1978 Revelation on Priesthood

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The 1978 Revelation on Priesthood was a revelation announced by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) that reversed a long-standing policy excluding men of black African descent from the priesthood.

Background[edit]

Men of black African descent were permitted to hold the priesthood in the early years of the Latter Day Saint movement, when Joseph Smith was alive.[1] After Smith died, Brigham Young became leader of the LDS Church denomination of the Latter Day Saint movement, and many were excluded from holding the priesthood. This practice persisted after Young's death, and was maintained until the announcement of the 1978 revelation.

Events leading up to the revelation[edit]

In the decades leading up to the 1978 revelation, it became increasingly difficult for the church to maintain its policy on Africans and the priesthood. The difficulties arose both from outside protests and internal challenges encountered as the membership grew in far away areas of the world outside of the predominantly white Utah. Internal challenges in administering the priesthood ban were mainly due to the difficulty in determining which peoples were of African ancestry in areas such as the Brazil, the Philippines and Caribbean and Polynesian Islands as well as shortages of available people for local church leadership positions in areas with a predominantly black population such as Nigeria or the Dominican Republic.

The majority of the protests against the policy coincided with the rise of the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1960s. In 1963, Hugh B. Brown made a statement on civil rights during General Conference in order to avert a planned protest of the conference by the NAACP.[2] During the late 1960s and 1970s, black athletes at some universities refused to compete against teams from church owned Brigham Young University.[3] A protest in 1974 was in response to the exclusion of black scouts to become leaders in church sponsored Boy Scout troops.[4] By 1978, when the policy was changed, external pressure had slackened somewhat.

In the 1960s, an effort was made to establish a church presence in Nigeria where many natives had expressed interest. Church leaders found it difficult to make progress in establishing the church in that region without a change in the priesthood policy.[5] Issues regarding possible expansion in Nigeria were considered in correspondence between the South African Mission and church general authorities from as early as 1946.[1] LDS Church leaders in the Caribbean, notably in the Dominican Republic (described at the time as 98% black), had expressed the difficulty of proselytizing efforts in the region due to priesthood restrictions.[1]

In 1969, during a weekly meeting the apostles voted to overturn the priesthood ban. However, Harold B. Lee, a senior apostle at the time, was not present due to travel. When he returned he made the argument that the ban could not be overturned administratively but rather required a revelation from God. Lee called for a re-vote, which did not pass.[6]

On March 1, 1975, LDS Church president Spencer W. Kimball announced plans to build a temple in São Paulo, Brazil. Before the 1978 revelation, not only were men of black African descent denied ordination to the priesthood, but men and women of black African descent were also excluded from performing most of the various ordinances in the temple. Determining priesthood and temple eligibility in Brazil was problematic due to the considerable miscegenation between Amerindians, Europeans, and Africans since 1500, and high uncertainty in tracing ancestral roots. Furthermore, in the Brazilian culture, racial identification had more to do with physical appearance and social class than blood lines.[7] The cultural differences in understanding race created confusion between the native Brazilians and the American missionaries. When the temple was announced, church leaders realized the difficulty of restricting persons with various bloodlines from attending the temple in Brazil.[8]

During the first half of the 20th century, most church members and leaders believed the priesthood ban had originated with church founder Joseph Smith. Because of this belief, church leaders were hesitant to overturn the ban. Scholars in the 1960s and 1970s found no evidence of the prohibition before Brigham Young.[9] This evidence made it easier for Kimball to consider making a change.[10]

Softening of the policy[edit]

Prior to the complete overturning of the priesthood ban by revelation, several administrative actions were taken to soften its effect.

Before David O. McKay visited the South Africa mission in 1954, the policy was that any man desiring to receive the priesthood in the mission was required to prove a lack of African ancestors in his genealogy. Six missionaries were tasked with assisting in the necessary genealogical research but even then it was often difficult to establish lack of African ancestry.[11] McKay changed the policy to presume non-African ancestry except when there was evidence to the contrary.[12] This change allowed many more people to be ordained without establishing genealogical proof.

Four years later, McKay gave permission for Fijians to receive the priesthood despite their dark skin color. Thus, the priesthood ban was restricted to those people who were specifically of African descent.[13] In 1967, the same policy that was used in South Africa was extended to cover Brazilians as well.[14]

First person accounts of the revelation[edit]

Kimball first spent many hours in the Salt Lake City Temple alone in prayer over the issue of the priesthood ban. When he felt that he had the Lord's approval to undo the ban, he approached his counselors for their approval. Kimball then brought the subject up at a weekly meeting of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Kimball called on all those that were present to give their views on the subject after which he led the group in prayer.[15] The revelation on the priesthood refers specifically to the experience of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the temple during Kimball's group prayer.

According to Bruce R. McConkie, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who was present, "It was during this prayer that the revelation came. The Spirit of the Lord rested upon us all; we felt something akin to what happened on the day of Pentecost and at the Kirtland Temple. From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of the Spirit, spoke to his prophet. The message was that the time had now come to offer the fullness of the everlasting gospel, including celestial marriage, and the priesthood, and the blessings of the temple, to all men, without reference to race or color, solely on the basis of personal worthiness. And we all heard the same voice, received the same message, and became personal witnesses that the word received was the mind and will and voice of the Lord."[16]

Gordon B. Hinckley, another participant in the meetings to reverse the ban, said, "Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same. All of us knew that the time had come for a change and that the decision had come from the heavens. The answer was clear. There was perfect unity among us in our experience and in our understanding."[17]

Statement announcing the revelation[edit]

On June 9, 1978, the First Presidency released the following statement:[18]

June 8, 1978
To all general and local priesthood officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world:
Dear Brethren:
As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords.
Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God's eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.
He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows there from, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to ensure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.
We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known his will for the blessing of all his children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of his authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.
Sincerely yours,
SPENCER W. KIMBALL
N. ELDON TANNER
MARION G. ROMNEY

The First Presidency

Revelation accepted at general conference[edit]

On September 30, 1978, during the church's 148th Semiannual General Conference, the following was presented by N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency:

In early June of this year, the First Presidency announced that a revelation had been received by President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church. President Kimball has asked that I advise the conference that after he had received this revelation, which came to him after extended meditation and prayer in the sacred rooms of the holy temple, he presented it to his counselors, who accepted it and approved it. It was then presented to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who unanimously approved it, and was subsequently presented to all other General Authorities, who likewise approved it unanimously.[18]

On that day, the general conference unanimously voted to accept the revelation "as the word and will of the Lord."[18]

Statements after the revelation[edit]

Later in 1978, apostle Bruce R. McConkie said:

There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which 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?" And all I can say to that 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 whomsoever 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 our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had 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 any more.... It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year.[19]

Official Declaration 2[edit]

Official Declaration 2 is the canonized formal 1978 announcement by the church's First Presidency that the priesthood would no longer be subject to restrictions based on race or skin color.[20] The declaration was canonized by the LDS Church at its general conference on September 30, 1978, through the process of common consent.[21] Since 1981, the text has been included in the church's Doctrine and Covenants, one of its standard works of scripture.[22] It is the most recent text that has been added to the LDS Church's open canon of scripture.[23] The announcement that was canonized had previously been announced by a June 8, 1978, letter from the First Presidency, which was composed of Spencer W. Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner, and Marion G. Romney.

Unlike much of the Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declaration 2 is not itself presented as a revelation from God. However, its text announces that Jesus Christ "by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood."[18] Thus, it is regarded as "the official declaration of the revelation."[24] No text of the revelation has been released by the church, but it is common for Latter-day Saints to refer to the "revelation on the priesthood" in describing the changes wrought by the announcement and canonization of Official Declaration 2.[25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Bush, Lester E. Jr; Armand L. Mauss, eds. (1984). Neither White Nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church. Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books. ISBN 0-941214-22-2. 
  2. ^ "Black History Timeline". Retrieved 14 April 2016. 
  3. ^ Collisson, Craig. "The BSU takes on BYU and the UW Athletics Program, 1970". Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project. Retrieved 14 April 2016. 
  4. ^ Bringhurst, Newell. Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism. p. 185. 
  5. ^ Prince, Gregory. David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. 
  6. ^ Quinn, Michael D. The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power Salt Lake City: 1994 Signature Books, p. 14.
  7. ^ Grover, Mark. "Religious Accommodation in the Land of Racial Democracy: Mormon Priesthood and Black Brazilians" (PDF). Dialogue. Retrieved 20 April 2016. 
  8. ^ Grover, Mark L. (Spring 1990), "The Mormon Priesthood Revelation and the São Paulo Brazil Temple" (PDF), Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 23 (1): 39–53 
  9. ^ Lester E. Bush, Jr. (1973), "Mormonism's Negro Doctrine", in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8 (Spring 1973): 11–68, cited in Kimball (2005), pp. 196–97.
  10. ^ Kimball, Edward (2008). "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood". BYU Studies. 47. Retrieved 19 April 2016. 
  11. ^ Wright, Eval (1977). A History of the South African Mission. 
  12. ^ Prince, Gregory; Wright, Robert (2005). David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. University of Utah Press. 
  13. ^ Prince, Gregory; Wright, Robert (2005). David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism. University of Utah Press. 
  14. ^ Grover, Mark. "Religious Accommodation in the Land of Racial Democracy: Mormon Priesthood and Black Brazilians" (PDF). Dialogue. Retrieved 20 April 2016. 
  15. ^ Kimball, Edward (2008). "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood". BYU Studies (47): 54–57. Retrieved 19 April 2016. 
  16. ^ Kimball, Spencer W.; et al. (1981), Priesthood, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, pp. 127–128, ISBN 0877478597, OCLC 7572974 
  17. ^ Hinckley, Gordon B. (October 1988), "Priesthood Restoration", Ensign: 69 .
  18. ^ a b c d Official Declaration 2, Doctrine and Covenants, a standard work of the LDS Church.
  19. ^ McConkie, Bruce R. (August 18, 1978). All Are Alike Unto God (Speech). A SYMPOSIUM ON THE BOOK OF MORMON, The Second Annual Church Educational System Religious Educator's Symposium. BYU, 
    as found in: McConkie, Bruce R. (2006), I believe: a retrospective of twelve firesides and devotionals, Brigham Young University, 1973-1985, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, ISBN 0842526471 
  20. ^ Jacobson, Cardell (1992). "Doctrine and Covenants: Official Declaration—2". In Ludlow, Daniel H. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing. pp. 423–424. ISBN 0-02-879602-0. OCLC 24502140. 
  21. ^ Tanner, N. Eldon (November 1978), "Revelation on Priesthood Accepted, Church Officers Sustained", Ensign: 16 .
  22. ^ Woodford, Robert J. (December 1984), "The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants", Ensign: 32 .
  23. ^ Sections 137 and 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants were added to the D&C in 1981; however, these texts had been part of the canon in the Pearl of Great Price since 1976:
    Hartshorn, Leon R. (1992). "Doctrine and Covenants: Sections 137–138". In Ludlow, Daniel H. Encyclopedia of Mormonism. New York: Macmillan Publishing. p. 423. ISBN 0-02-879602-0. OCLC 24502140. 
    Tanner, N. Eldon (May 1976), "The Sustaining of Church Officers", Ensign: 18 .
  24. ^ Doctrine and Covenants, Student Manual: Religion 324 and 325 (PDF) (2nd ed.), Salt Lake City, Utah: Church Educational System, LDS Church, 2001, p. 364 .
  25. ^ See, e.g.: "Chapter Ten: The Worldwide Church", Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church, 1996, pp. 120–131 .

Further reading[edit]

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