Sat in the Smoking Section of Church Today

One of the best misunderstandings ever happened today. I was asked by a leader to help out at a “gospel discussion” after church for expatriates (expatriates are foreigners living in China – we can have gospel discussions with them but not with Chinese citizens, a rule we strictly follow). This discussion was going to be held at a popular jazz bar and night club associated with a fellow member and friend. An unusual venue, but I was able to go and agreed to help. I asked my wife if she’d come along and she graciously did. We went there straight after church, expecting to find a small gathering, perhaps two or three people in a side room or something who might want to ask about church history or something. What we found was a packed venue with dozens of people listening to Tia Fuller (yes, the Tia Fuller, saxophonist with Beyoncé’s band) at the mic, sharing her story to an enthusiastic crowd apparently right after performing.

I still didn’t get what was happening and wondered if this venue could possibly be meant for a religious event. It took me a while to realize that this wasn’t a “gospel discussion,” is was a celebration of gospel music in honor of Black History Month. And yes, it was a religious event: it was “church” the way church should be done, according to some of the performers. There were awesome musicians, mostly African-Americans now living in Shanghai, with some from other parts of the world as well. Loud, lively, fun gospel music. We sat in the smoking section with a couple of friends from the US Consulate that played a role in supporting this major event, possibly the first major gathering of gospel musicians in Shanghai, the owner of the club told me (if I understood correctly). Not every misunderstanding turns out to be this enjoyable, except for the smoke.

May all your future misunderstandings have rhythm.

By the way, having been made a little more aware of Black History Month and in light of the painful history of race issues in the Church, let me turn your attention to some useful materials that help deal with the real issues involving blacks and the priesthood. One of the most straightforward and clear things I’ve read on the issue is Scott Gordon’s “Three Mormon Myths About Blacks and the Priesthood.” I’ll need to update my own writings on the topic as I further absorb and ponder the insights he brings and those offered by the other resources he links to, including Interesting stuff that may challenge your old assumptions but give you a better view of what has happened and what great blessings have finally been opened up for all.

As you read and ponder, there’s an important word to keep your mind open to as a possibility associated with this issue: mistake, as in the human kind. Maybe Mistake. Or even MISTAKE. Yes, they happen, even in the Church. It’s what you get, unfortunately, when you let us mortals do things, even good mortals trying to do good things. It’s possible that serious mistakes can be made that can demand patience from us until they are rectified. Are you prepared for that? (Me, I prefer perfection from everyone else but me, but I guess I’m something of an idealist.) May we all be more understanding regarding the pains and mistakes of the past, and do all we can to avoid racism and other forms of bigotry today. (OK, perhaps not all racism: the excessively good treatment I get in China as a result of being white is something that the natural man in me is not quite ready to part with. I can’t imagine how difficult life would be if I were on the receiving end of completely opposite treatment, facing animosity and harshness because of my skin color.)

Let me know your thoughts about the specific points Scott Gordon makes, and the points raised in the links he provides. I’m not interested, though, in the usual diatribes about how awful Mormons are for the long-gone limitations on the priesthood in the past, whatever the reasons were for that temporary policy. We’ve heard that a million times (well, 968,346 times, according to Google’s Insult Counter Widget for Mormanity, which is plenty for now).

Author: Jeff Lindsay

15 thoughts on “Sat in the Smoking Section of Church Today

  1. Thank you for writing this article I wish I could say it was helpful for me but some of your previous writings as well as many other articles from the black LDS "Genesis" group had already led me to such conclusions.

    It is a subject all members should familiarize themselves with and with the traffic your blog generates it's a great subject to go over.

    In the past I would always try to justify the policy, I now just tell people that it was a mistake and that though the men who lead the church are most certainly inspired they are also still men.

    Greater understanding of this topic could lead to many great missionary experiences in teaching and converting our black brethren.

  2. I think there is a notion among some members of the church that if they admit that perhaps leaders of the church made a mistake, that it invalidates the truthfulness of the Gospel all together. But that simply isn't true. I actually find it much more comforting to accept the possibility that men, blinded by the prejudices and opinions of society at the time, felt a certain way about blacks holding the priesthood than I do about accepting the possibility that God really felt it necessary to withhold the priesthood from any worthy male because of the color of his skin.

    Having grown up in the south, I must acknowledge the gross atrocities that existed in many southern states in the not so distant past. Though I am a child of the eighties, my mother has very clear memories of using segregated water fountains, of using text books marked clearly with race identifying information so that the books couldn't be passed from a black child, into the hands of a white child. I am not proud of the portions of my southern heritage that supported Jim Crowe laws and allowed, even condoned such ridiculous behavior. It's a part of history that cannot be erased. But just the same, I can say that I'm proud to be southern, proud to be an American because of how far we've come, not because of where we were fifty or one hundred years ago, but because of where we are today.

    The same holds true for my opinions regarding blacks and the priesthood within the church. I am proud of where we are today. I'm grateful that society as a whole, not just lds society, has moved in the right direction, and that this segregation is no longer a part of doctrine.

    As always, I appreciate your insights.

  3. Thanks for this description, Jeff. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity and experience.

    I think you know how I feel about the ban. I certainly have written enough about it – throughout the Bloggernacle and on my own blog. If anyone else is interested, just click on my name, find the label "Race" near the bottom of my blog and have at it. I will provide the url for only one of those posts (which I wrote almost three years ago) – one in which I compiled quotes from modern LDS leaders about the ban and the justifications for it:

    "Repudiating Racist Justifications Once and For All"


  4. When President Hinckley was asked to explain the practice he simply said that it was because that was how the leadership of the church interpreted the teachings of the church at the time. When he was pressed about the matter, he changed the subject. I don't feel any obligation to defend the practice either. It was what it was. The justifications sometimes offered for it–curse of Cain, less valiance, etc . . . –were clearly wrong, and should be disavowed.

  5. Thanks for this article, Jeff. I've enjoyed your writings since even before I became a member of the Church; your perspective here is a refreshing one.

  6. I have thought about this subject off and on for years. At one point, I thought of the long history of racial issues in America. I wondered if the Lord might have yielded to these social preferences. I balked at this. The Lord would never do that. Would he conform to the will of man? Never!

    Then I realized the answer might be yes. Maybe the leaders didn't make a mistake. Maybe the Lord knew that Americans weren't ready for such equality. Maybe he knew the church would suffer if they were too progressive in the eyes of the nation. Maybe it would have hindered the work. Maybe he was giving the Saints a break from persecution.

    What we really should focus on is the beauty of the Lord's plan of salvation. There are provisions for those who were denied. They can have their work done in the temple and receive every blessing promised to them, no matter their race or life circumstances. They were never cut off forever from the Lord. He knew this. He guided his prophets. The only mistakes are in speculating about the Lord's reasons. Until he reveals this, we really can't know.

  7. I haven't read your link yet but plan to do it now; I wanted to comment before I got lost in bloggerland, as I am wont to do 🙂 My thoughts are in line with Amy's. That's always what I have said in my mind: "It wasn't the Lord, or even the Church; it was society that wasn't ready for that change." I'm sure my grandpa was none too happy about it even when it did come about. It's still working this way in other parts of the world. My husband served an English-speaking mission to India. The goal was to convert the educated people of the higher castes (thus able to speak English — somewhat :)) and then help convince them of the errors of the caste system. When the upper caste can change its opinions, they will then welcome all their countrymen into the Gospel fold. If they began by teaching the poor, of which there are millions and who are also sterotypically more humble and receptive to truth, then this would be a church that could never reach the upper castes; it would be rejected as a religion for lesser statuses. Since the Lord wants ALL to hear his message, he knows where to start. It seems sad to not reach out to those who would be most receptive first, but I feel assured that the atonement will make up for the unjustices of society, and the Church is going about things in the right way. I feel confident that the Lord knows what this world needs and how to accomplish his goals, despite human faults and frailties.

  8. When religious leaders make a mistake, and their followers would rather concoct elaborate rationalizations than simply admit the leader's fallibility… well, that is one of the hallmarks of a cult.

    I'm not saying the LDS Church is a cult. In fact I think that's a most unfair accusation. But I am saying that the sycophancy of Amy and azeem15 lend credence to the charge. And that PapaD, as he tries to bring the proto-cultists to their senses, has his work cut out for him.

    — Eveningsun

  9. P.S. As an example of those who "concoct elaborate rationalizations," consider Randy Bott and the idiocies he recently related to the Washington Post.

    As long as folks like Botts are out there expounding Church doctrine, people like PapaD will have a tough time fighting the good fight.

    — Eveningsun

  10. @ DavidH

    All of the excuses except for "We don't know why the Lord did it." Have been formally disavowed just like the urban legends about garments though a lot of members refuse to let it go. The church instantly repudiated the less valiant theory and even made the seventy who posited it apologize in conference, yet you still here members say it.

    Read that article earlier was expecting a hit piece and was pleasantly surprised by it. Good article and I agree with you on Botts making it more difficult.

    As for fallibility the LDS church firmly teaches that all men, prophets past and present included, are fallible. The only person to have walked the Earth and remain perfect his entire life is Jesus Christ according to our doctrine.

  11. Evengingsun;

    as for Randy bott, I agree, his rationality, while may have some truth to it, s not nearly satisfacrtory. The fact fothe matter is that we do not know why the priesthood ban was initiated ad upheld for generations.

    Now, as for When religious leaders make a mistake, and their followers would rather concoct elaborate rationalizations than simply admit the leader's fallibility… well, that is one of the hallmarks of a cult.

    Would you say that Obama shows the sign of a cultist?

    Obama: I’ve never heard Rev. Wright speak like that – well, ok, except that time …" (Updated)

  12. Would you say that Obama shows the sign of a cultist?

    Not quite. I think it would be more accurate to describe Obama as a garden-variety political hypocrite rather than a cultist. The cultist speaks out of genuine (if mistaken) conviction, not political expediency.

    — Eveningsun

  13. Unfortunately, many within the church spread opinion as church doctrine. In many areas, this has caused widespread confusion and loss of faith as members strive to reconcile things that don't make sense. The fact that apostles and prophets can have a vast diversity of differing opinions and are prone to mistakes just like you and me doesn't lessen their divine calling one bit.

  14. Everything is from God, so we should accept evething if it is not wrong for others. Accepting this wonderful race, yes, of course, since their are just like us, no, less boring 😉 In fact, a white person who lives with black people, will be like them. What white persons did to them, is really a tragic. They have done the hard miles. We have to help them, they still suffer. Please forgive us, black people. Also, why some Churches do not want black persons in their churches, and they say that the LDS Church is racist, it is not true, but yes, in the past, it has been, the society was wrong, including the Church. P.S. What you write is awesome Jeff, wow keep up the good work. You are a great example for everyone. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.