The Role and Impact of Lester Bush’s Scholarship on Blacks and Priesthood.

Lester Bush wrote the single most influential piece of scholarship that influenced the brethren to drop the ban on blacks receiving the priesthood and access to the temple.  His was the first to argue that it was Brigham Young, not Joseph Smith, that instituted the ban. He also showed that there was no revelatory justification. Indeed, he documented the circumstances that lead up to the ban and the evolving doctrinal justification for it. His article is required reading in understanding the origin of the policy.

This is a collection of articles and blogs related to Bush’s influential article. These are the sources documenting the writing of the article and the impact it had on the general authorities and membership of the church.  The 2013 church essay “disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous 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.”  Furthermore, there is no language in the essay claiming uncertainty about the origin of the policy.  Bush’s work is a foundation in understanding the root source.

To start, this a brief readable summary of many of the sources.

Significant Factor – The Influence of Lester E. Bush, Jr.’s Research by Chad Lawrence Nielsen

Twenty years after the 1978 revelation, Lester Bush published his experience collecting the documents and writing the article. Some highlights include his interview with Boyd K. Packer, who discouraged the work; the difficulty of gaining access to church archives; the sheer breadth of the work; and the reception of it, both positive and negative.  Unfortunately, Bush was slowly pushed out of the church for his work.

Lester E. Bush, Jr. “Writing ‘Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview’ [1973]: Context and Reflections, 1998.” Journal of Mormon History Vol. 25, No. 1 (1999): 229.

Chad Nielsen also wrote an award winning paper discussing the impact of Bush’s work.  It includes survey data measuring the impact of Bush’s paper on Mormon Studies Scholars, the Institutional Church Hierarchy, as well as members at large.  The impact on members has been the weakest.  Hence, again illustrating the need to promulgate the current church position on “folk theories” concerning race-based policy and doctrine.

Nielsen, Chad L., “Leveraging Doubt: The Impact of Lester E. Bush, Jr.’s “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: A Historical Overview”” (2013). Arrington Student Writing Award Winners.

And finally, the paper, itself.

Lester E. Bush, Jr. “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview.” Dialogue vol 8 (1973).


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