So, I’m a bit late by Internet standards responding to the LDS.org explanation regarding the use of racial features to determine who can “hold” the priesthood. But here goes.
Personally, I don’t see anything particularly egregious about the explanation. What would you expect of anonymous scholars tasked with reviewing something they probably find distasteful and embarrassing? Mormons in the past and the present have often relied on foolish notions of racial features to determine this or that about such persons, which things they couldn’t be bothered to think too hard about, or to get know personally. It started with the Indians, who were wrongly held to be “Lamanites.” Some of these fools happened to be “leaders,” which ought to tell us that we should not have a king-like leader, unless we are sure he is really righteous. I think Benjamin said something about that once, and that makes those who consent to such rule no less foolish.
The question for me is not about race, but about power, which is almost always concealed by some other thing (in this case, ‘racial’ features and its use in excluding humans from some position). What does it say about a people who agree to let their leaders tell them that they can select fairly arbitrary physical features in order to justify excluding some other people from all the joy and happiness they believe God would otherwise bestow upon them? If this life is a test, there’s a lot of f’s to go around. Think of it like this: I believe I have a special power, which I can give to anyone without diminishing it. Indeed, the more of it I give, the more power everyone has. Yet I insist that because someone has blue eyes they cannot have this power. In fact, I don’t have the power, but now I have shown what I would do, should someone foolishly give me such power. Clever test.
A few token black folks were ordained, according to the statement, and then in 1852 something happened and they weren’t ordained thereafter for 126 years. This is, I’d say, just about how things run in our history. Sometimes something was done, then it wasn’t. Call it revelation, or the result of having one man rule, or just randomness in culture. Usually it is just happenstance. It is good the explanation dismisses LDS attempts to explain ‘the ban,’ dismissing notions that people with more melanin were somehow less “valiant” in the War in Heaven, or that they descend from Cain, who was given a mark to distinguish himself as a sinner (the mark being more melanin). It would be odd indeed that the only thing that carried over from the War in Heaven was the amount of melanin in one’s skin, under ideal conditions where solar radiation is constant. These have no logic behind them, except so-and-so said so. One can dismiss them not only because they are offensive to someone, but because they can be shown to be stupid.
The statement could’ve pointed out the obvious: that using racial features to discriminate who can and cannot be “given” the priesthood is an absurd, totally unscriptural practice. But I suppose that would mean pointing out that for 126 years very few leaders apparently taught their scriptures to others content on having someone tell them what their scriptures mean.
So, here’s a brief bit on what the “scriptures” seem to say about race. For some reason, that term seems to mean “black people,” when used in the couplet “race and the priesthood.” What they mean is, it seems, “black folks being excluded from ordination,” not really “race” per se. Anyway, it seems like a pleasant way of obscuring what is foolish.
First, the Mark of Cain. If you look into Genesis (which is an exact transcript of what God said, faithfully recorded by, umm, an eavesdropping Able-ite), you’ll see that Cain was marked in a way to preserve his life from the blood lust of Able-ites. It was not a curse itself, although he was cursed apparently in some manner. What was that curse?
Some will point to the Book of Moses and say that the seed of Cain was black, and that was the curse. But the book don’t say so. I would say the seed being Black means just that : Black. Not slightly more melanin, but black, like demons or monsters. Why? If you turn to 3 Nephi, you’ll find a people turning “white.” Now clearly they aren’t becoming Anglo-Saxons or Caucasians, but really and truly White. This is what is meant by “white and delightsome,” which phrase has been corrupted into meaning “Caucasians,” and thus has been erased from the text of the BoM. Indians are not destined to look like northern europeans, sorry. the Lamanites, some of them, will become White. And that is not a racial category, but an ontological one. It does not say their skin will turn whiter, but they will become White.
Unfortunately, we kept the part about the Lamanites having their skins darkened, despite erasing the promise of their become White. Notice here that skin is explicitly mentioned, and not simply ‘being black.’ So, what about those Lamanites? You’ll notice in the relevant passage that their skin was darkened so that they would not be appealing to the Nephites. Now, it seems the Lamanites had been cursed in some manner (though probably not by God, who seems reluctant to curse anyone); and that the sign of this curse could’ve been anything. Why chose darkened skin? That was most unappealing to the Nephites, which seems to say they were the racists, not the Lamanites (if we can project backward a modern accusation). Thereafter the Nephites seemed to use their relatively less melanin-laden skin as a measure of their righteousness over the Lamanites. Their foolishness resulted in the end, in their utter destruction, at the hand of Lamanites whom the Lord preserved, whatever their skin color.
So, you tell me: Who is cursed, the one who curses others with things they don’t like; or the one made to look cursed, so that pity among the self-righteous accusers can perhaps overcome a more than skin-deep wickedness?
One last thing: One doesn’t “hold” the priesthood, like one holds a sugar cookie, or even the right to hold a sugar cookie. One is a part of a priesthood (just as one is in a neighborhood, but never holding it). You cannot hold it, it is not like a drivers license, and there are no “keys” that make it “work.” Should you point to text that seem to read in this way, I’ll ask you if it is possible that it can be read in another way. What is an ordinance, for example? A ritual or a rule? What is a city ordinance? What is a -hood? Can you hold motherhood, except in a confusion of tongues, or as a metaphor? To build one’s understanding around a metaphor confused into literalness is not a good way to process, I think.
Thus, the matter of Levites being exclusively given the priesthood is so confused a statement as to be meaningless. No wonder the God of Ezekiel made it a point to explain all the wickedness of those Levites, how they were worse than Sodom and Gomorrah (the gold standard in badness, it seems). Should one base one’s justification for excluding some person from membership in a -hood on the basis of some physical trait? Is not that admitting that this -hood in question is nothing more than a material thing, and thus, incapable of doing anything spiritually?
P.S. Anthropology has taken enormous pains to educate Americans on the “cultural” and not “natural” nature of race. It is an invented thing, used by aspiring men to get a little power as they suppose. It is NOT in your DNA, your skin, hair, nose, brain. Race is only in your head.