Monday, June 7, 2010

How I Reacted On June 8th, 1978 When LDS President Spencer W. Kimball Announced The Revelation Extending Priesthood Membership To Black Men

There are three historical events which took place during my lifetime in which I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. The first was on November 22nd, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The second was on September 11th, 2001, when America was attacked by Islamofascists.

But sandwiched in between is the date June 8th, 1978. That's the day that Spencer W. Kimball, the then-President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, announced that the ban against black men holding the Priesthood has been lifted and that the Priesthood could now be extended to all worthy males in the Church. After the revelation was formally presented and approved unanimously during the 148th LDS Semiannual General Conference on September 30th, 1978, it was canonized and incorporated into the Doctrine & Covenants as Official Declaration 2, reproduced below:

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

The First Presidency

This decision not only opened the way for the Church to further expand in Latin America and the Caribbean, but also opened up the entire continent of Africa. No part of the world is in greater need for the Priesthood than Africa. But while the Church membership as a whole accepted the decision, some of our more guilt-tripping progressive Mormons continue to whine about the fact that blacks had been denied the Priesthood for so long, and impetuously demand that the Church debase itself and "apologize" for it. You can read this Wikipedia entry which presents the history of the ban. But instead of analyzing the decision and agonizing over the past, I believe what is more needed are the simple testimonies of those who were over the age of accountability at the time, and how they were affected. I present my own testimony below.

I was serving in the U.S. Air Force at the time, assigned to Tinker AFB, OK. I was inactive in the Church, but still maintained formal membership. I was living in a dormitory for single low-ranking airman. The vast majority of us were white; some of us, including myself, were "benign racists", meaning that while we didn't much care for blacks, we didn't go out of our way to hassle them, and would work with them when assigned to do so.

I was walking down the hallway to one of the exits. One of my mates had the door to his room open, and his TV was blaring. Suddenly, I heard the announcement that the LDS Church had decided to extend Priesthood membership to blacks. Almost without thinking, I jumped for joy and started "styling and profiling". My mates were looking at me utterly dumbfounded, saying in effect "Is this the same so-and-so we've come to know"?

After "coming back down to earth", so to speak, I explained to my mates that this decision had much more to do with eternity than with mortality. I explained that because of the revelation, black men (and, by extension, their wives) could now enjoy the fulness of the Gospel and be able to undergo all the ordinances thereof, to include temple marriage, sealing of children, and the endowment. Black men could now fill full-time missions for the Church. Just because I didn't much care for blacks at the time didn't mean I wanted them cut off from these eternal blessings; in fact, I was always a bit discomfited personally by the Priesthood ban. It seemed like President Kimball had lifted a huge monkey off our backs.

My own attitude towards blacks slowly became more tolerant as a result of the revelation.

There were also more practical considerations for the change. Church leaders soon realized that a proposed temple for Sao Paulo, Brazil, would be off limits to too many Brazilian Church members because, due to large-scale historical race-mixing, many had black blood. At the time, the Church used the one-drop theory. This caused President Kimball to labor even more earnestly with the Lord for authority to end the ban. Finally, after much discussion among the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on this matter, they engaged the Lord in prayer one more time. According to the writing of one of those present, "It was during this prayer that the revelation came. The Spirit of the Lord rested upon us all; we felt something akin to what happened on the day of Pentecost and at the Kirtland Temple. From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of the Spirit, spoke to his prophet. The message was that the time had now come to offer the fullness of the everlasting gospel, including celestial marriage, and the priesthood, and the blessings of the temple, to all men, without reference to race or color, solely on the basis of personal worthiness. And we all heard the same voice, received the same message, and became personal witnesses that the word received was the mind and will and voice of the Lord".

Of course, the precise origins of the ban remain somewhat ambiguous to this day. An early statement by Brigham Young about a priesthood ban in the LDS Church was made on February 13th, 1849. The statement — which refers to the Curse of Cain as the reason for the policy — was given in response to the question, "What chance is there for the redemption of the Negro?" Young responded, "The Lord had cursed Cain's seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood".

The question is -- was it doctrinal, or was it a mistake? It would be useful for Church authorities to investigate thoroughly and come up with an answer to end the ambiguity. I don't believe it was a mistake, because the Lord allowed the policy to continue for nearly 130 years. Those who claim the Lord wouldn't exclude a group of people neither know nor understand the mind of the Lord, and possess immature testimonies of the Gospel.

Visit the BlackLDS website to learn more about black participation in the Church.

1 comment:

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