Mormons to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the "Priesthood Revelation"
By Bill McKeever
In June of 1978, the LDS-owned Deseret News newspaper printed an announcement by the LDS First Presidency stating that God, by revelation, would now allow all worthy male members in the LDS Church to receive the priesthood as well as "blessings of the temple." (Deseret News, 6/9/78, 1A). This "revelation," known as Official Declaration 2, can be found in printed form at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants.
To understand why this announcement was of such extreme importance, it is necessary to go back in time to what Mormons refer to as the "pre-existence". According to LDS theology, the God of Mormonism, Elohim, resides near a star called Kolob where he lives with his many heavenly wives. Together they are producing millions upon millions of spirit children.
Mormon leaders have taught that aeons ago the time came to present a salvation plan for those of God's children who would eventually advance to a mortal state. Two of Elohim's sons, Jehovah (the pre-incarnate Christ) and Lucifer, presented their respective salvation plans for mortal man. According to LDS President Harold B. Lee:
"…Lucifer, a son of God in the spirit world before the earth was formed, proposed a plan under which mortals would be saved without glory and honor of God. The plan of our Savior, Jehovah, was to give to each the right to choose for himself the course he would travel in earth life and all was to be done to the honor and glory of God our Heavenly Father" (Stand Ye In Holy Places, p.219).
When Lucifer's plan was rejected, he rebelled against his brother and father and persuaded a third of God's spirit children to join him. Led by Michael the archangel, the remaining spirit children of God would join in what is known as the war in heaven. Lucifer would lose and become known as Satan; his followers then became demons. Both would be cast out of heaven.
Unfortunately this battle had casualties of another sort. According to LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie, some of those who fought on God's side
"were more valiant than others…Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...The present status of the negro rests purely and simply on the foundation of pre-existence" (Mormon Doctrine, p.527, 1966 ed.).
According to Brigham Young, Joseph Smith classified these people as The Seed of Cain. Young 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. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity'" (The Way to Perfection, Joseph Fielding Smith, p.105).
As a consequence of their lack of valiance, these spirit children of God would be banned from holding priesthood authority when they finally received their mortal bodies here on earth. This sanction would make it impossible for them to enjoy the blessings of exaltation. In other words, they would not be allowed to become Gods in eternity, nor would they have the ability to procreate in eternity.
Tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,
"It was well understood by the early elders of the Church that the mark which was placed on Cain and which his posterity inherited was the black skin. The Book of Moses informs us that Cain and his descendants were black" (The Way to Perfection, p.107).
Smith also stated that
"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 1:61).
For these reasons, Bruce McConkie would write, "The 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 therefrom…" (Mormon Doctrine, p.527, 1966 ed.).
Joseph Fielding Smith stated, "Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race" (The Way to Perfection, p.101). This comment is especially interesting since it was this same Joseph Fielding Smith who also said, "The Latter-day Saints have no animosity towards the Negro. Neither have they described him as belonging to an `inferior race'" (Answers to Gospel Questions 4:170).
The mark of a black skin would be of great importance to the LDS member for it would be the telltale sign as to who was and who was not qualified for celestial exaltation. In his book The Church and the Negro, Assistant church historian John Lund wrote, "It marked Cain as the father of the Negroid race. It also acted as a sign of protection for Cain and set his seed apart from the rest of Adam's children so there would be no intermarriage."
In a speech titled Race Problems as they Affect the Church, LDS Apostle Mark E. Petersen asked, and answered, the following hypothetical question:
“If I were to marry a Negro woman and have children by her, my children would all be cursed as to the priesthood. Do I want my children cursed as to the priesthood? If there is one drop of Negro blood in my children, as I read to you, they receive the curse. There isn’t any argument, therefore, as to inter-marriage with the Negro, is there?…Now we are generous with the Negro. We are willing that the Negro have the highest kind of 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” (Mark E. Petersen, “Race Problems as They Affect the Church,” August 27, 1954, p.21).
Brigham Young taught a much greater extreme. In a sermon given on March 8, 1863, Young stated,
"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" (Journal of Discourses, 10:110).
The Devil's Representative?
On two separate occasions, third LDS President John Taylor stated that it was God's plan to allow the seed of Cain to remain on the earth in order for the devil to be properly represented. On August 28, 1881, he declared,
"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).
The following year, Taylor reiterated his former comment when he said,
"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).
It isn't difficult to understand why many would look upon the LDS Church as a racist organization. However, Latter-day Saints would reject such a notion since, in their minds, the leaders were merely reflecting what they erroneously thought was the will of God. Mormons laid the responsibility for this doctrine on God Himself, not the personal bigotry, either real or imagined, of any particular Latter-day Saint. For instance, Mark Peterson said,
"When He [God] placed the mark on Cain, He engaged in segregation. When he told Enoch not to 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" (Race Problems, p.15).
Mormons were taught that even though Blacks could never be exalted and become Gods, they could enter the celestial kingdom. In his Race Problems as they Affect the Church speech (p.17), Peterson said,
"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 a celestial resurrection."
Would those of African heritage be forever banned from holding the LDS Priesthood? Apparently not. LDS leaders did anticipate a day when the ban would eventually be lifted. However, such hopes did not support the change that came about in 1978. John Lund wrote,
"There are two sublime stipulations that will have to be met before the Negroes will be allowed to possess the Priesthood, even if they are worthy... First, all of Adam's children will have to resurrect and secondly, the seed of Abel must first have an opportunity to possess the Priesthood" (The Church and The Negro, pp.109-110).
As Lund noted,
"These events will not occur until sometime after the millennium. It would be unwise to say Negroes will receive the Priesthood during their mortal existence."
Lund's comment is based on LDS precedent. On page 89 of his book he quotes a statement by the First Presidency that was given on August 17, 1951. That statement read,
"The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said, 'Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their father's rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we are now entitled to.'"
Notice Young made certain it was understood that only after "all the rest of the children" have received the priesthood that the curse be lifted. Lund wrote, "It is clearly stated in the above quotes that the Negroes must first pass through mortality before they may possess the Priesthood ('they will go down to death')" (p.47).
On December 3, 1854, Brigham Young said, "When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity" (Journal of Discourses 2:143).
President Wilford Woodruff noted in his journal that President Young said, "...that mark shall remain upon the seed of Cain until the seed of Abel shall be redeemed, and Cain shall not receive the Priesthood, until the time of that redemption" (History of Wilford Woodruff, p.351, as printed in The Way to Perfection, p.106).
Since the resurrection from the dead has not taken place, and the redemption of Abel's posterity has not come to fruition, it is apparent that the LDS Church was premature in its 1978 decision.
Contradicting Past Prophets and LDS Scripture
In Declaration 2, Spencer Kimball stated that past prophets of the LDS Church had promised that at some time the ban would be lifted and that God, by revelation, had shown him that the day has come. This statement is certainly misleading. As previously mentioned, past prophets had said the time would not come until after the resurrection, not 1978! Kimball's declaration contradicts both past LDS leaders and the Standard Works.
David O. McKay, Mormonism's ninth president, said, "I know of no scriptural basis for denying the Priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the Book of Abraham (1:26)." This LDS passage reads,
"Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood."
The obvious question is this: If LDS Scripture supports a curse upon the Seed of Cain, didn't lifting the curse violate LDS Scripture?
An article in the January 1969 Improvement Era magazine (p.13) quotes then-Apostle Harold B. Lee. He stated, "If it is not in the standard works, we may well assume that it is speculation, man's own personal opinion; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, it is not true." Lee would become president of the LDS Church on July 7, 1972. Lee's statement raises another obvious question: Since the Book of Abraham had been used to justify not giving the Blacks the Priesthood, doesn't the 1978 decision show that this reversal is 'not true'? Since the lifting of the ban contradicted LDS scripture, it seems that the membership should not have voted to sustain this decision on September 30, 1978.
A great majority of Latter-day Saints simply attributed this to "Latter-day Revelation" and questioned it no further; however, the timing for such a change is certainly suspect. In my opinion the fiasco in Brazil was one of the strongest reasons why the ban was lifted. In anticipation of the opening of its new temple in Sao Paulo, the LDS Church was ordaining hundreds of Brazilians to its priesthood. Did the LDS Church ignore Brazilian history? Between 1538 and Brazil's abolition of slavery in 1888, about five million African slaves were brought to that country. Through mixed marriages, Mulattos make up a substantial portion of the Brazilian population. How would the LDS Church possibly know whether or not those being ordained were qualified? With the dedication of this temple only a few months away, it would seem imperative that the church either lift the ban or face the possibility of a public relations nightmare.
The fact that Blacks were being punished for something they couldn't even remember doing makes this doctrine even more offensive. However, while lifting the ban may have put the LDS Church in a more positive light socially, it demonstrated once more the instability of its doctrines and the fickleness of its God. The decision made in 1978 also demonstrates that the LDS people will accept just about anything their leaders tell them. When it comes to accountability, the leadership of the LDS Church answers to no one. Latter-day Saints may respond by saying their leaders are accountable to God, but what does this really mean when they are allowed to make decisions that contradict what Mormons have historically considered to be God's unchanging will?
To be sure, the LDS curse upon the Blacks had no biblical justification. This teaching most certainly reflects the social upbringing and bigotry of Mormonism's early leaders rather than the will of the Christian God. The message of the New Testament proclaims that a person's past has no bearing on what he can receive from our gracious God. The Bible declares that God will not hold past transgressions against those who come to Him by faith. (Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 31:34; Romans 4:5-7, 23; Hebrews. 8:12).
Declaration 2 definitely leaves us with reasons to question the validity of the LDS Church. One, there was no biblical reason for the discrimination in the first place; and two, there was no precedent according to Mormonism to lift it.
- "Some are heralding the fact that there was one of colored blood, Elijah Abel, who was ordained a Seventy in the early days. They go to the Church chronology and find the date of this ordination, and hold that up as saying that we departed from what was started way back, but they forget that also in Church history is another interesting observation. President Joseph F. Smith is quoted in a statement under date of August 26, 1908, when he referred to Elijah Abel who was ordained a Seventy in the days of the Prophet and to whom was issued a Seventy's certificate. This ordination, when found out, was declared null and void by the Prophet himself and so likewise by the next three presidents who succeeded the Prophet Joseph. Somehow because of a little lapse, or a little failure to do research properly, some people reach a conclusion that they had wanted to reach and to make it appear as though something had been done way back from which we had departed and which now ought to be set in order. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, 'That person who rises up to condemn the Church, saying that the Church is out of the way while he himself is righteous, then know surely that the man is on the road to apostasy, and unless he will repent he will apostatize as surely as God lives.' " (Harold B. Lee April 19, 1961, BYU Speeches of the Year, 1961, p.7)
- "Now, my brothers and sisters, I would like you to understand that long before we were born into this earth we were tested and tried in our pre-existence and the fact that of the thousands of children born today, a certain proportion of them went to the Hotten-tots of the south sees, thousands went tot the Chinese mothers, thousands to Negro mothers, thousands to beautiful white Latter day Saint mothers. Why this difference? You cannot tell me that the entire group was just designated, marked, to go where they did.
"Why is it in the Church we do not grant the priesthood to the negroes? It is alleged that the Prophet Joseph said - and I have no reason to dispute it - that it is because of some act committed by them before they came into this life. It is alleged that they were neutral, standing neither for Christ nor the devil. But, I am convinced it is because of some things they did before they came into this life that they have been denied the privilege. The races of today are very largely reaping the consequence of a previous life." (Apostle Melvin Joseph Ballard, Three Degrees of Glory, p. 22)
- "There is not a man, from the President of the United States to the Editors of their sanctorums, clear down to the low-bred letter-writers in this Territory, but would rob the coppers from a dead nigger's eyes, if they had a good opportunity. If I had the command of thunder and lightning, I would never let one of the damned scoundrels get here alive." (Apostle George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 5:110, August 2, 1857)
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-genesis-of-a-churchs-stand-on-race/2012/02/22/gIQAQZXyfR_story_2.html?sub=AR “God has always been discriminatory” when it comes to whom he grants the authority of the priesthood, argues [Randy] Bott, the BYU theologian. He quotes Mormon scripture which argues that the Lord gives to people “all that he seeth fit.” Bott compares blacks to a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car, and explains that similarly until 1978, the Lord determined that blacks were not yet ready for the priesthood. “What is discrimination?” Bott asks. “I think that is keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them, right? But what if it wouldn’t have been a benefit to them?” Bott argues that the denial of the priesthood to blacks on earth — though not in the afterlife — protected them from the lowest rungs of hell reserved for people who abuse their priesthood powers. “You couldn’t fall off the top of the ladder because you weren’t on the top of the ladder. So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.”
- “The arm of flesh may not approve nor understand why God has not bestowed the priesthood on women or the seed of Cain, but God's ways are not man's ways” (Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Reports, October 1967, p.34).
- “Surely no one of you who is an heir to a body of more favored lineage would knowingly intermarry with a race that would condemn your posterity to penalties that have been placed upon the seed of Cain by the judgments of God” (President Harold B. Lee, Decisions for Successful Living, p.168).
- "Unto those who are born into a lesser kingdom in this life there can come an improvement to their place; for example, the day will come when the Negro will receive the gospel and will have the opportunity to receive the patriarchal order of the family and priesthood that goes with it. The time will come when the Jews will be redeemed and be relieved of that curse which is upon them for the crucifixion of the Christ. The time will come when the Lamanites will be made a white and delightsome people, and their backwardness and their lack of memory and all of the traits of character which are now placed upon them will vanish. A great many of the American Indians are evidencing the signs of rising above the curse that was placed upon them and have demonstrated their abilities in our modern society. In some parts of South and Central America we see the lower castes of the descendants of the Nephites and Lamanites. The day, however, will come when they also will rise, if they are willing, from that which was placed upon them. In time they will be relieved from the curse which came upon them because of their rejection of the prophets." (Alvin R. Dyer, The Meaning of Truth, rev. ed., p.70)
- Why the Priesthood Ban on the African Race?
- Shame, Shame, Shame: Thirty Years Later And Still No Apology, by Aaron Shafovaloff
- Thirty Years After the Priesthood Ban was Lifted (PDF tract—now is a great time to distribute this!)
- Black Skin and the Seed of Cain
- "Mormons May Disavow Old View on Blacks," by Larry B. Stammer, Los Angeles Times, May 18, 1998 - the disavowing in question never came to fruition
- "Mormonism's Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview," by Lester E. Bush, Jr., Dialogue, vol. 8, no. 1
- Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issuein a Universal Church, edited by Lester E. Bush, Jr., and Armand L. Mauss
- Residual Racism in Modern Mormonism, by Timothy Oliver
- Latter-day Saints—Where Did You Get Your Authority?
- Priesthood Restoration - Chapter 7 of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, by Grant Palmer
- Where Do You Get Your Priesthood Authority - Part 1, Part 2 (YouTube video), by Witnesses for Jesus
- Priesthood Restored or Retrofit?
- Jesus' Unique Priesthood
- SBC renounces racist past - Southern Baptist Convention
- 35–36: Moving Beyond the “Negro Doctrine”, by Dan Wotherspoon
- Has the Mormon Church Truly Left Its Race Problems Behind?, by Max Perry Mueller
- Is Mormonism Still Racist? Comments from a BYU professor stir up a troubling past, by Max Perry Mueller
- The Genesis of a church’s stand on race, by Jason Horowitz
- The Perils of an Open Canon, by Benjamin E. Park - "Bott's statements were indeed merely recitations of ideas previously offered by LDS leaders and, though the priesthood restriction was lifted, the specific ideas were never specifically repudiated—and indeed, even with the new statements by the church, they still haven't been officially renounced."
- Why is LDS Church denying past doctrine?, by Matthew L. Harris
- Bott, racism, and the role of a church, by J. Madson
- A F.A.I.R. Apologist Defends Racist Prophets
- LDS (or related) Documents on Walker Lewis, the Lowell, Mass. Branch of the Mormon Church and its missionaries and members, and the Priesthood Ban against Blacks, compiled by Connell O'Donovan
- Why Race Is Still a Problem for Mormons, by John G. Turner