Problems in Brazil
Besides all the problems the LDS Church was having with dissidents, it was also facing an impossible situation in Brazil.
According to an article in Ensign, missionary work in Brazil had started originally in 1927 as an outreach to Germans who had settled there. The article stated:
Work continued solely among the German immigrants and in the German language until 1938, when the first elders were assigned to learn Portuguese." And by 1975 there were "more than 45,000 members" in the country ("The Church in Brazil," Ensign, Feb. 1975, p. 24). [p. 76]
However, due to intermarriage with the large number of blacks that had been brought to the country, many people had mixed racial lineage.
Gary Lobb, a Mormon living in Brazil in 1963, wrote the following in a letter to the editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought:
My studies currently in Brazil, a country where mass miscegenation among European Caucasians, Bantu and Sudanese Africans, and indigenous American Indians has been a reality now for almost three hundred years, have led me to conclude that most Brazilians who are not second or third generation descendants of German, Italian, Polish, or Japanese immigrants, are probably descendants of Negroes. This is especially true among the lower and lower-middle classes which make up a large portion of L.D.S. Church membership in this land. . . .
We must therefore ask, "Just who is a Negro?" We, as a Church, have decided that the Melanesian Fiji Islanders are not while the Papuans of neighboring New Guinea are. In some of the branches of the Church which my wife and I have attended here in Brazil, there appear to be priesthood bearers who possess the essential characteristics of the Negroid races. I am reminded that someone of authority decided that these people are not (Dialogue, vol. 2, no. 3, 1963, p. 8).
The hypocrisy of the situation in South America was pointed out in 1966 by Wallace Turner:
A different thing is going on in South America where Mormon missionaries are pushing ahead full throttle. There the former careful selection to keep out 'white Negroes' has been allowed to slide a little . . .
"There is no question but that in Brazil they have been ordaining priests who are part Negro," said one careful observer (The Mormon Establishment, p. 26).
Even the LDS Church owned Deseret News admitted that
A major problem the church has faced with its policy regarding blacks was in Brazil, where the church is building a temple. Many people there are miied [mixed?] racially, and it is often impossible to determine whether church members have black ancestry (Deseret News, June 10, 1978).
Mormon leaders had been aware of this problem for many years. Writing in 1973, Lester E. Bush Jr. discussed the problem of mixed ancestry among the people of Brazil:
The decision to deny the priesthood to anyone with Negro ancestry ("no matter how remote"), had resolved the theoretical problem of priesthood eligibility, but did not help with the practical problem of identifying the "blood of Cain" in those not already known to have Negro ancestry . . .
The growth of the international Church was clearly bringing new problems. Brazil was particularly difficult. Later that year J. Reuben Clark, First, Counselor to George Albert Smith, reported that the Church was entering "into a situation in doing missionary work . . . where it is very difficult if not impossible to tell who has negro blood and who has not. He said that if we are baptizing Brazilians, we are almost certainly baptizing people of negro blood, and that if the Priesthood is conferred upon them, which no doubt it is, we are facing a very serious problem" (Dialogue, vol. 8, no. 1, Spring 1973, p. 41).
On March 1, 1975, the LDS Church announced plans to build a temple in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Mark L. Grover, of Brigham Young University, commented:
Few non-African countries have been more influenced by Africa than has Brazil. Slavery was legal until 1888, and between 1550 and 1850 over three million African slaves were brought to Brazil . . .
The sheer size of the black population significantly affected Brazilians' attitudes toward race. Estimates suggest that over 40 percent of the population is either black or some combination of black, white, and/or Indian. The latest Brazilian census that included racial categories (1950) showed 26 percent of the population to be racially mixed. In actuality this figure is much higher since Brazilians classify many as whites who are actually mixed. Interracial marriage is an acceptable and common practice within most classes of Brazilian society. The large, mixed population has engendered a society which considers any form of racial segregation illegal; prejudice, though not eliminated, is less of a social factor than in most other countries of the world . . . ("The Mormon Priesthood [p. 77] Revelation and the Sao Paulo, Brazil Temple," Dialogue, Spring 1990, vol. 23, no. 1, pp. 40-41).
Further on, Grover observed:
Once missionaries began teaching Brazilians, two racial issues surfaced. First it was impossible to avoid contact with persons of African descent in most parts of the country. . . .
Second, American missionaries ran into problems when their identification of blacks differed from that of Brazilian members. Faithful Church members respecting the policy on priesthood restrictions would interest family and friends in the Church only to discover that the missionaries believed the potential investigators had African ancestry . . . In general priesthood leaders considered physical appearance first and then family and genealogical records. If these methods were not successful, spiritual means such as patriarchal blessings and the inspiration of Church leaders were used to make the final determination. Though not always appreciated by the members, this system was acceptable and insured that Church policy was followed . . .
Most Brazilian members, however, were uncomfortable with the Church's policy (Dialogue, pp. 41-42).
On page 47 of the same article we read:
The pivotal event in the history of the Church in Brazil was the March 1975 announcement of the forthcoming construction of the Sao Paulo temple. . . . the Sao Paulo Temple presented the Church for the first time with the dilemma of restricting from entrance into a temple large numbers of members who were morally worthy. Many of those who would not be allowed to enter had offered labor and financial contributions to the temple construction" (Dialogue, Spring 1990, pp. 47, 51).
D. Michael Quinn relates a curious event at "the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the Brazilian temple on 9 March 1977." He states that "Kimball privately told Helvecio Martins, a faithful black member, to prepare himself to receive the priesthood" in the not too distant future (The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, p. 16).
With the 1978 scheduled opening of the new temple in Brazil, the situation could have turned into a real public relations nightmare for the church. If church leaders denied faithful members, like Helvecio Martins, access to the temple because they had black ancestry, it could have caused a major defection from the church in the country. It would also put the church at odds with the government, which would not have allowed a public building to have a policy of discrimination.
Will Pressure Bring Change?
As early as 1963 we printed a sheet entitled, "Will There Be A Revelation Regarding the Negro?" At the bottom of this sheet we predicted:
If the pressure continues to increase on the Negro question, the leaders of the Mormon Church will probably have another revelation which will allow Negroes to hold the priesthood.
Pressure seemed to work before. Twenty-five years before the LDS Church leaders gave up the practice of polygamy, they were declaring that no such change could be made. In 1865 an article in the Millennial Star, an LDS publication, stated:
We have shown that in requiring the relinquishment of polygamy, they ask the renunciation of the entire faith of this people. . . .
There is no half way house. The childish babble about another revelation is only an evidence how half informed men can talk (Millennial Star, Oct. 28, 1865).
As the pressure increased against polygamy, in 1890 Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, printed in the Doctrine and Covenants as Declaration No. 1, which suspended the practice of polygamy.
In the National Observer for June 17, 1963, the following statement appeared:
As Federal pressure enforced a major doctrinal change in polygamy, many Mormons consider it inevitable that the pressures of the present day will force a major change in the doctrine about the Negro. [p. 78]
Mormon writer John L. Lund said that those
who believe that the Church "gave in" on the polygamy issue and subsequently should give in on the Negro question are not only misinformed about Church History, but are apparently unaware of Church doctrine . . . Therefore, those who hope that pressure will bring about a revelation need to take a closer look at Mormon history and the order of heaven (The Church and the Negro, 1967, pp. 104-105).
On page 109 of the same book, Lund emphasized that
. . . those who would try to pressure the Prophet to give the Negroes the Priesthood do not understand the plan of God . . . Revelation is not man's will expressed to God. All the social, political, and governmental pressure in the world is not going to change what God has decreed to be.
Despite all of the problems that were facing the Mormon officials, they claimed that they could not change their doctrine regarding blacks. In 1967 N. Eldon Tanner, who was the second counselor to church president Joseph Fielding Smith, was insistent the ban would not be changed and spoke publicly concerning the matter:
Even such harsh criticism has done nothing to budge Mormon officials from their adamant position. "The church has no intention of changing its doctrine on the Negro," N. Eldon Tanner, counselor to the First President, told SEATTLE during his recent visit here. "Throughout the history of the original Christian church, the Negro never held the priesthood. There's really nothing we can do to change this. It's a law of God" (Seattle Magazine, December, 1967, p. 60).
Writing in 1973, O. Kendall White Jr. commented on the problems that would accompany a revelation to change the LDS Church's stand on blacks:
Since they believe in "continuing revelation," Mormons have a mechanism that enables them to reverse previous positions without repudiating the past. . . . That the church will invoke such a mechanism to resolve the racial issue is not too unlikely . . . this approach has a serious drawback. It is the tendency not to acknowledge the errors of the past. While revelation could be used to legitimize a new racial policy and to redefine Mormon relations with black people, Mormons might still be unwilling to condemn the racism involved in their history. They might be inclined to argue that Mormons in earlier periods were under a different mandate than the one binding them. This obviously implies that the church is never wrong. Thus, change may come through the notion of continuing revelation, but the racist aspects of Mormon history will not necessarily be condemned ("Boundry Maintenance, Blacks, and the Mormon PR," Journal of Religious Thought, Autumn-Winter, 1973, pp. 57-58).
With the mixed racial profile of many people in South Africa and South America, especially Brazil, it was becoming obvious that some priesthood holders had black ancestry. Through the years there had been numerous private meetings of LDS Church leaders discussing these issues and trying to resolve the problems.
When the church announced in 1975 that a temple would be built in Brazil some of the leaders must have realized that the priesthood ban would have to come to an end once the temple was dedicated (see All Abraham's Children, p. 237). LDS scholar Jessie L. Embry discussed the struggle that had been going on in Brazil:
. . . church membership in Brazil had grown enormously during the 1960's and 1970's. Determining who was black had always been a sensitive issue in the racially mixed country. In 1978 a temple, from which blacks would be excluded, was under construction. Complicating the problem was the perplexity of determining which deceased men were "eligible" (that is, not black) for proxy ordinations to priesthood. (Mormons believe in vicarious proxy baptisms, priesthood ordinations, and marriages for the dead.) (Black Saints in a White Church, p. 28)
As if on cue, the revelation to extend priesthood to blacks came in June of 1978, just months prior to the dedication of the Brazilian temple at the end of October. [p. 79]
The 1978 Announcement
For over a hundred years the Mormon leaders had taught that blacks could not be given the priesthood until the millennium.
Yet on June 9, 1978, the LDS Church's Deseret News carried a startling announcement by the First Presidency of the LDS Church that stated a new revelation had been given:
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 therefrom, 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 (Deseret News, June 9, 1978, p. 1A).
Writing in the New York Times, June 11, 1978, Professor Mario S. DePillis observed: "For Mormonism's anti-black policy a revelation was the only way out, and many students of Mormonism were puzzled only at the lateness of the hour."
Even though most Mormons claimed they were happy with the doctrinal change with regard to blacks, there is evidence that the revelation came as a real shock to some. Shortly after the 1978 revelation was announced a class at Brigham Young University conducted a "random telephone Survey" of Utah County residents [home to BYU and predominantly LDS community] to determine peoples' reactions to the change. They found that 79 percent of those interviewed did not expect a change at this time. Furthermore, many people compared the news to an announcement of some kind of disaster or death:
Some 45 percent of those who heard of the doctrine from personal sources expressed doubt that the news was true. This compares with only 25 percent of those who learned from media sources. Sixty-two percent of the former group expressed shock, compared with 52 percent of the latter, . . .
Those surveyed appeared surprised by the announcement Haroldsen said. Thirty-nine percent said they did not think "it would ever happen"—that the priesthood would ever be given to blacks.
Another 40 percent expected it years in the future, after Christ's return, during the Millenium, or "not in my lifetime," . . .
In trying to explain how they reacted to the news, 14 persons compared its impact with that of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Another 13 compared it to the news of the death of an LDS Church president. Eight compared it to a natural disaster, especially the Teton dam break [in Idaho].
Others compared the news with the death of a family member or friend, with a declaration of war, or other major political event (The Daily Universe, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, June 22, 1978)
Mormons apparently realized the deep doctrinal implications involved in the change and therefore associated it with death or disaster. If they were really pleased with the change, why did they not relate it to a happy event, like marriage, the birth of a child or the end of a war? We feel this survey unwittingly reveals the LDS members mixed feelings about the change.
Brigham Young Misrepresented
While we are pleased that the LDS Church changed its restriction on blacks, we must point out that the LDS Church is misrepresenting the statements of its past leaders in order to make the change palatable. For instance, the Deseret News, owned by the LDS Church, would have us believe that the change was a fulfillment of a prophecy uttered by Brigham Young:
The announcement Friday fulfilled statements made by most LDS Church presidents since Joseph Smith that blacks would one day obtain the full blessings of the church, including the priesthood. Speaking against slavery, Brigham Young once told the Utah Legislature, ". . . the day will come when all that race (blacks) will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have" (Deseret News, June 10, 1978, p. 1A). [p. 80]
However, the context of Young's speech to the legislature shows that he believed it would be a sin for the church to give blacks the priesthood before the "last of the posterity of Able" had received it. He went on to say that if the church gave "all the blessings of God" to the blacks prematurely, the priesthood would be taken away and the church would go to destruction. The full text of this speech is printed in Appendix A.
Another example of how the church misused past statements can be seen in the Church Section of the Deseret News for June 17, 1978. It claimed that "former presidents of the Church have spoken of the day when the blessings of the priesthood would come to the blacks." The article then quoted a sermon by Brigham Young, from the Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 291, where Young promised that "the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain." However, they did not cite the entire passage and thus took it out of context. In this sermon Brigham Young plainly taught that blacks could not receive the priesthood until all of Adam's other descendants received it:
How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, 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 the blessings in like proportion (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, p. 290).
Polygamists Oppose Giving Priesthood to Blacks
The various polygamist factions (also referred to as Mormon fundamentalists) saw the 1978 announcement as further evidence that the LDS Church had gone into apostacy. On July 23, 1978, a group calling itself "Concerned Latter-day Saints" placed a full-page ad in the Salt Lake Tribune denouncing the recent change. It read, in part:
It appears that a portion of The Pearl of Great Price, one of the four standard works of the Mormon Church, is about to be repudiated or "dissolved." Will Latter-day Saints remain true to their former revelations, or will they yield to the pressures of this crucial day? ("LDS Soon To Repudiate A Portion of Their Pearl Of Great Price?," full-page ad in the Salt Lake Tribune, July 23, 1978).
The ad went on to demonstrate how the LDS Church was distorting past statements of its leaders to imply that there was no contradiction with giving blacks the priesthood at that time in stead of after the resurrection. The ad warned Brigham Young had taught that if the priesthood were to be given to the blacks prematurely it would mean the end of priesthood in the church. The ad continued:
The Church has invited this situation. . . . It is to be regretted that we have camouflaged the truth, convincing the world and ourselves that we want to play in harmony with its institutions. Wolves always await the departure of the Priesthood shepherds, that they might neutralize the flock. And when we insist enough, the Lord will send us the delusion we have sought.
Once the Saints were willing to burn their own homes and orchards and seek hiding places in the mountains rather than submit to improper governmental or group pressure. Now they generally will sacrifice principle, doctrine and ordinance to comply with any law of the Land. Eager to digress in 1890, the Church crippled her priesthood blessings and power by discarding exalting principles. . . . The Church has drawn a large step nearer to a merely man-made religion, . . . For many years the Church has shown that it is ashamed, and therefore apologetic, of some of the teachings of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor. In their embarrassment the Church would like to sweep certain teachings under the rug, or call them misinterpretations, etc. Since the Church is uneasy over some sections and passages of scripture, and might again institute alterations at any moment, where can its members safely place their trust? . . . [p. 81]
There are still a few valiant, uncompromising men, within and without the official Church, whose integrity leaves no room for changing the doctrines and ordinances, breaking the everlasting covenant, or for presuming to bestow blessings out of season (Salt Lake Tribune, July 23, 1978).
Lester Bush commented:
The full-page ad in the Salt Lake Tribune that was taken out by fundamentalists criticizing the Church's change of the Negro doctrine . . . It chided the [Deseret] Church News for putting together a series of quotations by presidents of the Church allegedly showing that the change was to be anticipated, . . . The Church News only gave enough of a Brigham Young quote to indicate that the change would happen someday, but not that he believed that to be post-millennial ("Mixed Messages On The Negro Doctrine: An Interview With Lester Bush," Sunstone, May 1979).
Armand Mauss also commented on the polygamists' opposition to the change:
. . . Those disposed to apostatize over the ending of the ban seem already to have done so over the Manifesto of 1890, for polygamous fundamentalists offered the only apparent organized opposition to the new priesthood policy (as just another "retreat" from orthodoxy). The liberals, for their part, scarcely had time to notice that their favorite target had been removed before they were handed a new one in the form of the ERA controversy. Mormon intellectuals, whether liberal or not, have reacted predictably with a number of publications (like this one) offering post-mortems on the whole Mormon/black controversy (Dialogue, vol. 14, no. 3, Autumn 1981, pp. 28-29).
Ken Driggs, author of various articles dealing with legal issues, discussed the fundamentalists' objections to the various changes made by the LDS Church:
Change and division brought with it new theological constructs . . . Fundamentalists consider themselves part of the LDS Church, living within special priesthood organizations set apart to continue and preserve sacred ordinances. In 1991 the Colorado City community incorporated itself in Utah as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the first time announcing its break with the Church through a legal creation. Outside of these priesthood groups, independent polygamists, not surprisingly, are much less concerned with direct lines of priesthood authority.
The priesthood councils believe that the temporal Church— the popularly accepted [LDS] Church—is not the head of the priesthood. To them the leadership of the priesthood and the leadership of the Church are not one in the same but were divided sometime after the death of President John Taylor. . . .
As a consequence of this perception, fundamentalists do not always view changes that come through the Church as proper and binding. They do not recognize either the first or second manifesto or the suspension of plural marriage. They also feel the Church is "out of order," to use their phrase, in other significant ways. They do not accept changes made since the administration of President Joseph F. Smith in the temple ceremony or in the garment design. They refer to "priesthood garments" rather than "temple garments," as most Mormons call them. This is more a concern of the Allred group. (Many have stressed that they do not need to "sneak" into LDS temples to perform their ordinances: they are concerned about proper priesthood authority, rather than ordinances performed in a specific place.)
Fundamentalists disagree with the Church's turn-of-the-century suspension of a literal, physical gathering of Zion and with temple-building outside of the old Zion. (The first temple opened outside the Great Basin was the Hawaiian Temple, dedicated in 1919 by President Heber J. Grant.) They also reject the discontinuation of religious communalism, such as the United Order efforts. All of the priesthood groups attempt to continue some form of communalism, including the United Effort Plan in Colorado City. In addition they reject the ordinations of blacks to the priesthood, what they refer to as the "Canaanite Revelation."
Other disagreements include the present more worldly role of apostles in the Church; the discontinuation of the Adam/God theory; the decision to stop sending missionaries out without purse or script; the infallibility of the prophet, especially when he appears to modify doctrines [p. 82] introduced by Joseph Smith; . . . ("Twentieth-Century Polygamy and Fundamentalist Mormons and Southern Utah," by Ken Driggs, Dialogue, vol. 24, no. 4, Winter 1991, pp. 53-54).
After the First Presidency made their announcement, many people became confused over the church's position on interracial marriage. It soon became apparent, however, that the church's ban on marriage to blacks had been lifted.
Joseph Freeman, the first black man ordained to the priesthood after the change, indicated that he wanted to be sealed in the temple to his wife who was not of African descent. Church spokesman Don LeFevre said that such a marriage would be possible and that although the church did not encourage interracial marriage, there was no longer a policy against whites marrying blacks:
That is entirely possible, said Mr. LeFevre. . . . "So there is no ban on interracial marriage. If a black partner contemplating marriage is worthy of going to the Temple, nobody's going to stop him—if he's marrying a white, an Oriental . . . if he's ready to go to the Temple, obviously he may go with the blessings of the church" (Salt Lake Tribune, June 14, 1978).
On June 24, 1978, the Salt Lake Tribune announced:
Joseph Freeman, 26, the first black man to gain the priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Friday went in the Salt Lake Temple with his wife and sons for sacred ordinances . . . Thomas S. Monson, member of the church's Quorum of Twelve Apostles, conducted the marriage and sealing ceremonies.
Revelation Sustained at Fall Conference
Although the priesthood ban was lifted in June and the priesthood was given immediately to blacks, the declaration was not presented to the church for formal acceptance until September 30, 1978, at the Fall Conference. N. Eldon Tanner, counselor to President Kimball, read the declaration to the congregation:
To Whom It May Concern:
On September 30, 1978, at the 148th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the following was presented by President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church:
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.
N. Eldon Tanner then read President Kimball's letter to the priesthood:
As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth. . . many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, . . . 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, . . . including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy [p. 83] male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. . . .
SPENCER W. KIMBALL
N. ELDON TANNER
MARION G. ROMNEY
The declaration was then presented to the assembly who gave it their full support.
Declaration 2, in the Doctrine and Covenants, was obviously carefully crafted by church officials. As a matter of fact, it never even mentions that it was the blacks who had been discriminated against prior to the revelation.
In stating that they "pleaded long and earnestly" for the change implies that God has been a racist for thousands of years, and that Mormon leaders "by pleading long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the upper room of the Temple" finally persuaded God to give blacks the priesthood.
The Bible, however, informs us that "God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34-35). It was the Mormon leaders who kept blacks under a curse.
Finally, when missionary efforts around the world were being hampered by the doctrine, Mormon leaders were forced to change their position. Historian Jan Shipps commented on the reason for the announcement:
The June 9 revelation will never be fully understood if it is regarded simply as a pragmatic doctrinal shift ultimately designed to bring Latter-day Saints into congruence with mainstream America. . . . This revelation came in the context of worldwide evangelism rather than . . . American social and cultural circumstances (as quoted in Black Saints in a White Church, p. 27).
How Did the Revelation Come?
LDS scholar Lester E. Bush Jr. observed:
The 1970's will be a challenge to historians for years to come: Black activist harassment of BYU; the Genesis Group; litigation with the Boy Scout movement; Roots-spurred interest in genealogy; heightened leadership awareness of the historical antecedents of current Mormon beliefs; and once again questions over the identification of the cursed lineage, this time with reverberations in both Brazil and the U. S. Congress. Did any of these developments influence the events of 1978? A circumstantial case can be made that they did. But there is about as much evidence, (i.e., none) that they mattered not at all. Conclusions, then, must be a matter of faith and philosophy.
The greatest challenge to future historians, and that of most interest and importance, will be 1978 itself, about which very little can now be said with confidence. There are a few tantalizing hints. That the forthcoming dedication of the Brazilian temple figured conspicuously in the deliberations leading up to the revelation is clear from some published comments. LeGrand Richards, for example, is quoted as saying, "All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising the money to build the temple. Brother Kimball worried 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. . . ."
Beyond this the story is hazy and intriguing. According to his son Edward, President Kimball was "exercised about the question" for "some months at least," during which time "he could not put it out of his mind." He solicited individual written and oral statements from the Twelve, conveying, to Apostle Richards, the impression that "he was thinking favorably toward giving the colored people the priesthood." That any such disposition followed a great internal struggle is evidenced by a statement from President Kimball himself, in an interview with the Church News: ". . . I had a great deal to fight, of course, myself largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life till my death and fight for it and defend it as it was." Indeed, according to son Edward, his father "could not comfortably debate things about which he felt deeply."
Whatever the contributing factors, President Kimball apparently was persuaded even before the June first revelation—as Richards suggested—that a change in the priesthood policy was indicated. Again from the [Deseret News] Church News interview:
[p. 84] I went to the temple alone, and especially on Sundays and Saturdays . . . when I could have it alone. It went on for some time as I was searching for this, because I wanted to be sure . . . ["Gradually, most of his doubts and questions faded away," writes Edward. Then, on June 1, in a special prayer circle with the Apostles,] . . . I offered the final prayer and I told the Lord if it wasn't right, if He didn't want this change to come in the Church that I would be true to it all the rest of my life, and I'd fight the world against it if that's what he wanted . . .
The "revelation and assurance came to me so clearly," Kimball later said, "that there was no question about it." The revelation thus appears to have been a spiritual manifestation in confirmation of a decision made after a period of lengthy and profound study and prayer. This "spiritual witness" was reportedly experienced by all present at that time as well as a week later when the First Presidency presented their official statement to the Twelve (Dialogue, vol. 12, no. 2, Summer 1979, pp. 10-11).
Historian D. Michael Quinn discussed this process. He observed that President Kimball had
met privately with individual apostles who expressed their "individual thoughts" about his suggestion to end the priesthood ban.
After discussing this in several temple meetings and private discussions, Kimball wrote a statement "in longhand removing all priesthood restrictions on blacks" and presented it to his counselors on 30 May (The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, p. 16).
The next day, on June 1, 1978, the group prayed in the temple and received personal confirmation that it was time to change the policy. Gordon B. Hinckley explained:
No voice audible to our physical ears was heard. But the voice of the spirit whispered into our minds and our very souls (as quoted in The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, p. 16).
Quinn goes on to explain the events leading up to the public announcement:
On 7 June 1978 Kimball informed his counselors that "through inspiration he had decided to lift the restrictions on priesthood." In the meantime he had asked three apostles . . . to prepare "suggested wording for the public announcement of the decision." The First Presidency used the three documents to prepare a fourth preliminary statement which was "then reviewed, edited, and approved by the First Presidency. This document was taken to the council meeting with the Twelve on Thursday, June, 8, 1978." The apostles made additional "minor editorial changes" in the nearly final statement which was then presented to all general authorities the next day, just hours before its public announcement (The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, p. 16).
Does this process sound like a direct revelation from God to the prophet?
What Constitutes Revelation?
In what way does this chain of events equate with a "revelation"? How is this process any different from any other religious leaders discussing an issue, praying for divine guidance and then acting on those spiritual promptings?
If a revelation was received in June of 1978, why isn't the specifically worded revelation published instead of a statement about a supposed revelation? Declaration 2 is not the revelation.
Many Mormons have maintained that the priesthood ban was a policy, not established by revelation. Then why did it take a revelation to end it?
If Declaration 2 represents a revelation to the church, why wasn't it numbered with the other sections of the Doctrine and Covenants? The two Declarations at the back of the D&C seem to be policy statements putting an end to practices, but neither contains the words "thus saith the Lord" or repudiates the doctrine behind the practice.
If the revelation included a repudiation of past teachings on race and color why isn't it published?
Another contradiction is the fact that the revelation was given too early. According to Brigham Young, the priesthood would not be given to the blacks until after the resurrection:
When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and . . . have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity. . . . he is [p. 85] the last to share the joys of the kingdom of God (Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 143).
This was obscured in the 1978 declaration that said "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." Past leaders had said that blacks would eventually receive the priesthood, but it would be after everyone else had had a chance to hold it.
Which prophets are people to follow? If one answers "the current prophet," then it should be remembered that at one time Brigham Young was the "current" prophet. People listening to his sermons took them as God's word to the people. Why wouldn't those sermons be valid today? Are Mormons free to ignore all past statements by their prophets or only those teachings that are not in line with current policy?
In spite of the granting of priesthood to blacks, racial attitudes continue to plague the LDS Church. Reporter William Lobdell wrote:
It took until 1978—14 years after the Civil Rights Act—before the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lifted the ban following what leaders said was a revelation from God to make the priesthood available to "every faithful, worthy man."
The new doctrine came without an apology or repudiation of the church's past practice. . . . Mauss and others believe that a church repudiation of past policies would help, but that would be difficult because it was never clear whether the racism was a divine revelation—which couldn't be apologized for—or man-made law ("New Mormon Aim: Reach Out to Blacks," L.A. Times, Sept. 21, 2003).
Armand Mauss observed:
Certainly these old doctrines have not appeared in official church discourse for at least two decades. . . . However, as long as these doctrines continue to appear in successive reprintings of authoritative books and are freely circulated at the Mormon grassroots, they will continue to rankle many of the black Saints (All Abraham's Children, p. 252).
On page 262 Mauss continues:
To repudiate any of the cherished religious lore of their immediate ancestors seems to some Mormons, especially the older ones, to be almost a repudiation of the grandparents themselves, to say nothing of their teachers, who might have walked with God. . . . One need point only to the struggle in Utah even now over plural marriage: Despite the long arm of the law and the church's strenuous repudiation of polygamous practices, the traditional doctrines underlying plural marriage still survive even in mainstream Mormonism. Why should traditional racial doctrines be any easier to set aside? (All Abraham's Children, p. 262; italics in original).
Writing in the Salt Lake Tribune, Peggy Stack pointed out:
For most white members, the ban controversy is over, but the issue continues to haunt many black members, especially in the United States. They are constantly having to explain themselves and their beliefs—to non-Mormons, other black converts and themselves. And no matter how committed to LDS teachings and practices they are, they must wonder: If this is the true church, led by a prophet of God, why was a racial ban instituted in the first place? ("Faith, Color and the LDS Priesthood," Salt Lake Tribune, June 8, 2003, pp. A1 & A12).
Armand Mauss observed:
The 1978 declaration of the church leaders ...was widely expected to bring an end to the most important controversy in Mormondom during the second half of the twentieth century. That the church president, two decades later, was still facing questions about it suggested that the issue was not entirely dead. . . . Even the struggle to divest Mormonism of its polygamous heritage is still underway, at least on the margins, more than a century after the official abandonment of the practice. The more contemporary struggle to cast off "the curse of Cain" from Mormons, black and white, has persisted for a full generation, largely because the "die-hards" among white Mormons have been as reluctant as white Americans more generally to relinquish traditional prejudices and stereotypes based on race or lineage (All Abraham's Children, p. 231). [p. 86]
Although many Africans had joined the LDS Church, Eugene England, a professor of English at Brigham Young University, was deeply concerned about the racism that still existed in the church. In an article published in Sunstone in 1998, England wrote:
This is a good time to remind ourselves that most Mormons are still in denial about the ban, unwilling to talk in Church settings about it, and that some Mormons still believe that Blacks were cursed by descent from Cain through Ham. Even more believe that Blacks, as well as other non-white people, come color-coded into the world, their lineage and even their class a direct indication of failures in a previous life . . .
In the twentieth century, speculation by Mormons that Blacks were being punished for some sin committed before they came to earth gradually gained in popularity and was extended to other races. When I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s in Utah, I was a racist in a thoroughly racist society. The predominantly Mormon Utah legislature passed anti-miscegenation laws and consistently killed fair housing laws. Blacks were neither allowed in the Church-owned Hotel Utah nor on Salt Lake's east bench, where even Japanese-American Chieko Okazaki encountered prejudice and efforts to keep her out and where a good sister in our ward came to our home with a petition to exclude a Jewish family. . . . In the 1960s, as the Civil Rights and Black Power movements gained in strength, there was criticism, both from without and within the Church, of the priesthood ban and racist Mormon teachings, criticism that produced its own apologetic theological response by white Mormon writers . . . President Kimball told the press after the 1978 revelation that the revelation came at this time because conditions and people have changed. "It's a different world than it was 20 or 25 years ago. The world is ready for it."
However, as is too often the case, we Mormons didn't all follow the prophet; some continued to believe the racist theology, even though the practice that gave rise to it had ended—and even though it contradicted central Mormon doctrinal principles . . . The majority of Mormons were clearly still racists in the 1960s . . . Sadly, some of that baggage is still with us. I check occasionally in classes at BYU and find that still, twenty years after the revelation, a majority of bright, well-educated Mormon students say they believe that Blacks are descendants of Cain and Ham and thereby cursed and that skin color is an indication of righteousness in the pre-mortal life. They tell me these ideas came from their parents or Seminary and Sunday School teachers, and they have never questioned them. They seem largely untroubled by the implicit contradiction to basic gospel teachings . . . (Sunstone, June 1998, pp. 54‑58).
On May 18, 1998, the Salt Lake Tribune printed an article written by Larry B. Stammer, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. The headline in the Tribune read as follows: LDS Church Mulls Revoking Doctrine On Black "Curse."
In the article Mr. Stammer pointed out that the church was struggling to deal with embarrassing questions regarding blacks in the church:
Twenty years after the Mormon Church dropped its ban against blacks in the priesthood, key leaders are debating a proposal to repudiate historic church doctrines that were used to bolster claims of black inferiority.
The proposal to disavow the teachings, which purport to link black skin color to curses from God recounted in Hebrew and Mormon Scriptures, is under review by the church's Committee on Public Affairs, made up of members of the church's highest governing circles, known as general authorities.
Sources close to the sensitive and still-secret deliberations hope that a statement will be issued as early as next month, the 20th anniversary of the landmark 1978 decision by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to admit all worthy men to the priesthood, regardless of their race or color.
Although the church's leaders now proclaim racial equality as a "fundamental teaching," the process of repudiating old doctrines remains difficult.
"They feel like a lot of people may not believe the church is true because a lot of these things were said by previous prophets, and a true prophet of God shouldn't make mistakes," said David Jackson, a black Mormon who is among those calling for change.
The call for change comes at a time when the 10 million-member church is enjoying unprecedented growth in Africa and other developing countries. . . .
[p. 87] But black members of the church in the United States as well as some Mormon scholars warn that the "racist legacy" contained in various Mormon documents and authoritative statements risks undermining its mission unless they are disavowed. "In the absence of any official corrections, these speculative and pejorative ideas will continue to be perpetuated in the church indefinitely," Armand Mauss, president of the Mormon History Association, wrote recently.
"What [the 1978 revelation] doesn't say is we're no longer of the lineage of Cain, that we no longer did these things in pre-existence. It does not say we are not cursed with black skin," Jackson said.
Although church officials would not comment directly on what Hinckley and his counselors or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles may have considered, they confirmed that discussion of the issue is moving forward.
William S. Evans, a public affairs committee staffer, confirmed that the committee members have discussed the matter. But only the church's highest authorities—not the committee—could make such a statement. . . . (Salt Lake Tribune, May 18, 1998)
Unfortunately, if the Mormon leaders were really thinking of dealing with these issues, it now appears that they have changed their mind. Cala Byram, a Deseret News staff writer, reported:
LDS Church leaders say a newspaper story indicating they were considering a plan to retract early church doctrines concerning blacks was a surprise to them. . . .
Monday afternoon, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement denying that the church's First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve was considering issuing such a statement.
"We have read the story which appeared in the May 18, 1998, Los Angeles Times and are surprised at its contents. The matter it speaks of has not been discussed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve," said the prepared statement issued by the church's governing body.
Instead the presidency, led by President Gordon B. Hinckley, said the church's 1978 official declaration giving all worthy males the priesthood "continues to speak for itself." . . .
The Los Angeles Times story said a statement was being reviewed for release as early as next month to repudiate early church teachings that linked dark skin color to curses from God recounted in Hebrew and LDS scriptures.
The Times quoted sources who said the "racist legacy" in early LDS Church doctrines could undermine the mission of the church unless they were repudiated.
That legacy hasn't slowed the growth of the 10 million-member church, which has 110,000 members in Africa. . . (Deseret News, May 19, 1998).
This statement by church leaders was very disappointing to many Mormons who were hoping that the church would address the issues. On June 6, 1998, twenty years after blacks received the priesthood, the Salt Lake Tribune made some interesting comments regarding the matter:
The vast majority of Mormons greeted the stunning announcement of June 9, 1978, that lifted a 126-year-old ban on black men in the LDS Church's priesthood with relief and joy . . .
The reversal, which Mormons believe was based on a divine "revelation" to LDS President Spencer W. Kimball, dramatically increased the church's missionary successes in the multi-racial populations of South America and launched proselytizing among the black peoples of Africa. . . .
But in the United States, with its not-too-distant heritage of slavery and Jim Crow laws, exorcising past racist attitudes among Mormons has not been entirely successful.
Some people quietly left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; others simply moved to a different neighborhood so they would not have to worship alongside blacks.
Estelle Blalock, a Mormon who has lived with her husband, Walter, in Liberty, Miss., for more than 50 years, said they accepted the change fully.
"We knew it was the Lord's will that these things came about when they did," Blalock said. But some members of their congregation "were unhappy . . . they still haven't embraced blacks."
Roy Spear of Atlanta said he is not aware of anyone in his area who left the LDS Church over the change. But he said some Mormons, particularly the "older member" continues to make disparaging remarks "out of the hearing of black members.". . .
[p. 88] "Some join the LDS Church without ever knowing about its earlier racial policy and doctrinal folklore," [Sociologist Armand] Mauss said. "When they find out later, they feel angry and betrayed" (Salt Lake Tribune, June 8, 1998, p. C1).
The same issue of the Salt Lake Tribune discussed other problems concerning blacks in the LDS Church:
"No one has ever treated me in any way as inferior," said Moore, now of Centerville. "I feel loved and appreciated and respected."
But others see the ideas persisting among church members, supported by several widely used books by LDS authorities. Without strong denial by the church, they believe, racism will continue to plague the church . . .
The Book of Mormon, which Latter-day Saints believe is a historical account of ancient Israelites who sailed to the Americas, tells of two races: the fair-skinned Nephites, who were faithful and righteous, and the Lamanites, rebellious people, who were cursed with a dark skin . . . some Mormons have promulgated the belief that in the premortal "war in heaven," some spirits "sympathized with Lucifer, but did not follow him," as summarized by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith in The Way to Perfection, published in the 1930s but still in circulation today.
"The negro race, for instance, have been placed under restrictions because of their attitude in the world of spirits," wrote Smith, who became church president in 1970 . . . the blacks-are-cursed beliefs can be found in several books that enjoy an almost official status among Mormons, particularly the late Apostle Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine and his Mortal Messiah series.
In the 1979 edition of McConkie's Mormon Doctrine, reprinted as recently as 1997, it says: "Cain, Ham and the whole negro race have been cursed with a black skin, the mark of Cain, so they can be identified as a caste apart."
Ronald Coleman, professor of history and ethnic studies at the University of Utah, was surprised to learn that these statements can still be found in LDS literature.
Coleman, who is not LDS, said that if they do exist, the church "has a job to do in cleaning up contemporary writings that reflect biases from the past which the church no longer holds" (Salt Lake Tribune, June 6, 1998, pp. C1 and C3).
In a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, Jerry Whipple made some significant comments:
The doctrine of a curse on black people espoused by the LDS Church for over 125 years cannot be erased in the mind of the true believer by saying that blacks may now hold the priesthood. BYU professor Eugene England confirms in the May 19 Tribune that 'majority of the bright, well-educated Mormon students still believe the blacks-are-cursed theories.' Very simply, this translates into racism. These feelings of superiority will prevent many from choosing or accepting blacks as equals or as leaders.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said racism is as destructive to the oppressor as to the oppressed. How can one be a loving 'brother' to a group he has looked down on, and in many cases, has viewed as subhuman, when no other change has been made than the acceptance of black men into the priesthood?
Hello up there, Brethren! Can you hear? . . . Or are you totaling your growing membership for boasting rights? Malicious doctrine passed on for generations in writing and speeches by all levels of leadership can only be reversed by bold action from the highest level. Followers must be told, clearly, that all references to a black curse must be revoked even though this will be tantamount to admitting that earlier prophets were wrong. The alternative to this is no action at all, leaving church members with pernicious, racist views for generations to come, inflicting pain on those around them (Salt Lake Tribune, June 16, 1998, p. A-10).
Missionaries to Brazil
In 1830 six men met to organize the Church of Christ, later renamed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see Doctrine & Covenants 15:3-5). Since then the church has grown to nearly 12 million members with approximately 56,000 missionaries. Many of these missionaries work in Brazil.
Peggy Fletcher Stack, writing for the Salt Lake Tribune, commented on the church's growth in Brazil:
Today, Mormons in Brazil . . . number more than 800,000, more than in any country besides the [p. 89] United States and Mexico. Brazil has 26 LDS missions, more than Germany, Italy and Great Britain combined. One in 10 missionaries is called to this most populous South American nation. . . .
Holding onto the flock: Though the LDS growth rate in Brazil is impressive by U.S. standards, "revolving door" baptisms continue to be a major problem for the church. According to several Brazilian leaders, the LDS activity rate here is between 25 percent and 35 percent. That means for every three or four converts, only one stays (Salt Lake Tribune, April 5, 2003).
Since 1978, LDS missionary work in the United States has gained a small but significant number of black converts. However, there seems to be a problem with retention. Armand Mauss observed that "Mormon missionary work among American blacks does not seem to be thriving, even after the 1978 change in priesthood policy" (All Abraham's Children, p. 261). Their greatest success among blacks has been in Brazil and Africa.
Work in Ghana
Even though there are less than 200,000 Mormons in all of Africa, the Mormons have just dedicated their second temple on the continent, in Ghana. They have one in South Africa and another one is under construction in Nigeria.
On the news page for the official Mormon web site, www.lds.org, is an article on their growth in Ghana. They report that in 1978 Ghana had about 400 Mormons.
However, ten years later, with about 6,000 members, the LDS Church fell out of favor with the government of Ghana. On June 23, 1989, the Salt Lake Tribune reported:
ACCRA. Ghana—The Mormon Church, banned in Ghana earlier this month, will never be allowed to operate in the West African nation again, a government official said Thursday. . . .
Mr. Lefevre [manager of press relations for the LDS Church] said the LDS mission president in Ghana has flown to London, where he will discuss with church leaders on the possibility of convincing Ghana's government officials to rescind the order. . . .
Church officials said there were 89 Mormon missionaries in Ghana, but 72 were natives and only 17 were affected by the expulsion order. . . .
The Mormon Church has about 6,000 members in the nation of 14 million, and has maintained a missionary program in Ghana since 1979, a church spokesman said (Salt Lake Tribune, June 23, 1989, p. A1-2).
Eventually the situation was resolved and missionary work was again put into operation. In December of 2003 the LDS Church dedicated a new temple to serve the 23,000 members in Ghana.
Minorities in Leadership
While European members have regularly been advanced in LDS leadership, ethnic minorities have been less visible. Historian D. Michael Quinn observed:
Much as a corporate board of directors represents significant minority blocks of stockholders, the appointment of General Authorities to represent significant ethnic populations of the LDS Church has continued from the 1830s to the present. As the American-born Mormons were supplemented by tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints from Canada and Great Britain, twelve Canadian and British General Authorities served from 1837 to 1938, and five from 1960 to the present. . . .
As the population of the international church has accelerated since the 1960s, the newly expanded Quorum of Seventy has become the vehicle for representing diverse ethnic and foreign populations of Mormons, rather than the tight-knit Quorum of the Twelve Apostles which had non-American members from 1838 to 1975. Since that latter year, the following ethnic and non- American populations have become represented by appointments to the Quorum of Seventy: the Hawaiians with Adney Y. Komatsu, the French and Belgians with Charles A. Didier, the Navajos with George P. Lee, the Dutch with Jacob deJager, the Germans with F. Enzio Busche, the Japanese with Yoshihiko Kikuchi, the English with Derek A. Cuthbert, the Canadians with Ted E. Brewerton, and the Latin Americans with Angel Abrea ("From Sacred Grove to Sacred Power Structure," Dialogue, vol. 17, no. 2, Summer 1984, p. 23). [p. 90]
George P. Lee
George P. Lee, mentioned in the above quote, was the first Native American to be appointed as a general authority in the LDS Church. He was sustained a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1975. However, fourteen years later he was excommunicated for criticizing the leaders. On September 2, 1989, the Salt Lake Tribune announced:
The only American Indian general authority in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was excommunicated Friday after claiming church leaders are perpetrating a "silent, subtle scriptural and spiritual slaughter" of his race.
George P. Lee, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy since 1975, was stripped of his membership . . . for "apostasy" and "other conduct unbecoming a member of the church." He is the first Mormon general authority excommunicated in 46 years. . . .
He claimed church leaders have "turned their backs" on Native Americans and, in pride and arrogance, are discriminating against the very people Mormon scriptures say they must rely on for salvation.
"There is a racist attitude I could just no longer stand," Dr. Lee, 46, said in an interview . . . "It is aimed at the poor, at the Indians. . .
"They have washed their hands of their responsibilities to the Lamanites." He said. . .
"Church leaders have set themselves up as interpreters of the gospel, rather than its followers," he said. It has resulted in pride, Dr. Lee claims.
"I have heard a few of you declare that you are greater than ancient apostles such as Moses, Abraham, Noah, Isaiah, Isaac, Jacob. . . . This reflects the attitude of all of you," Dr. Lee said in the letter. "I have heard one or more of you declare that you can change anything Jesus had said or taught. This also reflects the attitude of all of you" (Salt Lake Tribune, September 2, 1989).
The Book of Mormon makes it very clear that the descendants of Lehi will perform a mighty work in the last times. The Gentiles, on the other hand, are threatened with destruction at the hands of the Native Americans if they do not repent:
And my people who are a remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, yea, in the midst of them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver" (3 Nephi 21:12).
Instead of playing the major role, the Gentiles who repent will "assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem" (3 Nephi 21:23).
George P. Lee believed the Book of Mormon prediction that his people will play the major role in the last days and felt that the LDS Church leaders were deliberately trying to circumvent what God had ordained.
In a handwritten, 23 page letter he presented to the hierarchy on the day he was terminated, he wrote:
1. You have set yourself up as a literal seed of Israel when the Lord Jesus designated you as Gentiles or "adopted Israel[.]" You have set yourself up as [the] true seed of Ephraim thereby displacing the true seed of Israel[.]
You have shoved true Israel out of his own home or house and have given great importance and status to your own role as Ephraim... Gentiles or "adopted Israel" have set themselves up as true Ephraimites with little or no obligation or sense of responsibility to the Lamanites and other true seed of Israel. This kind of teaching runs counter to the instructions of the Lord Jesus and collides with the will of God. I cannot be a party to this type of policy or doctrine. It is not God's but man-inspired[.] It is getting to the point where every Gentile that is baptized is told and taught that he is literal seed of Ephraim unless he is a Jew, Indian or Black. This type of teaching encourages an attitude of superior race... I cannot be a party to false teaching, teachings which are man-inspired.... You have come very close to denying that the Book of Mormon is about Lamanites. You have cut out Indian or Lamanite programs and are attempting to cut them out of the Book of Mormon (Letter to the First Presidency and the Twelve, by George P. Lee, 1989, pp. 13-16, photocopy in our files).
While George P. Lee is probably correct with regard to the teachings of the Book of Mormon concerning Lamanites and Gentiles, from a Biblical [p. 91] perspective both his view and that held by the Mormon leaders seems to be out of step with the teachings of Jesus. In Mark 9:33-37, we read that some of the Lord's disciples had been arguing over "who should be the greatest." Jesus, therefore, "called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all." In the book of Matthew 18:1-4, we find that Jesus answered the question of who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven by calling "a little child unto him." He "set him in the midst of them" and then said: "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Apostle Paul made it clear that "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). To waste time debating over who has the "royal blood" seems to be an exercise in futility. It is unlikely that either the Mormon leaders or the Indians have the blood of Israel.
While it is undoubtedly true that George P. Lee and his people have suffered because of the racist views held by some of the present church leaders, Dr. Lee must face the fact that a great deal of the prejudice against Indians in Mormonism originated from the Book of Mormon itself. It is that book which tells of God putting a "curse" on the Lamanites and causing "a skin of blackness to come upon them" so that they would be segregated from those with a "white" skin.
Four years after his excommunication, charges of sexual misconduct were brought against Lee for abuse that happened while he was a general authority in the LDS Church. The Deseret News reported:
George P. Lee, former LDS Church general authority, is expected to surrender to authorities next week on charges that he sexually abused a 12-year-old girl in 1989.
Investigators say he fondled the girl at his home and during official trips he made as a member of the church's First Quorum of Seventy. . . .
According to the complaint filed in 3rd Circuit Court, the girl said Lee was in bed with her some time during the summer of 1989 and put his hand on her breasts, buttocks and genitals after talking to her about polygamy. She also described more than five similar acts in Utah and other states. . . . The girl is a friend of one of Lee's daughters . . . (Deseret News, July 30, 1993, pp. B1-2).
In 1994 Lee pleaded guilty to attempted sexual abuse of a child, a third-degree felony. In 1996 Lee again made the news when it became known he had violated his probation order to attend specific sex-abuse counseling (see the Salt Lake Tribune, May 14, 1996, p. C2).
Other than George P. Lee, no other North American Indian has been called as a general authority in the LDS Church.
The only black, as of April 2004, to be appointed as a general authority was Helvecio Martins. He joined the LDS Church in 1972 in Brazil and after the 1978 priesthood revelation was ordained to the priesthood. He was soon involved in various leadership positions, such as president of the Brazil Fortaleza Mission. He was appointed to the Second Quorum of Seventy on March 31, 1990 (Deseret News 1991-1992 Church Almanac, p. 33). After successfully completing his assignment, he was released from that position on September 30, 1995.
In the March 2003 issue of Sunstone, Newell G. Bringhurst professor of history and past president of the Mormon History Association, observed:
But as I see it, the Church still faces two significant challenges. First, the Church officially needs to unequivocally renounce all the "racist folklore" previously used to justify black priesthood denial and the inferior place of blacks within Mormonism. . . .
A second crucial challenge stems from the lack of ethnic diversity at the highest levels of Church leadership. . . . There is currently no black General Authority—a void since the 1995 release of Brazilian Helvecio Martins from the Second Quorum of Seventy. Such diversity in the Church's top leadership would, perhaps, engender greater sensitivity to the needs and problems of an increasingly ethnically diverse Church membership. . . .
At the very least, a greater number of General Authorities from Asian, Latin American, and black African backgrounds would more accurately reflect [p. 92] the reality of an increasingly international Church where an ever-increasing majority of Latter-day Saints reside outside the United States. As an ultimate scenario, it is perhaps not too much to hope for "the long-promised day" when the Quorum of the Twelve itself will consist of one or more persons of black African descent, along with individuals from Latin America and Asia ("An Unintended and Difficult Odyssey," Sunstone, March 2003, p. 27).
The LDS Church occasionally calls a Latin American or Asian to a position in one of the quorums of the Seventy, which are not permanent callings. These assignments are usually for about five years. However, the LDS apostles are life-time appointments and are all white North Americans.
Prominent Black Converts to Mormonism
One of the most controversial blacks to join Mormonism was Eldridge Cleaver. Sunstone Review reported:
Eldridge Cleaver, former Black Panther leader, author, political activist and ex-convict, was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at a "well-attended" service on December 11, 1983. The baptism, held in the Oakland Inter-Stake Center, attracted upwards of 100 people including many, of Cleaver's LDS friends from the San Jose area. Ending some two years of speculation concerning Cleaver's plans to become a Mormon, the baptism was performed by Carl Locher, an associate in the Berkeley area.
Cleaver, who achieved celebrity status in the 1960s after publication of his book, Soul On Ice, first indicated his interest in Mormonism in 1981. At that time he received the missionary discussions and met with Elder Paul H. Dunn (Sunstone Review, January 1984).
Mr. Cleaver's activity in the LDS Church "was not consistent, but he always referred to himself as a 'Mormon and a Christian.' He died in 1989." ("The Story of Eldridge Cleaver," www.ldsconversion.com [Ed.—Website defunct. Use this link.])
Famous singer Gladys Knight converted to Mormonism in 1997. John Goodie wrote:
. . . For those of you who need a little schooling, I'm talking about Gladys Knight of Gladys Knight and the Pips, who has more gold records than most of us have dishes. Her song Midnight Train to Georgia still hits radio waves throughout America. . . . Gladys Knight didn't appear in any fancy arena. And admission was free. . . .You see, Gladys Knight was on a mission call in Mesa for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She became a Mormon on Aug. 11, 1997, and was here giving a moving testimony on how she and her daughter, through her son, converted to the LDS Church. . . . Gladys spoke about her son, Jimmy, who led her and her daughter to the church. She noted that it wasn't until 1978 that African-American men could receive the honor of priesthood. Jimmy became a priest two years ago. (Arizona Republic, March 2001, as quoted on www.ldsconversion.com [Ed.—Website defunct. Use this link.])
On June 8th of 2003 the LDS Church had a special commemorative service in recognition of the 25th anniversary of giving priesthood to blacks. Gladys Knight, and her choir from Las Vegas, sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on that occasion. The Deseret News reported:
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the LDS revelation on priesthood, received on June 8, 1978, which made full priesthood privileges and blessings available to LDS black men and their families.
On Sunday, June 8, a worship service in the Tabernacle, titled, "The Long Promised Day: A Celebration," will feature music by the Saints Unified Voices choir conducted by Gladys Knight, along with personal stories of faith and testimony shared by black church members. ("LDS to celebrate priesthood revelation," Deseret News, Saturday, June 7, 2003)
Thurl Bailey, professional basketball player and musician, was a Baptist until joining the LDS Church in 1995. While separated from his wife in 1989 he [p. 93] met Sindi, a young Mormon woman. Through his exposure to Mormonism during his nine years with the Utah Jazz basketball team and Sindi's influence he started looking into Mormonism. Thurl and Sindi married in 1994 and he joined the LDS Church in 1995. Their marriage was solemnized in the Swiss LDS temple in 1997. He is now a popular speaker and musician in Mormon circles.
Deseret News reporter Doug Robinson wrote:
Thurl Bailey is retired from professional basketball, but that doesn't mean he's slowed down. Just try to keep up with him.
There's his singing career, with concert appearances and CDs to his credit. There are his various business interests, everything from corporate speaking to literally spreading fertilizer. There is his foundation and his work with various charities.
There are the dozens of "firesides" he does for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are his broadcasting duties, providing TV color commentary for Utah Jazz and University of Utah basketball games. And there is his young family — a wife and four children. ("Thurl Bailey's Wonderful Life," Utah News, Deseret News, February 22, 2003)
Although current LDS leaders are careful to avoid any sort of racial denigration, they are still faced with the problem of all their sermons and books promoting racism prior to 1978. Jessie Embry discussed Apostle McConkie's approach to race:
An important exemplar of changing attitudes was Apostle McConkie, who had become a prolific theologian. His 1966 Mormon Doctrine, used by some members as a dictionary of theology, contained the following justifications for the black exclusion policy: "Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain." He went on: "Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty." Two months after the announcement [in 1978], he declared to a group of church-employed teachers:
"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 . . . 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 . It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them" (Black Saints in a White Church, pp. 34-35).
Bruce R. McConkie's speech was given at a Book of Mormon Symposium for Seminary and Institute teachers, at Brigham Young University, August 18, 1978. The entire speech can be read in our publication, Following the Brethren, and on our web site www.utlm.org.
But is McConkie's position to "forget" all the past sermons reasonable? Does this mean LDS Conference talks by prophets and apostles may contain false doctrine? The Mormons listening to Brigham Young accepted his sermons as inspired. How is one to know when to dismiss past prophets and apostles and only accept the current statements? What is the current official LDS teaching on pre-existence and birth order? Where is their current explanation on the origin of race and color?
Those who point to McConkie's statement as an example of the church's position need to remember that he was not issuing an official statement from the LDS First Presidency. [p. 94]
Why should McConkie's statement carry any more weight than his earlier ones? If he could be wrong the first time he could be wrong the last time.
How is one to reconcile this approach with past teachings that we are to always follow the brethren? The Ward Teacher's message for June of 1945 instructed the LDS faithful:
It should be remembered that Lucifer has a very cunning way of convincing unsuspecting souls that the General Authorities of the Church are as likely to be wrong as they are to be right. . . .
When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan—it is God's plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy (Improvement Era, June, 1945, p. 354).
This concept has been repeated through the years in various sermons. Bishop Glenn Pace, speaking at the April 1989 LDS Conference, said:
There are some of our members who practice selective obedience. A prophet is not one who displays a smorgasbord of truth from which we are free to pick and choose. However, some members become critical and suggest the prophet should change the menu. A prophet doesn't take a poll to see which way the wind of public opinion is blowing. He reveals the will of the Lord to us (Ensign, May 1989, p. 26).
Yet we have already seen that the church did change its doctrine after years of public outcry, numerous discussions and drafts of the revelation.
In 1994, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the First Presidency, assured the faithful that "the Mormon Church will never be without a prophet and that prophet will never lead the church astray" (Salt Lake Tribune, September 3, 1994, p. D-1).
How does one put this together with all the past statements by church leaders regarding race? How is one to determine when a prophet or apostle gives accurate doctrine? As someone once quipped, "Today's truth may be tomorrow's heresy."
Professor Karl Sandberg commented:
Given the popular belief in apostolic infallibility, many people reason that the Brethren are instructed constantly by the Lord and therefore easily conclude that everything in current belief and practice in the church is upheld by, and is in conformity with, the will of God. If God wants anything changed, he will say so, and the message will come from the top down. Yet many people are uncomfortable in maintaining beliefs that seem to hang in the air waiting for God to speak further. Therefore, in order to defend the current position, they invent reasons for it, and these reasons metastasize into doctrines, which become part of the status quo and which in turn come to be accepted in all docility as the word of God. An example is in the question of the blacks and the priesthood. There was no founding revelation for such a practice: the only person in all of the scriptures to be "cursed as to the Priesthood," i.e. the Pharaoh pictured in facsimile three of the Pearl of Great Price, was white, and Joseph Smith himself ordained Elijah Abel, a black man, to the priesthood and sent him on missions. Nonetheless, a prevalent cultural belief at that time, the status quo, was that blacks were inferior, still laboring under the curse of Cain or Canaan, and Brigham Young accepted it in the nineteenth century. Joseph Fielding Smith and his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie both echoed it in the twentieth century. B. H. Roberts also endorsed it and even elaborated on another reason given for withholding the priesthood from blacks: they were less valiant in the pre- existence. In 1978 all of these statements which had been proclaimed and accepted as the word of God were unhinged. Brigham Young was wrong. Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong. Bruce R. McConkie was wrong. B. H. Roberts was wrong. Either that or Spencer W. Kimball was wrong in now extending priesthood to all worthy black men. What had been accepted as the word of God turned out to be the status quo. Venerating the status quo as the word of God is not easily distinguishable from idolatry, always a vexatious problem, but one we will continue to encounter in the future ("Thinking About the Word of God in the Twenty-First Century," by Karl C. Sandberg, Dialogue, vol. 29, no. 1, Spring 1996, p. 71).
Most of the blacks who join Mormonism today are not aware of the past racist teachings of its prophets and leaders. When they read the earlier statements [p. 95] they are usually upset and want an explanation from the church. A black convert, participating in a round table discussion on race and Mormonism, observed:
We can say what we want to say in this room today, but nothing is going to change until somebody says in General Conference meeting, "Racism in the Church is wrong." By not saying it, they're condoning it. They're condoning Brigham Young's statements; they're condoning John Taylor's statements; they're condoning things that need to be repudiated. A statement may not stop everything, but it will make people think, because, by not saying it, they're condoning it ("Speak the Truth, and Shame the Devil," Sunstone, May 2003, p. 33).
Armand Mauss reflected:
It is at the grassroots level, however, where the racist residue of the past remains most strongly entrenched. In LDS classes and conversations, a question sometimes arises about the erstwhile denial of the priesthood to black members. Such a question is often raised by new black members themselves, who often discover that historic anomaly only after having joined the Church. Many, perhaps most, LDS members and leaders will answer this question with a response like "We don't know, but that's all in the past." This kind of response, if not very satisfactory, is at least fairly benign and, for most members, probably the most accurate. All too often, however, the grassroots response from a member or teacher or leader is to resort to the folklore of the past with an explanation something like, "well, black people, you know, are descendants of Cain and were therefore under a curse. However, that curse was removed by revelation in 1978 so that even the descendants of Cain can now receive the priesthood." I have encountered that "explanation" periodically in LDS gatherings ever since 1978 and as recently as 1999. The late Eugene England found it common among his BYU students well into the 1990s. ("Reflections on a Lifetime with the Race Issue," Sunstone, March 2003, p. 30).
In the March 2003 issue of Sunstone, Darron Smith, a black convert, wrote:
. . . even though the priesthood ban was repealed in 1978, the discourse that constructs what blackness means is still very much intact today. Under the direction of President Spencer W. Kimball, the First Presidency and the Twelve removed the policy that denied blacks the priesthood but did very little to disrupt the multiple discourses that had fostered the policy in the first place. Hence there are Church members today who continue to summon and teach at every level of Church education the racial discourse that blacks are descendants of Cain, that they merited lesser earthly privilege because they were "fence-sitters" in the War in Heaven, and that, science and climatic factors aside, there is a link between skin color and righteousness. . . .
Further anchoring the early LDS appropriation of negative notions concerning blackness are several Book of Mormon teachings that associate dark skin with that which is vile, filthy, and evil, and white skin with that which is delightsome, pure, and good. . . .
I did not find out about the priesthood ban on blacks until after I had joined the Church, and, sadly, I passed on much of the folklore while serving an LDS mission in Michigan. Looking back on that experience, I venture to say that had I known about such teachings in the Church, I might not have joined. . . .
Blacks who do move toward Mormonism should not be made to feel that blackness is synonymous with curses, marks, or indifference. And this can be accomplished only by a formal repudiation, in no uncertain terms, of all teachings about Cain, the pre-mortal unworthiness of spirits born to black bodies, and any idea that skin color is connected to righteousness ("The Persistence of Racialized Discourse in Mormonism," by Darron Smith, Sunstone, March 2003, pp. 31-33).
It will be hard to eradicate racism from Mormonism as long as the old statements and books of past leaders are still sold and distributed by the LDS Church, without an official explanation or repudiation of the teachings. In an article titled "Out of the Best Books? Publications Continue to Promote Folklore" we read:
Although the priesthood ban was lifted in 1978 and today's Church leaders no longer teach that blacks descend from Ham or Cain, nor speak about curses or historical or doctrinal justifications for the original restriction, books and pamphlets [p. 96] containing such teachings are easy to find. Many are still in print and for sale at most LDS bookstores, including Church-owned Deseret Book. Are such speculations and pronouncements really "in the past" when they are in print and allowed to stand without repudiation? (Sunstone, March 2003, p. 34).
The article goes on to mention the titles Mormon Doctrine by Apostle Bruce McConkie, Gospel Kingdom by President John Taylor, Doctrines of Salvation by President Joseph Fielding Smith, and Answers to Gospel Questions by Joseph Fielding Smith as examples of books currently for sale that promote the old teachings of the curse on blacks. The article then states:
In addition to these titles still available in most LDS bookstores, there are many other out-of-print titles readily accessible to Latter-day Saints. The Journal of Discourses contains statements from Brigham Young identifying the curse of Cain as the "flat nose and the black skin.". . .
These titles are available through libraries and used bookstores. And the majority are also offered on the GospeLink 2001 CD-ROM program produced by Deseret Book (Sunstone, March 2003, p. 35).
Until the LDS Church officially repudiates its past racial doctrines and statements they will continue to be promulgated among its members. A white LDS woman, married to a black convert, recently wrote about her experiences in the December 2003, LDS Genesis Group newsletter:
. . . My husband, a convert and a Black man, joined the Church in 1995. . . . He is now the only Black adult member that I have seen in this stake since we've moved here two years ago. . . .
I can say that my husband being a Black member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes things awkward at times. Like a few months ago, when our nine-year-old son came home from Sunday school and asked us what color Jesus was. Naturally, we asked why this was important for him to know. He told us that his Primary teacher told him that Jesus was White and that Jesus could not possibly have been Black because Blacks were cursed—cursed with the mark of Cain.
My heart breaks as our family experiences over and over again that outside feeling of being a minority among the Saints. I wish I could say that my husband's love of the Church has carried him through the hard spots, but it hasn't been. His love of the Lord is profound. Yet, he continually struggles with concepts of the doctrine. Remarkably, whenever something like this happens, the Lord places someone there to fellowship my husband. It has almost always been another Black man. . . . (as quoted on the LDS web site—http://www.ldsgenesisgroup.org/news0312/page3.htm).
While the LDS Church is to be commended for its humanitarian work in Africa, Latin America and among minorities, it does not offset the damage done by racial teachings of its past leaders. Professor Mario S. DePillis pointed out that "the revelation leaves unsolved other racist implications of the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price—scriptures that are both cornerstones and contradictions" (New York Times, June 11, 1978).
Besides the teachings of the Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price associating dark skin with a mark of God's judgment, racist statements of past prophets and apostles need to be officially explained and repudiated. Until then, the past racist teachings will continue to be passed on to future generations.
The Bible reminds us that "God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34-35).
[Words in Bold in the quotes were done for emphasis and did not appear that way in the original.]