Paul Reeve wrote initial Race and Priesthood draft
GT: Now I want to ask you another question. I’m hoping you’ll answer. I’ve heard rumors, and that’s all they are is rumors that you played a role in compiling that essay [Race and the Priesthood]. Do you have any response to that?
Paul laughs: I did help with the essay. Yeah, Yeah.
GT: So was it, can you describe your role?
Paul: Well the Church History Department invited me to write an extended essay. It ended up being about 55 pages long with footnotes and everything like I would produce as an academic essay. Once they were satisfied with that it was sent up the line, several layers of approval process and then the Church History Department actually boiled down that longer essay to what got posted online so I had no say over what got posted online, what eventually appeared as Race and the Priesthood, but it was a condensed version of the longer piece that I produced for them.
New Justifications for the Priesthood/Temple Ban
At the “Black, White, & Mormon II Conference Panel 2: Getting Past the Racial Past” (original video), Paul Reeve counters new justifications for the priesthood ban that have arisen since the disavowal in the LDS essay.
If we don’t understand our racial history we will continue to try these kinds of justifications. That’s why the history matters.
Spread the Gospel in stages. First Jews then Gentiles as parallel to First White People then Black People
This idea either ignores the history or is ignorant of it. The first documented black person joined the Church in the 1830s the founding year of the faith. There was no parallel to Jews first and then Gentiles. It was always taken to black people and black people were ordained in the early days of the Church. The notion that the gospel would be taken in stages white first, then blacks, in parallel to jews first then gentiles is patently false and historically inaccurate.
God has always discriminated in distributing priesthood power. Tribe of Levi as parallel
The tribe of Levi analogy is a false parallel because none of the other tribes were prevented from partaking of the ordinances necessary for their salvation like temple and priesthood restrictions prevented black people of African descent from doing. The Levites were in essence the Old Testament equivalent of modern day temple workers, not the equivalent of modern day Priesthood holders. Their assignment was to care for and serve in the tabernacle and facilitate the keeping of the Law of Moses by the other tribes. Their function was to welcome the other tribes into the tabernacle and help them to make their sacrifices as prescribed by the Law. The tribe of Levi welcomed the other tribes in, while the Priesthood and Temple ban kept black men and women out. As Mormon scholar Ardis Parshall puts it, “Restricting priesthood to one narrow part of the faithful is not the same as restricting priesthood from one narrow part of the faithful.”
Giving Black people access to temple and priesthood would have brought down the church
This idea suggests that conforming to American racial norms and prejudices was necessary for the Church to survive. However, the same year, 1852, that Brigham Young openly announced a racial Priesthood ban, the Church openly acknowledged that its members believed in and practiced polygamy. Polygamy brought considerable scorn from the nation and did not end until the Federal government nearly ground the LDS Church into dust, and yet LDS leaders willfully stood against the crush of derision for what they believed to be a divine principle. Why would conforming to racial prejudices be necessary for the Church to survive but conforming to prevailing marital norms not [be] necessary. Mormons love to quote Joseph Smith’s standard of truth from the Wentworth letter wherein he says, “The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say ‘the work is done’.” So, no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing? And yet treating black people equally would have?
A revelation removed the restrictions therefore a revelation must have started them
This idea suggests that the ending of the restrictions explain the beginnings. I do not have to first tell my children to touch a hot stove before I tell them “don’t touch that, it’s hot.” If there was a revelation to begin the restriction can we read it? Will someone show it to us? Can anyone point to it? Where is it? There is a total of one revelation on race and the priesthood in the LDS scriptural canon and it came in June of 1978, and it returned Mormonism to its racially universal roots.
God will not let his prophet lead the church astray
Taken within its proper context, this comes out of Wilford Woodruff in 1890 who was defending the manifesto ending polygamy as a revelation in the face of accusations from fellow Mormons that he was a fallen prophet and had merely bowed to political pressure when he issued the manifesto. Within this proper context Woodruff was saying God will not give me a revelation to lead the Church astray. Assuming that a prophet is infallible is a violation of a central Mormon tenet of agency. If a prophet has agency, a prophet can make mistakes.
Mormon leaders were trapped by historical circumstances: everyone was racist “back then”
This idea is based on the premise that we should not judge historical figures by the standards of today but by the standards of their day. It is not an act of presentism (presentism as historians define it is “superimposing present day values on the past”) to hold those leaders accountable for their choices because people in the past argued against slavery and for racial equality including, eventually,1 Joseph Smith. Also, Joseph Smith sanctioned the ordination of black men to the priesthood; he was not trapped by historical circumstances. Brigham Young said in 1847 we don’t care about the color. Therefore when he started to care about color he was not trapped by the views of the time because he had already expressed an open view. Brigham Young said we have one of the best elders, an African. When he later restricted priesthood from black men he was not trapped by history because he had already favorably referred to a black priesthood holder.
We don’t know why
Brigham Young said he knew why. On the 5th of February 1852 [quoting Brigham Young], “If there never was a prophet or Apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you this people that [are] commonly called Negros are [the] children of Cain, I know they are; I know they cannot bear rule in [the] priesthood, [in the] first sense of [the] word.” [Brigham Young’s Speech on Slavery, Blacks, and the Priesthood (Brigham Young Addresses, Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, dated Feb. 5, 1852, located in the LDS Church Historical Department, Salt Lake City, Utah), online here]