The Mormon Chronicle is not trying to argue for or against official Church policy. We are presenting contextual historical events in hopes to provide readers a greater ability to “study out in our minds”, which will, hopefully, in turn provide us with a greater spirit of discernment.
It has now been several years since a new page was put up at LDS.org that has caused quite a stir in a lot of circles. In the off chance you haven’t seen it yet; it is called “ Race and the Priesthood” and can be found by clicking on the title.
The prophets Ezra and Nehemiah both said that there was a lineage that was prohibited from holding the priesthood:
Ezra 2: 61
And of the children of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai; which took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite, and was called after their name:
62 These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but they were not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood.
Nehemiah 7: 63
And of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai, which took one of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite to wife, and was called after their name.
64 These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but it was not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood.
Which lineage then prevented men from holding the Priesthood in mortality?
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.
26 Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.
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;
Is it ok to mix with the seed (intermarry) of Cain?
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.
And speaking of the time when the Lord returns, the Prophet Zechariah said,
“and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts.” Zechariah 14:21
It seems the scriptures are clear that:
- There is a lineage prevented from having the priesthood
- The “ban” will be in place at the 2nd coming of the Lord
Another point of interest is the statement that “Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form”. (Emphasis added) “Condemn”? What does that mean? Condemn the statements? The individuals? What does that mean to “condemn all racism, past and present, in any form”? When is it alright to condemn Church leaders, past OR present? Is it only alright after their death? If they are alive, is condemning them “evil speaking”? For example, if I were to condemn President Monson (Church president at the time the essay was published) for this statement, would I be speaking evil of him?
To be clear, I am not fault finding, steadying the ark, or anything of the sort. As a believer, I think it’s important to make observations of facts and ask questions to better understand the word and will of the Lord.
The article has several inaccuracies, we’ll bring up just two here.
“There is no reliable (subjective word) evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.”
Depends on what you call “evidence”. First hand testimony of Apostles and later Prophets say that the ban began with Joseph Smith., including the First Presidency which said the ban came through revelation. The current church policy is that statements by the FP are official doctrine.
In an official First Presidency proclamation in Aug of 1949, they state,
“The attitude of the Church with reference to the 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.” (Emphasis added)
In a meeting with President Brigham Young as well as Apostle John Taylor and other leaders of the Church, the statement of Joseph Smith was testified to expressing that,
“the Spirit of the Lord saith the Negro has no right nor cannot hold the Priesthood.” Journal of L. John Nuttall 1:290-93
Was there a massive conspiracy among Church leaders to cover up for the supposed change in policy after the death of the Prophet Joseph? John Taylor and Brigham Young did not get along. Surely President Taylor, or someone else, would have tried to warn the Saints IF it was actually a change in policy and not actually based on revelation both ancient and modern.
Those that knew Joseph were consistent,
“President Young held to the doctrine that no man tainted with Negro blood was eligible to have the Priesthood; that President Taylor held to the same doctrine, claiming to have been taught it by the Prophet Joseph Smith.” George Q. Cannon, Council Minutes, 22 August 1900
In his own History, Joseph Smith explained that,
“Negroes are descendants of Cain” (19 June 1831, History of the
Church 1:75), and later spoke of “the Negroes or sons of Cain”, thus equating the black race and lineage of Cain together. (Joseph Smith Journal, 25 January 1842; History of the Church 4:501)
What about Elijah Able?
There is actually zero evidence Joseph Smith ordained Elijah to the priesthood. Elijah’s ordination certificate says someone other than Joseph ordained him, and the ordination was done prior to Joseph letting others know about the restriction.
Elijah testified to the fact that his ordination was before the members knew about the Lords instructions to Joseph Smith on the matter.
“The Prophet Joseph Smith was commanded by God to withdraw the Priesthood from Elijah Abel, and revoke the ordination. … Although there is no official Church record as to the revocation, Elijah Abel affirmed the fact to my father, Thomas A. Shreeve, when both were living in the Salt Lake 10th Ward, during 1872-77. At the time, Brother Abel told young Thomas, who baptised Abel’s grandchildren that the Prophet Joseph “came to him with tears in his eyes one day, and told him that he had been commanded by the Lord to withdraw the holy Priesthood from him.” Caleb A. Shreeve, Sr, Salt Lake Tribune, “Forum”, 26 October 1970
Other more contemporary witnesses testify of this event as well,
“Brother Coltrin further said Brother Abel was ordained a Seventy … and when the Prophet Joseph learned of his lineage he was dropped from the Quorum, and another was put in his place.” Meeting, 31 May 1879, as related by Willian E. Berrett, Mormonism and the Negro
“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”
The justification was modern revelation and modern scripture, not sectarian views of possibly mistranslated scripture.
The seriousness of the priesthood restrictions reveal it went far beyond that of cultural sensitivities. Brigham Young stated that,
“Whenever the seed of Judah mingled with the seed of Cain, they lost their Priesthood and all blessings. As an ensample – let the Presidency, Twelve, Seventies, High Priests, Bishops, and all the Authorities say, now we will all go and mingle with the seed of Cain and they may have all the privileges they want. We lift our hands to heaven in support of this – that moment we lose the Priesthood and all blessings, and we would not be redeemed until Cain was.” Brigham Young Addresses 2:81, 5 January 1852
It didn’t matter who said otherwise, even the president of the Church (according to Brigham Young) can’t change the laws of God without consequence.
All throughout the article, it tries to make the case that all of the changes happened within the culture of the times, as if Prophets of God are subject to the culture, and leaving open the logic, if applied equally, that the removal of the ban was simply because of the culture and its push to go against the scriptures and modern prophetic teachings, as if the world were ahead of Gods prophets. In addition to the inaccuracies, it presents many troubling questions and speaks evil of and condemns the Lords anointed. It’s logic also opens up the way for ordaining women and same-sex couples. According to an unnamed GA source of mine, this is exactly what is being prepared for as we speak.
What group of people do these inaccurate essays help and why make them 35 years after the matter was effectively settled as far as the Church is concerned?
If priesthood restrictions have ancient origins which continued through to the restoration via prophets called of God, what do we know of the events that lead to those restrictions being lifted in the late 1970s?
The prophet Joseph Smith taught,
“How, it may be asked, was this known to be a bad angel? By the color of his hair; that is one of the signs that he can be known by, and by his contradicting a former revelation.” Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book, page 214
At the General Conference in September 1978, President N. Eldon Tanner spoke of Official Declaration #2 saying,
“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, he presented it to his counselors, who accepted it and approved it. It was then presented to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who unanimously approved it, and was subsequently presented to all other General Authorities, who likewise approved it unanimously.”
Since that revelation has never been released to be read, we have to look at the statements of contemporary Church leaders to understand what type of revelation Official Declaration #2 is.
Revelations are NOT Impressions
Apostle Orson Pratt said that,
“whenever God has called and authorized men to perform a work in any age or dispensation, it has been done by revelations, and not by mere impressions, or some undefinable internal feelings, which leave the mind in uncertainty and doubt.” 1 Nov. 1850, Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, no. 2 [Liverpool: Printed by R. James], p. 17.
In an interview with Wesley P. Walters & Chris Vlachos with Elder LeGrand Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles we gain insight not well known about the events surrounding the release of the official declaration.
Wesley P. Walters: “On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: 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?”
LeGrand 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’s 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 the 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, you 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 together, and then we prayed about it in our prayer circle, and then we 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 Presidency. One member of the Twelve, Mark Petersen, 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 Petersen, and read him this article, and he (Petersen) approved of it. … And then after we all voted in favor of it, we called another meeting for the next morning, Friday morning, at seven o’clock, of all the other General Authorities—that includes the Seventies’ Quorum and the Patriarch and the Presiding Bishopric, and it was presented to them, and there were a few of the brethren that were out presiding then in the missions, and so the Twelve were appointed to interview each one of them.”
Wesley P. Walters: “Now when President Kimball read this little announcement or paper, was that the same thing that was released to the press?”
LeGrand Richards: “Yes.”
Wesley P. Walters: “There wasn’t a special document as a ‘revelation,’ that he had and wrote down?”
LeGrand Richards: “We discussed it in our meeting. What else should we say besides that announcement? And we decided that was sufficient; that no more needed to be said.”
The official Church News interviewed then President Spencer W. Kimball about the events surrounding the release of the official declaration. President Kimball stated that in a “meeting [with] the Council of the Twelve in the temple” where “this revelation and assurance” was received, he had “offered the final prayer,” in which he “told the Lord if it wasn’t right, if he didn’t want this change to come in the Church that I would be true to it all the rest of my life, and I’d fight the world against it if that’s what He wanted.” “‘News’ interviews prophet,” (Church News, vol. 49, no. 1 [Salt Lake City, Utah: Published by The Deseret News, 6 Jan. 1979], p. 4)
Rumors were being spread among CES instructors that the Lord or Joseph Smith appeared or spoke out loud the change in direction. Elder Bruce R. McConkie Corrected them,
“The Lord could have sent messengers from the other side to deliver it, but he did not. He gave the revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost. Latter-day Saints have a complex: many of them desire to magnify and build upon what has occurred, and they delight to think of miraculous things. And maybe some of them would like to believe that the Lord himself was there, or that the Prophet Joseph Smith came to deliver the revelation, which was one of the possibilities. Well, these things did not happen. The stories that go around to the contrary are not factual or realistic or true, and you as teachers in the Church Educational System will be in a position to explain and to tell your students that this thing came by the power of the Holy Ghost.” “The New Revelation on Priesthood,” Priesthood [Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1981], p. 135.
President Hinckley was interviewed by PBS in January 2007 for a documentary entitled The Mormons in which he also clarified rumors surrounding the 1978 declaration,
Interviewer: “We’ve spoken to a lot of people about the significance of that 1978 revelation [ending the ban on people with African blood becoming priests]. Blacks and whites and Mormons describe it as one of the most extraordinary moments in the church’s history in the 20th century. I haven’t spoken to anybody who was there, but I have read what you’ve said and written about that moment. Can you talk about it?”
Gordon B. Hinckley: “It was a landmark occasion. We were in the temple. We gathered in prayer, and President [Spencer] Kimball led [us] in prayer, and he talked about it. It had been on his mind for a good while. And as he prayed, he talked with the Lord about it, and there just settled over us a feeling that this is the right thing; the time has come; now is the opportunity. And on the basis of that we proceeded.”
Interviewer: “In some of your speeches and writings on the subject, you also used language that I would love to know more about. You felt that a conduit to God had opened up and almost a Pentecostal spirit [was there] in the room.”
Gordon B. Hinckley: “No, it wasn’t like any other moment. There was something of a Pentecostal spirit. But on the other hand it was peaceful, quiet, not a cataclysmic thing in any sense. There was just a feeling that came over all of us, and we knew that it was the right thing at the right time and that we should proceed. And this made all the difference in the world. We’ve grown strong in Africa and in Brazil and in other places. There is no race bias among us. It’s been well received all over the church, and I’m satisfied in my own mind, as one who was there, that the right thing happened at the right time in the right way.”
Outside observers and investigators John Heinerman and Anson Shupe claim church leaders hired a consulting firm, rather than just consulting with the Lord,
“Defenders of the Church argue that there was little external pressure on President Kimball for such a ‘revelation.’ The activist phase of the civil rights movement, for example, had largely subsided by the late 1970s. The defenders’ view holds that the ‘revelation’ cannot be explained away by circumstantial evidence or the conjecture of adverse public opinion. No specific ‘smoking guns’ can be produced to link outside influences to the Prophet Kimball’s announcement; hence it is assumed to have come literally through revelation from God Almighty.
“In fact, evidence exists that the Church made its much-publicized decision to admit blacks to the Mormon priesthood after a deliberate, rational consideration of public opinion, future Church membership growth, and similar factors. In 1971 the First Presidency acquired the services of one of America’s largest general management and consulting firms, Cresup, McCormick & Paget (CMP) in New York City. This firm had built a solid reputation in managing such corporate strategies as mergers and acquisitions for well-known clients like Ford and General Motors. On the advice of Mormon corporate advisers, such as J. Willard Marriott and David Kennedy, LDS President Harold B. Lee requested that CMP study how the Church’s communications organization could commit resources more efficiently to improve internal communications as well as public relations. No mention was made in the CMP report of the Church’s racial policy, but Church leaders seemed interested in applying modern management perspectives to their own goals and problems.
“In 1974 and 1975 the First Presidency under new President Spencer W. Kimball authorized three more studies by CMP. One study produced a report for the Church’s Health Services Corporation on how to streamline its operations and make the organization more cost-efficient and resulted in the Church’s divesting itself entirely of its unprofitable hospital system. Two other studies were done for the LDS Social Services Department and Welfare Department and for the Presiding Bishopric’s Office.
“In 1975 one final CMP study was carried out for the LDS Church. This effort produced the consulting firm’s longest report, dealing with the role and organization of the Presiding Bishopric itself, Church policy positions and administrative procedures, and other internal matters. Most important, among the recommendations made by the consulting firm were ‘a careful review’ of certain potentially embarrassing ‘doctrinal policies’ such as the Negro issue and ‘a serious reconsideration’ of such policies in light of past public relations problems that they had caused. The report strongly urged that Church leaders reassess the race issue and its ‘relevancy’ for the future. The problem posed by building a new temple in São Paulo, with a population largely of mixed blood, was specifically mentioned in this report. Two additional consultants hired for the same purpose voiced similar concerns about the wisdom of continuing a restriction of the Mormon priesthood to whites.
“Many organizational changes touching the average LDS member were made as a result of these reports, but from the standpoint of public relations, none was as important as the change resulting from the consultants’ unanimous recommendations about LDS racial policy. Three years later, on June 9, 1978, Church authorities announced the ‘revelation’ rescinding the traditional ban on a black priesthood. The ‘revelation’ had been preceded by a great deal of prayer, meditation, and meetings among President Kimball and the members of the Council of the Twelve. Whether one wants to credit its inspiration to any divine agency is ultimately unimportant. (Church leaders themselves admitted that the racial issue had been on their minds for a long time.) What is important is that not long before the Church president and prophet’s decision (conscious or subconscious) to announce a new racial policy based on divine ‘revelation,’ several professional consulting firms in which the Church had previously demonstrated confidence suggested to Church leaders that they reconsider the status of blacks in the Mormon Church as part of a major overhaul of Church policy. The fact that such firms were retained in the first place is in no way inconsistent with the Church’s past concern either for its public image or for its long-range theological goals. No other religious group in American society has conducted such a sustained campaign to gain public respectability, nor has such respectability been so integral a part of any other group’s sense of its own destiny.
“The change of heart over admitting blacks to the Mormon priesthood had precisely the public relations effect that the consultants expected.” (The Mormon Corporate Empire [Boston: Beacon Press, ©1985], pp. 70–71.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie told family members that, “this revelation is something in the same category as the revelation which caused Wilford Woodruff to issue the Manifesto” (Doctrines of the Restoration, edited and arranged by Mark L. McConkie [Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, ©1989], p. 171).
What was that “category”? Following the Manifesto, conference addresses like the following sought to explain the course change,
“At the Sixty-first Semi-Annual Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Oct. 6, 1890, immediately following the adoption by the General Assembly of the Manifesto issued by President Wilford Woodruff in relation to plural marriage,” President George Q. Cannon, First Counselor in the First Presidency, made the following remarks: “On the 19th of January, 1841, the Lord gave His servant Joseph Smith a revelation, the 49th paragraph of which I will read: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men, to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might, and with all they have, to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them, and hinder them from performing that work; behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings.’ [D&C 124:49.] The Lord says other things connected with this, which I do not think it necessary to read, but the whole revelation is profitable, and can be read by those who desire to do so. It is on this basis that President Woodruff has felt himself justified in issuing this manifesto.” (“Remarks,” The Deseret Weekly, vol. 41, no. 17, p. 550)
We learn in Boyd K. Packer’s biography that this same reasoning, as stated by Elder McConkie, was behind Official Declaration #2:
“one day, during the Thursday temple meeting with his Counselors and the Twelve, President Kimball, who was pondering that matter [giving blacks the Priesthood], discussed it with his brethren. When it was Elder Packer’s turn to speak, he read a scripture: ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings” (D&C 124:49). A few days later President Kimball asked Brother Packer where he would be the next Saturday. Elder Packer told him he would be speaking Friday evening at the Dixie College baccalaureate but would return by plane early on Saturday. ‘Will you come to my office?’ the President asked. ‘Of course,’ Elder Packer responded. Upon his return about one o’clock on Saturday, Brother Packer went directly to the Church Office Building. The security officer on duty said that the President was at home and wished Elder Packer to call as soon as he came into the building. Reaching President Kimball by phone, Elder Packer offered, ‘I’ll come right up.’ ‘No, I’ll come down and meet you.’ Arriving shortly after this, the President entered his office. Elder Packer recalls his saying that he had ‘this thing’ on his mind and wanted to talk about it. ‘There was no need to explain what this thing was,’ Elder Packer recalled. ‘We both knew how it was weighing upon him. He handed me his scriptures and said he’d like me to read to him from the revelations. So we started with the one from Doctrine and Covenants 124:49 that I had read in the temple. For a couple of hours we just moved back and forth through the Doctrine and Covenants, the Book of Mormon, and the Pearl of Great Price, and then talked about what we read. The spirit of revelation seemed to be brooding upon the prophet that day. He asked me, assuming that the revelation was to come, how it might best be announced to the Church, and asked that I put something in writing. This I did and handed it to him a day or two later. He had asked one or two of the others to do the same.’ On Thursday, 8 June 1978, in the Salt Lake Temple, the revelation was reaffirmed when the First Presidency and the Twelve approved the announcement that was to go out to the world. It was further reaffirmed in the temple on 9 June 1978 by all of the General Authorities available. They too unanimously approved the announcement.” (Lucile C. Tate, Boyd K. Packer: A Watchman on the Tower, pp. 225–26)
What societal events were happening at this time that were similar to those going on during the Manifesto?
In a Washington Post article by Jason Horowitz, entitled, “The Genesis of a church’s stand on race”, Horowitz interviews Darius Gray about the changes in the priesthood restrictions. Who is Darius Gray? Horowitz calls Gray “the black Mormon pioneer”, Gray calls himself a lobbyist of the Church on race issues. In the article Gray says the restrictions were a product “of the racial attitudes of this nation.” And that though the change had to come from Church leadership, “We could advocate for it, lobby.”
It maybe helpful to remember this statement by Joseph Smith,
“And the people who interfere the least with the purposes of God in this matter, will come under the least condemnation before Him; and those that are determined to pursue a course, which shows an opposition, and a feverish restlessness against the decrees of the Lord, will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good.” Joseph Smith, Messenger & Advocate 2:290; History of the Church 2:438.
The above Washington Post articles goes on to report, “Gray and two other black Mormons in Salt Lake expressed their frustrations to the Church hierarchy… In acknowledgement of their travails (lobbying), the church established the Genesis Group…”
Next the Post article goes into what was going on behind the scenes to facilitate the Church’s stance on the priesthood restrictions, “A debate raged in Mormon intellectual circles between those who accepted the ban as doctrine and those considered it a temporal policy….In 1973, Lester E. Bush, an amateur Mormon historian, made a strong case that no church president had ever received a revelation instituting the band and thus no revelation was required to lift it. The next year, in the face of a potential NAACP lawsuit, the hierarchy quietly reversed another policy against performing baptisms for the dead and allowed other sacred rites ‘for people who had any Negro blood in their veins.’”
Evidence clearly suggests that there was pressure in and out of the Church to get the leaders to protect the Church against many of the issues faced during the late 19th century.
Comparing and contrasting these facts along with the “Gospel Topic Essay’s”, will hopefully help us to better fulfill the command given of the Lord in D&C 9, “that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right…”, for how can we “study it out” if we are lacking in relevant and important information?