Poignant Bumper Sticker Memes

By | April 15, 2014

I enjoyed general conference earlier this month, and in fact wrote a good deal about it and the goings-on by other groups at conference time. One of those groups is Ordain Women, which sponsored an event designed to heighten awareness of those who would like to see women be ordained to the priesthood.

That event occurred on Saturday afternoon, shortly before the start of the general priesthood meeting. (It is this meeting into which members of Ordain Women and their supporters sought admission, as a symbol of their desire to be ordained.) It is not insignificant that the first speaker at that meeting was apostle Dallin H. Oaks, who delivered an address entitled The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood.

Among many great points made in that address, Elder Oaks stated the following:

The divine nature of the limitations put upon the exercise of priesthood keys explains an essential contrast between decisions on matters of Church administration and decisions affecting the priesthood. The First Presidency and the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, who preside over the Church, are empowered to make many decisions affecting Church policies and procedures—matters such as the location of Church buildings and the ages for missionary service. But even though these presiding authorities hold and exercise all of the keys delegated to men in this dispensation, they are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.

This seemed to fully shut the door to those who would like to see the Brethren extend priesthood ordination to women. Pro-ordination bloggers sought for ways around the statement, often straining at gnats and swallowing camels (to paraphrase an old adage).

It is not my desire to address each and every one of those bloggers. Indeed, I’m happy to allow them, for the most part, to try to parse words which seem rather clear, especially when coming from a person such as Elder Oaks who is historically precise and accurate in his choice of words.

The thing that amused me, however, was that bloggers weren’t the only ones attempting the parsing. At least one person decided that the best way to make their point was with a graphic that ostensibly compared the 1967 words of N. Eldon Tanner and the 2014 words of Dallin H. Oaks.


It was this graphic that drew my attention and curiosity. I thought that the use of both quotes was worth investigating.

President Tanner’s Quote

According to the graphic, this is what President Tanner said:

“The church has no intention of changing its doctrine on the Negro. Throughout the history of the original Christian church, the Negro never held the Priesthood. There’s really nothing we can do to change this. It’s a law of God.”

The genesis of this quote is interesting. The graphic makes it appear that the quote was delivered by President Tanner in general conference, as the image shown is from a general conference address.

If you search for the quote on the Internet, you quickly find out that it wasn’t from a general conference address. In fact, you never find the original quote at all. Instead, you find references to the quote, primarily in anti-Mormon sources.

The oldest source I was able to find was in the Salt Lake City Messenger, published by Jerald and Sandra Tanner. It appeared in the July 1978 issue and later in the December 1979 issue. Here’s the quote as it appeared in the July 1978 issue:

N. Eldon Tanner, a member of the First Presidency who finally signed the statement granting blacks the Priesthood, was completely opposed to the idea in 1967:

The church has no intention of changing its doctrine on the Negro,” N. Eldon Tanner, counselor to the First President told Seattle during his recent visit here. “Throughout the history of the original Christian church, the Negro never held the priesthood. There’s really nothing we can do to change this. It’s a law of God.” (Seattle Magazine, December 1967, p, 60)

The bold type was in the quote as used by the Tanners. (In their usage it was actually bold and italic.) Note that the Tanners do provide a source for the quote: an article in a regional magazine from Seattle. It also gives the impression that the quote was given to “Seattle,” meaning the city. (In other online sources, the quote was supposedly made to a stake conference in Seattle.)

With so much confusion, I went back and requested a copy of the original Seattle Magazine article from which the quote was pulled, as I wanted to check the context of the quote. (The Seattle Public Library was very helpful in this regard.) Here’s the original quote, in context, from an article entitled “The Swarming Mormons” (Seattle Magazine, December, 1967, pg. 54-71):

The exclusion of Negroes from the priestly orders, and therefore, according to Mormon doctrine, from advancement in the afterlife, is based on a passage in The Pearl of Great Price, a sacred Mormon scripture, which states that Negroes, as sons of Ham, are “cursed … as pertaining to the priesthood.” Most Mormons are content to let it go at that. “The subject of the Negro,” says Dr. F. Arthur Kay, president of the Seattle Stake, “simply never comes up.” For a growing body of dissenters, though, this doctrine has become the main symbol of the church’s social backwardness—and a potential threat to the presidential hopes of George Romney.

“The crux of the matter,” writes Samuel Taylor in Dialogue, “is not that the Negro has been denied the priesthood, but that the entire national ferment during the past decade concerning the equality of man has been ignored.”

Adds Dr. Sterling Stott, who is director of pupil personnel services for Seattle Public Schools and who left the Mormon Church to become a Unitarian: “The church’s leaders have simply withdrawn from the problems of contemporary society. They’re fiddling while the country burns.”

Even such harsh criticism has done nothing to budge Mormon officials from their adamant position. “The church has no intention of changing its doctrine on the Negro,” N. Eldon Tanner, counselor to the First President, told Seattle during his recent visit here. “Throughout the history of the original Christian church, the Negro never held the priesthood. There’s really nothing we can do to change this. It’s a law of God.”

There were lots of things factually wrong in the Seattle Magazine article, which should be evident simply from this excerpt. I won’t go into all those things here. (All right, maybe just one: That reference to “First President” is made throughout the article. At the time of the interview, President Tanner was second counselor in the First Presidency, with David O. McKay as President. If a reporter cannot get that simple fact right, how could one expect him to get the nuances of Church belief correct?)

Errors aside, President Tanner was correct in his statement: There was nothing “we” (the Church leaders) could do to make the change. However, it goes without saying that God can do whatever God wants.

The way the quote was used in the graphic, however, was definitely incorrect. President Tanner was not speaking at general conference or a stake conference. The quote was copied and slightly altered from an online anti-Mormon source.

(As an aside, I find it significant that a dozen years later when the First Presidency announced the revelation extending the priesthood to all men, President Tanner was first counselor in that First Presidency and he was the one who read the announcement of the revelation in October General Conference.)

Elder Oak’s Quote

According to the graphic, this is what Elder Oaks said:

“They [women] are not free to alter the divinely decreed pattern that only men will hold offices in the priesthood.”

I won’t repeat Elder Oak’s quote here, as I already included it earlier in this post. If you compare the quotes, however, you’ll see that the author of the graphic was incorrect in his or her usage of the quote. The antecedent of “they” isn’t “women.” It is the “First Presidency and the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.” In other words, the quote isn’t about a limitation on women, but a limitation on the Brethren who those women sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators.

This concept—that those at the very “top” of the Church—are limited in what they can do in relation to the Church is a foreign concept to many. That is why Elder Oaks went to great lengths to make the point clear in his address.

Does the misuse of Elder Oaks’ quote by the graphic’s author matter? To the majority of those viewing it, it probably doesn’t. But it does call into question whether the author understands the larger point that Elder Oaks was trying to make.

Concluding Thoughts

I found the graphic funny, if not terribly enlightened. It makes a point in a ham-fisted manner, forcing a quote given to a reporter into juxtaposition against a quote given in general conference. We have no way of knowing if the reporter for Seattle Magazine got the wording of President Tanner correct 47 years ago, but we do know that the graphic’s author got the wording of Elder Oaks incorrect and misunderstood Elder Oaks’ statement.

Even so, is the point that is made by the graphic correct? Can the Church make a change concerning ordaining women because it made a change over a generation ago about ordaining blacks? According to some who reported on the graphic, such a change may be still possible. Here’s how The Atlantic summarized and used the graphic:

The Church kept away video cameras from OW’s ticket ask on Saturday. But within a day, a force more powerful than TV news—mighty social media—had already spread a poignant message. It’s simple, and it comes in the form of a meme: side-by-side quotes from LDS Church leaders 47 years apart. The gist? Never say never.

Again, the graphic was funny. But it also compared two things that weren’t equal. (A second-hand quote through a reporter to a first-hand quote from general conference.) It pulled a quote from anti-Mormon sources without checking against the original. It entirely missed the point being made by either person.

For a reporter to say that such efforts constitute a “poignant message” seems to miss so much of reality. No doubt the graphic will keep making the rounds. After all, bumper stickers are always funnier and easier to repeat than actually understanding what is going on. But poignant? I don’t think I would have used that word, and I’m not sure that a reporter would use it if she understood where its pieces came from and how they were mashed up.

I just figured that people would want to know where the information in the graphic really came from.

63 thoughts on “Poignant Bumper Sticker Memes

  1. Jessica Lambert

    Thank you for taking the time to research this. I’ve been wondering about this and whether or not the two quotes were actually comparable. The graphic definitely made it look like Pres. Tanner said this in Conference which confused me, glad to have the record straight.

  2. Racquel

    As a child I met a man of African decent at church who spoke in Sacrament meeting and discussed his situation regarding the priesthood. I was possibly 8 so that would have been in 1965. He said at that time and at all other times in my life I was taught that in time the priesthood would be available to all men and that there would be no loss of eternal blessings or progression because the priesthood would come to them at a later time. We have always known that worthy men of African decent would someday be offered the priesthood. I don’t understand why people now try to say it has ever been taught differently.
    On the other hand, we have never been told that women would someday hold the priesthood. we know that they currently share the priesthood through temple covenants. Plus, we don’t need it and men do. We are supposed to get to the celestial kingdom together as partners. We cannot give them our responsibilities and they cannot give us theirs.

  3. Grant

    The write of this article was spot on except one point. God can’t do what ever he wants he to is bound by laws and if he were to break them laws he would cease to be god himself. If it is an eternal principle that woman can’t hold the priesthood. I’m sorry to say not even god can change that.

  4. cindy mexico

    O MY Captive Daughters of Zion

    Posted on April 19, 2014 by c j

    My name is Cindy, I live in Mexico. I am an endowed member of the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS, my ancestors were Mormon pioneers…I am also an endowed member of the Church of the Firstborn. This is where my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life!

    It is this The Heavenly Church that I take communion with… may I speak this in all humbleness, as I have prayed about speaking of these holy things, that we all enjoy from our temple experiences…They have burned it in my bosom and I feel you in my heart, only to inspire you and others, how to come up to mount Zion! And take communion with Them…for that is one of the purposes of the endowment of power…

    I realize that many in the great and spacious buildings will laugh and mock at my words…and maybe desire to take away my membership on this earth. That this could even be possible today, especially a woman, to speak such things, using my priesthood to bless my daughter when she is sick, or to bless the sacrament in my own home…to partake of it in the presence of the Heavenly Church and Host…and communing with angels and the General Assembly of Heavenly and I am not dead…

    And I see as I am seen, and know as I am known in Their Presence, and I desire the same for all my brothers and sisters…because the church of the Firstborn is your Eternal Family…. That you go to the temple to be sealed into…The Celestial Kingdom that is coming down to the earth…Your Patriarchal and Matriarchal Family!
    To quote D&C:77:11A
    We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests( priestesses), ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel; for they are they who are ordained out of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, by the angels to whom is given power over the nations of the earth, to bring as many as will come to the church of the Firstborn.
    I’m new to blogging, but I feel I must be personal…and prayerful of what I write. I see the crises in the church in the church of the telestial world, and it is a famine for the words of truth and comfort unto His daughters about their priesthood, which was conferred upon them from our Mother in Heaven.
    Mother in Heaven’s priesthood is called The Priesthood of Life and Light and this priesthood was conferred upon us from before the foundations of the world, by it we are justified, by the Lord to perform ordinances and all priesthood functions, to be a help meet for man and our husbands…

    As was our mother Eve, she was not a queen unto her husband, and he is not her head as only the Lord is her head, he has no dominion over the woman, or over the earth. He is a husbandman and has a stewardship. May I speak boldly Satan and the Lord do battle over dominion. We has woman are to covenant to with the Lord to be a help meet unto man.
    Mother Eve and all her faithful daughters are Queens and Priestesses and prophetesses, unto the Most High God! She covenanted with the Lord to be a help meet unto her husband and…This is the Matriarchal Priesthood of the Mother…and it was given by Her to all women…
    We may also seek to be called (commissioned) of the Lord…according as to the work He desires us to perform, and for the advancement and cause of His Kingdom, Zion…for we are the daughters of Zion…

    The Melchizedek Priesthood belongs to the Son of God the Great High Priest, and He conferred it upon men. So, I must try to follow His most kind and loving example…and if I speak about things that are most sacred to us as a people and the body of Christ, I hope to offend no one but only edify His people the saints of The Most High God…With that spirit in mind may I continue to speak

    to my brothers and especially to my beloved sisters, unto whom our Heavenly Mother endowed with Her Priesthood, and taught us before our sojourns into mortality. She taught us how to sacrifice to bring about life and light for all mankind. She taught us how to nurture with loving kindness all creation, and especially our families…She is Heavenly Mother Elohim the Other Member of the Godhead, unto whom there is no life without Her…

  5. cindy mexico

    All communications and prayers should be directed to our Heavenly Father, through our Mediator Their Only Begotten Son in the Flesh, and we should ask for a confirmation of the truth of all things, from the Other Member of the Godhead The Holy Ghost-The Holy Spirit of Promise-our companion and Friend…

    D&C 66:2 partakers of the glories which are to be revealed in the last days…

    D&C 22:1 That is the New and Everlasting Covenant of our Baptism… to become part of Them again, redeemed from the fall…and inter in at the strait gate through immersion in the water and the blood, we are cleansed of our sins…being born again and by partaking these emblems of the sacrifice of Their Son…and promising to obey His commandments…because by Him were we created in Their Image…Male and Female…Then we can receive The Fire of The Holy Ghost, He is a Revelator and Testifier of All Truth where in ye are justified…to enter again into the Kingdom of Heaven!

    Progress on to more priesthood and covenants in the temple endowment, where we follow in the footsteps of our first parents Adam and Eve…they teach; along with the Holy Ghost who is our Guide… how to regain the Presence of our Heavenly Parents, by using our tokens to receive Heavenly Beings to instruct us…and how to remove Lucifer and the teachings of wise men mingled with scripture …Orthodox-Religion..We desire to receive further light and knowledge from messengers of Heavenly Father…in the name of Jesus Christ…Amen…

    I received this word, this morning one day before the Easter Sunday, from Mother in Heaven
    O MY Beloved captive daughters of Zion…
    Isaiah 52:2
    2 Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.
    D&C 113: (My inspired words from Mother are in parentheses)
    7 Questions by Elias Higbee: What is meant by the command in Isaiah, 52d chapter, 1st verse, which saith: Put on thy strength, O Zion—and what people had Isaiah reference to? (MOTHERS…and DAUGHTERS…PRIESTHOOD…POWER…)
    8 He had reference to those (Women) whom God should call in the last days, who should hold the power of priesthood to bring again Zion, and the redemption of Israel; and to put on her strength is to put on the authority of the priesthood, which she, Zion, has a right to by lineage; also to return to that power which she had lost.

    Goodbye for now, I pray you will all have a beautiful Easter in celebration of our Resurrected Lord and His Victory, for all of us! I hope you will take these words unto the Lord in humble prayer to receive a confirmation of The Holy Ghost if you also find they are true…Then rejoice as I do, and celebrate with the Heavens, and come singing and praising unto” The Most High God, Jesus Christ the King of Zion”…

    Posted in O MY Captive Daughters of Zion | Leave a comment

    Ordain Women

  6. Charles Mountbatten

    I really enjoy reading the thoughtful answers above my comments. However, I have a different way of looking at these things. First off, our Heavenly Father doesn’t do things for his own benefit. He is perfect. He doesn’t NEED us to do this or that … for him. There is no specific thing that HAS to be done a certain way for HIS benefit. Everything that he sets in place is for OUR benefit, for us, not for him. The ONLY thing that he can “get” from us is our love, our devotion, our worship, our praise, our faithfulness to his teachings, which only benefit us in the long run. How does this relate to Ordain Women? Well, in this life men NEED to officiate in Priesthood ordinances for some reason. It is not God’s “need”. Just the same way that the Israelites could only have on tribe officiate in such duties. And yet, Deborah was still a Prophet of God to the extent that she spoke to Israel for God and was trusted to do so by all the people. I cannot believe that being a woman shuts a woman off for eternity from officiating. If that were true then there would be no mention of being a “priestess” as there is in the temple ceremonies. We cannot see eternity now. It is like staring through a glass, darkly. It is impossible to know, one way or another, how things will or will not be. Our concern is now, here in this imperfect world. Maybe, because the world was designed to be imperfect, (we would not need Christ if it were perfect) men and women need for men to officiate in priesthood duties, now at this time. We know that in the early days of the restored gospel women blessed the sick to the extent that sometimes they were the ones singled out to be called to bless the sick. Maybe a prophet thought that men should be doing it more and that’s why it was discouraged. If I were a woman and I had a sick child but no man in the home who held the priesthood, I’d bless my child anyway, and I’m sure my prayer would be answered depending on my faith and God’s will. I believe the church is true but I also believe that too many Mormon men think they know that things have always been the way that they are now and that they always will be the same going forward. A deeper understanding of the scriptures, ancient and modern, and our own ritual ceremonies, would show that this is not the case.

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