Spotlighting a fantastic post by Andrew Ainsworth from over a year ago:
Why I Am Not a Disaffected Mormon
Religion reading list: Back from the beach edition
22 minutes ago
"One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. … I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. … They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. … It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, … we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place… [when asked to specify the folklore] Well, some of the folklore that you must be referring to are suggestions that there were decisions made in the pre-mortal councils where someone had not been as decisive in their loyalty to a Gospel plan or the procedures on earth or what was to unfold in mortality, and that therefore that opportunity and mortality was compromised. I really don’t know a lot of the details of those, because fortunately I’ve been able to live in the period where we’re not expressing or teaching them, but I think that’s the one I grew up hearing the most, was that it was something to do with the pre-mortal councils. … But I think that’s the part that must never be taught until anybody knows a lot more than I know. … We just don’t know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced. … That’s my principal [concern], is that we don’t perpetuate explanations about things we don’t know. …We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic."
“Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord. Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?” ("The Need For Greater Kindness", April 2006 General Conference.)
"Then you have those who are not familiar enough with the scriptures or the Plan of Salvation to understand that all prophets and apostles make mistakes. They mistakenly believe that all prophets are to be perfect in the administration of the things of God and because of this, their testimony of the truthfulness of the Church suffers a major blow and they begin to doubt and struggle. After we show them D&C 1:24-28 …
24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.
… and a list of prophets who’ve made errors from the Old Testament to the Doctrine and Covenants they begin to see that their testimonies were weighted too much on the Brethren who are imperfect and not enough on Christ who is perfect, and His restored gospel. With this realization, the shift is made and they become stronger, more productive Saints, now able to help their brother."
1) Joseph ordained black men to the Priesthood. That is indisputable in any intelligent way.
2) Brigham Young and many of the early Saints were steeped in racism growing up. “The incorrect traditions of our fathers” are hard to shake, especially when they are so commonly shared.
3) The single most fundamental prejudice of the time was inter-racial marriage – even without the possibility of it being eternal.
4) Brigham seems to have supported the ordination of those few black men who received the Priesthood.
5) When a black Priesthood holder appeared to be about to marry a white woman in the temple, Brigham (and most members) couldn’t take it. It was too much for them to consider it as a legitimate possibility. Brigham, particularly, was irate and vowed it wouldn’t happen.
6) They constructed a quasi-scriptural justification (based on the common and widespread Protestant beliefs of their upbringing and the current time) to put a ban in place, and a few people spoke of hearing Joseph make statements that would support it – his previous actions in ordaining black men notwithstanding. (BY never claimed direct, personal revelation on the subject; rather, he said, “The Lord has spoken” – and used the scriptural justifications.) NOTE: I’m NOT saying this was done intentionally, knowing that it wasn’t inspired. I’m saying I think they never considered seeking revelation, since it seemed obvious and apparent to them given the assumptions of their upbringing.
7) Other apostles over the years tweaked and added to the original justification, bringing, for example, the uniquely Mormon concept of the pre-existence into it by claiming black people had been less valiant in the pre-existence and, therefore, were unworthy of the Priesthood in this life.
8 ) The membership, by and large, bought into the justifications – even as some of the apostles and members never did. In many people’s eyes, it became “doctrine”; for those like Pres. McKay who recognized it didn’t originate through revelation, it was viewed merely as “policy”. Those who saw it as doctrine outnumbered those who saw it as policy.
9) By the 1940’s and 1950’s, many people’s attitudes in the country had started to change, and Pres. McKay thought it might be time to change the policy. He prayed fervently about it, but the Lord told him it wasn’t the proper time yet. Importantly, Pres. McKay never said the Lord told him the ban was “His will” or “correct” or anything like that. He simply said it wasn’t the proper time yet to lift the ban.
10) By the late 1970’s the Church was in a situation where it simply couldn’t grow and produce future leaders in Brazil and other Western Hemisphere countries (and Africa) without ordaining black men to the Priesthood. This reality weighed heavily on the minds of the First Presidency and the 12, as they were well aware of the growth limitations AND potential in those areas and as they were faced with abundant evidence of very faithful black members who didn’t appear to be cursed by God in any reasonable way – much like Paul’s dilemma with circumcision among the Gentiles of his missions. It also reinforced the beliefs of the “younger generation” who were not predisposed to accept the folklore and more disposed to see it as Pres. McKay had seen it – and as Pres. Kimball saw it.
My own speculation:
A) The decision had been made without seeking direct, personal revelation, so the Lord waited until (practical) unanimity could be reached before stopping the policy. (Kind of like the people of Limhi needing to suffer more than the people of Alma before each group was delivered from their respective captors.)
B) Those who had been the most steeped in hardcore racism (not just the justifications for the ban) had to die before the ban was lifted – much like the people of Israel who built the golden calf needing to pass away before the group could enter the Promised Land. (Hence, my use of the Jacob 5 allegory – pruning the bitter fruit according to the strength of the roots.)
C) Elder McConkie gets a bad rap, even unthinkingly by me sometimes when I’m not careful with my wording. He wasn’t racist in one important way – in that he didn’t dislike or disapprove of black people in general; he simply was a forceful proponent of the folklore. I know that is splitting hairs to a degree, but I believe he was being “loyal” to the leadership, especially since his father-in-law was a Prophet and someone he revered – a great influence in his life. Perhaps he never fully “repented” (meaning simply “changed fully”), since he never removed the folklore from Mormon Doctrine, but he was able to rejoice in the revelation – since he really wasn’t a hardcore racist at heart. That left only Mark E. Peterson as the champion of the ban and its fundamental racism, and he was only six years from passing away by 1978. (I’ll equate him with the fact that handful of adults at the time of the golden calf were allowed to enter the Promised Land. It’s a stretch, but it’ll do – since the actual balance in 1978 would have been 14-1 in the FP and the 12 when you put McConkie in the approving category.)
I appreciate you writing and feeling confident enough to ask your questions honestly and openly, and share your concerns with an "outsider". I sense your sincerity and I hope something I say can be helpful. First off, let me just say that you're not alone; you're not the first to have struggled with these questions. I hope it can give you hope to say that passing through doubts with your beliefs still in tact can actually strengthen your testimony. And in some respects, I think all of us live continue to live with doubt to some degree.
One thing I do know--"know" undeniably--is that I have had some very powerful, spiritual experiences with the Book of Mormon, and I always come back to that. That's the foundation of my testimony. There are many things I'm not 100% sure of, but I always come back to the Book of Mormon and the implications which it carries with it (ie: God does live and reaches out to bless his children, Jesus is the Christ and really did live, die, and take up his life again, etc). Naturally, it is the single greatest evidence of the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith. Joseph had many flaws for sure, but as Elder Holland's fourth great-grandfather said when he heard of the Book of Mormon in England, he walked away from the service saying "no good man would have written that, and no bad man could have written it." It still remains the single greatest evidence for the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith. So even though Joseph isn't perfect, and the Church isn't perfect (because it's made up of very imperfect individuals)--the gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect and I cling to that. And I find that gospel taught powerfully in the Book of Mormon, and I recognize God's fingerprints all throughout that book. That's why I believe.
It's easy to doubt. It's a little harder to have faith, but that is the path that I have walked, even as I've had to adjust my framework of the Restoration as I've learned more. I once wrote on my blog: "I stubbornly desire to remain open minded yet filled with faith at the same time. I appreciate what President Hugh B. Brown said about doubt: 'Some say that the open-minded leave room for doubt. But I believe we should doubt some of the things we hear. Doubt has a place if it can stir in one an interest to go out and find the truth for one's self' ("An Abundant Life")."
I don't think it would be as helpful to focus your concern on whether "the Church is true", because there are some things that does mean and some things it does not mean, and it's easy to miss the boat and confuse the issues. That's why I'd say start by focusing on the Book of Mormon; focus on goodness--focus on true joy. Start with what you DO know and go from there. I don't think it's particularly helpful to have too many concerns/doubts floating around in your head all at once. But keep in mind that there will always be other, more positive perspectives that you can accommodate into your testimony than that which is offered only by the critics of the Church. They have an agenda, and it's not always as fair as they want you to believe.
Last thing, if you truly want to know truth, you also need to make sure you're sincerely trying to keep the commandments, otherwise you won't always be able to distinguish light from darkness, and sometimes guilt can sway your perspective. Like Jesus said: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:17).
My heart goes out to you. You're in for quite an adventure. It might be a struggle, but you have every right to know for yourself if all this good news is really true, or if, as you said, it's like Santa Claus. I'll share with you my conviction--this isn't just a fairy tale or pie in the sky. It's really the greatest, most important knowledge to know that God lives and that Jesus is our Savior. This life has purpose. We didn't come hear just to live and die and have that be the end. I have an atheist co-worker, and while she is a fantastic person, she sure is missing out on at least living with more hope (see Ether 12:4). Because even if it weren't true, it can sure bring a lot of happiness and goodness to how we live our life.
You talked about fear. Faith really is letting go of your fear and turning yourself completely over to Christ. Only then do you truly find rest for your soul. You also talked about "knowing" versus just being "pretty sure". Here's how I've come to know, versus merely have faith, on some of these issues. Read Alma 32, at least from verse 26 on, where Alma compares "the word" to a seed. The power comes from actually reading in the Book of Mormon, but here is my paraphrase:
He says that when you plant a seed, do you "know" if it is a good seed? No, but you have faith. But as the seed begins to grow, and if you nourish it and don't cast it off because of unbelief, then it continues to grow, and then you stop needing to have faith that it was a good seed, but now you actually know it was a good seed. And if you continue to nourish it, it eventually grows into a tree which bears fruit. When you partake of the fruit, when it has enlarged your soul, enlightened your understanding, and it is delicious to you--you no longer have faith in that seed. You KNOW. And that's how I know what I know.
Alma goes on to say in Chapter 33, verse 23, his concluding remarks: "And now…I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen." So this is the "experiment" that he recommends. I guess I recommend it too. :)
PS: Although I have never felt it personally necessary, I know some have found the following website helpful. If the advice I gave isn't quite what you're looking for, it may or may not have something you are looking for: www.staylds.com