Question: How is it possible for a Church leader or prophet to have been influenced by racism, yet be consistent with the Lord not allowing prophets to lead the Church astray?

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Question: How is it possible for a Church leader or prophet to have been influenced by racism, yet be consistent with the Lord not allowing prophets to lead the Church astray?

The goal of the Church is to bring people unto Christ

This is a difficult question. At face value, the idea that the Lord will not allow prophets to lead us astray seems to be in direct conflict with the Church acknowledging that early Church leaders and prophets were influenced by certain racist tendencies of their times. For example, how could the Priesthood restriction been allowed and yet be consistent with the prophets "not leading the Church astray?".

The first thing we must do is step back and see what the Church and prophets are all about.

What is the goal of the church?

According to Spencer W. Kimball, and reaffirmed by the other prophets it is as follows:

First, to proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people; Secondly, to perfect the Saints by preparing them to receive the ordinances of the gospel and by instruction and discipline to gain exaltation; Thirdly, to redeem the dead by performing vicarious ordinances of the gospel for those who have lived on the earth. (See Ensign, May 1981, p. 5.) All three are part of one work—to assist our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, in their grand and glorious mission “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.) I renew that declaration today. [1]

The purpose of the Gospel is to bring people to Jesus Christ. The Church is the organization that Jesus set up on the Earth to bring people back to Jesus and back to God so we can be joint heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:17.)

The prophets will not lead the Church astray from the mission of leading people to Christ: This does not exempt prophets from saying or doing things at times that may be incorrect

Will the prophets knowingly lead us astray from this mission? No. They won't. They will keep us on that path and we should follow them.

Is it at least possible that they will say and do things that aren’t the best? Or that they may make unwanted speculation about things that they shouldn't? Certainly. Just as one example, Joseph Fielding Smith stated that it was doubtful that men would even go to the moon. He stated in the first edition of Answers to Gospel Questions:

Naturally the wonders in the heavens that man has created will be numbered among the signs which have been predicted—the airplanes, the guided missiles, and man-made planets that revolve around the earth. Keep it in mind, however, that such man-made planets belong to this earth, and it is doubtful that man will ever be permitted to make any instrument or ship to travel through space and visit the moon or any distant planet.[2]

He later accepted a flag from the Apollo astronauts. When asked about this by a reporter, he stated, "Well, I was wrong, wasn't I?"

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church

The Lord uses imperfect people to run his Church. He has promised he will make it all right in the end.

Karl G. Maeser taught:

On one occasion he was going with a group of young missionaries across the alps. They were crossing a high mountain pass on foot. There were long sticks stuck into the snow of the glacier to mark the path so that travelers could find their way safely across the glacier and down the mountain on the other side.

When they reached the summit, Brother Maeser wanted to teach the young elders a lesson. He stopped at the pinnacle of the mountain and pointed to those sticks that they had followed. And he said, “Brethren, behold the priesthood of God. They are just common old sticks, but it’s the position that counts. Follow them and you will surely be safe. Stray from them and you will surely be lost.” And so it is in the Church. We are called to leadership positions and given the power of the priesthood. And we are just common old sticks, but the position we are given counts. It is separate and apart from us, but while we hold it, we hold it. [3]

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed

If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything wrong, we will be disappointed.

Just a few examples from history (There are also reprimands in the D&C: D&C 105:2). They started doing Baptism for the dead in the river in Nauvoo - until God stopped them. They started doing sealings of adoption- until God stopped them. Why didn't God stop the race issue? He did...but He just did it later in his time frame for His purpose.

So again, If we go in with the expectation that the prophets will never do or say anything that might be wrong, we will be disappointed. Prophets are learning and are being taught just as we are learning and being taught. Bruce R. McConkie stated that quite clearly. [4]

But, if we go in with the expectation that the prophets will keep us on the Gospel path, complete with the ordinances we need to return to our Heavenly Father, then we will know what it means that the prophets will never lead us astray.

In John 6, Jesus taught hard things:

66 ¶From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?

68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.

There is a possibility that we may get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ: He allows us to learn as we go along

Jesus has taught the words of eternal life. This is his Church. We will get things wrong, because we are NOT Jesus Christ. He allows us to learn as we go along. The prophets will not lead us astray from that goal of eternal life.

We should also fall back onto the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith could not have written the Book of Mormon in 1830. Nobody could have done that. There were things that Joseph Smith and scholars of the day did not know that are contained in the book. They would have written the opposite based on the science of the day.

If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. It also means we have a prophet today. Will they lead us astray? Is that statement even true that they won't? The prophets will not lead us astray from the Gospel path. Can they be incorrect on other issues-even involving the Church? Yes, they can. When they claim revelation and follow proper procedures to make something binding, then we bow to that. But when they haven't and are perhaps just trying to do good of their own free will as has been divinely mandated (D&C 58:27-28) without the presence of intervening revelation as is sometimes possible per the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants just cited, then it is possible that they may get something wrong. We all have our free agency (2 Nephi 2: 16, 27; 10:23;) and the doctrine of infallibility is in direct contradiction to free agency.

Issues relating to the priesthood and temple restrictions are complicated ones, and we still have yet to learn more about them. As far as can be discerned, we haven't received any revelation as to why they happened. But, we should be open to the ideas that God allowed it to happen without revelation. Perhaps the restrictions were inspired and, like some of the fallen structures of the Old Testament, were inspired but also less than ideal (with the redemption of those fallen structures coming in New Testament times) and the Lord had a wiser purpose in mind in putting up with the restriction for the time it remained in place. Or perhaps they were simply a mistake like the Children of Israel and their appointment of a king when the Lord instructed them not to appoint one (1 Samuel 8: 5-22). Keep in mind that Israel had a king for 400 years while the restrictions lasted around 130. So the Lord can sometimes allow things to happen--even for a long time-- just so that we learn from mistakes. But again, we don't know and any speculation is as good as the next. Only time and revelation will allow us to understand why these things happened. Regardless, we can see that the Church can still be God's authorized vehicle for revelation and have the priesthood (thus still being true) and have the possibility of error.


  1. Spencer W. Kimball, "Remember the Mission of the Church" (April 1982)
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions
  3. Boyd K. Packer, "It Is the Position That Counts" (June 1977)
  4. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike Unto God". (18 Aug 1978)