Encouraging Signs

I want to make a public record of some positive things I see in Mormonism lately.  The first is a recent article published by the church detailing the human origins of the Priesthood Ban against Black members.  It stops short of an official apology which is where I think the church needs to go, but it offers an official refutation of folk doctrines surrounding the issue and of the church’s previous racism.

The second leaves me in an awkward spot of praising an LDS temple.  In this case, it’s the Fort Collins, CO Temple which appears to be designed in the shape of a cross.  It’s not yet an outright explicit worship symbol but it’s a gateway drug.  I think the activities within the LDS temple are actually a contradiction of the power of the cross, so it’s a weird mashup for me.  I think if I had to choose between LDS temple worship or LDS use of the cross in worship and art I would prefer to see the temples done away with.  But it’s a cross nonetheless and for that I’m grateful.

 

The third is a FAIR podcast discussion between Ned Scarisbrick and Evangelical Bobby Gilpin.  The two discuss the what it means to be saved and I was quite encouraged to hear Mr. Scarisbrick side with Gilpin against the traditional LDS understanding that a person must earn the right to receive the free gift of salvation.  I appreciated the tone and style in which the discussion was held and was very glad to hear the two men share the same conclusion.

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45 thoughts on “Encouraging Signs

  1. I am inclined to think that the fundamental Christological differences between Mormonism and Christianity are so immense that a little shift toward emphasis on the cross rounds off to irrelevant.

  2. From the article on the Priesthood Ban:

    Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else.

    Does this mean that the Book of Mormon cursing of the Lamanites is now a theory?

    From 2 Nephi 5:21:

    And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

    If so, then one of the central plot elements of the Book of Mormon (a separation of the Lamanites and the Nephites via some act of God) is now moot.

  3. I am inclined to think that the fundamental Christological differences between Mormonism and Christianity are so immense that a little shift toward emphasis on the cross rounds off to irrelevant.

    Gateway drug

  4. Does this mean that the Book of Mormon cursing of the Lamanites is now a theory?

    David I agree that the efforts to reinterpret that passage often strain credulity, but they are for the most part happily and generally accepted so I don’t think this new article will hit much of a speed bump with that passage. As a Mormon would this issue been a big problem for you?

  5. David I agree that the efforts to reinterpret that passage often strain credulity, but they are for the most part happily and generally accepted so I don’t think this new article will hit much of a speed bump with that passage. As a Mormon would this issue been a big problem for you?

    As a Mormon I would have said that the Book of Mormon curse on the Lamanites and any doctrines or purported doctrines regarding the skin color of black Africans were just, not the same thing.

  6. @David,

    My explanation of the “curse” when I was LDS was that the curse theory was a Nephite theory, i.e. not something that was revealed from God as fact but was the writer’s interpretation of events. Admittedly this took some liberties with interpretation, but they were understandable considering that nearly every human was completely racist until about 100 years ago. Nephi’s racism was understandable and not especially troubling considering he lived 600 B.C.

  7. If the BoM is 19th C. fiction, then it seems obvious that the skin of blackness that was placed on the Lamanites was meant to thought of as literal. The Mormon view of the book as ancient scripture of the Israelite tradition, however, allows for these passages to take a more biblical interpretation. As in – “blackness” equals sin – not literal Zartan-like skin morphing.

    Of course, Brigham took the literal view, but I’m comfortable thinking he was just plain wrong.

  8. So, I could get on board with that if the Book of Mormon just said “Lord God did cause a blackness to come upon them.” But that’s not what it says. It says a skin of blackness. I’m not sure how “a more biblical interpretation” helps you with that.

  9. Admittedly this took some liberties with interpretation, but they were understandable considering that nearly every human was completely racist until about 100 years ago. Nephi’s racism was understandable and not especially troubling considering he lived 600 B.C.

    Except that explanation is as anachronistic as the text it seeks to explain away. As Kullervo points out racism is something recent. Ancient Mediterranean cultures had others they treated like dirt, but it was based on kinship ties, not skin color. So it’s really out of place that Nephi announces that he now has separated himself from his kinship group based on skin color.

    In any case, I doubt many people commenting here see this as something other than an importation of 19th century racism into the Book of Mormon text, so my point was in some sense moot.

  10. Interesting theory. You could say that electricity didn’t exist until 1600 by that logic. I suppose that theory makes some sense, but it’s hyper-technical, confusing, and peculiar way of talking about phenomena that were not very well explained historically but are commonly understood today.

  11. …separatism, tribalism…

    Yeah, not the same thing.

    The idea of “race” (meaning large classifications of human beings identified by their distinctive physical characteristics) as a meaningful category is a really new idea. In the 1400s there were Englishmen and Italians and Spaniards and Ethiopians and Moors and Chinese, but there weren’t black people or white people. “Race” as we talk about it in 2013, and as Jared C used it, is a social construct and a young one.

    If there was a Nephi in 600 B.C., he may have disliked people of other tribes, but he had absolutely no concept of race.

  12. As Kullervo points out racism is something recent.

    You are arguing that the Book of Mormon is anachronistic because a Isrealite in 600 B.C. would not separate a group of people because of their skin color. Really?

  13. You are arguing that the Book of Mormon is anachronistic because a Isrealite in 600 B.C. would not separate a group of people because of their skin color. Really?

    Absolutely.

    Culture and religion? Yes. Kinship? Yes. “Color?” Not on your life. The idea of categories of humans based on skin color was just not around then. It’s an idea that’s barely a few centuries old.

  14. Ok, so Kullervo and David believe that Nephi was not racist. By the same logic the LDS Church was never racist by denying the priesthood to blacks. The priesthood was denied because of lineage, not race in the modern sense.

    So I suppose there is no real problem with what Nephi said or how the church responded because they were not “racist.”

  15. Seriously, Jared, here we are again. I’m sorry that you are constantly being forced to accomodate new ideas that don’t fit into your weird schema, but please at least take like two minutes to Google race before coming back and continuing with this conversation.

  16. By the same logic the LDS Church was never racist by denying the priesthood to blacks. The priesthood was denied because of lineage, not race in the modern sense.

    Nope, sorry. Because by the time you are in the 19th century, race as a social construct has been conflated with European and American ideas about geneology, culture descent and ethnicity that it becomes too problematic to easily draw those lines anymore.

    Seriously, Google it. We’re not even advancing a controversial theory here.

  17. Kullervo, I understand your point about the distinctions between modern ideas of race and previous notions of human distinction based on lineage. But it is really baffling to hear you say that people didn’t distinguish each other by skin color (as a marker of lineage). It really looks like you are trying to argue for the sake of arguing.

  18. It says a skin of blackness. I’m not sure how “a more biblical interpretation” helps you with that.

    The Bible uses color to describe both face and skin (in curses no less) that is obviously not referring to modern constructs of race. That’s how it helps you.

  19. Of course people distinguished people of other nations (which I am using in the cultural sense, not the political sense) by markers, which included things like language, clothing and artifacts, social behaviors and physical characteristics. But that’s not race. Your skin color was no more interesting than your hair color: certain kinds were obviously common or exclusive to certain cultural groups as a matter of biology (and the ancients had different ideas about why), but the issue wasn’t the skin color, it was the cultural group. No particular value was attached to skin color qua skin color.

    Your talk about lineage doesn’t really fit here though, because there’s no bona fide ancient source I know of that both (a) attaches value to particular lineage and (b) identifies that lineage by physical characteristics. You only get that combination in modern times, and by then you’re really just talking about race.

  20. The Bible uses color to describe both face and skin (in curses no less) that is obviously not referring to modern constructs of race. That’s how it helps you.

    Fair enough. Have an example?

  21. Kullervo,

    Please!!!!! try to take a deep breath on this, its getting strange.

    I said most people were racist until about 100 years ago. You can quibble about what “racist” means but to all but the most nitpicky English speakers it commonly means prejudice against people of different lineage, phenotype, or ethnic groups. Race is a social construct, and always has been. The precise content of what “race” means does nothing to dispel the fact that people have always been prone to distinguish others by phenotype. If you don’t think so, I guess I we will have to stop trying to have reasonable discussion until you read more history. I am going to chalk your strange argument up to a hyper-literal reading of wikipedia articles and and a weird insistence on hyper-precise wording.

    If you were to use your weird definition of the common term “racism” (i.e. “social bias based on modern theories of race) you will have to insist that the LDS church was never really “racist” in the priesthood ban or in standing by the Book of Mormon because:

    (1) 19th century theories of race were never based on skin color alone.
    (2) Nephi’s position on skin color does not reflect any common racial theory in the 19th century.
    (3) The priesthood ban was based on lineage, not race in any modern sense.

  22. No particular value was attached to skin color qua skin color.

    There has never been a racial theory that has attached real value to skin color qua skin color, except maybe very idiosyncratic theories such as Nephi’s.

    This is getting weird.

  23. The polygenetic origins by racial curses are what we would expect from a book written in the 19th century but, the therory that skin color is somehow related to the mark of Cain or the curse of Ham was even disputed by many Southern proponents of Slavery. I glad to see the LDS rid of this Late Medieval error.

  24. I glad to see the LDS rid of this Late Medieval error.

    The problem is that I don’t think they have. I was too rushed to explain, but that was one of the reasons I cited the Book of Mormon passage. It’s still doctrine and there has been no explanation offered as to how that passage is to be interpreted.

    There is an exact equivalent in Christianity. If a Christian says they “disavow theories that in the past have been put forward that posit the inferiority of women with respect to men” but then refuse to even talk about Ephesians 5, then that Christian hasn’t said much. Until they talk about what they think Ephesians 5 means, then I really don’t know what they have disavowed, what they mean by the term “inferior”, and in what sense men and women are equal today. Do they see Ephesians 5 as purely cultural and are they pure egalitarians? Do they have a separate but equal complementarianism? Have they just redefined “equality”?

    The problem for the LDS church is that 2 Nephi 5:21 is a major narrative element to the Book of Mormon, so it’s much harder to deal with than Ephesians 5, which is not part of any narrative element. If they want to say it’s all metaphorical and go with the popular apologetic explanations, that’s fine. Of course then they have a problem with having a Lamanite Placement Program and Spencer W. Kimball seeing skin pigmentation getting lighter.

  25. If there is one thing that Jared has taught me it is that Mormons do not consider scripture as unique or sacred as traditional Christians do. I assume this includes the Book of Mormon. If I were a Mormons I am sure that 2 Nephi 5:21 and all of the previous commentary on Nephi would bother me until a sound explanation was provided for this obvious shift in theology/doctrine/policy (I am not sure the correct category).

    I am not trying to downplay the seriousness of the theology/doctrine/policy issue this statement creates. Unlike other theology/doctrine/policy that the LDS Church has decided to abandon this has been taught in recent history and from a systematic viewpoint could have testimony shaking implications in theology/doctrine/policy of revelation, authority, pre-existence, Prophets etc.

    But as Jared has pointed out authority is a different issue in Mormonism than Protestantism. Their prophets authority is not ministerial it is magisterial. This is an EF Hutton moment, pay and obey. Critics who point out 2 Nephi 5:21 or Spencer Kimball are just that, critics or worse.

    Perhaps the Mormon Church may provide a reasoned answer in the future editions of theology/doctrine/policy manuals. In the mean time Mormons looking for an answer are going to discover that the ideas of skin color and the curse of Ham mark of Cain have been traced to late medieval Europe not pre-Columbian Mesoamerica or the Levant. I assume 2 Nephi is not going to become an apologetic to prove out the Book of Mormon.

  26. Tim,

    You said the following of the article, that it:

    is a recent article published by the church detailing the human origins of the Priesthood Ban against Black members.

    I’ve read this article a couple of times now, but I don’t see language detailing that the priesthood band is of human origin. The article makes the following points.

    1) At one point, blacks were ordained.
    2) At a later point, blacks were prohibited from being ordained.
    3) The ban came at a time when racism was an institutional feature of U.S. life.
    4) The ban was rescinded by revelation.

    I’m perfectly willing to be proved wrong here. If there is clear language directly linking the ban to human origins, and not divine revelation, someone please point it out.

    I ask because the clear implication to a non-LDS reader is that the ban is now seen to be of human origins. But, there is no admission of culpability of any action done by any prophet qua prophet, i.e. no mistakes were made. Prophets may have been wrong about the reasons for the ban, but no language says the ban was wrong. Brigham may have been a garden variety 19th century racist, but no language says his making of the ban was wrong. At the end of the article the important point for LDS readers is fully intact: Trust the prophets, they don’t make mistakes.

    Again, I’m willing (and hoping) to be proved wrong.

  27. “Trust the prophets, they don’t make mistakes.

    Again, I’m willing (and hoping) to be proved wrong.”

    It’d be nice if those “prophets” knew what the gospel was, and would announce that good news to the LDS members without ANY strings attached.

    Until they do that, they are woefully mistaken about the gospel, who Jesus is and what He has done for us (to us), and the Christian life.

    Other than that, they are spot on.

  28. Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

    David, I’ll own that the article is written with the typical “plausible deniability” that the LDS church excels at. But this line from the article is quite strong. That they follow up a clear disavowal of the premortal life theories with a condemnation of all racism leads to a rather obvious connect-the-dots moment. But yes, no where are they saying the ban was racist or that the ban itself wasn’t inspired.

    In a spirited GD classroom this article better equips those who think the ban was racist than it does those who think it was ordained by God.

  29. If there is one thing that Jared has taught me it is that Mormons do not consider scripture as unique or sacred as traditional Christians do.

    Mormons that understand who Joseph Smith was, and know what Joseph Smith said and take it seriously, see scripture as inherently flawed, mainly because it was written by people like Joseph Smith. For these Mormons, Joseph’s flaws show that God was in charge of making the LDS Church a success, not Joseph.

    For Joseph, the Bible was just what happened to have been saved by the apostate church. However, there are plenty of Mormons now, especially newer converts, that view the Bible more like Catholics do.

  30. Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life;

    I agree with Tim that this is a big step in the right direction. This policy is very important to give local leaders direction and ammunition to shoot down the racist views of former GAs. An overt statement like this was called for because the racist attitudes of general authorities of the past is raising its head in the Third World. As leadership becomes more locally grown, the Church needs to take steps to prevent the racism of the past from creeping into church practice.

    The overt policy disavowing past racism was generally not needed in the US. Although there are doubtless plenty of latently racist Mormons, over the past 30 years Mormons in the US have overtly adopted the attitudes toward race that are politically correct. In the US, general cultural pressure keeps people from spouting racist stuff in church. This is not the case in other countries racism is far more institutionalized in the culture.

    My dad related that when he was a Mission President in Latin America he had to counsel a Stake President not to use talks by past GAs that would espouse a white-man’s-burden type of racism. He said that the church had no official position on this sort of thing at the time, he just took it upon himself to set the local leader straight. I’m sure an explicit statement by the First Presideny would have been very helpful.

  31. After reading the entire article. I think this is a major step in reconciling Church history to fit the current direction of the church.

  32. I’m not sure that this is an attempt a reconciliation or a gloss but The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam referenced in the article is a good resource on the topic.

    I have a copy of The Curse of Ham in the Early Modern Era. I think it would be a better book to see the 19th century of the Book of Mormon use of color and curse.

  33. “Most Mormons see the Bible as infallible in a similar way.”

    I value your opinion Jared but I’m not sure I buy this.

  34. According to my understanding, Catholics consider scripture infalliable when “read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit by whom it was written.” It also must be read in light of all other scripture and the living traditions of the church in order to be considered infalliable. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 111-113.)

    Mormons believe that the Bible is the “word of God” and would generally accept these sorts of qualifications regarding whether the text is falliable.

  35. You should probably start with Trent or you can start at 101 in the Catechism but, Rome is clear Scripture is inspired because of its author. You are confusing inspiration and interpretation.

    In any case quite distinct from claim that Plain and Precious Truths have been removed from the Bible, like say skin color and God’s curses.

  36. like say skin color and God’s curses.

    gundek, I think that’s unfair – even if partially true once upon a time.

    “Most Mormons see the Bible as infallible in a similar way.”

    I value your opinion Jared but I’m not sure I buy this.

    There’s a great book I would recommend called Mormons and the Bible, which is thorough and informative. A blurb from Amazon gives a good summary:

    shows that Mormon attitudes toward the Bible comprise an extraordinary mix of conservative, liberal, and radical ingredients: an almost fundamentalist adherence to the King James Version co-exists with belief in the possibility of new revelation and surprising ideas about the limits of human language.

    I’ve seen Mormons proof text at-will, take Genesis 1-2 WAY too literal, declare that the Song of Solomon is “obviously” not inspired and take the words of Jesus with absolute reverence – all the while being completely convinced that the KJV is the most trustworthy. Its a strange mix – but they take it seriously in their own way.

  37. I am glad that the LDS have made a public statement about race and the priesthood, I applaud them. I was unfair and I apologize, I hope that you understand my confusion.

    The LDS article states “the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse…” leaving open the question if a change in skin color was in the past a sign of disfavor. You yourself told Kulervo that “The Bible uses color to describe both face and skin (in curses no less)…” How are we to understand that?

    David raises a solid point regarding the various passages in Mormon scripture where an actual darkening of skin color was directly connected to a curse. This article really doesn’t go far in helping us understand these passages outside of the 19th century context in which they were written where the curses of Cain and Ham were popularly understood to be related to dark skin.

    I am not trying to trap anyone, my own denomination has a horrendous history of race relations. I look forward to further refinement of this doctrine. I think this is one area where precision and clarity are needed.

    I read a a coupe of popular Mormon Blogs and regularly read LDS beliefs likened to Roman Catholic theology. People will claim that the LDS have a similar view of Church authority to Rome, or a similar view about the need for ordinances, Jared says a similar view of Scripture etc. Understand Rome is the Church that has as recently as 2001 declared that Mormons are not even an “ecclesial community”. So whenever you hear someone claiming that Mormons and Roman Catholics have similar views on any theology remember the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the same people who brought you the Holy Inquisition, say you are “so far removed from Christian belief that Mormonism is not even considered as being a Christian heresy.”

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