Race and the Priesthood: Significant New Statement on the LDS History of Blacks and the Priesthood at LDS.org

I’m delighted with the release of a thoughtful statement at ChurchofJesusChrist.org clarifying the history of the Church’s former policy that prior to 1978 prohibited those with African ancestry from holding the priesthood. The statement reminds us of the influences of culture and the fallibility of mortals in the Church, and gives us cause for gratitude regarding the revelation that finally did away not only with a problematic policy but with troubled attempts at justifying it. A welcome announcement worthy of reflection. 

One can complain that it’s too little, too late, or that further apologies are needed, etc., etc., but I suggest simply welcoming this with humility and faith, while recognizing the monumental faith exhibited by those who accepted the Gospel and strengthened the Church in spite of the limitations that former policy might impose on them. That’s remarkable faith and courage. A great resource on this topic is BlackLDS.org.

Update: Other resources to consider include the podcast on the 2013 statement at FAIRMormon.org and also my LDSFAQ page on race and the priesthood

Author: Jeff Lindsay

86 thoughts on “Race and the Priesthood: Significant New Statement on the LDS History of Blacks and the Priesthood at LDS.org

  1. While I believe Brigham instituted the initial ban due to his own prejudices, I do not believe he would have if he had been able to foresee how long the ban would last. Either way I am glad that we are done trying to justify the ban. It happened, it's been undone, and the Church is stronger for it's undoing.

  2. When conversations on controversial subjects get going, those ones where we really don't know the reasons for why the Lord allows or causes certain practices to occur, I find myself thinking of 1 Nephi 11:17:

    "17 And I [Nephi] said unto him: I know that he [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things."

    And then I trust the living prophet because he's the one called to deliver the messages meant for my time and society.

  3. I am an active member who believes in following the living prophet. But here's what I think a lot of members are missing from this truly groundbreaking statement: the church is now officially acknowledging (for the first time, I'm pretty sure) that the living prophets back in the day taught false doctrine. Just look at the 1949 Official Statement from the First Presidency on the "Negro Question." The doctrine taught in it has now been OFFICIALLY DISAVOWED by the Church. Which is a very good thing. But it does raise some thorny issues, issues that can't simply be wished away by saying we don't know the meaning of all things. Of course we don't! And clearly the prophets don't either. They can make mistakes. They can lead the church astray. The church is making that clear by disavowing the false doctrine taught in the past. So based on this the logical conclusion I make is that President Monson is a prophet, that he is inspired, that he receives revelation from God, but that he's also a man who is imperfect and can even say imperfect things in official statements or over the pulpit at General Conference. So it's up to me to seek spiritual confirmation for whatever is taught from the pulpit or I will be just like the millions of church members in 1949 who swallowed up false doctrine because it came from leaders they believed were infallible.

  4. Good point, Fred M. I, for one, continue to ignore church leaders' teachings about homosexuality for the time being. They've softened significantly in the past few years, but there's still bigotry on display at a local level. We'll make it through this, but maybe not this generation.

  5. Fred M wrote: "So it's up to me to seek spiritual confirmation"

    And you can count on yourself to be better at getting revelation from the Lord than, say, President McKay was . . . why?

  6. It was only a matter of time before homosexuality was brought up. It's fascinating to me how these obsessive people feel that every topic must pass through the realm of gay sex before it can be of any value. The issue of the priesthood ban and the issue of homosexuality are in no way connected.

  7. Grave disappointment that the apology and error with the black priesthood is so soft. I call for a news conference to formally apologize. Perhaps also apologize and recognize abusive and narcissistic bishops and stake presidents who have hurt and damaged (some fatally) membership of the church.

    Also an apology of Joseph's treatment of polygamy and polyandry need to be recognized.

    Then the church needs to step back, and with great thought get into the ministry.

  8. Anonymous–not saying I'm better than President McKay in any way. Just that it's wise to get personal spiritual confirmation of what our leaders say (something they've actually encouraged us to do). Because if in 1949 you thought the church's official statement about black people was hogwash, you were right. And the First Presidency was wrong. Which isn't heresy–it's simply what the new "Race and the Priesthood" statement reveals.

  9. Wow, Pierce. The "realm of gay sex"? Why do you automatically equate the mention of homosexuals with their sexual activities?
    Do you automatically equate any mention of heterosexuals with their sexual activities?
    Do you know any gay people? Do you love any gay people? Are there gay people in your family or ward?
    There is a very real connection to how LDS people treat and talk about gay people today and how they treated black people 35 years ago. Mormons used to preach that blacks chose poorly in the pre-existence, and too many Latter-Day saints today are convinced homosexuality is a choice.

    1. Yes it is a choice to act or not act on same gender attractions. The source and root of those feelings may not be subject to agency but how we respond to them is…sorry but in the same way that I can choose not to engage with illicit hetero-sex with the women I'm around a person with SSA also chooses whether to indulge or restrain

  10. I chose to word it like that because, essentially, that is where you took it whether you know it or not. You state that you "continue to ignore the church leaders teachings about homosexuality."
    What is teaching concerning this? It's simple: That marriage is between a man and a woman, that fornication is sexual behavior outside of marriage, and that fornication is sinful, be it homo or heterosexual behavior. That is scripture, and has been since Adam. It has been taught in all ages and times. It will continue to be taught. It can only be understood through the eye of the Plan of Salvation and how it functions. So you can choose to ignore it, but the church won't be "coming around" in the next few years. How this teaching has been interpreted and administered, however, has not always been stellar. Maybe that's what you're talking about. Personally I feel the Brethren are doing a pretty good job in balancing the need to teach and enforce the doctrine while still showing love and empathy. But, maybe it will get better. We can all hope. But I would not hope for an un-balance.
    The ban, however, does not have such roots. It was a simple, man-made policy. That is why it was overturned. If there was some sort of eternal principle involved (like how fornication frustrates the Plan of Salvation), then the ban would continue. But it wasn't, and it doesn't. Apples and oranges. I heard this a lot when Prop 8 was happening, and people seemed pretty smug in their enlightenment in comparing these two things. Sorry if this sounds testy.
    So again, I chose to word it like that because it is sexual activity that is condemned, not being homosexual. Here is part of the position as stated at lds.org:

    "However, if someone is attracted to people of the same gender and does not act on those feelings, he or she has not sinned. The Church’s standard for morality is the same for everyone, no matter which gender one feels attracted to. Neither the Lord nor His Church can condone any behavior that violates His laws. Again, we condemn the immoral behavior, not the person."

    Very different than the misunderstandings and teachings that supported the priesthood ban, which based on the merit of skin color.

    Is that the current teaching that you are "continuing to ignore?" The only thing you might draw parallels to are that some people have been and are insensitive about these issues, including the lay people and past leadership. But anyone giving it an honest theological evaluation will understand that these two things have no real connection.

  11. "I suggest simply welcoming this with humility and faith…"

    Simply welcome?

    Jeff, It amazes me how blithely you encourage fellow members to accept what has taken place with this official pronouncement.

    Surely you realize the implications of such a statement made by the Church? LDS apologists can no longer use the dismissive "a prophet was only a prophet when acting as such." to excuse false teachings. These were not the opinions of a fallible man. What Brigham Young and the many who followed was OFFICIAL doctrine! supposedly given by GOD!

    And now it has now been OFFICIALLY denounced as wrong. This doesn't bother you?

    What does this say about the current living prophet? About official doctrine we're supposed to believe right now? Will it be rejected as false teaching someday in the future??

    What do you say to members who may find their faith as LDS unraveling because they can no longer trust the words of the prophets as truth? "Put it on the shelf"??

  12. Anon,

    The key word there is supposedly. We have a fairly distinct way of obtaining revelation from God, and that is what has appeared in Scripture and what is added to scripture. For example, you won't find in the D&C revelations that state that priesthood is limited to certain races. You will, however, find a revelation overturning that policy. See the difference? One was a "supposed" doctrine and one was a real one.
    Church policies are just that–policies. They are a tangible way to administer gospel principles. Often they are based on scripture, sometimes not. Usually they are helpful, sometimes not.
    In my opinion, the Church is learning from the past. Apostles have reined in their opinions more and are more careful about what they publicly teach. I think that's why people complain about redundancy in General Conference addresses–they are more focused on people living actual fundamental gospel principles. It's not a position that they took overnight. I just don't think Brethren of past generations understood the ramifications of their opinions.
    The point is, why would it bother us that we as a people in the church can change for the better and shed old biases, teachings, and policies? That's the point of a living church. This information age has indeed shattered many misconceptions and viewpoints that many held in the past. What would the complaint be if we are presented with more information and enlightenment but didn't do anything with it? God's people love truth, and though we are cautious in adjusting our beliefs, we are not afraid of it. That to me is what a true church is all about and I am happy to see it happen.
    I actually trust the Apostles now more than ever because of the discretion that they are exercising. But even now most LDS don't count every utterance as scripture. We are all a little more enlightened now and understand a little bit better how revelation and doctrine is established.

  13. So when the prophet Brigham Young publicly teaches about the "Law of God" he was merely speaking his opinion?

    "Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so."

    I am not trying to shock anyone, please answer this question. What more would Brigham Young have to say for you to begin questioning him as a true prophet?

    Whether it's doctrine or opinion, these obstinate, vile words came out of his mouth. Unrepentant, unremorseful and unapologetic.

    Even David and the apostle Paul repented of wrong doing, but Young stood unabashed by this "opinion" his entire life. What if Monson said these same words? Would you write it off as his meaningless opinion?

    If "One was a "supposed" doctrine and one was a real one", Answer me this, Should we expect anymore "supposed" doctrines getting replaced by real ones? Where do you draw the line?

  14. For that I refer you to something that Jeff has published that makes complete sense in the realm of Mormonism. This is just a snippet, but you should read the whole thing. In it Jeff points out that interracial marriage was extremely rare, if non-existent in 1863 and proceeds with this:
    Please note that President Young refers to a penalty of "death on the spot" to the "white man of the chosen seed" and fails to mention any penalty applying to the black woman involved. Why? There are at least two reasons.

    First, when Brigham Young talks about a male member of "the chosen seed," he is specifically referring to a man holding the priesthood. (See Priesthood home page) Any Melchizedek Priesthood holder who engages in sexual relations outside of marriage breaks the oath and covenant of the priesthood and faces automatic excommunication from the Church (See Disciplinary Procedures). In LDS theology, excommunication is a form of spiritual death.


    People back then didn't just take little snippets of what Brigham Young said, they actually understood the context, were familiar with most of his teaching and attitudes and culture, and listened to the whole sermon. The same cannot be said for those who like to nit-pick the real "hot" quotations, which leads them into an error in judgment.
    I understand the context and meaning conveyed by President Monson now. He would not say the same things because he speaks and understands things differently than Brigham Young.
    Your "righteous anger" is quite unjustified in this case. Your opinion comes from your own misunderstanding and refusal to see past it.

  15. I can't believe people are fighting over this!

    The church has finally admitted to what everyone has known since the 60s. This is such a non-event I don't understand how anyone can get exercised by it.

    And as for trusting "the living ones" goes there were a whole line of "living" "prophets" who continued to teach unjust and, now, unscriptural errors for roughly a century. If trusting the "living" "prophets" gives you confidence you might ask yourself which things future "living" "prophets" will disavow with barely a nod to the way you're being deceived today.

    And, yes, that will one day include the horrendous treatment of gay saints that has caused far more family rifts and suicides than I believe anyone is comfortable thinking about.

    A Different Anonymous

  16. Pierce and others I've read have pointed to the scriptures as our guiding light when evaluating true doctrine. But, I'm curious as to how Bro. Lindsay, and Pierce, and others, anyone, would address the many scriptures, especially in the Book of Mormon, about how God curses people with "dark" or "black" skin. These scriptures were used by the then living prophets and apostles to justify the priesthood ban. If I were an active member of the church now, I suppose I would do like Elder Robert E. Wells showed us once in a stake conference many years ago in Silverdale, WA; he literally cut out those parts of the scriptures he didn't feel were useful to him and then had professionally bound together those parts he used often. However, I'm not active, and it is because I don't believe that God curses people with "race", and so many of the anachronisms and other problems with the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price are solved in my mind because I don't believe in that kind of a God anymore. I don't believe in the Mormon God of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I believe in a new God, who is always merciful and loving. But, I respectfully still would like to hear how those who are believing Mormons address the scriptures used to justify the ban for so many years.

  17. In discovering God, one must be careful to consider all the evidence, and to not distort some of the evidence to fit some preconceived idea of what God "must be". Sometimes the evidence seems contradictory – but that inevitably turns out to be a perception that results from failing to think outside our tiny boxes.

    God doesn't eliminate a person's agency when that person is called to be the prophet. He doesn't take away their opinions or their ability to state their opinions. He allows Church leaders at all levels to make mistakes. Curiously, that isn't inconsistent with the promise that God will not allow the prophet to lead the Church astray.

    Consider the question of blacks and the priesthood. Let's take the position that the ban on blacks holding the priesthood was a matter of opinion rather than revelation. There are important questions to ask.

    Did it cause permanent harm to anyone? Absolutely not; not if you believe in the Atonement of Christ and that he can and will make us whole.

    Did it lead the Church astray? Not in any material way. They Church still holds the keys and administers saving ordinances, still preaches the gospel of faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    Would it have been better had the ban not occurred, or if God had corrected early Church leaders? In my opinion, yes – but I'm sure my opinion counts for nothing in God's eyes. We don't often know the mind of God. Perhaps the situation was like when a parent allows a child to make a serious mistake – but not so serious as to cause permanent harm – in order to teach something that the child has repeatedly failed to learn. Perhaps God was setting us up to demonstrate that a testimony based on reason is not sufficient, that we must have a witness from the Spirit in order to survive the tests that are coming our way.

  18. Pierce, you didn't answer the questions. Do you know/love any gay people/members/family members?
    Does being in their presence automatically lead your mind to thoughts of their sexual activities?
    I served my mission in the Bible belt 20 years ago. Members of the LDS church in some branches told us not to teach black people because they'd never come back to church if we brought black people through the doors. They couldn't even stand to be in their presence. This is exactly how too many LDS today treat homosexuals. They only see what's on the surface, through the lens of their foolish understanding. Through the lens of leaders who for too long refused to show empathy to homosexuals.
    It's worth noting a fundamental truth: there have always been and there will always be homosexuals. Study history. Study Esther in the Old Testament. It's a fact of existence. There's no way we can call ourselves Christians and purport to love our neighbors on one hand and deny them basic rights on another.