“He Has Heard Our Prayers”

June 8, 1978

To all general and local priesthood officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world:

Dear Brethren:

As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords.

Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.

He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.

We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known his will for the blessing of all his children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of his authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.

Sincerely yours,

SPENCER W. KIMBALL
N. ELDON TANNER
MARION G. ROMNEY

Today we commemorate the 1978 revelation opening the priesthood to all worthy male members regardless of race. We’ve had some great posts this week and interesting discussions on the ban. Today we’d like to reflect on the revelation. Leonard Arrington, in Adventures of a Church Historian, quotes Spencer Kimball saying simply about the revelation, “isn’t it beautiful?”

Whether informed by culture, prejudices of church leaders/members, or anything else, the ban shows a part of church history that is difficult to reconcile for many members, as we have found this week. I find comfort in Bruce R. McConkie’s address to a CES symposium in August 1978:

“Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.

We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.”

I don’t think that all the darkness of the past is erased, but I think McConkie’s quote gives us a charge to move forward, learning from the past in order to build a stronger church in which we all welcome each other with open arms, ultimately building a Zion like that described in 4 Nephi without “any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.”

Thank you for participating in our commemoration this week. We’d like to hear your thoughts and memories on the revelation of 1978.

Comments

  1. Mark IV says:

    Melissa,

    First, thanks to you and SV and others for your efforts this week. I have looked forward to every day’s posts, and I wasn’t disappointed.

    I have been personally blessed by the lifting of the ban, and my extended family would be much different now if it were still in place. I first heard the news from the man who would later become my brother-in-law, and for whom the priesthood ban had been an insurmountable barrier to his accepting the restoration.

  2. I’m too young to remember the actual 1978 announcement, but I learned about it at a surprisingly young age. My family had an audio cassette tape that depicted a few dramatized church history events. One of them was a family reacting to the 1978 revelation (another was the first vision–can’t remember if there were other events on the tape). We listened to the tape many times on car trips. So I learned of the former practice and its demise at the same time that I learned about the foundational events of church history.

  3. Several years ago I read a story about the priesthood ban in an online article (and you know how reliable those are)which said that Pres. Kimball was speaking at the dedication of the Saol Paulo Brazil temple. Apparently he was speaking about the revelation to end the ban and he made the revealing comment that the Lord had shown him the reason for the ban and he “wept for the church.” I’m not sure if he actually said that or if it’s just another of those faith-promoting rumors, but it adds an interesting perspective.

  4. In response to #3, I wonder what he saw (other than perhaps the denial of the priesthood to blacks for years) that made him weep…

  5. Happy Mormon MLK day.

  6. I was six years old when the ban ended, and I remember the excitement about it in our family’s Bay Area ward. Our junior Sunday school teacher explained it to us, and I was surprised that Blacks hadn’t been able to hold the priesthood. There were no Black members of our ward that I recall, but my elementary school was quite diverse and included probably as many Black, Hispanic, and Asian children as it did white children.

    I think I was fortunate not to have to grow up and face the reality of the ban, that it ended when I was still young enough not to know about it. I think it would have been a difficult issue for me to deal with, and the church offered plenty of other difficult issues for my faith as it was over the role of women.

    I’m so, so grateful that it ended. It’s truly something worth celebrating.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    This has been a terrific series; thanks again for putting it together.

    As I indicated in one of the threads, I was on my mission when the ban was lifted. This was the single most exciting event regarding the Church that has taken place during my life time. Those who were not alive at the time and do not recall the pre-1978 days cannot fully appreciate what an incredible day that was. All I experienced was total joy and happiness by everyone I knew.

  8. Even though I was a little sprog when the ban ended, it has been a part of my spiritual journey to come to terms with it. This series offers several ways for believing, faithful members to do so. It is a great resource.

  9. The last time I was visiting my parents, I spent some time in my dad’s papers. I found a copy of the 1978 letter. It was moving then and it still is. Thank you all for the great work.

  10. Amen to everyone.

    As I have stated in other posts, I was shielded from the painful reality of the ban because I grew up in rural Utah – where the only Black classmate I ever had was an African high school exchange student who lived with one of the seminary teachers. I also was in my teens when the ban was lifted, so I never had to come to grips with the active ban in my adulthood.

    In the past 10 years, I have worked extensively in the inner-cities, helped raise a Black young man, dealt with the subtle racism that he faced in our school district by a teacher and an administrator who “knew how to handle these kids” before even meeting him, had a Black family live in our house for months while the mother tried to put her life in order, etc. I hear of Pres.Kimball weeping for the Church over this issue, and true or not, it rings true in my heart.

    We need to recognize that we were an active part in the racism that shaped Black attitudes and actions, and we have a special responsibility to rectify that egregious error in whatever way we can. We cannot shirk that duty to our brothers and sisters by blaming it all on their agency; we must make a concerted effort to live the greatest commandments and show the rest of the world how to do so. If we don’t, we have failed our Black brothers and sisters all over again.

    Wow; I’m tearing up as I type. Thank you SO much for the chance to do so.

  11. Stephanie says:

    My parents weren’t even married yet when the declaration came out, so I probably wasn’t even a twinkle in anyone’s eye at that point. However, the fact that the ban ever existed is something that is difficult to deal with, just like polygamy.

    Growing up in Southern Alberta, I didn’t have much exposure to people of other races, but interestingly enough, the one black person I knew during my childhood was a member of the church, from Uganda. Of course at age seven I wasn’t exactly profoundly affected by the kind of faith it might take for a black person to accept the gospel. However, as a young adult, I spent a year in France and attended the most diverse ward I ever have and perhaps ever will. There were people of all races and backgrounds. Seeing so many different people united together in the gospel was inspiring. It was the kind of thing that made me wonder whether I even had any right to worry about the former ban when people who it would have affected 25 years before were serving and worshiping faithfully.

    That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still irk me…

  12. Thank you for this great series of posts, I’ve loved them all.

  13. I was 10 at the time of the revelation and living in northern California. When it was read in church, I remember thinking something like, “Well, of course!” (of course this is how it should be), and feeling vaguely surprised that the ban had existed. I don’t think I had been aware of it before; we’d always lived in very “white” places.

    As a teenager in the 1980s I did hear the false doctrine that blacks were less valiant in the pre-existence. To my shame, I half-accepted it, or at least didn’t give it much thought, until an LDS friend of mine vehemently said how she despised it. It caused me to think twice about it and realize: this is not doctrine; this is somebody’s stupid idea. I hope by now most Caucasian members have moved past this racism.

  14. My brother was working for the church in 1978, and so back in those pre-internet days, he was able to telephone me with the news in advance of a general press announcement.

    The first person I wanted to share the news with was my local Instititute director with whom I was very close.

    After I related the news to him on the telephone, there was a pause of a few seconds, and in a tear-strained voice he replied: “I’m walking on air. I’m walking on air.”

    Almost thirty years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I will never forget that wonderful moment.

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