LDS Church clarifies ‘Race and the Priesthood’ and addresses discrepancies in First Vision accounts

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A new gospel topics page titled “Race and the Priesthood” sheds  light on one of the LDS Church’s more difficult historical topics. (Photo courtesy LDS Church)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long encouraged members to “seek learning even by study and also by faith,” as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants.

In an overreaching effort to provide resources that facilitate gospel study and understanding, church leaders have recently updated and created Gospel Topics pages on LDS.org addressing difficult issues in church history.

“We seek learning not only because it is a commandment — we seek it because the desire to ask, to seek, and to find answers to life’s questions was planted in our hearts by our Heavenly Father,” church leaders teach on the Gospel Learning web page.

Updated gospel topics pages include “Race and the Priesthood,” “First Vision Accounts” and “Are Mormons Christians?” These pages provide tools for understanding the Church’s past and future. Every page is approved by the First Presidency.

Historical context and external links

On each page, the actions of past Church presidents are historically documented and included in the articles. These materials will help site visitors gain a more complete picture of Church history and policy.

“We’ve enlisted the aid of historians, church historians, scholars, church leaders as well as others to work carefully on these matters to make certain we have the facts as right as we know them today,” Church Historian Elder Steven E. Snow told the Deseret News. “It’s been a very interesting few months of research and scholarly pursuit as we’ve been able to clearly research some of these issues and chapters.”

LDS.org has historically avoided linking to external sites, but the new pages break that convention. Links to scholarly resources and related articles grace each page. Related videos and statements from Church leaders are also included.

Race and the Priesthood

The Gospel Topics page regarding race and the priesthood gives historical context, explains where common theories originated and states clearly the Church’s policy on racism.

“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form,” the page states.

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A Gospel Topics page titled “Accounts of the First Vision” outlines the similarities and discrepancies between Joseph Smith’s personal accounts of his First Vision. (Photo courtesy LDS Church)

The page also includes 25 source citations to aid further study.

First Vision Accounts

The page titled “First Vision Accounts” documents the five different narratives Joseph Smith penned describing his First Vision. There are some discrepancies in the accounts, which gospel scholars have studied and explored in great detail. The pages includes 13 source citations.

The page also provides direct links to images of Joseph Smith’s handwritten accounts, which are available on the Joseph Smith Papers website. Also, Church leaders expound on historical circumstances that led to the First Vision.

Are Mormons Christian?

When people ask if Mormons are Christians, many Church members give the simple answer — “Yes.” But there is a longer, more involved answer.

The “Are Mormons Christian?” page touches on three major points: Latter-day Saints do not accept the creeds of post-New Testament Christianity, Latter-day Saints believe in a restored Christianity, and Latter-day Saints believe in an open canon. Understanding these main points may help Mormons be more sympathetic toward those who sincerely ask about the origins of the LDS faith and may enable them to answer questions more confidently.

Coming Soon

As helpful as these new topic pages are, they’re just the beginning. The Church has instigated a larger effort to be more transparent about Church history and to provide tools to aid in personal and family gospel study. More Gospel Topics pages are currently being enhanced, including one about the translation of the Book of Mormon.

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Breanna Olaveson worked in the magazine industry before taking her writing from full-time to nap time with the birth of her first daughter. Her work has appeared in the Ensign, Liahona and New Era magazines, as well as Utah Valley Magazine, Utah Valley BusinessQ, Utah Valley Bride and the Provo Daily Herald. She lives in Utah county with her husband and three children. She blogs at www.breannaolaveson.com.

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