Revelation Bias… Fair and Balanced Part 4: Blacks and the Priesthood

Jul 11, 12 Revelation Bias… Fair and Balanced Part 4: Blacks and the Priesthood

In Part 4 of this series on revelation, we will closely examine the relationship between blacks and the LDS church. If you have not read Part 1 of this series, I highly recommend that you do so before reading this post (you can read it here).

If you are not familiar with the Mormon faith, church members of African descent were not allowed to hold the priesthood or participate in temple ceremonies until Spencer W. Kimball declared in 1978 that this should not be. So when were they actually banned and why? These questions were brought up in the public light recently when a BYU professor, Randy Bott, was interviewed on the subject in the Washington Post. His commentary was incorrect and offensive, which led the church to publish a response (read it here). The church stated: “For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago.” I challenge that this is also an incorrect statement.

Before 1978, there were many teachings floating around that tried to explain the ban. Some were backed by General Authorities and even published in books (i.e. Mormon Doctrine written by Bruce R. McConkie). Included in these teachings were:

  1. The curse of Cain: “This belief was commonly held by many Protestant denominations in early American history. It was often used as a justification for slavery and reached its peak about the time of the Civil War. Many people who joined the LDS Church brought this teaching into the Church with them. Most Protestants later changed their talking points on this to say that the children of Cain were wiped out during Noah’s flood, so the cursing came through the flood by Ham. Therefore, the more modern phrasing of this belief is the so-called “curse of Ham.” But the curse of Cain continued to be taught in the then geographically-isolated LDS Church.” ( – Scott Gordon) Here are some quotes to show the sentiment of the time:

Every hope of the existence of church and state, and of civilization itself, hangs upon our arduous effort to defeat the doctrine of Negro suffrage – Robert Dabney, a prominent 19th century Southern Presbyterian pastor

… the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example – Richard Furman, President, South Carolina Baptist Convention

  1. They were fence sitters or less faithful when presented with Satan’s plan and Jesus’ plan in the pre-existence: “The Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, …but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, is based on his eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their First Estate [the pre-existence].” ( Mormon Doctrine, p. 527 – 528, 1966 edition)
  2. The Levites were able to hold the priesthood while others were not: This shows how God restricts people of certain lineages from receiving the priesthood just like he did with blacks.

All these teachings are folklore and need to stop. I don’t even want to get into the mental gymnastics that it would take to even explain how the first example could even be reasonable. The curse of Cain or Ham goes directly against what Joseph taught: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression” (Articles of Faith #2). This basically says that no matter where you come from, or who your father is, you are responsible for yourself and your own actions. The second teaching safely allows one to judge another as less worthy and less valiant simply by his or her skin color and therefore puts a white person above a black person. And as for the third teaching, I would say that in modern times this explanation just doesn’t work. In ancient times, only one group was allowed to hold the priesthood, but in modern times only one group is not allowed to hold the priesthood while all other groups can. Not really a comparable argument.

It may not be widely known in the Mormon culture, but Joseph Smith, Parley P. Pratt, William Smith, and Orson Hyde did in fact ordain blacks to the priesthood. Joseph also received a revelation on slavery: “it is not right that any man should be in bondage to another”. So when did the ordination of the blacks stop? It stopped with Brigham Young. Speaking in regards to blacks and slavery (referencing Cain and Abel), Brigham Young said:

“What is that mark? you will see it on the countenance of every African you ever did see upon the face of the earth, or ever will see. Now I tell you what I know; when the mark was put upon Cain, Abels children was in all probability young; the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the preisthood nor his seed, until the last of the posterity of Able had received the preisthood, until the redemtion of the earth. If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the preisthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them, until the resedue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings, the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed; and hold the keys of the preisthood, until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the earth, and from michals seed. Then Cain’s seed will be had in rememberance, and the time come when that curse should be wiped off.

“Now then in the kingdom of God on the earth, a man who has has the Affrican blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of preisthood; Why? because they are the true eternal principals the Lord Almighty has ordained, and who can help it, men cannot. the angels cannot, and all the powers of earth and hell cannot take it off, but thus saith the Eternal I am, what I am, I take it off at my pleasure, and not one partical of power can that posterity of Cain have, until the time comes the says he will have it taken away. …What we are trying to do to day is to make the Negro equal with us in all our privilege. My voice shall be against all the day long. I shall not consent for one moment I will will call them a counsel. I say I will not consent for one moment for you to lay a plan to bring a curse upon this people. I shall not be while I am here.” (Speach by Gov. Young in Joint Session of the Legeslature. Feby. 5th 1852 giving his veiws on slavery.)

Brigham Young thought slavery was a divine institution. He said: “Ham will continue to be servant of servants, as the Lord decreed, until the curse is removed. Will the present struggle free the slave? No; but they are now wasting away the black race by thousands…. “Treat the slaves kindly and let them live, for Ham must be the servant of servants until the curse is removed. Can you destroy the decrees of the Almighty? You cannot. Yet our Christian brethren think that they are going to overthrow the sentence of the Almighty upon the seed of Ham. They cannot do that, though they may kill them by thousands and tens of thousands.”
(Millennial Star, Vol. 25, page 787; also published in Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, page 250)

In these addresses, one can see the racist background that Brigham Young had through the belief that was commonly held by many Protestant denominations in early American history. Mormons were just as racist as everyone else. So in regards to the church’s statement, “It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began inthe Church…”, I would argue that we know exactly where it started. I do think Gordon B. Hinkley’s approach to the subject with Mike Wallace in a 60 Minutes interview was much more forthcoming: “Because the leaders of the church at that time interpreted that doctrine that way.” If you want to get specific, you could go on to say that as the leader of the church, Brigham Young simply let his beliefs, his bias, and his racism carry over to Mormonism.

Brigham Young was racist. Did the Book of Mormon help or hinder his racism? Let’s dive into our scriptures:

2 Nephi 5:21: “And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.”

2 Nephi 30:6: “And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away amont them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people” (white was changed to pure in 1840, then changed back to white, and changed back to pure again in 1981)

Alma 3:6: “And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.”

3 Nephi 2:15: “And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites.” (white was changed to pure in 1981)

Jacob 3:5,8-9: 5. “Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them.”

8. “O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.”

9. “Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers.”

Moses 7:22: “And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.”

Abraham 1:21-24, 27: “Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth.

22. “From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.”

23. “The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;”

24. “When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.”

27. “Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry;”

What’s the takeaway? Dark equals bad and cursed; white equals good and pure. To a racist, these scriptures would certainly be interpreted literally. So if you don’t hold racial views, how do you deal with these scriptures?

The next logical question to ask is why it took so long to change the policy of blacks not being allowed to hold the priesthood. I think that frankly it was a non-issue to the early Mormons; questions are asked only when an issue is raised. Geographically, the early Mormons were mostly in the west where there wasn’t a huge population of blacks, even less in Utah. The leadership was completely white, mostly from Utah/Idaho (not particularly well traveled). At the time, most members did not even know about the ban, including David O. McKay. It was only when he was made an apostle that he found out about the ban.

“By the turn of the twentieth century, when David O. McKay became a apostle, few Mormons were even aware of the policy. Indeed, McKay himself did not confront it for another fifteen years. In 1957, he recalled:

“I first met this problem in Hawaii in 1921. A worthy [black] man had married a Polynesian woman. She was faithful in the Church. They had a large family everyone of whom was active and worthy. My sympathies were so aroused that I wrote home to President Grant asking if he would please make an exception so we could ordain that man to the Priesthood. He wrote back saying, “David, I am as sympathetic as you are, but until the Lord gives us a revelation regarding that matter, we shall have to maintain the policy of the Church.”
(Gregory Prince, W.M. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, pg. 74; taken from “Minutes of Special Meeting by President David O. McKay, 17th January, 1954, in David O. McKay Diaries)
…and most significantly, he declined to call it a “doctrine.” To him there was a distinct difference between a “policy” in the church, which he saw as conditional and thus changeable, and a “doctrine,” which was immutable. The distinction was lost on his colleagues but was crucial in the final months of McKay’s life. (pg 75; David O. McKay letter dated November 3, 1947. Quoted in Llewelyn R. McKay, Home Memories of President David O. McKay, 226-31)

Following is a breakdown of the steps that led to the lifting of the ban in 1978 (not every step is included):

1921 – Apostle David O. McKay wrote to President Grant pleading for an exception to the ban.

1940 – Africans heard about the church and asked for material and copies of The Book of Mormon. They formed independent congregations.

1941 – Brazil declared war on Germany and Italy. Foreigners, including missionaries serving in Brazil, were not allowed to associate with German or Italian Brazilians. This left only Luzo-Brazilians – those of Portuguese descent often mixed with Indian and black ancestry – for the missionaries to teach. Tests were employed to determine if converts had Negro blood or not: curly hair, dark skin, wide nose. If they didn’t bear these traits, they were given the priesthood. Essentially, as long as converts looked white enough, they were given the priesthood.

August 7th, 1949 – The First Presidency, under the direction of George Albert Smith, declared: “The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”

Mid-1950s – President McKay softened the ban by stating that members no longer needed to prove their lineage was not African. The church instead allowed dark-skinned members to hold the priesthood unless it was proven otherwise they were of African descent. President McKay told Elder Marion D. Hanks that “he had pleaded and pleaded with the Lord, but had not had the answer he sought.” (Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20 working draft, 13)

1963 – Sterling McMurrin, Mormon theologian, wrote the statement on civil rights that Hugh B. Brown read at general conference. McMurrin candidly discussed his beliefs with McKay, including his rejection of “the common Mormon doctrine that the Negroes are under a divine curse.” This is McKay’s response:

“There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in the church that the Negroes are under a divine curse…We believe…that we have scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the Negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice will some day be changed. And that’s all there is to it.'” (pg 79; Sterling McMurrin, affidavit, March 6, 1979)

Mid-1960s – There were thousands of independent Mormon congregations in Ghana and Nigeria with their own organizations under no direction from Utah. The church then sent out missionaries to act as leaders and to do all priesthood ordinations. Negative press in Nigeria and Ghana about the church halted the rotation of the missionaries.

1965 – TIME published an article on the black Mormons in Nigeria and the priesthood ban. This article spawned many others which resulted in bans on BYU. Boycotts and protests of BYU were put into play by UTEP and the University of Wyoming. A big spotlight was put on the priesthood ban by the Stanford president in 1969 when he suspended all athletic relations with BYU. San Jose State University also refused along with Stanford.

1969 – Hugh B. Brown proposed to the 12 apostles to lift the ban. The talks favored a lifting of the ban. Harold B. Lee, who was in the first presidency, returned from travels and argued that the policy couldn’t be changed without revelation. Lee had the 12 apostles sign a document restating the status quo. The policy went unchanged.

1973 – Dialogue, a Mormon publication, featured an article written by Lester Bush titled Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview. This article is said to be a huge influence for President Kimball to get the ball rolling. A grandson to Spencer W. Kimball has said that the prophet read, underlined, and annotated the whole article. While others also appreciated Lester’s contribution, there were those that did not. Boyd K. Packer tried to talk Bush out of having the article published. Some tried to lobby the editors to do the same. After the article was published, Bush stated that he was marginalized by local leaders. He later withdrew from the church completely. (Journal of Mormon History (“Writing ‘Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview’ (1973): Context and Reflections,” Vol. 25, (1), 1999)

1974 – The NAACP filed a lawsuit against the LDS scout troops because the the LDS church would only allow a deacons quorum president to be the troop leader. The quorum president, of course, would have to hold the priesthood. After the lawsuit, the church reversed its scouting policy. (Mauss, Armand L. (2003). All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage. University of Illinois Press. p. 218.)

1975 – São Paulo Brazil temple was announced. The leadership faced a huge issue – how to determine who was allowed in the temple. This was a major issue due to the mixing of races in Brazil. (Mark L. Grover, “The Mormon Priesthood Revelation and the São Paulo Brazil Temple”,Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 23:39–53 (Spring 1990)

1976 – Spencer W. Kimball stated “his concern for giving the priesthood to all men, and said that he had been praying about it for fifteen years without an answer…but I am going to keep praying about it.”(Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 7)

1976 & 1977 – Douglas A. Wallace and Byron Merchant were excommunicated after criticizing the church’s stance on the ban (Salt Lake Tribune April 1976, April 1978). Grant Syphers was refused a temple recommend by his stake president for not supporting the ban. He was told by his stake president: “Anyone who could not accept the Church’s stand on Negroes … could not go to the temple”. (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter 1967, p. 6)

June 8th, 1978 – The First Presidency released an official statement to the press lifting the priesthood and temple ban. It was later read in General Conference in September 1978. You can read it here. It is known as the ” Official Declaration – 2″.

October 30, 1978 – São Paulo Brazil temple was dedicated and opened.

It appears that it was only when the church was repeatedly confronted with the issue – I think the strongest push was the temple and leadership issue in Brazil – that questions were asked and changes were made.

LeGrand Richards, Mormon apostle, was interviewed by Wesley Walters and Chris Vlachos shortly after the ban was lifted. Here is an excerpt from the inteview:

Walters: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: I’ve heard that Christ appeared to the apostles; I’ve heard that Joseph Smith appeared; and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had had a concern about this for some time, and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Are any of those stories true, or are they all?

Richards: Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it is hard to get leaders that don’t have negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It’s going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising money to build that temple. If we don’t change, then they can’t even use it. Well, Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it. He asked each one of us of the twelve if we would pray–and we did–that the Lord would give him the inspiration to know what the will of the Lord was. Then he invited each one of us in his office–individually, because you know when you are in a group, you can’t always express everything that’s in your heart. You’re part of the group, see–so he interviewed each one of us, personally to see how we felt about it, and he asked us to pray about it. Then he asked each one of us to hand in all the references we had, for, or against that proposal. See, he was thinking favorably toward giving the colored people the priesthood. Then we had a meeting where we meet every week in the temple, and we discussed it as a group circle. and then held another prayer circle after the close of that meeting, and he (President Kimball) lead in the prayer; praying that the Lord would give us the inspiration that we needed to do the thing that would be pleasing to Him and for the blessing of His children.

And then the next Thursday–we meet every Thursday–the presidency came with this little document written out to make the announcement–to see how we’d feel about it–and present it in written form. Well, some of the members of the Twelve suggested a few changes in the announcement, and then in our meeting there we all voted in favor of it–the Twelve and the first Presidency. One member of the Twelve, Mark Peterson, was down in South America, but Brother Benson, our president, had arranged to know where he could be reached by phone, and right while we were in that meeting in the temple, Brother Kimball talked with Brother Peterson, and read him the article, and he (Peterson) approved of it.

Walters: There wasn’t a special document as a “revelation”, that he had wrote down?

Richards: We discussed it in our meeting. What else should we say besides that announcement? And we decided that that was sufficient; that no more needed to be said.

Richards seems to be in agreement with Walters’ assessment that the “revelation” came to be simply via a concern voiced by Spencer Kimball. This makes it sound not so much like a revelation, but maybe just like an active step toward lifting the ban instigated by Spencer Kimball that garnered different results than previous attempts.

I personally feel that there is no question about the irreparable hurt caused by the ban. This is a prime example of when human bias can be extremely hurtful. As we look back at some of the rhetoric spoken by General Authorities, we can further see why a change took so long. Mark E. Peterson said:

“Is there reason then why the type of birth we receive in this life is not a reflection of our worthiness or lack of it in the pre-existent life?…can we account in any other of way for the birth of some of the children of God in darkest Africa, or in flood-ridden China, or among the starving hordes of India, while some of the rest of us are born here in the United States? We cannot escape the conclusion that because of performance in our pre-existence some of us are born as Chinese, some as Japanese, some as Indians, some as Negroes, some as Americans, some as Latter-day Saints. These are rewards and punishments, fully in harmony with His established policy in dealing with sinners and saints, rewarding all according to their deeds…. Now we are generous with the negro. We are willing that the Negro have the highest kind of education. I would be willing to let every Negro drive a cadillac if they could afford it. I would be willing that they have all the advantages they can get out of life in the world. But let them enjoy these things among themselves, I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change that segregation? It reminds me of the scripture on marriage, ‘what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’ Only here we have the reverse of the thing— what God hath separated, let not men bring together again.” (Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, Brigham Young University, August 27,1954)

I don’t see any sort of love in this comment. The only thing that I take away from this quote is that because my skin is lighter and that I live in the United States of America, I am better than everyone else. Making yourself better than another race presumed from old teachings is very harmful, ugly, and just plain racist.

What can we do to overcome the damage? Realistically, I don’t think that the church will ever officially apologize for the ban, and may not even address it in its factual entirety; so the burden rests on the members of the church to make sure the story is taught correctly. I think as members we can do this because we truly feel terrible for what happened. We should avoid repeating the mistake by making sure we are not discriminating against any group based on our traditions or policies. By not telling this story correctly or sweeping it under the rug is a disgrace to those who fought and sacrificed for this change. Above all this, the number one answer to the question is as simple and relevant as it has always been: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34)

Born and raised in Northern California, Paul received his education at Ricks College and BYU with a BA in Spanish, minor in PE Coaching. Paul served his LDS mission during the years 94-96 in Rosario, Argentina. He now runs a skate shop in Provo, UT. He's married and has 4 boys. He is currently inbetween callings ;).

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  1. Brent /

    Nice job Doooood!

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  2. Camille /

    Nicely done. I’m saving this for the future conversation I will have to have with my wonderful brown child.

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    • Here is a book written by a good friend of mine, Darron Smith:

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    • I think those of our generation have less of a problem saying that the church screwed up. We see over and over again in the Book of Mormon that the Christian church would apostatize and that one of the prophets had to call the church to repentence; think of Alma preaching to the church in Zarahemla and Alma and Amulek preaching to the church in Amonihah. I believe that the LDS church had apostatized regarding their treatment of those of African descent. President Kimball called the church to repentence.

      We usually forget Camille that it was not just a priesthood ban. It was also a temple ban. A black man, nor a black women could recieve their initiatories, endowments, temple sealings. The church needed to repent and it was a little Yoda-looking prophet that called us to repentence. Unlike some, I do not put the whole blame on the leaders of the church, for we all make up the body of Christ. The members up to that time, in my summation, were also to blame.

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      • Camille /

        Agreed Mike – There should have been a lot more people standing up and saying – Wait a minute! The 2nd Article of Faith exists for a reason!

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      • Camille /

        I’ve been thinking about this on and off all day. The idea that I couldn’t be (as I am now – one is half AA and the other is 1/4) sealed to either one of of my children has me in a jumble of emotions today. Frustration, Anger, Confusion to how that’s possible for anyone to even think… I feel a little like yelling at someone.

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        • When I approach any teaching, doctrine, policy,etc of the church I ask, does this point to “the good”? Does this increase goodness, decrease pain, and still maintain our uniqueness as Mormons? If the answer is yes, then I embrace it. If it does not, I reject it.

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      • I would like to point out that a lot of members of the church at that time WERE standing up and saying it was wrong. Although I was too young to remember it, my parents told me of personal, family, and even ward fasts and prayers they had to give the black people the priesthood.

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        • This is my personal belief, but I have always felt that the ban was a reflection on the white members of the church more than it was of the black members.
          I think that it was the responsibility of the white members to plead for the equal treatment, to feel empathy and want the equality in our church, and perhaps it was a lesson that we needed to learn.
          “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me”
          Matt. 25:35–45
          We needed to really feel this scripture.
          (And by “least of these” I don’t mean I’m better than someone, but simply that they were looked down on and had less opportunity and privileges)

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  3. Cody Calderwood /

    Bravo Paul!

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  4. m. rees /

    Regarding the observation, “This makes it sound not so much like a revelation, but maybe just like an active step toward lifting the ban instigated by Spencer Kimball that garnered different results than previous attempts” I see it a bit differently. This, to me, sounds very much like revelation. In fact, it helps to clarify that prophets receive revelation in very much the same way each of us do… we have to work for it. We contemplate, meditate, reason it out in our minds (sometimes for months or longer), and we pray about it… over and over again if needed. This is a great example to show how revelation doesn’t necessarily through divine visions (although it can), but is more what we would consider ordinary- something we can do in and for our own lives.

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    • And maybe that was the difference between McKay and Kimball. It sounded like Kimball really studied it out, but at the same time I think McKay really wrestled with it. We indeed have to work for it. I’ll have to dive back in my studies – I believe there are some quotes out there from authorities that don’t call it a revelation. I’ll get back to you on this. But simply put, yes we have to work for it!

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      • James Harvey /

        “In early June of this year, the First Presidency announced that a revelation had been received by President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church. President Kimball has asked that I advise the conference that after he had received this revelation, which came to him after extended meditation and prayer in the sacred rooms of the holy temple…” OD-2

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        • Mike, Jame, and Paul,

          A few thoughts. Mike, I completely agree with your assesment of revelation. It only comes first with thinking and wrestling with an issue and with God, that He will then give us revelation. That is why I love Kylan Rice’s post so much.

          There is something to be learned through that wrestle. The question though, that I have had for years is this: If there was no revelation given, that started the ban, why was a revelation needed to end the band? My conclusion is that the policy was so imbeded into the mind of the Mormon millieu, that the policy could only change by revelation; and look how quickly it did change things.

          Without going into too much detail, there was some political manuvering done by President Kimbal to get the policy reversed. He waited until some of the more racist apostles were out of town when the vote was made to reverse the ban. When they came back into town he told them how the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had voted and asked if they were on board with it. Tough little guy, wasn’t he?

          James, this is actually in response to your other post. It is true that we are blessed according to our agency in the pre-existence; we obtained mortal bodies and some (according to the Book of Alma) received priesthood. But is the counter-facutal true? Some were cursed according to their misuse of agency? Yes! They didn’t receive bodies. It is hugely problematic and just irrational to take it beyond that. I don’t believe the counterfactual to Alma (priesthood = valiecy in the pre-existence) is true anymore than me not being a bishop is a sign that I am cursed for something I have done in this life.

          If you take the doctrine of agency beyond that, you get into the theological thickets that you mentioned: Being born in China = being cursed. Being born in a third-world country = being cursed. Not being born in the USA = being cursed. Not being born in Utah = being cursed. It just goes on and on and on and on….. In fact some evangelical appologist will say that those who never had the opportunity to receive the gospel, God knows (because of his omniscience) would not have done so anyways and so they are born in a time and place where the gospel is not preached. Ouch!

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          • “He waited until some of the more racist apostles were out of town when the vote was made to reverse the ban. When they came back into town he told them how the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had voted and asked if they were on board with it.” (I’m sure it was Peterson) I should have included this in the blog… and I should do a re-edit for future readers.

            This line sounds more like politics than revelation to me. I guess one could debate that this is the human system that we have. Yes they did pray and they did meditate. I didn’t get the sense that there was an answer. After their prayer, they came back with the document and all agreed to it.

            If we compare Peter’s experience to teach everyone including the Gentiles, this just has a very different feel to it.

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  5. Leah Marie /

    This a GREAT piece.

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  6. James Harvey /

    Very interesting things you bring up. I especially thought the idea from President McKay that it was a policy and not a doctrine was interesting. This is one that I have never truly understood – the idea that someone could not have the priesthood because of there geneology. In the times that I have been pressed on this issue by nonmembers I really don’t have a good answer because I don’t feel that I understand this issue well. Suffice it to so say that I am glad that Official Declaration – 2 came to be. I know that we have a loving Heavenly Father and that he wants to give all blessings to ALL of his children.
    The idea of being placed on this earth according to our obedience in the premortal realm is an interesting one. This is probably a topic for another day, but we did have agency in this realm and are we not blessed according to our use of this agency (D&C 130:20-21). Now I am not saying that anyone that is born into hard circumstances in this life were not as “faithful” in the premortal life, but could there be something to this idea of blessings for proper use of agency?

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    • As far as the agency goes, I like Mike’s answer. This almost goes along the lines of Job. In the story of Job, you can see his friends just ditch out on him because they think he did something wrong and God was punishing him. And as readers we think his friends were a bunch of jerks!

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  7. Rebecca /

    Thanks for your time and thoughts on the matter. Couldn’t agree more.

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  8. Sariah /

    Check out the biography of Kimball’s later life written by his own descendants. I don’t have it in front of me right now, but it was very clear that he did not wait for the more racist apostles to be out of town. He worked on the issue and with each of the apostles individually until they could all agree and vote unanimously in favor of the change. As mentioned in LeGrand Richard’s account, all but one were present and the other was available via phone.
    I’ve heard a number of people comment on the timing, that it came out of the blue, years after much of the pressure on the Church to change had been brought to bear. Individual hearts had to be softened; every one of the Apostles had to be in agreement. And it was brought into play and made public only when that was the case.

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    • Sariah – thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I think Mark E. Peterson was the only one that was out of town, as far as I can tell. He was quoted above… very racist. That quote and the rest of the speech is just as bad. We don’t know how the phone call went down, but I’m going to assume that it went something like this… everyone has voted to give the blacks the priesthood, we have all prayed about it and feel like it’s the best thing to do, would you support this movement?

      The timing wasn’t on the world’s time clock for sure. If that was the case it would have been lifted in the 60s. I think the Sao Paulo temple was the major factor in bringing the issue to be a top priority with the brethren. And at the time, Spencer W. Kimball was well prepared to lead the way to stop the ban.

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    • Sariah,

      In 2009, Benchmark Books obtained the copy-right from Deseret Book to re-publish Edward Kimball’s biography of his father President Spencer Kimball. The re-printing is different. It is entitled “Lengthen Your Stride, The Presidency of Spencer Kimball: Working Draft.” In the re-print, what we get is the full-length unabridged original manuscript of the book; it is twice as long as the trade edition. The printing was limited to only 400 copies. After two years of being on a waiting list for a used copy, a phone call came to our home that one was found. My wife bought it for me for my birthday. The following are excerpts from “The Working Draft” that are not found in the trade-edition:

      “The meeting lasted the usual three and a half hours and was not notably different from other such meetings until the conclusion, when President Kimball asked the Twelve to remain…Elder Mark E. Petersen was in South America on assignment. Ten of the Twelve were present. As was later recalled, President Kimball said,

      ‘Brethren, I have canceled lunch for today…..I have been going to the temple almost daily for many weeks now, sometimes for hours, entreating the Lord for a clear answer [regarding blacks and priesthood]….I will be satisfied with a simple Yes or No, but I want to know. Whatever the Lord’s decision is, I will defend it to the limits of my strength, even to the death.’

      President Kimball asked, ‘Do you mind if I lead you in prayer?’ During the prayer, those present felt something powerful, unifying, ineffable. Those who tried to describe it struggled to find words”(Working Draft, pg 350; about chapter 22, pg 8 if it had been included in the trade edition)_

      Edward Kimball continues:

      “Two of the Twelve had not attended either meeting [the previous June 7 & 8, 1978 meetings when the proposed announcement was being discussed]. Mark E. Peterson was on assignment in South America, and Delbert L. Stapley was seriously ill in the LDS Hospital. Later in the day of June 8, Spencer telephoned Elder Petersen in Quinto, Ecuador, informed him what had happened, had Francis Gibbons read him the announcement about to be published, and received his approval….All three of the First Presidency visited Elder Stapley. He responded, ‘I’ll stay with the Brethren on this.’ Thus, support from the Twelve was unanimous. (Working Draft, pg. 356, 357. Would have been about chapter 23, pg. 3 if it had been included in the trade edition)

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  9. RyMo /

    Great write-up! Enjoyed it!

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  10. Tamera /

    This was a great post! Thanks for your reseach and well thought out comments. Toward the end of the post you state, “We should avoid repeating the mistake by making sure we are not discriminating against any group based on our traditions or policies.” I’m curious how you would or would not extend this idea to the subject of women in the church. Thanks for any thoughts you have the topic…or maybe it’s an idea for another blog post? :)

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  11. Garrett /

    I have a very hard time viewing this as revelation. Here’s an example why. In “rough stone rolling” bushman writes the following about Martin Harris and the need for him to sell his property so the “book of Mormon can continue to be published. “I want a commandment, Harris said, meaning a revelation. Why…fulfill what you have got, Joseph said, implying Harris had received ample instructions about his role already. I must have a commandment, Harris insisted three or four times. The next morning, after a night at the smiths’, Harris repeated his demand. According to Joseph knight, Joseph received a revelation on Harris’s behalf in which he was told he must not covet his own property but to impart it freely to the printing of the book of Mormon, which contains the truth and the word of god. Pay the printers debt. Release thyself from bondage.” so Joseph has an important issue at hand…need money or book of Mormon printing will stop. He prays and gets the revelation immediately. I understand not all revelation, if it is in fact revelation that Joseph received, is received that quickly. However, you could argue that the issue of blacks and the priesthood/temple was equally as urgent. A group of people was being denied outright the blessings of the temple and the priesthood because of racism that existed and accepted among the leaders and members of the church. Why is it then that it took days, weeks, months, even years to have this “revelation,” and all the while the blacks were being denied those blessings? It is hard for me to see how a loving god can be so quick to give a revelation in one instance and so terribly slow in another instance of at least equal importance where people are being racially denied the blessings of the utmost importance.

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    • Doesn’t this speak less to God and more of man’s ability and openness to receive new revelation? I am willing to bet that if you were to ask, by show of hands, how many people in your ward believed in modern revelation, everyone would raise their hands. If you then asked, who believes in change in the church, less hands would go up.

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      • Garrett /

        Michael, I think when appying it to the members of the church I think I agree with your statement. However, when appying your statement to the leaders of the church at the time it seems like the prophet was actively seeking an answer and it was taking forever. Maybe he was going with the wrong questions…who knows. it seems like the prophet already felt the ban was wrong…maybe he was going and trying to get the lord to confirm that and tell him what to do…or maybe he didnt go with a solution to the lord and the lord was waiting for him to come with a solution…i dont know. Maybe it is the message that we are given as well when we read the scriptures and see the writings of many prophets how it seems like the lord is readily available to give revelation when the prophets go and ask. I dont have an answer…

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        • I agree with your assessment Garrett. You would hope and expect that the general leaders of our church would have a clearer way to ask for and receive guidance. In my readings, I have found that McKay did seek an answer. Why did he say [paraphrasing] “I have asked [about the priesthood ban] and the answer is no.” What did he mean by that? Did he mean that not all 15 men of the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 were not on board with a change? I don’t know. In Kimball’s un-edited biography you get the sense that it was something he really struggled with and studied out. Why was it so difficult to come away with an answer? Like you, I don’t know. Was it all the prior cultural and religious bios that he as well as the other 14 men had to overcome? Perhaps, but like you I don’t have a good answer. In my reading of Kimball’s biography, I have come to a different conclusion than my brother. I do think it was revelation. In the journal entries, personal interviews and letters of the men that were there, we learn that visions were seen and other very Pentacostal-like manifestations experienced. Your struggle for clear answers is the same struggle I have been wrestling with for many years now. You are not alone.

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  12. Kiri Brough /

    I really enjoyed this post A LOT!!! I served my mission for the Church in Detroit, a while ago and I wish I would have had this kind of knowledge and understanding of when I was teaching. I was taught a basic outline of how the church came about giving the priesthood to blacks, was even given a book (I wish I could remember the book title) that explained that outline but didn’t go into much depth and focused a lot on timing and it being the Lords time (from what I can remember).

    This quote stood out to me “There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in the church that the Negroes are under a divine curse…We believe…that we have scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the Negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice will some day be changed. And that’s all there is to it.’” (pg 79; Sterling McMurrin, affidavit, March 6, 1979). I have personally always believed it wasn’t a curse but wasn’t sure what or how to explain it. It was brought up frequently in my mission that Mormons believed about “the curse of the black man”.

    This article made me think of my children, my grandchildren, there children, and how I want them to have an understanding of this (along with other matters of the church) and its history. I believe I would of been a more effective and confident missionary, in sharing this part of the church, if I would have been prepared more in my understanding of what happened.(shame on me for not studying it out better). I learned a lot from this post most import thing I learned is that even though I am not asked about this everyday I still have a responsibility to seek out answers to my own questions about this so that when I am asked by someone, even my own children, I will have an understanding of how to answer this and if I don’t have an answer I will know good places to turn to find those answers.

    Great job Paul

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  13. I have really enjoyed reading this series and look forward to more.

    For me, the ability to choose to have faith that I don’t understand all of the church’s policies and that we are led by men just as human as I am is relatively easy but I completely understand that many are not able to reconcile the discrepancies and remain believers in the church, my husband included.

    Regarding the policy surrounding blacks and the priesthood, I am inclined to believe that much of the “wrestling” with the Lord done by McKay and Kimball had as much to do with praying for church leaders and members to be receptive to the change as it did with the actual revelation to change the policy.

    Thank you for your insights on revelation.

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    • Thank you for your comment!

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    • Alta,

      I know Paul spends hours preparing his posts and appreciates you taking the time to read it. He does an awesome job.

      Please come by again. We do a weekly Sunday School post the examines the upcoming Gospel Doctrine Lesson. This Sunday’s lesson is up. Swing by and leave a comment there too.


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  14. I am so glad to find this website. This article was very well written, thank you. I attend church in Atlanta, GA and while there are many established black members, some of our black investigators could benefit from reading this. It is hard being black in a white church, we need to support and love and bring more diversity to the fold!

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  15. Lori Burkman
    Lori Burkman /

    This is a killer post Paul! I hadnt seen it before. I’m so glad you wrote this. I bookmarked it for future reference. I will also buy you a pony as a reward for your hard work.

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  1. Revelation Bias… Fair and Balanced Part 4: Blacks and the Priesthood | Dr. Darron Smith - [...] in books (i.e. Mormon Doctrine written by Bruce R. McConkie). Included in these teachings…(read complete article here) Tweet (function(d, …

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