In the recent media, there has been talk and attention on the recent chaos centered around several social issues, racism being the loudest. Church Headquarters even came out with a statement condemning white supremicists’ attitudes following the recent violence in Virginia.
Noticeably, many have commented below the posts of love and unity things such as, “Yeah this is great and all, but this is ironic coming from the church that banned their black members from having the priesthood. Just sayin’.”
What exactly was this history all about? Many members of the church don’t even remember a time when a worthy male couldn’t receive the priesthood. This may be surprising, but true. But why?
Some claim it is because the lineage of darker skin comes from a curse. Others, say it comes from mislead leaders and prophets.
The Decision from Heaven
In the Book of Mormon, Nephi declares that God, our Heavenly Father, loves ALL of His children: “He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” 2 Nephi 26:33 This truth is the central message of the Book of Mormon and in the doctrines of Jesus Christ.
How can a church which follows the doctrines of Jesus Christ be racist? Unfortunately, many people in the past have done horrible things in the name of Christianity. Many folks studying the church come across the time in history when some of our brothers could not exercise the Priesthood power. Ahmad Corbitt writes his experience in a personal essay about his perspective on Race and the Priesthood called Till We All Come in the Unity of the Faith.
“President Gordon B. Hinckley told of the revelation he and his brethren received in response to their petition. ‘All of us knew that the time had come for a change and that the decision had come from the heavens,’ he said. ‘The answer was clear. There was perfect unity among us in our experience and in our understanding.’ 1 President Boyd K. Packer’s biographer wrote, ‘Those of the Lord’s watchmen who were present at those historic times will recall and have borne witness to the Spirit of revelation that attended them, and each has expressed gratitude for being part of the momentous experience.’ 2 With love, unity, and devotion to the Lord, these brethren reversed a ban that had already been longstanding by the time each had been born.”
Who Has Sinned?
When you read the accounts of these brethren who were present during this revelation, it is clear that Heavenly Father loves all his children. The church was ready to progress in this way. Despite this beautiful and powerful enlightenment, many will still say, “Yeah. But…why the racism in the church?” This question brings to mind the story of Jesus answering his disciples who wondered about the man who was born blind. Who had the blame? The man or his parents? Ahmad Corbitt explains,
“I believe when we analyze the priesthood ban in a way that seeks to assign blame, either to people of African descent or to early leaders of the Church—and blame has been assigned to both groups—we become distracted. We miss the Lord’s grander, more eternal vision and opportunity. We essentially ask, ‘Master, who did sin, black people or the early Church leaders, that the priesthood ban was imposed?’ I believe if the Savior stood beside us, His answer would be just as forward-looking and glorious as His response to His disciples’ question about the blind man: ‘Neither have my black children sinned, nor the prophets: but that the power of God should be made manifest through a miraculous work.'”
Historical vs. Doctrinal
Throughout history, there were opinions and standards that were “normal” for there time. These were historic facts of life for our ancestors depending on where and when they were born. We will never fully know the “why’s” of what was going through the minds of our ancestors. Just like we cannot judge our neighbor’s heart, we certainly cannot judge someone from history we never met. The gospel of Jesus Christ never changes, the historical circumstances do.
As we hear questions and blame coming from people inside and outside the church, especially when this topic of racism is in the front of everyone’s minds, let’s remember to not focus on historical blame, but on doctrinal truths that bring blessings and eternal life to ALL of God’s children. I am so grateful to live in a time where revelations are free flowing from our inspired leaders. The discord of the world tries to overshadow the light coming from Jesus Christ’s Gospel, but that’s because it is always shining brighter and brighter.
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “Priesthood Restoration,” Ensign, Oct. 1988, 70
- Lucile C. Tate, Watchman on the Tower, 227.