November 7, 2008

Peter's Prejudice?

Parley P. Pratt
August 26, 185
(JD 3:183-184)

During the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ He preached only to the House of Israel, specifically saying He was not sent unto the Gentiles (see Matthew 15:24; 3 Nephi 15:23). Later, Christ commanded the apostles to preach the gospel to the very ends of the earth, including the Gentiles (see Matthew 24:14; Acts 1:8). Even after this instruction, it wasn't until Peter received a special and specific revelation that he decided to fully obey the apparently new and radical command.

In this discourse, Parley P. Pratt surmised prejudice played a part in Peter's delay. When the angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields to announce the birth of Christ, Parley believed they must have wondered about their declaration that good tidings would be to "all people" (see Luke 2:10).

The shepherds were astonished, and well they might be, and they brought every body to this text throughout the whole of Judea. Still those angels were honest enough to sing the whole truth, notwithstanding the Jews looked upon all Gentiles as dogs, and I think I hear the shepherds saying, that brought glad tidings to every body-"To these dogs?" Still the angels-a choir of them-were bold enough to sing, "We bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people!" What a big saying for Jewish shepherds! Why they must have enlarged their hearts, and wondered at this very strange news! 
Why Peter had hardly got his heart sufficiently enlarged to believe these glad tidings, many years after they were proclaimed, although he had preached so much. It swelled by degrees, and contracted again, I suppose, and at last he had to have a vision, and a sheet let down from heaven, and things shown him, and explained to him over and over again, to get him to realize the truth of the glad tidings sung by angels at the birth of the Savior [Acts 10]. It was showing so much, it was too broad a platform, such a boundless ocean of mercy! It was making such a provision for the human family that Peter could not comprehend it. 
If the angel had said it was for the Jews, for the peculiar people of God, those that could receive the new revelation, why then it might have done; but to throw off their traditions, they who were the peculiar few, as they considered themselves, to believe that the glad tidings of the Savior's birth was for those Gentile dogs, they could not endure this for a moment. They were of the house of Israel, the seed of promise (JD 3:183-184).
Just being descendants of Israel didn't mean automatic salvation; Christ sought to overcome these cultural biases by emphasizing God's ability to bless all people to become the seed of Abraham; not only actual lineal descendants (see Luke 3:8).

Parley recognized the possibility that Church leaders could sometimes allow their own prejudices affect their ministry, but in the end God can correct these matters through revelation; sometimes even by revelation seemingly in opposition to prior procedure.

This can include the idea that God somehow accommodates the prejudice, working with humans as best he can "after the manner of their language," or that there are other factors I've overlooked. This still raises the question of why God sometimes makes a miraculous answer known (like with Peter, or even Spence W. Kimball) but waits so long to do so.

President Lorenzo Snow aptly stated the issue of prejudice as follows:
Seventy years ago this Church was organized with six members. We commenced, so to speak, as an infant. We had our prejudices to combat. Our ignorance troubled us in regard to what the Lord intended to do and what He wanted us to do …
We advanced to boyhood, and still we undoubtedly made some mistakes, which … generally arise from a …lack of experience. We understand very well, when we reflect back upon our own lives, that we did many foolish things when we were boys …
Yet as we advanced, the experience of the past materially assisted us to avoid such mistakes as we had made in our boyhood. It has been so with the Church. Our errors have generally arisen from a lack of comprehending what the Lord required of us to do. But now we are pretty well along to manhood …
When we examine ourselves, however, we discover that we are still not doing exactly as we ought to do, notwithstanding all our experience. We discern that there are things which we fail to do that the Lord expects us to perform, some of which He requires us to do in our boyhood. … While we congratulate ourselves in this direction, we certainly ought to feel that we have not yet arrived at perfection. There are many things for us to do yet (Lorenzo Snow, 6 April, 1900, Conference Report, 1-2).
For a discussion on racism on the Church, see David G., "Teaching About Racism" Juvenile Instructor, 5/6/2008.

Revised, updated. Orig. posted 11/5/07.

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