Resources for teaching Gospel Doctrine Lesson 42:  Continuing Revelation to Latter-day Prophets

Compiled by Paul Reeve

In preparing to give lesson 42, it seems worth noting that of the examples of “continuing revelation” given in the lesson manual, only one was canonized as scripture:  the 1978 revelation on the priesthood. Given the importance of this revelation, it may be helpful for Gospel Doctrine teachers to consult additional LDS Church-published resources to help their classes understand why such a revelation was needed in the first place. This document provides a list of additional LDS Church-published resources that can help:

  1. RESOURCES ON THE HISTORY BEHIND THE PRIESTHOOD POLICY:

The Race and the Priesthood essay at LDS.org was “approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” as the Gospel Topics landing page It officially “disavows” prior teachings on race. It provides an overview of the three phases in LDS Church history on priesthood and temple restrictions:

  • open priesthood and temples from the 1830s to 1852,
  • segregated priesthood and temples from the mid nineteenth-century to 1978,
  • a return to open priesthood and temples after June 8, 1978.

Some Church members are not aware of the ordination of Black men prior to 1852 or that black men and women were barred from temple worship except for baptisms for the dead. It can be very helpful to share this context with them. Similarly, The 2013 version of the scriptures has a new introductory heading for the 1978 revelation that offers some historical context and officially acknowledges that black men were ordained to the priesthood in the early decades of the Church. The new introduction suggests that “Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.” I choose to interpret the scripture heading to indicate that there is no documentation in Church records of revelation as a source for the practice. If you would like to understand the US racial culture within which Mormonism was born and the impact this culture had on Mormonism, please see this lecture I gave at BYU; or a two part podcast by Ardis Parshall and me with the Maxwell Institute at BYU: Part 1 and Part 2.

  1. RESOURCES ON THE HISTORY SURROUNDING THE 1978 REVELATION:

Edward Kimball’s article, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood” in BYU Studies explores how President Kimball prepared for the 1978 revelation. It is well worth reading.

  1. CONTEMPORARY CHURCH STATEMENTS ON RACISM AS SINFUL AND MORALLY WRONG:

The Church, in its most forceful statement to date (August 2017) condemned white supremacy and called such attitudes morally wrong and sinful. Please use this in your lesson! Additionally, President Hinckley, in 2006, defined notions of racial superiority as outside the bounds of behavior acceptable for a disciple of Christ, and Elder Cook called notions of racial superiority morally wrong in October 2017 General Conference. Also in October 2017, Elder Ballard admonished Latter-day Saints to eliminate the prejudices of “racism, sexism, and nationalism” and quoted from the autobiography of Jane Manning James, a black pioneer.

  1. PERSPECTIVES BY CHURCH MEMBERS ON THE IMPACTS OF PRIESTHOOD AND TEMPLE RESTRICTIONS AND RACISM:

James Goldberg’s chapter, “Witnessing the Faithfulness,” in Revelations in Context at LDS.org includes stories of three couples and the impact of the priesthood and temple restrictions on their lives before and after 1978. The “Pioneers in Every Land” page at LDS.org includes this powerful video of Julia Mavimbela’s experience with racial hatred in South Africa and her life work to transcend it. For potent examples of the type of racism that still exists among Latter-day Saints see Dawn Armstrong’s post and Zandra Vranes’s op-ed.

Now that the Church has officially disavowed old teachings on race, new myths justifying the segregation of the priesthood have begun to circulate among LDS people.  It is imperative that we do not invent new justifications. It may be helpful for teachers to familiarize themselves with these new justifications and understand why they are incorrect in case a class member raises them during Gospel Doctrine.  None of these justifications have been approved by LDS Church leaders.

New justification:  “Jesus took the gospel to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles as a parallel to whites first and then blacks.”

Why this is incorrect: This explanation contradicts the scriptures of the Restoration. Joseph Smith received at least four revelations instructing him that “the gospel must be preached unto every creature, with signs following them that believe.” (D&C 58:64; see also 68:8, 84:62, 112:28). “Every creature” is not ambiguous. There was no divine mandate designed to confine the gospel message to Jews first and then Gentiles. Other scriptures making this point include the following:  “Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay” (2 Nephi 26: 27); the Lord promised Abraham that his seed would “bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations,” and further stipulated that in Abraham’s “seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Abraham 2: 9, 11).

New justification: “God has always been discriminatory with His priesthood; after all, He limited it to the tribe of Levi in Old Testament times.”

Why this is incorrect:  In 2012, when the Washington Post interviewed BYU Religion Professor Randy Bott about the Church’s past racial policies, Professor Bott offered the tribe of Levi explanation. In response the Church issued a statement which said that the positions attributed to Professor Bott “absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Even when priesthood-holding was limited to the tribe of Levi, none of the other tribes were prevented from partaking of the ordinances necessary for their salvation or exaltation as were LDS Church members of black African descent. In fact, the Tribe of Levi was given authority to administer tabernacle rituals for and in behalf of the other tribes. The Levites were closer in practice to modern-day temple workers, not the equivalent of modern-day priesthood holders. They welcomed the other tribes into the tabernacle and helped them to make their sacrifices as prescribed by the law (Numbers 3-5). As LDS writer and historian 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.” She also notes: “The tribe of Levi exercised priesthood functions as a duty imposed on them by God, not because Levites were worthy and every member of every other tribe was unworthy; black Latter-day Saints, no matter their faithfulness, no matter their works of righteousness, no matter their obedience to commandments, were deemed unworthy, and nothing they could possibly do or be or become would change that, under the restriction.”

 

W. Paul Reeve is a Professor of Mormon History at the University of Utah and author of Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (Oxford, 2015) .  He serves as an advisor to Shoulder to the Wheel, an effort by Latter-day Saints to take action in our communities to end racism and white supremacy in honor of the upcoming 40th anniversary of Official Declaration 2 and the end of the ban on Black priesthood ordination and temple worship. Please pledge to put your shoulder to the wheel.  For more information visit shouldertothewheel.org.