Commemorating the Revelation

The following are the notes for the talk I am giving in sacrament meeting today. It is a rough outline of sources with a few points in between. I will hopefully patch it together in some coherent manner. I doubt I will read all of them completely. I have also included my concluding paragraph, which is surely overwrought; but how often do you get to speak on the priesthood revelation at Sacrament Meeting?

Deuteronomy 24:17-18 (HT: David G. at the JI)

Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.

Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Need for Greater Kindness,” April 2006, Conference

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?

Joseph Smith on Race

Joseph Smith, Sr., Patriarchal Blessing to Elijah Able, summer-fall, 1836

[T]he Lord hast had his eye upon thee, and brought thee through straits and thou hast come to be reconed with the saints of the most High. Though hast been ordained an Elder and anointed to secure thee against the power of the destroyer. Thou shalt see his power in laying waste the nations, & the wicked slaying the wicked, while blood shall run down the streets like water, and thy heart shall weep over their calamities. Angels shall visit thee and thou shalt receive comfort. They shall call thee blessed and deliver thee from thine enemies. They shall break thy bands and keep thee from afflictions. Thy name is written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Jane Manning James, Autobiography, LDS Archives

The frost fell on us so heavy, it was like a light fall of snow. We arose early and started on our way walking through that frost with our bare feet, until the sun rose and melted it away. But we went on our way rejoicing, singing hymns, and thanking God for his infinite goodness and mercy to us–in blessing us as he had, protecting us from all harm, answering our prayers, and healing our feet. In course of time, we arrived at La Harpe, Illinois–about thirty miles from Nauvoo. At La Harpe, we came to a place where there was a very sick child. We administered to it, and the child was healed. I found after [that] the elders had before this given it up, as they did not think it could live.

Well, what happened?

Brigham Young, meeting minutes, 26 Mar. 1847

its nothing to do with the blood for of one blood has God made all flesh, we have to repent (and) regain what we [h]av lost-we [h]av one of the best Elders an African in Lowell-[i.e., Walker Lewis].

New wine of the Restoration in the Old bottles of sectarian racism.
Seed of Cain
Seed of Ham
Fence-sitters
Resurrecting white
Inter-racial marriage

Len Hope, Magnolia Alabama, met missionaries in 1913, then converted after the serving in WWI (thanks Margaret!)

[after facing a white mob that said they were going to lynch him]So I went down the next morning, down to Church where they was having a conference and told them my experience and what had happened. …I thought I was going to see them with hung down head and sad carriage, but what do you think I saw? Some of the [most] beautiful smiles that the Latter-day Saints give. They said, “Brother Hope, this is just the persecution of the devil. We all have to endure this.” I thought to myself, these beautiful people, If these…people can endure persecution, why couldn’t I? I just felt like could [have] been hung to the limb and shot full of holes…I can’t doubt the gospel the least bit, and I know it. I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of the living God.

20th Century
None of Len Hope’s or Jane Manning’s descendents stayed in the Church.
President Hugh B. Brown
Africa

Margaret Young, speaking of her forthcoming documentary at the JI

During our last editing session, as we prepared special features, we worked on one [segment] in which Darius Gray talked about his stretch of inactivity. That stretch came about after some overt prejudicial acts in 1972, which resulted in ALL of the young Black men Darius was working with ceasing any association with the Church. As we viewed the footage, tears came to Darius’s eyes, and he went into even more detail than what we had revealed on film. He talked about the pain of watching those young men leave, and about his own sense of betrayal. Those he had counted on to support him and the young men had fallen through, and the hurt was great enough that Darius quit church for several years (though he never really left it, he is quick to point out).

Leonard J. Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 176-177.

On June 1, 1978, at a regular temple meeting of the general authorities, Kimball asked the members of the First Presidency and the Twelve to stay for a private conference. In a spirit of fasting and prayer, they formed a prayer circle. Kimball opened by saying he felt impressed to pray to the Lord and asked their permission to be “mouth.” He went to the altar. Those in attendance said that as he began his earnest prayer, they suddenly realized it was not Kimball’s prayer, but the Lord speaking through him. A revelation was being declared. Kimball himself realized that the words were not his but the Lord’s. During that prayer some of the Twelve – at least two have said so publicly – were transported into a celestial atmosphere, saw a divine presence and the figures of former president of the church (portraits of whom were hanging on the walls around them) smiling to indicate their approval and sanction. Others acknowledged the voice of the Lord coming, as with the prophet Elijah, “through the still, small voice.” The voice of the Spirit followed their earnest search for wisdom and understanding.

At the end of the heavenly manifestation Kimball, weeping for joy, confronted the quorum members, many of them also sobbing, and asked if they sustained this heavenly instruction. Embracing, all nodded vigorously and jubilantly their sanction. There had been a startling and commanding revelation from God-an ineffable experience.

Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike Unto God,” BYU, August 17-19, 1978

We have revelations that tell us that the gospel is to go to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people before the second coming of the Son of Man. And we have revelations which recite that when the Lord comes he will find those who speak every tongue and are members of every nation and kindred, who will be kings and priests, who will live and reign on earth with him a thousand years. That means, as you know, that people from all nations will have the blessings of the house of the Lord before the Second Coming.

We have read these passages and their associated passages for many years. We have seen what the words say and have said to ourselves, “Yes, it says that, but we must read out of it the taking of the gospel and the blessings of the temple to the Negro people, because they are denied certain things.” There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. 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.

Jeffrey R. Holland, PBS Interview

One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. …[M]y earlier colleagues.., I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. …But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. … At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, … we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.

What do we do with good people that said horrible things?
Apostle Delbert Stapley

Conclusion
Thirty years ago this week, the Lord our God stretched forth his mighty arm and shattered the old bottles of sectarianism and racism. The new wine of the Restoration then poured forth, as intended, upon every nation kindred tongue and people. We now stand three decades removed from that moment. I am encouraged by the degree to which we have forsaken our sins, yet the shards of the broken bottles are still sharp and painful to the touch. Many question whether we should simply forget them and move forward. While I understand the desire for forward-looking Kingdom building, too many of our people are unwittingly pricked by the broken fragments of our past and their wounds, frequently left untreated for shame or ignorance, fester and ultimately overcome faith, friends, and sometimes even family. No! We cannot forget. Just as we have memorialize the great sacrifice of the British, who pulled their handcarts on winter’s plains – just as we remember those Yankee’s who were beaten, raped and chased under order of extermination – we will not forget our great black pioneers, who persevered despite our racism and who watched their children be chased from Zion. No, we will not forget. And I pray in the name of Jesus Christ that we might be worthy to stand together as Nephi declared – all alike, both black and white, Jew and gentile – to see God’s Kingdom fill the whole world.

Comments

  1. I think it’s outstanding that your bishop wants this issue addressed in SM today.

    I was a bit confused by Elder Child’s depiction of the church’s pre-revelation stance in the DNews. He states:

    When you think about it, that’s just what it is — folklore. It’s never really been official doctrine. I know there have been some misconceptions and some statements made by people in the past, but as Elder (Bruce R.) McConkie said, we’ve received new and additional light and knowledge through revelation, and even the folklore is obsolete now because of the fact that we have the revelation.

    and

    We have to keep in mind that it’s folklore and not doctrine, Elder Child said. It’s never been recorded as such. Many opinions, personal opinions, were spoken

    http://deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,700232679,00.html?pg=2

    From the quotes above, Elder Holland calls it “doctrine.”

    At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, … we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.

    It seems like the policy stemmed from a defacto “doctrine”. After all, since when does “policy” in the church trump or contradict with a fundamental “doctrine”? Church leaders were justifying the ban in doctrinal terms….even though they later admit those teachings were wrong.

    Was it simply a “policy” or did the “policy” stem from a de facto doctrine? Was it a “false doctrine”? Do some leaders want to de-emphasize a mistake by calling it a policy?

    I’m very interested to hear the feedback you get….

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    I forget the policy; do they allow standing ovations in sacrament meeting?

  3. That’s one of my favorite sacrament meeting talks of all time; I really wish I could be there to see it.

  4. Best of luck, Jonathan.

  5. sister blah 2 says:

    Only wish I could be there to see it.

  6. Randall says:

    Jonathon, you’ve inspired me to ask my own bishop to allow me to make a similar talk in SM. I’ll be forthright here, that if approved, I’ll be borrowing liberally from your ideas and overall progression of your talk.

    Best of luck!

  7. matt w. says:

    J. Well done.

    Adcama: two different useages of 1 word. Holland uses doctrine to mean “teaching”. Child uses it to mean “truth”.

  8. What an honor, J. They couldn’t have picked a better person to do it.

    Today is a wonderful day.

  9. My prayers are with you and your ward today. It’s great that you get the chance to do this today. I’m hoping this important anniversary doesn’t get overlooked in our ward.

  10. Please report how the Holy Spirit molds these prepared words and thoughts as you look into the eyes of the saints and address them.

  11. I second the standing ovation sentiment. Simply wonderful talk.

  12. This looks great, J. (Though I think you mean David G., not David J.).

    Was the talk your ward leadership’s idea, or did you suggest a talk on the subject? Either way, this in wonderful.

  13. I have always had a soft spot for the overwrought, and I love your closing paragraph. It’s just excellent. Bravo, Stapley!

  14. I wish I could’ve been there, Jonathan!
    Our sacrament meeting focused on preaching the gospel. (This was in my home ward, which I attend with my 16-year-old before going to the MTC.) Happily, our speakers included a man from Kenya.

    Tonight, the Church will commemorate the priesthood revelation. Elder Child will be the main speaker. I believe Elder Tingey will preside.
    I got to preview the short film which the Church made for this event–interviews with great Latter-day Saints who happen to be of color, including Catherine Stokes, Darius Gray, Tony Parker, Ron McClain, Keith Hamilton, Nkoyo Iamba, Michael Rice, and others. Very celebratory and sweet. It will air later on BYU television–and I’m hoping the MTC can get a copy. Hymns will include “Hark All Ye Nations”, “Now We’ll Sing with One Accord”, “How Firm a Foundation” and two solos by Alex Boye–“I Know that My Redeemer Lives” and “How Great Thou Art.”

    Some may notice the conspicuous absence of spirituals. Don’t worry about it. This will be a very good meeting.

  15. I second Clair’s request that you follow-up with some details on where the Spirit led you during the actual delivery.

  16. Thanks, all. I ended getting through about 3/4 of source material, but I pretty much cried like a baby through the whole talk. It was exhausting and deeply emotional.

    Going to fix the David G. in the post.

  17. It’s amazing how emotional it is, isn’t it, Jonathan. I was having lunch with my son at the MTC about an hour ago. He asked me about the priesthood revelation. I started telling him the basics–June 1, revelation in the temple; June 8th, the presentation of the declaration for approval of all the general authorities.

    Elder Marion D. Hanks is a dear friend, and my son loves him. (It was Elder Hanks who provided the Len Hope story and a cassette tape with Len’s recorded testimony.) I started to tell about Elder Hanks’s words when the declaration was presented for a sustaining vote, but like Jonathan, began weeping.

    “I thank God I’ve lived to see this day,” Elder Hanks said.

    Privately, I noted the many dark faces in the MTC. I wanted to approach every missionary of African descent and remind them what we commemorate today.

  18. After 30 years, it would be interesting to see what God actually said in this important revelation.

    We know from O.D.-2 that President Kimball presented this revelation to his counselors, Quorum of the Twelve, and all other General Authorities, but has anyone outside of this group seen the revelation?

    I would like the same luxury that the General Authorities enjoyed in accepting this revelation. I would like to read for myself what the Lord said.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    Our Bishop read OD-2 from the pulpit and had us all sustain it by a show of hands. It was wonderful.

  20. molly bennion says:

    Jonathan, Needed you and your fine talk in the ward I visited today. 3 talks on Priesthood and not one mention of the revelation. I wonder how many members anywhere were reminded of the import of this day.

  21. Steve,

    Is O.D.-2 the revelation that was given to the General Authorities to sustain, as mentioned in O.D.-2?

  22. Steve Evans says:

    Amanda, not sure what your question is.

  23. Left Field says:

    Amanda,

    In my view a revelation is not synonymous with a written text, though some revelations may, upon receipt, be rendered into written form. When OD2 states that President Kimball received a revelation and presented it to the FP and 12, I believe that the revelation that is referred to is the certain knowledge that God desired all worthy men to receive the priesthood. I do not think it refers to a text. I believe that the historical documents indicate that OD2 was written after the revelation was approved.

    To the extent that the priesthood revelation is expressed as a text, OD2 is what we have. Many revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are similarly in the form of letters and statements.

    I believe that the revelation as received by President Kimball was “written not with ink. . .but in the fleshy tables of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3:3). As it happens, the revelation was later expressed in the words of OD2, but the revelation was received, understood, and approved before President Kimball ever set pen to paper.

  24. Researcher says:

    Very nice talk outline. I was happy to be in my home ward today for a number of reasons, but would have loved to hear this talk.

    Margaret, do you know when BYU TV will be carrying the commemoration? I do not see it on their schedule anytime during the upcoming week.

  25. There was no mention of the priesthood revelation in my ward today. But I spent sacrament meeting rehearsing in my mind what I would say if I were asked to speak on that topic (and that was before I had even seen Stapley’s post).

    Instead, I decided to make this the topic of my Family Home Evening lesson tomorrow night — although tailored for my kids ages 4 and 2. I’m thinking something along these lines:

    –Everyone looks different from each other. People even have different colors of skin (maybe show a few pictures of people from different races). But everyone is the same inside, and it doesn’t matter what color your skin is. It’s just something that you get from your mom and dad and granparents, just like your hair color.

    –There are some people who are mean to others who have different colors of skin. And some people treat others differently if they have different skin color. This is really sad. It used to happen a lot, but not so much any more. There are lots of people who treat everyone nicely, and don’t worry about what color their skin is.

    –Thirty years ago today, the Lord told the prophet that everyone in church should be treated the same, no matter what color their skin was. This was a very important thing for the Lord to tell us. A couple of years ago, President Hinckley reminded us that we should never treat anyone badly because of their skin color. We should love everyone the same.

  26. Wonderful, and not overwrought at all. Considering the subject matter, I think the final paragraph is appropriately “wrought”.

  27. I wish we’d gotten this talk today. Thanks for posting this.

  28. No mention of it in my ward either. Interestingly, we had a talk on “God speaking through the prophet” and a talk on “decision making.” Also, there’s a stake priesthood meeting tonight with the theme “hail to the prophet.” We’re being told that it’s on the lives of JS and TSM. Evidently, it’s preempting the commemoration broadcast.

    Sigh…

  29. Two other comments:

    adcama (#1) —
    I think that when church leaders have used different words like “doctrine,” “policy,” and “practice” to describe the priesthood ban, these words may not have had one consistent meaning for all of them in all circumstances. (In fact, I know at least a few members for whom there is no distinction between doctrine and policy.) The specific “doctrine vs. policy” distinction was brought up during the McKay administration, and President McKay even famously stated that the ban was only a policy. But I doubt that subsequent usages of the word “doctrine” were necessarily meant to contradict him.

    Amanda (#18 and #21) —

    I agree that the wording of OD2 does suggest that it is not the revelation, but merely an announcement. But I assume that the OD2 states the entire revelation received by the Prophet and Apostles. That is to say, it was revealed to them that all worthy men are eligible to hold the priesthood. In all of first hand accounts I have read in books by Leonard Arrington and Edward Kimball, I don’t think there is any mention of a separate written revelation on the matter.

  30. Wasn’t the prayer itself, uttered in the prayer circle by Pres Kimball, the actual revelation?

  31. Wow, that’s a great outline, J. I’m glad that you were given such leeway in a sacrament meeting setting. I wish I could have been there.

    I was determined this morning to not let church go by without the anniversary being mentioned. I suggested in bishopric meeting this morning that an announcement be made from the pulpit. The second counselor looked at me incredulously and asked why I thought that was appropriate. I responded that the revelation was the most momentous and important event in Mormon history during the second half of the 20th century and that it is part of our past. He replied that people could read about it in the Church News and abruptly changed the subject.

    I was of course disappointed. The next best thing was to convince my EQ pres. to mention it, and he was much more open to the idea. He took a few minutes before the lesson to read from Isaiah about the temple being open to all people and then read OD-2. It was pretty powerful.

    Also, I have a friend in my ward who has no problem speaking his mind, even when it makes people uncomfortable. He brought up OD-2 within the context of the lesson, and then abruptly announced that the bishopric had refused to mention the anniversary in sacrament meeting, an action for which they needed to repent. There was an awkward silence but thankfully the first counselor, who was in the room, didn’t retort.

    I did find out after the block that the second counselor (who had initially refused to include the announcement) had mentioned it in RS, so he had a change heart, for which I am grateful.

  32. Brad (#30) —

    My assumption is simply that the Bretheren approached the Lord with a proposition, and felt good about it. And that feeling of confirmation was “the revelation.”

    President Kimball had apparently gone through a long process of fasting and pondering and prayer before he felt okay about having the FP and Q12 approach make this proposition to the Lord. Perhaps that conclusion by Pres Kimball could be viewed as part of “the revelation” as wel.

  33. Mark B. says:

    I’m curious about the racial make-up of your wards/quorums/Relief Societies.

    In the two branches where I attended Priesthood Meeting today, about half of the people there were black–African Americans and West Indians, mostly.

    I wanted to bring up the matter in both places, and did, obliquely, in the second. But what stopped me was my concern that some there (converts of recent vintage, mostly) may never have heard of the ban in the first place. I wasn’t ready to talk today to 10 men whose faith was teetering because of what they learned for the first time–maybe there weren’t 10 in that situation. I hope not–one would be too many.

  34. Brian T says:

    Not until I read this post did I realize this is the anniversary of the declaration. For some reason I thought it was in August, but hadn’t yet checked.

    I’m sure your talk today was great and the Spirit was felt.

    I’m not comfortable with your line that included “our racism” in your concluding paragraph. I wouldn’t accept responsibility for that charge anymore than I would take any responsibility whatsoever for slavery in America or any other time throughout history. That is, perhaps, the most and maybe only “overwrought” part of the paragraph.

    As I read some of the other recent posts about this year being the 30th anniversary of the declaration, a thought occurred to me that I have been waiting to pose to the readers here.

    Are we romanticizing the reactions that we had to the declaration? I was only 10 and I vaguely have a memory of it happening. I grew up between Chicago and Milwaukee, an ethnically diverse community, but not an ethnically diverse ward. It didn’t really affect me as it did others, it just seemed like it should have been that way all along. I recently asked my father-in-law what his memory of it is. He lived in Los Angeles at the time. He said he just thought it’s about time. It was the right thing. It didn’t seem earth shattering, just right.

    Of course, it would be earth shattering if your spouse was black at the time or if you had close friends or other family that would be directly affected. But people posting messages here and other places about the excitement in their families at the time seem more romanticized than true.

    How impactful was this really to the average family in Idaho, Utah, Los Angeles or even as in my case in Wisconsin?

    So my question is: Am I alone in thinking that many people are in some way exaggerating their reaction or romanticizing their reaction to the reaction they wish they had at the time?

  35. Brian, I hope you are alone in that thinking. Believe me, the reaction to the revelation was huge. There is NOTHING exaggerated in the recollection of our responses.

    And btw, I accept responsibility for “our racism.” I am a member of this Church. I love it. I am part of ITS process. As the Spirit I find in the Church changes me, I affect those I associate with–in or out of Mormonism. Becoming aware of OUR past (which is MY past, because I also claim a pioneer heritage and because my ancestors accepted racist ideas, as most Americans did) is the key to accurate reflection, so that we become better, so that we never forget where we have been, and where we must yet go.

    For others, re the broadcast: My understanding is that BYU television will broadcast tonight’s commemoration three times (though I’ll predict it’ll get shown more than that). It will NOT be broadcast live. I am not aware of upcoming dates for broadcast, but I’d guess it won’t be for another month or so, since programming will already be decided for the immediate future.

  36. Brian, maybe your age has something to do with the lack of impact. I was 22, in central California, in an average Mormon family and ward, and remember just days before the revelation standing in a store and refusing to believe that the black people around me were somehow inherently inferior. Then while at my summer job days later I heard about it and couldn’t believe how elated I felt, because I’d never been politically minded, or rather had never thought about the issue in political terms, but religiously it felt like such a relief, like it was about time we humans had figured out what I think God believed all along.

  37. Brian T,

    YES, you are alone (I hope) in that conclusion. For MANY saints, that day was a day of rejoicing like no other up to that point.

    The bishop in the ward I attended today made the announcement from the pulpit. His second counselor is black.

    The EQP mentioned it at the beginning of the quorum meeting, and the instructor made it a central theme of his lesson on how our testimonies influence our lives. It was wonderful.

  38. Note: This might be a doublt post. My first attempt to post failed.

    Brian, I hope you are alone in that thinking. Believe me, the reaction to the revelation was huge. There is NOTHING exaggerated in the recollection of our responses.

    And btw, I accept responsibility for “our racism.” I am a member of this Church. I love it. I am part of ITS process. As the Spirit I find in the Church changes me, I affect those I associate with–in or out of Mormonism. Becoming aware of OUR past (which is MY past, because I also claim a pioneer heritage and because my ancestors accepted racist ideas, as most Americans did) is the key to accurate reflection, so that we become better, so that we never forget where we have been, and where we must yet go.

    For others, re the broadcast: My understanding is that BYU television will broadcast tonight’s commemoration three times (though I’ll predict it’ll get shown more than that). It will NOT be broadcast live. I am not aware of upcoming dates for broadcast, but I’d guess it won’t be for another month or so, since programming will already be decided for the immediate future.

  39. sister blah 2 says:

    #25– CE, I have had similar discussions with my kids, about same age. I’m assuming you’re white(?). Some things I thought were productive were to have my kids look at their own skin, and when considering friends or photos or whatever of other races, including a wide range of skin tones. The hope would be that they see themselves as having a color that is one of many color options, and not fall into the unfortunate notion of “we’re standard and Other people deviate from us in that they have color.” They may well come up with a color for their own skin other than “white”–pink, yellow, brown, beige, etc. I think your idea of comparing skin color variation to other variation that doesn’t have that kind of baggage in our society (e.g., hair color, eye color–especially if you have a variety of these traits within your own family) is a really good one.

  40. Left Field says:

    Brian,

    Experiences of different people may certainly vary, and time may influence memories of past events, but I can tell you that accounts of joyful weeping are very much in line with reactions I remember from that day. The stories ring true to me and I think contemporary accounts corroborate the reactions people remember from thirty years ago.

  41. Wonderful post – we have several African Americans in our ward – one is leaving on a mission this week. I wish the topic had been mentioned. One question, though. Towards the beginning of your talk, you ask “Well, what happened?” What did happen? I have read vague things about BY not wanting an interracial couple sealed. Are there specifics on that?

  42. Brian, had I been alone when I heard about the revelation 30 years ago, I might distrust my memory of the joy I felt. I didn’t know any African Americans especially well, and I hadn’t given a whole lot of thought to racial matters. But because I heard about it at work, and because of memorable behavior there when I ran into another Latter-day Saint, I am pretty confident that my memory of the emotions involved hasn’t been exaggerated.

    I’ll be the first to admit that because I didn’t know anybody for whom this announcement would be personal, I had not the faintest idea of what it would *really* mean. I just knew that it felt exactly right and true, and that I was witnessing a moment looked for in prophecy. Had I known then what I know now, I don’t think I would have been fit to stay at work the rest of the day.

  43. Randy B. says:

    First of all, bravo Mr. Stapley! Oh to have been there!!

    In our ward, there was no mention of the aniversary during sacrament meeting. In high priest group, I was teaching, so I took the liberty of working the anniversary into my lesson. One of the old men immediately responded that he knew about a new movie coming out on the priesthood ban (here’s looking at you Margaret), getting my hopes up for a sympathetic comment. Instead, he expressed his frustration that the movie apparently doesn’t mention the “fact” that blacks were better off before they received the priesthood because they could be exalted without ever having to make the covenants the rest of us agree to in the temple.

    I was positively dumbfounded. I gently pointed out that our black members certainly did not view the priesthood ban as a blessing, and for good reason. (I was tempted to say more, but was on the verge of a tirade.) It’s been a long time since I’ve left church as appalled as I was today. It would appear we still have a ways to go before all members face up to the pain caused by the priesthood ban.

  44. I joined the church after the revelation, so I can’t speak to the way it was received by the members. I do, however, have a wonderful hispanic son-in-law and it is my impression that he would have been denied the priesthood as well because of his Indian blood. I am so grateful that he and our daughter were able to be married in the temple and then bring their little boy in to this world as part of an eternal family unit.

    We don’t have any active minority members in our Branch and no one mentioned the revelation today. I hope it was remembered in the other units, even if only by celebrating the diversity that characterizes the church today.

  45. 34. Brian T. — I hope that you’re alone in that thought, but likely others who weren’t there share it.
    .
    My total joy in June, 1978 sprang from my own wrestlings with the priesthood ban during my high-school years of the late 60s. This included my last, and best, high-school girlfriend, who had black skin, and the discomfort of not only my Church’s practice/doctrine/teaching/assumptions but the painful discussion with my parents as they warned me of risk of temple blessings, etc. All this while wondering how a person clearly superior to me in spirituality and character — my girlfriend — could be restricted from what I could enjoy fully.
    .
    My friend, it was *very* difficult to explain this to my friends and to myself. I knew the Church was “true” and where I should be, but I had this constantly gnawing confusion about this “issue” about which I never came to terms. Trust me: we are not exaggerating at all when we talk of our joy when this burden was lifted from our hearts.
    .
    I recently found some validation and comfort in Elder Oak’s admission in his PBS interview that he never found any of the explanations adequate.
    .
    BTW, Darius Gray’s explanation of the priesthood restriction can be seen at 4:45 to 9:15 here.

  46. Fortunately, black LDS membership is growing here in SoCal.

    Here are short videos of:
    * Watts Branch

    * 6th annual “Discover Your Roots” African-American genealogy seminar hosted in the LA Stake’s center. Darius Gray is seated at one of the center tables.

    * Adams Ward (Los Angeles)

  47. 43: Noray, there was no prohibition on Indians (either Native Americans or Asian Indians) receiving the priesthood. None at all.

  48. Also no mention of the event in the ward I attended today (not my home ward). Part of that really irks me, as I think that the revelation on priesthood is important not only as a historical matter, but as proof of the theological assertion that God lives and revelation continues.

    However, I wonder whether a reluctance to mention it can at all be attributed to the fact that every ward does not have a J. Stapley who can handle the topic with such eloquence and tact? I bet there are some wards where some cringe-worthy talks were given on the priesthood revelation today, and maybe it would have been better to just talk about prayer or pornography.

  49. This is an amazing post! Nothing was shared in my ward, so I took the opportunity during Priesthood opening exercises to share the Arrington quote from this post. It is the most definitive quote I have read regarding the revelation. My conscience couldn’t let the day go by without at least bringing up one of the most significant days in the history of the Church.

  50. Kevin Barney says:

    Mark B. #33, I had a similar thought. Had I been asked to speak on this subject, I would have been glad to do so. But it wasn’t something I really wanted to mention on my own motion, because we’ve got a fair number of blacks in our ward, and I have no confidence whatsoever that they know about the ban. This circumstance puts me in an awkward position. I wish I could be confident that these people were taught about the ban before they were baptized, but I can’t. I undoubtedly know more about this subject than anyone else in my ward, but I can’t just casually mention or allude to the ban, because any casual mention could create a crisis of faith in a bunch of folks all at once. If someone wanted me to try to rectify the situation, either individually or as a group, I’d be willing to do so, but I would want the bishop to take some responsibility for such an attempt.

    There may be a short-term value to not mentioning the ban to proselytes, but such non-disclosure creates a serious long-term problem, and puts someone like me in particular in a very awkward position.

  51. rondell says:

    Nothing was mentioned in my ward. But, as a wonderful coincidence an African American man who was just baptized was given the Aaronic priesthood today.

  52. I hope you guys don’t mind if I pass on discussing my particular experience and the reaction in my ward. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life, but I don’t want to comment publicly on my fellow ward members or my Bishopric (all of whom I love desperately).

    I could understand if this weren’t mentioned in a particular ward. Not everyone is interested in history (even the most important events in it) and most bishoprics do feel like, as AHLDuke mentioned, that things like prayer and porn are in need of discussions among their flock.

    I am especially cognizant of Mark B. and Kevin’s points. To honestly do more good than harm, I think you need a good chunk of time. I feel like the Sacrament Meeting talk was perfect for me, because it allowed me to be a little overwraught and basically “preach” the good word. Other formats might have other advantages…and yeah, if I were a bishop, I’m not sure that I would ask anyone to talk on it, because you just never know what might come out (maybe this is where prayer comes in). That said, I am deeply grateful to have had this opportunity.

  53. Left Field says:

    By coincidence, the high council speaker today was an African American brother who is a former Baptist preacher. He is the leader of our stake’s “Exodus Group.” (He told me last year that they can’t call it Genesis because they are unaffiliated with the original Genesis Group, so they selected Exodus instead.) He gave a fine sermon on having clean hands and a pure heart. I spoke to him afterwards, and he hadn’t realized that this was the anniversary of the Priesthood Revelation. I asked him if he was aware of Nobody Knows, and he was not, but thought it would make an excellent program for the Exodus Group whenever it might become available.

    Before Sacrament Meeting, I saw the high councilman speaking to another African-American man that I hadn’t seen before. The man introduced himself in priesthood. He said he had been meeting with the missionaries for about a year and that this was his first time coming to church. He spoke glowingly of his visit and how much he enjoyed being among such a people who so thoroughly exemplified Christianity.

  54. Brian, #34, is far from alone. His view, and that of his father-in-law, may be more representative of the reaction of the church membership than the more intense views expressed here. The fact that most LDS wards apparently did not note the anniversary attests to that.

    From Brian’s FIL: “He lived in Los Angeles at the time. He said he just thought it’s about time. It was the right thing. It didn’t seem earth shattering, just right.”

    That was precisely my reaction as well. I grew up in Utah and was also in LA at the time, in grad school at UCLA. I knew no blacks who would be directly affected. Perhaps if I had, I would have had a stronger personal response.

    I doubt, however, that my reaction would have been quite that of a ward member I met in a supermarket that day. He was beaming at the news and quickly went on to say that now whites and blacks could be sealed together in marriage. That comment, leaping beyond the news’ impact even on most black members and investigators, struck me then and now as being as impersonal in its iconoclastic spirit as was my own reaction. It had an “in your face” quality toward church members in general.

    I am genuinely glad for the joy I am reading in these comments, and envious of some of them, but surprised at the surprise afforded Brian’s quite typical comment.

    Mea culpa. Mea and a couple million others.

  55. I don’t know. I think it was jolting for a lot of folks–if not anything else. It came a lot sooner than many believed it would.

    For me, it was like the chains coming off. But then, I had a lot of black friends.

  56. I know it was jolting to lots of people for different reasons. Several weeks ago in SS, one brother shared how hard it was for him to join the church in the 50’s because of the policy. He said he joined anyway, but it was very painful for him after growing up in the Jim Crow South and serving along side black servicemen in the military. He was overjoyed when the ban was lifted.
    On other occasions in different wards, members have expressed how hard it was for them, “to get used to blacks in the temple with them.”

  57. RGBarney says:

    As someone who did hear Jonathan’s talk today I can report that he did a terrific job. I thought he was bold, courageous and dealt with a very difficult subject in a thoughtful and sensitive manner. I taught the Gospel Doctrine class today, and for most of the talk I had several comments I was planning to make before I started my lesson. By the time Jonathan was done, though, it was clear to me there was nothing I could add to his remarks.

    I know my reaction wasn’t unanimous among ward members and I imagine Jonathan received a variety of responses. Lots of Saints don’t want to deal with the mortality and imperfections of past leaders. Other Church members don’t want to acknowledge any aspect of the Church’s history they don’t perceive as uplifting.

    I recall the moment I heard the news (over the car radio in Southern Utah) and I was so overwhelmed I had to pull over to the side of the highway. Our response was so profound because it was a completely unexpected about face on a tremendously troubling moral issue. It is almost an insult to suggest we wouldn’t have been deeply concerned about the issue.

    Thanks Jonathan for your talk today.

  58. Thanks RGBarney, that means a lot.

  59. I hate to make the comment that brings universal criticism, but not all of us feel the ban was based on racism. The explanations for the ban, may have been racist, but we were aware that those explanations were human attempts to explain why the ban existed. As Holland stated “we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.”

    Many of the brethren have rejected and dismissed the explanations for the ban, (which explanations were personal opinions, not Church doctrine), but none of the brethren have stated the ban itself was racist, anymore than the gospel not going to the gentiles before Peter’s vision was racist. The Lord’s timing is His own business.

  60. I think we must at least consider the idea that the ban wasn’t the Lord’s idea in the first place. And maybe even that we don’t get to blame God for our imperfections. (The Devil made me do it versus God gives me weaknesses?). God has a higher purpose, a higher law, a higher existence. Sometimes I picture Him waiting patiently, as a Father, while WE muck around with our weaknesses, our fears and insecurities, and our inhumanity (which is the ultimate ungodliness).

    I don’t think the revelation was a moment of “finally” God letting us do what is right. I think we finally came out from behind our own fears and insecurities, our own American social constraints, and yes, our own racism and were finally willing to receive the full Light of Revelation.

    In Peter’s NT case, I believe the gospel could have gone forth among the gentiles before that–of course it could. In fact, it did. God was basically begging the world, not just the Jews, to follow His will for thousands of years before that. The Book of Mormon is one proof of God’s mercy and love for all before the “revelation” to Peter. In the BoM, in fact, there came a point where there were no more Nephites or Lamanites, indeed, there were no more “ites” at all.

    It wasn’t God’s fault, He had to basically whack Peter in the head with a pork salami before He would move forward. Considering some of the comments old people in our church still make, even as we apologize for them and their “era”, the Revelation was not a simple “undoing” of an awkward doctrine/practice/policy.

    Apparently, when God simply declares that all are unlike unto Him or Love one another, or go ye into all the world, or do unto the least of these my brethren . . . that isn’t enough. Some of us need to be hit with a pork salami, or forfeit BYU basketball games, or have the prophet publicly tell the priesthood to stop being racist, or whatever. We can’t point the finger at some doctrine, or policy or practice, or self-serving folklore–our racism isn’t God’s fault. He waits for us to “get it”–not the other way around.

    Seek and ye shall find–it’s already out there. I’m so grateful President Kimball was a Seeker as well as a Seer.

  61. I think we must at least consider the idea that the ban wasn’t the Lord’s idea in the first place. And maybe even that we don’t get to blame God for our imperfections. (The Devil made me do it versus God gives me weaknesses?). God has a higher purpose, a higher law, a higher existence. Sometimes I picture Him waiting patiently, as a Father, while WE muck around with our weaknesses, our fears and insecurities, and our inhumanity (which is the ultimate ungodliness).
    I don’t think the revelation was a moment of “finally” God letting us do what is right. I think we finally came out from behind our own fears and insecurities, our own American social constraints, and yes, our own racism and were finally willing to receive the full Light of Revelation.

    In Peter’s NT case, I believe the gospel could have gone forth among the gentiles before that–of course it could. In fact, it did. God was basically begging the world, not just the Jews, to follow His will for thousands of years before that. The Book of Mormon is one proof of God’s mercy and love for all before the “revelation” to Peter. In the BoM, in fact, there came a point where there were no more Nephites or Lamanites, indeed, there were no more “ites” at all.

    It wasn’t God’s fault, He had to basically whack Peter in the head with a pork salami before He would move forward. Considering some of the comments old people in our church still make, even as we apologize for them and their “era”, the Revelation was not a simple “undoing” of an awkward doctrine/practice/policy.

    Apparently, when God simply declares that all are unlike unto Him or Love one another, or go ye into all the world, or do unto the least of these my brethren . . . that isn’t enough. Some of us need to be hit with a pork salami, or forfeit BYU basketball games, or have the prophet publicly tell the priesthood to stop being racist, or whatever. We can’t point the finger at some doctrine, or policy or practice, or self-serving folklore–our racism isn’t God’s fault. He waits for us to “get it”–not the other way around.

    How can we blame things like this on “the Lord’s Timing”? He is already there. We’re the ones with the timing problem.

    Seek and ye shall find–it’s already out there. I’m so grateful President Kimball was a Seeker as well as a Seer.

  62. Can I just add Bro. Stapely, that your talk soudned great. I loved the ending. I think a little “overwrought” is appropriate with a good lead in. After all, what is church without a good preachin’?

  63. Homer’s right. The Peter/NT example is a red herring. Paul had already been preaching among the Gentiles, presumably with God’s consent. Peter’s revelation wasn’t the lifting of a “ban” but a sign to Jewish Christians that they needed to overcome their prejudices.

  64. Mark IV says:

    I don’t understand why we shouldn’t call this a racist policy, especially when the dictionary gives as one of the definitions of racism “the withholding of rights or benefits from a group of people based on race.” Is there even any question at all about this?

    The question seems to want to get at our previous church leaders’ motives. We are understandably
    hesitant to ascribe bad intent or incorrect thinking to presidents of our church. And I agree wholeheartedly, we shouldn’t speculate, so it is best to just take them at their word. Beginnning with Brigham Young and continuing for 100 years, presidents and apostles made declarative statements affirming that blacks belonged to a cursed lineage. They weren’t speculating, they were declaring what they thought was a fact. And it is not speculation on our part when we quote their words verbatim. One definition of doctrine is “that which is repeatedly and authoritatively taught”. In that sense, the leaders of our church did, in fact, teach as doctrine the cursed lineage idea.

  65. re # 39 and others regarding members’ contemporaneous reaction to the 1978 Revelation, I think that there is some truth to both sides of the argument here but I would think that more members experienced joyful elation at the news of the revelation than merely happy ambivalence. The reason is that the ban was something truly onerous for most members to bear (from what I have gathered/observed in discussions about it with people who experienced it in effect — I was a toddler when it was reversed). It was literally a burden on the membership’s shoulders. Many, perhaps most, justified its existence with a blend of the Acts material (the Gospel/Priesthood being withheld from the Gentiles until it was specifically directed through a direct revelation to Peter to bring those things to the Gentiles) and the dubious curse-of-Cain folklore inherited from early members’ Protestant heritage. But that doesn’t mean that they were laboring under its burden, aware of the sheer backwardness of it, and also sorrowfully aware of the PR nightmare that it was for the Church.

  66. That is, it doesn’t mean that they weren’t laboring under its burden — gotta watch those double negatives.

  67. SC Taysom says:

    John f., wrote of “the dubious curse-of-Cain folklore inherited from early members’ Protestant heritage.” I think we would do well to take responsibility for this stuff rather than try, however obliquely, to pass it on to anyone’s “Protestant heritage.” The idea of the curse of Cain existed before Mormonism, of course, but Brigham Young and his successors vigorously accepted and expanded upon the idea for more than 100 years. That is to our collective shame.

  68. Following from comments invoking collective racism, guilt, fears, shame, etc., is the withholding of Priesthood ordination from LDS women due only to the misogyny of LDS prophets and church members? And should that judgment be preached at every opportunity?

  69. SC Taysom says:

    Interesting question. My guess is that if the “ban” on women holding the priesthod ever changes, then there will be a lot of talk about misogynistic “folklore” and so forth. It should be noted, however, that at least one important difference exists between the racial ban and the gender ban: women, although they do not hold the priesthood, have access to the temple and all of the ordinances of exaltation. This isn’t to downplay any gender inequality that may exist in the church, but to suggest that those of African descent were denied more than just the priesthood.

  70. There was no mention of the 1978 priesthood revelation in my ward either. Instead, we had two talks on chastity where one of the speakers decried the evils of dressing our toddlers in shorts and sleeveless shirts. *Sigh*

  71. I regret that I didn’t hear this talk in person.

    One of President Hinckley’s comments is a bit puzzling to me. He said: “How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?”

    Am I assume that he was alluding here to a specific incident? Can anyone shed any light on his reference?

  72. Maybe the incident was the one mentioned in the Salt Lake Tribune over the weekend that recounted the experience of a black temple patron who overheard a temple worker say the “n” word.

  73. Very nicely put, SC Taysom. Talking about this question as though we simply withheld the right to pass the sacrament or become bishop is a total misrepresentation of the true nature and extent of the problem. The Church systematically and categorically denied saving ordinances to an entire group of faithful saints on the base of their race. This is not about ecclesiastical authority. It is about who does and does not get salvation, which families get to be “together forever” and which ones do not.

  74. Brad, where blacks denied exaltation because of the Priesthood ban?

  75. That depends. Were they exempted from the necessity to undergo requisite salvific ordinances to attain salvation? Were they granted free access to the blessings conferred in the temple, including sealings? Will they not need the knowledge provided via temple ordinances in order to walk back to the presence of God?

    In other words, of course they were.

  76. #72 – Technically, within the parameters of our current understanding and in the minds and hearts of most members at the time, no. However, it is hard to argue that all members thought exaltation was available. There are the statements about servants in the hereafter that make it hard to believe otherwise. It’s impossible to teach a racist practice and not end up with some racist attitudes among the membership.

    It should be pointed out that Brigham Young’s official statements and justifications NEVER claimed personal revelation on the matter. He used “The Lord has said” statements regularly, but they always were couched in terms of his reading of what the Lord had said to other prophets in other times (written in canonized scripture), NOT as personal revelation directly to himself. (and on the claims of peers that Joseph never ordained any black members himself) That is why later leaders argued that the ban was policy only and could be lifted without revelation.

    I believe revelation was necessary specifically because it had been taught for so long that there had to be no question about the source of the change and the unanimity of the leadership to back it. It simply couldn’t be another schism-inducing change like polygamy was. I believe the tree got trimmed when the roots finally were strong enough to take it – and when, like Limhi’s people, the Church had paid enough for its mistake.

    Fwiw.

  77. I should clarify my answer. The Church did not actually strip anyone’s salvation. It did not bind God’s ability to save whom He will. But the Church did deny access to ordinances which it simultaneously taught to be absolutely necessary for exaltation.

  78. Brad, I think Ray is probably more correct in his first paragraph of # 74.

    I never got the sense that the Church had taught that black people were damned because they were black — just that they couldn’t hold the priesthood or perform temple work.

    Is it your view that the priesthood ban created a bind for blacks in which they couldn’t perform temple work and therefore they were de facto damned or rather arrested in their eternal potential (i.e. excluded from exaltation but not salvation since they could be baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost and partake of the sacrament each Sunday)?

    Is that based on something Alvin R. Dyer said or just deductive reasoning?

  79. Deductive reasoning, I guess. I think it is the assertion that blacks were denied access to temple ordinances but not somehow denied access to the blessings of exaltation accessible there exclusively that requires defending.

  80. John Lambert says:

    I attended the dedication of the Belle Isle Branch Chaple in the city of Detroit. Multiple references were made to the revelation, including our stake president in his talk mentioning exactly where he was when he first heard the revelation. I then stayed for their regular sacrament meeting. The branch takes in part of Detroit and its some overwhelmingly white and in general affluent suburbs know as the Grosse Pointes. The brother who conducted the meeting was of African descent. The brother who gave the opening payer was another African-American who was the first branch president. Our stake president’s half-African American grandchildren were there, but their father was not. Then there was another couple I met, who live in Grosse Pointe Park, which is the least affluent of the Groose Pointes but still a far cry from Detroit, where the husband is of European descent and the wife is of African descent.
    At my own singels ward, the revelation was also mentioned in a talk. So at least I got exposed to mentions of the anniversary.

  81. John Lambert says:

    In my ward I did learn that one person was of partly African descent who I did not know this of before. I attend a singles ward, and we have had several sisters from Brazil. One of them I had a strong suspicion was partly of African descent. However I did not know until yesterday. In large part because of it being the 30th anniversary I actually took the step and asked her. After she mentioned African along with Spanish and Indigenous Brzilian ancestry, I did tell her some of my father’s experiences as a missionary in Brazi before the revelation on the priesthood.
    Also I went to seminary graduation because my younger brother was graduating. There I met a girl from Venezuela, who I strongly suspect is of African descent. I had actually seen her earlier at the Belle Isle Branch meeting, but there were so many people I did not actually talk to her then. She has been in the United States for two years but speaks English very well. In talking with her at the graduation the main thing I brought up was Elder Pino, the first Venezuelan General Authority, so I did not get around to asking her if she had Afrian ancestry. I am not even sure if she joined the church in Michigan or Venezuela.

  82. Mark B. says:

    There may have been some who taught or believed that the ban on priesthood and temple blessings was eternal–but from my earliest understanding (probably mid-1960s)–I believed, and I thought that most people believed, that the ban would end, and that those then limited would be entitled to all the blessings of exaltation, whether they received the ordinances themselves or by proxy.

  83. Right, Mark. I never argued that the Church denied blacks exaltation in the sense that we prevented the error from ever being corrected. Just that we taught that salvation and exaltation came a certain way, a way that we deliberately, systematically impeded for certain members.

  84. Martin Willey says:

    Thank you for that great post. I was really hoping for some formal recognition in my SM of that great day. I was grateful that one of the youth speakers, adressing the topic of reveleation, tied into the 1978 Revelation, but wanted more. I wish I could have been there for J.’s talk. It made me commit to be more inclusive and welcoming of all our brothers and sisters. And the supporting materials were so great. Thank you!

  85. I was always taught that the only ordinance required for exaltation was baptism. Within the exalted kingdom, there is a hierarchy, at the top of which is sealed people. So as a convert married to a non-member, I was never going to be the cream of the crop, but that should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me now :)

  86. John Lambert says:

    Randy,
    I did first hear a comment on that order from a man of partial African descent. However he was not a member during the ban, and he was a self described Puerto Rica, black, Messianic Jew, so a unique individual.
    Beyond this, to him it was just one way to look at it, not neccesarily the best way. Also, I think even he would have avoided statements like fact and such.
    I think though the problem that your associate has (and I know people like this) is that even if he first heard this idea from an African-American like I did you need to bear in mind that different people can say things in different ways. If you are a person who is more closely associated with a group you can be more forth right in discussion, and anyway that man I knew made the comment when we were teaching his friend, so there were only four people present, my, my mission companion, him and his friend. That is a far cry from making a comment in a church meeting, especially one where you suggest something should have been presented as a fact in a movie.
    Beyond this, your associate almost seems to have conveyed an idea that Africans had unfair privaleges before the revelation. If any man in the church thinks it is a privalege not to be able to stand in on a blessing of his wife when she is sick than he has issues. In fact if anyone in the church really thinks that holding the priesthood and going to the temple are burdens than maybe they should rethink why they are in the church at all. Anyway, how is it a privalege to not be able to have your family sealed to you and to wonder if your wife and children will be yours after this life. Even with all the promises of you can get, a bird in the hand is still worth two in the bush.

  87. I was a little disappointed that no mention of the anniversary was made either in our HC meeting yesterday, or in my home ward. Understandable maybe, in that we are always a little pressed for time in HC, and our ward had our graduating seminary students speaking in Sacrament meeting. I’m a little cautious in suggesting to our bishop what he should do, as I am a former bishop in my ward, and have learned when to speak, and when to be quiet, Which is most of the time.

    As I think about the concept of the ban resulting from racism, I think that thirty years ago, I would not have agreed. Now, looking back on what I was taught by my good parents, I recognize the racism that pervaded most of our discussions in church and in our home, growing up. It was all the more remarkable, because my father had actually been recognized for working with a group of black workers as a civilian Air Force employee, and was kind and compassionate in all that he did. But subtle racism existed in our home, and I had to outgrow it. That mostly occurred in high school, when I had black friends, including a debate partner for a year. I think we have learned a lot in the last thirty years, and I am grateful for the changes that have taken place. But as some of the comments here have shown, we still have a ways to go. Including me.

  88. re # 77, isn’t there a traditional teaching or at least a dictum in the Church that those who are denied certain privileges or blessings relating to the temple during this life due to no fault of their own will not be penalized for it in the hereafter? I seem to recall hearing this taught on the General Authority level although usually with regard to singles who never ended up marrying or going through the temple during this life.

    Would that and other similarly optimistic Mormon teachings relating to “everything will be straightened out in the hereafter” not shift the burden of argument to the assertion that blacks were denied exaltation by the priesthood ban?

  89. John Lambert says:

    David G.,
    I am encoraged by your story of the second counselor having a change of heart. At times on my mission I wondered if there was any hope for some people and if we just needed to weight for them to die.
    However as was expressed in a song I once heard “I was a whole lot older then, I’m younger than that now”. I now see that people can and do change, and that things progress. My great-grandfather who would never higher a Mexican-American was sent as a stake missionary among the Mexican Americans in Los Angeles and actually learned to love them. The gospel and the spirit can convert hardened racists into lovers of their fellow man.

  90. John, that depends on two things. 1) The presence and ubiquity of such sentiment during the pre-1978 era, and 2) the scope of uptake of doctrinal explanations that ontologized the racial difference, leading to assertions, for example, that blacks would be “servants” to exalted whites in the CK.

    To the extent that people believed it to be just an unfortunate, mysterious, but temporary policy, I think your argument holds weight. To the extent that people believed the cursed-lineage/fence-sitters nonsense emanating from very credible sources, then it’s difficult to argue that people (including prominent leaders) did not on some level equate lack of worthiness to hold the priesthood with lack of worthiness to attain exaltation in the fullest sense.

  91. John Lambert says:

    John Lambert,
    Indains (of any type) were allowed to hold the priesthood from day one. Wilford Woodruff ordained one a seventy at the St. George Temple. Brother Christiensen wrote a book “Sagawitch: Indian Chief, Mormon Elder”. Chief Tuba and his wife were sealed in the St. Geoge Temple. Eduardo Balderas, who helped transate the endowment into Spanish, was more than likely of “Indian” descent. By 1978 there were stakes in some parts of Latin America where most of the leadership had at least some “Indian” ancestry.
    On the other hand African ancestry is so prevalent in parts of southern Mexico, that it was only because of resident McKay’s positive proof of African ancestry rule that the church was able to find local leadership in some areas. This probably explains why missionary work did not start in the Caribbean until after the revelation.
    In fact, the revelation only affected those of African descent. Fijians, who are just as dark as Africans (in fact probably the average native Fijian is darker than the average African-American) were ordained to the priesthood before 1978. The first Fijian to serve a mission was served starting in 1959. Fiji was to the point of being a seperate mission in 1971.

  92. Kevin Barney says:

    I saw my bishop while waiting for the train this morning, and I asked him whether he thought the blacks in our ward know about the ban. For most he doesn’t know for sure; for a few he says they do, because they learned of it from relatives who informed them about it (in an antagonistic way, trying to demean the church). For the rest, since it’s not taught pre-baptism he presumes not. He had three observations: (a) those who learned of it from relatives handled the new information fine and focused more on their own treatment and reception in our ward than on an historic practice; (b) there seems to be a divide between those who come from Africa and those born in the US; for the former it’s no big deal, but the latter are significantly more troubled by it; and (c) he thought (and I agreed) it very helpful that a member of our SP is black and often the presiding officer in our meetings.

    I was heartened to hear his perspective, but I still hate that we cede the opportunity to give the first knowledge of the ban to the relatives of new members, who use the information to try to shock them and get them to leave the church.

  93. #88 – John, I have mistakenly referenced a numbered comment of my own rather than the one I intended to address, but I’ve never addressed a comment to myself. :)

  94. John Lambert says:

    Brad,
    I was not trying to understand what white members thought before the revelation. I have known enough people who were born AFTER the revelation who still believed in the Seed of Cain garbage, and who felt Elder McConkie had been pressuered to change some of his statments on blacks and the priesthood, ignoring his own statement on the issue, that I do not doubt that some people in the church before the revelation (and some today) hold racist views.
    I do have to agree that in a global view, it is hard to argue that the policy on the priesthood did not have the impact of increasing racism.
    I do take objection to mentioning blacks as “unworthy” to hold the priesthood. The state was they were no allowed to hold the priesthood. Some people misinterpreted this as them being unworhy of the priesthood, but this is a two step not just a one step set of assumptions.

  95. JL,
    It’s hard not to link the “fence-sitter” (which I was taught in 1994 — just that all the prexistent fence-sitters had already been born, entailing an end in the policy) doctrine with worthiness.

  96. John Lambert says:

    Brian,
    Was your community really ethnically diverse, specifically did it have many African Americans? By the way, were you realy in Chicago and Milwaukie or were you in the suburbs. I could claim I grew up in Detroit, and that would make you think I associated with lots of African-Americans. That would be a lie.
    I think I knew more African Americans my first year at BYU (1999-2000) than I had before. Maybe not quite, but it came close.
    The only African-Americans in my ward at that time were children under 10 who had been adopted by white families. Detroit had been made a seperate district, and although we at times associatd with them, it was rare, and there was a clear divide.
    The first black person I ever knew was Mickey Edwards, in my primary class when I was about six.
    The first time I ever had a black person in a class at school was in High School. I do not think there were any black people in my elementary school until I was in third grade, and then I think there was one.
    My graduating class in high school had one black person in it. This is what things were like in Sterling Heihgts.
    On the other hand, when I was little I though Yasser was a normal name, my High School had so many Chaldeans it was called “West Baghdad High”, over 40% of the students in my high school had English as a second language, and both m scoutmasters were married to women who were immigrants from South America while my Deacon’s Quorum Advisor was a Navajo. I had lots of classmates from India, the Phillipines, Korea and Vietnam. Also several from Albania, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, Vojvodina and Macedonia.
    Things have changed. No one gets away with calling my city “Sterling Whites” anymore. At least 38 or the 360 graduates in my brother’s high school graduating class on Saturday were African-Amercan, but it was probably a few more. The Sterling Heights Ward lost the families with adopted African-American children in a boundary change, but we have three families that are partly African-American now and another that has an adopted child of African descent.

  97. John Lambert says:

    Brad,
    In many ways your discussion of the temple issue is ignoring the fact that Church leaders starting in the 1890s and clearly by the 1920s in full force were telling church members to stay in Europe. Yet, it was only by leaving Europe that they could recieve the blessings of the temple.
    For many church members, the revelation on the priesthood did not open the temple to them in any meaningful sense. Many of these members were in Brazil, and they had to weight until the dedication of the Sao Paulo Temple latter that year to go to the temple. Even at that, many in Northern Brazil, in Veneuela, in the Caribean and in Africa would weight longer to go to the temple.
    We have to bear in mind that there were only 16 temple worldwide at the time of the revelation. Your points need to be considered in light of the contemporary reality.
    Also, married womn whose husbands were not temple worthy were not able to go to the temple to recieve their endownment until the time President Benson was president of the church. I would be interested to hear your reaction to this set of circumstances.
    One more thing, I think you underestimate the power of work for the dead. If a peson has the opportunity to go to the temple but turns it down than that is one thing, but if you read Doctrine and Covenants Section 137 you will see the Lord judges people on how they would have acted if they had had an opportunity for all the blessings.

  98. John Lambert says:

    I think it would be good if we were more proactive in addressing this issue. This is why organizations like the Genesis Group help.

  99. re # 89, Kevin, I would agree with your bishop’s observation — that blacks from Africa don’t seem to be particularly bothered that the ban existed (that does not imply that they wouldn’t care if it hadn’t been eliminated), which is probably one reason why no one mentioned it in my East London ward, which is more than 50% composed of people originally from Africa.

  100. CS Eric says:

    I was a bit disappointed that there was no mention in Sacrament meeting yesterday (my wife was ill, so I went home for the other meetings). However, last week we had a black man and two of his children baptised (following the mother, who has been a member for quite a while). The father and son were both confirmed (the daughter wasn’t there), and after the confirmation the bishop said something about making the boy a deacon soon.

    Maybe that’s the best way to commemorate the anniversary–make the ordination seem routine now.

    I remember the day very clearly. I was at my first missionary baptism when our mission president got the news. I felt both surprised and relieved. The surprise was that it happened so soon; I remembered Pres McKay’s saying that it wouldn’t happen in his lifetime. I had always assumed from that that while blacks would eventually be able to receive the priesthood, it wouldn’t happen until the Millenium, and that a large part of the temple work that I had been taught would be the focus of much of the Millenium would be blacks finally able to get their work done.

    The relief was from no longer having to try to come up with an answer that satsified me. I had heard, and been taught many of the theories, but I was fortunate that I had been taught that they were just theories–we didn’t really know.

  101. Mark B. says:

    My son-in-law served in the Haitian-Creole program in the Fort Lauderdale mission. I asked him last night what they taught their investigators about the ban–actually, I asked my daughter who asked him, so there wasn’t any follow-up–and his response was that attempts to explain were met with blank looks, and so they stopped trying.

    I’m with Kevin–I think it’s terrible that an investigator/new member first learns this part of our history from a friend/family member who is trying to keep them from the church. Much better that we get the first word on the subject.

  102. Mark B. says:

    Either CS Eric was a late bloomer–serving his mission while well past the 19-20 year old average–or he has an extraordinary memory. Let’s say he was 19 in 1978. That would make him 11 in 1970 when Pres. McKay died, and about 7 when Pres. McKay made his last public statements in conference.

    I know I turned 7 about 5 years before that, and I have no memory at all of anything Pres. McKay said.

    Congrats, CS! :-)

  103. Aaron Brown says:

    J., I wish I had been there to hear your talk. And unlike most here, I actually could have been, as it would have been a short drive. Sigh.

    AB

  104. Aaron Brown says:

    A couple commenters seem to suggest that “racism” was the causal factor behind the Priesthood Ban. If you’re going to reject the idea that God was the author of the Ban (and I personally DO reject that idea), it doesn’t follow that “racism” is the primary cause, or the only causal factor worth talking about.

    To clarify, I do believe that 19th Century “racist” ideas were the original “cause” of the Ban in some strong sense (See Brigham Young), and I do think the racism of subsequent church members and leaders may have helped perpetuate the ban for as long as it lasted, and I certainly think it helped churchmembers find certain racist rationales for the Ban acceptable and believable. But I think the real culprit here is our collective misguided attachment to theological precedent. Brigham Young taught what he taught very stridently. Subsequent church leaders took what he said very seriously, Young being a prophet and all. Later leaders could look back on what was becoming a lengthy history of unanimous acceptance of and adherence to the Ban on the part of their forebearers. And I suspect more modern churchmembers and leaders, seeing this history (to the extent they know it) and being loathe to confront the possibility that such an entrenched idea/practice could have been ill-conceived from the start, felt ideologically compelled to support it and rationalize, despite their own relative lack of racist sentiment.

    In short, I think a frank discussion of the Priesthood Ban is as much an opportunity to discuss unfortunate attachments to theological precedent and “doctrinal” continuity as it is to discuss Mormon racism.

    AB

  105. SC Taysom says:

    re: 77, 84. This argument misses at least part of the point. The temple is not just about exaltation, it is also about providing spiritual knowledge and power that help us navigate the waters of mortality. Very few of us who have been to the3\ temple and participated in the potentially exalting ordinances performed there will ever know with certainty if those ordinances have been sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise until we have died. What we do know however, and what those of African descent could not know in the pre-1978 Church, is the sense of having been invited, in this world, to enter into a family and community order of being where we are not only offered ordinances, but also are given important teachings that help us find peace in this life, as well as eternal life in the hereafter. I have to say that it is cold comfort indeed to offer to persons excluded from those teachings and that spiritual assistance–for no other reason than the color of their skin–a sop about things being made right in the hereafter.

  106. Matt Jacobsen says:

    I was at the meeting and J. did a great job giving this talk. He had the right combination of grief, admonition, and gratitude that this topic requires. The topic of the meeting was that god loves all his children and the other talks were good but not about the ban.

    Then later that day I got to attend a temple prep class also taught by J. I am loving my ward right now.

  107. Matt, you are a good friend.

    SC, you make a good point. For Joseph, it was the “endowment of power.” A bestowal a spiritual power.

  108. Sister Blah 2 (#39) —

    Belated thanks for your suggestion. You make a good point. For my lesson, I’ll be sure not to hold up “white” (or pastey-pinkish-white in my family’s case) as the normal color.

  109. CS Eric says:

    Mark B,

    It wasn’t so much that I was a late bloomer (#102), as that I had a wonderful 9th grade seminary teacher who talked about the issue frankly and openly. He recounted the story to us of a newspaper reporter who asked Pres McKay when the blacks would receive the priesthood. Pres McKay reportedly answered him that it wasn’t going to happen in his(Pres McKay’s) lifetime.

    We also had a family friend who was one of Pres McKay’s bodyguards. He would tell us stories of the Prophet all the time. Even as a young boy I remembered those things. Don’t you remember stories you were told as a boy?

    Also, my memories of what Pres McKay said don’t have to be what I remember him saying at the time he said them. It may surprise you, but I also remember the day JFK was shot, and I have a clear recollection of watching Jack Ruby jumping out of the crowd and shooting Lee Harvey Oswald.

  110. The other reason I learned at a young age about the controversy over blacks and the priesthood, and when, if ever, that would change is not really so noble as my outrage at an injustice. It was this: my dad was a huge BYU basketball fan. For a lot of the 1970’s, whenever BYU would play on the road, they would get a ton of grief from local fans over the issue. I remember seeing fans (I think it was at Wyoming) throwing garbage onto the court. I wondered why, and asked.

  111. I know we’re done with this topic, but for the record: no mention of this in my Sac Mtg, so during a small lull, I mentioned it in Relief Society in our ‘Good News Minute’. Only then realizing how wonderfully apt that forum was. Brian #34, the relief and elation of many people was real.

  112. I have never had the privilege to hear a sacrament meeting talk like I can imagine this one was. Wish I was there. Perhaps one day talks as honest, intelligent, and faithful as this can become more of the norm.

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