Setting the Record Straight: Blacks & the Mormon Priesthood

Up until 1978, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon church) restricted priesthood ordination. That’s not all that odd; most religions have some restrictions placed on ordination, such as sex, education, or behavior. But the odd thing about this restriction was that all worthy male church members were permitted to be ordained except those of African origin.

This policy was, and has been, controversial, and led to speculation and false doctrine. If the policy wasn’t inspired, why was it in place? And if it was inspired, why would God restrict a certain race from exercising the priesthood? Some speculated that Black church members were (for some unknown reason) unworthy of ordination. Others speculated that God was waiting for the right time to lift the ban.

martins

Setting the Record Straight: Blacks & the Mormon Priesthood is part of a larger series (Setting the Record Straight) that addresses some of the controversial issues in Mormonism, both cultural and doctrinal. I’ve read a few books in this series, and I’m going to go ahead and say the quality of the book depends entirely on the author; some of them are great, and some of them are not. This one is great.

Marcus Martins, the author, is a prominent Black church member who grew up before the priesthood ban was lifted. He talks about his own bitterness about the ban, as well as his father’s faith that he should live worthy to receive the priesthood as soon as the ban was lifted. He talks about what a privilege it is for anyone to be able to exercise God’s power. He talks about some of the blatantly false doctrine he’s heard as a religion professor, and some of the questions he’s had to answer from people who questioned his faith. He also talks about how strange it was for his family to convert from another Christian faith to one where the White church members often looked down on them for … reasons. Reasons that nobody could really define, but everyone assumed were there.

I think the power of this book is that it doesn’t have answers—and doesn’t pretend to. What Martins does is point out that most of the false doctrine floating around in Mormon circles comes from “finding” answers where there are none. Martins doesn’t know why he wasn’t allowed to hold the priesthood until 1978. He doesn’t pretend to know why. And he still believes this is God’s church. But what he does do throughout the book is show how people insisting on finding the answer (and then imposing their answer on others) led to misunderstandings of doctrine.

I think this is a great book for anyone—regardless of whether you’re LDS or not—who’s interested in learning about other faiths. It talks about how wrong we can be, and how much better it is to admit we don’t know everything. It also has a very forgiving tone; he points out the racism he’s encountered and encourages everybody to be better. He talks about how important diversity of races, cultures, and experiences can be in a growing worldwide church. But he isn’t bitter; he’s just helping to solve the problem. I love his attitude of moving forward, rather than dwelling on pain. ♦

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Virtue and Vice: A Dictionary of the Good Life

virtue and vice

I love C.S. Lewis. But his (nonfiction) writing is super dense, so I tend to pick up those little collections they print—the ones in large print, with condensed versions of his longer works. Cheating? Maybe. But I’m not in school anymore, so who’s gonna tell the teacher?

Anyways. Virtue and Vice claims to be A Dictionary of the Good Life. This is not “the good life” chilling on a yacht drinking a cold one. We’re talking “good” as opposed to evil. It’s a dictionary of basic religious words for people who want to be good people. And it wasn’t actually compiled by C.S. Lewis; he wrote all the content, but it’s a quote book collected by somebody else.

Overall, I would say this book is worth reading. It won’t take long, and it will make you think. The overall result, however, was that I ended up skimming some rather obvious stuff (and some stuff I’d already read elsewhere), and then getting to parts I liked and wishing I had the rest of the source material. If you want to know which C.S. Lewis book (or article) you’d like to pick up next, go ahead and start with this, then check out the bibliography in the back. But if you want the heavy stuff, go ahead and skip this one.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote (that I need to look up now in the original article):

“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

Left to Tell

left to tell

I’ve read this one before, but I loved it so much I wanted to read it again for the “Reading the World” challenge: Left to Tell, by Immaculée Ilibagiza.

This is the autobiography of a woman who was caught in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. A million people were killed in three months, most of them with machetes. Most of them by their neighbors. Some of them by their friends and family. Immaculée tells about the political and social climate that led to her ethnic group, the Tutsis, being hated and feared by the Hutus. After years of indoctrination, the ruling powers of Rwanda ordered the “extermination” of the Tutsi “cockroaches,” and people obediently went on a killing spree.

Immaculée survived this by hiding in a minister’s bathroom for 91 days with seven other women.

What I appreciate most about this book is that Ilibagiza tells how her experiences have strengthened her faith in God, and in humanity. She tells horrible, graphic, unthinkable things she has suffered, and then in the next breath, tells why she still has hope in the future, and why she still relies on God to help her. While most stories choose either to tell “good news” or “bad news,” Ilibagiza is dedicated to sharing truth—even hideous truth—and then giving you the courage to face it.

This book is not for children, obviously. But it’s a beautiful account of suffering and hope, and I would recommend it to anyone old enough to handle a brutal history. ♦

Broken Things to Mend

broken things to mend

I love Jeffrey R. Holland. He’s one of my favorite speakers of all time, whether the subject is religious or not. So I picked up a copy of Broken Things to Mend, which is a collection of some of his talks.

Overall, the collection is good. And by that, I mean that it seriously fell beneath my expectations—but I can’t really fault that. My expectations were unreasonably high. See, when Elder Holland gets it right, he really gets it right. He kind of pulls your heart out of your chest, squeezes it a few times, and then puts it back in there a little better than he found it. But I suppose I can’t expect him to do that every time he opens his mouth.

If you feel broken, there are a few talks in this collection that will make you weep. (Like the title sermon.) And then you’ll put yourself back together again, and be so glad to know you’re still good enough, even as broken as you feel. But then there are a lot of other talks in here that are just good, inspirational talks. Not mind-blowing. Just good.

Long story short, I recommend the book. But if you’ve got a very specific need, I would sooner recommend you just go to lds.org and search for one of Holland’s individual talks. ♥

Made for Heaven: and Why on Earth It Matters

made for heaven

I’ll keep this brief, because the book is brief.

Made for Heaven is a C.S. Lewis book for dummies. Kind of like What Christians Believe, this book collects a few essays or chapters from his other writings, puts it in an easy-to-read font and format, and allows you a glimpse into Lewis’s arguments without making you wade through a few hundred pages of high-falutin’ philosophy. This one discusses why Lewis considers human being to be inherently divine, and why we seem to yearn for something greater than this life.

It’s very good. But if you want something complex, skip it and read Lewis’s other stuff. (You’ll get everything from this book in his other stuff, anyway, since this one is just collected from those ones.) ♦

What Christians Believe (C.S. Lewis)

what-christians-believe

So, I didn’t realize this when I picked up the book, but all of What Christians Believe is already encompassed in C.S. Lewis’s larger book, Mere Christianity. And, to be honest, if you’re interested in the subject or the author, you should just pick up Mere Christianity.

What Christians Believe is the smaller, easier-to-read, condensed highlights reel. Is it still good? Yes. But all of my favorite parts, including a wonderful analogy of Christ “belonging” to humanity the same way a colony tree belongs to its sister trees, are left out.

(Short) story short: if you’re looking for an abstract of Mere Christianity, pick up What Christians Believe. But if you actually want the meat of the matter, read Mere Christianity. ♦

The God Who Weeps

the god who weeps

I started reading The God Who Weeps for a book club. I didn’t finish it on time, due to a combination of bad time management and the authors’ dense language. But I did enjoy the book and the book club, and I did manage to finish it.

The God Who Weeps, by Terryl and Fiona Givens, is a philosophical explanation of Mormon doctrine concerning God and His relationship to us down here on Earth. It is very thorough, and the language is very academic (which is one reason I had such a hard time finishing it on time for book club). I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s confident with denser material and wants to know more about what Mormons believe. I would also highly recommend it to any Mormon who’s confident with denser material, because it highlights and stresses our ability to have a strong connection with God, even though we’re not perfect.

I feel like there’s something lacking here, however. Everybody in book club said they would recommend it to all their Mormon friends and most of their other friends. I just kind of sat there for a while, and then finally asked, “Am I the only person who has friends who wouldn’t understand a word of this?”

I’m not saying I have stupid friends. I’m just saying that most of my friends – and I – use the words “Taco Bell” more often than we use the word “cosmos.” This book is so academic that I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t consider themselves an intellectual. The writing is about as dense as C.S. Lewis.

On the flip side, I’m not sure how much I appreciated it as an academic work, because the sources were cited poorly. I know I’m being super picky – but I’m a huge stickler on citations, and the authors don’t even specify which quotes come from where – they just have a huge amalgamation of “where we got our stuff” at the back of the book, and you have to go digging through it if you want to find anything specific.

I would still recommend this book – but only to those who are looking for a good, introspective, philosophical look at the nature of God. If you want something just as dense (or denser), but with better notes, history, and citations, read James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ. If you’re looking for something a lot less dense, pick up a copy of Preach My Gospel (the missionary manual), or a Gospel Principles manual. ♥