There is a school of thought among some who believe that the united voice of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve is mistaken on some point or other (e.g., gay marriage, the sinfulness of homosexual sexual acts, etc.) They then conclude that fixing this problem requires “advocacy”—i.e., public appeals, clamor, protests, or public arguments in favor of altering policy or doctrine. Or, they insist that we need to publicly discuss what “should be done” in these matters, and that such activity is both proper and helpful. (They even, as I discussed yesterday, sometimes claim that God has told them by revelation that the apostles are mistaken, and that God sanctions their public disagreement and advocacy.)
Those who make this argument generally appeal to the change made with the reversal of the pre-1978 priesthood ban. They believe that such behavior was appropriate then, and that it helped President Kimball seek and receive the revelation of 1978.
I think, however, that this fundamentally misunderstands both the history of the priesthood ban and how Church government works. I say this partly out of conviction of how such things are said to work in theory, and partly out of observation for how I’ve seen them work in practice.
President Kimball: the clear expert
But, to me the most compelling argument for that position is what President Kimball himself said about it. If anyone is situated to tell us what would promote or trigger that kind of revelation in these instances, I take it to be him.
What were his views on those who sought to push the matter through advocacy, public dialogue, or such tactics? Were these efforts helpful? Proper?
He did not think so.
Bringing revelation and authority into contempt
Here’s him to son Ed:
“These smart members who would force the issue, and there are many of them, cheapen the issue and certainly bring into contempt the sacred principle of revelation and divine authority.”
Epistemologic humility and support for the Prophet
He felt that the opposite of such tactics were the appropriate ones:
“Perhaps what the prophet needs is not pressure, not goading, not demands. He needs in every city and place defenders—a million men and women to encourage patience, understanding and faith . . . saying: “President, we realize we do not know all there is to be known about this problem. We have faith and confidence in you and in the Lord that if relaxation is to come, it will come when the proper time comes. We shall stand and defend as did Peter though the whole world be against us.” . . . The very fact that he [Pres McKay] has not yielded to the public clamor sets him up in my mind as a courageous person, for it would be relatively easy to yield if it were his decision. He has an unalterable responsibility to obey only the Lord. . . . There are many letters from embarrassed people. . . . Logic, faulty logic has replaced basic faith, and definitely reflects humanism. For instance, [Sterling] McMurrin [a non-believer Mormon, who often boasted of never having read the Book of Mormon all the way through] says: “ . . . The situation . . . is unworthy of a church and unworthy of a religion . . .” He says these attitudes are “immoral in our social life.” Imagine a McMurrin postulating thusly. How can he be so sure to set up standards? . . .
The conferring of priesthood, and declining to give the priesthood is not a matter of my choice nor of President McKay’s. It is the Lord’s program. . . . When the Lord is ready to relax the restriction, it will come whether there is pressure or not. This is my faith. Until then, I shall try to fight on. . . . I have always prided myself on being about as unprejudiced as to race as any man. I think my work with the minorities would prove that, but I am so completely convinced that the prophets know what they are doing and the Lord knows what he is doing, that I am willing to rest it there.”
Opposed to pressure tactics
His son wrote:
While he was sensitive to the concerns and needs of minorities and while he showed no personal denigration of blacks, he also gave no encouragement to others who pressed for change. “I decided long ago that I would be loyal to the Brethren,” he said. He reacted especially negatively to militant protests against the Church and coercive methods, particularly when those protesting had themselves no interest in becoming priesthood holders….
Pressure tactics will, if anything, backfire and slow matters
Spencer believed that external pressures made revelation even less likely to come. “Every effort seems to be against us to force us to change the Lord’s program concerning the Negro.” Force invited resistance. [Ch 21, pp. 1-2]
Do not urge the prophet to seek a change
When his son wrote Kimball about possible change in 1963, Kimball replied:
Let me give you my own feelings in this matter. . . . I have wished the Lord had given us a little more clarity in the matter. But for me, it is enough. The Prophets for 133 years of the existence of the Church have maintained the position of the Prophet of the Restoration that the Negro could not hold the Priesthood nor have the temple ordinances which are preparatory for exaltation. I believe in the living prophets. . . . I know the Lord could change His policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error (?) which brought about the deprivation. If the time comes, that He will do, I am sure. . . [Ch 21, p. 4]
Note, then, that President Kimball too wanted more revelation and more clarity. He was even open to the possibility that the ban was in error.
Perhaps, then, the prophet should be urged by members to seek more information? His son took precisely that point of view, but President Kimball disagreed. His son was
“arguing it should still be proper for faithful church members to urge the prophet to seek God’s consent to change the policy. A week later Spencer responded again championing the Church position in a letter of eight single-spaced pages urging loyalty to the prophet.” [Ch 21, p. 4]
“He talked very little about the issue [his son notes]. He felt that people rarely wanted to learn but only to argue. “I never bring up the subject,” [he wrote], “not because I am afraid of it but because it is futile. Many cannot understand because of their limited knowledge of spiritual things; many will not understand, since they feel their superior training or brilliance entitle them to make their own independent deductions.” [Ch. 21, p. 4-5]
So, what the “public discussion or pressure” advocates want is specifically that which the very person who made the 1978 change most explicitly did not want, and most emphatically did not consider proper.
To me, these do not sound like the words of a man grateful for the public pressure and advocacy bringing such matters to his or the Brethren’s attention.
These letters and remarks were private, not for public display–and thus we can be quite confident, I think, that this is how President Kimball really saw the matter.
Those who wish to invoke the 1978 revelation as the inspiration for their current public advocacy, complaints, or pressure tactics should perhaps reconsider.
What would President Kimball say to us, if he were here?
 All quotes are from the CD-ROM that accompanied Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2005), emphasis added in all cases.