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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:
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 Upon what moral authority does our current prophet speak if revelations made by past prophets are no longer valid?
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.
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) http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1?p=332
"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 7:290-291, 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" (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 7:336).
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)
"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).
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, Vol. 22, page 304
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)
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 in nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome... The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation...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. Spencer W. Kimball; The Improvement Era, Dec. 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." (Apostle Mark E. Peterson, Race Problems - As They Affect The Church, Convention of Teachers of Religion on the College Level, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, August 27, 1954)
Apostle George F. Richards (spoken in conference)
Conference Reports, CR April 1939, Second Day-Morning Meeting: Elder George F. Richards
"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."
From the Australian Broadcasting Company Sunday night television show COMPASS:
From Gordon B. Hinckley's interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes:
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.
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."NOTE: 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.
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.
By Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson
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 R.L.D.S. 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:
More from the Mormon newspaper Messenger and Advocate:
Brigham Young states that slavery is a divine institution:
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:
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:
Perhaps many "revelations" within the church have been "received" this way?References
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):
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://www.xmission.com/~country/reason/lhm1097a.htm - dead link
From an Ensign article of September 2000 by General Authority Alexander Morrison (emphasis added):
And another statement from the prophet Gordon B. Hinckley:
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:
Many religions in the 1800s believed that the curse put upon Cain in Genesis was black skin. It wasn't just the Mormons. However, the other churches did not teach that blacks were less valiant before they came to earth.
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 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:
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.References
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.
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 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.
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.
Another black man, Walker Lewis also received the priesthood during Joseph's leadership - he was ordained an elder in 1844 by William Smith, Joseph's brother.
Joseph Smith was not a racist - he was friends with a black convert (Elijah Abel) whom he allowed to be ordained to the higher priesthood. However, Brigham Young refused that same man 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 no evidence that Joseph felt that way 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
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:
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:
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.
From the Pro-LDS Site http://www.angelfire.com/mo2/blackmormon/SAQ.html
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.Further reading
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:
(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:
The book, Mormonism and the Negro, was written by John J. Stewart and published in 1960. 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.
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
We regret that we could not find these issues discussed comprehensively in any church publication or website. However, 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:
Marvin Perkins explained the Book of Mormon teaching that those "cursed" with a "skin of blackness" could remove the "curse" by coming unto God:
President Spencer W. Kimball described the process through which the church decided to bestow all church privileges upon African-Americans:
According to President Gordon B. Hinckley, he simply doesn't know why Blacks were denied the priesthood until 1978:
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.
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. 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 supported blacks having the priesthood or why else would he have ordained Elijah Abel? 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 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 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 realized.
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. 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.
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)
Supporting the critics:
Supporting the church: