I’m a big fan of Fairmormon.org, an LDS apologetics website that confronts some of the thornier issues in Mormon history and theology. So I joined their official Facebook group in the hopes of having some interesting conversations.
Be careful what you wish for.
One of the threads focused on controversy surrounding past Mormon racism. One member asked a question along these lines:
“In light of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s definitive essay on the subject which states that ‘the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse,’ how do you reconcile that position with Brigham Young’s racist statements about Cain and such?”
I read the responses and felt my stomach turn. All of the answers tried to maintain that Brigham wasn’t necessarily wrong, that the exclusion of black people holding the priesthood wasn’t really racist, and that it is somehow possible to believe Brigham’s racist rants are reconcilable with the church’s current position. In doing so, these people invoked all the same tortured logic and tired arguments that were being tossed around when the ban was in effect.
So I dove in.
“How do you reconcile these statements? You don’t,” I said. “You accept that Brigham Young was wrong, and you move on.”
The outcry was immediate. Wait a minute! Brigham Young was wrong?! Wasn’t he a prophet of God?
Yes on both counts. He was a prophet, and he was wrong. He followed the Lord to the best of his understanding, but he was not free from the prejudices and prevailing cultural attitudes of the day. The theory about the curse of Cain was a common justification for the evils of slavery, and Brigham bought into it, much like most religionists of the time.
You’d think I’d shot somebody in the face based on the responses I got.
But the fact remains that two statements are irreconcilable. When the modern church explicitly states that black skin is not a sign of divine disfavor or curse, and Brigham Young says that black skin is, in fact, a sign of the curse of Cain, you can’t possibly say that both statements are true. For my part, I choose to follow the living prophet over the dead one. Isn’t that the reason we have a living prophet in the first place?
I’m not alone in this, incidentally. “[I]t is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet,” said one observer right after the 1978 revelation that extended priesthood blessings to people of all races. “Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation.” Based on the reaction from my similar statements to that effect, you’d think this was an essay from some virulent critic of the church and not by one of its most scholarly apostles, Elder Bruce R. McConkie.
I passed along this quote, along with Dieter Uchtdorf’s recent conference talk where he admits that sometimes leaders have made mistakes. I quoted Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who said that “[e]xcept in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.”
But I was told, over and over again, that I was missing the point. Sure, Bruce R. McConkie said forget what Brigham Young said about this, but that doesn’t mean what Brigham Young said was wrong. (Um, I’m pretty sure it does. Why forget it if it’s right?) Sure, President Uchtdorf said leaders have made mistakes, but he wasn’t talking about big mistakes. (He wasn’t? Then why say it at all? Little mistakes don’t shake anyone’s faith.) Perhaps the weirdest response was “maybe leaders are fallible, but the church is anything but!” (Yeah, how is that even possible?)
On Facebook, a friend of mine pointed out that the Catholic Church teaches papal infallibility and the Catholics don’t believe it, whereas the Mormons teach that prophets aren’t infallible, and the Mormons don’t believe it.
I tried to continue the discussion and was told I was faithless, that I was bowing to political correctness, and that I was a NOM – a “New Order Mormon,” which is a term I had never heard before. I think its sectarian equivalent is a “Cafeteria Catholic,” someone who picks and chooses which of their church’s doctrines they will conveniently believe. Apparently, real Mormons believe their leaders are perfect even when the leaders themselves insist they are not. Even Fairmormon.org, the site upon which this group was based, rejects that position, NOMS that they are.
I’ve written extensively about this subject on this blog – see here and here – and I provided links to both of those posts to clarify my position. My posts were deleted on the basis that I was linking to an anti-Mormon website – the very website you find yourself reading right now, you anti-Mormon, you!
I was then summarily booted out of the group and have no idea what happened after that.
So I just wanted to take this opportunity to tell Fairmormon.org that they’re not infallible, either. While their main website is a valuable resource that does admirable work, their Facebook group is filled with misguided zealots who reject living prophets in the name of honoring dead ones.
It is, in short, a pile of dung.