It is a historical truth that until 1978, Latter-day Saints' ecclesiastical policy prohibited black men from being ordained to the priesthood. In that year, a revelation received by the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball reversed this ban. Today, Church leaders rely on scriptural authority to proclaim that all humans, regardless of race or sex, are equal in the eyes of God:
The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. The Book of Mormon states, 'black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God' (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church's official teaching.
Overview of LDS position
The Church has issued several statements solidifying its stance on racial equality: "The Church's position is clearówe believe all people are God's children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form." In 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared 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."
Concerning Church history, an official LDS statement explains that reasons for the Church's previous position denying black men the priesthood remain unclear: "It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago."  Current Latter-day Saints' policy unequivocally condemns racism, "including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."
Overview of Critics' position
Critics maintain that today's church leaders hedge and equivocate on the issue, at times making contradictory and misleading statements that belie Church history. For example, historians have identified hundreds of blatantly racist statements made by past Church prophets and leaders, including Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and John Taylor. In many cases, statements were grounded in scripture. Taken together, critics maintain the historical record reveals a systematic, intentional, deeply entrenched policy of racial discrimination that was based in scripture and endorsed at the highest levels. These observations leave critics grappling with two fundamental questions: What moral authority does Mormon scripture have concerning other matters if it contains oppositional ideas about race? Upon what moral authority does our current prophet speak if revelations made by past prophets are no longer valid?
LDS leaders' racist comments
Modern prophet interviewed
Bigoted LDS scriptures?
LDS views on slavery
Events before 1978 revelation
Leaders ignore the past
Why blacks born black
Doctrine or just policy?
Blacks - servants in heaven?
Should Church apologize?
Protest from a faithful member
Book: Mormonism & the Negro
Most Latter-day Saints are fully aware that black men were excluded from the priesthood from its inception till 1978. It was largely taught in the Church that up through the 1980s blacks were denied the priesthood because they were from the lineage of Cain, who was cursed with a black skin after killing his brother Abel. People were born black because they were less valiant in the pre-existence.
The ban on blacks holding the priesthood was reversed due to revelation received by the prophet Spencer W. Kimball in 1978 and was not due to the civil rights movement.
Prospective converts, even black ones, are not told about the prior priesthood ban on blacks. The Church doesn't deny it but prefers not to discuss it.
The Church has not admitted that the original ban was a mistake nor has it offered any form of apology. The leaders say the 1978 proclamation took care of that.
Some current members believe that the ban was wrongly instituted by Brigham Young and was not really God's will. Others believe it was God's will and the reasons were as many of the leaders taught for 150 years, that blacks were cursed and less valiant in the pre-existence. Many other Latter-day Saints believe it was God's will but they do not know the reason. Since 1978, the Church has avoided publicly commenting on the reasons for the ban in the first place.
Source: personal experiences of many contributing members of this site, conversations with many members in various wards throughout the USA and Gospel Doctrine classes which we've attended.
Racist comments made by leaders of the Church
The leaders of the church up through the 1970s made it very clear why blacks were denied the priesthood. There are too many comments to list them all but here is a sample of the comments made by various LDS officials (emphasis added):
Joseph Smith, 1st President of the Church
Having learned with extreme regret, that an article entitled, 'Free People of Color,' in the last number of the Star has been misunderstood, we feel in duty bound to state, in this Extra, that our intention was not only to stop free people of color from emigrating to this state, but to prevent them from being admitted as members of the Church.
History of the Church, 1:378-79
Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species and put them on a national equalization.
History of the Church, Vol. 5, pp. 218-19.
Brigham Young, 2nd President of the Church
Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.
Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Volume 10, page 110.
You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, un- comely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race - that they should be the "servant of servants;" and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree. How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, [p.291] and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam's children are brought up to that favourable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion.
Journal of Discourses 7:290-91 (October 9, 1859).
You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation ...When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break his covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel; but by-and-by they will become a white and delightsome people
Journal of Discourses 7:336. (PDF file)
It is not the prerogative of the President of the United States to meddle with this matter, and Congress is not allowed, according to the [p.40] Constitution, to legislate upon it. If Utah was admitted into the Union as a sovereign State, and we chose to introduce slavery here, it is not their business to meddle with it; and even if we treated our slaves in an oppressive manner, it is still none of their business and they ought not to meddle with it.
Journal of Discourses 4:39-40 (Aug 31, 1856). (PDF file)
In our first settlement in Missouri, it was said by our enemies that we intended to tamper with the slaves, not that we had any idea of the kind, for such a thing never entered our minds. We knew that the children of Ham were to be the "servant of servants," and no power under heaven could hinder it, so long as the Lord would permit them to welter under the curse and those were known to be our religious views concerning them.
Journal of Discourses, 2:172. (PDF file)
John Taylor, 3rd President of the Church
And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham's wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation upon the earth as well as God…
Journal of Discourses, 22:304. (PDF file)
Why is it, in fact, that we should have a devil? Why did the Lord not kill him long ago? Because he could not do without him. He needed the devil and a great many of those who do his bidding to keep men straight, that we may learn to place our dependence on God, and trust in Him, and to observe his laws and keep his commandments. When he destroyed the inhabitants of the antediluvian world, he suffered a descendant of Cain to come through the flood in order that he might be properly represented upon the earth.
Journal of Discourses, 23:336
Wilford Woodruff, 4th President of the Church
And if any man mingle his seed with the seed of Cain the only way he could get rid of it or have Salvation would be to come forward and have his head cut off and spill his blood upon the ground- it would also take the life of his children.
Wilford Woodruff Journal
Apostle Orson Hyde
The belief that blacks were less valiant in the pre-existence may have been started by Orson Hyde, an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This is the earliest statement we are aware of that discusses this:
At the time the devil was cast out of heaven, there were .some spirits that did not know who had the authority, whether God or the devil. They consequently did not take a very active part on either side, but rather thought the devil had been abused, and considered he had rather the best claim to the government.
These spirits were not considered bad enough to be cast down to hell, and never have bodies ; neither were they considered worthy of an honourable body on this earth : but it came to pass that Ham, the son of Noah, saw the nakedness of his father while he lay drunk in his tent, and he with " wicked joy," ran like Rigdon, and made the wonderful disclosure to his brethren ; while Shem and Japheth took a garment, with pity and compassion, laid it upon their shoulders—went backwards and covered their father, and saw not his nakedness. The joy of the first was to expose—that of the second was to cover the unseemliness of their father. The conduct of the former brought the curse of slavery upon him, while that of the latter secured blessings, jurisdiction, power and dominion. Here was the beginning of blessing and cursing in the family of Noah, and here also is the cause of both. Canaan, the son of Ham, received the curse ; for Noah wished to place the curse as remote from himself as possible. He therefore placed it upon his grandson instead of his son.
Now, it would seem cruel to force pure celestial spirits into the world through the lineage of Canaan that had been cursed. This would be ill appropriate, putting the precious and vile together. But those spirits in heaven that rather lent an influence to the devil, thinking he had a little the best right to govern, but did not take a very active part any way were required to come into the world and take bodies in the accursed lineage of Canaan ; and hence the negro or African race. Now, therefore, all those who are halting concerning who has the right to govern had better look at the fate of their brethren that have gone before them, and take warning in time lest they learn obedience by the things which they suffer. " Choose ye this day whom you will serve." These things are among the mysteries of the kingdom, and I have told them, not by constraint or by commandment, but by permission.
Speech of Elder Orson Hyde Delivered Before the High Priests Quorum in Nauvoo, April 27th, 1845 Upon the Course and Conduct of Mr. Sidney Rigdon, and Upon the Merits of His Claims to the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. p. 30.
Joseph Fielding Smith, President of the Church
Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fullness of the blessings of the Gospel. These are the descendants of Cain. Moreover, they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning.... we will also hope that blessings may eventually be given to our negro brethren, for they are our brethren-children of God-not withstanding their black covering emblematical of eternal darkness.
The Way to Perfection, pages 101-102. http://www.barncow.com/curseofcain/
There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.
Doctrines of Salvation, p. 61.
I would not want you to believe that we bear any animosity toward the Negro. "Darkies" are wonderful people, and they have their place in our church.
Look magazine, October 22, 1963, page 79.
President Brigham Young, answering a question put to him by Elder Lorenzo D. Young in a meeting held December 25 , 1869, in Salt Lake City, said that Joseph Smith had declared that the Negroes were not neutral in heaven, for all the spirits took sides, but the posterity of Cain are black because he (Cain) committed murder.
The Way to Perfection, pages 105-106.
That negro race, for instance, have been placed under restrictions because of their attitude in the world of spirits, few will doubt. It cannot be looked upon as just that they should be deprived of the power of the Priesthood without it being a punishment for some act, or acts, performed before they were born.
The Way to Perfection, page 43.
Ham, through Egyptus, continued the curse which was placed upon the seed of Cain. Because of that curse this dark race was separated and isolated from all the rest of Adam's posterity before the flood, and since that time the same condition has continued, and they have been 'despised among all people.' This doctrine did not originate with President Brigham Young but was taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith .... we all know it is due to his teachings that the negro today is barred from the Priesthood.
The Way to Perfection, pages 110-111.
Spencer W. Kimball, 12th President of the Church
The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos; five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.
At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl—sixteen—sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents—on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather. There was the doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness.
The Improvement Era, December 1960, p. 923.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie
Negroes in this life are denied the Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. (Abra. 1:20-27.) The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them... negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow there from, but this inequality is not of man's origin. It is the Lord's doing, is based on his eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of Spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate.
Mormon Doctrine, 1966, pp. 527-528.
Apostle Mark E. Petersen:
God has commanded Israel not to intermarry. To go against this commandment of God would be in sin. Those who willfully sin with their eyes open to this wrong will not be surprised to find that they will be separated from the presence of God in the world to come. This is spiritual death.
The reason that one would lose his blessings by marrying a Negro is due to the restriction placed upon them. "No person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the Priesthood" (Brigham Young). It does not matter if they are one-sixth Negro or one-hundred and sixth, the curse of no Priesthood is the same. If an individual who is entitled to the Priesthood marries a Negro, the Lord has decreed that only spirits who are not eligible for the Priesthood will come to that marriage as children. To intermarry with a Negro is to forfeit a "Nation of Priesthood holders.
The discussion on civil rights, especially over the last 20 years, has drawn some very sharp lines. It has blinded the thinking of some of our own people, I believe. They have allowed their political affiliations to color their thinking to some extent, and then, of course, they have been persuaded by some of the arguments that have been put forth.We who teach in the Church certainly must have our feet on the ground and not to be led astray by the philosophies of men on this subject.
I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after. He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat. He isn't just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. It isn't that he just desires to go to the same theater as the white people. From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feelings to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for Negroes that we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that we used to say about sin, 'First we pity, then endure, then embrace'.
Now let's talk about segregation again for a few moments. Was segregation a wrong principle? When the Lord chose the nations to which the spirits were to come, determining that some would be Japanese and some would be Chinese and some Negroes and some Americans, He engaged in an act of segregation.
When he told Enoch not preach the gospel to the descendants of Cain who were black, the Lord engaged in segregation. When He cursed the descendants of Cain as to the Priesthood, He engaged in segregation.
Who placed the Negroes originally in darkest Africa? Was it some man, or was it God? And when He placed them there, He segregated them.
The Lord segregated the people both as to blood and place of residence. At least in the cases of the Lamanites and the Negro we have the definite word of the Lord Himself that he placed a dark skin upon them as a curse -- as a punishment and as a sign to all others. He forbade intermarriage with them under threat of extension of the curse. And He certainly segregated the descendants of Cain when He cursed the Negro as to the Priesthood, and drew an absolute line. You may even say He dropped an Iron curtain there.
Now we are generous with the Negro. We are willing that the Negro have the highest education. I would be willing to let every Negro drive a Cadillac if they could afford it. I would be willing that they have all the advantages they can get out of life in the world. But let them enjoy these things among themselves. I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change that segregation? It reminds me of the scripture on marriage, 'what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.' Only here we have the reverse of the thing - what God hath separated, let not man bring together again.
Think of the Negro, cursed as to the priesthood.This Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified the Lord in sending him to the earth in their lineage of Cain with a black skin, and possibly being born in darkest Africa--if that Negro is willing when he hears the gospel to accept it, he may have many of the blessings of the gospel. In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory.
Race Problems - As They Affect The Church, Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954) Link to Talk
Apostle George F. Richards (spoken in conference)
The negro is an unfortunate man. He has been given a black skin.
But that is as nothing compared with that greater handicap that he is not permitted to receive the Priesthood and the ordinances of the temple, necessary to prepare men and women to enter into and enjoy a fulness of glory in the celestial kingdom.
What is the reason for this condition, we ask, and I find it to my satisfaction to think that as spirit children of our Eternal Father they were not valiant in the fight. We are told that Michael and his angels fought, and we understand that we stood with Christ our Lord, on the platform, "Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever." I cannot conceive our Father consigning his children to a condition such as that of the negro race, if they had been valiant in the spirit world in that war in heaven. Neither could they have been a part of those who rebelled and were cast down, for the latter had not the privilege of tabernacling in the flesh. Somewhere along the line were these spirits, indifferent perhaps, and possibly neutral in the war. We have no definite knowledge concerning this. But I learn this lesson from it, brethren and sisters, and I believe we all should, that it does not pay in religious matters, matters that pertain to our eternal salvation, to be indifferent, neutral, or lukewarm.
Conference Reports, April 1939, Second Day-Morning Meeting: Elder George F. Richards, pp. 58-59.
Public interviews with a modern-day prophet
From the Australian Broadcasting Company Sunday night television show COMPASS:
COMPASS:: So in retrospect was the Church wrong in that [denying blacks the priesthood]?
HINCKLEY: No I don't think it was wrong. It, things, various things happened in different periods. There's a reason for them.
COMPASS: What was the reason for that?
HINCKLEY: I don't know what the reason was.
COMPASS: Is it a problem for the Church that it is still..has a tag of being racist?
HINCKLEY: No, I don't think so. I don't see that anymore.
From Gordon B. Hinckley's interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes:
Mike Wallace: From 1830 to 1978, blacks could not become priests in the Mormon church. Right?
Gordon B. Hinckley: That's correct.
Mike Wallace: Why?
Gordon B. Hinckley: Because the leaders of the church at that time interpreted that doctrine that way. [cut]
Mike Wallace: Church policy had it that blacks had the mark of Cain. Brigham Young said, "Cain slew his brother, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin."
Gordon B. Hinckley: It's behind us. Look, that's behind us. Don't worry about those little flecks of history.
Mike Wallace: Skeptics will suggest, "Well, look, if we're going to expand, we can't keep the blacks out."
Gordon B. Hinckley: Pure speculation. [Laughs.]
The "60 Minutes" program on the LDS Church Broadcast on CBS TV, April 7, 1996
Transcribed by: Robert J. Woolley
Critic's Comment: Hinckley has worked for the Church almost all of his life. He has been a General Authority since 1958. He was in Quorum of the Twelve meetings when the priesthood ban was discussed, for at least three decades. He was an Apostle for some 17 years of the priesthood ban. If any Church official would be qualified to answer this question it would be GBH. To not give a complete, truthful answer to these questions is disappointing to say the least. He should have stated whether or not the leaders of the church at that time interpreted that doctrine correctly or not - that's what people really want to know.
Doctrine supported by LDS Scriptures
2 Nephi 5: 21
'And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.'
Alma 3: 6
'And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.'
2 Nephi 30: 6
"...their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people."
THE TERM 'WHITE' WAS CHANGED TO 'PURE' IN 1981.
3 Nephi 2:15
"And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites."
Jacob 3: 5, 8-9
5 Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them.
8 O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.
9 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers.
1 Nephi 12:23
23 And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.
1 Nephi 13:15
15 And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.
15 And also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel, which shall go forth unto them from the Gentiles; for this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us, yea, even that which hath been among the Lamanites, and this because of their unbelief and idolatry.
8 For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.
And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.
- Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth.
- From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.
- The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;
- When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
- Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry;
"The Book of Abraham is rich both in doctrine and in historical incidents. Of the latter the fact of the large influence (if not identity) of Egyptian religious ideas in Chaldea in the days of Abraham is established; the descent of the black race (Negro) from Cain, the first murderer; the preservation of that race through the flood by the wife of Ham--"Egyptus," which in the Chaldean signifies "Egypt," "which signifies that which is forbidden"--the descendants of "Egyptus" were cursed as pertaining to the priesthood--that is, they were barred from holding that divine power; the origin also of the Egyptians--these things, together with the account of Abraham migrating from Chaldea to Egypt, constitute the chief historical items that are contained in the book.
- Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol.2, Ch.47, Pg.128
"Their skin is quite black, their hair woolly and black, their intelligence stunted, and they appear never to have arisen from the most savage state of barbarism."
- The Juvenile Instructor, Vol. 3, page 157
"Is or is it not apparent from reason and analogy as drawn from a careful reading of the Scriptures, that God causes the saints, or people that fall away from his church to be cursed in time, with a black skin? Was or was not Cain, being marked, obliged to inherit the curse, he and his children, forever? And if so, as Ham, like other sons of God, might break the rule of God, by marrying out of the church, did or did he not, have a Canaanite wife, whereby some of the black seed was preserved through the flood, and his son, Canaan, after he laughed at his grandfather's nakedness, heired three curses: one from Cain for killing Abel; one from Ham for marrying a black wife, and one from Noah for ridiculing what God had respect for? Are or are not the Indians a sample of marking with blackness for rebellion against God's holy word and holy order? And can or can we not observe in the countenances of almost all nations, except the Gentile, a dark, sallow hue, which tells the sons of God, without a line of history, that they have fallen or changed from the original beauty and grace of father Adam?"
- LDS Messenger and Advocate (Mar 1835) William Phelps "Letter No. 5," Pg.82
"History and common observation show that these predictions have been fulfilled to the letter. The descendants of Ham, besides a black skin which has ever been a curse that has followed an apostate of the holy priesthood, as well as a black heart, have been servants to both Shem and Japheth, and the abolitionists are trying to make void the curse of God, but it will require more power than man possesses to counteract the decrees of eternal wisdom."
- Times and Seasons, Vol.6, Pg.857
Indian turning white - from the Improvement Era
An article from the 1928 LDS magazine, the Improvement Era talks about an Indian turning white. Why is this in an LDS magazine? Obviously it is in there to provide some small level of 'proof' that Indians can turn white when they live righteously and accept the gospel as stated in the Book of Mormon.
"Indian turning white. A Winnebago Indian, Louis Armell, living on the reservation, is said to be the object of scientific observation because for many years his skin has gradually been turning white. He is now 54 years old. He still has "copper patches" but physicians believe that if he lives a few more years he will become entirely white". Improvement Era, vol. 31 No.6 April, 1928, page 537.
By Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson
Until 1981 2 Nephi 30:6 in the Book of Mormon taught that dark-skinned Lamanites (Indians) would eventually experience a change in the color of their skin should they embrace the Book of Mormon. This passage of Mormon scripture read:
"...their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people."
However, in 1981, the LDS Church decided to change "the most correct book on earth" and switched the word "white" with the word "pure." Some Mormons insist that this was a clarification since the word was never meant to refer to a person with dark skin pigmentation who would magically turn white based upon a conversion to the Mormon gospel; rather, it is claimed that the change referred to a cleaner state of heart. This assumption is definitely not supported in the Book of Mormon since 2 Nephi 5:21 says,
"And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, and they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them."
Furthermore, we find another reference to a change in skin color in 3 Nephi 2:15. This passage reads:
"And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites."
That the context refers to skin color is verified by a number of LDS leaders including Joseph Smith. Mormon author George D. Smith notes that Joseph Smith was given a revelation which foretold of a day when intermarriage with the Lamanites would produce a white and delightsome posterity. George Smith wrote, "This unpublished 17 July 1831 revelation was described three decades later in an 1861 letter from W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young quoting Joseph Smith: `It is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity, may become white, delightsome and just.' In the 8 December 1831 Ohio Star, Ezra Booth wrote of a revelation directing Mormon elders to marry with the `natives'" (Sunstone, November 1993, footnote #5, pg. 52).
Second LDS President Brigham Young stated in 1859, "You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation ...When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break his covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel; but by-and-by they will become a white and delightsome people" (Journal of Discourses 7:336).
At the October 1960 LDS Church Conference, Spencer Kimball utilized 2 Nephi 30:6 when he stated how the Indians "are fast becoming a white and delightsome people." He said, "The [Indian] children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation" (Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922-3).
During the same message Kimball referred to a 16-year-old Indian girl who was both LDS and "several shades lighter than her parents..." He went on to say, "These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated."
LDS writer George Edward Clark gives a similar account in his book entitled "Why I Believe." On page 129 he wrote, "The writer has been privileged to sit at table with several members of the Catawba tribe of Indians, whose reservation is near the north border of South Carolina. That tribe, or most of its people, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). Those Indians, at least as many as I have observed, were white and delightsome, as white and fair as any group of citizens of our country. I know of no prophecy, ancient or modern, that has had a more literal fulfillment" (emphasis his).
It has also been taught in Mormonism that opposite repercussions could result when a white man abandoned his Mormon faith. For instance, the Juvenile Instructor (26:635) reads,
"From this it is very clear that the mark which was set upon the descendants of Cain was a skin of blackness, and there can be no doubt that this was the mark that Cain himself received; in fact, it has been noticed in our day that men who have lost the spirit of the Lord, and from whom his blessings have been withdrawn, have turned dark to such an extend as to excite the comments of all who have known them."
In 1857, Brigham Young declared that apostates would "become gray-haired, wrinkled, and black, just like the Devil" (Journal of Discourses 5:332).
Despite the comments from past Mormon leaders, skin color has nothing to do with a person's spirituality. To say 2 Nephi 30:6 was altered merely for clarification and had nothing to do with skin color is without merit. It was a false prophecy, nothing more, nothing less.
Chronology of 2 Nephi 30:6
"... many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a WHITE and a delightsome people." (1830 Edition, p. 117)
"... PURE and delightsome people." (1840 edition)
"...WHITE and delightsome people." (All later translations until 1981)
"... PURE and delightsome people." (1981 translations , II Nephi 30:6)
Although the Mormon Church will not make available the handwritten manuscript of the Book of Mormon, the RLDS Church has the handwritten printer's copy, which was given to the printer to set the type for the first printing. It too, agrees with the 1830 Edition. It reads "white".
So, someone originally wrote "white" (1830) and then someone changed it to "pure" (1840) and then back to "white" (after 1840) and then finally to "pure" (1981).
This is the "most correct book" on earth? This is the result of a "translation" process in which JS could not continue until he got it right? For some reason the term got changed from WHITE to PURE. We know faithful apologists who have admitted that it was likely finally changed for good in 1981 to be 'politically correct'. Some others argue that it should have always been PURE but was somehow translated incorrectly in 1830. Others say that this change seems to reflect the Prophet's concern that modern readers might misinterpret this passage as a reference to racial changes rather than to changes in righteousness.
However in context of everything the prophets have said as well as official Church publications concerning the Lamanites actually changing their skin color when they converted it seems clear that the context is 'white' skin and not 'pure' hearts. This also disproves the arguments by some LDS apologists that say the ban had to do with lineage and not skin color.
Even the current children's book on the Book of Mormon states clearly "Laman and Lemuel's followers called themselves Lamanites. They became a dark-skinned people. God cursed them because of their wickedness." Then shows this photo of the now dark-skinned Lamanites:
The Book of Abraham says (1:26-27 and 1:20-22 ) that descendants of Ham cannot hold any priesthood, and that all Egyptians are descended from Ham. Until 1978 this was interpreted to ban anyone with even a single "drop" of Hamitic (Negro) blood. Most Mormons claim that they are descended from Ephraim or Manasseh, sons of Joseph, based on their individual patriarchal blessings. Since the mother of those two sons was Asenath, the daughter of Potipherah, priest at On (Genesis 41:45, 50), who was undoubtedly Egyptian, it would appear then that no such Mormon was entitled to hold the priesthood (until 1978 at least, when the church chose to disregard this passage of scripture).
"The majority of slaves in Utah worked on the small farms that were scattered throughout the territory, although a few worked in businesses in Salt Lake City. Although Brigham Young never intended that slavery flourish in Utah, he did accept the biblical explanations utilized by proslavery apologists to justify the enslavement of blacks. "
Slaves were bought and sold in Utah Territory with the approval of Brigham Young. "By 1850 there were approximately sixty blacks residing in the Utah Territory. The majority were slaves living in Salt Lake, Davis, and Utah counties."
Brigham Young on Slavery Interviewed by Horace Greeley for NY Tribune article Aug 20, 1859:
H. G.-What is the position of your church with respect to slavery?
B. Y.-We consider it of divine institution, and not to be abolished until the curse pronounced on Ham shall have been removed from his descendants.
H. G.-Are any slaves now held in this territory?
B. Y.-There are.
H. G.-Do your territorial laws uphold slavery?
B. Y.-Those laws are printed-you can read for yourself. If slaves are brought here by those who owned them in the states, we do not favor their escape from the service of those owners.
More from the Mormon newspaper Messenger and Advocate:
"Where can be the common sense of any wishing to see the slaves of the south set at liberty,... Such a thing could not take place without corrupting all civil and wholesome society, of both the north and the south! Let the BLACKS of the south be free, and our community is overrun with paupers, and a reckless mass of human beings, uncultivated, untaught and unaccustomed to provide for themselves the necessaries of life- endangering the chastity of every female who might by chance be found in our streets-our prisons filled with convicts, and the HANG-MAN WEARIED with executing the functions of his office! This must unavoidably be the case, every rational man must admit, who has ever travelled in the slave states, or we must open our houses unfold our arms, and bid these DEGRADED AND DEGRADING sons of Canaan, a hear[t]y welcome and a free admittance to all we possess! A society of this nature, to us, is so intolerably DEGRADING, that the bare reflection causes our feelings to recoil, and our hearts to revolt....the project of EMANSIPATION IS DESTRUCTIVE TO OUR GOVERNMENT, and the notion of amalgamation is devilish!- And insensible to feeling must be the heart, and low indeed must be the mind, that would consent for a moment, to see his fair daughter, his sister, or perhaps, his bosom companion, in the embrace of a NEGRO!...
(Messenger and Advocate, Vol. 2, pp. 299-301)
Brigham Young states that slavery is a divine institution:
"Ham will continue to be servant of servants, as the Lord decreed, until the curse is removed. WILL THE PRESENT STRUGGLE FREE THE SLAVE? NO; but they are now wasting away the black race by thousands.... "Treat the slaves kindly and let them live, for HAM MUST BE THE SERVANT OF SERVANTS UNTIL THE CURSE IS REMOVED. Can you destroy the decrees of the Almighty? YOU CANNOT. Yet our Christian brethren think that they are going to overthrow the sentence of the Almighty upon the seed of Ham. THEY CANNOT DO THAT, though they may kill them by thousands and tens of thousands."
(Millennial Star, Vol. 25, page 787; also published in Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, page 250)
Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses:
"In our first settlement in Missouri, it was said by our enemies that we intended to tamper with the slaves, not that we had any idea of the kind, for such a thing never entered our minds. We knew that the children of Ham were to be the "servant of servants," and no power under heaven could hinder it, so long as the Lord would permit them to welter under the curse and those were known to be our religious views concerning them." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 172).
It is not the prerogative of the President of the United States to meddle with this matter, and Congress is not allowed, according to the [p.40] Constitution, to legislate upon it. If Utah was admitted into the Union as a sovereign State, and we chose to introduce slavery here, it is not their business to meddle with it; and even if we treated our slaves in an oppressive manner, it is still none of their business and they ought not to meddle with it. Journal of Discourses 4:39-40 (Aug 31, 1856)
Events leading up to the revelation in 1978
The Church has maintained that the 1978 revelation giving blacks the priesthood was not due to any form of public pressure but was simply God's will that blacks should not be given the priesthood until 1978.
Consider the following events that directly proceeded the 1978 revelation:
- Colleges were boycotting athletic games against BYU. Stanford and San Jose State University both refused to play BYU in any sport because of what they called racism at BYU. The mood in the country at the time was decidedly against the Mormons. newspaper article (archived copy)
- The Boy Scouts of America was putting a lot of pressure on the Church since only priesthood holders could be boy scout troop leaders in LDS scout troops this was denying black scouts the same opportunities that white scouts had. "A 12-year-old boy scout has been denied a senior patrol leadership in his troop because he is black, Don L. Cope, black ombudsman for the state, said Wednesday....The ombudsman said Mormon 'troop policy is that in order to become a patrol leader, he must be a deacon's quorum president in the LDS church.Since the boy cannot hold the priesthood, he cannot become a patrol leader." Salt Lake Tribune, July 18, 1974
- Members and missionaries the world over were embarrassed and ashamed at what the church taught in Sunday School about blacks. The members were not racist and did not like believing in and teaching racist doctrine.
- Under President Jimmy Carter, Brigham Young University and possibly the LDS Church itself was in danger of losing their tax exempt status if they continued to discriminate against blacks. In early 1978, the Federal Government was threatening to withhold Federal Student Loans to BYU students as long as BYU practiced "discrimination".
A particular complication was the possibility that the Church Educational Institutions could lose their tax-exempt status due to discrimination. This could cost the Church tens of millions of dollars. The Church has always denied that financial considerations have played a role. However, in 1976, the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University was withdrawn revoked retroactively to 1970 because it did not allow blacks. Something similar could very well have happened to BYU if the courts felt the LDS Church practiced description.
In 1982 this case was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorney Rex E. Lee, a Mormon, asked to be excused from the case due to conflicts of interest. The reason he stated that he had assisted when they had the same problem as Bob Jones University (Caplan 1987, p 50.).
- The 1978 "revelation" was just prior to the temple opening in Sao Paulo Brazil. They had built an area office, distribution center and temple. The population has intermarried to an extent that it could not be determined if the people have any black lineage. The Church had publicly stated that people could not enter the temple if they "had even a drop of negro blood." Who was going to use the temple in Brazil? This was creating a public image nightmare in Brazil.
- The Church was becoming a global church. How could they possibly succeed in Africa and countries with large black populations?
You can find the statements and references in "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on the Priesthood" in BYU Studies v47 n8 2008, which you can download for free here: https://byustudies.byu.edu/showTitle.aspx?title=7836.
For example, Bruce McConkie, reports in "The New Revelation on the Priesthood" in Priesthood (Deseret Book, 1981) that "From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of the Spirit, spoke to his prophet . . . 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. President Kimball's prayer was answered and our prayers were answered. He heard the voice and we heard the same voice" (128). He reaffirms, "And when President Kimball finished his prayer, the Lord gave a revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost" (133).
However, some of these people may be taking liberties with the phrase "voice of God" as others like Gordon B. Hinckley never claimed to have heard an actual voice. It was more of a feeling that they were doing something right by reversing the ban.
Elder Le Grand Richards, from an interview by Wesley Walters and Chris Vlachos on August 16, 1978, Church Office Building, Salt Lake City:
Walters: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I've heard all kinds of stories: I've heard that Christ appeared to the apostles; I've heard that Joseph Smith appeared; and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had had a concern about this for some time, and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Are any of those stories true, or are they all?
Richards: Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it is hard to get leaders that don't have negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It's going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising money to build that temple. If we don't change, then they can't even use it. Well, Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it. He asked each one of us of the twelve if we would pray--and we did--that the Lord would give him the inspiration to know what the will of the Lord was. Then he invited each one of us in his office--individually, because you know when you are in a group, you can't always express everything that's in your heart. You're part of the group, see--so he interviewed each one of us, personally to see how we felt about it, and he asked us to pray about it. Then he asked each one of us to hand in all the references we had, for, or against that proposal. See, he was thinking favorably toward giving the colored people the priesthood. Then we had a meeting where we meet every week in the temple, and we discussed it as a group circle. and then held another prayer circle after the close of that meeting, and he (President Kimball) lead in the prayer; praying that the Lord would give us the inspiration that we needed to do the thing that would be pleasing to Him and for the blessing of His children.
And then the next Thursday--we meet every Thursday--the presidency came with this little document written out to make the announcement--to see how we'd feel about it--and present it in written form. Well, some of the members of the Twelve suggested a few changes in the announcement, and then in our meeting there we all voted in favor of it--the Twelve and the first Presidency. One member of the Twelve, Mark Peterson, was down in South America, but Brother Benson, our president, had arranged to know where he could be reached by phone, and right while we were in that meeting in the temple, Brother Kimball talked with Brother Peterson, and read him the article, and he (Peterson) approved of it.
Walters: There wasn't a special document as a "revelation", that he had wrote down?
Richards: We discussed it in our meeting. What else should we say besides that announcement? And we decided that that was sufficient; that no more needed to be said.
(excerpted, emphasis mine)
Although we don't normally quote from sources who are unwilling to have their name published, we decided to add this account from someone we know who worked in the administrative staff at the MTC during the time of the announcement:
We were told, by visiting General Authorities and others from the Church Office Building, that it was not a revelation, but a "negative revelation."
That is, the First Presidency and the Twelve decided to tell the Lord that they were going to change the policy regarding blacks and the LDS priesthood "unless He gave them a sign to the contrary." In the absence of any sign, they changed the policy.
No one officially coming over from SLC to the MTC at the time denied this story. It was later that I heard the word "revelation" actually used in conjunction with it. But Elder Le Grand Richard's statements in his interview with Chris Vlachos and Wesley P. Walters supports this version of the events.
Perhaps many "revelations" within the church have been "received" this way?
It seems likely from President Spencer W. Kimball's statement printed in the church's own newspaper that he did not receive any word from God concerning the matter (emphasis added):
I asked the Twelve not to go home when the time came. I said, 'Now would you be willing to remain in the temple with us?' And they were. I offered the final prayer and I told the Lord if it wasn't right, if He didn't want this change to come in the Church that I would be true to it all the rest of my life, and I'd fight the world against it if that's what He wanted.
"We had this special prayer circle, then I knew that the time had come. I had a great deal to fight, of course, myself largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life till my death and fight for it and defend it as it was. But this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it." (Deseret News, Church Section, January 6, 1979, page 4)
It would appear then, that when President Kimball asked the Lord if He had any objections to his changing the doctrine, he received no answer from heaven. Since God did not seem to contest the idea, Kimball felt he had the "assurance" that it must be the Lord's will. This, of course, seems like a very unusual way to obtain a "revelation."
http://user.xmission.com/~country/reason/lhm1097a.htm - dead link
A business-like process
The description given by the Church is a simplified (and romanticized) version of the actual decision. As the son of former Church President Kimball, the process has been described , makes it more like a manager who wants change to implement, therefore seeks support in the organization and thinks about how the change should be communicated (Kimball 2008).
June 1977: Church President Spencer W. Kimball asks three Brethren to write about the implications of a possible lifting of restrictions memos.
March 9, 1978: At a joint meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve decided that any waiver of the limitations as a revelation of the church president should be presented.
March 23, 1978: Kimball has decided to lift the restrictions and submit it to his two counselors, who support the decision. They discuss the impact of the change and the timing of the necessary actions to be taken. They conclude that there is no rush and that they want to look at the Quorum of the Twelve support.
May 30, 1978: Kimball made a preliminary statement to his counselors. They are asking the Church History Department to look at previous statements on the subject.
June 1, 1978: Kimball asks apostles Packer, McConkie and Hinckley to each register for the announcement of the change text.
June 7, 1978: Francis Gibbons, the secretary of Kimball, has prepared a proposal for the final text of the declaration on the basis of the three proposals Packer, McConkie and Hinckley. The First Presidency refine the text further on.
June 8, 1978: The statement shall be presented to the Quorum of the Twelve, who still imagine a few textual changes. the timing of disclosure is discussed. Some wanted to wait until the general conference in October but Apostle McConkie insisted on immediate publication. He feared that the change would otherwise leak out prematurely and that the church would not have control over it. The statement was presented that afternoon to the Quorum of the Seventy, and the press was informed.
Church leaders act as if racism did not exist in the Church
From an Ensign article of September 2000 by General Authority Alexander Morrison (emphasis added):
"Unfortunately, racism-the abhorrent and morally destructive theory that claims superiority of one person over another by reason of race, color, ethnicity, or cultural background-remains one of the abiding sins of societies the world over. The cause of much of the strife and conflict in the world, racism is an offense against God and a tool in the devil's hands. In common with other Christians, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regret the actions and statements of individuals who have been insensitive to the pain suffered by the victims of racism and ask God's forgiveness for those guilty of this grievous sin. The sin of racism will be eliminated only when every human being treats all others with the dignity and respect each deserves as a beloved child of our Heavenly Father.
"How grateful I am that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has from its beginnings stood strongly against racism in any of its malignant manifestations."
And another statement from the prophet Gordon B. Hinckley:
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?
President Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Need for Greater Kindness," April 2006 Priesthood Session.
Critic's point: Isn't what GBH saying is wrong exactly what the Church did? The Church assumed blacks were not eligible for the priesthood regardless of how righteous they were and they did this for 150 years.
Additional critic's comments:
In the D&C, OD-1 is this official statement: "The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray."
This is doctrine in the D&C. It has been taught from the pulpit at general conference. It is in official church manuals.
Earlier in 2012, the church released a press statement that read: "It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago...We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."
This statement is very profound. It tacitly admits that the previous statement, that the Lord won't allow a prophet to lead the members astray, is false. For nearly 150 years the prophets have led the people astray with racist policies and the current prophet administration does not know why this happened, they just know firmly, racism is wrong. That repudiation of the former policy, of hundreds of statements made by Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor, Bruce McConkie, and many more effectively opens the gate to an understanding that the current administrating prophets could be absolutely dead wrong on policies they have in place currently (such as on gays, on apostates, on non-tithers, temple marriage and more).
The issue of the blacks and the priesthood has become a pivotal issue about the integrity of past and current leaders. In 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared 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. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children."
By this standard any prophet that taught that a skin of blackness or descent from Africa is a curse would not be considered "true disciples of Christ". This apparently includes Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Joseph Fielding Smith, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson and Gordon B. Hinckley who have all taught dark skin as a curse.
Segregation in the LDS Church
The Church stated in their Dec 2014 essay 'Race and the Priesthood' the following:
There has never been a Churchwide policy of segregated congregations.
It is probably technically true that there has never been a Churchwide policy of segregated congregations, but there certainly was tacit approval of racial segregation from the days of Joseph Smith until relatively recently. Here are some examples (emphasis added):
1) In 1842, Joseph Smith said to Orson Hyde:
"Had I anything to do with the negro, I would confine them by strict law to their own species, and put them on a national equalization." (Source: Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 270 (Deseret Book 1979)). Thus, although the "national equalization" was quite a progressive attitude at the time, Joseph clearly showed himself to be a strict segregationist.
2) A more recent example: In a letter dated June 23, 1942, the First Presidency sent the following letter to Ezra Taft Benson, then president of the Washington, D.C. Stake:
First Presidency to Pres. Benson wrote:
Dear President Benson:
Through the General Board of the Relief Society, who reported to the Presiding Bishopric, and they to us, it comes to us that you have in the Capitol Ward in Washington two colored sisters who apparently are faithful members of the Church.
The report comes to us that prior to a meeting which was to be held between the Relief Societies of the Washington Ward and the Capitol Ward, Bishop Brossard of the Washington Ward called up the President of the Relief Society of the Capitol Ward and told her that these two colored sisters should not be permitted to attend because the President of the Capitol Ward Relief Society failed to carry out the request made of her by the Bishop of the other ward.
We can appreciate that the situation may present a problem in Washington, but President Clark recalls that in the Catholic churches in Washington at the time he lived there, colored and white communicants used the same church at the same time. He never entered the church to see how the matter was carried out, but he knew that the facts were as stated.
From this fact we are assuming that there is not in Washington any such feeling as exists in the South where the colored people are apparently not permitted by their white brethren and sisters to come into the meeting houses and worship with them. We feel that we cannot refuse baptism to a colored person who is otherwise worthy, and we feel that we cannot refuse to permit these people to come into our meeting houses and worship once we baptize them.
It seems to us that it ought to be possible to work this situation out without causing any feelings on the part of anybody. If the white sisters feel that they may not sit with them or near them, we feel very sure that if the colored sisters were discreetly approached, they would be happy to sit at one side in the rear or somewhere where they would not wound the sensibilities of the complaining sisters. We will rely upon your tact and discretion to work this out so as not to hurt the feelings on the part of anyone.
Of course, probably each one of the sisters who can afford it, has a colored maid in her house to do the work and to do the cooking for her, and it would seem that under these circumstances they should be willing to let them sit in Church and worship with them.
Faithfully your brethren,
Heber J. Grant
J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
David O. McKay
(Source: Lester E. Bush, Jr., "Mormonism's Negro Doctrine," Dialogue, Vol. 8, No. 1 at 43 & n. 197 (Spring 1973)).
3) In 1944, J. Rueben Clark, Jr. (1st counselor in FP) authorized local LDS leaders to join "a civic organization whose purpose is to restrict and control negro settlement" in Salt Lake City. (Source: D. Michael Quinn, Elder Statesman: A Biography of J. Reuben Clark, p. 344 (Signature Books 2002)).
4) In 1945, then LDS president, George Albert Smith, wrote in his diary of conversing with J. Rueben Clark, Jr. and Nicholas G. Smith (the latter an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, and brother of George) "about the use of [LDS] meeting houses to prevent Negroes from becoming neighbors" – the outcome of this meeting is unknown, but Nicholas Smith described the meeting in his journal as "race hatred." (Source: Quinn, Elder Statesman, p. 344).
5) In 1947, when discussing the site for the future Los Angeles Temple, Clark told the LDS Church attorney in that area "to purchase as much of that property as we can in order to control the colored situation." (Source: Quinn, Elder Statesman, p. 344).
6) Since its opening (in 1911), the LDS Church-owned Hotel Utah (the FP and Twelve were the senior officers of the hotel) had refused to admit blacks as guests. In 1943, when famous black singer Marian Anderson came to Salt Lake City to give a recital, she was denied at every Salt Lake City hotel and had to stay at the home of one of the concert's promoters. When she returned in 1948 to give a concert in the Mormon Tabernacle, she was allowed to stay at the Hotel Utah but on the condition that she only use the freight elevator, not the main entrance or lobby. (Sources: Salt Lake Tribune, articles published on 4/9/93 (p. A-3) and 4/19/93 (p. B-1); Quinn, Elder Statesman, p. 345). Similarly, in 1951, when black Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Ralph Bunche visited Salt Lake City to give a lecture at the U. of Utah, the Hotel Utah initially refused to accept him (even though he had a reservation); Dr. Bunche was eventually admitted after pressure was brought to bear, but only when he agreed to take his meals in his room and not come to the dining room. (Source: Quinn, Elder Statesman, p. 347).
7) In 1949, David O. McKay (then counselor in the FP) praised the South's Jim Crow laws, writing in his diary: "I said further that the South knows how to handle them [i.e., blacks] and they do not have any trouble, and the colored people are better off down there – in California they [i.e., blacks] are becoming very progressive and insolent in many cases." (Source: Quinn, Elder Statesman, p. 348).
8) In 1952, McKay (then LDS president) "initiated – without prior consultation with his counselors – a ban … against LDS Negroes speaking in sacrament meetings or firesides." (Source: Quinn, Elder Statesman, p. 348).
9) In 1954, Apostle Mark E. Petersen told a CES audience at BYU:
Now we are generous with the Negro, We are willing that the Negro have the highest education. I would be willing to let every Negro drive a Cadillac if they could afford it. I would be willing that they have all the advantages they can get out of life in the world. But let them enjoy these things among themselves. I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change that segregation?
Later in the same speech, Petersen gave this example of tacitly-approved segregation of LDS members:
Some years ago, back in 1936 to be exact, I became acquainted with a negro family in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was back there for three months in connection with a newspaper assignment. I went to Church there and became acquainted with the family of a negro man named Ben Hope … [, who] lived down in Mississippi.
Later he met the Elders and joined the Church. Then he joined the army in the First World War. When he came back, having carried a Book of Mormon with him all through the war and studied it carefully[,] he converted his negro sweetheart whom he married and she was baptized. Then they moved up to Cincinnati to escape the "Jim Crow" law.
Up in Cincinnati, some of the members of the Church became extremely prejudiced against this Negro family. They met in a group, decided what to do and went to the Branch President, and said that either the Hope family must leave or they would all leave. The Branch President ruled that Brother Hope and his family could not come to Church meeting[s]. It broke their hearts. But, the missionaries went out to the Hope home and there conducted Sunday School every Sunday and served them the sacrament. I had the privilege of visiting with the Hope family. I was in their home. I saw how their song book had been literally worn out and likewise their Doctrine and Covenants and Book of Mormon.
(Sources: Mark E. Peterson, "Race Problems – As They Affect the Church," BYU Speech, August 27, 1954; Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, pp. 64-65 (U. of Utah Press 2005)).
I say "tacit approval" because Elder Petersen did NOT in any way condemn the blatant segregation he witnessed in this Cincinnati branch.
10) In 1956, the LDS Church-owned Deseret News published an editorial conceding that racial desegregation was inevitable and advocating "moderation and gradualism" in granting "full civil and personal rights." However, the original editorial had contained language that also advocated school desegregation, which text LDS President McKay had deleted prior to publication. He explained his reason in his diary:
I had no objection to the editorial's being printed as it now stands with the exception of the reference to segregation in the school room. I said that there is a different problem attached to this subject; for instance there may be a district where the negro is in the majority; that there might be three or four white children. Inasmuch as the negro child is two or three grades below the white child of the same age, it would not be fair to force the few white children to attend – furthermore, the negro really prefers to attend a school of the colored people. I therefore instructed Dr. Robinson [i.e., then-general manager for the Des News] to leave the reference to the school room out of the editorial.
(Source: Prince, David O. McKay, p. 67).
11) In 1957, making specific reference to the school desegregation controversy in Little Rock, Arkansas, J. Rueben Clark instructed Belle Spafford, then general president of the Relief Society, "that she should do what she could to keep the National Council [of Women] from going on record in favor of what in the last analysis would be regarded as negro equality." (Sources: Prince, David O. McKay, p. 63; Quinn, Elder Statesman, p. 348).
12) In 1960, Harold B. Lee told BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson: "If a granddaughter of mine should ever go to BYU and become engaged to a colored boy there, I would hold you responsible." (Source: Prince, David O. McKay, p. 64).
13) In 1960, BYU President Wilkinson wrote the following journal entry about his reversal of a subordinate's decision to hire a black professor to teach a summer course at BYU:
I wish we could take him on our faculty, but the danger in doing so is that students and others take license from this, and assume that there is nothing improper about mingling with the other races. Since the Lord, himself, created the different races and urged in the Old Testament and other places that they [i.e., blacks] be kept distinct and to themselves, we have to follow that admonition. (Source: Prince, David O. McKay, p. 65).
14) In 1961, then-LDS president, David O. McKay, wrote in his diary of Henry D. Moyle (counselor in FP) encouraging an initiative to persuade the U.S. Department of Defense not to deploy troops to an army base in Toole, Utah, because "there will be two to three hundred Negro families in the contingent." (Source: Prince, David O. McKay, p. 63).
15) In 1963, President McKay received an invitation from U.S. President John F. Kennedy to attend a White House meeting of religious leaders to discuss JFK's proposed civil rights legislation. McKay declined the invitation (upon the recommendation of Hotelier/Restaurateur J. Willard Marriott, Sr.). A few days later Pres. McKay met with James E. Faust (then president of the Utah State Bar Association; Faust would later became an apostle and member of the FP). Faust had received an invitation to a related meeting in Washington, D.C., and he was asking McKay whether he should accept. Pres. McKay recorded his response in his journal:
I told Brother Faust that he should go and find out what President Kennedy is trying to do. I said that I did not like to see a law passed which will make the Hotel men violators of the law if they refuse to provide accommodations for a negro when their hotels are filled with white people, or restaurant men made violators when they decline to serve colored people. I said that businessmen ought to be free to run their own businesses, and not become law breakers if they choose to employ certain people; that if we have such a law as that, then it is unfair to the majority of the citizens of this country. (Source: Prince, David O. McKay, p. 68).
16) In 1964, Apostle Delbert L. Stapley wrote a letter to Michigan Governor George Romney, expressing his displeasure "after listening to your talk on Civil Rights." Here are some real gems from that letter:
I cannot, in my own feelings, accept the idea of public accommodations; the taking from the Whites their wishes to satisfy the Negroes. I do not have any objection to recognizing the Negro in his place and giving him every opportunity for education, for employment, for whatever contribution he can make to the society of men and the protection and blessings of Government. Yet, all these things, in my judgment, should accord with the expressions of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
It is not right to force any class or race of people upon those of a different social order or race classification. People are happier when placed in the environment and association of like interests, racial instincts, habits, and natural groupings.
I fully agree the Negro is entitled to considerations, also stated above, but not full social benefits nor inter-marriage privileges with the Whites, nor should the Whites be forced to accept them into restricted White areas.
Now, don't think I am against the Negro people, because I have several in my employ. We must understand and recognize their status and then, accordingly, provide for them. I just don't think we can get around the Lord's position in relation to the Negro without punishment for our acts; going contrary to that which He has revealed. The Lord will not permit His purposes to be frustrated by man.
(Source: Letter dated 1/23/64 on "Council of the Twelve" letterhead from Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney). Link to Letter
17) In 1965, BYU President Wilkinson wrote in his journal that Harold B. Lee was "protesting vigorously over our having given a scholarship at the B.Y.U. to a negro student from Africa. Brother Lee holds the traditional belief as revealed in the Old Testament that the races ought to be kept together and that there is danger in trying to integrate them on the B.Y.U. campus." (Source: D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, p. 852 (Signature Books 1997)).
We think it is very clear from the above examples that there was a widespread attitude of segregation in the Church, even if no "official policy."
Why are blacks born black?
Many religions in the 1800s believed that the curse put upon Cain in Genesis was black skin. It wasn't just the Mormons. The Catholics did not believe this though. However, the other non-LDS churches did not teach that blacks were less valiant before they came to earth - that was a unique LDS belief.
The LDS apostles taught for generations that blacks were the "cursed seed of Cain". According to LDS theology, "The Lord" punished Cain for murdering his brother Abel by making his skin go dark, making him the first Negro.
This isn't necessarily Biblical. According to the Bible, the mark was put on Cain to protect him. The mark was not explained - it could be anything, no necessarily 'black skin'. The Mark of Cain was to be a protection. That it was seven times worse to kill Cain or one of his descendents than it was to kill another. But also it was a mark so that racial/tribal/religions wouldn't inter marry. God was very specific in the Old Testament on what kind of person and race people could marry or have sex with.
In early 19th century America, the Western World accepted the Bible as historically accurate. The Book of Genesis stated that God created Adam and Eve, and Adam and Eve were the parents of all living. It was generally understood that Adam and Eve were white-skinned. Their descendents should logically also have white skin. But many ethnic groups had dark skin. How did this happen? The Book of Genesis provided an answer. The first murderer was Cain, and according to the Bible, Cain was cursed with a mark. To the 19th century mind, it seemed reasonable that dark skin was the mark, and that it was passed on to one of Noah's descendents after the Great Flood. This presumably occurred via the wife and children of Ham, the son of Noah, of whom Genesis 9:18-27 says:
And the sons of Noah that went forth from the ark were Shem, and Ham, and Japeth: and Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japeth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father, and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
In her paper "The Lives of African-American Mormons and the Evolution of Church Policy", Howarth (1995) noted:
"it had been popularly taught, at least since A.D. 200, by both Christian and Jewish scholars, that the descendants of Ham or Canaan form the present day African races. Southern fundamentalists used this scripture to justify the enslavement of the African race, "for God cursed them to perpetual servitude".
"It was argued that the Negro was inferior by nature because of Noah's curse upon the children of Ham.... The greatest blasphemy of the whole ugly process was that the white man ended up making God his partner in the exploitation of the Negro." ~Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, 1967
No one really knows for sure what the curse put upon Cain was (assuming the story of Cain and Abel isn't merely a myth which is what most scientific scholars believe).
Of course scientific research shows that skin color is a product of living in various climates, and that the first humans, who emerged in deep dark Africa, were Negroid, and that as humans moved northward into Europe, their skins turned lighter over hundreds of thousands of years. If you accept scientific reasoning then all of Mormonism's teachings about race and skin are complete nonsense.
There is a discussion of Cain, including a passage from some early LDS member in Spencer W. Kimball's book The Miracle of Forgiveness. Some members refer to this as the Bigfoot reference.
As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me.... His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark. I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men. About the time he expressed himself thus, I rebuked him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight....(Lycurgus A. Wilson, Life of David W. Patten [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1900], p. 50., as quoted by Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness [Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, Inc.]18th printing 1991 p.p. 127-128.)
Doctrine or just policy?
Some members question whether the ban was actual doctrine or just Church policy. The First Presidency issued the following official statements signed by all three members. (emphasis added):
1947 the First Presidency (supreme council) of the Church issued an Official Statement:
"From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel." (Statement of The First Presidency on the Negro Question, July 17 1947, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, pp.46-7)
In 1949, The First Presidency issued the following statement:
"The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time." (The First Presidency on the Negro Question, 17 Aug. 1949)
Official Statement of First Presidency issued on August 17, 1951, reads:
"The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality, and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the principle itself indicates that the coming to this earth and taking on mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintained their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.....
"Man will be punished for his own sins and not for Adam's transgression. If this is carried further, it would imply that the Negro is punished or allotted to a certain position on this earth, not because of Cain's transgression, but came to earth through the loins of Cain because of his failure to achieve other stature in the spirit world."
The Reasons for the Ban
Of perhaps greater concern is the reason for the doctrine. Are the commonly referred to beliefs of the ban dealing with the curse of Cain and being less valiant in the pre-existence actual doctrine or merely Mormon folklore?
The earliest reference may be from Orson Hyde in 1845 when he said that the reason blacks are black was due to their actions in the pre-existence. Every prophet since Brigham Young until Spencer W. Kimball has preached the same belief as doctrine.
By listening to the Church's official spokesmen for 150 years it seems clear that the reason for the ban had to do with blacks being cursed by God because they were less valiant in the pre-existence and were therefore born under the curse of Cain, who was the first Negro.
To say otherwise, and go against scores of teachings and sermons and even First Presidency messages by the highest leaders of the Church, would put into serious question whether these men are really inspired men that receive revelation from God.
We were all clearly taught this in Church for decades before the ban was lifted. If the leaders of the church could make such a serious error, then how can we really ever put our 100% trust in what they say? How is the LDS church more true than the hundreds of protestant churches that did not teach, up through 1978, that blacks are black because they were cursed from God for being less valiant before they came to earth?
In public interviews, Gordon B. Hinckley has said that he doesn't know the reasons for the ban. He seems understandably uncomfortable answering the question. It is strange that until the ban, the reasons were plainly taught to the members but now no one wants to say what the reasons are anymore or confirm whether what was taught in the past is true or not.
Were the leaders right?
One apologist (a personal good friend of mine) told me in confidence that he personally thought that blacks were 'fence-sitters' in the pre-existence and were indeed cursed from Cain and that the prophets were correct about the doctrine and the reasons for it. They don't talk about it for the obvious public image problems that it would cause for the church in modern times. Perhaps that's true - we'll never really know. But this is further evidence that the church needs to make a more official statement on the reasons for the ban.
If the ban preventing blacks from having the priesthood was instituted by Joseph Smith, then that would give the ban more legitimacy as Joseph was the first and by far the most doctrinal of the Latter-day prophets. However, if the ban was made by the prophets after Joseph then perhaps they were in error as Brigham Young was in error regarding the Adam-God sermons.
Born into slavery in Maryland in 1810, a black man named Elijah Abel escaped a life of slavery through the Underground Railroad and entered Canada. Shortly thereafter, in 1832, Elijah was baptized into the LDS Church by Ezekiel Roberts.
Elijah Abel was only one-eighth black and had a rather plain appearance. See photo reported to be of him. Some speculate that it wasn't readily apparent that he was black.
Abel was the first black person to be baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was also the first black man to receive the priesthood, ordained an elder in 1836 under the hands of the prophet Joseph Smith. Abel's journey was one of pain, suffering, liberation and spiritual redemption. A few years after receiving the priesthood, Abel was ordained as a seventy-a high position of leadership in the LDS faith. Abel served missions for the LDS Church in Ohio, New York and Canada.
Abel changed the lives and softened the hearts of countless people. Shortly after his second mission, Abel was ordained into the Nauvoo Seventies Quorum, and when Joseph Smith was arrested in Quincy, Ill., in 1841, Abel was among a group of seven elders who set out from Nauvoo to try to rescue him. While living in Nauvoo, Illinois, he worked as a mortician at the request of Joseph Smith.
At a conference in June 1843, apostles John E. Page, Orson Pratt, and Heber C. Kimball's brought up for discussion Elijah Abel's unique status as the only black priesthood holder of the Church. It was then decided that he was not allowed to perform publicly (Bringhurst 1979). Thus, the case of Elijah Abel appears to be a mistake rather than policy.
In 1853 Elijah asked to receive his endowment and was denied by Brigham Young. In 1883 he was still on Church records as a Seventy. In 1884 Elijah was sent on another mission. He returned home and died in December of 1884.
Another black man, Walker Lewis also received the priesthood during Joseph's leadership. About 1842, Lewis, who had worshipped with the Episcopal Church, converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He is believed to have been baptized by Parley P. Pratt. One year later, in the summer of 1843, Lewis was ordained an Elder by William Smith, brother of founder Joseph Smith.
Walker's first-born son, Enoch Lovejoy Lewis, also joined the Church. On September 18, 1846, Enoch married a white Mormon woman, Mary Matilda Webster, in Cambridge.
After settling in Utah in 1848, Young announced a ban that prohibited all men of black African descent from holding the priesthood. In addition, he prohibited Mormons of African descent from participating in LDS temple rites, such as the Endowment or sealing.
Attempt to live in Utah
Walker Lewis migrated to Utah to be with the main body of the Latter Day Saint movement. He left Massachusetts at the end of March 1851 and arrived in Salt Lake City about October 1. There he received his Patriarchal Blessing from Presiding Patriarch John Smith, an uncle of Joseph Smith. He asked Jane Elizabeth Manning James, a black Mormon from Connecticut, to marry him as his polygamous wife, but she declined.
Lewis was ignored by his fellow Mormons. The missionaries and Apostles with whom he developed relationships with and worked closely in Massachusetts refused to acknowledge his presence once he was in Salt Lake City.
Two months after Walker's arrival, Brigham Young lobbied for, and the Utah Territorial Legislature (composed only of high-ranking Mormon leaders) passed, the Act in Relation to Service. This new territorial law made slavery legal in the territory of Utah, and Section Four of the statute provided punishment for "any white person... guilty of sexual intercourse with any of the African race," regardless of their being married, consenting adults. The anti-miscegenation law was not repealed in Utah until the 1960s, although enforcement had ceased well before that. Walker Lewis left after six months the following spring, returning to Lowell, Massachusetts.
Joseph Smith does not appear to have been that racist, although there are a couple of racist comments attributed to him (see above) and he also upheld the laws of slavery and only spoke out against it towards the end of his life. He was friends with a black convert (Elijah Abel) whom he allowed to be ordained to the higher priesthood.
However, it seems more likely that this was the exception, rather than the rule. Joseph likely did Elijah Abel a favor because of his friendship with the man.
If only 2 or perhaps 3 black men received the priesthood in the early days of the Church, then it seems much more likely these were either favors or mistakes. Undoubtedly there were more than 2 or 3 black men in the Church that wanted to be sealed to their families or have the priesthood in the first decades the church existed.
Brigham Young refused Elijah Abel (whom Joseph allowed to be ordained to the higher priesthood) from being endowed in the Nauvoo temple with the rest of the Saints. Perhaps the racism came from Brigham moving forward because we've seen little evidence that Joseph felt that way (except for a few comments) and we could find no official church policy on blacks written during Joseph's life. He was out to win over all men regardless of race, nationality or color. When Joseph ran for president of the United States he made ending slavery a key issue of his campaign.
If the prophets after Joseph Smith were responsible for the ban on blacks from receiving the priesthood and if indeed this was a false doctrine then how could any of those men possibly be prophets? For men of God to deny an entire race the benefit of the priesthood for 150 years is inexcusable. The Church would have been much better off to have been governed by a group of men that did not claim divine authority and therefore could have been responsive to the will of the members.
If Brigham Young instituted the priesthood ban on blacks without being directed to from God, then this is just too serious to ignore. And if all the prophets since Brigham Young until Spencer W. Kimball let it go unchallenged, then how can anyone say these men are truly prophets of God? It's ironic that all the other Christian churches, that do not claim to have prophets, allowed blacks the same rights as whites long before the prophet-led LDS church did. If the LDS prophets made this big of an error then why should they be believed on other matters?
Elijah Abel Reference: Early LDS Church showed more racial tolerance than some think - from The Daily Utah Chronicle
Will blacks be just servants in the next life?
In August 1908, LDS President Joseph F. Smith recounted the situation of a devout LDS African-American woman who was sealed to Joseph Smith--not as one of Joseph's many plural wives--but, rather, as Smith's servant. Her struggle for equal rights is summarized below:
"A free-born servant, Jane Elizabeth Manning was born in the late 1810s or early 1820s and grew up in Connecticut during the 1820s, earning her living as a domestic. "When Mormon missionaries came to the area, she listened and along with other family members joined the Church.
"In 1843, eight members of the Manning family started toward Nauvoo but became separated at Buffalo, New York, when they were refused passage on a boat because they were Black. The Mannings set out on foot and, after experiencing illness, threatened imprisonment, and extreme cold, finally arrived in Nauvoo where Joseph Smith welcomed them into his home.
"Before the Latter-day Saints left Nauvoo, Jane Manning married another black Mormon, Isaac James. James, a native of New Jersey, had converted to Mormonism in 1839 at the age of nineteen and immigrated to Nauvoo.
"Their first son was born at Winter Quarters in 1846. The couple had six more children in Utah. In 1869 Isaac left the family, selling his property to Jane. He returned to Salt Lake City approximately twenty-one years later just before he passed away. When he died in 1891, Jane held his funeral in her home.
"Jane Manning James was a member of the female Relief Society and donated to the St. George, Manti, and Logan temple funds. "She repeatedly petitioned the First Presidency to be endowed and to have her children sealed to her...
"After Isaac died, Jane asked that they [her children] be given the ordination of adoption so they would be together in the next life. "She explained in correspondence to Church leaders that Emma Smith had offered to have her sealed to the Smith family as a child. She reconsidered that decision and asked to be sealed to the Smiths.
"Permission for all of these requests was denied. "Instead the First Presidency 'decided she might be adopted into the family of Joseph Smith as a servant, which was done, a special ... ceremony having been prepared for the purpose.'
"The minutes of the Council of Twelve Apostles continued: "'But Aunt Jane was not satisfied with this, and as a mark of dissatisfaction she applied again after this for sealing blessings, but of course in vain.' ...
"Jane Manning James bore a testimony of Mormonism to the end of her life [as follows, in her own words]:
"'My faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is as strong today, nay, it is if possible stronger than it was the day I was first baptized. I pay my tithes and offerings, keep the word of wisdom, I go to bed early and rise early, I try in my feeble way to set a good example to all.'
"When she died in 1908, Church president Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral." At her funeral, President Smith admitted that "Aunt Jane" (as she was known) had been relegated to eternal servanthood in the Mormon realms above, despite being a valiant, faithful Church member to the end:
"... [E]fforts ... had been made by Aunt Jane to receive her endowments and be sealed to her husband and have her children sealed to their parents and her appeal was made to all the Presidents from President Young down to the present First Presidency.
"But President Cannon conceived the idea that, under the circumstances, it would be proper to permit her to go to the temple to be adopted to the Prophet Joseph Smith as his servant and this was done. "This seemed to ease her mind for a little while but did not satisfy her, and she still pleaded for her endowments."
"I had several meetings with H. B. Clawson Concerning some of our Affairs in Calafornia. We had Meeting with several individuals among the rest Black Jane wanted to know if I would not let her have her Endowments in the Temple. This I could not do as it was against the Law of God. As Cain killed Abel All the seed of Cain would have to wait for Redemption untill all the seed that Abel would have had that may Come through other men Can be redeemed."
--Wilford Woodruff, journal note for Oct 16, 1894.
Mathias F. Cowley reported:
In after years when President Joseph F. Smith preached the funeral sermon of this same faithful woman he declared that she would in the resurrection attain the longings of her soul and become a white and beautiful person.[
This LDS belief that even faithful blacks were destined to be just servants in the next life was also taught openly at least through the mid 1950s. LDS apostle Mark E. Petersen declared in 1954 in a sermon to BYU students that baptized LDS Blacks would receive only qualified acceptance into Mormonism's highest degree of glory (enphasis added):
"In spite of all he [the Black person] did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost."
"If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the Celestial Kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory."
Editor Comment: The LDS Church does not teach this now, but for the Church to be wrong about such an important topic for so many years is troubling.
Should the Church apologize for its past teachings?
From the Pro-LDS Site http://www.angelfire.com/mo2/blackmormon/SAQ.html
Q. Will the Mormon Church ever just apologize to black folks for teaching that they are the descendants of Cain and under his curse?
A. Not likely. It is highly unlikely that The First Presidency will ever "apologize" for the Curse of Cain doctrine and/or the Priesthood-ban policy. To call the Curse of Cain doctrine and Priesthood-ban policy a "mistake" would be saying that Mormon leaders from Brigham Young (1850s-1870s) to Spencer W. Kimball (1970s-1980s) were not inspired of God! It would be saying that Church Presidents, considered to be "Living Prophets" by Mormons, cannot be trusted in their doctrines or policies.
The LORD has said:
"What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same." (Doctrine & Covenants 1:38)
Some Members of the Church believe the Priesthood-ban was a "mistake" and not of God. They don't believe that blacks are the descendants of Cain. Some of these believe that the Church should publicly "repudiate" the Curse of Cain legacy. Others believe that merely by not discussing it, not talking about it, the Curse of Cain legacy will slowly "fade away" and be forgotten.
Some Members don't believe that the Church ever taught that blacks were the descendants of Cain or cursed at all! These Members are either very misinformed, or self-deluded. Some of them will go into "denial" and literally lie to themselves and others. Why? Because they don't want others to perceive them as "racist".
A few Members will think of excuses why blacks were denied the Priesthood; other than the reasons given by Mormon Prophets. They will say things like, "Well, the white Members were racist and they weren't ready for black Priesthood-officers!" or "Well, we really don't KNOW why blacks did not receive the Priesthood! God has not revealed why!"
These are their "personal opinions" and "spins". Church of Jesus Christ leaders have--since the early 1850s until the 1978 Revelation--been consistent as to telling "why" Hamites could not hold the Priesthood. The reason "why" they gave was:
- Hamites (black Africans and anyone with at least one black African ancestor) were considered to be the descendants of Cain via Ham's Cainite wife. They inherited the "Curse of Cain"; which was a denial of the Priesthood in mortal life. All of this was based upon their interpretation of Abraham 1:26 in the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price (a volume of Mormon scripture) which said that Pharaoh was "a righteous man" and "blessed with wisdom" but "cursed as pertaining to the Priesthood" because he had the blood of the Canaanites; being a descendant of Ham through Canaan.
- Hamites "may" (always "may" or "might have") have been "less valiant" in the War in Heaven in the Pre-Existence (i.e. they followed Jehovah against Lucifer but were not "valiant" in the War). As punishment, these spirits were born into the Cainite lineage (bloodline).
- One day the "curse will be removed" and Negroes will "have all the blessings we now enjoy" and more.
Some Mormons think they know more than do Mormon Prophets, and conclude that Abraham 1:26 refers to the Patriachal Priesthood (i.e. there should be no black Patriarchs) but not to the Melchizedek or Aaronic orders.
Other Mormons simply believe that the Curse of Cain doctrine and Priesthood-ban policy was based upon the "racism" of Brigham Young, and should never have happened.
Some Mormons believe or will tell you that the Curse of Cain was merely the "personal opinions" of early Church leaders, and "never a doctrine of the Church".
This is simply NOT true! In 1947 the First Presidency (supreme council) of the Church issued an Official Statement saying:
"From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel." (Statement of The First Presidency on the Negro Question, July 17 1947, quoted in Mormonism and the Negro, pp.46-7)
By "full blessings of the Gospel" they meant:
- The Priesthood
- The Higher Ordinances (sealings and endowments) in Mormon Temples.
Only The First Presidency can speak for the Church. They did not repudiate the Curse of Cain doctrine nor the Priesthood-ban in 1978. They simply "lifted" the Priesthood-ban (or rather the LORD did through them). There are no current signs the First Presidency will ever repudiate the Curse of Cain legacy. Members who tell themselves and others that the Curse of Cain doctrine was a "mistake" or "personal opinion" or "never taught" are saying they know the Will of the LORD more than did Church Presidents; which they claim to believe in and sustain as "Living Prophets".
The Church leaders say that the 1978 announcement negated the necessity of an apology. It's interesting that the announcement doesn't even mention the word 'black' or 'negro'. It was worded in such a way as to downplay the fact that blacks were denied the priesthood.
We agree that the Church will not likely apologize to blacks. If it did then it would be admitting that the Church made a serious mistake and their prophets are not really prophets. People would say if they were wrong about that, what else might they be wrong about?
Perhaps the Church should at least clarify the reasons for the ban. Many people in the Church believe that blacks are cursed from God as the earlier leaders taught. This puts an awful burden on black members. Many feel that they have to defend themselves against white brothers who still believe this. Many white LDS will continue to believe that the reasons for the ban, were as they were taught growing up, before the ban was lifted UNLESS the Church officially states otherwise. That is unfair to our black brothers.
Protest from a faithful member
In 1947, Dr. Lowry Nelson, a professor at then-Utah State Agricultural College in Logan, Utah, dispatched a letter to the Mormon First Presidency challenging the official exclusionary and racially biased position of the LDS Church toward people of African descent. In writing his letter of protest, Lowry was no insignificant malcontent but, rather, a Mormon who came to the table with impeccable credentials:
"Nelson earned a B.S. degree at Utah State University in 1916. He spent the next two decades working mainly in Utah. He served as the County Agricultural agent in Sanpete County, Utah in 1919, he became the field agriculturist for the People's Sugar Company in 1920 and edited the Utah Farmer from 1920-1922. He was associated with Brigham Young University from 1921-1935. During the Depression he worked for the Utah Relief Administration in 1934, he was regional advisor to the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and in 1935 became director of the Resettlement Administration. He was then director of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station at Logan. In 1937 he received a position at the University of Minnesota in the Sociology Department... .
"Dr. Nelson's works include several monographs and a multitude of articles and papers ranging from rural life in Latin America, the United States and Canada as well as studies on various Mormon Villages in Utah. Dr. Nelson died in Provo, Utah in 1986."
It was from this distinguished professional career track and deep Mormon background that on 16 June 1947, Lowry wrote the First Presidency, taking issue with the Mormon Church's anti-Black doctrine.
On 17 July of the same year, the First Presidency replied thusly:
"Dear Brother Nelson:
"As you have been advised, your letter of June 16 was received in due course ... We have carefully considered [its] content; and are glad to advise you as follows:
"We make this initial remark: the social side of the Restored Gospel is only an incident of it; it is not the end thereof.
"The basic element of your ideas and concepts seems to be that all God's children stand in equal positions before Him in all things. Your knowledge of the Gospel will indicate to you that this is contrary to the very fundamentals of God's dealings with Israel dating from the time of His promise to Abraham regarding Abraham's seed and their position vis-a-vis God Himself. Indeed, some of God's children were assigned to superior positions before the world was formed.
"We are aware that some Higher Critics do not accept this, but the Church does. Your position seems to lose sight of the revelations of the Lord touching the pre-existence of our spirits, the rebellion in heaven, and the doctrines that our birth into this life and the advantages under which we may be born, have a relationship in the life heretofore.
"From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it is 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.
"Furthermore, your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now. God's rule for Israel, His Chosen People, has been endogamous [meaning 'marriage within a specific tribe or similar social unit']. Modern Israel has been similarly directed.
"We are not unmindful of the fact that there is a growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this are, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.
George Albert Smith
J. Reuben Clark, Jr.
David O. McKay
The First Presidency"
(John J. Stewart, Mormonism and the Negro," [Orem, Utah: Community Press, 1960], pp. 46-47 (see below for link); see also, http://web.archive.org/web/20070112192632/http://www.signaturebookslibrary.org/neither/neither2.htm (archived copy) and lightplanet.com )
Lowry followed up with another letter to the First Presidency, dated 8 October 1947, in which he expressed his disappointment with the Mormon Church's officially, blatantly racist position, expressing his conclusions as follows:
"The attitude of the Church in regard to the Negro makes me very sad. I do not believe God is a racist."
The First Presidency replied:
"We feel very sure that you are aware of the doctrines of the Church. They are either true or not true. Our testimony is that they are true. Under these circumstances we may not permit ourselves to be too much impressed by the reasonings of men, however well founded they may seem to be. We should like to say this to you in all sincerity, that you are too fine a man to permit yourself to be led off from the principles of the Gospel by worldly learning.
"You have too much of a potentiality for doing good and we therefore prayerfully hope that you can re-orient your thinking and bring it in line with the revealed Word of God." (Stewart and Bennett, "Mormonism and the Negro," p.28)
Mormonism and the Negro
The book, Mormonism and the Negro, was written by John J. Stewart and published in 1960. The book can be read online here. Although it was not officially produced by the church, it was the definitive work work of the time to counter the growing Civil Rights Movement. It was important enough that the December 1965 issue of "The Improvement Era: The Voice of the Church; Official organ of the Priesthood
Quorums, Mutual Improvement
Associations, Home Teaching, Music
Committee, Department of Education,
and other agencies of The
Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints" allowed it to be advertised as the free book for the LDS Book of the Month Club, which had this to say about the book:
(click on the picture for the picture of the full page) - picture source: https://archive.org/stream/improvementera6812unse#page/n9/mode/1up (page 1064)
From the first page:
There is nothing in the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about which any member need feel any shame, apology or embarrassment. Perhaps in the individual failings and weaknesses of some who profess to be members, there may be cause, but not in the Gospel itself.
As the Apostle Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ-, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth..."
Yet, because of the popular beliefs and traditions of the world, there are at least two points of doctrine and history of this Church about which many LDS themselves—to say nothing of many non-members—feel ill at ease or critical. One of these is its doctrine regarding the Negro.
If we properly understood this doctrine, and the reasons for it, we would not feel critical of it. "And ye shall know the truth" taught Jesus, "and the truth shall make you free." We would become free of any misgivings about these teachings, and readily proclaim to the world what they are, and why.
In the publication, there is a supplemental book, written by John J. Berrett (Vice President of Brigham Young University) titled The Church and the Negroid People, "Historical information concerning the doctrine of the Church toward the Negroid people."
Both pieces are found in this one download at Mormon Docs: http://sainesburyproject.com/mormonstuff/Mormonism%20and%20the%20Negro.pdf
The book was also endorsed by Apostle Delbert L. Stapley in his letter to Michigan Gov. George Romney:
I am enclosing a little booklet entitled Mormonism and the Negro, which you may already have. If not, it is an enlightening exposition and quite well reflects the Church position in regard to these people.
(Source: Letter dated 1/23/64 on "Council of the Twelve" letterhead from Delbert L. Stapley to Governor George Romney) (emphasis added)).
Some excerpts from the book (emphasis added) :
There are Negroes born into families of wealth and refinement, others who are blessed with great talents, and there are those born into the lowest classes of society in Africa, in squalor and ignorance, living out their lives in a fashion akin to that of the animals. Does not this infinite variety of circumstance give further evidence of man's being assigned that station in life which he has merited by his performance in the pre-mortal existence? (pg 44)
In the above scripture from Abraham, then, we have a reliable account of the early genealogy of the Negro race, and in Abraham's comments we have further evidence of the divine direction in the LDS Church policy of not allowing the Negro, the seed of Cain and Ham to bear the Priesthood. (pg 45)
Indeed, some of God's children were assigned to superior positions before the world was formed. We are aware that some Higher Critics do not accept this, but the Church does. (pg 46)
Quoting the First Presidency:
From the days of the Prophet Joseph 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. Furthermore, your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal- minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now. God's rule for Israel, his Chosen People, has been endogamous. Modern Israel has been similarly directed, "We are not unmindful of the fact that
there is a growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this area, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine. (pg 46-47)
Is it not possible to see an act of mercy on the part of God in not having the Negro bear the Priesthood in this world, in view of his living under the curse of a black skin and other Negroid features? (pg 49)
According to this next passage, the black race should be glad that God even allowed them to have mortal bodies:
The very fact that God would allow those spirits who were less worthy in the spirit world to partake of a mortal body at all is further evidence of His mercy. (pg 50)
Response by the Church
UPDATE: In December, 2013 the Church included a section on 'Race and the Priesthood' in the topical guide of the LDS.org website. This is the most definitive response by the church we could find. Please read their essay and MormonThink's response to the essay here: Race and the Priesthood - Response to LDS.org
In addition, the Mormons in Transition website, also did a review of the Church essay
Prior to the publication of the Church essay, we we found several responses from LDS apologists and LDS leaders which we cite below.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained how earlier statements by church leaders on African-Americans and the priesthood should be disregarded because their understanding was limited at the time:
"There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren that 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?" All I can say 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 whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.
"We get our truth and light line upon line and precept upon precept (2 Ne. 28:30; Isa. 28:9-10; D&C 98:11-12; 128:21). We have now added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter anymore." (Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, All Are Alike Unto God, pp. 1-2)
Marvin Perkins explained the Book of Mormon teaching that those "cursed" with a "skin of blackness" could remove the "curse" by coming unto God:
"There are Blacks here today who are members of the Church. Why have we not turned White? But there are Blacks who have joined the Church, married White spouse, and their children became lighter than their Black parents. Then those kids grew up to marry those that believe as they do, which most are White, so they married White, and their kids became even lighter, and so on. Makes you think a bit, doesn't it? (Marvin Perkins, Blacks and the Priesthood, FAIR)"
President Spencer W. Kimball described the process through which the church decided to bestow all church privileges upon African-Americans:
"It went on for some time as I was searching for this, because I wanted to be sure. We held a meeting of the Council of the Twelve in the temple on the regular day. We considered this very seriously and thoughtfully and prayerfully.
"I asked the Twelve not to go home when the time came. I said, 'now would you be willing to remain in the temple with us?' And they were. I offered the final prayer and I told the Lord if it wasn't right, if He didn't want this change to come in the Church that I would he true to it all the rest of my life, and I'd fight the world against it if that's what He wanted.
"We had this special prayer circle, then I knew that the time had come. I had a great deal to fight, of course, myself largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life till my death and fight for it and defend it as it was. But this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it." (President Spencer W. Kimball, Deseret News, Church Section, January 6, 1979, p. 19)
According to President Gordon B. Hinckley, he simply doesn't know why Blacks were denied the priesthood until 1978:
"HN: Until 1978 no person of color attained the priesthood in your church. Why did it take so long to overcome the racism?
"GBH: I don't know. I don't know. I can only say that. (long pause) But it's here now. We're carrying on a very substantial work in Africa for instance and in Brazil. We're working among their people developing them. We've had them among the leadership of the Church and they're able to do a great work and we love them and appreciate them and we respect them and we are trying to help them." (Gordon B. Hinckley Interview, ZDF German Television, Salt Lake City, Utah, January 29, 2002, Conducted by Helmut Nemetschek)
Regarding Bruce R. McConkie's statement "Forget everything I've said in the past" does not absolve the LDS church of its past leaders' racist teachings and policies.
McConkie's statements are a good first step but the Church needs to officially put out a similar, yet stronger statement. McConkie can only apologize for his own statements and the current prophet would have to explain the Church's practices for the first 150 years of its existence.
Salt Lake Tribune: This Mormon Sunday school teacher was dismissed for using church's own race essay in lesson - 5/5/15
It all started with a question.
The Mormon youth simply asked his white Sunday school teacher why the man's Nigerian wife and her family would join a church that had barred blacks from being ordained to its all-male priesthood until 1978. Why, the student wanted to know, was the ban instituted in the first place?
To answer the teen's inquiry, Brian Dawson turned to the Utah-based faith's own materials, including its groundbreaking 2013 essay, "Race and the Priesthood." His research prompted an engaging discussion with his class of 12- to 14-year-olds.
But it didn't please his local lay leaders, who removed him from his teaching assignment — even though the essay has been approved by top Mormon leaders and appears on the church's official website lds.org
Read full article
Editor Comment: The LD Church was having a hard time responding to what it felt was a lot of misinformation about its doctrine and history. So they compiled a list of essays to answer those questions so members could have an official, LDS approved reference. This teacher appears to have been dismissed for using the essays for their exact stated purpose.
The LDS Church continually says it was not racist but how else can you explain the doctrine taught for 150 years? One of the following must be racist - Was it Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or God?
If it was Joseph Smith or Brigham Young then these men are not really receiving true revelation from God and therefore are not prophets and the modern LDS church cannot be God's one, true church. That leaves the obvious choice to say it was all God's idea. It's easy to blame things on God. People do that all the time. No one can prove or disprove it.
The LDS prophets taught that God cursed some people with black skin, if that's true then God must be racist. We find that hard to believe.
Another example of Mormon racism is the fact that before the 1978 change, LDS missionaries in the southern USA were instructed to not actively proselyte Negroes, and to stay out of black neighborhoods. If the missionaries accidentally knocked on a black person's door, they were instructed to tell the person to "Have a nice day, and attend the church of your choice." That is racism.
LDS General Authority Alexander Morrison asserted that the LDS church has always been against racism. We point out that racism, even in its most benign form, can consist of merely discrimination against a race or races of people, or drawing distinctions between races. The LDS church's "scriptures" do this in spades. They repeatedly treat dark skinned-people as "loathsome," and light-skinned people as "delightsome." The BOM states that the god of Mormonism turned the Lamanites' skin dark so "they would not be enticing unto my people." The implication being that dark-skinned people are less attractive and desirable to mate with. And that is racist.
Interestingly enough, one of the Articles of Faith states that we believe that men are punished for their own sins. Were not the blacks punished in the Church for something they had no control over?
Shouldn't we expect more from God's Prophets than to merely reflect the times in which they lived? Isn't God the same yesterday, today, and forever? Why then should Mormon doctrine ever just reflect the times in which they lived? Those appointed to act as God's mouth piece should especially be forward thinkers - to reflect God's will for His true followers on earth.
The LDS Church would have been far more progressive and likely would have allowed blacks to have the priesthood long before 1978, like other churches did, if they were led by men not claiming to be prophets. They would have been swayed by the righteous desires of the people instead of waiting for a revelation to come from God and not be so tied to the notion that their predecessors were so infallible.
The church claims to be God's church, indeed, His kingdom on Earth. As such, they should not "Course Correct." Rather, they should be on the right course both before and after 1978.
Blacks were not allowed to have the priesthood until social pressure became so great that Mormon leaders got a revelation that is was suddenly okay. That's not ongoing revelation. We call that changing church doctrine because of social pressure.
Many faithful LDS simply dismiss the LDS racism as Brigham Young's racist attitudes were a reflection of the times in which he lived. It only serves as proof that he never spoke to God or at least he never listened very carefully.
Both the critics and defenders of the faith have compelling points to make. The editors of this section give their own opinion:
The LDS Church ban on blacks having the priesthood has always been one of the most difficult things to defend in the church. We've always felt a need to justify or defend the practice that seems on the surface to be so racist. Here's a few things to consider:
Most religions in America in the 1800s did not extend full fellowship to blacks either. The barbaric concept of slavery was supported by the belief that many people had that blacks were inferior and people outside of the LDS Church believed the mark of Cain was indeed black skin and this justified in some people's minds that even slavery of the black race was acceptable. Some people used the Bible to justify slavery.
As time went on all the major religions changed their ways and accepted blacks into full participation. Some did it after the Civil War, others closer to the turn of the century and some during the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The Catholic Church never adopted the' blacks are cursed from Cain belief' and let blacks be ordained as priests in America in the 1800s. But the LDS Church did not change until 1978 - decades after all the other major religions did.
If we believe that the concept of treating all men equally is true, then why would the true church be the very last significant church to change their policy to allow blacks to have the priesthood? Should not the one, true church be on the forefront of civil rights and not lag it?
If the LDS Church changed their discrimination polices when other churches did then it would not be a major criticism limiting their growth in the black communities and black nations of the world today. If the LDS Church never had the policy to begin with then that would have served as a powerful witness that this is indeed the true church. But to wait until 1978 and be the last significant religion in America to change their policy does not make it sound like this is really God's one, true church.
Since Joseph allowed one or two black men to have the priesthood during his reign as prophet and those same men were denied temple ordinances by Brigham Young, it makes us believe that maybe it wasn't suppose to be that way. We don't believe that Brigham Young received a revelation that said blacks are not to have the priesthood. Certainly no such revelation is recorded by him.
It seems more likely that Joseph may have supported blacks having the priesthood or why else would he have ordained Elijah Abel? It's also possible that those 2-3 black men that received the priesthood were either done as special favors or mistakes. Brigham Young was a product of his time and we believe he and the other leaders went totally by their own notions of race to establish the doctrine of the church that was practiced up until 1978. Brigham's comments are evidence of this. Certainly we don't agree with many of his comments today.
But we are suppose to be God's one, true church led by prophets that communicate with God about important doctrinal matters. How could every prophet since Brigham Young be so wrong about something so important? Why would this not be challenged by any of the prophets since Brigham, if they were indeed prophets?
It also seems that the revelation that changed this in 1978 was not prompted by God, but was 'inspired' by outside pressure. Schools were boycotting BYU's athletic games, the government under Jimmy Carter was threatening to revoke BYU's and perhaps even the LDS Church's tax exempt status, the new temple in Brazil was causing major issues as almost all Brazilians have some negro blood and couldn't use the temple, the public was not kind to the church's discrimination and the members of the LDS Church themselves were very embarrassed by the policy.
We've always heard about how impressively spiritual and powerful the revelation was that changed the policy in 1978. But when we read the details about how this came about, such as how Spencer W. Kimball met with everyone individually and asked them to come up with references for and against granting the priesthood to blacks, how they debated the issues and ultimately decided to change it, then that doesn't sound like revelation to us. The notion that God actually told SWK to change the policy appears to be very different than what actually happened. Of course all the brethren felt good about it afterwards. No one liked the policy and everyone wanted it changed and it would make life much easier, for the church, by not having to continually fight the valid criticism of this arcane doctrine.
Growing up in the Church we were all clearly taught as doctrine that the reason blacks could not have the priesthood, was that they were less valiant in the pre-existence. They had the curse of Cain on them and therefore were excluded from participating in the priesthood as whites were able to. Although the prophets and apostles, up until the 1978 revelation, had clearly taught these things, we believe that these reasons for the ban may have been Mormon folklore inspired by statements made initially by early leaders of the Church.
Some members try to ease their guilt and say that the whites were not ready for the blacks to have the priesthood. This may sound good, but ask members that grew up in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s if he/she was ready to have the blacks be members of the priesthood. We all felt very ashamed and embarrassed at the doctrine and was very glad when it was changed.
A black member friend of mine is humble enough to actually say that maybe he did do something wrong in the pre-existence and that is why he was born black. After thinking about how someone could be so conditioned to actually say something like that about himself, makes me feel that the church must at some point come forward and clarify whether or not the reasons taught for 150 years are really true or are they just Mormon folklore.
In public interviews the prophet Gordon B. Hinckley has stated "that's how the prophets interpreted the doctrine at that time". A logical follow-up question would be to ask "were those prophets interpreting the doctrine correctly or were they in error?"
Because the church, since 1978, won't officially support or deny the reasons for the ban, this places a huge and unnecessary burden on our black brothers in the church. Many white members still believe that blacks are cursed because they were fence-sitters in the pre-existence. We've heard from black members that they feel they have to defend themselves against these beliefs but get no support from the church. The church clearly doesn't want to talk about it and hopes in time this issue will go away. Even the LDS apologists say things like 'How many people under 25 even know about the curse of Cain or the teachings about blacks being less valiant in the pre-existence?' That kind of response is unacceptable to our black members.
We have a hard time believing that God was the author of the ban up until 1978. It's very convenient to blame it on God but we would think God would have told his earliest prophets of the restoration that all of his worthy sons should be eligible to receive the blessings of the priesthood. If it was truly from God, then our prophets should be able to tell us why. If the ban came about from the man-made philosophies of the prophets starting with Brigham Young, then these men cannot truly be as inspired as we think they are.
The church members, in at least the last half of the 1900s, did not want the priesthood ban on the blacks. It was embarrassing. God's true church should have been on the forefront of civil rights, not the last major church to adopt it. We all felt ashamed as a Latter-day Saints growing up in the 1970s, being taught that blacks were cursed from Cain and were less valiant in the pre-existence. We never liked that doctrine and always wondered if it was really true. We believed it back then but now we think it's much more likely that the prophets were in error.
Blacks in Cuba
The following report from a Mission President shows how race factored into decisions on whether LDS missionaries should proselytize in certain countries. Read: A report of Visit to Cuba
Blacks banned from the temple
Some members try to explain that the priesthood ban on black men was just something unique to the priesthood. But if that's the case, why were not black women allowed to receive their endowments in the temples until 1978? It's bad enough to exclude black men from holding the priesthood but to deny both black men and black women the sealing ordinances and other ordinances required for exaltation is clearly racist. Why on earth wouldn't black families be allowed to be sealed to each other before 1978?
And since black boys couldn't hold the priesthood, they couldn't be boy scout troop leaders either. The ban on blacks holding the priesthood had further-reaching implications than most members probably realize.
When Gordon B. Hinckley was asked publicly about the ban, his response was he didn't know why blacks were banned from the priesthood for 150 years until 1978 and he just said it is all behind us now - much like his response to polygamy. In 2013, the Church finally responded to this issue by releasing an essay called 'race and the priesthood'. Unfortunately, it is merely a historical recap and provides little explanation. Read Race and the Priesthood and MormonThink's response'. If we are to accept the LDS Church as God's one true church on the earth, and is indeed lead by prophets that communicate with our Father in Heaven, then we think we deserve more of an answer.
LDS essay on Race & the Priesthood and MormonThink's response:
Race and the Priesthood - Response to LDS.org
The Institute for Religious Research prepared a report for the Kenyan Government officials regarding the past policies and teachings of the LDS church regarding people of color, and the teaching on this subject that remains in LDS scriptures today. This is a very good and accurate review, with lots of documentation, regarding this issue.
Skin Color In Mormon Scriptures and Theology (PDF - archived copy)
Links Supporting the critics:
Supporting the church: