This post was created to answer questions posed by commenter MQ_2 on the comment thread for If Joseph Smith was a fraud where did the Book of Mormon come from? Since it was off-topic there, this new post has been created to facilitate the conversation. Here is the comment in its entirety:
“Turns out slavery was permitted by Brigham Young in Utah for about 10 years. Did you know that?”
Did you know that BY accepted a slave for tithing? Thats pretty crazy. If you win money in Vegas now the church doesn’t want your money for tithing. BY would take a slave though?
Here is a few quoted from the Second Prophet of this dispensation.
“When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and HAVE RECEIVED THEIR RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity.” LDS “Prophet” Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 2, p. 143, 1854
“They [blacks] will GO DOWN TO DEATH. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which WE now are entitled to.” LDS “Prophet” Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 11, p.272, 1866
“I would rather undertake to convert five thousand Lamanites [native Americans], than to convert one of those poor MISERABLE CREATURES [Jews] WHOSE FATHERS KILLED THE SAVIOR…. Yes, I would rather undertake to CONVERT THE DEVIL HIMSELF, if it were possible. …I would say, LEAVE THEM, AND COME HOME, THE LORD DOES NOT REQUIRE YOU TO STAY THERE, FOR THEY MUST SUFFER AND BE DAMNED. …[L]EAVE THEM TO LIVE AND DIE IN THEIR SINS and IGNORANCE. …[T]HEY TAKE PLEASURE IN THEIR WICKEDNESS….” LDS “Prophet” Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 2, p. 143, 1854
“But let me tell you further. Let my seed mingle with the seed of Cain, that brings the curse upon me, and upon my generations…. On that very day, and hour we should do so, the priesthood is taken from this church and kingdom [,] and God leaves us to our fate.” LDS “Prophet” Brigham Young, Brigham Young Addresses, Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, Feb. 5, 1852, as quoted in Bob Witte’s book entitled “Where Does It Say That?”, p. 2
“Shall I tell you the LAW OF GOD in regard to the AFRICAN race? If the WHITE MAN who belongs to the CHOSEN SEED mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is DEATH ON THE SPOT. This will ALWAYS be so.” LDS “Prophet” Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, p.110, 1863
“You see some classes of the human family that are BLACK, UNCOUTH, UNCOMELY, DISAGREEABLE and LOW in their habits, WILD, and seemingly DEPRIVED OF NEARLY ALL THE BLESSINGS OF THE INTELLIGENCE that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been KILLED, and THAT WOULD HAVE PUT A TERMINATION TO THAT LINE OF HUMAN BEINGS. This was not to be, and the Lord put A MARK upon him, which is THE FLAT NOSE AND BLACK SKIN. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race — that they should be the “servants of servants;” and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree.” LDS “Prophet” Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, p. 290, 1859
“Ham will continue to be servant of servants, as the Lord decreed, until the curse is removed. Will the present struggle [the U.S. civil war] free the slave? No…. Can you destroy the decrees of the Almighty? You cannot.” LDS “Prophet” Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, p. 250, 1863
“How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will REMAIN UPON THEM, and THEY NEVER CAN HOLD THE PRIESTHOOD or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam’s children are brought up to that favourable position, THE CHILDREN OF CAIN CANNOT RECEIVE THE FIRST ORDINANCES OF THE PRIESTHOOD. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion.” LDS “Prophet” Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 7, pp. 290-291, 1859
Why is that the Church with a prophet appointed from God to recieve direction could be so far off on Social issues? Shouldn’t the church be setting the bar instead of begrudgingly changing archaic discriminating practices so that BYU can keep it’s sports program. Or to stop allowing (publicly) polygamy so that Utah can obtain statehood. Why with a Prophet to lead and guide the people would we constantly be reacting to outside pressure before we do the right thing? Shouldn’t we be the beacon by which the rest of the world follows suit on these issues? After all we have a prophet to tell us God’s will.
Rather than respond to each individual quote of Brigham Young, I’ll jump straight to answering MQ_2’s questions at the end of his comments:
1. “Why is that the Church with a prophet appointed from God to recieve direction could be so far off on Social issues?”
To ask this question is to judge Brigham Young based on our present perspective, rather than from the perspective of his time. The views Brigham Young held with regards to blacks were the dominant views of virtually all people in the United States at the time. You would have had to search far and wide to find leaders of any church who preached true equality between blacks and whites who weren’t practically regarded as being on the fringes of society. Brigham Young’s views were quite mainstream. Even Abraham Lincoln viewed blacks as inferior to whites and spoke out against intermarriage between the races. Lincoln also said that if he could save the Union without freeing the blacks from slavery, he would do so.
Does this mean Brigham Young was right? Certainly not, but it is unfair to judge his statements in a modern context, rather than the context of his own time.
2. “Shouldn’t the church be setting the bar instead of begrudgingly changing archaic discriminating practices so that BYU can keep it’s sports program. Or to stop allowing (publicly) polygamy so that Utah can obtain statehood. Why with a Prophet to lead and guide the people would we constantly be reacting to outside pressure before we do the right thing?”
It’s understandable that one would assume the LDS Church changed its position on blacks holding the priesthood and polygamy merely because of outside pressure, but if you look deeper that theory doesn’t explain everything. For example, the Church was under intense pressure in the early 1960’s because of its policy on blacks holding the priesthood, but didn’t change the policy until 1978. Its arguable they were under less pressure when the change was made than earlier. After all, most members of the Church had learned to deal with the criticism. If the only reason for the change was outside pressure, why didn’t they change when the pressure was greatest? In addition, President David O. McKay, decades before the Church came under pressure, had already made statements with regards to his desire to change the policy. If the only reason the Church made the change in policy was due to pressure, then how do we explain the President seeking to change the policy before there was much pressure, and before many other religions were ordaining blacks in their churches?
But your other question is perfectly fair–why isn’t the LDS Church leading the way, ahead of everyone else? If the church is truly guided by God, shouldn’t he be helping us avoid these problems? I mean, c’mon!
The key to understanding this conundrum is to understand how God works with us. What we’ve seen historically is that God rarely answers questions that haven’t been asked. Why didn’t God appear to Joseph Smith when he was 10, instead of 14? Because Joseph didn’t ask his question until he was 14. Why didn’t Joseph Smith receive the priesthood sooner than he did? Because he didn’t ask earlier. Virtually every revelation in Doctrine and Covenants is in response to a question Joseph asked. It would appear that God answers the questions we ask, but is perfectly content to led us struggle through an issue that could easily be resolved with His timely answer until we ask him. Brigham Young’s views on slavery and blacks appear to have been mainstream for the day, and apparently Brigham and many of his successors never saw fit to ask God about them. Evidently David O. McKay did, but couldn’t get the rest of the Apostles on board. Again, the practice of the LDS Church at that time was in line with most other churches and society in general. From what I can tell (bearing in mind I’m no expert on all this and may be wrong) it wasn’t until President Kimball took on the issue that there was sufficient consensus in the leadership of the Church to even ask the question. Maybe God was ready to answer the question 100 years before, but he was patiently waiting for church members and the leadership to get themselves ready to ask it.
3. “Shouldn’t we be the beacon by which the rest of the world follows suit on these issues? After all we have a prophet to tell us God’s will.”
I think there are broad misconceptions, both in the Church and without, about how revelation is received, which leads to a lot of misunderstandings about Church actions. But if it’s understood that the leaders of the Church are men, with shortcoming and failings, and that they only receive revelation when they ask for it directly, then a lot of things start to make more sense.
In theory, it seems like Mormons should be leading the rest of the world in every facet of life. We should have the best artists, musicians, writers, sports teams, politicians, business men, auto mechanics, etc. But of course, we don’t. What we’ve got is a bunch of imperfect people bumbling along and occasionally getting it right. Although God has told us we’re supposed to be a light and a beacon, and many of us try to be, he doesn’t prevent us from failing at it. But that’s ok with me. I don’t look for perfection in LDS Church members, leaders, or even in the system of the Church itself. There are some people who say “The members of the Church aren’t perfect, but the Church is.” I’m not sure I even believe that. What I do believe is that it is the only church with the authority of God, and the only church with a prophet. That’s enough for me to know, and I can deal with all the other imperfections.
By the way, many of the questions above with regards to blacks and the priesthood and Brigham Young’s statements are answered much better than I could do it by Armand L. Mauss in his article The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics. I can’t vouch for everything he says because I haven’t researched it all, but most of it sounds pretty good to me.