The Church and the Civil Rights Movement

Of course, the revelation He gives to the Brethren in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978 has absolutely nothing to do with the IRS potentially revoking BYU’s tax-exempt statusStanford and other universities boycotting BYU athleticswe can’t figure out who’s black or not in Brazil (São Paulo Temple dedicated/opened just a few months after revelation), and that Post-Civil Rights societal trends were against the Church’s racism. I would think Christ’s one true Church would have led the Civil Rights movement; not be the last major church on the planet in 1978 to adopt it.

CES Letter, Page 65-66

The God of the Bible and of the Book of Mormon is a practical God.  He holds the destiny of armies in His hands (D&C 117:6), but he also renders unto Caesar the things that are Caesars (Matthew 22:21; D&C 63:26). The timing of the withdrawl of the priesthood ban is no surprise.

The CES Letter fails to acknowledge the positive relationship being developed between the Church and the African-American community in the 1970s.  Moreover, it refuses to acknowledge the positive work of faithful Latter-day Saints to promote civil rights legislation in Utah (James E. Faust, Adam Duncan, Frank E. Moss, Sherman Lloyd,). 

The CES Letter ignores the role African Latter-day Saint communities played in prompting Church leaders to revisit their racial assumptions. LaMar S. Williams, an early missionary to Nigeria in 1961, left the country convinced that the priesthood restriction was no longer viable. Additionally, The CES Letter seems uninterested in the role that Brazilian Latter-day Saints played in pushing Church leaders to realize the limitations that the restriction placed on Church expansion.

The CES Letter is incorrect in his assessment of Church leadership’s adoption of civil rights platforms. In October 1963 Hugh B. Brown declared his public support for civil rights legislation, “call[ing] upon all men, everywhere, both within and outside the Church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God's children. Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the brotherhood of man.” In 1969, the First Presidency reiterated its support for such legislation.

The CES Letter is in error when it claims that the “LDS Church is the last major Church on the planet to adopt it.”  In 2000, sociologist Michael Emerson demonstrated that 90% of church-going African Americans “attend predominantly black congregations, at least 95 percent of white Americans—and probably higher—attend predominantly white churches” (Divided by Faith, 16).

The CES Letter reflects some ignorance of how the priesthood was regulated in the Old Testament: “Christ’s true Church should have been the one leading the Civil Rights movement, not be the last major Church on the planet in 1978 to adopt it.” Jesus Christ acknowledged the importance of lineage telling the Twelve Apostles:  “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6; see also 15:24). Christ invited all to come and receive the blessings of the Gospel, but He first sent missionaries to the lost sheep of Israel.

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.