by Sharon Lindbloom
23 July 2018
Last month the LDS Church celebrated the anniversary of the 1978 lifting of the spiritual restrictions placed on black Mormons. Usually referred to as the Priesthood Ban, these restrictions not only disallowed black men from holding the Mormon priesthood, but also kept all black members from participating in LDS temples, denying them the church’s “saving ordinances.” The LDS Church abolished these restrictions in 1978 when then-President Spencer W. Kimball announced that he had received a revelation directing the Church to do so.
Yet forty years later people are still trying to make sense of the history of discrimination against blacks in the Mormon Church. One matter that keeps coming up and complicating the issue is the 1836 LDS priesthood ordination of Elijah Abel, a black man. How can it be (it is asked) that Mr. Abel was given the priesthood when it was against the doctrine of the Church?
While the Priesthood Ban was still in effect, LDS apostle Joseph Fielding Smith explained in an official correspondence,
“According to the doctrine of the church, the Negro, because of some condition of unfaithfulness in the spirit – or pre-existence, was not valiant and hence was not denied the mortal probation, but was denied the blessing of the Priesthood. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he has the privilege of baptism, confirmation and membership along with everyone else, as far as this life is concerned.
“I am aware of the fact that he can find membership and be given a place in the ministry in any of the so-called Christian churches. However, these churches are not governed by revelation and they are without divine authority…
“It is true that elders of the [LDS] church laid hands on a Negro and blessed him ‘apparently’ with the Priesthood, but they could not give that which the Lord had denied. It is true the Elijah Abel was so ‘ordained.’ This was however before the matter had been submitted to the Prophet Joseph Smith.” (Letter of Joseph Fielding Smith to Joseph H. Henderson, April 10, 1963)
Joseph Fielding Smith placed great value on the “divine authority” held by Mormon elders. Indeed, according to Mormonism, it is the loss of this divine priesthood authority that constitutes a major aspect of the alleged Great Apostasy that led to the necessity of the Restoration (i.e., the founding of the LDS Church).
LDS leaders have long taught that sacred rites performed apart from the LDS priesthood are anathema to God. One notable teaching comes from early LDS apostle Orson Pratt:
“Since the Church with its authority and power has been caught away from the earth, the great mother of harlots with all her descendants has blasphemously assumed the authority of administering some of the sacred ordinances of the gospel. They have blasphemed the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, by using it without authority in their ministrations. They have dishonored the name of Christ, by calling their powerless, apostate, filthy and most abominable churches, the Church of Christ. The whole Romish, Greek and Protestant ministry, from the pope down through every grade of office, are as destitute of authority from God, as the devil and his angels. The Almighty abhors all their wicked pretensions, as He does the very gates of hell.” (Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, No. 2, 1850-1851)
In consistent thought, another early LDS apostle, Charles Penrose, wrote,
“The ordinances of the gospel referred to in previous chapters of this series, cannot be effectually administered without divine authority. That authority does not and cannot originate in man. It may be assumed, it is true, and presumptuous men may claim to be called of God without communication from him. But their performances will be without avail and will not be recognized in heaven, either in time or in eternity. When there is no revelation from God there can be no divine authority on earth. Baptism, even if solemnized according to the form and pattern followed by the Savior and his appointed servants, will be of no avail and will not bring remission of sins, unless the officiating minister has received authority from Deity to act in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Men may lay their hands on the baptized believer in the form of confirmation, but if they have not been divinely appointed to do so, the Holy Ghost will not flow to the convert, and the performance will be void in the sight of heaven. Those who have the temerity to act in that manner will becounted guilty of taking the name of the Lord in vain. No council, convocation, conference, synod, or presbytery, composed of any number of learned, devout and venerable persons, without divine communication can confer the smallest amount of divine authority. Their power is only human, their decisions, their commissions and their creeds are equally valueless in the plan of salvation.” (Rays of Living Light on the One Way of Salvation, 1904, 30)
Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith also weighed in on this matter when addressing the “counterfeit nature of [the] ‘Reorganized’ Church” (this is the restorationist church that formed after Joseph Smith’s death, with Joseph’s son as its prophet-president):
“It is almost needless to add that these men held no divine authority and could not bestow the priesthood and officiate in the ordinances of the gospel, and, therefore, the pretentions of the ‘Reorganized’ church are fraudulent. Judged by its history, doctrines, and the unstable character of its founders, it is proved to be a counterfeit and nothing more.” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1954, 1:253)
LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie taught,
“As with other doctrines and ordinances, apostate substitutes of the real thing are found both among pagans and supposed Christians.” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 72)
Twelfth LDS President Spencer W. Kimball spoke in no uncertain terms regarding those who act for God without the proper (LDS) authority:
“Presumptuous and blasphemous are they who purport to baptize, bless, marry, or perform other sacraments in the name of the Lord while in fact lacking the specific authorization.” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 1969, 55)
Take another look at the language used by these LDS leaders to describe what they believe are unauthorized ecclesiastical rites:
- “blasphemed the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost”
- “the Almighty abhors all their wicked pretentions”
- “guilty of taking the name of the Lord in vain”
- “apostate substitutes”
- “pretentious and blasphemous”
These are strong and condemning words. Yet Joseph Fielding Smith didn’t seem overly concerned that Mormon elders ordained Elijah Abel to the priesthood without divine authorization. It was not merely that the ordination was of no effect; according to LDS leaders it was pretentious and blasphemous, wicked, and abhorred by God. The elders who had the temerity to ordain Elijah Abel are counted guilty of sin.
And to make matters worse, in 1838 Elijah Abel, with his unknown-to-him fraudulent and invalid priesthood authority, ordained a man named William Riley, spreading the unauthorized blasphemy even further (see Russell Stevenson, Black Mormons: The Story of Elijah Ables, 2013, 18).
So in this one instance (and certainly there have been many others), we find wicked, presumptuous Mormon elders extending counterfeit “blessings” in their wake; blessings that are “of no avail” and that “will not be recognized in heaven.” The people “blessed” think they have received a remission of sin, but they have not. They think they have been granted divine authority to administer gospel ordinances to others, but they have not. So they, in turn, unknowingly administer valueless and blasphemous ordinances to others, who themselves administer to still others, and so on, reaching up to the present day.
Eleventh LDS President Harold B. Lee told priesthood holders,
“The Lord very clearly set this forth in a revelation in the early history of the Church: …‘it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority, and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.’ (D&C 42:11.) One of the most significant things about your priesthood is that by tracing the line of your authority through the one who ordained you back through the various steps, your priesthood authority can be traced back to the Savior himself.” (Stand Ye In Holy Places, 252)
But in reality, the LDS Church has no idea who actually has divine authority and who does not. When the Mormon elders ordained Elijah Abel without authorization from God, according to LDS doctrine they started a chain of events that has generated serious repercussions for every Latter-day Saint from 1836 onward (see D&C 121:36-37).
Indeed, the whole Mormon priesthood system of passing on divine authority from one priesthood holder to the next is fatally flawed. Adapting and applying early LDS apostle Orson Pratt’s ideas (originally used to express his view of a corrupt Bible), it might well be said of the LDS priesthood,
“Add all this imperfection to the uncertainly of the [line of authority], and who, in his right mind, could, for one moment suppose the [priesthood] in its present form to be a perfect guide? Who knows that even one [ordination] has escaped pollution, so as to convey the same [authority] now that it did in the original? Who knows how many important doctrines and ordinances necessary to salvation may be buried in oblivion [due to presumptuous and blasphemous fraudulent ordinances]?” (Find the original statement by Orson Pratt in Divine Authenticity of Book of Mormon, No. 3, 1850-1851)
Those who trust their eternal fate to the validity of Mormonism are in grave spiritual trouble. The Mormon system is false; the LDS Church is not even able to play by its own rules, let alone by the decrees of God.
Late LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Without [the priesthood] we have nothing” (Ensign, 8/1998, 72). This is not true for Christians. The Bible is clear that reconciliation with God is found in Christ alone; God looks at the heart of the penitent sinner, granting forgiveness to any who come humbly before Him. By His grace He has made His people a royal priesthood, granting each believer power and authority to preach the good news and hope of salvation in Christ. Christians are thankful for this royal priesthood, but we understand that, even without it, we would still have Jesus, and Jesus is everything to us.
Mormons, it’s up to you. You can stick with that untenable, counterfeit LDS priesthood, or you can leave it behind for the certainty of forgiveness, restoration, and eternal life in Christ Himself. Nothing stands between you and your Savior – no priest, no priesthood, no ordinance. Jesus opens His arms to receive you; truly, He is all you need.