Saturday, February 13, 2021

Apostles, Prophets, and God’s Former Priesthood Restriction

By Dennis B. Horne

“We do not expect the people of the world to understand such things, for they will always be quick to assign their own reasons or to discount the divine process of revelation.”

(President Spencer W. Kimball[1])

            The purpose of this piece is to substantiate the inspired genesis and continued correctness of the priesthood restriction on black male members (meaning African-Americans) until June of 1978. With the many confused or contrary voices of critics, activists, liberal academics and scholars, doubters, and dissenters now proclaiming the restriction was instituted by a prejudiced and political President Brigham Young, presentation of the abundant contrary evidence is both helpful and needful. Many lacking understanding have labelled the former restriction in the Restored Church of Jesus Christ as wrong and racist, and even call for the Church to issue a public apology (something that won’t happen). They suppose if they shout loud and long enough, or write enough articles and blogs, what they say will displace truth and become the main narrative.

            Because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church and Kingdom of God on earth, the truth is that the restriction was implemented by Him, and thereafter continuously maintained and sustained by Him, through His prophets, until He removed it by revelation in 1978. The following items reinforce and support this reality: 

1. The observation is correctly made that no written revelation from Joseph Smith (or Brigham Young) has been found that specifically implements the priesthood restriction. Therefore, the argument goes, it was not initiated with Joseph by God, but instead by Brigham Young, acting by his own volition under the prejudiced world-view and environment of his day (possibly as he sought to distinguish the “Mormons” from Native Americans).[2] In support of this reasoning, it is pointed out that a few (3-4) black men were ordained to the priesthood in Joseph Smith’s day, but that Brother Brigham eventually halted any more such ordinations.[3] (No prophets or apostles have made this specious argument; it comes only from those without authority to speak for the Church.)

            There are problems with such reasoning:

            a) Prophets do not need to write all of their revelations; in fact, most aren’t written except as practically implemented.[4] While a miniscule possibility exists that the Prophet Joseph Smith did receive a (now lost) written revelation beginning the restriction, more likely it came as an impression from the Spirit of the Lord at some unknown time—this is how the prophets today teach that most revelation for the Church is received.[5] Some is indeed written, but most comes as whisperings or unmistakable impressions, or as flashes of pure intelligence flowing into the mind and heart. Revealed truth is also received line upon line, here a little and there a little. This is the probable origin of the priesthood restriction. Hence, it is highly likely that no written revelation will ever be discovered. However, in this connection, we do not know if the minutes and other private papers of the First Presidency of Joseph Smith’s or Brigham Young’s day have been thoroughly searched for notation of such a revelation. Of President Brigham Young, then-Elder Joseph F. Smith said: “We also bear testimony that Brigham Young is a prophet of the living God, and that he has the revelations of Jesus Christ; that he has guided this people by the power of revelation from the time he became their leader until the present, and he has never failed in his duty or mission. He has been faithful before God, and faithful to this people.”[6]

            b) While a written revelation is absent, other credible evidence does tie Joseph Smith to the priesthood restriction. In his journal, President George Q. Cannon recorded the following:

            March 1, 1900: “I had a conversation very early in life with President John Taylor, who told me what the Prophet Joseph had said upon this subject. I related it today to the Council [of the Twelve]. He [Joseph] told him [John] that the seed of Cain could not hold the priesthood, . . .”[7]

            August 18, 1900: “President Taylor had repeated to me a conversation he had had with the Prophet Joseph on this question, and one of the points of the conversation was that the negro could not hold the priesthood”[8]

            August 22, 1895: “I related what I had heard in my boyhood as coming direct from the Prophet Joseph. It was related to me by President Taylor, . . . for this reason, as I had always understood, the negro race have been debarred from the Priesthood.”[9]

            In support of President Cannon’s thrice-repeated reminiscences alluding to the position of the Prophet, in his October 1967 General Conference talk, President Ezra Taft Benson quoted the Prophet Joseph Smith thusly: “The arm of flesh may not approve nor understand why God has not bestowed the priesthood on . . . the seed of Cain, but God's ways are not man's ways. God does not have to justify all his ways for the puny mind of man. If a man gets in tune with the Lord, he will know that God’s course of action is right, even though he may not know all the reasons why. The Prophet Joseph Smith understood this principle when he said, ‘. . . the curse is not yet taken off from the sons of Canaan, neither will be until it is affected by as great a power as caused it to come; and the people who interfere the least with the purposes of God in this matter, will come under the least condemnation before Him; and those who are determined to pursue a course, which shows an opposition, and a feverish restlessness against the decrees of the Lord, will learn, when perhaps it is too late for their own good, that God can do His own work, without the aid of those who are not dictated by His counsel.’” (Documentary History of the Church, 2:438.)[10]

            c) Joseph Smith either erred in ordaining (or authorizing ordination of) these black men to the priesthood, or made an exception that he, as the Lord’s Prophet and head of the dispensation, had authority to make.[11] I can think of few areas of the gospel where exceptions have not been made; rather, exceptions are found most everywhere, especially in church history. I think of President Wilford Woodruff making an exception and allowing a visiting non-Latter-day Saint dignitary to tour the recently dedicated Salt Lake Temple. But rare exceptions are certainly not the rule, especially if they were made in error. Further, in early days there was much less regulation present in the church.

            On a side note, regarding the notion of “the seed of Cain” and the “Canaanites” being the progenitors of the African-American race: whether rightly or wrongly this identification has been challenged—but that doesn’t matter since the Church Authorities using those terms believed African-Americans to be the posterity or seed of Cain or Canaanites, and that is what they then meant when using those terms, irrespective of all counter-arguments.[12]

            For example, when President Spencer W. Kimball reviewed and corrected a document prepared by Elder Bruce R. McConkie that narrated the events of the receipt of the revelation on the priesthood in 1978, President Kimball did not correct Elder McConkie quoting him: “He [President Kimball] said that in recent weeks he had spent many hours alone there in the upper room in the temple pleading with the Lord for counsel and direction. He said he hoped the Lord would give a revelation one way or another and resolve the matter. He indicated that if it was the mind and will of the Lord that we continue in the present course, denying the priesthood to the descendants of Cain, that he was willing to sustain and support that decision and defend it with all its implications to the death” (emphasis added). 

2. At a meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on June 4, 1879, the fact that Elijah Abel, a worthy and faithful black man, was ordained a Seventy in the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and that he had received a patriarchal blessing from Father Joseph Smith Sr. was discussed at length and a copy of the patriarchal blessing was read. In commenting on this ordination, “President John Taylor said it seemed that in his case it was probably like many other things done in the early days of the Church, such as baptism for the dead; at first, persons were baptized without records being taken and as the Lord gave further light and revelation things were done with greater order; but what had been done through lack of knowledge, that was not altogether correct in detail, was allowed to remain. He thought that probably it was so in Brother Abel’s case; that he, having been ordained before the word of the Lord was fully understood, it was allowed to remain.”[13]

            From the Journal History of the Church, October 9, 1947, is recorded the following: “Elder Joseph Fielding Smith called attention to the report of the Council of the Twelve under the date of April 23, 1940, reporting on an assignment given by this Council regarding permitting a person to receive the Priesthood who has any degree of negro blood, at which time it was the recommendation of the Twelve that the ruling of the past being that a person with the slightest degree of negro blood cannot receive the Priesthood.” Conclusion: in 1940 the Lord wanted the restriction to remain.

            Further, from the (1947) Journal History: “In connection with this discussion Brother Joseph Anderson, at the request of the First Presidency, read to the Council excerpts from minutes of the Council meeting held May 28, 1879 and June 4, 1879, in which this matter of ordaining to the priesthood brethren with colored blood in their veins was discussed at considerable length and which minutes give among other things a copy of a blessing under the hands of Joseph Smith Sr. upon Elijah Abel, a negro.”[14]

            The two referenced meetings held in May and June of 1879 were opportune occasions for the Lord to inspire the prophet and apostles to remove the restriction if He wanted it removed. Conclusion: the Lord wanted the restriction to remain.

            In this connection, a First Presidency letter dated July 17, 1947, stated: “From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church Leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.”[15] 

3. On October 13, 1882, President John Taylor received a substantive (written but non-canonized) revelation pertaining to priesthood and the calling of two new apostles (Elders George Teasdale and Heber J. Grant). Most of the approximately 800-word revelation waxes eloquent and prescriptive about priesthood organization and priesthood holders, giving guidance and understanding (and expecting worthiness of all the Lord’s people). It specifically gives direction for taking the gospel to the Lamanites (Native Americans) but it does not direct removal of the priesthood restriction.[16]

            Conclusion: In this revelation through President Taylor to the Twelve, providing a superb opportunity to remove the restriction, the Lord did not do so. Nor did He in any of His other revelations to President Taylor. 

4. A meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, October 9, 1947, observations as recorded by Elder Spencer W. Kimball: “In the 10 o’clock meeting with the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve the matter of the negro was brought up for discussion again. I think I felt in this meeting the spirit of revelation more pronounced than in any meeting I have attended. The spirit of unity was manifest. All the Brethren seemed to see alike through the sweet spirit throughout the meeting, and I was almost overcome with the delightful experience. The Brethren seemed unified in feeling that we could not withhold the regular gospel blessings from the colored people, and that though we were unable yet to give them the Priesthood, perhaps we should not withhold from them the other blessings of the gospel which are available to them.”[17]

            This meeting, which Elder Kimball viewed as highly spiritual and unified, with “the spirit of revelation” in pronounced abundance, would have been (another) exceptionally opportune occasion for the Lord to withdraw the priesthood restriction if He wanted to. Instead, a definite but limited measure of improvement and added blessing for African-Americans was decided upon under the influence of the Spirit—but not the withdrawal of the priesthood and temple blessings restriction. Conclusion: the Lord wanted the restriction to remain in place.           

5. According to research presented by one historian, President David O. McKay sought the Lord in faith to remove the restriction, but received no permission. A relevant quotation from the article states: “He [Pres. McKay] maintained the position that the long-established policy was inspired and that change would require divine intervention. President McKay desired and sought such revelation, but he did not receive it. He told Elder Marion D. Hanks that ‘he had pleaded and pleaded with the Lord but had not had the answer he sought.’ Leonard Arrington reported a statement by Elder Adam S. Bennion in 1954 that President McKay had prayed for change ‘without result and finally concluded the time was not yet ripe.’” Conclusion: “the time was not yet.”[18] 

6. In a January 29, 1979 interview with his grandson Andrew, President Spencer W. Kimball said: “Quite a few people in the total have rejected it [the former priesthood ban], have not thought the Church proper in its restrictions on Negroes. Brother [Sterling] McMurrin [in a public statement] said that he was ashamed of the Church.” Conclusion: President Kimball and the other apostles knew that many lukewarm non-valiant members could not tolerate the divergence between the thinking of the world and the doctrine/policy of the Church (previous to 1978), and were shamed by the pointing fingers of scorn and mockery. Nonetheless, the prophets remained firm despite public opposition from such members. 

7. Elder Glen L. Rudd, a (now-deceased) member of the Seventy and Florida Mission President (1966-69), recorded this experience in his personal history:

            At one of the [district] conferences, I was introduced to a black man by the name of Hesteras. This man was investigating the gospel and was being taught by two missionaries who were laboring in San Juan. He lived in the Virgin Islands but would go to Puerto Rico about once a month to visit his mother. He was about fifty years old and a Catholic. He asked about his chances of fully participating in the Church, and he was told that he would not be able to hold the priesthood. [The district president] went out of his way to explain the situation. We didn’t want Hesteras to be baptized and then fall away because he couldn’t hold positions of leadership in the Church. He assured all of us that it didn’t make any difference, so he was baptized.

            About six months later on another visit, [the district president] said to me, “Would you please interview Brother Hesteras as he is becoming a little bit discouraged since we can’t use him very much in the Church because of his Negro blood and not being able to hold the priesthood.” I told [the district president] there wasn’t any more I could tell him than had already been said, but I agreed that maybe I could make him feel a little better.

            So between sessions of [quarterly district] conference, he and I had a good talk. I asked him to tell me of his boyhood and about his mother and father. During the course of the conversation, I stopped him and said, “Brother Hesteras, you do not have any Negro blood in you.” He said, “Oh yes I do, look at me.” His hair looked a little bit curly and he was dark, but there were a lot of dark people who were not Negro. He then told me about his father who was jet black and about his old Negro grandmother who used to hold him on her knees and sing to him when he was a child. He had shown pictures of him and his family one night to most everyone in the branch. It was pretty well believed by all the Saints that he was a black man. For some reason or other, I was impressed to tell him he had no Negro blood. He asked for an explanation and I told him I didn’t have the faintest idea. I told him to go talk to his mother. He said she was bitter about him joining the Church and refused to discuss the Church. So I said, “The next time you come to Puerto Rico, fast for a whole day and then go see your mother, and she will tell you a lot of interesting things about your life.” He reluctantly agreed to do that.

            When I returned to Puerto Rico three months later, he was waiting patiently to talk to me. He came running up when he saw me and said, “President, you were right. I don’t have an ounce of Negro blood in me. I fasted, prayed, and went to see my mother, and she was very kind and considerate. I said to her, ‘Mother, the president of our Church here in the islands told me that I didn’t have any Negro blood in me. I can’t understand that because father was a Negro and grandmother was Negro, and I’ve always been a Negro.’” At that his mother broke down and cried and said she had never confessed to his father or anyone else about a transgression she had many years before. His father had worked on ships and while he was away for a period of time, she met a Danish sailor that came to the Virgin Islands. She had an affair with him, and became pregnant with a baby boy. They named the baby Hesteras. She had led her husband to believe that this little boy was his. Hesteras was registered on his birth certificate as being of black parentage. In reality his father was Danish and his mother had no Negro background, even though she was quite dark.

            I conferred with the district presidency and in the afternoon session of conference I personally presented his name for ordination. I made a brief explanation that we had investigated Hesteras’ background and found that he did not have any Negro blood. That afternoon we ordained him to the holy priesthood.[19]

            Conclusion: the Spirit of the Lord knew that this man was not an African-American and therefore could be ordained to the priesthood, and prompted Elder Rudd to have him investigate further. 

8. Before his call as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Russell M. Nelson was visited, in a sacred dream, by President Harold B. Lee, who had died and came from the spirit world: “In the dream [of September 16, 1978 after the receipt of the June 1 priesthood revelation] there were two vivid messages: . . . His second message was that the revelations received and the actions subsequently taken by President Kimball were the very same as would have been received and performed by President Lee had he remained as the prophet. President Lee exclaimed that the Lord gives His will to His living prophet regardless of who the prophet is at the time, for the Lord indeed is directing his Church.”[20] Conclusion: if President Lee had not died in 1973, but had continued living as the prophet of God, he would have received the 1978 revelation on the priesthood instead of President Kimball; the Lord didn’t want His restriction removed until 1978, at which time it was removed by the prophet by revelation—“For the Lord indeed is directing his Church.”

            The fact is that we have many reliable accounts in church literature of deceased prophets returning from the spirit world to communicate with their successors and others, imparting knowledge and guidance, and no one suggested or even mentioned lifting the restriction. The resurrected Lord Jesus Christ appeared to President Lorenzo Snow in the Salt Lake Temple in September of 1898. The Savior told Lorenzo that he was to succeed President Woodruff as His earthly prophet and instructed him to choose George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith as his counselors in the reorganized First Presidency, but He did not instruct President Snow to lift the priesthood restriction.[21] Shortly before his death, President Joseph F. Smith received some remarkable spiritual manifestations and revelations from the Lord, including the vision of the redemption of the dead (D&C 138). Yet in none of these supernal manifestations was President Smith directed to remove the restriction. Conclusion: the Lord wanted His restriction to remain in place. 

9. In an address to CES personnel on August 18, 1978, Elder Bruce R. McConkie spoke of the timing of the June 1 revelation: “This means that the same revelation had to be given to the Brethren in the Church in the spirit world, so that they can conform their preaching of the gospel to our new system on earth.” And: “The other underlying principle is that in the eternal providences of the Lord, the time had come for extending the gospel to a race and a culture to whom it had previously been denied, at least as far as all of its blessings are concerned. So it was a matter of . . . the divine timetable. . . . The time had arrived when the gospel, with all its blessings and obligations, would go to the Negro.”[22] Further, in a written statement describing the events of the new revelation, Elder McConkie wrote: “The Lord reaffirmed and recertified to all present that he had given the initial revelation and that it was his mind, his will, and his purpose that the Church go forward now into the new era in which the priesthood would go to all on the basis of worthiness.”

            He also wrote: “There has been rejoicing and a spirit of gladness that the day at last has come when the priesthood and temple blessings can go to all worthy males. It appears to many that this is one of the signs of the times. Heretofore when we have read the revelations saying that the gospel is to go to every nation and kindred and tongue and people, before the second coming of the Son of Man, we have done it reading out the Negro race. Now these revelations can be fulfilled in the literal and complete sense of the word” (emphasis added).[23] Elder McConkie also taught: “This kingdom of God, both in time [mortality] and in eternity [the spirit world], is governed by the spirit of inspiration. It always sends forth the mind and will of the Lord, whether by his own voice or by the voice of his servants it is the same. (See D&C 1:38).”[24]

            Elder Richard G. Scott supported Elder McConkie’s teachings in this regard: “Last Friday President Kimball, his counselors, and the Quorum of the Twelve announced to the world a new revelation [lifting the restriction]. I know positively that that revelation came from God. . . . I know positively that the Lord gave that revelation to the President. Now countless spirits who otherwise would not have had the blessings of the priesthood—those who are beyond [the veil], those who are here [in mortality], those who are yet to come—will enjoy the blessings that only can be obtained in the temple. . . .”[25]

            Speaking of the timing of the new revelation, President Kimball declared: “We had the glorious experience of having the Lord indicate clearly that the time had come when all worthy men and women everywhere can be fellow-heirs and partakers of the full blessings of the gospel. I want you to know, as a special witness of the Savior, how close I have felt to him and to our Heavenly Father as I have made numerous visits to the upper rooms in the temple, going on some days several times by myself. The Lord made it very clear to me what was to be done” (emphasis added).[26]

            Conclusion: until the time to remove the restriction came, the Lord continuously upheld and sustained it as His will and purpose. When the appointed time arrived, the Lord removed the restriction by revelation in both mortality and also in the spirit world—“those who are beyond”—it was a new era, a new day, and “a sign of the times.” 

10. From President Brigham Young to President Harold B. Lee, while receiving many, many, major and minor revelations, some written but most not, for the establishment and guidance and regulation of the Church, no prophet was ever directed by revelation to remove the restriction—even if they asked God to permit them to do so. They all felt that no matter how the Lord had implemented it, He would have to remove it by revelation.

            Some critics have argued that the priesthood restriction was solely the act of a prejudiced Brigham Young, and that because it was such a major development, that it must be concluded that the Church was led astray and fell into apostasy or was never true. Of course, the simple rebuttal to this false reasoning is that all the evidence proves the Church has not been led astray. It still has priesthood keys and authority, the gift of the Holy Ghost, prophets and apostles, miracles, saving ordinances, and many millions of believing loyal members; it is “true and living.” Since the Church and gospel is now and has been true since it was restored, the restriction was also revealed, implemented, and part of the Lord’s plan.

            Others have argued differently, giving their opinion that the priesthood restriction was implemented by Brother Brigham acting on his own, and then it was allowed by God to be continually enforced (because of prejudices common to mankind) but was not imposed or initiated or revealed by Him.

            Contrast this purely human philosophical theorizing with what President Wilford Woodruff declared. In teachings included after Official Declaration 1 in the Doctrine and Covenants, President Woodruff is thusly quoted: “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the program. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”

            Hundreds and hundreds of powerful testimonies by prophets and apostles are on record insisting that they were/are in communication with the Lord; that He is the head of His Church; that He inspires them to lead the Church the way He wants it led, including who is entitled to hold the priesthood. Elder McConkie taught: “Let us begin with the sure and certain conviction in our souls that this is the Lord’s work. This is the Lord’s church and he is running it. There isn’t any question at all about that.”[27] Likewise, Elder LeGrand Richards taught: “The prophet Amos said, ‘Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.’ (Amos 3:7.) Now if we understand that, no one can look for a work here upon this earth that isn’t headed by a prophet. The Lord has never done a work that he has recognized without a prophet at its head. Thank God for our prophets, from the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith down to our present prophet, President Spencer W. Kimball.”[28] Brother LeGrand’s father, Elder George F. Richards, a mighty apostle who saw the Lord Jesus in vision, bore testimony of this in general conference, in such a prophetic way that it is as though he knew some in future generations might come up with such false excuses. He stated: “I know that President Heber J. Grant is the mouthpiece of God unto this people at this time, and I know that he has the inspiration of his calling. . . . I have no fear of future embarrassment, of being found in a mistaken condition. I know, and thank God for this testimony, that this is his work, that he is at the helm, and that it will triumph.”[29]

            Conclusion: God implemented the restriction but did not send a revelation ending it until June 1, 1978, and Joseph Smith (or his successors) did not lead the Church astray. 

11. The explanatory introduction to Official Declaration 2 allows for, and does not contradict, the above items: “During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance.” 

12. The express wording of Official Declaration 2 itself, as approved and canonized by the Church, states the situation clearly: “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” (emphasis added). Conclusion: the prophets collectively understood that “at some time”—not sooner than June 1978—“the long-promised day has come.” Before then, there were “those from whom the priesthood has been withheld” by God that were “faithful brethren.” 

13. The Church’s gospel topic essay, “Race and the Priesthood” allows for the above items if some slight wiggle room is permitted for historical interpretation. The crucial paragraphs at issue read:

            “During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. One of these men, Elijah Abel, also participated in temple ceremonies in Kirtland, Ohio, and was later baptized as proxy for deceased relatives in Nauvoo, Illinois. There is no reliable evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. In a private Church council three years after Joseph Smith’s death, Brigham Young praised Q. Walker Lewis, a black man who had been ordained to the priesthood, saying, ‘We have one of the best Elders, an African.’

            “In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter blacks continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.”

            It should be remembered that the phrasing of these paragraphs is not revealed and rely on certain historian’s explanations of the incomplete historical record. Such conclusions are imperfect and are subject to revision as new discoveries are made or better interpretations found. The quotations (given above) from President George Q. Cannon’s diary were among the historical records consulted in preparation of the essay but seem to have been given less weight than they deserved. It seems there may be an incongruence at play between the Cannon-Taylor statements of Joseph Smith’s general views, and actual ordination of a few black men to the priesthood. The essay received the approval of the Correlation Committee of the Church, which is made up of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. However, no one involved has ever suggested the essay to be revelation, which it is not, and it is certainly subject to change. Many (especially misguided activists and critics) have falsely concluded that the essay declares Brigham Young to be solely responsible for the priesthood restriction, with no inspiration involved. Such an interpretation is not warranted or correct. 

            To summarize: 

-The Lord inspired the Prophet Joseph Smith to begin a general priesthood restriction for black men, though exactly how and when is not known. President John Taylor believed the few ordinations that did take place to be erroneous exceptions. 

-The Lord thereafter consistently upheld and sustained the restriction He Himself imposed, in concert with all of His prophets, until He wanted it removed in 1978. The evidence indicates that the Lord had abundant opportunities over many decades to end the restriction by revelation but did not until His due time had come—“the long-promised day.” (It wasn’t the “short- or soon-promised day.”) The Lord, being perfect and knowing all things, made no mistake with His earthly Kingdom in this regard. The prophets all agree on this; only misled and mistaken activists and some (alleged) scholars dispute it. 

-The foregoing items say nothing about why the Lord implemented the priesthood restriction. Two main explanations have been advanced by past Church leaders but are viewed now as speculative and are not accepted as the doctrine of the Church.[30] As noted by the Church essay: “Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.” God knows all things and doeth all things well; of that we can have perfect assurance and trust. We can also be confident, based on long experience, that if the Lord did reveal through His prophet His reasoning and purposes for the restriction, many would reject it, thinking they knew better of themselves; such is indeed the puny mind of men and women. One day, whether in this life or the next, all will be revealed to the complete satisfaction and understanding of all true and faithful and valiant Latter-day Saints. 

-When the restriction was removed and black men could hold the priesthood and African-American men and women could receive and enjoy all temple blessings, there was great rejoicing on earth and in heaven among faithful believers. Since June of 1978 the work and program of God has gone forward in the earth in its majesty and today His work is hastened as never before. 

            Some uninformed or rebellious (often misled activist) church members, imbued with the thinking and views of modern society—the world—have openly called the Church racist because of the former restriction; some have even taken it upon themselves to apologize for God. It seems they are ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught and lived until the due time of the Lord when the restriction was lifted by revelation. Their impossible problem is they cannot reconcile the gospel with the philosophies of men that they have accepted (and some loudly promote). To those who foolishly think this way, President Dallin H. Oaks said: 

            As believers relying on scriptural history, we can be troubled and misled by Bible-recorded scriptural directions or traditions that may be viewed as racist or discriminatory by modern definition. For example, within the tribes of Israel, only members of the tribe of Levi were acceptable for service in the temple. The Israelites were forbidden to marry the Canaanites and some others of surrounding lands. And the direction for Jews not to associate with Samaritans was because of their partial descent from non-Israelite peoples.

            Most important, the gospel was not to be taught to Gentiles—non-Israelites. Jesus Himself affirmed that restriction in strong language—“not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs”—but then made an exception for a faith-filled mother. During His mortal ministry, Jesus reversed the prohibition against associating with the Samaritans, and by revelation after His mortal life He revoked the prohibition against taking the gospel to the Gentiles. But these and other restrictions remain in scriptural history.

            Using current definitions, some might call such divine actions and prophet-taught principles racist, but God, who is the loving Father of all nations, tribes, and ethnicities, cannot be branded as racist for His dealings with His children. Often the reasons for His plan are not known or understandable to mortals. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,” He said through the prophet Isaiah. “Neither are your ways my ways.”

            Some have rejected some element of God’s plan as unreasonable according to cultural norms they could understand or accept. Others who have accepted God’s plan have mistakenly relied on cultural norms to provide reasons God has not revealed. Thus both nonbelievers and believers can reject or attempt to amend divine plans by relying on cultural norms instead of the directions of God. The safest course is not to reject or supplement the divine plan by human reasoning. Those who cannot accept the prophetic decisions and practices of the past should consider Winston Churchill’s wise counsel quoted earlier: “If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”[31] 

            Such indeed is inspired counsel from a prophet of God.



[1] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/teachings-spencer-w-kimball/chapter-22?lang=eng

[2] Addressing this question, Elder Quentin L. Cook stated, “Brigham Young also said things about race that fall short of our standards today. Some of his beliefs and words reflected the culture of his time. During this period, Brigham also taught, with respect to race, ‘Of one blood has God made all flesh.’ He then added, ‘We don’t care about the color’” (“Be Not Weary in Well-Doing,” BYU Speeches, August 24, 2020). Whether this statement can be interpreted as an admission by Elder Cook of “racism” in the former prophet is subject to interpretation. Further, some people define racism differently than others, especially when comparing the past with the present. See also Saints 2:182.

[3] I am aware that some believe there is evidence to suggest that other a few other black men were ordained to the priesthood into the 1900s. While this is possible, it only indicates that the local leaders that ordained these men were not aware of the restriction and acted improperly; no general authorities participated in these ordinations. In the 1960s and 1970s some rebellious member activists, without authorization, ordained some black men to the priesthood, but these ordinations were declared null and void and the activists were excommunicated.

[4] President George Q. Cannon taught: “You may not have been called by written revelation; but there have been thousands of revelations given which have never been written, thousands and thousands of them; and as I have said this Church has never been a moment without revelation. The mind and will of God has been communicated respecting every movement and every appointment, and everything that has been done connected with this work. Not a settlement has been settled without the mind and will of God having been sought for; not a step has been taken at any time in the history of our people without the mind and will of the Lord having been sought for to know whether it was the right thing to do. . . . There never has been a moment since this church was organized up to the present time that we have not had the mind and will of God made accessible to us; we had only to ask and receive. There never has been a moment—that is so far as my knowledge extends—since the organization of this church, when if a man needed counsel from the Lord upon any point he could receive it, and in this respect our position is different from that of any other people upon the face of the earth, and it ought to be a cause of constant thanksgiving to us that this is the case.” (George Q. Cannon diary, October 14, 1882).

[5] For example, of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Wilford Woodruff explained: “His mind was opened by the visions of the Almighty, and the Lord taught him many things by vision and revelation that were never taught publicly in his days. . .” (Journal of Discourses 5:84).

[6] Journal of Discourses 11:330-31.

[7] The Journals of George Q. Cannon, March 1, 1900. Church Historian’s Press, as located on the Church Website.

[8] Ibid, August 8, 1900.

[9] Ibid, August 22, 1895.

[10] Conference Report, October 1967, 35.

[11] Exceptions are real and entirely possible. President Dallin H. Oaks spoke of Jesus making an exception to His own directions: “Most important, the gospel was not to be taught to Gentiles—non-Israelites. Jesus Himself affirmed that restriction in strong language—“not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs”—but then made an exception for a faith-filled mother” (“Racism and Other Challenges,” BYU Speeches, October 27, 2020).

[12] As to the current doctrine of the Church as it relates to the teachings of the Book of Mormon concerning skin color denoting a curse, Elder Quentin L. Cook shared the following experience with BYU faculty:

                As I served in the British Mission, in 1962, our mission president, Marion D. Hanks, had us read and study the Book of Mormon. . . . President Hanks had been a General Authority for nine years before serving as our mission president. He would teach us the doctrine after we had marked the Book of Mormon. In reading 2 Nephi 5:21, describing a skin of blackness associated with being cut off from the Lord’s presence approximately 600 years before Christ’s birth, President Hanks was adamant that this phrase related solely to that people and during that period of time. Those people who were Lamanites were literal blood brothers and sisters to Nephi and his siblings.          President Hanks had us immediately turn to 2 Nephi 26:33, which reads, in part: And he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.

                That was our doctrine then and that is our doctrine now. President Hanks made it clear that if anyone had feelings of racial superiority, they needed to repent. (““Be Not Weary in Well-Doing,” University Conference, BYU Speeches, August 24, 2020.)

                The doctrine of the Church does not come from general authority mission presidents, even if their name is Marion D. Hanks (who was a great preacher of righteousness in his day), but when it is repeated and endorsed in this manner by a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, we can be assured and confident that it is true and represents the views of the senior Brethren for the Church. I predict that this doctrine, that a skin of blackness or darkness is not a sign of a curse or disfavor with God, will filter throughout the Church and become well-settled. See also the messages about racism given by Presidents Nelson and Oaks (and others) at the October 2020 general conference of the Church.

[13] Record of the meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, June 4, 1879. President Wilford Woodruff agreed in principle with his predecessor: “How was it in that day in reference to many things that were taught and practiced? All was not revealed at once, but the Lord showed the Prophet a principle, and the people acted upon it according to the light which they had” (Journal of Discourses 5:84). In this address, President Woodruff also used the subject of baptism for the dead to make his point, as had President Taylor.

[14] Journal History of the Church, October 9, 1947.

[15] Correspondence, the First Presidency (George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark, David O. McKay) to Dr. Lowry Nelson, July 17, 1947, 2.

[16] See James R. Clark, Messages of the First Presidency 2:347. See also George Q. Cannon diary, October 14, 1882.

[17] Spencer W. Kimball diary, October 9, 1947.

[18] Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47:2, 22.

[19] Glen L. Rudd, Treasured Experiences of Glen L. Rudd (Salt Lake City: Privately printed, 1995), 181-84.

[20] Russell M. Nelson, From Heart to Heart: An Autobiography (Salt Lake City: Quality Press, 1979), 159-60.

[21] Dennis B. Horne, Latter Leaves in the Life of Lorenzo Snow (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2012), 261-66. I am aware that one unbelieving researcher is disputing this account told by LeRoi C. Snow of Jesus appearing to his father Lorenzo, calling it a myth. I think the researcher wrong and weak in his research and conclusions.

[22] “All Are Alike unto God,” Church Educational System Devotional, BYU Speeches, August 18, 1978.

[23] Ibid.

[24] “The Caravan Moves On,” Ensign, November 1984.

[25] “Truth,” BYU Speeches, June 13, 1978.

[26] Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball, chapter 22.

[27] “Succession in the Presidency,” BYU Speeches, January 8, 1974.

[28] “Prophets and Prophecy,” Ensign, November 1975.

[29] Conference Report, April 1926, 150.

[30] I thought it worth noting, that while in the middle of an address in which he reasoned on one of the two main early theories that has been advanced, that an apostle interrupted himself and said, “We have no definite knowledge concerning this.” In other words, he knew he was reasoning or speculating according to his own mind and not teaching settled doctrine from the revelations. (See George F. Richards, Conference Report, April 1939.)

[31] “Racism and Other Challenges,” BYU Speeches, October 27, 2020; emphasis added.

2 comments:

  1. Considering the sources and gospel teachings you base your argument and assumptions upon, I understand your position. That being said, I am not entirely persuaded by it.

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  2. I am entirely persuaded because I know and trust that The Church of Jesus Christ is indeed The Church of Jesus Christ. I have faith in the prophetic calling and power and inspiration of both past and present prophets. I know God did not and will not lead a segment of the Church astray. Notice how most of the evidence I pointed to traces to revelation and prophets.

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