the Mormon Claim
Major Changes in Church Policy
The LDS Church has, in its history, made major changes in two fundamental areas that seriously undermine Mormonism's unique claims. The two areas relate to polygamy and to the status of "Negroes". Before looking at each of these in turn, let me make a few general comments.
As I have stated in a couple of previous postings, Mormonism exists in a particular category different from that of most denominations, because they claim to be led by a modern-day prophet and have continuing revelation. While in theory this allows for some flexibility in either doctrinal or moral teachings, it is important to realize that such a situation, even if it were to exist, does not mean that theology (both doctrinal and moral) can be turned around backwards. The two changes that I want to consider in this posting are not trivial matters, but are related to FUNDAMENTAL aspects of Mormonism's unique theology. Keep in mind as we go through both of these that Mormons believe in a pre-mortal spiritual existence, as well as the idea that the highest level of being saved involves becoming a god yourself, raising your own spirit-born children, and creating your own world just like this one. As a reminder, the Mormon saying goes: "As man is, God was, and as God is, man may become."
Polygamy was preached by Church leaders as not just an acceptable option, but as something very important. For example, Brigham Young stated: "Monogamy...is no part of the economy of heaven among men. Such a system was commenced by the founders of the Roman empire....Rome became the mistress of the world, and introduced this order of monogamy wherever her sway was acknowledged." Joseph F. Smith, the sixth LDS President, said: "Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a sort of superfluity, or non-essential to the salvation or exaltation of mankind. In other words, some of the Saints have said, and believe, that a man with one wife, sealed to him by the authority of the Priesthood for time and eternity, will receive an exaltation as great and glorious, if he is faithful, as he possibly could with more than one. I want here to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is false."
The change in Mormon teaching about polygamy, officially codified in what Mormons call the "Manifesto", uses carefully-worded language to condemn polygamy merely to
accommodate the laws of the nation. This is unreasonable precisely because Mormon teaching such as that cited above does not treat polygamy merely as an option, but as something that you must do if you wish to glorify God fully. John Taylor, the third LDS President stated: "God has given us a revelation in regard to celestial marriage. I did not make it. He has told us certain things pertaining to this matter, and they would like us to tone that principle down and change it and make it applicable to the views of the day. This we cannot do; nor can we interfere with any of the commands of God to meet the persuasions or behests of men. I cannot do it, and will not do it. I find some men try to twist round the principle in any way and every way they can. They want to sneak out of it in some way. Now God don't want any kind of sycophancy like that. He expects that we will be true to Him." Brigham Young stated: "We are told that if we would give up polygamy—which we know to be a doctrine revealed from heaven, and it is God and the world for it—but suppose this Church should give up this holy order of marriage, then would the devil, and all who are in league with him against the cause of God, rejoice that they had prevailed upon the Saints to refuse to obey one of the revelations and commandments of God to them." There are many more statements like this.
The other major change has to do with Mormon teaching about "negroes". For the sake of time I am not going to get into the reasons for the Mormon theology about this issue, but allow a couple of quotes to explain the Mormon historical position. "Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under NO circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty." ("Mormon Doctrine" by Apostle Bruce McConkie, p. 477), "...a mark of blackness. That mark rested upon Cain, and descended upon his posterity from that time until the present. Today there are millions of the descendants of Cain, through the lineage of Ham, in the world, and that mark of darkness still rests upon them." (Wilford Woodrufff, 4th LDS President), and "Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot receive the priesthood" (Brigham Young).
As the issue of Mormon theology about "Negroes" came to a head during the civil rights debates in the USA in the 1960's and 70's, the LDS Church resisted pressure by saying that they were not at liberty to alter God's commandments and teachings. For example, N. Eldon Tanner, counselor to the First President, stated in 1967, " The church has no intention of changing its doctrine on the negro. Throughout the history of the original Christian church, the negro never held the priesthood. There's really nothing we can do to change this. It's a law of God."
One important aspect of this teaching was that Negroes would not be allowed to be priests until the time of the kingdom. For example, Joseph Fielding Smith stated in 1958: "...the Lord will, in due time, remove the restrictions. Not in this world but in the world to come." Mormon writer John L. Lund wrote: "Brigham Young revealed that the Negroes will not receive the priesthood until a great while after the second advent of Jesus Christ....In view of what President Young and others have said, it would be foolish indeed to give anyone the false idea that a new revelation is immediately forthcoming on the issue of the Negroes receiving the priesthood....Social pressure and even government sanctions cannot be expected to bring forth a new revelation....The prophets have declared that there are at least two major stipulations that have to be met before the Negroes will be allowed to possess the priesthood....The Negroes will not be allowed to hold the priesthood during mortality....the Negroes will have to wait until after the resurrection of all Adam's children before receiving the priesthood."
On June 9, 1978, the official Church newspaper announced that a revelation had been received and that blacks would now be allowed to hold the priesthood. Interestingly, the story stated: "The announcement fulfilled statements made by most LDS Church presidents since Joseph Smith that blacks would one day obtain the full blessings of the church, including the priesthood." This statement by the official Church newspaper in announcing this revelation completely ignores the statements about WHEN blacks would be permitted to be priests: not until after the resurrection! They made it sound like the revelation was prophesied by Church Presidents, not utterly contradicted. The fact is that the LDS Church had a number of problems with its immoral policy, not the least of which the interference it caused with missionary efforts overseas, where it was almost impossible for people to prove that they didn't have even a single "Negro" ancestor.
In 1963, 15 years before the supposed revelation, TIME magazine printed a letter by an elder in the LDS Church: "...the revelation that the church is talking about with respect to the Negro and the priesthood should have been sought 50 years ago, not now when we are forced into looking for one. Even if a revelation should come now, we have compromised our position because it looks as if we have been forced into seeking it, which will be true." In 1967, US Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, a Mormon, wrote: "This issue must be resolved....It must be resolved because we were wrong and it is past the time when we should have seen the right...We violate the rights and
dignity of our Negro brothers." Needless to say, that ignited a firestorm of response on the part of Mormons, many of whom wrote letters to Church newspaper and magazine editors like that of a Mr. Paul C. Richards: "Mr. Udall must think the Church is made up of extremely gullible people....The Church is either true or it isn't. If it changes its stand on the strength of the 'great stream of modern religious and social thought,' it will be proven untrue....If the Church is true, it will hold to its beliefs in spite of its members."
I conclude by agreeing in principle with Mr. Richards with regard to both of these major issues. If Mormonism is true, the LDS Church should not have changed its policies with regard to either of these two issues. But the truth is that their man-made system was so flawed that they had their backs to the wall and had no choice but to change. That they have attributed these changes to "revelations from God" is nothing short of blasphemy, because it suggests that God had also endorsed their earlier positions.
Avon, Indiana, USA