(September 4, 2015)
First, let me be clear – the Priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God. If I didn’t know that before, it has been pounded into my head through sometimes painful experience recently, to the point where I understand that even when the actions taken through the Priesthood are wrong those actions are sanctioned by the Lord (though He fortunately also stands ready to support those who might be hurt in the process).
But while the Priesthood is real, there is also conventions around the Priesthood which have more to do with culture than doctrine. For example,
baptized himself – this would be utterly impermissible in modern times, but
here we have a prophet of the Lord doing it.
Same with the way Joseph Smith was baptized. Some things that we might think are necessary
in exercising the Priesthood are anything but.
So what do we do when confronted by these cultural conventions? I think the correct answer is to follow them. The Priesthood includes the keys being placed in the hands of our Priesthood leaders to restrict their usage based upon their discretion (directed by the Lord, which I think is most often the case, or self-directed). Just because we feel that a certain rule is put in place for arbitrary or cultural reasons, that does not excuse violating that rule.
I think the example of blacks and the Priesthood is illuminating. Whether the withholding of the Priesthood for blacks was inspired or not (and I believe, based upon President McKay’s experience in the temple that I was inspired) it was still the rule. Those who spoke out against it were in violation of the Lord’s pattern. Even though they were correct that blacks would ultimately be given the Priesthood, and even if they were right about the origin of the ban, it did not justify violating the established order of things because those keys were not in their hands and their actions were in conflict with the person with those keys.