There was an interview released last week where Paul Reeve admitted being the source behind the Race & Priesthood essay at LDS.org. While I think that was a nice scoop, there was another part of that interview that I think is very important and may have gotten lost in the headline.
I have been very vocal about the ban on gays as being a wrong-headed move. Three days after the ban was announced, I wrote a post excoriating the ban. A few weeks later, I compared the gay ban to the black ban. I believe the gay ban is a violation of the 2nd Article of Faith that states “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” Some have disputed with me on that point, saying that the 2nd Article of Faith should be limited strictly to “Adam’s transgression” and does not apply to Cain or Ham’s transgressions. Of course I disagree. Apparently Orson Pratt disagrees too.
In the interview Becoming a Fanboy of Orson Pratt, Paul Reeve states that Orson Pratt argued with Brigham Young over slavery. According to Young, Cain and his descendants were cursed and slavery and the priesthood ban. Pratt pushed back against Young. Paul tells us:
Orson Pratt gives a speech where he simply speaks out very strongly against the bill the legislature is debating. He speaks out strongly against slavery. He says if the Utah Territory legalizes slavery it will put a black mark on the territory. A variety of countries were emancipating their slaves, outlawing slavery. The British Empire had already done so, obviously the U.S. had not, but Pratt said this will harm our missionary efforts when we go abroad if people become aware that as countries are getting rid of slavery, we’re legalizing it. He says we should reject the bill outright and says that if Utah Territory does this the angels of heaven will blush. He’s very strong in his notion of why this is wrong.
He argues that curses are not multi-generational, so God may very well curse a people but it’s only that people. It doesn’t pass down from generation to generation, so he’s rejecting the notion of a multigenerational curse might impact if black people truly are the descendants of Cain, that doesn’t matter to Orson Pratt because curses are not multigenerational. It would only apply to the generation that God cursed, not to however many generations later, so it’s a very singular kind of position he stakes out in Mormonism and ultimately he doesn’t win the day but he is speaking out against Brigham Young and they are butting heads in that legislative session.
In the part of the interview that was promoted about Paul’s authorship of the Race essay, Paul is asked about modern issues, and specifically if the black ban is comparable to the gay ban. (Quotes with permission.)
GT: I know some historians have likened the ban on blacks to the current ban on gays within the church. Do you see these as similar or is there significant difference?
Paul: Well I guess there are ways in which I could see them as similar and ways in which I think they’re distinct. The similarities could be that, is this simply the sort of cultural context, right? That is somehow seeping in, it would be hard to argue that the cultural context of America moving towards legalizing gay marriage didn’t impact Mormonism, right? So it’s Mormonism responding to its cultural context the same way that Mormonism seemed to respond to the racial context in the 19th century, so a parallel there, but I think also important distinctions.
So for race and priesthood in particular there is an historical precedent, right? Black men were ordained to the priesthood in the early decades of Mormonism and I’m not aware of a precedent for gay marriage in the early decades of Mormonism. Then the other important distinction is that black people in Mormonism were the only group prevented from having all of the saving rituals that Mormonism requires for the Mormon heaven. You can be gay and receive all of the saving ordinances that Mormonism requires, and so black people are the only group that I’m aware of that were ever prevented from receiving all of the saving ordinances so it’s not the same kind of pressure point.
Now I realize that gay Latter-day Saints like gay marriage as a part of that process, but nonetheless they’re not barred from receiving the Endowment, they are not barred from temple participation like black people were. Black people were prevented from receiving all the saving ordinances and the same thing for female priesthood ordination, right? You could make the same kind of case that it’s not necessary for saving ordinances and so it’s not the same kind of issue as it was with black Latter-day Saints who were only allowed to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost but were prevented from receiving the other saving ordinances that Mormonism defines as necessary for exaltation. So that’s the only case I’m aware of that comes in to impact.
Now if we talk about the more recent marriage policy, we’re talking about children of gay couples who are being prevented from those saving ordinances, there may be a new parallel there, right? Being prevented from the saving ordinances, not of your own volition but simply because your parents are in a gay marriage, so that’s the first time that I see us returning back, or Mormonism returning back to something, that they had prevented a group, in this case black Latter-day Saints from receiving all the saving ordinances and now they’re preventing—and not because of their own sins, right? Not because of worthiness but because of Cain killing Abel, and in this case once again gay parents, children of gay parents not because of their own choices but because of their parents’ choices. So that is a parallel that I see that wasn’t in existence before the most recent policy came into play.
GT: That brings up another point. I know that immediately after the announcement, the November 2015 Announcement I believe it was, where they prevented children of gay parents from being ordained, baptism, or whatever, I know a lot of people came out with the Second Article of Faith as Orson Pratt did in the Legislature: “Men should be punished for their own sins and not for Adam’s transgression.”
I’ll tell you what, I’ve had some debates online about whether, does God punish as Orson Pratt said, only this generation, or does He punish future generations through not allowing ordinances. Some people say well God’s cursed lots of people and you can read the Bible. There’s lots of curses in the Bible that are supposedly from God, or the prophets claim are from God. So how do you interpret? I guess I’m putting on your theologian hat on there.
GT: But how do you feel about that, especially with regards to the Second Article of Faith?
Paul: Sure, so my understanding of curse is not something that God distributes but in fact that a person may curse themselves as a separation from God and it’s through the person’s actions and that can be overcome simply through repentance. So I see that as how curses are supposed to operate. It’s not how Brigham Young articulated it and Orson Pratt, as you note, pushes back against it and I see it as a violation of the Second Article of Faith. Absolutely, I see the position that Brigham Young staked out in 1852 as a violation of the Second Article of Faith. He’s holding all black people accountable for Cain’s murder of Abel, something they did not participate in. That’s a violation of the principle Joseph Smith establishes in the Second Article of Faith, and I see then the November 5th policy also as a violation of that Second Article of Faith. Holding children of gay couples accountable for decisions they are not making themselves. Yeah. So I absolutely see it as a violation of the Second Article of Faith.
GT: Great, one other parallel I just wanted to point out. You mentioned the one drop rule, that there were probably lots of people with more than one drop of blood who were ordained but they looked white. With the gays, there have been lots of gays ordained, not openly. Maybe they got married in the temple or whatever, got the priesthood as they should have done at certain ages, but then came out as gay after, and now they have priesthood. So it’s kind of interesting to me, it seems like we’re reverting back to the days of Brigham Young. We’re trying to prevent this, but it’s an impossible thing to prevent. What are your thoughts on that?
Paul: Well yeah, I mean a person even could be openly gay and hold the priesthood and be ordained to the priesthood as long as they are adhering to what the Church articulates as its Law of Chastity, right? So you can openly identify as gay and still be ordained to the priesthood so that’s a way in which it’s a distinction or a difference from how the racial priesthood restriction operated.
But you’re right in terms of a person’s sexual identity and if they’re open about it or not open about it and being ordained to the priesthood happening regardless of whether they’re open or not open about it. So it is like the one drop rule. It’s impossible to police. Trying to police someone’s sexual identity is also very problematic as well.
Do you think the gay ban is a violation of the 2nd Article of Faith? How do you react to Paul’s statements?