Beyond Ordinary: Faith, truth and priesthood restriction

Published: Friday, March 9 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Keith Hamilton gives his keynote speech during a Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration at BYU in Provo on Monday, Jan. 16, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

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The current furor among Latter-day Saints and others set off by comments attributed to BYU professor Randy Bott exemplifies the combustibility of thought and emotions when the topics of race and religion are combined.

Bott's comments in a recent Washington Post article incited considerable reaction from bloggers and historians interested in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' prior restrictions with regard to members of African descent, and even triggered official statements from the church.

Neither the Washington Post article, subsequent commentary nor the official church statements provided any additional insight into the genesis of the priesthood restriction within the church. Speculation and opinions about the restriction had been put forth by various church leaders since the early days of the church's existence, and since that time commentators from inside and outside of the general church membership have offered their observations on the issue.

However, with its two recent statements, the church made several things very clear:

1. It is not known precisely why, how or when the priesthood restriction began in the church.

2. The restriction ended more than three decades ago with the Revelation on Priesthood received in June 1978.

3. Personal statements which offered explanations with respect to the restriction were made in the absence of direct revelation.

4. Such personal statements do not represent LDS Church doctrine.

5. The church is not bound by such speculation and opinions given with limited understanding.

6. The church condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside of the church.

For whatever reasons, I was sent a considerable amount of comments concerning others' thoughts on the Washington Post article and the church's official statements. Much of what I received focused primarily on the church's condemnation of "past racism by individuals both inside and outside of the church." Some of the comments suggested that in making its statements the church acknowledged an institutional history of racism within the church that went beyond its individual members while at the same time failing to rule out that the priesthood restriction against males of African descent may have arisen from that racist history.

Those making such comments also alluded to the church's statements of condemnation as being some sort of apology by current church leaders for the church's former priesthood and temple restrictions against members of African descent.

I cannot speak for the church or its leaders regarding the intent of the statements. However, I feel comfortable saying this: Whatever racism that may have been carried out by individuals inside or outside of the church against any person or group of persons is a matter of history, while the origin and purposes associated with the restriction of priesthood against those of African descent is a matter of faith.

The former is concerned with the manner in which mankind treats or has treated other humans, as individuals or collective bodies. The latter reflects how God deals with his children and his kingdom on earth.

The former can be ascertained by reason and logic. The latter must be gained through revelation.

The former involves learning facts. The latter involves receiving truth.

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