Provo-based Media and the Priesthood Ban

SCANDAL! Read on for details…

Given the many posts in the ‘nacle devoted to Sunday’s 30-year anniversary of the priesthood ban, I was surprised at the lack of attention given the anniversary in the Provo-based Daily Herald. Saturday, June 7th’s paper had a small (one-column) below-the-fold article noting the anniversary, while just under the Daily Herald’s logo at the top of the paper was a giant headline announcing the “Life and Style” section’s full-page article on Mack Wilberg’s taking the helm of the Tabernacle Choir. I do believe more was done in the online version,[1] but given the way this particular newspaper pitches to the LDS crowd, I find the lack of attention curious. Do they assume their readers would be upset by too much attention? Uninterested?

And I wonder if this seeming stance is at all related to perceptions promulgated recently by BYU’s top Religious Education professors in a discussion to air on KBYU this Sunday morning. They appear to defend (create?) a doctrinal basis for the priesthood ban. This was called to the ‘Nacle’s attention by David G at Juvenile Instructor. In the discussion that ensued, a call was made to petition KBYU not to broadcast the episode.

I don’t want to poach discussion from JI. [Go there and participate!] What I want to ask is what perspective is this answering? Does this represent tangible residues lingering from the Priesthood Ban, residues that the church has tried to denounce? Is it an attempt to counter the arguments that Brigham Young and Joseph Smith were simply racist?


[1] I found this “vignette” of Darius Gray online, with the note that it ran on Saturday June 7th on A2, but in my (Provo-Orem) copy of the Herald there was no such article printed.

12 Replies to “Provo-based Media and the Priesthood Ban”

  1. A relevant quote by Camille Fronk from the broadcast, perhaps bearing on the purpose of the episode: “And we can move on now on this issue without having to go back and continually ask questions…. I think we run into problems if we continually want to reask and reask and reask instead of seeing the great examples that you tell about of how the blessings are being shared all around the world.”

    (Of course, this neglects the fact that she and her colleagues are reasking the question … )

  2. I’m surprised there wasn’t more fuss locally given how much attention the church proper seemed to be giving. Our ward didn’t have any talks on it for instance.

  3. I think it is an attempt to counter assertions that BY and others were racist. (I don’t believe that the facts show JS to be convictably racist. While certainly imperfect, He was quite progressive for his day on racial issues.)

    I think that we have a generation of church members that tries to defend earlier church leaders as not racist (perhaps wanting to protect them or their memory). Unwilling to admit that perhaps these men were mistaken, or wrong, or unenlightened on racial issues, or prejudiced or anything else they look for ways to defend them. This “priesthood bans through the ages” is just one more attempt to do that. I believe that the rising generation is much more willing to accept and denounce the sins and weaknesses of church leaders while still praising the good that they did.

    I encourage others to write KBYU and tell them to pull the program in question. (see the link JI article)

  4. About the lack of media attention, it is my opinion that many people simply do not want to even talk about the Priesthood Ban at all.

    In my ward, the Executive Secretary suggested announcing the once in a lifetime 30th anniversary of the declaration. The suggestion of course was denied.

    I feel like people simply don’t want to deal with it.

    This is the feeling I got when I found out none of the First Presidency, nor anyone from the Quorum of the Twelve were present in the celebration last Sunday night.

    These men come to BYU more often than on a semiannual basis for devotionals and graduations; yet, not a single one of the 15 of them was available for the 30th anniversary of one of the most important events in the recent history of the Church.

    The message was clear, this event was not in their A priority list. Absolutely none of the fifteen men that comprise the two highest governing bodies of the Church was present to preside and support the event with their presence. A stark contrast to a few weeks ago when they were readily able to receive President Bush.

    One person in my ward mentioned the event would be broadcasted live through BYU TV, but they did not. Instead they broadcasted speeches from 1998 education week.

  5. Manuel, thanks for that, and very good points, which are probably much more significant than my observations about media coverage.

  6. About the lack of media attention, it is my opinion that many people simply do not want to even talk about the Priesthood Ban at all.

    Good point. I think many of us (myself included) are rather embarrassed about the whole thing.

  7. The Church has been trying to distance itself from the Priesthood ban for years. With the recent media hype the Church has recieved partly due to the CBS production, as well as the Romney campaign, they seemed to have taken some efforts to define their positions on this issue. In an attempt to distance from the issue, it wouldn’t make sense to celebrate the anniversary of it’s reversal. I think part of why this is so key is because aside from the ethics of such a position, the ban has greater logical implications that Church would rather not address. You will notice that in any communications from leading Brethren, there is no denunciation of the ban itself, just every explanation of it from Brigham Young to Bruce R. McConkie. So the purposes of the ban are labled “unknown”, this often in interviews which boast about modern revelation in another paragraph. The reality is, most of the Brethren seem to believe the the ban was a mistake, but if they say that then it is a much larger wrench in the whole premise of the Church, Prophets.

  8. “The reality is, most of the Brethren seem to believe the the ban was a mistake, but if they say that then it is a much larger wrench in the whole premise of the Church, Prophets.”

    You bring an interesting point. The struggle to keep this idea that modern prophets are somehow infallible. The problem I see, is that they are not infallible. Neither modern prophets nor ancient ones were infallible beings.

    I think it is more damaging to the Church to keep pretending every single thing that these men have brought about within the organization has been inspired by God.

    It has resulted in endless shelves of books containing unfounded apologetics that often times minimize historical facts, and uses less than honest constructions and assumptions to make an effort to justify these questionable actions. A bizarre attempt to “fix” old practices and dismissed doctrines.

    The problem is that many regular members of the Church adopt these less than honest apologetic constructions as if they were true doctrines of the Church. Being passed from generation to generation. This, to me, is unacceptable. Especially when we claim to have living prophets. The perpetuation of ignorance, and the explanation “we don’t know” is no less than unacceptable.

    Especially regarding a subject such as the Priesthood Ban, a divisive and demeaning act of racism (justified by Old Testament times practices), that clearly contradicts the newer compelling admonition of Jesus Christ, perhaps the one that stands at the very core of what true Christianity: to love one another.

    I agree some of the Brethren may believe it was a mistake; yet, I have a strong disheartening feeling some of them still support it.

    To me, it is disgraceful that the Brethren are so preoccupied with public relations than with doing the right thing. We have supported them as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators. We pray for them, we look up to them. We preach about them telling the world the heavens are no longer closed and prophets are again leading the Church of Jesus Christ on earth.

    The answer “we don’t know” is simply not acceptable.

  9. Manuel:

    “To me, it is disgraceful that the Brethren are so preoccupied with public relations than with doing the right thing.”

    That’s quite a charge, and it’s one I’m not willing to make concerning this issue – even though I believe strongly that the ban was based on the racism of the time.

    “The answer “we don’t know” is simply not acceptable.”

    Yes, it is. I think I understand why the Lord didn’t slap Brigham Young upside the head and stop it – and why He allowed it to last so long, but I can’t say I KNOW why. That simply hasn’t been revealed, based on everything that I have read and heard.

    Our early leaders caused great harm by speculating without knowledge and revelation – and now we are criticizing our current leaders for NOT speculating without knowledge and revelation? I don’t want them to speculate, so “I don’t know” is a perfect answer (in this case and many others), imho.

  10. Ray:

    We look to our leaders for answers, for revelation. Leaders of a former generation took that bold step and provided it. As far as the priesthood ban is concerned, Elder McConkie was clear on the speculative quality of his position. President Brigham Young was not, in fact he went so far as to say that God’s penalty for the intermarrying of African-Americans and white women was death on the spot, it has ever been that way and ever will be. So I have asked in other places on this site, and will again ask here. Does a prophet always know when they are speaking for the Lord? If not, then how can we be certain. I struggle with this concept quite a bit, but I can’t ignore the history. One could also argue that is why the modern leaders are so cautious of the positions they take on anything, and prefer to offer “god has not revealed that”. It should be a suitable offer on occasion, but certainly does not do anything for revelation. Mabey my expectations of prophets and revelation are much like those of JS’s time who wanted something more grand. I just don’t think that corporate PR strategies of branding would have much place in the true Church of God led by his divine influence -“whose ways are higher than our ways” and “…who doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand, nor the left, nor doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefor his paths are straight and his course is one eternal round”.

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