1949 First Presidency Statement
2013 OFFICIAL DECLARATION 2 HEADER UPDATE DISHONESTY
Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.
In sharp contrast to the above statement:
August 17, 1949
The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: ‘Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. 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.’
CES Letter, Page 113
Even though the issue of race and the priesthood was covered on page 39, The CES Letter returns to the topic alleging "dishonesty" and "whitewashing over its history" by quoting a private letter rather than a public document.
A 1949 private letter from the First Presidency to the President of BYU would not generally be considered to manifest dishonesty because it was not published and did not necessarily reflect the official Church position, which is found in publications that are made available to Church members. It seems The CES Letter is stretching to find a reason to criticize.
Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.
The original issue was lineage, not skin color. The author of The CES Letter seems unaware that in the Old Testament under the Law of Moses, only males from the tribe of Levi were permitted to hold the priesthood and officiate in temple priesthood ordinances. Limitations on priesthood ordinations have a long religious history.
Brigham Young’s implementation of the restrictions over time were undoubtedly influenced by surrounding cultural norms, a violation of which may have produced significant disdain and additional turmoil for the nineteenth-century Church. This does not excuse racism, but it does provide context for the policy Brigham eventually implemented.
In 1978 through a manifestation to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, the priesthood ban was removed.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, a man responsible for some of the Church’s justifications for a racial ban, denounced his own statements within months of the 1978 revelation. He told an audience at Brigham Young University to “[f]orget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young 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.” It was a statement that suggested that prior teachings on race may have lacked “light and knowledge.”
The priesthood and temple restrictions were a trial for both white and black Latter-day Saints. In retrospect, it might seem like it was a needless trial that could have been easily remedied. However, the label of “needless” could be applied to many (most) of the individual trials we each face daily by those who do not possess God’s vision. He had the power to prevent its implementation or to remove it earlier, but He did not.
While the trials associated with the priesthood ban were ultimately removed, dealing with its memory is a trial for many today. We are here to face trials and God ultimately decides what those trials will be, although our individual choices will greatly modify the types and number we encounter. When trials appear that are not a result of our choices, then God is simply testing our faith, which is why we are here on earth. The Apostle Peter explained: “The trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).