“Subtle . . . and Significant! Our New 2013 Edition of the Scriptures Addresses Controversies” is a must-read survey of the new update to the published scriptures just announced and released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While details of the adjustments are offered on a page at LDS.org, Brother Lynch reviews some of the most noteworthy changes, especially in things like introductory comments and chapter headings (99% of the changes are in such study aids, not in the sacred text itself). The changes reflect careful scholarship coupled with a thoughtful awareness of some of the controversies that come in up defending the Church, and in several cases make life a little simpler for some of us members. Bruce R. McConkie’s inaccurate mention of “coins” in the chapter heading of Alma 11 has been removed. The diversity of Native American origins is also more properly reflected in the introduction to the Book of Mormon (for those of you troubled by issues of DNA, science, and the Book of Mormon), where the old “principal ancestors” statement has been replaced with a much more nuanced statement indicating that the Lamanites of the Book of Mormon “are among the ancestors of the American Indians.” This is even more nuanced than the mild 2007 change to “among the principal ancestors”–now it’s just “among the ancestors.” That’s a fair way to describe what we know now about what the Book of Mormon really requires.
One of the most interesting changes involves setting the stage for the 1978 revelation on the priesthood. Here is how Brother Lynch puts it:
Official Declaration 2 – Blacks and the Priesthood
In 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation on the priesthood that extended the right to every worthy male in the Church to receive all the blessings of the priesthood without regard to race, including those pertaining to the temple. Prior to that time, individuals of African descent were often denied the blessings of the priesthood. Many well-meaning members and leaders sought to explain the practice, arguing that there was a doctrinal basis for such a restriction. Many such explanations assumed a revelatory basis for the practice, and produced justifications that were damaging to the sensitivities of our black members. Critics have argued that many Mormons cling to such beliefs. The following new introduction to Official Declaration 2 dispels many of these notions. It reads:
“The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.”
This official introduction validates an argument long made by defenders of the Church that there is no known source for the initiation of what has become termed the “priesthood ban”. It confirms that Joseph himself ordained black male members to the priesthood, indicating that the “ban” was likely not founded on scripture. It further explains that, despite the unknown source for the ban, it was believed that the lifting of the ban required revelation from God which came on June 1, 1978 and was then adopted unanimously by the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the full contingency of General Authorities.
This introduction can serve to provide some comfort to members bothered by statements from other well-meaning individuals and leaders who said many things in the past that are seen today as hurtful. It upholds the current belief that only worthiness determines the right of a man to receive the blessings of the priesthood, and helps to dispel the notion that Mormons are racist in their intent.
I am pleased with this noteworthy but subtle progress in our scriptures and hope the changes will be welcomes and studied by our members. However, I was just a tad disappointed to see that the book of Alma still refers to the Amalekites when the outstanding scholarship of Royal Skousen shows that the term most likely should be Amlicites, correcting a scribal error and thereby adding a deeper level of unity to the text than Joseph Smith himself recognized (because, of course, he was not the author). Maybe next time! 😉
Speaking of gradual progress, I finally added a Facebook “like” button to Mormanity. Is that annoying or helpful? Any other social media features I should add? Yeah, I’m always a bit behind here. Help and guidance is welcome!