In the early 1970s, BYU opened up a brand-new law school. I was surprised to learn that the American Bar Association considered not accrediting the university due to the racial ban in the Church. Dr. Matt Harris describes some of these little-known issues that new BYU president and lawyer Dallin Oaks dealt with this potentially fatal blow to the law school.
Matt: There is new law school popping up and the American Bar Association, they send a letter to Dallin H. Oaks, this brand-new president. He’s a young man. He’s just left his tenured position at the University of Chicago where he went to school and then subsequently joined their law faculty. BYU recruited him to replace Wilkinson. So in 1971, Dallin Oaks comes on board and Oaks receives this letter. “Oh my gosh, they’re not going to accredit us. They’re threatening to not accredit us because of the church’s policy towards blacks.”
GT: On the law school.
Matt: On the law school. They just got it up and running.
GT: So let me make sure. So, 68-69 we’re having these civil rights problems with the entire school in general.
GT: We hire some black faculty. So that gets them off their back.
GT: But now 1971 comes and the bar association is threatening to take away the accreditation.
Matt: Yes, and a year earlier, Nixon, the IRS with Bob Jones is out. This is all going on at the same time.
Check out our conversation….
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We’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Chadwick, New Testament scholar at BYU. We’ll talk about why Book of Mormon helps date birth of Christ. We’ll also talk about critics who complain that it says Jesus was born at Jerusalem. How does Dr. Chadwick respond to that charge?
Jeff: Bethlehem is just five miles south of ancient Jerusalem in terms of a town in a town. Today. Bethlehem is to Jerusalem the lead the way Orem is to Provo. If there weren’t a political barrier there, because Israeli territory separates from Palestinian territory, you wouldn’t know you were crossing from Jerusalem to Bethlehem today. They’re literally that close. But they were five miles separate anciently. But Bethlehem was easily described in ancient texts as being in the district or county of Jerusalem or what Nephi himself calls, the Land of Jerusalem. In Alma 7:10, it does say Jesus was born at Jerusalem, the land of our forefathers. So, it is referring to Jerusalem as a land instead of a city. In other words, someone is born in Salt Lake County. Whether he’s in Salt Lake City or whether he’s in…
GT: Sandy or Herriman…
Jeff: …somewhere else there. Well, if you’re born in the land of Jerusalem, you’re in the vicinity there. There are some ancient texts that do refer to, we think, to Bethlehem as being in the land of Jerusalem, including some Egyptian texts. So, there’s nothing wrong with that.
GT: So Egyptian texts say he was born in Jerusalem?
Jeff: No, not that. They say that Bethlehem is a town in the district or Land of Jerusalem. One of the el Amarna texts, which actually dates long before 600 BC, notes, Bethlehem, a town in the Land of Jerusalem. So, it was not unusual in ancient times to refer to Bethlehem, if you had any reason to refer to it, as a town in the Land of Jerusalem. Alma 7:10 has never been one of those things that I’ve lost any sleep over. There are plenty of things you have to work to describe in scripture, but that one is not a problem.
We’ll also answer other questions, like this: Didn’t Joseph Smith say Jesus was born on April 6th?
Jeff: Joseph Smith made no statement on the timing of the birth of Christ. What Joseph Smith did was dictate the language of Doctrine and Covenants, section 20. But Doctrine and Covenants, section 20, verse one, which says that the church was established on the sixth day of April 1830 years after the coming of the Lord in the flesh. [This] was to note within the calendaring system, accepted at that time and still in ours, the date of the founding of the Latter-Day Saint Church, not the date of Jesus’ birth, in saying, and by the way, this is J. Reuben Clark in his book, ‘Our Lord of the Gospels,’ which was another Latter-Day Saint commentary on the life of Christ, which appeared 50 years after Brother Talmage’s. Brother Clark took the position that Doctrine and Covenants section 20 verse one is not giving the imprimatur of accuracy to our current calendar. That what Doctrine Covenant Section 20 verse one is simply doing is saying the church was established on April 6 in the year we generally refer to as 1830, the year of our Lord. That’s all, not more or less. In elder Bruce R. McConkie’s series called ‘The Mortal Messiah,’ he actually asks kind of in an end note to one of his chapters, what was the year of Jesus’ birth. Then after saying this is a question about which the learned delight to debate, he goes ahead and debates it. What he does is he states what Elder Talmage’s position was in Jesus the Christ where he used Doctrine and Covenant section 20, verse one to suggest that Jesus was born on April 6th, 1830 years before the church was founded, but then he also points out what President J. Reuben Clark said, which was that gospel scholarship in general throughout Christianity, based on historical documents available, particularly about the life of Herod the Great and about Roman dating, would say that Herod died in 4 BC and Jesus’ birth must be prior to that. Brother Clark, actually, in the dating scheme that he has in his book, puts Jesus’ birth in December of 5 BC.
How the Book of Mormon helps date the birth of Christ? What are the clues Chadwick used to solve this puzzle? Check out our conversation….
We’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Matt Harris. In our next episode, we’ll talk about the temple and priesthood ban in the 1950s. Did you know that McKay considered lifting the ban as early as 1955?
Matt: It’s not surprising that when McKay came back from South Africa and convenes this committee with Elders [Adam] Bennion and Kimball, I’m not sure who else is on the committee, but I know it’s those two. They ask Lowell Bennion to do some research for them, and he produces a position paper, and he says there is no scriptural justification for any of this stuff. So, Elder Bennion writes his report to President McKay and tells him that there is no scriptural justification for the priesthood ban. This is 1954 I should say.
So, President McKay contemplates lifting the ban, but he recognizes that it will cause hardship among the saints in the South. Keep in mind this is still segregated America. So, if he lifts this ban, it is going to create hardships among Latter-day Saints in the South. Also, there are some folks in the Quorum of Twelve who wouldn’t support the lifting of the ban: Joseph Fielding Smith would be one of them.
We will talk about a pretty significant change from a doctrine in 1949 to a policy in 1955.
This is interesting because President McKay, as a counselor to George Albert Smith had signed that 1949 First Presidency statement that you referenced a minute ago….
Matt: …as a counselor.
GT: Now let’s talk about that ’49 statement.
Matt: Yes, we can. So, as the church president, he signed that statement, and we can go into detail in a minute, but that statement makes it pretty clear that this is the doctrine of the church.
GT: And it uses the word “doctrine.”
Matt: It uses the word doctrine.
GT: That is an important word.
Matt: Right. J. Reuben Clark writes the statement, and President McKay signs off on it. George Albert Smith is feeble by this point, and he is going to die a couple of years later, but anyway, President McKay, even though he signs that ’49 statement, now he is the church president and he feels the weight of this policy on his own.