Prophets in Mormonism/Part 36

By: Marvin W. Cowan; ©2009
Before June 1978, black males of African descent could join the LDS Church, but couldn’t hold any office in either LDS priesthood, nor could they receive the LDS temple rites required to enter the highest level in the Celestial Heaven after death.


Official Declaration-2 with a letter explaining it from the First Presidency are the last items in the Doctrine and Covenants except for a few maps in some editions. N. Eldon Tanner, who was First Counselor in the First Presidency of the LDS Church, read Official Declaration-2 at the LDS Semi-annual Conference on September 30, 1978 and it was accepted by a unanimous vote. It is a statement about a “revelation” that Mormon Prophet Spencer W. Kimball claims he received on June 1, 1978. The content of the “revelation” was made public on June 8, 1978. LDS often call Declaration-2 a revelation, but it is only a statement saying that LDS President Spencer W. Kimball had a revelation “extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church.” The revelation itself has never been published. But why was that statement needed? Couldn’t all worthy Mormon males have LDS priesthood until 1978?

Before June 1978, black males of African descent could join the LDS Church, but couldn’t hold any office in either LDS priesthood, nor could they receive the LDS temple rites required to enter the highest level in the Celestial Heaven after death. Other active LDS boys, even those with black skins from Pacific Islands, were ordained as Deacons in the Aaronic Priesthood at age 12. Older males were ordained to higher offices in the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. John J. Stewart clearly stated the LDS doctrine about Negros until 1978: “From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders that the Negros are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel” (Mormonism and the Negro, pp. 46-47). But why weren’t they entitled?

Prior to 1978 LDS Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie explained that

All men (and women) were first born in pre-existence (a pre-mortal spirit world) as the literal spirit offspring of God our Heavenly Father… All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity. (Mormon Doctrine, p. 84)

He also said,

One-third of the spirit hosts of heaven (pre-mortal spirit children of God) came out in open rebellion (when Christ offered His plan of salvation) and were cast out without bodies, becoming the devil and his angels… Of the two-thirds who followed Christ, however, some were more valiant than others… Those who were less valiant in pre-existence (pre-mortal life) and who thereby had certain restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the Negros. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God, and his murder of Able being a black skin (Pearl of Great Price, Moses 5:16-41; 7:8, 12, 22). Noah’s son, Ham, married Egyptus, a descendant of Cain, thus preserving the Negro lineage (Pearl of Great Price Abraham 1:20-27). Negros in this life are denied the (LDS) Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty (Pearl of Great Price Abraham 1:20-27). The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them (Pearl of Great Price Moses 7:8, 12, 22). [Mormon Doctrine, 1966 edition, pp. 526-527]

That was the LDS belief about Negros until 1978 when Official Declaration-2 changed it. Soon after Official Declaration-2 was released an LDS Apostle said that the Apostles and First Presidency had agreed that the time had come for Negros to have the LDS priesthood. He also said the LDS Church was going to stop teaching that Negros were cursed in the pre-mortal spirit world because they weren’t as valiant as other pre-mortal spirits. The above quotation on pages 526-527 of the 1966 edition of Mormon Doctrine was replaced in the 1979 edition with information about Official Declaration-2. Mormons still teach that all people were born and lived in a pre-mortal spirit world before being born on earth, but they don’t teach that Negros were cursed because they weren’t valiant.

Official Declaration-2 changed the LDS doctrine about Negros, but why was that change made in 1978? At that time the LDS Church was under a lot of pressure to make that change – like they were when polygamy was changed by Official Declaration-1. Opposition to the LDS view of the Negro had grown within the LDS Church as well as outside of it for more than 20 years. Before 1978 demonstrations and protests against the LDS practice of excluding Negros from their priesthood were held at BYU in Provo, UT, Temple Square in Salt Lake City and several other places. The US Government was also taking away the tax exempt status of organizations with racial bias. And the LDS Church had also sent hundreds of missionaries to Brazil and converted thousands of people to Mormonism. A Mormon Temple was being built in Brazil when LDS leaders discovered most Brazilians had some Negro blood in them. But LDS doctrine then said that “any man having one drop of the blood of Cain (Negro) in him cannot receive the priesthood” (Race Problems As they Affect the Church, by LDS Apostle Mark E. Peterson, pp. 20-21). So, many Mormons wondered why the Lord led them to build a temple in Brazil when it couldn’t be used by most of their converts.

Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual

The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual gives this explanation about the LDS view of black males of African linage and how Kimball’s “revelation” changed it so that they could have the LDS priesthood:

The scriptural basis for this policy is Abraham 1:21-27 (in the Pearl of Great Price). The full reason for the denial has been kept hidden by the Lord, and one is left to assume that He will make it known in His own due time. On 1 June 1978 the Savior revealed to President Spencer W. Kimball that the ban on this lineage pertaining to the rights of the priesthood was lifted. Elder Bruce R. McConkie described the special supplication that brought the revelation: “On the first day of June in this year, 1978, the First Presidency and the Twelve, after full discussion of the proposition and all the premises and principles that are involved, importuned the Lord for a revelation (p. 364).

Did this revelation come because those men asked for a revelation? The Bible says in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy [revelation] of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy [revelation] came not at any time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” If LDS Prophet Kimball’s revelation came as a result of men pleading for it, did it really come from God?

More about this subject can be read in Mormonism and the Negro. Next time we will continue our discussion of this important change in Mormon doctrine.

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