I’m voting “NO!”
Click here to read how I’d fix it
The 2023 Conference’s Resolutions came out today, and there were several that have stuck out to me. One that was especially concerning to me was the resolution from the Coastal Bend USA Mission Center. I would like to repeat the resolution in its entirety and give my thoughts on it.
G-2 Recommendation to move Doctrine and Covenants Section 116 to Historical Records
Whereas, Section 116 of the Doctrine and Covenants, first given in 1865, has caused some concern and misunderstanding of our beliefs relating to the worth of all people and the inclusion of people of all races in the work of the church; therefore, be it
Resolved, That the First Presidency consider removing Section 116 from the Doctrine and Covenants and placing it in our historical records with other sections that have been removed.
The Book of Abraham was a book which Joseph Smith Jr. claimed to be the writings of Abraham. This book directly and explicitly discriminates against people of color. While we never canonized it, other churches in the Latter Day Saint movement have used this book to justify racially-based priesthood bans. This same racism was present in the early years of the Reorganization, and there was a hot debate about whether people of color should be preached to. Others wondered if they should have access to the priesthood or not. Some wondered if people of color could be ministers or if they needed white supervision. This came to a head in the 1865 conference, right as the US’s Civil War was winding down.
While this was the chief focus of the conference, there was no resolution made there. In fact, the Council of Twelve and the First Presidency agreed that a revelation would be needed to clarify the matter. I like to say that every D&C section is an answer to a question, and this is no exception. On May 4, 1865 Joseph Smith III received by revelation what would become D&C 116. This settled the matter that people of color should be preached to and have access to the priesthood. We then canonized this revelation as binding scripture on September 13th, 1878 with WCR 216.
This section isn’t very long; only 4 short verses. I would like to just just give it once again here:
A. Hearken! Ye elders of my church, I am he who hath called you friends. Concerning the matter you have asked of me:
B. Lo! It is my will that my gospel shall be preached to all nations in every land, and that men of every tongue shall minister before me:
C. Therefore it is expedient in me that you ordain priests unto me, of every race who receive the teachings of my law, and become heirs according to the promise.
A. Be ye very careful, for many elders have been ordained unto me, and are come under my condemnation, by reason of neglecting to lift up their voices in my cause, and for such there is tribulation and anguish:
B. haply they themselves may be saved (if doing no evil) though their glory, which is given for their works, be withheld, or in other words their works are burned, not being profitable unto me.
A. Loosen ye one another’s hands and uphold one another, that ye who are of the Quorum of Twelve, may all labor in the vineyard, for upon you rests much responsibility;
B. and if ye labor diligently the time is soon when others shall be added to your number till the quorum be full, even twelve.
A. Be not hasty in ordaining men of the Negro race to offices in my church, for verily I say unto you,
B. All are not acceptable unto me as servants, nevertheless I will that all may be saved, but every man in his own order, and there are some who are chosen instruments to be ministers to their own race. Be ye content, I the Lord have spoken it.
This revelation could be summarized as:
- All people are to be preached to (1B)
- Every race has access to the priesthood (1C)
- Chastisement for racist priesthood members not preaching to people of color (2)
- The Council of Twelve should support each other in preaching efforts (3)
- Ordain people of color when they are ready (4)
- People of color can be ministers among their own people (4)
To me, formally decanonizing this scripture would essentially be saying that we DON’T believe that people of color should be preached to or have access to the priesthood, which is a truly disturbing idea and would be a MAJOR step backwards for us as a church. The fact that this was proposed by a mission center in a state that formerly allowed racially-sanctioned chattel slavery is especially troubling to me.
If this was the intention, then I honestly cannot believe that this Resolution was even entertained and it NEEDS to be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
That being said, D&C 116 is not a perfect document, and has in fact been used discriminatorily over the decades.
Verse 1C says that “Therefore it is expedient in me that you ordain priests unto me, of every race who receive the teachings of my law, and become heirs according to the promise.” Joseph Smith III intended the use of “Priests” to broadly mean all clergy, but there are some leaders on the congregational and Mission Center/Stake levels in the church who have taken this to mean that people of color are barred from the Melchizedec priesthood.
Verse 4A says “Be not hasty in ordaining men of the Negro race to offices in my church”. I have heard that this has been used by racist church leaders on the congregational and Mission Center/stake level to not ordain people of color, much like how some still don’t ordain women. However, the context of this revelation becomes crucial. In this time the US was coming out of the Civil War and we were entering the era of reconstruction and many formerly enslaved people were just getting their feet beneath them. White people may have been eager to ordain these emancipated folks, but many would have more pressing personal matters to attend to before they could minister to others. I see this verse as cautioning giving people too many responsibilities at an already stressful and pivotal point in their lives.
Additionally, the use of the term “negro”, as far as I can understand it as a white person, is an antiquated term.
Verse 4B says “All are not acceptable unto me as servants” this, again, could be used to racially discriminate. However, even today we do not universally ordain members of our church, and we certainly didn’t back then either.
Verse 4B also says “… every man in his own order, and there are some who are chosen instruments to be ministers to their own race. …” This could very well be used to theologically justify “Separate but equal”. However, again, the context of this scripture is imperative. At this time it was debated whether people of color could be ministers – administrators – or if they needed white supervision. To me, this clearly says that white supervision is NOT needed.
The Stare Decisis for Scriptural Decanonization
(Special thanks to Rachel Killebrew and Maureen Clark for getting me scanned versions of these transcripts)
The topic of women being ordained was a hot topic which came to a head at the 1984 World Conference with the introduction of the document which would be canonized as Doctrine and Covenants 156. This document was canonized by a majority of the church.
The next Conference in 1986 there were 2 resolutions that were put forward to decanonize D&C 156. They can be read here:
G-9 Removal of Doctrine and Covenants Section 156
G-9 Removal of Doctrine and Covenants Section 156
From Central Missouri Stake:
WHEREAS, During the interim period since the last World Conference many Saints, having had sufficient time to prayerfully consider and compare Section 156 and its far-reaching consequences, have reconsidered their first impressions as to its inspiration, finding Section 156 lacking in that it does not measure up to the Word of God contained in the three standard books and jeopardizes the continued existence of Christ’s church here on the earth, and
WHEREAS, Both Jesus Christ and the angel Moroni testified that the Book of Mormon contains “The fullness of my everlasting gospel” Doctrine and Covenants 26:1-2, Church History, Volume 1, Page 13; and yet the doctrine of women’s ordination is not found in the Book of Mormon, and
WHEREAS, In I Corinthians 14:34 (which scripture was corrected by inspiration, through Joseph Smith) Paul says, “Let your women keep silence in the churches for it is not permitted unto them to rule …” and in verse 37 Paul writes, of that which he has just written, “… the things I write to you are commandments of the Lord,” and as it is the duty and privilege on occasion for all officers of the priesthood and on this matter these two prophets, Paul and Joseph, speak in harmony, and
WHEREAS, In Genesis 6:7 (which scripture was restored by Joseph) Moses says, “Now this same priesthood which was in the beginning shall be in the end of the world also,” and it is plainly shown in Genesis and in Section 104:18 of the Doctrine and Covenants that men only held the priesthood in the beginning, and in Titus 1:5-7 and I Timothy 3:2, Paul comments that the elders and the bishops are to be the husbands of one wife, and in I Timothy 3:12 that deacons are to be the husbands of one wife, indicating the gender of priesthood, and
WHEREAS, The Lord said (Doctrine and Covenants 52:4) “I will give unto you a pattern in all things that ye may not be deceived, …” and he has given us a pattern for the priesthood in the Doctrine and Covenants, and
WHEREAS, Doctrine and Covenants 104:18 says, “The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, … this order was instituted in the days of Adam, and came down by lineage …” and Section 83:2 indicates that priesthood came to men through the lineage of their fathers, “… which priesthood continueth in the church of God in all generations, and is without beginning of days or end of years,” and
WHEREAS, This pattern of priesthood can be seen to continue in Section 124:7e which was given through Joseph Smith III, and
WHEREAS, Many sections in the Doctrine and Covenants speak of only men in reference to the priesthood (Doctrine and Covenants 68, 85, 104, 120, 124, 129, 131), and
WHEREAS, Mormon (Chapter 4:68) says, “For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and in Him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing,” and Doctrine and Covenants 2:1c says further, “neither doth he vary from that which he hath said …” and
WHEREAS, The Aaronic priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery through John the Baptist, and then the Melchisedec priesthood was restored through Peter, James, and John at which time the Lord restored the priesthood to the church through Joseph and Oliver, and Church History, Volume 1, page 61 records that after their ordination Joseph and Oliver were to “… call out such men as the spirit should dictate, and ordain them, …” yet through this restoration process no woman was called or ordained to a priesthood office, and
WHEREAS, Because Joseph Smith presents us with so much testimony as to the nature and gender of priesthood, if we are to believe in Section 156 and women’s ordination, we must disavow our belief that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet, and if he is no prophet then we have no church, and
WHEREAS, Many are not ready to disavow their belief in the angel message, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Inspired Version, the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. and the unchangeable nature of God, be it therefore
Resolved, That Section 156 of the Doctrine and Covenants be removed to the appendix and designated the will of man, rather than the will of God; and be it further
Resolved, That all woman thus far ordained be restored to ministry harmonious with God’s will, that of lay-member and handmaidens of the Lord.
G-11 Removal of Doctrine and Covenants 156 – Nullification of Some Ordinances
G-11 Removal of Doctrine and Covenants 156 – Nullification of Some Ordinances
From the Nebraska District
WHEREAS, During the interim period since the last conference, many Saints, having had sufficient time to prayerfully consider and compare Section 156 and its far-reaching consequences, have reconsidered their first impressions as to its inspiration, finding Section 156 lacking in that it does not measure up to the Three Standard Books, and jeopardizes the continued existence of Christ’s church here upon the earth, and
WHEREAS, The Lord is not the author of confusion and Section 156 has caused much controversy and contention within the church, which is unsaintly in the eyes of God, for he has said, “Be one; and if ye are not one, ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:6). “And the Spirit saith further: Contention is unseemly” (Doctrine and Covenants 119:5).
WHEREAS, Section 156 changes established doctrine and is contrary to the pattern the Lord has established, for he has said “I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived” (Doctrine and Covenants 52:4), and
WHEREAS, The pattern set by God in the beginning with Adam was an all-male priesthood, and Christ seeking not his own will but the will of the Father (John 5:31), continued in this pattern in both Judea and in America and thus ordained only men to the priesthood, and
WHEREAS, Both Jesus Christ and Moroni testify that the Book of Mormon contains “the fullness of my everlasting gospel” (Doctrine and Covenants 26:2, Church History Volume 1, page 13), which gospel contains those doctrines and patterns necessary for our salvation, and women ordained to priesthood is a doctrine foreign to the Book of Mormon and not part of the pattern previously set by God, and
WHEREAS, God has said that he is an unchangeable God, “neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left; neither doth he vary from that which eh hath said; therefore his paths are straight …” (Doctrine and Covenants 2:1), “He is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity” (Moroni 8:19), and Mormon said in 4:68, “For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever; and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing,” and
WHEREAS, We read, “Now this same Priesthood which was in the beginning shall be in the end of the world also” (Genesis 6:7), and this priesthood contained only the male gender, both in Adam’s time as well as when reinstituted and confirmed upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and others as shown by Doctrine and Covenants Sections 26, 68, 83, 104, and 124; and because God is unchangeable, this same identical priesthood pattern should be continued because “if ye should transgress, and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord” (Mosiah 1:79), therefore be it
Resolved, That Section 156 of the Doctrine and Covenants be removed to the appendix, and designated the will of man, rather than the will of God, and be it further
Resolved, That all women thus far ordained be returned to the status of member in good standing, and be it further
Resolved, That all baptisms and confirmations and ordinations performed by women be nullified and reperformed by one having authority.
When World Conference came around and this topic came up, the First Presidency ruled these Resolutions out of order, and stated that it is only the President of the church that could move to have a section decanonized once it had been lawfully canonized by the World Conference. This decision was appealed and a vote was taken to uphold the First Presidency’s decision and it passed 2265:323 (88%). A transcript of this debate can be read here:
1986 World Conference Transcript Excerpt
Chair: … The Chair will call attention to Item G-9 as it is found on page 230. Also call attention to the Hearing Committee report found on p. 284. That hearing committee report also refers to Item G-11 since they were considered together in the hearing committee. And in connection with that, we would like to now ask who moves G-9? Recognize Brother Ralph Whiting.
Ralph Whiting: I move we accept Resolution G-9.
Chair: Thank you. Is there a second? Thank you, there is a second. in connection with this, the First Presidency would like to read the following:
In regard to Items G-9 and G-11, it has been suggested by several delegates and friends that the First Presidency just call up these resolutions, proceed to a debate and vote on the issues. The First Presidency are attracted to this suggestion, and would personally rather permit that to happen. However, if we were to do so, we would have acted in violation of the trust which is ours, namely as presiding officers of the Conference, it is our solemn duty to see that the constitution of our assembly (i.e. the Doctrine and Covenants) and the by-laws (i.e. the Rules of Order) as well as the World Conference Resolutions currently in force are respected. To do otherwise would constitute dereliction of duty on our part. Consequently, it is with regret that the First Presidency rules Item G-9 and G-11 out of order on the following grounds:
1. Section 156 of the Doctrine and Covenants does not qualify for removal to the Appendix of the Doctrine and Covenants. The criteria for documents to be published in the Doctrine and Covenants and to be regarded as scripture or basic law of the church were adopted by the 1968 World Conference. That Conference stated, regarding the Doctrine and Covenants:
1.1. “The format shall feature the canon of latter day revelation, including all documents which have been or shall be
a. specifically designated to be revelation and so attested by Joseph Smith, Jr., or by one of his lawful successors to the office of President of the High Priesthood, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator to the church
b. presented to and acted upon by the presiding quorums of the church
c. accepted by a properly constituted World Conference as revelation authoritatively binding upon the whole church.
1.2. In harmony with Resolution 308, all other documents shall have become insinuated among the revelations shall be placed in an historical appendix.” (World Conference Bulletin, Sunday, April 7, 1968, p. 283)
Based upon these criteria the 1970 World Conference approved the publication of a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants and created an appendix to retain documents which did not meet the criteria listed above, which which were to be available for reference because of their historical significance. The action to place in the appendix Sections 107, 109, 110, 113, and 123 by the 1970 World Conference was based upon the failure of these sections to meet the criteria established for the 1970 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Section 156 does meet the criteria established for inclusion in the main body of the Doctrine and Covenants and ought not to be compared to those sections which are contained in the Appendix. The action of the World Conference with regard to the format of the 1970 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants does not establish a precedent for removing to the Appendix a section of the Doctrine and Covenants which a World Conference has approved “as inspired counsel and direction to the church … and authorized that the document be included in the Doctrine and Covenants” (1984 World Conference Bulletin, page 330).
2. Acting in good faith upon the provisions and instructions of Doctrine and Covenants 156, the church’s administrative officers have proceeded to implement ins intention. Persons have been ordained and granted authority to act on behalf of the church, and they have performed authoritative acts within the provisions of priesthood authority and there is no provision for undoing those authoritative acts. Church law, specifically WCR 1158, paragraph 5, states:
“A minister may function in his office and calling until the right to function is suspended by silence, by excommunication, or by termination of membership in the church.”
3. Similar questions would naturally result from the status of all sacraments, ordinances and ministries performed by such ordinands. Would they or would they not be recognized as authorized by God and by the church, if the church, through the Conference, should someday change its (mind?) about the authority of the ordinands to act in the name of God and the church? To place under such a cloud ordinances and sacraments which were already performed would be detrimental to the rights of those persons who were recipients of such ministries and who, as a class of members, would be the object of discrimination.
4. Additionally, this proposal impugns the testimony and faith of branch presidents and congregational presiding elders who have received (Divine?) light on specific calls of women to priesthood, as well as other church officers in the administrative approval process.
5. This proposed action also seeks to declare null and void the action of properly constituted jurisdictional conferences throughout the world.
6. Perhaps a principle of most significant importance to the church has to do with the initiation of the canonization process. The right of initiative in adding revelatory documents to the Doctrine and Covenants (adheres?) solely in the office of the Prophet and President of the church. In a similar way, the right of initiative in removing revelatory documents other to the Appendix or from the Doctrine and Covenants altogether, must also inhere in the office of Prophet and President of the church. No other person or group is designated to declare for the church’s consideration what does or does not constitute the Divine mind. This principle in no way impinges upon the authority of the Councils, Quorums, Orders or of the Conference to exercise the principle of common consent in response to the initiating action of the President of the church.
Any of the above qualify as sufficient grounds of ruling Items G-9 and Incidentally, G-11 out of order. Taken together, they constitute overwhelming reasons for doing so and the Presidency does so rule.
We recognize Ralph Whiting at Lectern #2.
Ralph Whiting: Mr. Chairman, I appeal your decision and if I receive a second, I would like to speak to this issue.
Chair: Very well, the appeal has been moved and I heard a second, I didn’t see a hand. All right, now I see a hand. The question is on the appeal and the appropriateness of an appeal and is now before us for debate. Brother Whiting.
Whiting: How much time do I have, President Smith?
Chair: Three minutes.
Whiting: My fellow Saints. Six score and six years ago our progenitors brought forth this church and in the Reorganization which they wrought they literally reestablished the House of the Lord. Yet, today as we come together and as I stand before you, it is sadly evident that the house our progenitors rebuilt has become a house divided. And there is no doubt in my mind that what we do here will determine whether that house will stand or fall apart. I do not come here to raise my voice to indict or impugn anyone, especially the leadership of this house divided. For if there is blame, there’s plenty to go around, and perhaps more at the bottom than at the top. It seems to me that what we’re doing here is straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel. We’ve spent hours discussing things, that though they are important are of lesser import. The matter now before us is most serious. If this body desires a healing, then I ask that you do not deny the voice of all those like me, apparently a dissident, who want this legislation to come to the floor and be defeated by a straight up and down vote. Failing to do that, for all practical purposes, is disfranchising not only a stake, one I’m now representing, but all the others. I appeal to you to vote for freedom before you vote for anything else.
Chair: Thank you. We want to recognize the rule of alternates and we see no one desiring the floor to speak against the motion to appeal. We’ll recognize Paul Ludy at lectern #1. …
Paul Ludy: I’m Paul Ludy, Central Missouri Stake. I have a set of the Rules of Order of the Church that say that the World Conference is the highest legislative body in the church. I recall from the Book of Mormon that it says they did their work and they made their decisions by the voice of the people and I would ask that the voice of the people speak here … either in favor of or against the resolution.
Chair: We recognize David Swenson at lectern #7 for a point of order.
David Swenson: David Swenson, Seattle Stake. Brother Smith, my question is, are we not debating the fact that whether or not we’re appealing the right as to whether or not the stand that the First Presidency’s taken is the correct stand or not? We’re not debating the issue, are we? Are we not making an appeal to that?
Chair: That’s technically –
Swenson: Should we not be voting on whether or not you have a valid appeal or do not have a valid reason?
Chair: That’s correct. It’s very difficult to separate those and the Chair’s allowing some latitude. But, we appreciate your bringing up that point. It’s well taken. We’ll recognize Brother Will Raiser at lectern #3.
William Raiser: Mr. President, I’d like to ask that the vote on this issue be counted.
Chair: Very well, you’ve called for a division on the count and we will observe that when it is taken. We’ll recognize by the rule of alternates, Donald Steinel at lectern #6.
Donald Steinel, Jr.: Don Steinel, Greater Los Angeles Stake. I object to this appeal no matter how my brother phrases his respect for the Prophet and for the church. These two pieces of legislation that he wishes to consider not only impugn and slander the integrity of the prophet and the councils and the quorums of the church but it impugns on my intelligence and my relationship, and I think everyone else’s in this body who voted in favor and who have received the testimony of this document. I feel if we uphold this appeal to overturn the Chair’s decision we are slandering our own integrity and we are slandering the integrity of the Lord. If the Lord has borne testimony to enough people to I’d say at least 95-98% that I saw from the floor when I voted for it, then we’re saying we all lied, we just went along with the party, or whatever happened. I think that we do ourselves an injustice by overturning the Chair.
Chair: Thank you (applause). We recognize – thank you. We recognize Brother Glen Crowther at lectern #2.
Glenn Cowther: Brother Smith, before you began your statement I had prepared to object to consideration. Since you have done that, I move the previous question, I don’t know if that’s showing up on your screen.
Chair: Very well, we’ll recieve that, not because you were going to do something else, but because you were recognized for a motion. Your motion is for the previous question.
Cowther: Yes sir.
Chair: Is there a second? Thank you. We have a second. The vote has been called for and we are now going to see if you are ready to vote. All in favor of now taking the vote on the appeal of the Chair, indicate with a show of hands. Thank you. Opposed? Its carried, and we will proceed with the vote. A division has been called for and that means a count of the vote and we’ll ask President Sheey to put the vote.
Howard S. Sheey, Jr.: The exact question before us is that Resolutions G-9 and G-11 have been declared out of order by the reasons stated by President Smith. The manner of voting shall be:
“Shall the decision of the Chair stand as the judgement of the assembly?”
Those in favor of the decision of the Chair stand as the judgement of the assembly, please raise your hands and keep them raised while they are counted.
(Applause) The body will be in order please. Okay, the secretary will poll the tellers.
W. Grant McMurray: As this is our first count, we’ll need to provide just a little instruction to the tellers. We ask that you go to the lectern nearest your location. I will call by lectern number beginning with lectern 1 and ask that you identify yourself by name and provide your count, and then when all of the persons from lectern #1 have been polled, we’ll go to lectern #2 and so forth and conclude with the Translations (Booth?) after all the lecterns have been counted.
Chair: And those opposed, show your hands and wait until you’re counted please. (applause) The Conference will be in order please.
Chair: The total yes vote was 2265, the total no vote 323, the decision of the chair is also the judgement of the assembly. I’ll return the chair to President Smith. (Applause)
Relevance for 2023’s Resolution G-2
The Question then becomes whether or not D&C 116 was properly canonized. In fact, we find that it was properly canonized with World Conference Resolution #216, which reads as:
216. D&C 114-117 are Canonized
Date Passed: September 13, 1878
Whereas, We accept the revelations heretofore given to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, through the present presiding officer thereof, as being the word of the Lord to his church, equally with those published in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; therefore, be it
Resolved, That the revelations received by the President of the church in 1861, 1863, and 1865, be received as from God, authoritative and binding on us as a body; and in connection with the revelation of 1873, that they be hereafter compiled with that book.
Since D&C 116 was lawfully canonized, this means that ONLY the president of the church could formally move to decanonize this scripture. This has never happened in the history of the church.
The problems with D&C 116 that I just outlined are undeniable. I see the appeal in eradicating these problems from our scriptural canon so they can’t be used as justification for racism.
However, it is also undeniable that this would also erase the scriptural precedent for all races having access to the priesthood. This could usher in a new era of racial discrimination in the church, which CANNOT be allowed to happen. This is why I am strongly against Resolution G-2.
On top of that, this section does not meet the qualifications for the Conference to take action to have it removed. Removing a section such as this would create a clear precedent.
Instead of decanonizing D&C 116, would would prefer to see ambiguous or antiquated terms be clarified and updated with modern vernacular. Modifying revelations is nothing new; a large portion of the Joseph Smith Jr era revelations were tweaked over the years as circumstances needed, and I believe we could follow that precedent.