Changing the Anti-Black Doctrine
Brigham Young Misrepresented
We feel that the Mormon church's change on the doctrine concerning blacks is a very good move because it will undoubtedly help blacks obtain equality in Utah and will probably prevent much bloodshed and trouble. Nevertheless, we must point out that Brigham Young and other leaders have been misrepresented in order to make the change palatable to the Mormon people. For instance, the church's Deseret News 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).
While it is true that Brigham Young believed that blacks would eventually receive the priesthood, he made it clear that this was not to happen until after the resurrection. The context of the speech which the Deseret News cites reveals that Brigham Young believed it would be a sin for the church to give blacks the priesthood before the "last of the posterity of Able [sic]" 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. This address is preserved in the church historical department. Michael Marquardt has provided a typed copy (which retains the spelling errors of the original). We extract the following from Brigham Young's speech:
What is that mark? you will see it on the countenance of every African you ever did see upon the face of the earth.... the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the priesthood nor his seed, until the last of the posterity of Able [sic] had received the priesthood, until the redemtion of the earth. If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain ... they cannot bear rule in the priesthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them, until the resedue of the posterity of Michal and his wife receive the blessings.... until the times of the restitution shall come ... Then Cain's seed will be had in remembrance, and the time come when that curse should be wiped off....
I am as much opposed to the principle of slavery as any man in the present acceptation or usage of the term, it is abused. I am opposed to abuseing that which God has decreed, to take a blessing, and make a curse of it. It is a great blessing to the seed of Adam to have the seed of Cain for servants.... Let this Church which is called the kingdom of God on the earth; we will sommons the first presidency, the twelve, the high counsel, the Bishoprick, and all the elders of Isreal, suppose we summons them to appear here, and here declare that it is right to mingle our seed, with the black race of Cain, that they shall come in with with us and be pertakers with us of all the blessings God has given to us. On that very day, and hour we should do so, the priesthood is taken from this Church and kingdom and God leaves us to our fate. The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain the Church must go to desstruction,—we should receive the curse which has been placed upon the seed of Cain, and never more be numbered with the children of Adam who are heirs to the priesthood untill that curse be removed (Brigham Young Addresses, Ms d 1234, Box 48, folder 3, dated February 5, 1852, located in the LDS church historical dept.).
The Mormon people are now faced with a serious dilemma; if they really believe Brigham Young was a prophet, then it follows from his statement that the church has lost the priesthood, been put under "the curse" and is going to destruction! In spite of Brigham Young's emphatic warning against giving blacks "all the blessings God has given us," the present leaders have announced that blacks will now receive "all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords" (Deseret News, June 9, 1978).
After the First Presidency made their statement, 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 ban on 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 Tribune announced that "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 cerenonies [sic]."
In allowing temple marriage between whites and blacks, the church is completely disregarding what President Young referred to as "the law of God in regard to the African race." The reader will remember that President Young taught that the "penalty" for interracial marriage "under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 110). Since Brigham Young taught that this "law of God" could never be changed, the new policy will present a serious problem for some Mormons. As late as 1967 the Mormon writer John L. Lund wrote:
Brigham Young made a very strong statement on this matter when he said, "... 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." God has commanded Israel not to intermarry. To go against this commandment of God would be to sin. Those who willfully sin with their eyes open to this wrong will not be surprised to find that they will be separated from the presence of God in the world to come. This is spiritual death.... It does not matter if they are one-sixth Negro or one-one hundred and sixth, the curse of no Priesthood is still the same.... To intermarry with a Negro is to forfeit a "Nation of Priesthood holders" (The Church and the Negro, 1967, pp. 54-55).
Although we have no way of knowing exactly how many interracial temple marriages have been performed since the
change in policy, there is reason to believe that several have taken place. As early as June 9, 1978 Brigham Young University's newspaper, The Universe, reported that "Debbie Hall, an elementary education staff member from Seattle, Wash., said a good friend of hers, who is black, is a member of the church and married a white girl. 'It's going to be neat to see them go through the temple,' she said." In the same issue we find the following: "Mrs. Frazier, and her five children are all black but her husband John is white and an Elder in the church.... One event that Mrs. Frazier said she has long yearned for is temple marriage and the chance to see her children be able to pass the sacrament."
On page 4 of the same issue of The Universe, we find that a black Mormon by the name of Robert L. Stevenson "married Susan V. Bevan about six weeks ago. She is white and also LDS." The paper quoted Stevenson as saying: "We are already planning our temple marriage."
At any rate, the Church Section of the Deseret News for June 17, 1978 says that "former presidents of the Church have spoken of the day when the blessings of the priesthood would come to the blacks." A quotation from a sermon by Brigham Young which appeared in the Journal of Discourses, volume 7, is cited, but when we go to the original book we find that it has been taken out of context. In this sermon Brigham Young plainly taught that blacks could not receive the priesthood until all of Adam's other children receive it:
Cain slew his brother ... and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.... 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 blessings in like proportion (Journal of Discourses, vol. 7, pp. 290-91).
Brigham Young also taught this doctrine in other published sermons:
When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth,
A photograph of Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, page 143. Brigham Young maintained the curse should not be removed from the blacks until after the resurrection.
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 the last to share the joys of the kingdom of God (Journal of Discourses, vol. 2, p. 143).
They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to (Ibid., vol.11, p. 272).
In 1949 the First Presidency of the Mormon church issued a statement in which they cited Brigham Young's teaching that blacks cannot receive the priesthood until after the resurrection (see Mormonism and the Negro, by John J. Stewart and William E. Berrett, 1960, part 2, p. 16). Joseph Fielding Smith, who served as the tenth president of the Mormon Church in the early 1970s, taught that blacks would never hold the priesthood as long as "time endures":
Not only was Cain called upon to suffer, but because of his wickedness he became the father of an inferior race. A curse was placed upon him and that curse has been continued through his lineage and must do so while time endures. Millions of souls have come into this world cursed with a black skin and have been denied the privilege of Priesthood and the fullness of the blessings of the Gospel.... they have been made to feel their inferiority and have been separated from the rest of mankind from the beginning (The Way To Perfection, 1935, p. 101).
In a meeting held in Barratt Hall on October 11, 1958, Joseph Fielding Smith commented that "the Lord will, in due time, remove the restrictions. Not in this world but the time will come..." N. Eldon Tanner, a member of the First Presidency who finally signed the statement granting blacks the priesthood, was completely opposed to the idea in 1967: " 'The church has no intention of changing its doctrine on the Negro,' N. Eldon Tanner, counselor to the First Presidency 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).
Mormon writer John L. Lund claimed that if the president of the Mormon church gave a revelation that blacks were to hold the priesthood, members of the church would accept it, but he emphasized that such a revelation would not be forthcoming because the "present prophets are in complete agreement with Brigham Young and other past leaders on the question of the Negro and the Priesthood":
Brigham Young revealed that the Negroes will not receive the Priesthood until a great while after the second advent of Jesus Christ, whose coming will usher in a millennium of peace....
In view of what President Young and others have said, it would be foolish indeed to give anyone the false idea that a new revelation is immediately forthcoming on the issue of the Negroes receiving the Priesthood.... our present prophets are in complete agreement with Brigham Young and other past leaders on the question of the Negro and the Priesthood. President McKay was asked by a news reporter at the dedication of the Oakland Temple, "When will the Negroes receive the Priesthood?" He responded to the question over a national television network saying, "Not in my lifetime, young man, nor yours ...
Social pressure and even government sanctions cannot be expected to bring forth a new revelation ... all the social pressure in the world will not change what the Lord has decreed to be....
The prophets have declared that there are at least two major stipulations that have to be met before the Negroes will be allowed to possess the Priesthood. The first requirement relates to time. The Negroes will not be allowed to hold the Priesthood during mortality, in fact, not until after the resurrection of all of Adam's children. The other stipulation requires that Abel's seed receive the first opportunity of having the Priesthood.... Negroes must first pass through mortality before they may possess the Priesthood ("they will go down to death"). Reference is also made to the condition that the Negroes will have to wait until after the resurrection of all of Adam's children before receiving the Priesthood ... the last of Adam's children will not be resurrected until the end of the millennium. Therefore, the Negroes will not receive the Priesthood until after that time ... this will not happen until after the thousand years of Christ's reign on earth....
The second major stipulation that needs to be met ... is the requirement that Abel's seed receive the opportunity of holding the Priesthood first....
The obvious question is, "When will Abel's seed be redeemed?" It will first of all be necessary that Abel marry, and then be resurrected, and ultimately exalted in the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom so that he can have a continuation of his seed. It will then be necessary for Abel to create an earth for his spirit children to come to and experience mortality. These children will have to be "redeemed" or resurrected. After the resurrection or redemption of Abel's seed, Cain's descendants, the Negroes, will then be allowed to possess the Priesthood (The Church and the Negro, 1967, pp. 45-49).
On pages 109-10 of the same book, John L. Lund reiterates:
"First, all of Adam's children will have to resurrect and secondly, the seed of Abel must have an opportunity to possess the Priesthood. These events will not occur until sometime after the end of the millennium."
As late as 1974 Apostle Bruce R. McConkie questioned the spirituality of church members who believed it was time for a new revelation on the blacks. In a conference message delivered October 4, 1974, Apostle McConkie said:
Am I valiant in the testimony of Jesus if my chief interest and concern in life is laying up in store the treasures of the earth, rather than the building up of the kingdom? ...
Am I valiant if I am deeply concerned about the Church's stand on who can or who cannot receive the priesthood and think it is time for a new revelation on this doctrine? ...
Am I valiant if I engage in gambling, play cards, go to pornographic movies ... (The Ensign, November 1974, p. 35).*
Even though most Mormons claim they are happy with the doctrinal change with regard to blacks, there is evidence that the "revelation" came as a real shock. A class at Brigham Young University which conducted a "random telephone survey" of Utah County residents 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...
*After the revelation was given Apostle Bruce R. McConkie actually gave a speech in which he chastised those "disbelieving people" who were reluctant to accept the new revelation because it contradicted things taught in the past: "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, and people write me letters and say, 'You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?' And 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 have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness.... 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 (1978). " ("All Are Alike Unto God," by Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve, pages 1-2)
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.
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, June 22, 1978).
After the "revelation" was announced a number of Mormons who could not accept the new teaching left the church. A full-page advertisement attacking the change was published in the Salt Lake Tribune on July 23, 1978 by a group calling themselves "Concerned Latter-day Saints." From this article it would appear that members of this group are also disturbed because of the earlier doctrinal change relating to plural marriage.
Better Late Than Never
Writing in the New York Times, June 11, 1978, 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." That the Mormon church was forced into the revelation is obvious to anyone who seriously examines the evidence. We have already pointed out that athletic teams from the church's Brigham Young University were the target of very serious protests and that in 1969 Stanford University announced it would "schedule no new athletic or other competitions with Brigham Young University." Immediately following the announcement of the new "revelation," Gary Cavalli, athletic director for Stanford University, said, "I think the ban will be lifted" (Salt Luke Tribune, June 21, 1978).
In 1974 the Mormon doctrine of discrimination against blacks brought the Boy Scouts into a serious confrontation with the NAACP. The Boy Scouts of America do not discriminate because of religion or race, but Mormon-sponsored troops did have a policy of discrimination. On July 18, 1974, the Salt Lake Tribune reported:
A 12-year-old boy scout has been denied a
senior patrol leadership in his troop because he is black, Don L. Cope, black ombudsman for the state, said Wednesday... Mormon "troop policy is that in order for a scout to become a patrol leader, he must be a deacon's quorum president in the LDS Church. Since the boy cannot hold the priesthood, he cannot become a patrol leader."
Mormon leaders apparently realized that they could never prevail in this matter and a compromise was worked out:
Shortly before Boy Scout officials were to appear in Federal Court Friday morning on charges of discrimination, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a policy change which will allow black youths to be senior patrol leaders, a position formerly reserved for white LDS youths in troops sponsored by the church.... An LDS Church spokesman said Friday under the "guidelines set forth in the statement, a young man other than president of the deacons quorum could (now) become the senior patrol leader if he is better qualified" (Salt Lake Tribune, August 3, 1974).
Since 1976 the Mormon church was repeatedly embarrassed by one of its own members who became alienated over the anti-black doctrine and decided to take matters into his own hands. On April 3, 1976 the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Douglas A. Wallace "ordained a black into the priesthood Friday, saying he did so in an attempt to force a revision in Mormon doctrine about the Negro race.... Wallace said he has long been bothered by the Mormon Church's bias against blacks, and he feels the time has come to challenge it. He said often all that is required to change a policy is for someone to break out of tradition ... he hopes there are no recriminations against him for his action, such as excommunication."
On April 13, 1976 the Salt Lake Tribune revealed that "Douglas A. Wallace was excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Sunday for ordaining a black man into the church's priesthood." After a confrontation with church personnel at an April conference session, Mr. Wallace was ejected from the Tabernacle. Later he was served with "a court order barring him from attending conference" (Ibid., October 4, 1976).
Although we did not agree with some of Mr. Wallace's ideas on religion, we did not consider him to be dangerous and we were rather surprised to notice the close surveillance the police kept him under when he walked along the public sidewalk outside of Temple Square. The fear of the threat Mr. Wallace presented to the church seems to have led to a tragic incident where a policeman was accidentally shot and permanently
paralyzed. This occurred at the time of the church's conference held in April, 1977. The Salt Lake City police had placed a stakeout around a home where Wallace was staying and at 4:20 A.M. on a Sunday morning one of the policemen accidentally shot his partner. At first the police "denied" that they had Mr. Wallace under surveillance (see Salt Lake Tribune, April 5, 1977), but when Wallace pressed for an investigation the police were forced to admit the truth about the matter: "Salt Lake City police officers admitted Thursday that the accidental wounding of an undercover officer occurred during surveillance of Mormon dissident Douglas A. Wallace.... Reports released Thursday by both the county sheriff's office and the county attorney show that six officers were on stakeout around the John W. Fitzgerald home ... where Mr. Wallace was staying" (Salt Lake Tribune, April 8, 1977).
Douglas Wallace claimed that the Mormon church "was behind April police surveillance ... that led to the accidental shooting of a Salt Lake City police officer" (Ibid., September 17, 1977). Finally, David Olson, the disabled police officer, took exception to a press release issued by the church. In a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, January 18, 1978, Mr. Olson attacked President "Spencer W. Kimball for his incorrect press release concerning the police involvement combined with the LDS church's efforts to restrict Douglas A. Wallace from the temple grounds, specifically the Tabernacle, on April 3, 1977. His denial of these actions is wrong. Any man who can take such actions and still call himself a prophet deserves more than I to be confined to this wheelchair."
Douglas Wallace filed lawsuits amounting to millions of dollars against the Mormon church, and although he was not able to prevail against the church in the courts, the publicity surrounding the suits caused the church no end of trouble. We feel that his actions and the embarrassment they caused the church played a part in bringing about the decision to have a new "revelation."
Another Mormon who put a great deal of pressure on the church is Byron Marchant. Mr. Marchant took a very strong stand against racism in the church. The Dallas Morning News for October 20, 1977 reported: "The man who cast the first vote in modern history against a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been excommunicated and fired as chapel janitor." When Mr. Marchant tried to distribute literature at Temple Square at the next conference he was arrested "on charges of trespassing" (Salt Lake Tribune, April 3, 1978). Mr. Marchant published a sheet in which he called for a demonstration
against the church's policy: "Next October Conference (1978) 1 will join all interested in a march on Temple Square in Salt Lake City... every person and/or group concerned about Utah Racism is encouraged to speak out and attend the October protest." Mr. Marchant's threat of a demonstration at the next conference may have caused Mormon leaders to think more seriously about having a new revelation. We feel that the church was wise to change its policy before the demonstration because the issue was so explosive that the slightest incident could have touched off a riot where innocent people could have been injured.
However this may be, when the Mormon church yielded, Mr. Marchant dropped a civil suit filed "against Church President Spencer W. Kimball" (Salt Lake Tribune, June 10, 1978). Another article in the same issue of the Tribune observed that "the last three years have also seen repeated attempts by church dissidents to subpoena Mormon leaders into court proceedings, with the central issue often related to the church's belief about blacks."
Problem in Brazil
Besides all the problems the church was having with dissidents, it was faced with an impossible situation in Brazil. Even the church's own 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 have been aware of this problem for some time. Lester E. Bush, Jr., gave this revealing information in an article published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 1973, page 41:
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.... 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."
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, 1966, p. 261) [Correction: p. 263].
With the opening of the new temple in Brazil, the situation would have turned into a real nightmare. Actually, the Mormon church has the same problem in the United States. Patriarch Eldred G. Smith remarked: "I had a young lady who was blonde, a[n]d no sign or indications visibly of the Negro line at all, but yet she was deprived of going to the Temple.... We have these conditions by the thousands in the United States today and are getting more of them. If they have any blood of the Negro at all in their line, in their veins at all, they are not entitled to the blessings of the Priesthood.... No limit as to how far back so far as I know" (Patriarchal Blessings, Institute of Religion, January 17, 1964, p. 8).
Time Magazine for June 30, 1958, page 47, pointed out Dr. Robert P. Stuckert reached the conclusion that of 135 million Americans classified as white in 1950, about 28 million (21 percent) had some African ancestry. The church's stress on genealogical research placed many members of the church in a very embarrassing position. Many members of the church discovered they had black ancestors and attempted to cover it up. This situation has caused a great deal of unnecessary guilt among members of the church who have diligently followed the teaching concerning the necessity of genealogical research.
New "Revelation" Evades the Real Issues
O. Kendall White, Jr., made these interesting observations six years before the revelation was given:
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 legitimate 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 (The Journal of Religious Thought, Autumn-Winter, 1973, pp. 57-58).
It would appear that church leaders have done exactly what Mr. White warned against, they have used revelation as a means of side-stepping the real issues involved. 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).
One issue that Mormon leaders now seem to be dodging is that concerning skin color. As we pointed out earlier, Mormon theology has always taught that "a black skin is a mark of the curse of heaven placed upon some portions of mankind" (Juvenile Instructor, vol. 3, p. 157). The Book of Mormon itself is filled with the teaching that people with dark skins are cursed (see our discussion of this matter on pp. 208-15). President Spencer W. Kimball, who gave the new "revelation" which allows blacks to hold the priesthood, actually believes that God is changing the Indians "to whiteness and to delightsomeness" (Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922-23). He feels, however, that this has to be done by the power of God and has suppressed Joseph Smith's 1831 revelation which commanded the Mormons to take "wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just." We seriously doubt that President Kimball will ever allow this revelation to be canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants since he has in the past discouraged intermarriage with the Indians. In 1958 he gave an address which touched on this subject. President Kimball's statement was reprinted in the Church Section of the Deseret News on June 17, 1978: "... there is one thing that I must mention, and that is interracial marriages. When I said you must teach your young people to overcome their prejudices and accept the Indians, I did not mean that you would encourage intermarriage."
Although the Mormon church is now opening the door to temple marriages between blacks and whites, President Kimball is probably not too enthused about the matter. An endorsement of Joseph Smith's 1831 revelation encouraging intermarriage with Indians could now lead white members to seek marriages with blacks. Since blacks are no longer cursed
as to the priesthood, the revelation might just as logically be interpreted that Mormons should "take unto you wives" of the Ethiopians or Nigerians "that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just."
Another matter which the new revelation allowing blacks to hold the priesthood does not resolve is the teaching concerning pre-existence. In the past Mormon leaders have stressed that blacks were cursed as to the priesthood because of "unfaithfulness in the spirit—or pre-existence." Should a faithful Mormon continue to believe that blacks were unrighteous in a pre-existent state? It will be especially interesting to see how church leaders explain this matter to blacks in the church. Monroe Fleming, for instance, was converted to the church over twenty-five years ago. President Joseph Fielding Smith explained to him why he could not hold the priesthood, but since the new "revelation" he is being encouraged to be ordained. Now, was Mr. Fleming really unfaithful in a pre-existent state or did church leaders just make a mistake in the past when they said he could not hold the priesthood? Church leaders should explain if they believe black babies born after the new "revelation" were inferior spirits in a pre-existent state.
Now that they have abandoned the idea that blacks cannot hold the priesthood, they should explain if they are giving up some of their teachings on the pre-existence. They should also explain if they are repudiating the Book of Mormon teaching that a dark skin is given by God as a "curse." By giving a "revelation'' on the blacks without explaining its implications, the Mormon leaders are leaving their people in a dense doctrinal fog. If the church continues to hide behind a purported revelation on the blacks and fails to come to grips with its racist doctrines, thousands of people are going to continue believing these doctrines and the church will be plagued with racism for many years to come.
Does the Revelation Really Exist?
One thing that should be noted about the new "revelation" is that the church has failed to produce a copy of it. All we have is a statement by the First Presidency which says a revelation was received. Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet, printed many of his revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants and other church publications, and the early Mormon church even mocked the Catholics because they did not allow the revelations given by their popes to enter the "sacred canon." In refusing to canonize or even make public the new "revelation" on blacks, the Mormon leaders are now practicing the very thing
the Catholics were accused of doing. The Salt Lake Tribune for June 13, 1978 reported: "Kimball refused to discuss the revelation that changed the church's 148-year-old policy against ordination of blacks, saying it was a 'personal thing.' ... Kimball said 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,' he said."
We seriously doubt that President Kimball will ever put forth a written revelation on the bestowal of priesthood on blacks. We doubt, in fact, that any such document exists. What probably happened was that the leaders of the church finally realized that they could no longer retain the anti-black doctrine without doing irreparable damage to the church. Under these circumstances they were impressed with the fact that the doctrine had to be changed and this impression was referred to as a revelation from God. In a letter to the Editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, June 24, 1978, Eugene Wagner observed:
... was this change of doctrine really a revelation from the Lord, or did the church leaders act on their own? Why don't they publish that revelation and let the Lord speak in his own words? All we saw was a statement of the First Presidency, and that is not how a revelation looks.
When God speaks the revelation starts with the words: "Thus sayeth the Lord ..." It seems when the Lord decides to change a doctrine of such great importance he will talk himself to the people of his church. If such a revelation cannot be presented to the members it is obvious that the first presidency acted on its own, most likely under fear of-public pressure to avoid problems of serious consequences and to maintain peace and popularity with the world.
At the 148th Semiannual Conference of the Mormon church, members of the church were asked to "accept this revelation as the word and will of the Lord," but the only document presented to the people was the letter of the First Presidency, dated June 8, 1978 (see The Ensign, November 1978, p. 16).
Some Mormons have put forth the rumor that the power of God was manifested as on the day of Pentecost when President Kimball gave the "revelation." Kimball himself seems to be trying to dispel this idea. The following statement about the "revelation" appeared in Time on August 7, 1978, p. 55: "In other renditions it came complete with a visitation from Joseph Smith.... In an interview, his first since the announcement, Kimball described it much more matter of factly to Time staff writer Richard Ostling: 'I spent a good deal of time in the temple
alone, praying for guidance, and there was a gradual and general development of the whole program, in connection with the Apostles.' "
For some time after the anti-black doctrine was changed, Mormon leaders were reluctant to inform their own people of the details surrounding the giving of the "revelation." Finally, six months after the event, the church news staff asked President Kimball if he would "care to share with the readers of the Church News any more of the circumstances under which that was given?" President Kimball's answer is very revealing. He makes no reference to a voice or any written revelation. In fact, his statement gives the impression that it was only a feeling or an assurance that he received:
It went on for some time as I was searching for this, because I wanted to be sure. We held a meeting of the Council of the Twelve in the temple on the regular day. We considered this very seriously and thoughtfully and prayerfully.
I asked the Twelve not to go home when the time came. I said, "Now would you be willing to remain in the temple with us?" And they were. 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.
We had this special prayer circle, then I knew that the time had come. 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. But this revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it (Deseret News, Church Section, January 6, 1979, p. 4).*
*In his speech "All Are Alike Unto God," pages 2-3, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie told how the "revelation" was received. His description indicates that there was no spoken or written revelation—only a very good "feeling": "The result was that President Kimball knew, and each one of us knew, independent of any other person, by direct and personal revelation to us, that the time had now come to extend the gospel ... to ... the black race.... The Lord could have sent messengers from the other side to deliver it, but he did not. He gave the revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost. Latter-day Saints have a complex: many of them desire to magnify and build upon what has occurred, and they delight to think of miraculous things. And maybe some of them would like to believe that the Lord himself was there, or that the Prophet Joseph Smith came to deliver the revelation ... which was one of the possibilities. Well, these things did not happen. The stories that go around to the contrary are not factual or realistic or true.... I cannot describe in words what happened; I can only say that it happened and that it can be known and understood only by the feeling that can come into the heart of man. You cannot describe a testimony to someone."
In putting forth his new "revelation" on blacks, President Kimball will not admit to any wrongdoing on the part of the church: "There are members of the Church who had brought to President David 0. McKay their reasons why it should be changed. Others had gone to Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee and to all the former presidents and it had not been accepted because the time had not come for it" (Ibid., p. 15). We feel that it is wrong to attribute such a "revelation" to God. It makes it appear 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" have finally persuaded God to give blacks the priesthood. The truth of the matter, however, is 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 is the Mormon leaders who have kept blacks under a curse. They have continually and stubbornly opposed the advancement of black people, threatening and excommunicating those who differed with them on the matter. Finally, when their backs were to the wall, the Mormon leaders were forced to change their position.
Impact of Revelation
Some people believe the Mormon church is not sincere in opening priesthood advancement to blacks. We feel, however, that even though the Mormon leaders have failed to face some important issues, they have made a major concession which will gradually weaken racism throughout the church. The Deseret News, Church Section, January 6, 1979, reported that "Brother (Helecio) Martins (a black member) is now a member of the stake presidency."
We feel that one of the important reasons the church decided to confer priesthood on blacks was that the anti-black doctrine was hurting missionary work. With a change in this policy, we anticipate that the church will make many more converts. On the other hand, many members of the church have become disillusioned because of the church's handling of the racial issue, and the new "revelation" has tended to confirm in their minds that the Lord had nothing to do with the whole matter. For those Christians working with Mormons, this may really prove to be an opening for effective witnessing.