Prejudice, which President Kimball called “thou ugly,” mattered deeply to President Gordon B. Hinckley. He was troubled to hear about anyone being mistreated—and particularly when the excuse for mistreatment was race-based.
Darius Gray was similarly concerned as he received countless calls from men and women all over the United States who were still dealing with the ripples of racist folklore—people whose children were told that they were cursed, or that all blacks had been “neutral” in the pre-existence; white members who pulled their children from Sunday school because they didn’t want them in the same class as a black child; investigators or new converts who were addressed with racial epithets. Darius, in his calling as the president of the Genesis Group (a support group for black Latter-day Saints), told President Hinckley about some of these incidents. He heard later from President Hinckley’s daughter that she had found him pacing in his living room. When she asked what was wrong, he said, “Darius has told me some things, and I am troubled.”
I was moved by this report of President Hinckley’s reaction. How must a prophet feel upon realizing that some he leads are “without affection” for their brothers and sisters? I don’t know what other things happened to lead him to give his remarkable address in the priesthood session of April Conference 2006, but Darius was watching and sobbed throughout the talk. As soon as the session ended, I got a call from a friend telling me that President Hinckley had given a profound talk on racism. Another friend said he was aroused from near slumber as President Hinckley spoke, feeling the spirit of prophecy in a way he had rarely felt it. Armand Mauss called and said, “For the first time in years, I missed the priesthood session. And now I hear that something important happened.” (Since my husband had taken copious notes, I was able to read Armand a close approximation of what President Hinckley had said.) But in taking all of these calls, I missed the one from Darius. I had only his voicemail. He was in tears and could barely speak. He said merely, “He did it. President Hinckley did it. He spoke directly to the issue.”
It was indeed one of the most important talks on prejudice we’ve ever had in the LDS Church and included this provocative, rhetorical question: “How can any man holding the Melchizedek priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for that priesthood whereas another, who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color, is ineligible?” Those words, without any reference to “after 1978” are considered by some to be the final prophetic utterance on the priesthood restriction and everything that came with it.
Of course, not everyone remembers the talk as well as Darius and others do. Yesterday I heard of an incident in Utah where a missionary, part of a senior couple working in a church facility, looked around to be sure no one was listening, and then addressed someone he certainly thought would agree with him politically, and said something negative about President Obama, calling him “that nigger.” Apparently, someone needs to put a little note on some missionary refrigerators: I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Sincerely, Gordon B. Hinckley.
I believe that President Hinckley was moved to speak so boldly not just by what Darius and others had reported, but also (and more importantly) by the Spirit. He, with authority to receive revelation for the entire body of the church, spoke in his prophetic role.
And what about others’ personal revelations?
In 1998, before the exchanges with President Hinckley occurred, Darius received what felt like a flood of knowledge and revelation on the subject of race and the priesthood restriction. He wrote up as much as he could, but did not share it for two years. He waited, praying about how he should proceed. In 2000, he found The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual (copyright 1981), which talked about personal revelation and indicated that “every person properly appointed and sustained to act in an official capacity in the Church is entitled to the spirit of revelation to guide a particular organization or group over which he presides” (McConkie 187).
Since Darius was then the president of the Genesis Group, a Church unit to support those of African lineage, he felt that he was acting within those parameters. But he was still careful. Finally, he read instructions in a CES manual suggesting that if anyone believes he/she has received an important revelation which should be shared with the entire Church, they should submit it to those in authority. This kind of correlation is intended to keep self-proclaimed prophets from starting new churches, preaching ideas contrary to true doctrine on the authority of “revelation”, or justifying things not accepted in the orthodox LDS Church (polygamy being the most obvious example).
Darius submitted “Not a Curse but a Calling” to President Hinckley for approval, and asked if he could teach it.
I was in the room with others of the Genesis leadership when Elder Cecil Samuelson entered. Standing before all of us, he said, “President Gray, you submitted an article and asked permission to teach it. That permission has been granted.” We in the Genesis leadership were the witnesses.
This did not make Darius’s inspiration “new scripture” in any way—and he used a disclaimer whenever he taught the document we referred to as NACBAC: “What I am about to share should not be considered scripture, inasmuch as it is not found in any of the standard works of the Church. It is, however, consistent with the scriptures, and permission has been granted by the Brethren for me to teach it.” Nor did he share it capriciously. He held it in reserve and taught it only when he felt that the Spirit was right.
My point is not that Keith Hamilton is wrong and Darius is right—though it’s pretty clear that I side with Darius. The truth is, there is some overlap in what Keith says in his book and what NACBAC says—with the important distinction that Keith believes the restriction was ordained by God and Darius believes it was allowed but not imposed by God.
Just as race has been an invitation to love one another better and with fewer borders—mental, physical, spiritual and traditional—so a difference in opinion invites us to respect one another and transcend our differences to be one in Christ. Though Darius and Keith differ in their opinions of the priesthood restriction, and each believes he has received revelation, they remain friends. Darius performed the ring ceremony when Keith and his wife were married, and Keith has been a great advocate of my work.
Keith Hamilton concludes Last Laborer invoking a traditional Baptist hymn: “This is my story; this is my song.” All of us bring our voices and insights to the church. We do our best to blend and hit the right notes. Sometimes we do it badly and make an entire congregation cringe. Other times, our harmonies seem miraculous, and we wonder if the Heavens themselves might open and send angels to sanctify our efforts and lift our highest notes to just the right pitch. And I think we’re all ready for a bit more soul and at least one good shout of “Hallelujah!”