| Review of John L. Lund, "The Church and the Negro: A Discussion of Mormons, Negroes and the Priesthood." Salt Lake City: John Lewis Lund, 1967 (6th Printing, 1972). 129 pages (including bibliography). $2.75 (original cover price). (Short quotes from the work reviewed have quote marks; longer quotes are in blue text.) |
One of the most common coping mechanisms for Generation X and younger LDS Church members regarding the pre-1978 priesthood ban for blacks--or more specifically, Negroes---is to say, "We just don't know why." Hand in glove with this coping mechanism is the mantra that, "the Church never taught that," or even, "not official doctrine" when mention is made of the pre-1978 teachings of church leaders about why blacks could not be ordained to the priesthood. If you are looking for the perfect gift for a person who holds these views that will carpet bomb this idyllic, politically correct revisionist history of the Church while eliciting hysterical shrieks of, "That's not official doctrine!!!" and possibly end a long-standing friendship with an active LDS person in the process, then The Church and the Negro is the book for you.
One of the best ways to get a snapshot of current mainstream LDS thinking is to peruse mainstream literature by LDS authors. If you dispute this, then take some time to browse through your nearest Deseret Book store or its website and tell me how many books you come across recommending that we pray to Heavenly Mother, suggesting that The Book of Mormon is inspired fiction, arguing in favor of same-sex marriage, or wondering aloud why women do not hold the priesthood. With this in mind, let us turn to Brother Lund's work.
John L. Lund was in a unique place to summarize the Church's pre-1978 stance on "the Negro question" (his words). As we are told on the back of the book's dust jacket,
John Lewis Lund, a native of Olympia, Washington, and a graduate of the [sic] Brigham Young University, B.A., M.Ed., has long been interested in the Negro question. While serving a mission for the L.D.S. Church in Mexico, it was his privilege to baptize several Negroes into the Church. Mr. Lund has lectured and traveled extensively in the western states discussing the issue of the Negro and the Mormon Church. Mr. Lund has also been employed by the Brigham Young University Education Week program as a lecturer on religious topics. He is married and has three children. For the past few years the author has been a religious instructor for the department of Seminaries and Institutions of the Mormon Church.
One thing that should catch the reader's attention here is that there are two references to "the Mormon Church" by an employee of what is now called the Church Educational System, a marvelous slap in the face to those who erupt with righteous indignation when the LDS Church is called "the Mormon Church." These references to "the Mormon Church" are continued throughout the book. However, the most important point is that, given that the author is a professional employee of the Church in instructing members about church doctrine, he probably knows whereof he speaks on "the Negro question."
It should also delight those who take refuge in "we don't know why" that Brother Lund supports his work in excruciating, meticulous detail. The total text of the book is only 129 pages, yet this includes a full 216 consecutively numbered footnotes, an annotated bibliography from page 112 to the top of page 126, and an additional bibliography on pages 127-129. Further, the entire Chapter IX, "Church Leaders Speak Out on the Negro Question," is devoted to quoting General Authorities on why blacks were forbidden from holding the priesthood. As one might guess, Bruce R. McConkie is quoted extensively throughout The Church and the Negro, but since finding statements by Elder McConkie that make contemporary Mormons cringe is like shooting fish in a barrel, I will focus on Brother Lund's quotes from other General Authorities whom contemporary Mormons desperately wish to believe were more progressively minded.
Chapter I informs the reader the "the Mormon Church" has more to offer the Negro than any other church, and identifies Brother Lund's intended audience.
This book is written for the express purpose of explaining to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the doctrine of the Church concerning the Negro. It is expected that many non-Mormons as well as Negroes will read this work. It is hoped that all who do will be open-minded and fair in their evaluation of the Mormon position.....It is the most ardent desire of the author that even those who do not agree with the Mormon position will at least understand why Latter-day Saints believe as they do.
The next chapter offers us platitudes about how discrimination is wrong, and invokes a straw man argument to dissuade critics from judging the Church by the conceded racism of some of its members. Brother Lund demonstrates the unsoundness of such reasoning thus:
I saw a Mormon who liked to smoke cigars.
Therefore, all Mormons like to smoke cigars.
Therefore, the Mormon Church teaches its members to smoke cigars.
This contrived syllogism is not even close to the reasons for which many people find the priesthood ban disturbing, but let us move on. Brother Lund cites Joseph Fielding Smith and other church leaders for the proposition that Negroes are entitled to civil rights, unwittingly suggesting that man's law is more just than God's. The one-page Chapter III examines a statement by David O. McKay admiring George Washington Carver, in which President McKay states that noble people of every color hue will be rewarded (by God), which further supports Brother Lund's argument that the Church is all for civil equality, just not ecclesiastical equality.
Finally, in Chapter IV, we finish these empty niceties and get into doctrine. Unsurprisingly, Brother Lund jumps right into the biblical story of Cain. After reviewing the story of Cain and his murder of Abel, Brother Lund discusses the mark of Cain.
Frankly, sincerely, and somewhat abruptly, President Brigham Young has told us that the mark of Cain was "a black skin." For the Latter-day Saint no further explanation is required. However, it is not necessary to rely on this single statement to arrive at this same conclusion. There are numerous references made by both ancient and modern prophets that point to the fact that Cain was the father of the race that became known as Negroid.
Among these other prophets is Wilford Woodruff, who
taught that "the Lord said I will not kill Cain, but I will put a mark upon him, and that mark will be seen on the face of every Negro upon the face of the earth . . ." (ellipsis in original)
Pages 16 and 17 then explain how LDS doctrine tells us that Cain was a son of perdition. The next several pages discuss why the Lord rejected Cain's offering: because it was not an animal sacrifice, and thus Cain was rejecting Jesus Christ. Further, we are reminded that Cain was inspired by Satan, as told in The Pearl of Great Price. But most interesting here is that Cain's real motive for killing Abel is to gain Abel's priesthood birthright. As Brother Lund explains, the Inspired Version of the Bible by Joseph Smith teaches us that Adam and Eve's children before Cain and Abel were unrighteous, and so the birthright to having the priesthood passed to Cain, who lost it through his own wickedness, and then went to Abel. Brother Lund cites Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith to show us that the Prophet Joseph taught that Abel is "still holding the keys of his dispensation." Somehow, Cain believed he could get the right to holding priesthood authority back by murdering Abel. The importance of this detail will become apparent later.
To the chagrin of fans of a local flood theory, Brother Lund tells us that the lineage of Cain was preserved in the global flood by Ham, who married Egyptus, and thus the unfortunate anachronism enshrined in The Book of Abraham that the Egyptian race descended from, and took its name from, Egyptus. Further, Brother Lund refers to Abraham 1:21-27 to affirm the obvious, which is that the Book of Abraham teaches that the Egyptians could not hold the priesthood because they were black.
Foreshadowing some church teachings that will soon be discussed, Lund also quotes Elder B.H. Roberts recounting the fanciful Egyptus story;
And was it by Ham marrying her, and she being saved from the flood in the ark, that 'the race which preserved the curse in the land' was perpetuated? If so, then I believe that race is the one through which it is ordained those spirits who were not valiant in the great rebellion in heaven should come; who rendered themselves unworthy of the Priesthood and its powers, and hence it is withheld from them to this day.
Lund repeatedly refers to black people as "Negroids," but the prize for most cringe-worthy ethnic reference has to be on page 29:
Melvin R. Brooks states that Ham "married a Negress, Egyptus, and by this marriage the seed of Cain was perpetuated through and after the flood . . ."
This book is certainly educational; the author of this review had never, in his entire life, previously heard a black woman called a "Negress."
Chapter V explains the concept of priesthood in Mormonism and then, unfortunately for contemporary revisionist Mormons, asks why Negroes cannot hold the priesthood. First, Brother Lund explains that it is all a matter of time, and refers (as contemporary Mormons do) to Jesus withholding the gospel from the Gentiles at first as an example. Brother Lund also quotes David O. McKay as stating that the day will come when Negroes will have the right to hold the priesthood. In contemporary Mormon revisionism, this isolated statement is taken as evidence that President McKay was thinking progressively and that the priesthood ban was allegedly a "practice," not a "doctrine." We will soon discover that those hopes are fantastically misplaced.
Brother Lund then discusses the Mormon doctrine of a pre-mortal life and the war in heaven, and you can probably guess where he is headed.
It is the Mormon belief that in our pre-mortal state there were a large number of individuals who, due to some act or behavior of their own in the pre-existence, forfeited the right to hold the Priesthood during their mortal lives, but would be allowed to possess the Priesthood in the due time of the Lord.
Quoting The Way to Perfection by Joseph Fielding Smith, Brother Lund explains that
Negroes, we see, "were not denied the privilege of the second estate [mortality] but were permitted to come to the earthlife with some restrictions placed upon them. That the Negro race, for instance, had been placed under restrictions because of their attitude in the world of spirits, few will doubt. It cannot be looked upon as just that they should be deprived of the power of the Priesthood without it being a punishment for some act, or acts, performed before they were born."
Returning again to President McKay, the figurehead of Mormon revisionist history, Brother Lund quotes him as follows:
By operation of some unwritten eternal law with which man is yet unfamiliar, spirits come through parentages for which they are worthy---some as Bushmen of Australia, some as Solomon Islanders, some as Americans, as Europeans, as Asiatics, etc., etc., with all the varying degrees of mentality and spirituality manifest in parents of the different races that inhabit the earth.
President McKay's equating mentality and spirituality with race is indeed a sharp kick to the crotch of those who want to believe that his thinking was more in line with au courant LDS talking points. The source for this quote, by the way, is another work that is delightfully entitled, "The Church and the Negroid People."
However, Brother Lund assures us that black people are not being punished for what Cain did. "The only real relationship between Cain and the Negroes is that they were chosen to come through Cain's lineage" because of their deeds in the pre-mortal realm.
Another security blanket for contemporary Latter-day Saints about the priesthood ban is the belief that prophets before 1978 predicted that blacks would receive the priesthood some day. This is true, but what is always omitted from this revisionism is that the Church taught there were two major conditions for this to happen. The first condition is that all of Adam's children had to be resurrected---that is, all of the human race, including untold billions who were waiting in the pre-mortal spirit realm, would have to experience life, death, and resurrection first. In addition to apostle Bruce R. McConkie, Brother Lund cites church president Brigham Young:
Brigham Young disclosed in a speech delivered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on December 3, 1854, that the Negroes will not have the privilege of receiving the Priesthood until "...all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity." Some twelve years later in 1866, Brigham Young again commented on the Negro and the Priesthood. In this speech he is quoted as saying, "They [Negroes] will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children [of Adam] have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will come up and possess the priesthood and receive all the blessings we now are entitled to."
The second condition to blacks receiving the priesthood goes back to Cain murdering Abel over Abel's birthright to the priesthood. To rectify this situation, Abel must become a god and begin having his own spirit children before Cain's descendants can. Brother Lund's source for this? The Prophet Joseph Smith, who taught that Negroes could not hold the priesthood or hold any of its offices until the seed of Abel received the priesthood (Lund's footnote for this is Milton R. Hunter's Pearl of Great Price Commentary). Other prophets who taught as much, and whom Lund cites, are Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and Joseph Fielding Smith. Quoting the latter, Lund tells us on page 49 that
It will first of all be necessary that Abel marry, and then be resurrected, and ultimately exalted in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom so that he can have a continuation of his seed. It will then be necessary for Abel to create an earth for his spirit children to come to and experience mortality. These children will have to be "redeemed" or resurrected. After the resurrection or redemption of Abel's seed, Cain's descendants. the Negroes, will then be allowed to possess the Priesthood. Joseph Fielding Smith has said that [citing Answers to Gospel Questions] "the Lord decreed that the children of Cain should not have the privilege of bearing the priesthood until ABEL HAD POSTERITY who could have the priesthood and that will have to be in the FAR DISTANT FUTURE. When this is accomplished ON SOME OTHER WORLD, then the restrictions will be removed from the children of Cain who have been true to their 'second' estate." (emphasis in original)
We then move on to "Interracial Marriage and the Negro," which is not looked upon favorably. While there are many quotes, scriptures, and supporting footnotes here, this chapter can be summarized by the following quote that Brother Lund provides from a First Presidency letter to former BYU sociology department head, Dr. Lowery Nelson:
Your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now. God's rule for Israel, His Chosen People, has been indogamous. Modern Israel has been similarly directed. We are not unmindful of the fact that there is a growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this area, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between white and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.
In Chapter VII, Brother Lund tells us what the Negro can do in the Church today (i.e., at the time of his writing), since they cannot have the priesthood until the biblical Abel becomes a god and raises his own generation of gods on another planet. We learn that blacks can serve in auxiliary organizations (like Primary and Relief Society), can give talks, pray, serve missions but not perform priesthood ordinances, perform baptisms for the dead but not be endowed or sealed in the temple----in short, except for the latter two, everything that women can do in the Church today. When looking at it this way, perhaps contemporary Mormons won't see it as so bad: since a twelve year-old boy has more ecclesiastical authority than any adult woman in the Church, perhaps contemporary Mormons can make themselves believe that in retrospect maybe black members of the LDS Church didn't mind being ecclesiastically subservient based entirely on their ethnicity.
Chapter VIII provides us with "Comments By and About Mormon Negroes," which essentially amount to testimonials about how the Church is just great as long as you know your place. Anyone who doubts this reviewer's saying so is welcome to read through their own copy of The Church and the Negro and see if this is not the case.
However, this chapter also contains a nice surprise for revisionist Mormons who point to Elijah Abel as an example of how blacks not being ordained to the priesthood was supposedly a "practice" but not a "doctrine." Brother Lund informs us
That Elijah Abel was a good man is not in question. The fact that he held the Priesthood is also a matter of record. But, as mentioned, the record needs to be clarified in a very major point. Once it was discovered that Elijah Abel was of Negroid ancestry, he was dropped from his Priesthood Quorum (1879).
Brother Lund's source for this information? The records in the Church Historian's office. Brother Lund also explains that the idea that the Church knowingly ordained a black man to the priesthood is mistaken, because Elijah Abel "was 'one-eighth Negro and light of color.' Nevertheless, he did have Negro blood and was therefore not eligible for the Priesthood."
In addition, while contemporary Mormons tell themselves that the priesthood ban originated with Brigham Young, Brother Lund assures us that it was Joseph Smith who taught, "No person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the priesthood" (citing Abraham O. Smoot, as quoted in "The Church and the Negroid People"). Brother Lund refers to the same source in the next chapter (page 81) to clarify that, "The Prophet [Joseph Smith] instructed Abraham O. Smoot to baptize the Negro but not confer the Priesthood upon him."
Brother Lund provides in Chapter IX a look at what various church leaders have said about black people. There are many wonderful quotes in this chapter, but there are two that are particularly of interest for contemporary Mormons who are under the impression that the priesthood ban was not "doctrine," that the Church did not officially teach that the priesthood ban was based on what black people did in the pre-existence, and that David O. McKay was more enlightened than others of the Brethren about these issues.
Brother Lund quotes an official statement from the First Presidency dated August 17, 1951:
The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: "Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers' rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to.....failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the Priesthood , is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they may come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the Priesthood by Negroes."
Also, on page 91, a letter dated November 3, 1947 by David O. McKay is quoted, which sheds further light on the oft-stated mantra that he allegedly believed there was no doctrinal basis for the priesthood ban:
I know of no scriptural basis for denying the Priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the Book of Abraham (1:26); however, I believe, as you suggest, that the real reason dates back to our pre-existent life."
The final two chapters are questions and answers and a summary of what Brother Lund had previously discussed.
Considering that Brother Lund was a church education employee and the agonizing detail he provides for his sources, claiming that he was shooting from the hip or not representative of mainstream LDS thinking prior to the ending of the priesthood ban is simply not sufficient. Indeed, despite the revisionist history now trumpeted by the Church and its cheerleaders about what the Church used to teach and the "we don't know" cop-out of 148 years of ecclesiastical apartheid, The Church and the Negro delivers a spectacular psychic donkey punch to those who have gone along with this revisionism. I highly recommend finding a copy of this gospel classic for a view of where Mormon thinking was before the spin machine took over in the wake of the 1978 revelation Spencer W. Kimball had that everything was going to be better now, and the ensuing McConkie Mulligan that amounted to, "Never mind." The Church and the Negro has, I think, pretty much killed, buried, and nailed the coffin shut on the idea that "we don't know" why the priesthood ban was in place for nearly a century and a half, and then thrown the coffin into Mount Doom, before dropping Mt Doom under the continental plates.