On Sunday June 8th, 2008, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will commemorate 30th anniversary of the June 8, 1978, announcement that then-President Spencer W. Kimball had received a revelation lifting a ban on priesthood ordination for black Latter-day Saint men worldwide by holding a special service in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The primary reference for this post is a Deseret News story entitled "LDS marking 30-year milestone".
Additional Utah media stories on this issue:
(1). Deseret News, "Much has changed for LDS blacks since '78".
(2). Provo Daily Herald, "30 years since blacks given the priesthood".
(3). Salt Lake Tribune, "Mormon and Black".
(4). KSL Channel 5 (with video), "LDS church to celebrate 30th anniversary of revelation on priesthood".
(5). KTVX Channel 4 (with video), "LDS church celebrates important anniversary".
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has also published an original story describing the experiences of black Mormons in the St. Louis area.
The majority of black LDS respondents to these stories are satisfied with the Church. They say they have grown accustomed to defending their faith to other blacks, but they will never understand why they still must defend their race to other Mormons. Racism is alive, they say, in their congregations and in quasi-official publications and folklore the church will not repudiate. Most, however, are unwavering in their beliefs, even as they long for broader acceptance and implore LDS leaders to face the church's racist history. The Salt Lake Tribune also presents the individual stories of Vanna Cox, Darius Gray, Amram Musungu, Jesse Stott, and Edmon Washington as typical examples. Also visit the Black Mormon website for additional perspective into black LDS history.
The results outside the United States have been impressive. As a result of the 1978 revelation, when 19 Africans were baptized members of the LDS Church, an estimated 270,000 people on that continent, shepherded by 2,000 Priesthood leaders, have become Latter-day Saints, and the estimate of black membership worldwide is pegged at about 1 million. Currently, Africa has 46 LDS stakes, 19 missions, 41 districts, 336 wards, 466 branches, three temples (Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa) and two missionary training centers (Ghana and South Africa). In addition, this revelation has fueled further growth in Latin America, particularly in Brazil, where many people have African blood. Five LDS temples now exist in that country.
Those numbers are not only cause for celebration, but they will likely grow in the future, according to Elder Sheldon F. Child, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, reflecting on what has happened to the face of the LDS Church in three decades since the priesthood was extended to "all worthy males."
Elder Child, a former mission president in New York, said he was contacted Thursday night by one of his former missionaries, Phoenix attorney Dustin Jones, who had heard about the event and was asking if he could find tickets. He has made plans to fly in Sunday to attend. As a missionary in the early '90s, Jones was one of a handful of blacks who served under Elder Child. "He was just a great missionary. He loves the church, he taught the gospel well, he did a great job. He wanted to be here because this is very significant to them."
The Sunday event is the first of its kind to be sponsored by the church. A local group of black Latter-day Saints, known as Genesis, sponsored a similar event in the Tabernacle five years ago.
President Spencer W. Kimball, long a personal proponent of change, was the primary driver behind the revelation. By his own account, he spent untold hours in prayer over the issue. Finally, the revelation was granted in 1978. Each member of the Quorum of the Twelve was also privileged to receive the same revelation, and so once an unanimous consensus was reached, the change in policy was implemented. The entire revelation is now formally canonized and incorporated into the Doctrine and Covenants as "Official Declaration 2".
This change actually came within an eyelash of taking place in 1969. It is now known that then-President David O. McKay nurtured a secret desire to extend Priesthood membership to blacks, but he could never obtain the consensus of all twelve apostles. However, during an absence of Apostle Harold B. Lee, the remainder of the Quorum and the First Presidency had tentatively decided to make the change. But, according to Wikipedia, that vote was reversed when Lee returned and called for a re-vote, arguing that the policy could not be changed without a revelation. Since no revelation was forthcoming, the initiative fizzled.
The exclusionary policy became systemically enshrined under the stewardship of the second LDS President, Brigham Young. One of his most famous discourses from 1863 is recorded in the Journal of Discourses Chapter 10, Number 104, where he uttered this now-famous phrase:
"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".
Anti-Mormon activists and anti-racist whites seize upon this as "evidence" that Brigham Young was a "racist", sanctimoniously judging this 19th century figure by 21st century standards of political correctness, but they fail to mention that in the same paragraph, Brigham Young also said that the white race would be cursed by God if they continued to abuse blacks.
Pro-LDS blogger Jeff Lindsay further addresses this issue, to include the popular theories as to why the exclusionary policy came about. Here's what he has to say about Brigham Young's motivation and role:
President Brigham Young explained in 1852 that the policy on the Priesthood did not originate with him: "The Lord Almighty has ordained, and who can help it. Men cannot, the angels cannot, and all the powers of earth and hell cannot take it [the curse of priesthood restriction] off, but thus saith the Eternal I am, what I am, I take it off at my pleasure." He then affirmed, "That the time will come when they will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of and more" (Brigham Young, Speech given in Joint Session of the Utah Legislature, February 5, 1952, in Fred Collier, The Teachings of President Brigham Young. Salt Lake City, Collier's Publishing, 1987, 43). From this we can make several points:
1. The policy (not doctrine) of denying priesthood blessings to blacks was believed to be based upon revelation from God, though how and when is unclear.
2. Since the Lord had directed this policy denying priesthood to some, only He could discontinue that practice ("I take it off at my pleasure").
3. This statement foresees a future time when those denied priesthood would fully enjoy those privileges ("they will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of and more").
This implies the policy originated from revelation, though such a revelation has not been found to be recorded. If this is the case, the LDS Church does NOT owe an apology for the practice, since the Revelation of 1978 was designed to CHANGE PREVIOUS POLICY rather than CORRECT ERRONEOUS POLICY. Those who continue to insist that the LDS Church apologize for the priesthood ban against blacks in the face of this information can be construed to be enemies of the LDS Church, devoid of any personal credibility.
Nevertheless, it would be helpful if the LDS Church leadership would develop and issue a public statement explaining and debunking the traditional theories which many used to further justify the ban. If blacks were not "neutral in the war in heaven", we need to know that. If blacks aren't really the "descendants of Cain", we need to know that as well.
But the Church merely needs to inform its members and the general public; it does not require their approval. The LDS Church is not a democracy; just because we are in the world does not mean we need to be of the world. And, as the campaign experiences of Mitt Romney as well as the oppression of the Texas FLDS prove, there will be those against us regardless of what we do. So to hell with public opinion - let's concentrate on pleasing the Lord.