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Pros & Cons of Race Essay (Part 4 of 7)

We’re moving on to a critique of the Race and Priesthood essay on the LDS Church website.  What are the strengths and weaknesses?  Is it a definitive repudiation of racism?  Dr. Matt Harris & Dr. Newell Bringhurst will weigh in.

Matt:  I want to start with the positive, first, I suppose. The first one is that the Race and Priesthood essay gives Latter-day Saints an authoritative document to wave in the air and say to the brother at Church, “Look, the Church no longer teaches that black people are cursed, or that they were less valiant in the pre-existence.” Before, when some Latter-day Saints would do that, they would get push back, “Who says that? Where?” They just didn’t have anything to appeal to, really. But now you’ve got an official document where somebody can wave in the air at church or anywhere else and say, “Look, this is not what the Church teaches. It once taught this, but it no longer teaches it. So please don’t say that, brother or sister”. So I think that’s really important to know.

Matt:  The second thing is that the Race and Priesthood essay talks about it being a temple and priesthood ban. That’s not a small distinction, that it used to be just really a priesthood restriction. But really, it always impacted black Latter-day Saints in their ability to go to the temple. They could always do some rituals in the temple, like baptisms for the dead, for example, but they were clearly forbidden from being sealed in the temple as husband and wife, and also receiving their endowment. So, it is a temple and priesthood restriction. The essay makes that clear. I think that’s really, really an important point to make. The essay also denounces the idea of interracial marriage as a sin. Since I’m into the second book now in Blacks and Mormons, it’s just extraordinary to me how much of the fear of interracial marriage governed the brethren towards their views on civil rights, or whether to have black people, black students come to BYU. Interracial marriage, it was at the bedrock of all of this. Certainly, I don’t want to give the impression that Latter-day Saints and BYU policies were unique, because that’s just not true. Lots of Americans in the 20th century did not favor interracial marriage, and the church was one of them.

GT:  Can I pause there, just for a second, Matt? There was an essay by a black member of the church, [Andrew S at] Wheat & Tares , a few years ago. One of the things that he said about the Race and Priesthood Essay was that it’s kind of a Rorschach test. You can read that God was not responsible for the ban, and that it was a man-made thing, or you can also read that it was God commanded. It kind of depends on your purpose. The essay was purposely written vaguely so that it wouldn’t offend either the liberal or the conservative members of the Church. Can you comment on that? Do you agree with that?

Matt:  Absolutely. That’s absolutely true. I talked to a couple of people. There are a number of people that participated in this essay. I mean, certainly, you mentioned that Paul Reeve wrote a lengthy draft, and he did. But there were a number of people who weighed in. It was sort of like the Declaration of Independence. We give credit to Thomas Jefferson. But the truth is, if you look at the first draft that Jefferson writes, it gets pretty watered down by the third and fourth draft when the Congress sinks their teeth into it.

Matt:  When the document came out, I shared with my brother who was in a bishopric at the time, and I said, “What does this mean to you?” He didn’t read the same things that I read into it. So, your point is well taken. Then I walked through it with him. I said, “Now, what do you make of that paragraph? Read it carefully.” Now, my brother has a doctorate degree, [and] two Masters. He’s a smart guy, and he didn’t read it [the way that I did] on the first attempt. So, I walked him through a paragraph where it talks about the cultural conditions in the 19th century, and his response was, “Okay, I guess I can see your point now”. Obviously, I was influenced by my conversations with a couple of scholars that worked on this. But it wasn’t as clear in its writing as we would like, but that was by design, I think.

GT:  That you would like, but the Church leaders were fine with it, right?

Matt:  Here’s what I think. I think too often we paint broad brushes with the Church leaders. We say they’re all this or they’re all [that]. That’s just not true. I mean, these guys have different opinions, they have different thoughts and different ideas. That’s not revolutionary on my part. I know that brethren have admitted this over the time. But there are plenty of instances where they disagree.

Check out our conversation….

The Race essay was written vaguely so you can both blame the ban on God or man.

Don’t misss our other conversations with Matt & Newell.

455: Critiquing Polygamy Essays & Sources

454: Are Gospel Essays Hidden or Public?

453: Swedish Rescue & Gospel Topics Essays

If you’re interested in Matt and Newell’s book, here is a link on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3mqQJjS

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*Impact of Protests on Apostles (Part 7 of 7)

If you’d like to check out this episode, please sign up for my newsletter.  It’s completely free.  Go to GospelTangents.com/newsletter  to find out how the apostles reacted to these protests against BYU.

Matt:  President Kimball said in 1975. Let me get this right. If I don’t lift the ban, my successor won’t do it, nor will my successor’s successor. Of course, he’s talking about Benson and Mark Petersen. So that was President Kimball, saying very clearly if I don’t do this, they won’t. Harold Lee was just intractable. He refused to lift the ban and Joseph Fielding Smith, too. It’s interesting how people evolve because Elder Kimball, I don’t want to give you the sense that he’s a racial progressive. One of the things that his son talks about is my father shared some of the same prejudicial views towards black people that other people of his generation did. Clearly, that’s easy to believe if you realize that we’re all products of our environment, right?  But what’s unique about Kimball is not that he had prejudicial views, it’s how he evolved and that he saw that it was the right thing to do to further the advance of the church. That’s why I admire him so much is that he knew that there were obstacles. David O. McKay had the same obstacles, different personalities in the Twelve, but the same obstacles. I think I can make a strong argument that President McKay might have lifted the ban in the 1950s had it not been for some of the hardliners there. What’s different between President McKay and President Kimball, is that Kimball recognize that it was worth fighting for, it was worth going to bat for. I don’t want to say that McKay didn’t think it wasn’t worth it. But Kimball spent a lot of time nurturing relationships with the personalities that he had to work with the most, which is McConkie. I’m not sure about Petersen, how much of the one on one, but I do know with Elder McConkie, he spent extensive time with him working him through these issues. We talked about how McConkie gone to Brazil several times in the weeks and days leading up to the revelation. So when they went to the temple in June of 1978, it wasn’t like the manuals, say, “Oh, I just had a revelation one day.”  No, this is something they knew they we’re going to change when they got there. I’m not trying to take away from their revelatory experience and the inspiration of it all. But there’s no doubt in my mind that President Kimball knew the ban was going to go that day and I’m quite certain that the others knew that it was going to go, too. It was just a matter of being unified and probably feeling that last-minute inspiration that they felt they needed to have.

What are your thoughts on Matt’s research on the ban?

Dr. Matt Harris describes how Pres Kimball got the apostles on board with the 1978 revelation.  This is the group of apostles from 1969 that did not overturn the ban under President McKay when many of the protests took place.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Dr. Harris!

352: BYU Law School Almost Lost Accreditation

351: Civil Rights Investigation at BYU

350: Sports Protests Against BYU

349: Race & Religious Minorities at BYU

348: How Brazil Influenced Official Declaration 2

347: Did Nixon & Carter Pressure BYU Over Race?

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Did Nixon & Carter Pressure BYU Over Race? (Part 1 of 7)

There have been lots of rumors on the internet that the reason the LDS Church got rid of the temple/priesthood ban was because they were going to lose their tax-exempt status.  Is that true?  Dr. Matt Harris from Colorado State-Pueblo will answer that question.  He will talk about both the Nixon and Carter administrations, and even include a letter from former President Jimmy Carter!

Matt:  On the internet, there are lots and lots of chatter about people saying that President Carter had instructed the IRS to crack down on the church. And I’ve seen this i`n probably, I don’t know, half dozen to a dozen places and people are so emphatic about it. [They say] Yes, he did this. One of them even went through his journal which is published and had conjectured that during President Carter’s visit to Salt Lake in 1977. That’s when he laid down the law in 1976-77.

Anyway, it’s just conjecture. That’s all it is. So anyway, I wrote President Carter a note. I asked him, “This is what it’s been said about you, that you used the IRS to crack down on the Mormons and put pressure on them to lift the priesthood ban.” And he wrote back a wonderfully written letter, and he said, “I have no recollection of ever doing that. However, I did help the Mormons with welfare and some work getting them something in Africa.” He didn’t elaborate. So President Carter said that.

GT: This is a recent letter?

Matt: This is three or four years ago.

GT: Okay.

Matt: Yeah. And I should add too, I have family in Atlanta. During one of my trips to see my brother and my sister years ago, I spent a lovely day at the Carter Library looking for these kinds of things. And there were big thick Mormon files but nothing that dealt with the IRS.

GT: It’s weird to be doing history on living people.

Matt: It is because they fight back. When they’re dead, they can’t. They don’t fight back. So it’s a challenge writing contemporary history. Because they they’re alive. They read it.

Were you aware of this?  Check out our conversation….

There are rumors Richard Nixon & Jimmy Carter pressured the LDS Church with the IRS over the race ban. Is this true?

Don’t miss our other episodes with Dr. Matt Harris!

255: Hoover on MLK & ETB

254: How Hinckley Prevailed over Benson on Civil Rights

253: The End of Benson’s Political Aspirations

252: Benson on Civil Rights & Communism

251: Benson and John Birch Society

250: How Ezra Taft Benson Joined Eisenhower

161: Bruce R. McConkie Wrote Official Declaration 2!

160: How Kimball Persuaded Apostles to Agree on Lifting Ban

159: Almost Famous!  1969 Black Ordination Nixed by Lee

158: Hugh B. Brown’s Attempt to End Ban in 1962!

157: Did Pres. McKay Try to Rescind Ban in 1955?

156: When, Where, & Why Did the One-Drop Rule Originate?

155: Before 1978:  How LDS Leaders Handled Bi-racial Families in Brazil and South Africa