Monday, October 7, 2013

An Open Letter to Maurine Proctor and Those Pressing Against Ordination

By Rebecca Johnston

October 1977

An Open Letter to Maurine Proctor and Those Pressing Against Ordination

Dear Tyrone,

As the co-founder of Ordain Black Men, you are planning to march with a group of  black men to the general priesthood meeting of the LDS Church Saturday night to press for entrance. I don’t believe that you think entrance will actually be granted, because your requests for tickets have already been denied, so your motives must be for something else.

It seems clear that you are hoping for media attention for your cause, that you want to agitate or stir up emotions to support your goal: “Mormon black men seeking equality and ordination to the priesthood.” Perhaps you are hoping that creating a high profile will draw others into your ranks and that your numbers will swell.

You are by profession an international human rights attorney. For your career, you have learned an adversarial paradigm. Your world-view is based on clamoring, arguing and mounting evidence for the causes you believe. It is toe-to-toe, nose-to-nose, making points with contention and argument, reason and will. It’s not just the way of the attorney; it is the way of our times. This is a generation of people trained at divisiveness and attention-mongering for their viewpoint. Our public discourse these days is discordant. That might work well in furthering some causes in a court of law or even in the court of public opinion, but now we are talking about the Church.

If you are a hammer, then the whole world does indeed look like a nail.

In this case, however, if you choose to be a hammer, just what are you hammering against?

Believers understand that Jesus Christ is the head of this Church. He is the author of the doctrines and the organization, how and when things are taught and revealed. The Lord has given us prophets and apostles through which he communicates his will and reminds us, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38). That is a bold doctrine, stating without hesitation that the Lord’s appointed prophets speak for him, which I believe.

This leads me to ask about your very public motives. If you have a question about black men’s place in the divine scheme of things, that is understandable. Of course, we seek answers to questions that impact our identity and understanding of ourselves.

Those who defend what you are doing like to point out how many revelations came because people brought questions to Joseph Smith and he, in turn, took those questions to the Lord. We think, for example, of Joseph Knight, David Whitmer, John Whitmer and Peter Whitmer (D&C 12, 14, 15 and 16) who each received revelation through the prophet because they asked him to query.

In each case, however, their query was about aligning themselves more perfectly with the Lord’s will for them. Their questions were essentially, what can I do to please the Lord? How can I serve Him better? What does he want of me? Their questions were asked in a spirit of humility, understanding who sets the terms of their relationship. Just as with our covenants, where we have made promises with the Lord in which he sets the terms, so it is with these questions asked and answered by Joseph Smith. The understanding is clear that those who had questions were stepping forward in a spirit of meekness striving to understand what the Lord wanted of them.

So I have a hypothetical for you. I wonder if you had the opportunity to have a private meeting with the prophet and were able to press for black men’s priesthood ordination and he answered that the Lord had said “no” would that be enough? If you asked him specifically if he had prayed about black men’s place in the kingdom and he said, “Yes, and what we have reflects the Lord’s answer,” would that be enough? With those answers, would you disband your group and go home?

Would you say to those whose profiles you are gathering, those who are planning to march with you to the Conference Center that the prophet has spoken? Go put your energies somewhere else?

I suspect not. This is the heart of what troubles me about your choice. You come from what I believe is a faulty assumption about the Kingdom of God on the earth because you are applying a secular paradigm. In the world, he who has the loudest voice and is clever about applying the most pressure often carries the day. Your agitation for ordination assumes that either the prophets will respond to pressure or that the Lord will. At the very least, it assumes that you have a better idea and are in a superior position to understand what will empower black men.

It assumes that the prophets are too spiritually dull or backward to see the important questions or to ask them. It assumes that through all the centuries of recorded spiritual history, the Lord forgot his black sons and their development.

There is a twist of intellectual dishonesty at the heart of this. You press for priesthood power, I assume, on the grounds that it is truly the power of God on the earth, yet at the same time you refuse to acknowledge that same power to act, discern, and reveal in the Lord’s anointed prophets. The implication of your agitation is that you don’t believe that the prophets act with real authority—the very priesthood power you are seeking for yourself.

That just makes no sense. Your motives become suspect. A large gap looms between a question that seeks for expanded understanding and confrontation that seeks for its own way.

I think it is the temptation of this fallen world to seek to instruct the Lord. Most of us have times, when assessing our own lives, we are certain we know more clearly than He does what He should do for us and what is necessary for our well-being. On the most personal level, I have found that when I take that approach to the Lord, I become divided from him. It is fundamentally a refusal to comprehend who He is and who I am, his glory which is unspeakable and my own complete dependence on Him even for the breath I draw.

How odd it is for the child to seek to instruct the Father. It is the same for any who would seek somehow to right the Church or steady the ark. There is a presumptiveness and arrogance about this, which is troubling. There is also, at its heart, an attack upon the idea that the Church is led by Jesus Christ and his servants.

Another hypothetical. What if the prophet invited you into his office, listened to your demands to receive the priesthood and then said, “Because you and your followers want this and have stirred up the world, it’s yours.” If that happened, what an insecure footing we would all suddenly be on. Instead of God being the sure foundation of this Church, the great immovable I AM, we might suspect that instead it is a Church dictated by white men—or black men.

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