Blacks in Mormonism: Tough Questions & Responses with Paul Reeve (Part 4)

Todd Noall

Todd Noall

Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

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 This next question comes from Rob in Arkansas. He said, “What are your thoughts about how to explain the origins of the LDS priesthood ban in a faithful manner to others without throwing past prophets under the bus, in spite of the fact that human error played a large part in its implementation for 100 years?” Or another person asked it like this. This is Marlene from Salt Lake. She said, “I work as a therapist,” and she asked, “If our past prophets were not infallible and made mistakes with the priesthood-temple ban for black people, how can we be assured that the current prophets are not making similar mistakes about current social issues? I’d like to know how to help my clients and kids and people in my book club who have similar questions.” So we have listeners that are trying to figure out, “How could I explain this to others better?” Right? If the reality of prophetic fallibility is there, how do we navigate our current situation? So how do you explain all of this without, as Rob says, throwing prophets under the bus?

I value being a part of a religious tradition that is led by a prophet, but in my estimation, a part of being on a stumbling walk with God doesn’t mean that I cede my moral conscience over to anyone else. I am still responsible for my own relationship with God and also responsible for engaging in the work. And sometimes, you know, just an observation, it feels like sometimes we cede that over to someone else. 

Brigham Young in particular encouraged us not to do that. He encouraged us, in fact, to find out for ourselves. To do the work that it takes. We’re supposed to work out our own salvation. It doesn’t mean that we let someone else figure it out and then just blindly follow behind. Brigham Young actually encouraged against blind devotion.

Brigham Young said, “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settled down in a state of blind security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves by the revelation of Jesus that they are led in the right way.” And then he says, “Let every man and woman know by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates or not. This has been my exhortation continually.” So there you go.

So I think, you know, it’s a mistake sometimes for us as Latter-day Saints to put our leaders on such high pedestals that it does both them and us a disservice. We become lazy in our own faith. Faith doesn’t grow unless you have to exercise it, unless it becomes challenged. And that’s a part of the path of discipleship, in my estimation. I’m on a stumbling walk with God. I continue to make mistakes, but also my engagement in the religious tradition includes considering the things that Latter-day Saint leaders are teaching and consider them in all patience and faith, as the Doctrine and Covenants recommends. And taking them to God and wrestling that out for myself, and I then am accountable to God. And I’m comfortable with that relationship, and yet it requires me effort, right? And sometimes the other path feels like you’ve just given over your moral agency to someone else, and I don’t know that that’s what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

Let me maybe add a related thought directly to Rob’s question about how do you explain all this, regarding blacks in Mormonism, without throwing prophets under the bus. Rob, I’d just briefly add that we don’t need to throw prophets under the bus, but we may in our teaching need to recalibrate our understanding of prophets just a little. For instance, it’s only shocking to learn about the weaknesses and errors of prophets if we begin with the belief that they don’t have weaknesses and they don’t commit errors, right?  So if we can begin with the more accurate premise that prophets are flawed humans whom God calls to do his work, then when they do display weaknesses or commit errors, it’s not shocking or scandalous at all. So if we can normalize prophetic fallibility by noticing and learning from the prophetic weaknesses and errors memorialized in our own scriptural canon, then I think this will go a long way in our study of church history as well. So that’s a thought, for what it’s worth. And to Marlene’s question about how we can be sure that current prophets aren’t making mistakes in their stances on current social issues, et cetera, but what you’re saying is tough and requires spiritual maturity: you know, the ability to simultaneously sustain God’s prophets with patience and faith on the one hand, while on the other hand not doing what Brigham Young warned against and settle down in blind security, trusting our eternal destiny in the hands of our leaders with reckless confidence. Like, that’s a delicate balance.  And I believe it requires us to learn to discern, like, truly discern the Spirit of God in our lives, just like Brigham Young was saying. And so don’t let anyone tell you that’s easy.

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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