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Race and the Priesthood - Response to

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An essay on Race and the Priesthood was added on 12/8/13 in the topical guide of the website. The essay is mostly a historical recap of the Church's treatment of blacks regarding the priesthood and few things are really explained. It is found here: Race and the Priesthood

A MormonThink editor responds to the essay below.

UPDATE: On 5/5/15, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that a LDS Sunday Scool teacher was dismissed for using the church's own race essay in a lesson:

It all started with a question.

The Mormon youth simply asked his white Sunday school teacher why the man's Nigerian wife and her family would join a church that had barred blacks from being ordained to its all-male priesthood until 1978. Why, the student wanted to know, was the ban instituted in the first place?

To answer the teen's inquiry, Brian Dawson turned to the Utah-based faith's own materials, including its groundbreaking 2013 essay, "Race and the Priesthood." His research prompted an engaging discussion with his class of 12- to 14-year-olds.

But it didn't please his local lay leaders, who removed him from his teaching assignment — even though the essay has been approved by top Mormon leaders and appears on the church's official website

Read full article

Editor Comment: The LD Church was having a hard time responding to what it felt was a lot of misinformation about its doctrine and history. So they compiled a list of essays to answer those questions so members could have an official, LDS approved reference. This teacher appears to have been dismissed for using the essays for their exact stated purpose.


Significant facts presented

The essay states:

Despite this modern reality, for much of its history—from the mid-1800s until 1978—the Church did not ordain men of black African descent to its priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple endowment or sealing ordinances.

True, and not every member is aware of this. Many members believe the restrictions were just not allowing black men to hold the priesthood, they do not realize that it also pertained to not allowing black families to be sealed together as well, thus denying them exaltation in the highest degree of celestial glory.

The Church was established in 1830, during an era of great racial division in the United States. At the time, many people of African descent lived in slavery, and racial distinctions and prejudice were not just common but customary among white Americans.

True, racial divisions happened among the apostate churches as well. However, the church teaches that they are led by revelation through their prophets so that they do not have to be trapped in popular cultural norms.

Errors & misleading statements

1) Starting with the first paragraph, the essay states:

In theology and practice, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces the universal human family. Latter-day Saint scripture and teachings affirm that God loves all of His children and makes salvation available to all. God created the many diverse races and ethnicities and esteems them all equally. As the Book of Mormon puts it, "all are alike unto God."

The current prophets may believe this but obviously past prophets and apostles did not. For example (emphasis added):

You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, un- comely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 7:290-291, October 9, 1859)

Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fullness of the blessings of the Gospel.

Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, pages 101-102


Link to more Quotes from LDS Church leaders


The Book of Mormon also has many statements that contradict the simple "all are alike unto God". For example:

...that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

2 Nephi 5:21


Link to more LDS scriptures about race

2) Second paragraph excerpts:

The structure and organization of the Church encourage racial integration.

By definition, this means that the racial, economic, and demographic composition of Mormon congregations generally mirrors that of the wider local community.

Such practices make The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a thoroughly integrated faith.

That may be true at the local levels, but this doesn't seem to translate to the top Church leadership which sets the global policy for the LDS Church. Here's a 2013 photo of the highest -ranking members of the Church. Note the lack of ethnic diversity.

2013 lds leadership

3) Fourth paragraph states:

Toward the end of his life, Church founder Joseph Smith openly opposed slavery.

The key phrase is 'toward the end of his life'. Prior to this, Joseph was not opposed to slavery.

The position of Joseph Smith during his participation in the U.S. presidential election of 1844 was a political statement and cannot be seen as representative of his religious attitude toward slavery (emphasis added).

We believe it just to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, and warn the righteous to save themselves from the corruption of the world; but we do not believe it right to interfere with bond-servants, neither preach the gospel to, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters, nor to meddle with or influence them in the least to cause them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life, thereby jeopardizing the lives of men; such interference we believe to be unlawful and unjust, and dangerous to the peace of every government allowing human beings to be held in servitude.

D&C 134:12

Timing and historical background of this statement makes it clear that the position of Joseph Smith was primarily motivated by political necessity. In 1835, there were a lot of Mormons in Missouri, where slavery was permitted, so Joseph Smith supported slavery. In 1844, the year of his death, most Mormons lived in the northern state of Illinois and he was against slavery.

Brigham Young's position on slavery is well-documented.


4) Fourth paragraph states:

There has never been a Churchwide policy of segregated congregations.

It is probably technically true that there has never been a Churchwide policy of segregated congregations, but there certainly was tacit approval of racial segregation from the days of Joseph Smith until relatively recently.

Link to 17 examples of Segregation in the LDS Church


5) Fifth paragraph:

During the first two decades of the Church's existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. One of these men, Elijah Abel, also participated in temple ceremonies in Kirtland, Ohio, and was later baptized as proxy for deceased relatives in Nauvoo, Illinois. There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith's lifetime.


elijah abel

This is carefully-crafted language which gives the impression that Bro. Abel had full temple privileges in the Kirtland Temple. However, the Kirtland Temple was not a "temple" as we think of one today. For example, it was open to the public, like a stake center or other chapel is today. In fact, in Kirtland, there were no temple ceremonies other than an early version of the "washing and anointing" ordinance, which Elijah did participate in. But there was no endowment ceremony or sealing ceremony (they didn't even do baptisms for the dead in the temple—that would not begin until Nauvoo). Mentioning that Elijah performed baptisms for the dead in Nauvoo very likely refers to his doing so in a river (as all early baptisms for the dead were done), not in the Nauvoo Temple.

If only 2 or perhaps 3 black men received the priesthood in the early days of the Church, then it seems more likely these were either favors or mistakes. Undoubtedly there were more than 2 or 3 black men in the first 20 years of the Church who wanted the full privileges of the restored gospel by receiving the priesthood and being sealed to their families.

It is of interest to note that Elijah Abel was only one-eighth black and had a rather plain appearance. See photo reported to be of him. Some speculate that it wasn't readily apparent that he was black.

More information on Elijah Abel

Also, the article states There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith's lifetime. This seems to imply that Joseph didn't believe in the ban. However, that is contradicted by the December 15, 1969 First Presidency statement on race issued to General Authorities, Regional Representatives of the Twelve, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, and Bishops:

From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God but which He has not made fully known to man.

Note: This letter is also the first time that the church leaders publicly removed the scriptural explanation for the restrictions and claimed not to know the reason. Privately, church leaders such as as Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee, still held to the traditional explanation (Kimball 2008) .

6) Sixth paragraph excerpt:

In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood.

Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple.

If the prophets after Joseph Smith were responsible for the ban on blacks from receiving the priesthood and if indeed this was a false doctrine then how could any of those men possibly be prophets? For men of God to deny an entire race the benefit of the priesthood for 150 years is inexcusable. The Church would have been much better off to have been governed by a group of men that did not claim divine authority and therefore could have been responsive to the will of the members.

If Brigham Young instituted the priesthood ban on blacks without being directed to from God, then this is just too serious to ignore. And if all the prophets since Brigham Young until Spencer W. Kimball let it go unchallenged, then how can anyone say these men are truly prophets of God? It's ironic that all the other Christian churches, that do not claim to have prophets, allowed blacks the same rights as whites long before the prophet-led LDS church did. If the LDS prophets made this big of an error then why should they be believed on other matters?

7) Sixth paragraph excerpt:

Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.

What the Church neglected to say is that the LDS scriptures give the answer and it has been taught as doctrine for over a century. The Book of Abraham has been used as the scriptural source by the First Presidency since 1912. Here is one set of verses out of many LDS scriptures that discuss this (emphasis added):

21 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…

Abraham 1:21-24, 27

Further clarity of these scriptures from the Church:

The Book of Abraham is rich both in doctrine and in historical incidents. Of the latter the fact of the large influence (if not identity) of Egyptian religious ideas in Chaldea in the days of Abraham is established; the descent of the black race (Negro) from Cain, the first murderer; the preservation of that race through the flood by the wife of Ham--"Egyptus," which in the Chaldean signifies "Egypt," "which signifies that which is forbidden"--the descendants of "Egyptus" were cursed as pertaining to the priesthood--that is, they were barred from holding that divine power; the origin also of the Egyptians--these things, together with the account of Abraham migrating from Chaldea to Egypt, constitute the chief historical items that are contained in the book.

Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol.2, Ch.47, Pg.128


Link to more LDS scriptures on black skin as a curse

Additionally, the Church leaders were very clear why blacks were denied the priesthood:

That negro race, for instance, have been placed under restrictions because of their attitude in the world of spirits, few will doubt. It cannot be looked upon as just that they should be deprived of the power of the Priesthood without it being a punishment for some act, or acts, performed before they were born.

Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th President of the Church,The Way to Perfection, page 43.


8) Eighth paragraph:

In 1850, the U.S. Congress created Utah Territory, and the U.S. president appointed Brigham Young to the position of territorial governor. Southerners who had converted to the Church and migrated to Utah with their slaves raised the question of slavery's legal status in the territory. In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would "have [all] the privilege and more" enjoyed by other members.

Here is a link to Brigham Young' s speech in Feb. 1852 quoted in the essay. They neglect to include the many racist quotes as well as quotes that indicate that there is no promise that the restrictions would be lifted in the foreseeable future. Brigham said (emphasis added):

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 Abel 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.

Also, this statement of Brigham Young's from the same Deseret News article:

...yet, the Canaanites may believe the Gospel, repent, and be baptized, and receive the Spirit of the Lord, and if he continues until Abel's race is satisfied with his blessings, then may the race of Cain receive a fullness of the Priesthood, and become satisfied with its blessings, and the two of them became as one again, when Cain has paid the uttermost farthing. (Deseret News, April 3, 1852)

Compare that with the church's quote from the same article:

At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would "have [all] the privilege and more" enjoyed by other members.

The church quotes four words from the article (my emphasis). The more complete statement shows that the church's quote is a gross misrepresentation of Young's intent that blacks will only "have the privilege and more" AFTER "Abel's race is satisfied" and after they have paid "the uttermost farthing."

9) Ninth paragraph excerpt:

The justifications for this restriction echoed the widespread ideas about racial inferiority that had been used to argue for the legalization of black "servitude" in the Territory of Utah. According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel. Those who accepted this view believed that God's "curse" on Cain was the mark of a dark skin. Black servitude was sometimes viewed as a second curse placed upon Noah's grandson Canaan as a result of Ham's indiscretion toward his father.

The footnotes to the external sources are cited as the origin of these views. But why did the Church not include the many Mormon scriptures that support these same views? There are at least 10 separate sets of passages in scriptures unique to the LDS faith that discuss the black skin as a curse and several that link the curse to Cain. For example (emphasis added):

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.'

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."

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.

Link to LDS scriptures on black skin as a curse

It is disingenuous to blame the Bible and views that non-LDS Americans had when the LDS scriptures are much more clear that the curse of Cain was a dark skin. The Bible merely refers to the curse as 'a mark' which can be interpreted as meaning many things, whereas the Book of Mormon specifically refers to the curse as a 'skin of blackness'.

10) Ninth paragraph excerpt:

Although slavery was not a significant factor in Utah's economy and was soon abolished, the restriction on priesthood ordinations remained.

The article doesn't state that it was congress that ended slavery in Utah (as well as in the other territories) and not the Utah government under Brigham Young. Slavery ended in 1862 which was some 16 years after Brigham Young moved to Utah. That indicates that ending slavery in Utah was not a big concern of the Church. Indeed, the attitude of the Church leaders in Utah in the 1850s was to keep slavery as it was.

Brigham Young on Slavery Interviewed by Horace Greeley for NY Tribune article Aug 20, 1859:

H. G.-What is the position of your church with respect to slavery?

B. Y.-We consider it of divine institution, and not to be abolished until the curse pronounced on Ham shall have been removed from his descendants.

H. G.-Are any slaves now held in this territory?

B. Y.-There are.

H. G.-Do your territorial laws uphold slavery?

B. Y.-Those laws are printed-you can read for yourself. If slaves are brought here by those who owned them in the states, we do not favor their escape from the service of those owners.

Link to the Church's view on slavery in Utah

11) Tenth paragraph excerpt:

Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances.

Jane Manning James

The article doesn't give the rest of the Jane Manning James story. Omitted is how Jane pled with the Church to allow her to be sealed to her family. She was a very good and faithful Latter-day Saint but her request was denied. Instead, the First Presidency sealed her to Joseph Smith as a servant for all eternity.

"When she died in 1908, Church president Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral." At her funeral, President Smith admitted that "Aunt Jane" (as she was known) had been relegated to eternal servanthood in the Mormon realms above, despite being a valiant, faithful Church member to the end. Wilford Woodruff, journal note for Oct 16, 1894.

Mathias F. Cowley reported:

In after years when President Joseph F. Smith preached the funeral sermon of this same faithful woman he declared that she would in the resurrection attain the longings of her soul and become a white and beautiful person.

Read the story of Jane Manning James

This LDS belief that even faithful blacks were destined to be just servants in the next life was also taught openly at least through the mid 1950s. LDS apostle Mark E. Petersen declared in 1954 in a sermon to BYU students that baptized LDS Blacks would receive only qualified acceptance into Mormonism's highest degree of glory (emphasis added):

"In spite of all he [the Black person] did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost."

"If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the Celestial Kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory."

Apostle Mark E. Peterson, "Race Problems – As They Affect the Church," Address given at the Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, delivered at BYU, August 27, 1954.

12) 10th paragraph excerpt:

The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.

It should be clarified that the people that put forth the explanation that blacks were less valiant in the preexistence were the top leaders of the Church such as from Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th president of the Church (emphasis added):

"There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less." (Doctrines of Salvation, p. 61)

President Brigham Young, answering a question put to him by Elder Lorenzo D. Young in a meeting held December 25 , 1869, in Salt Lake City, said that Joseph Smith had declared that the Negroes were not neutral in heaven, for all the spirits took sides, but the posterity of Cain are black because he (Cain) committed murder." The Way to Perfection, pages 105-106.

"That negro race, for instance, have been placed under restrictions because of their attitude in the world of spirits, few will doubt. It cannot be looked upon as just that they should be deprived of the power of the Priesthood without it being a punishment for some act, or acts, performed before they were born." The Way to Perfection, page 43.


This belief may have been started by Orson Hyde, an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This is the earliest statement we are aware of that discusses this:

At the time the devil was cast out of heaven, there were .some spirits that did not know who had the authority, whether God or the devil. They consequently did not take a very active part on either side, but rather thought the devil had been abused, and considered he had rather the best claim to the government.

These spirits were not considered bad enough to be cast down to hell, and never have bodies ; neither were they considered worthy of an honourable body on this earth : but it came to pass that Ham, the son of Noah, saw the nakedness of his father while he lay drunk in his tent, and he with " wicked joy," ran like Rigdon, and made the wonderful disclosure to his brethren ; while Shem and Japheth took a garment, with pity and compassion, laid it upon their shoulders—went backwards and covered their father, and saw not his nakedness. The joy of the first was to expose—that of the second was to cover the unseemliness of their father. The conduct of the former brought the curse of slavery upon him, while that of the latter secured blessings, jurisdiction, power and dominion. Here was the beginning of blessing and cursing in the family of Noah, and here also is the cause of both. Canaan, the son of Ham, received the curse ; for Noah wished to place the curse as remote from himself as possible. He therefore placed it upon his grandson instead of his son.

Now, it would seem cruel to force pure celestial spirits into the world through the lineage of Canaan that had been cursed. This would be ill appropriate, putting the precious and vile together. But those spirits in heaven that rather lent an influence to the devil, thinking he had a little the best right to govern, but did not take a very active part any way were required to come into the world and take bodies in the accursed lineage of Canaan ; and hence the negro or African race. Now, therefore, all those who are halting concerning who has the right to govern had better look at the fate of their brethren that have gone before them, and take warning in time
lest they learn obedience by the things which they suffer. " Choose ye this day whom you will serve." These things are among the mysteries of the kingdom, and I have told them, not by constraint or by commandment, but by permission.


This was believed and taught by the more modern leaders as well:

"Negroes in this life are denied the Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. (Abra. 1:20-27.) The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them... negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow there from, 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." (Apostle Bruce R. McKonkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 527-528)

Link to more Quotes from LDS Church leaders

13) 11th paragraph:

By the late 1940s and 1950s, racial integration was becoming more common in American life. Church President David O. McKay emphasized that the restriction extended only to men of black African descent. The Church had always allowed Pacific Islanders to hold the priesthood, and President McKay clarified that black Fijians and Australian Aborigines could also be ordained to the priesthood and instituted missionary work among them. In South Africa, President McKay reversed a prior policy that required prospective priesthood holders to trace their lineage out of Africa.

The LDS Church has always been quite active in Oceania, because they believe that the inhabitants of these areas are descendants of the Nephites in the Book of Mormon (Ludlow 1992, pp. 1110-1112.). The Nephites in the Book of Mormon were considered "white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome" so therefore not subject to the restrictions.

14) 12th paragraph:

Nevertheless, given the long history of withholding the priesthood from men of black African descent, Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter the policy, and they made ongoing efforts to understand what should be done. After praying for guidance, President McKay did not feel impressed to lift the ban.

The policy? The article tries to suggest that the exclusion of blacks was not a doctrine of the church, but were merely policies that arose in the course of time. The First Presidency issued the following official statements (emphasis added):

1947 the First Presidency of the Church issued an Official Statement:

"From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel." (Statement of The First Presidency on the Negro Question, July 17 1947, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, pp.46-7)

In 1949, The First Presidency issued the following statement:

"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 First Presidency on the Negro Question, 17 Aug. 1949)

Official Statement of First Presidency issued on August 17, 1951, reads:

"The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.....

"Man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam's transgression. If this is carried further, it would imply that the Negro is punished or allotted to a certain position on this earth, not because of Cain's transgression, but came to earth through the loins of Cain because of his failure to achieve other stature in the spirit world."

Link to Doctrine or Policy

15) 13th & 14th paragraph excerpts:

...the priesthood and temple restrictions created significant barriers, a point made increasingly evident as the Church spread in international locations with diverse and mixed racial heritages.

Brazil in particular presented many challenges.

In 1975, the Church announced that a temple would be built in São Paulo, Brazil.

... they realized they would not be allowed to enter once it was completed.

In parallel with the developments in Brazil, the Church in the USA was also under heavy fire for the priesthood restrictions. Few people wanted to listen to the missionaries, there were demonstrations against the Church, the Boy Scouts were pressuring the Church as only priesthood holders could become scout leaders. Similarly, the educational institutions of the Church, including Brigham Young University, received bad press. Some of the sports teams BYU played against demonstrated against the ban by refusing to play or wore armbands. Stanford and San Jose State University both refused to play BYU in any sport because of what they called racism at BYU.

A particular complication was the possibility that the Church Educational Institutions could lose their tax-exempt status due to discrimination. This could cost the Church tens of millions of dollars. The Church has always denied that financial considerations have played a role. However, in 1976, the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University was withdrawn and revoked retroactively to 1970 because it did not allow blacks. Something similar could very well have happened to BYU if the courts felt the LDS Church practiced discrimination.

Also, most white Latter-day Saints did not like it either. It was embarrassing to talk about and almost impossible to explain to non-members, especially to their black friends.

16) 16th paragraph:

This "revelation on the priesthood," as it is commonly known in the Church, was a landmark revelation and a historic event. Those who were present at the time described it in reverent terms. Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, remembered it this way: "There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. . . . Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing. . . . Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same."

The above description is a simplified and romanticized version of the actual decision.

Does this sound like revelation?

Elder Le Grand Richards, from an interview by Wesley Walters and Chris Vlachos on August 16, 1978, Church Office Building, Salt Lake City:

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.

Reference: Link is here.

Link to more information on the revelation

17) 18th paragraph:

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects 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.

This is probably the most important and far-reaching point of the whole article. It implies that the current church leaders believe that the Mormon scriptures contain wrong "theories". It will be interesting to see how this will be reflected in the next edition of the standard works.

18) Final paragraph:

The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is "no respecter of persons" and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him. The teachings of the Church in relation to God's children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: "[The Lord] denieth none that cometh unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."

Again, the article cherry-picks favorable quotes from the Book of Mormon and ignores the many quotes that indicate God regards black skin as a curse.

Link to LDS scriptures on black skin as a curse


1) LDS scriptures that discuss the black race

As mentioned earlier, There are at least 10 separate sets of passages in scriptures unique to the LDS faith that discuss the black skin as a curse and several that link the curse to Cain.

Link to LDS scriptures about race

How can the Church respond to the priesthood ban and completely ignore the LDS scriptures that enforced this idea to begin with? The Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price make it clear that God cursed whole groups of people (e.g. Lamanites) with a black skin when they disobeyed God.

2) Black people turning white

Also something worthy of discussion is how the LDS scriptures teach that the cursed black people (Lamanites) turned white when they accepted God.

3 Nephi 2:15

"And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites."

And aside from the scriptures, even modern-day prophets taught this. Who can forget this gem from the prophet Spencer W. Kimball:

"The day of the Lamanites in nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome... The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation...There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. Spencer W. Kimball; The Improvement Era, Dec. 1960, p. 923)

3) Was it wrong?

The Church starting in 1969 began stating that it didn't know the reason for the ban. The question members, especially black members want answered is "Was the ban wrong?"

The Church has never said the ban was wrong. They also haven't in modern times said that it was necessarily divinely inspired either.

4) No mention of an apology

The Church leaders say that the 1978 announcement negated the necessity of an apology. It's interesting that the announcement doesn't even mention the word 'black' or 'negro'. It was worded in such a way as to downplay the fact that blacks were denied the priesthood.

Other religious institutions have apologized for their past racist behavior:

In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention officially denounced racism and apologized for its past defense of slavery.

In November 2008, the Bob Jones University declared itself "profoundly sorry" for having allowed "institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.

Why can't the LDS Church do the same? Many black members feel the need for an official apology as there are still white members of the Church that believe what the early prophets have taught as well as what the LDS scriptures support. Although some black church members may think giving an apology would be a "detriment" to church work and a catalyst to further racial misunderstanding.

There has neither been an official and explicit church repudiation of its policy nor an admission that it was a mistake. The LDS Church will only say that: "today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse,…Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form."

We agree that the Church will not likely apologize to blacks. If it did then it would be admitting that the Church made a serious mistake and their prophets are not really prophets. People would say if they were wrong about that, what else might they be wrong about?

5) Why don't the leaders know?

We've been taught that the most significant thing that separates the LDS Church from other churches is that we have a living prophet that communicates God's will via revelation. If we really believe that, then why can't our prophet humbly ask our Heavenly Father why the ban happened? It seems worthwhile as this issue, perhaps more than any other, has caused the most people to not be interested in joining the LDS Church.

We have a hard time believing that God was the author of the ban up until 1978. It's very convenient to blame it on God but we would think God would have told his earliest prophets of the restoration that all of his worthy sons should be eligible to receive the blessings of the priesthood. If the ban truly came from God, then our prophets should be able to tell us why. If the ban came about from the man-made philosophies of the prophets starting with Brigham Young, then these men cannot truly be as inspired as we think they are.

6) Why wait until 1978, after all the other churches changed?

If we believe that the concept of treating all men equally is true, then why would the true church be the very last significant church to change their policy to allow blacks to have the priesthood? Should not the one, true church be on the forefront of civil rights and not lag it? Why would the one, true church lag far behind the apostate churches. The Catholic Church never adopted the' blacks are cursed from Cain belief' and let blacks be ordained as priests in America in the 1800s.

If God was really the architect behind the ban, then why wouldn't he teach that 'all men are created equal' when he restored the true church in 1830? It seems inconceivable that if there really is a one, true church that they wouldn't condemn any form of racism right from its inception and not wait 150 years to follow the apostate churches.

7) Racist missionary practices before 1978

Another example of Mormon racism is the fact that before the 1978 change, LDS missionaries in the USA, especially in the southern states were instructed to not actively proselyte Negroes, and to stay out of black neighborhoods. If the missionaries accidentally knocked on a black person's door, they were instructed to tell the person to have a nice day, perhaps give them a spiritual thought about Jesus and to attend the church of their choice without mentioning a word about Mormonism. That is racism.

Note: To confirm these accounts, we posed the question to returned missionaries to either confirm or deny that this was the policy in their pre-1978 mission. The vast majority of those that responded did indeed say that the policy in their mission was not to give missionary discussions to black people. Typical responses were that they would give a simple message on Jesus and not come back, never to mention the word 'Mormon' and to avoid black neighborhoods. We archived the responses at : Missionary practices before 1978

Ending summary

The Church can change beliefs but it can't change canonized scripture. Despite the effort that went into the essay to attempt to explain the ban, the scriptures remain. One of the central themes of the Book of Mormon is that when people disobey God, they are cursed with a black skin and if they turn back towards God, their skin turns white again. Many passages in the BOM and Pearl of Great Price support this. This essay totally ignores these scriptural references. These LDS scriptures need addressed if the Church really wants to explain or justify the priesthood ban that lasted for almost a century and a half.

We are left with two choices - either the priesthood ban was God's idea or came from man. The Church won't plainly say if it was commanded of by God or instituted by man. This is fundamental in understanding and accepting what happened. If it was from God, then God must be some sort of racist. Few people are comfortable with that idea.

If it came from either Joseph Smith or from Brigham Young as implied by the article, then how could he really be a prophet speaking for God? And how could every prophet from Brigham Young until Spencer W. Kimball really be prophets if they never realized this or received any revelation to stop it during all that time?

We can be forgiving of mistakes, especially if acknowledged, corrected (and hopefully apologized for) but the priesthood ban is something that went on for over a hundred years and had a significant impact on many peoples' lives before being corrected. How do we square that with this statement by Wilford Woodruff:

"I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so he will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty." --Wilford Woodruff

The essay does not answer the question of racism in LDS scriptures, why the ban took place, whether God or the prophets was behind the ban and whether or not the ban was right or wrong. The essay is merely a historical recap of the Church's treatment of blacks regarding the priesthood. Nothing is really explained. "I don't know" is not acceptable. If we are to accept the LDS Church as God's one true church on the earth, and is indeed lead by prophets that communicate with our Father in Heaven, then we think we deserve more of an answer.

Please read the complete essay in MormonThink's section on Blacks and the Priesthood.


Additional Resource: An excellent annotated response to the essay from a collaborator that I exchange research with: - Race and the Priesthood