurate than priesthood ban. I usually just say, “when blacks were denied temple ordinances.”

    (And I might add that it’s my understanding that black women were also forbidden to enter the temple even if marrying a white man)

  3. Hm. I see your point, but I don’t think it is worth changing primarily because the name truly is accurate. There was a priesthood ban, and it was lifted — the event has enough notoriety to warrant a name that although accurate in descrption may not be accurate in scope.

    You are obviously aware that there have been many priesthood bans/exclusivities (like the apostasy, the Levites, etc…) so by your reasoning, I could also insist that we only refer to it as “the Priesthood temple ban of blacks from the time of Brigham Young to the time of Official Declaration #2”

    But that’s not very economical.

  4. Ryan,

    As Proud Daughter of Eve points out from personal experience, “priesthood ban” isn’t sufficiently accurate to convey true understanding. This might be especially true for women who never personally witness that priesthood ordination is one of the ordinances performed during the initiatory temple ordinances for the dead.

    I like “exaltation exclusion” though this is the first that I’ve heard it put that way.

  5. Jonathan,

    I strongly disagree that someone’s insufficient understanding of a principle is enough reasoning to change a widely used name.

    Why go with Exaltation Exclusion? I think we should call it “The exclusion from passing the sacrament”

    I hope I’m reading your intentions wrong, but it sounds suspiciously like “Exaltation Exclusion” is preferred because it is a much heavier club to beat the church over the head with.

    “Did you know that blacks couldn’t hold the priesthood at one time”
    “Yes but wasn’t that lifted?”
    “Yeah, whatever… BUT did you know that during that time they were excluded from exaltation!!!”

    Frankly if you are of the opinion that the Lord, as a result of the priesthood ban, has excluded worthy members of the church (or worthy human beings worldwide, for that matter) from Exaltation, then it is not Proud Daughter of Eve whose understanding “isn’t sufficiently accurate”.

  6. It’s also difficult because at the time the endowment was much more closely tied to marriage for women. If you were married to an inactive or non-member man, you couldn’t attend the temple even if you were worthy (that was my mom’s situtation until the mid-1980s when they changed the policy). You also couldn’t attend the temple as a single woman unless going on a mission (and I’m not sure that was always the case).

    I’m comfortable with the phrase “priesthood ban”, but I think we should raise our consciousness of the implications of holding the priesthood. I think most of us are not aware of how closely the priesthood itself is linked with temple ordinances–that you cannot participate in one without the other.

  7. I’m glad you brought that up, FoxyJ, because I was about to. It was my mom’s and a few of her friends’ situation as well. As single women or women who were married to non-members, they couldn’t get their own endowments. Thank goodness that has changed. I’m thinking the fact that black women were denied their own endowments may have had ties to this “non-temple-married” ban as much as (or in conjunction with) race.

  8. I think it much more accurate to reword the phrase to reflect the significance of the fact that black members could not marry for eternity and were thus relegated to the lower kingdoms in the hereafter.

    But that is completely false. The entire doctrine was that Blacks would have the priesthood and all the benefits of it, just not at that time. There was never any doctrinal support for the concept that Blacks were excluded from exaltation.

    Perhaps Priesthood Suspension is a better term since it properly captures what happens, and captures the temporary nature.

    Though it does not catch the context of the Old Testament and the limits on the priesthood then.

  9. I think consciousness raising is a good enough reason to use a different phrase.

    Frankly if you are of the opinion that the Lord, as a result of the priesthood ban, has excluded worthy members of the church (or worthy human beings worldwide, for that matter) from Exaltation, then it is not Proud Daughter of Eve whose understanding “isn’t sufficiently accurate”.

    It’s really not my intent to go down this path, so let’s just say that my understanding of consequences of the exclusion from the temple is in line with statements from leaders of the church at the time. Elder Mark E. Petersen, for example, saw no better fate for the faithful black Latter-day Saints than that they should be servants in the Celestial Kingdom.

  10. PDoE, I believe blacks were denied access to the temple entirely–not just to officiate but to participate in ordinances. As has already been pointed out, men must be ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood to go to the temple, which is the obvious connection between A and B.

    My understanding matches yours, Jana–black women were denied access to the temple regardless (even if they married outside their race)–which is why I find it curious that they’re not even mentioned in OD2!! The only sense I can make is that it was simply taken for granted they would not marry outside their race and thus their situation was viewed as concomitant to ordaining black men? And I agree completely with you that, doctrinally, the exclusion from exaltation seems more significant than the lack of priesthood. I like the way you refer to it.

    Stephen, I’m interested in this idea that the doctrine of the time was that blacks would have the priesthood in the hereafter (and thus exaltation would be available), just not in life. Is there any clear support for such a position, like say temple work being done for blacks after death? It’s easy to project our current doctrine onto the past and understand past policy in a sort of teleological way, as adumbrating the present. But it seems like at the time the justification for the policy was not the mystery it’s often claimed to be now–it was perfectly clear (if offensive to our sensibilities). I know there are women, for example, who maintain that women will have the priesthood in the hereafter, although I don’t personally see good doctrinal support for that position. To me, if it was believed blacks could be exalted anyway, their exclusion from exalting ordinances makes even less sense.

    Thanks for making that point, FoxyJ and meems–I definitely think black women’s exclusion from the temple fits into this historical context, in which women were supposed to be taken to the temple by a worthy man, which seems to underlie the silence of OD2 regarding them. I’m glad the situation has changed, even though given the content of our ordinances the change doesn’t entirely make sense (single women covenanting with nonexistent husbands, for example), but that’s a topic for another day.

    I can see your point, Ryan, and there’s certainly a limit to how descriptive our phrase of choice can be without becoming overly cumbersome. I do think it would be helpful, though, to avoid limiting the discussion just to the effect on blacks of being denied the opportunities to exercise priesthood in the community, since the policy was more far-reaching than that.

    I’m not entirely convinced the situation is really comparable to the Old Testament, although I’m open to being convinced if someone wants to make the case. First, there’s the obvious problem that different authors seem to understand Levites or Levites and priests in different ways. Secondly, priests were professional butchers whose livelihood was contingent on their having opportunities to sacrifice. Third, they were denied any land in a largely agrarian economy, the result being that the Bible seems more concerned with disenfranchised priests than with priests’ privileges (see Deuteronomy 12:17-19 for an example of biblical authors trying to mitigate the circumstances that centralizing the cult would throw local priests into). It was definitely a trade-off to have your “inheritance” be “the LORD” rather than a tribal territory.

  11. What Ryan and Stephen said. There was always the expectation that one day the situation would change, although I think a lot of people didn’t expect that to happen in regular time (i.e., until the Millennium, or even far after). You’d have to show me a quotation from some responsible church leader — not a freaky backwoods local author — before I’d believe that an “exaltation exclusion” was *ever* taught or even contemplated.

    Some relevant extracts from the diary of David O. McKay:

    12 December 1957:

    Re: Baptism of Negro

    President Joseph Fielding Smith said that he had received a letter marked personal in which the statement is made that someone had reported to the writer that President McKay had given consent that the temple endowment work be performed for a negro who is dead, and that therefore we were doing work for negroes in the temple.

    I related the following facts for the information of the Brethren, and said that I felt sure that I had previously brought this matter to the Council.

    A negro woman had called at the office some few years ago, she having her residence in Ogden. I stated that I think she said she was Methodist; that her church could not do anything for her husband who was dead, and that before he died he wanted to join our Church; that inasmuch as our Church is the only Church that can do baptismal work for him, and he had requested that she see that his baptism was attended to if he did not recover from his illness, she wanted to have it done.

    I told her that that could be done. She explained that she knew that he could not receive the Priesthood. She said that the Ward teachers would do the work for him. I said that the thought came to me as to whether they could be baptized for him, and the matter was discussed in Council later. I gave consent for the Ward teacher to be baptized for this negro lady’s husband.

    Now the report comes that the temple work was done for that negro, and therefore he was ordained an Elder. The facts are that the ward teachers were authorized to do baptism work for a colored man who had become converted but died before baptism could be performed, and there is no truth to the statement that he was ordained an Elder or permitted to have his endowments.

    5 September 1958:

    The time will come when the Negro will have the right to the Priesthood. The Lord is the one who will say when that is. … We believe absolutely in the justice of the Lord that everyman will receive his merits – will receive blessings according to his merits. We believe the Negro and no other race will be deprived of any blessing that he or others are title to. We believe that is a fundamental principle is the justice of our Father in Heaven. … We believe, he by righteous living will attain the status, the stature, the character, faithfulness, that will entitle him to the blessings of the Holy Priesthood. When that (time) comes we do not know.

    14 April 1965:

    Sealing of Woman Previously Married to Negro

    President Brown called attention to a request that had been received from a woman formerly married to a Negro, by whom she had two children. She later divorced the Negro and married a white man and wants to go to the Temple and have her children sealed to her and her present husband. We agreed that if otherwise worthy, the woman and her white husband could go to the Temple for their endowments and be sealed, but the children by the former marriage could not be sealed to them.

    12 January 1966:

    Negroes – Temple Work of Member now married to Non-member Negro

    Consideration was given to a letter from [edited], also a letter from Bishop [editedx] and Counselors of the [edited] Ward, these letters having reference to the problems involved in this sister’s marriage to a Negro. She became a member in [edited], received her endowments in [edited], and was divorced from her former husband in [edited]. She has subsequently married a Negro non-member, and has been told by the Bishopric that no further Temple visits would be allowed her, and that because of her marriage to a Negro her Temple endowments are ineffective.

    It was decided to write the Bishopric asking that they inform this sister that the fact of her marriage to a Negro does not cancel her endowments; that, however, under the circumstances she should not be recommended to the Temple for further ordinance work. The Bishopric also are to be told that any children born of this marriage cannot hold the Priesthood; however, there is no reason why she cannot be active in the Ward and Stake.

    14 December 1966:

    Negroes – Baptism for Dead by Colored Girl

    We discussed two or three items, one of which was contained in a letter from Bishop [edited] of the [edited] Stake, stating that the youth in the [edited] Stake frequently have opportunity to attend the [edited] Temple by means of Stake excursions to do baptisms for the dead. He mentioned a young colored girl in his ward, 12 years of age, who is a baptized member, faithful in her Church activities, and inquires if there would be objection to permitting her to participate in these excursions and to do work for the dead.

    We agreed that there would be no objection, if she is otherwise worthy, to granting her permission to do baptismal work in the Temple for the dead.

  12. Thanks, Ardis, that’s really fascinating! It definitely puts some aspects of OD2 into perspective. I’m especially interested to learn black women could enter the temple if they married worthy white men.

  13. Kiskilili, there may be a misunderstanding. I believe the woman who married a white man after having been married to a black man was a white woman herself.

    The practice seems to have been that a black could enter the temple for baptisms, and that the proxy work for deceased blacks could be done, but nothing else in either case. In other words, temple work could be done for the black dead that otherwise would have been available to the black living, but nothing more. No ordination, no endowment, no sealing (whether to spouse or in the parent/child relation).

    White women married to blacks were excluded from the temple in the same way that white women married to nonmember/inactive husbands were excluded in that day, but a previously valid endowment/sealing was not invalidated by subsequent marriage to a black man.

    And it was always assumed that some day, God being just, blacks would receive the priesthood and all temple ordinances and every other blessing offered to any other person.

  14. Ah, thanks for clearing that up. That was my original understanding of the way the policy worked–that what was available to the dead mirrored what was permitted for the living, and that black women were denied temple access systematically.

  15. Fwiw, any statement prior to the revelation in 1978 should be discarded as having been spoken with limited light and knowledge, per Bruce R. McConkie’s repudiation of his and others’ justifications for the ban. I simply don’t accept anything prior to 1978 as authoritative on the subject. Obviously, the ones stating that the day would come were correct, but I still don’t classify them as “authoritative”. They simply were right.

    I am perfectly fine with “Priesthood Ban”. All the other effects are direct results of not having access to the Priesthood. I have yet to hear a different phrase that I believe says it better, including any of those offered here. Plus, “ban” implies taking away something that once was held – so I think it fits better than most people realize.

  16. I meant:

    … and that the proxy work, BAPTISM ONLY, for deceased blacks could be done …

    That was going to be my next question. Gah, what a sad mess that all was. I’m glad we do have ordinances for the dead because now the full work can be done for all those people. It’s not the same as them never having been denied it of course but at least that which had been withheld can still be given.

  17. Ardis is correct. Before 1978, black people were allowed to enter the temple, but they were only allowed to preform proxy baptisms.

    In 1977 I went to the temple in Washington, D.C., and an African-American couple entered just in front of me. As we approached, the recommend desk, the old guy behind who checked recommends began to fidget visibly. He apparently was afraid that they were planning to force their way in, that there was going to be a scene, and he would have to call security. As it turned out, they were faithful LDS who were there doing what they could. THey had recommends permitting them to go to the baptistry, and they entered and went around the corner. The recommend guy looked at my, wiped his brow, and shook his head. I thought he was going to have a stroke.

  18. Thank you for bringing up, and helping to clarify, the details of the “priesthood ban”. When I first heard about the lifting of the ban that June of 1978, my first thought was, “But what about the women?”
    I think it is important that people really understand how far-reaching and difficult it really was. When I was a teenager (in the 60s), my mother became a very close friend of a young woman who was married to a fine young man, a returned missionary, both of them active in the Church. This young woman could not attend the temple with her husband or be sealed to him because of the color of her skin. However, she had such faith, that when their first child (a son) was born, she started a mission fund for him. He was only a toddler in 1978, and he did go on to serve a mission. She was amazing.
    I think it would be accurate to say that the ban was on participation in certain priesthood ordinances, but it included both men and women. As in many Church discussions, you have to read between the lines to get the full story (i.e., male AND female).

  19. I agree that exaltation exclusion is not really accurate. The phrase is also cumbersome, is not really descriptive, and is incomprehensible to non-LDS . For that matter, I suspect most church members would be similarly baffled, and they at least know what is meant by exaltation. Critics could point to the expression as yet another example of LDS trying cover up embarrassing historical facts. Use of the phrase could also be seen as an attempt to imply that the ban had consequences only in the afterlife, and none in mortality. Arguably, the reverse is true.

    For exactly thirty years, I’ve read “enjoy with his loved ones…the blessings of the temple” as simply meaning that Black men and women could now receive all temple ordinances. Given that that’s how the revelation was implemented beginning in June 1978, it seems a bit odd to go back now and make a more convoluted reading of the text.

  20. Left Field, could you speak a little more to what you mean in your second paragraph? To be honest I’m not entirely sure where we’re in disagreement. As I said in the post, I think it’s a “fairly clear” reference to black women being allowed in the temple–I’m sure that’s what’s intended by it–although if I didn’t know that were part of the policy I wouldn’t necessarily have been able to deduce it from OD2.

    Here’s how I think about it. If we accept the following as true (and I’m certainly no Church historian)–(a) black women were systematically denied access to higher temple ordinances, even if married to white men, and (b) women married to black men were thereafter denied access to higher temple ordinances regardless of race, even if previously endowed, then the phrase in question addresses only the second situation, only in veiled terms, and only treating women’s situation as concomitant to that of their husbands. The last of these issues obviously reflects Church policy of the time, as others have noted above (women’s temple attendance was contingent on their being married to a worthy priesthood holder). I suspect that implicitly (a) was intended to be conveyed as well (black women were now allowed in the temple), but I don’t think this clause actually addresses the situation of black women explicitly because they couldn’t attend the temple even if married to, and thus concomitant to, white priesthood-holding men. So if we assume Church leaders intended by this clause to convey the change in policy allowing black women in the temple, then we’re assuming that black men’s “loved ones” are black women (and children), which is why I think, based on information outside the text, that Church leaders writing this, if they intended to address black women and the temple, assumed black women wouldn’t marry outside their race. This is all quite convoluted, but I’m not sure of a more straightforward way of understanding it!

    Actually, that’s not true. I think the most straightforward reading is that wives and children of black men (regardless of race) were now allowed in the temple. In which case black women specifically are left out altogether. Which is why I think a more all-encompassing way of referring to the policy is in order.

  21. Thanks for your example, Catherine. It’s nice to bring the discussion back to the ways in which the policy affected real-life people.

    Oh, Mark, that’s a crazy story!

    Ray, perhaps “priesthood-temple ban” would fit? I understand that it seems quite natural that black women would be denied access to the temple if black men were, but I’m still not understanding how exactly it really follows from it. Women’s access to the temple was understood as concomitant to their husband’s, so it follows logically when black women were married to black men, but the policy was more encompassing than that, denying black women access to the temple even when married to worthy priesthood-holders of other races. As I said above, “priesthood ban” centers on A, and B follows from A, but C doesn’t necessarily, which is why I think another term might be helpful.

    The model you present, to simplify it crudely, is one of progress in which the Church gains increasing light, moving from a situation say where there’s mostly darkness and only a little light to a situation where more and more is illuminated. The trouble I see with this is that the subject under discussion is not a matter of something mysterious and in the dark becoming clear as more light is shed on it. Quite the opposite–in the past there were plenty of leaders who claimed light from heaven on a subject over which many now claim darkness from heaven (curse-of-Cain and less-valiant-in-the-preexistence rationales are being replaced by shrugs of shoulders and refusals to speculate). The Church didn’t straightforwardly gain more light; the Church turned 180 degrees from one supposed beam of light to another. If we decide that nothing in our past is authoritative in light of current doctrine, we’re going to need a better way of making sense of our own past and particularly the potential that any current policies or attitudes could be implicitly repudiated by further 180 degree turns (or even 60 degree turns) and deemed doctrinal cul de sacs.

    It strikes me that conversations especially on the so-called “priesthood ban” and polygamy founder repeatedly and almost inevitably over the same issues: we have no paradigm for change. Change certainly can and does happen, but on the whole we seem to have no good mechanisms for processing it, and we’re left with uncomfortable doctrinal implications from now-defunct policies that have nevertheless never been repudiated and so are theologically unresolved. To frame it perhaps too reductively, either the Church made a serious mistake even while claiming inspiration, raising the possibility that the Church is currently making mistakes, or God is racist. Personally I find the former conclusion considerably less horrifying, but I can understand why such issues are difficult to resolve. We’re pitting our self-concept as a Church against the skeletons in our closet, and there’s no easy way to integrate the two.

  22. The ability to be sealed in the temple is one of the blessings of the priesthood. Furthermore, the promise of priest(ess)hood is given to women during the endowment, even if they aren’t ordained to it right now.

    Using the term “priesthood ban” seems to me to be a form of verbal shorthand that encompasses a laundry list of priesthood-centered ordinances that were withheld from both Black men and Black women.

    Black men can be ordained to the priesthood, just as white men can. Black women can receive the promise of priest(ess)hood now, just as white women can.

  23. Ann, in many ways I’m attracted to this solution, and it makes sense on a number of levels (how else to explain women officiating in the temple, and becoming potential priestesses to their husbands, let alone the fact that lifting a ban on black men also lifted a ban on black women?). It makes perfectly comprehensible why black women weren’t endowed, makes some doctrinal sense, and has some 19th-century historical precedent. If we accept this broader definition of priesthood, though, the lacuna in OD2 regarding women specifically seems all the more striking.

    I guess the reason I’d like a broader term than “priesthood ban” is that when I hear priesthood I hear Aaronic and Melchizedek and passing the sacrament and serving as bishop and Sunday School president and setting people apart to callings. Correspondingly, when I hear “priesthood ban,” I hear a ban on those kinds of activities, from which women are banned anyway. My attention isn’t drawn to the fact that opportunities for women opened up as well as a result of OD2 (or that opportunities were denied them previously).

  24. Kiskilli,
    What an interesting post. Like PDOE, I was also uninformed about the state of black women before 1978. It actually makes me really sad.
    I am glad that the church is celebrating the anniversary of the lifting of the “ban” but I’ve heard it won’t be rebroadcast?
    I’d be interested to know what percentage of US members are black? I met two wonderful black LDS women at the Rocky Mountain Retreat who shared some of their experiences with the church and race issues. I was very moved by their stories(and grateful to hear the wards in my area had done a better job than wards elsewhere at welcoming one of these sisters).
    Although I wasn’t around in 1978 to witness the lifting of the ban, I am most surprised that the issues of women in the church weren’t addressed directly in the OD2. With the high publicity of the ERA, wouldn’t women’s issues also be on the forefront of the minds of these leaders?

  25. “Change certainly can and does happen, but on the whole we seem to have no good mechanisms for processing it, and we’re left with uncomfortable doctrinal implications from now-defunct policies that have nevertheless never been repudiated and so are theologically unresolved.”

    I don’t see it that way at all.

    Bruce R. McConkie, perhaps the most ardent justifier of the ban, said, after the revelation:

    “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.”

    (”All Are Alike unto God” – BYU devotional – August 18, 1978)

    That seems like a clear repudiation to me, along with the words of Elder Oaks and President Hinckley recently.

    BTW, our past leaders often are castigated for their incorrect speculation; our current leaders often are castigated for their unwillingness to speculate. We can’t have it both ways, and I prefer the current lack of speculation to the type of speculation that led to the ban and its official justifications.

  26. “I am glad that the church is celebrating the anniversary of the lifting of the “ban” but I’ve heard it won’t be rebroadcast?”

    I can’t speak authoritatively, but one of the key people involved in much of the research regarding the ban has said that it will be broadcast at some point on BYU-TV.

    BTW, anyone who wants to get a wonderful perspective on the black members who remained faithful despite the ban should look for the documentary “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons” – produced by BYU professor Margaret Young and former Genesis Group president Darius Gray. The trailer alone is astounding, and the reviews have been phenomenal.

  27. Those are good questions, Jessawhy. I don’t know the percentage of black members in the US, though I’d be interested to find out. As to why the Church didn’t mention black women in OD2 even as women’s issues were coming to the fore, I’m really not sure–I imagine that, being doubly marginalized, black women were simply off the radar. Even though second-wave feminism was afoot, it’s been critiqued as exclusively representing the experience and needs of white women. I still find it rather striking, though.

  28. It’s not true that women in 1978 could only be endowed if married to a worthy priesthood holder. Sister missionaries then, as now, received their endowments before leaving on their missions. I believe that in some other exceptional circumstances, women were occasionally endowed without being married to a priesthood holder, but not as commonly as is done now

    Every faithful, worthy man…may…enjoy with his loved ones…the blessings of the temple.

    Note that there is no mention of race here. It doesn’t say “every faithful worthy Black man…” It says that every worthy man, white, black, or otherwise, can enjoy the blessings of the temple with his wife and children regardless of the race of his loved ones. No matter whether I am black or white, OD2 explicitly says that II can be sealed to my wife (and that she can be endowed) regardless of her race.

    In the case of Black sisters who are single or who are married to a nonmember, it seems clear from the text of OD2 that they would have the same expectation of temple ordinances as any other sister in the same circumstances, and that race is irrelevant to their access to the temple. In terms of the specific wording of OD2, any priesthood holder can expect that any worthy Black woman who is or becomes his “loved one” will be able to receive temple ordinances. Since every Black woman in the church is currently or potentially the “loved one” (i.e., wife or daughter) of a worthy priesthood holder, it logically follows from OD2 that she no longer has any temple restriction due to race.

  29. Thanks for the quote, Ray. Originally I included a note in my comment to you on McConkie’s recanting, but the comment was getting too long so I unwisely took it back out! I agree that McConkie personally apologized for earlier statements, but that was in the face of incontrovertible evidence regarding the issue of whether blacks would ever be ordained. But I’m not convinced the Church as an institution has ever made an authoritative pronouncement repudiating past doctrine when it comes to blacks-priesthood-temple and acknowledging that it made a mistake. And indeed, there are still plenty of Church members who believe the ban had a purpose and was inspired, whether we can decipher that purpose or not. This is what I was always taught growing up.

    The problem with casting certain beliefs or policies as speculation rather than inspiration and adhering only to the latter is by what criterion do we distinguish them?

  30. Ah, I see what you mean, Left Field–thanks for pointing that out to me; I obviously misread the statement. My apologies. I agree with you that it logically follows that opportunities extended to white women would also be extended to black women, although I personally wish they’d made that explicit. While it’s true in certain circumstances women could be endowed without priesthood-holding husbands, I still think the context of the policies of the time helps explain why women’s temple attendance is viewed as a blessing of their husbands, not as an item in itself.

  31. This sounds hopelessly Pollyanna of me, but I don’t really use the term “priesthood ban.” I’m more likely to talk about “before the priesthood revelation.”

    And in my mind, I parenthetically insert the word “first” before the word “priesthood.”

    The church doesn’t have a change process. And yet things change. It’s messy and uncomfortable. Just gotta roll with it, baby.

  32. It seems to me there is a lot of “beating a dead horse” going on here. The announcement was incomplete, or didn’t mention every conceivable thing anyone else could come up with, to be explained in detail. Had Congress written it, it would’ve been 5000 pages long and no one would’ve been able to figure out what it was about (except that billions of dollars would’ve been attached to it for “pet projects”). No matter how OD2 was worded, someone would be able to criticize it and mention things it should’ve said, or done, or didn’t do. Why don’t we quit feeling guilty about something we had no control over, or input in (for a good reason they didn’t ask us)? At sometime in the future all will be made known–whether we understand it then, or not, or pay attention to it, or not. Speculation now can only make some of us look like fools at that point, like we’re accusing those in the past, who speculated, of being wrong. Does anyone wonder why no one in authority speculates now? Why don’t we get into something important–like which star the 12 tribes are on? (And, yes, I meant that.)

  33. I agree that “priesthood ban” is still the best term for the policy before 1978. “Exaltation exclusion” is more appropriate to describe the situation today for single people, gays and post-operative transgendered individuals.

  34. Steven B, you bring up an interesting point about gays and transgendered. I’m throwing out this question to all of you: in 30 years from now, could homoesxuals and/or transgenders be what the black members of the Church are today? (i.e. we will see that the exclusion was a mistake?)

    And before you all say “NO WAY!” just really think about it. We now know that virtually all homoesexuals are born that way and I would say that goes for transgenders as well (in regards to their feelings that they were born the wrong sex). So just as black people were born the race that they are, so are homosexuals born with the orientations that they have.

    I’m not advocating for this one way or the other, but I am curious about what people think about this. I read a comment somewhere about how sometimes individual members are ahead of their time and even ahead of the GA’s. So was the case for white members back in the 50’s and 60’s who were frustrated by the ban (we see the disgusting letter written by an apostle to George Romney, who supported the civil rights movement and today we see how wrong it is) and so is perhaps the case today for those who have a deeper understanding of homosexuality than the average member.

    What do you all think?

  35. One hypothesis regarding the origins of the ban, advanced in particular by Michael W. Homer, is that the ban started in an exclusion of black members from the Nauvoo temple rituals. This exclusion may have been in imitation of Masonic racial practices; so much else about the Nauvoo rituals contained such imitations that this suggestion does not defy plausibility. Then the ban would have spread to all priesthood on the basis of the 19th-century identification of endowment and priesthood.

    While this argument is clearly speculative, it nonetheless seems to fit the evidence. In particular, it accounts for the way in which a number of black men held priesthood outside the temple both before and, indeed, for decades after the introduction of the Nauvoo endowment ritual. That extra-temple priesthood was eventually curtailed, during the period when it was routine for speakers to conflate the endowment and priesthood in general.

    The punch line for the present conversation is that a better name for the ban might be the “endowment ban.” Not only were all black men and women excluded from the endowment, it may have been the case that endowment exclusion starting in Nauvoo is the historical origin of the later general priesthood exclusion.

  36. I don’t think “endowment ban” is accurate either, because black children, women, and men were not allowed in the temple even to do baptisms for the dead.

    I’m a black (now ex-) Mormon, and joined the church before 1978.

  37. I have always been curious when the Priesthood exclusion, no matter how it started, became a concern for blacks and the general public? Negative attention for the ban seemed to have started in the late 1950s. Chances are if the change had happened before then there would have been a scandal of a different kind. I know there was a scandal in the 1830 and 1840s that had more than PR consiquences when blacks were ordained.

  38. This is an interesting post, Kiskilili. You ask questions that I had never even considered.

    I was going to suggest that it got called the priesthood ban because priesthood is prior to the temple. Haven’t there always been men who held even the Melchizedek Priesthood but couldn’t go to the temple? For example, if you’re a new convert, you have to wait a year to go the temple, but if you’re an adult male, can’t you get the Melchizedek Priesthood sooner? Anyway, I was figuring that the temple ban was just assumed–of course if you can’t even hold the priesthood then your certainly can’t go to the temple. And this is logically extended to women–if your temple attendance is contingent on your husband’s then of course you can’t go if he can’t go (assuming as you point out that women will marry men of the same race). But then I guess the lack of an explicit articulation of any of this was your whole point… 🙂

    Plus I see RT’s argument that perhaps the ban worked the other way–from the temple to the priesthood–which I guess makes everything I’m saying less likely.

  39. I’ll admit that I never before thought of the “priesthood ban” as more accurately being an “endowment ban”, as RT described it. So this is somewhat of a revelation to me.

    When the LDS church is compared to most other Christian churches, one striking difference, as it relates to this discussion, is that other Christians seek salvation in terms of heaven or hell. In the LDS system we seek exaltation. Everything else is damnation. It is the only religion where you can be saved and yet damned all at the same time. If you are not exalted, you may be in a lovely place, but you are essentially damned, as you cannot progress further. Yes, there are many members that believe eternal progression to be more flexible than what the scriptures seem to indicate, but for the most part, as I see it, if you are not exalted, you are essentially damned.

    So, when the entire Negro race is excluded from the ordinances and temple endowment, it is more than just a mortal inconvenience. Blacks were effectively damned until God chose to sort it all out.

    Similarly, those who are excluded from the endowment today are functionally damned, and are left only with the hope that God will sort it all out in the hereafter.

    For those who may never marry in mortality it is not just a matter of having faith in Jesus for salvation. Salvation may be given to both bond and free, male and female, black and white, rich or poor, but if you are one who will not marry in mortality, you not only live with the stigma of being single in family-focused religion, but you are excluded from “full” salvation until God puts everything right in the next life.

  40. well Steven, you may live and die believing exaltation isn’t possible your situation, and decades later people learn it’s fine and do the temple work and you’re set.

    At least, that’s what happened in this case, so I respectfully figure it’s in the realm of possibility for the currently marginalized groups.

  41. or God is racist

    Or there is a third answer. From personal experience, I believe that there is a third answer. Or was God racist when he limited who had the priesthood in ancient Israel and had the earth swallow up those who had the wrong incense on the wrong day?

    I think we limit things too much and insist that God’s thoughts are our thoughts.

    I’d have answered the question put to me, but I saw Ardis caught it instead. Suffice it to say that there was lots and lots of print, even by Bruce R. McConkie, before the change, about how Blacks would eventually get the priesthood, the only question was when that would happen.

  42. rathernotsay — why did you leave (and where did you join)?

    black children, women, and men were not allowed in the temple even to do baptisms for the dead

    But they were, which is why some of the perplexity.

    Reading the David O McKay biography was interesting, in that he prayed on this point a long time until God told him that (a) the ban would be lifted and (b) not now, and no, more prayer won’t change things.

    That militates for a third reason, as do other things.

  43. Stephen M, respectfully: I truly wish anyone would have told someone in my family or circle of friends (black and White) that men, women, or children who had any “Negro blood” were allowed to be baptized for and in behalf of the dead. It would have been wonderful if any apostle or prophet, anywhere, had explained publicly that even though the priesthood was denied to us and we were not allowed to go through for our own endowment, we could, all along, have been baptized for the dead. It would have been great if my parents and fellow branch and ward members hadn’t wasted time and money to visit temple grounds thousands of miles away–and were told by prophets and apostles, some of them personal friends, that we were not allowed to enter the temple.

    I’m sorry, but when you say–impassively, conjecturally, theoretically, and (even though you may not mean it this way) insultingly, “…but they were…” you are talking from a standpoint of not having been there, never having been in my shoes, or my siblings’ shoes, or my parents’ shoes, or the shoes of thousands of black British, Canadian, American and Caribbean members I personally know. Please do not presume to tell us what we could and could not have done when (as I believed at the time) the Prophet of the Lord Himself told us that we could not enter the temple because we were black.

    I am not telling you my life story on this forum because there were few of us at the time and I want to retain anonymity.


  44. One more thing:

    If you personally know anyone who entered any temple before 1978, I would love to hear about it.

  45. rathernotsay — I’m so sorry that you had that painful experience.

    You are telling me that you know people who were personally told that they could not do baptisms for the dead by more than one prophet. That the policy of allowing all to do baptisms for the dead was not consistently applied.

    I’m so sorry.

    I’m also so sorry you left the Church. Only wish you had had much less pain.

    I only knew that David O McKay and Joseph Fielding Smith both specifically stated that Blacks could do baptisms for the dead, and of course we know where Kimball stood on the issue.

    I had no idea that others in that chain had taken a different position. If you don’t mind, could you tell me who they were?

    If it is too painful to revisit, my apologies.

  46. Stephen M: All I can say is that what you state may be your understanding from reading second-hand reports. I, members of my family, and cherished friends (including ward and stake leaders) were told by two prophets themselves (McKay and Kimball) that we (my family) could not enter the temple–although worthy–to do ANY sort of work. And I know no one: not Mary Sturlaugson, not Joseph Freeman, not anyone alive since the 20th century, who was ever allowed in the temple. If you know anyone personally, let me know. We did, indeed speak to two prophets and several apostles, some of whom (the ones who are still alive) still communicate with active LDS family members occasionally. They would concur that this is what they told us.

    So if you were told (PERSONALLY!!!!!) differently, spit it out. If you know anyone who did, spell it out.

    Finally, if any of the prophets since Jospeh Fielding Smith said baptisms for the dead could be available for members of African descent, I have even less respect than I did before for a priesthood/brotherhood and system that would lie to the press or wherever that’s recorded and then turn around and deny those ordinances to faithful, sacrificial black members.

  47. The extracts from the David O. McKay diary that I provided demonstrate that blacks did in fact enter the temples to perform proxy baptisms.

    Those very same extracts demonstrate that this was not a widely understood, widely publicized matter, or else those involved wouldn’t have needed to appeal directly to Pres. McKay. I have no trouble believing that other local leaders and temple presidents said “No!” without bothering to ask..

    I do not have relevant information on prophets between Pres. McKay and Pres. Kimball.

  48. Is it possible that we could regard the instances Ardis mentions as personalistic exceptions based on appeal to the (always persuadable) McKay, rather than as examples of general policy? If black members in general were not informed that they could do proxy baptisms, and the leadership in general believed that this was forbidden, it seems fair to say that at least the de facto policy was as rathernotsay describes it. In that case, it might possibly be more reasonable to describe the people who were able to do proxy baptisms as the exceptions, rather than the rule.

    At any rate, it certainly seems to me that the personal witness of someone who experienced the discrimination of the time ought to count a lot in how we think about this. There’s a danger of taking a handful of exceptional cases and regarding them as the norm — especially when it makes white Mormons look better.

  49. I think we have to remember *both* kinds of instances — the probably exceptional admissions to the temple (because that helps us understand the “logic,” such as it was, of the ban in order to discuss questions like the one Kiskilili asked at the beginning of this thread) and the direct experience of rathernotsay and others (because it matters very little what was on the books when it played out differently in the lives of people affected).

    And I would only add that I believe every word rathernotsay writes. I tend to discount pseudonymous remarks, especially emotional ones — that’s my nature and the cautious way I evaluate evidence. But something in rathernotsay’s words rings so authentic that he or she overcomes my usual hesitation. I’m sorry, rathernotsay. not in a liberal apologize-for-things-I-didn’t-do way, but in a personal I-wish-I-could-do-something-now way.

  50. I agree that the exceptions do indeed help in abstract reasoning, although in this case it’s tricky because McKay wasn’t always a systematic decision-maker. But the fact is that the ban as a whole was never meaningfully systematic, nor indeed could be. All of us have African blood in our veins, so the exclusion was always based on a socially-constructed fiction that there were some people somewhere in the world who were not “of African descent.” The resulting ambiguities were handled in different ways at different times, producing ambiguity and chaos that is indeed helpful in reminding us that the policy never had internal logical coherence.

  51. If we consider blacks being allowed to do proxy baptisms the exception rather than the rule, this perhaps fits Mark’s experience as well–if a black couple walking into the temple to do baptisms induced near-apoplexy in a temple worker, it’s clear it was not a familiar sight (or even a sight with precedent).

    RT, it’s interesting speculation that it may have started effectively as an endowment ban. I think I’m going to call it the priesthood-temple ban, unless a better possibility is nominated.

    Regarding the general issue of whether it was clear all along that God wasn’t racist and blacks would eventually be exalted, here’s what I think (having no direct experience–I was under the age of one when the ban was lifted):
    In our haste to salvage God’s reputation, reassuring ourselves that it’s simply out of the realm of plausibility that anyone would conclude God himself would discriminate against blacks or would deny them exaltation, we blind ourselves to the emotional toll the policy surely took on people. Because I’m loath to believe in a racist God, it’s perhaps too easy for me to discount people’s negative experiences with discriminatory attitudes and flagrantly racist statements of the past by waving my hand and asserting that it should have been obvious all along that God would work everything out for the best, or that God was bigger than his prophets, who were touting mere folklore. But religion is full of non-logical statements that we nevertheless accept, for which reason I just don’t think it’s ever been entirely obvious that God’s not racist. I would add that the emotional stakes are relatively low for me (since I’m not black), which I think probably predisposes me to draw relatively facile conclusions since I don’t have as personal an emotional investment in the issue–obviously God isn’t racist, and obviously no thinking person could conclude such a thing–moving right along. But if I do, I’m refusing to listen to the negative experiences of people for whom the emotional stakes are much higher and more personal, and for whom, for perfectly legitimate reasons, it may never have been so crystal-clear that God doesn’t discriminate.

  52. And I would only add that I believe every word rathernotsay writes. I tend to discount pseudonymous remarks, especially emotional ones — that’s my nature and the cautious way I evaluate evidence. But something in rathernotsay’s words rings so authentic that he or she overcomes my usual hesitation. I’m sorry, rathernotsay. not in a liberal apologize-for-things-I-didn’t-do way, but in a personal I-wish-I-could-do-something-now way.

    That is my response as well, which why I said:

    I’m so sorry.

    I’m also so sorry you left the Church. Only wish you had had much less pain.

    I so wish there was something I could do.

    I know a number of Black members, but everyone in my current ward joined the Church (or was born) after the priesthood revelation. I’ll need to talk with my parents, but their breadth of contacts is unusual and not necessarily limited to things that were considered proper (e.g. they’ve met a number of female Black members who were ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood, which is definitely not normal).

    Obviously your experience is more direct and personal than that of mine or my family.

    I can only say that I am sorry and wish you well.

  53. I was under the age of one when the ban was lifted)

    I was older, having returned from a mission.

    I remember reading a lot on the topic, and the debates about when Blacks would be given the Priesthood. McConkie’s position being that it would be after the second coming, others insisting that it would be sooner.

    On my mission, in the course of confirming a Black member I learned that it would be before 1994. Which was a surprise to me and something I kept to myself.

    I remember right after being in law school and having a Black roommate whose pain at the way things had been before the policy was changed was very evident to me. Chester Hawkins was an amazing individual, but he had obviously sufferred a great deal of pain though he kept his feelings close.

    He was not one for display, but rather overcoming.

    There is a lot I didn’t ask him about. Wish I had now, though at the time I did not want to intrude, but rather to listen.

  54. Kiskilili, thanks for raising this important issue. A bit of info to add, which isn’t absolutely clear cut, but interesting:

    From Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 448-49: “The prophets for 133 years of the existence of the church have maintained the position of the prophet of the restoration that the negro could not hold the priesthood nor have the temple ordinances which are preparatory for exaltation. The doctrine or policy has not varied in my memory.”

  55. This is speculative, but I’m wondering to what extent the focus on priesthood ordination might have grown out of conversation about the topic with the larger Christian world. The issue of who gets to be ordained is a frequently controversial question that most Christian denominations have wrestled with in some form (look at current debates about the ordination of gays, for example), so it would make sense if that were the aspect of Church policy regarding blacks that outsiders tended to focus on, which would mean that discussion of the issue–at least discussion prompted by an LDS desire to defend the practice to outsiders–would be focused on that aspect of it as well. Exclusion from temple ordinances, on the other hand, has fewer obvious parallels in other faiths and might have received less attention because of that.

    (One reason I’m wondering about that is that I sometimes see a similar dynamic at play in the way women’s issues are addressed–my experience is that non-Mormons are likely to be aware of the fact that LDS women can’t be ordained to the priesthood, but less likely to be aware of other aspects of the faith which concern LDS feminists. )

    However, I agree that the label “priesthood ban” is problematic, because it suggests something much more narrow in scope than was actually the case. It wasn’t only that certain people weren’t allowed to act in the name of God in performing certain actions (not to downplay the value of that), but that they were also denied access to saving ordinances. The former is certainly troubling in its own right, but in my view it’s the the latter that actually raises the most difficult theological questions.

  56. Hmm, the system swallowed a post of mine, if you could check the spam filter I’d be much obliged.

    It’s been rescued, and I believe has emerged as comment 56.

  57. Lynnette #58, great point. That totally makes sense, particularly to the degree that discussion about the ban originated outside the Church. After all, non-Mormons are going to focus, as you point out, on something that makes a connection with their experience: “Mormons ban blacks from their priesthood.” The temple doesn’t match, so it’s not the direction the label went.

  58. I’m sorry, but in reading all the comments, I still don’t understand the non-racist reasons why a worthy black woman married to a worthy white man wouldn’t be allowed to participate in the temple.

  59. #65 – Maybe women really do hold and exercise the Priesthood in the temple, and outside it in a real way once they finish the initiatory. Maybe a Priesthood ban really is a “comprehensive” Priesthood ban – regardless of whether or not it was inspired or revealed.

  60. john (#65),

    i don’t think there are any non-racist reasons for a worthy black woman married to a worthy white man to be excluded from the temple. unless someone wants to argue that Ray (#66) is correct so black women were excluded on the premise that by going to the temple they would be given some kind of priesthood. but then you would have to believe that excluding blacks (whether just men or both men and women) from the priesthood was itself not racist. a belief i don’t subscribe to. i think it was racist.

    this has been an interesting conversation. the real problem i see with how current members of the church understand the past policy on blacks and the priesthood is that there is no (or little) understanding of the fact that the policy extended to temple blessings. Even though OD2 refers to temple blessings (how many people [average mormons] actually bother to read OD2?). even if most would nod their head in understanding when the facts regarding blacks and the temple were explained to them (because being ordained to the priesthood is a prerequisite to receiving endowment for men; because at the time, women were generally not allowed to receive their endowments without being married or going on a mission; because there’s some reference to women being priestesses in the temple)–while most mormons may nod their heads in understanding that blacks couldn’t go to the temple as a logical extension of their not being able to hold the priesthood, the fact is that this consequence is simply not articulated often.

    and that, in my mind, is a travesty. because it lets us white wash how truly horrible the policy was in the first place. imagine living your life believing that certain things are necessary to be exalted but having those things systematically denied you. imagine that pain. i cannot. not fully. but realizing that temple blessings were denied blacks stopped me from continuing to make the apologetics style excuses for the past policy i’d been trained to make. because to me it’s simply unconscionable to teach people that exaltation is contingent upon certain ordinances and then to tell them that they are systematically denied access to those ordinances.

    i’m 32. i was born and raised in the church. i’ve been involved in blogging and “edgy” mormon studies for about five years. i didn’t have this consequence (denial of temple blessings) of the church’s policy regarding blacks and the priesthood articulated to me until about three years ago. i suppose if i’d actively thought through what it meant for blacks not to have the priesthood, i would have ultimately understood that meant no access to the temple. but we’re not encouraged to think that way. we think of it as an inability to officiate in weekly meetings or hold certain callings.

    it’s shameful that more mormons do not understand the reality of that policy.

  61. amelia,

    “unless someone wants to argue that Ray (#66) is correct so black women were excluded on the premise that by going to the temple they would be given some kind of priesthood. but then you would have to believe that excluding blacks (whether just men or both men and women) from the priesthood was itself not racist.”

    I don’t see that conclusion from my comment. I believe it was racist as much as you do (and I have said so on many occasions in the Bloggernacle), but if it really was a ban on the Priesthood to black members, I think it would be consistent to deny black women access to the temple – since I do believe that women are given the Priesthood in a very real way therein. I don’t like that they were denied that opportunity; I just don’t see it as inconsistent with the actual ban in any way.

    “a belief i don’t subscribe to. i think it was racist.”

    As I said, so do I.

  62. apparently I wasn’t clear. sorry about that. i don’t see the policy of precluding women from entering the temple as inconsistent–especially given your (Ray’s) explanation (an explanation that makes a lot of sense to me). i only see it as racist.

    as john’s (#65) question was whether there was a non-racist reason for keeping a worthy black woman married to a worthy white man from entering the temple, i don’t think the point about women and the priesthood in the temple answers his question as it’s simply a subsection of a larger racist policy.

  63. John White (65), I think I’m missing the context for your question. I think every aspect of the priesthood-temple ban is racist: just on the basic, descriptive level it systematically discriminated–made a distinction–on the basis of race, for both men and women. To my mind, not only is it racist to prevent black women from entering the temple regardless of the circumstances, it would still be racist to allow black women access to the temple only if they married white men! The only point of bringing this facet of the policy up at all was to try to figure out the nature of the relationship between women and priesthood.

    I agree completely with both Lynnette and amelia that barring access to exaltative ordinances is actually more disturbing than denying people the priesthood, but I’m sure Lynnette is right that the priesthood receives the most air time simply because it has corollaries in other faiths.

  64. Kiskilili, My point is that denying people the priesthood effectively equals barring access to the ordinances of exaltation. Do the first, and you have done the second. Imo, it’s not “more disturbing” – but rather just disturbing.

    I think the confusion arises because even we members sometimes equate “the Priesthood” with the public administration of the Church – since, as you say, that is the view / definition of the rest of Christianity. It makes sense from that perspective to distinguish between the Priesthood and the exalting ordinances of the temple (the sealing ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood), but the distinction essentially is meaningless in Mormonism – since the ordinances are tied directly to the Priesthood that administers them. They really can’t be separated in practical reality, since without one you can’t have the other.

    So, if we want to rename the ban so that it conveys the totality of its effect to those who don’t understand Mormonism, perhaps “Priesthood Ban” doesn’t convey the full effect. However, for those people, “Priesthood-Temple Ban” wouldn’t convey it any better – since those same people would have no idea what the term “temple ban” means anyway.

  65. “It makes sense from that perspective to distinguish between the Priesthood and the exalting ordinances of the temple (the sealing ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood), but the distinction essentially is meaningless in Mormonism”

    Until temple-married women are being called as bishops since they hold the Melchizedek priesthood by virtue of having undergone sealing ordinances, I think there’s a very useful distinction to be made.

    Surely at the very least there’s a difference between undergoing priesthood ordinances and administering them? After all, an infant doesn’t have the priesthood by virtue of a baby’s blessing, any more than a woman really “has” the priesthood by virtue of having been sealed by priesthood authority (residing in a male).

  66. (And I do realize there are certain ordinances administered by women, but as I suggested in the post, I think that’s basically a result of unwillingness to have men touching women on various body parts–that explains women giving blessings in the distant past and initiatories of the recent past. I don’t see it as an indication that women hold the priesthood in a way comparable to men, which means, since women can nevertheless attend the temple–since people can receive priesthood ordinances without having the priesthood–there’s a legitimate distinction between ordination and temple access. Even if temple-married women are priests of some sort, which I don’t personally find persuasive, you have people going to the temple without the priesthood–endowed women–and people with the priesthood not allowed in the temple–deacons, for example.)

    Here’s a fun experiment to test how the term “priesthood” is generally applied in Mormon parlance: mention to your average member that it’s a shame black women didn’t used to have the priesthood. If they struggle to make sense of your intended meaning–black women didn’t used to be allowed in the temple–then perhaps a more encompassing term is needed.

  67. Individual perspectives are interesting things. I can see your point; I just don’t agree with the conclusion.

    That’s fine. It makes these discussions worth having.

  68. Kiskilili,

    I am in general agreement with the idea put forward by RT in comment # 36. I think it is useful to thing of the priesthood ban and the temple ban separately, at least for the purpose of understanding how they came about. It is my belief that the priesthood ban grew out of an unwillingness to have black people participate fully in the temple.

    The story of Elijah Abel is instructive. He received the priesthood in 1836 and exercised it throughout his life until his death in 1884. He served as a missionary, seventy, and presiding elder, and travelled about preaching, baptizing, confirming, and presiding over branches. We have documentary evidence that Brigham Young respected him in that capacity because he called him one of the finest elders in the church. Yet we also have documentary evidence that BY thought miscegenation was a serious crime.

    I think (and this is total speculation) that as early leaders gradually began to understand that the temple ordinances are crafted for the purpose of creating relationships and binding ourselves to one another in ways that are intimately familial, they could not overcome their reluctance to allowing black people into the family. Brigham Young was pleased with Abel’s work as a missionary, but he would never have allowed him to marry one of the Young daughters. The notion of pure bloodlines and defiled bloodlines is ridiculous to us now, but they really believed it.

    Even as Abel exercised the priesthood in the sense of presiding over branches of the church, he was barred from participating in the priesthood as defined by the endowment and sealing ordinances. We should also note that Jane James, after years of asking, was finally allowed to participate in a sealing. She was sealed to Joseph Smith’s family, not as a daughter but as a servant, which supports my conclusion about reluctance to think of people of other races as close kin.

    My thinking is that the leaders got tired of dealing with the inconsistencies of restricting priesthood in some instances but not others, so they just worked backwards and restricted black men from everything. (I realize this does not address the question of black women, or of women overall. I don’t know whether they were considered and rejected, or simply not thought of, at all. I don’t know which option is more likely to be true, or less problematic.)

    Even though Utah’s anti-miscegenation law was done away with in 1968, when the ban was lifted in 1978, church leaders still advised members in the strongest of terms to marry within their own races. That advice gradually became more moderate in tone until today we don’t even hear it, and it is no longer an issue. I can’t even count the number of mixed race couples in my ward, and I think most wards in urban areas are like mine.

  69. church leaders still advised members in the strongest of terms to marry within their own races

    What is interesting is that in the mid-70s there was a Church pamphlet on that subject that made the argument purely on cultural terms (that is, the closer people are together culturally and background wise, the easier it is to be harmonious) and not on racial terms.

    It was heavily influenced by BYU Hawaii’s perspective, where kids would meet, fall in love, marry, and then suffer a good deal of prejudice in the outside world.

    I think we do not fully understand what was going on.


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