Mormons share their experiences when the ban on African Americans in the priesthood was lifted.
Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continue to be brief about reasons for lifting of the ban on blacks in the priesthood in 1978. For years, the brief statement given for the change is that they received a revelation stating it was time to revamp the church.
Mormons have been trying to make sense of the history of the ban and how it came to be, while clergy members have always struggled on how to answer questions about the sensitive historic subject.
The church had to defend itself as recently as 2012 when the subject was brought up during Mitt Romney’s bid for presidency. The church said its doors are always open to African Americans and added that they do not know how the ban on priesthood came about.
But now there is an explanation — Mormons can now refer to the lengthy statement that gives clear and complete explanation on this matter published on LDS.org.
The statement that was posted on Friday says the ban took place when there was a deeply cut racial divide that had an impact on the earlier teachings of the church. It explains the ban announcement from the church President Brigham Young in 1852, and most importantly it talks about the once widely believed statement that blacks were spiritually weak.
One paragraph of the statement reads:
“The Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects 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.”
Those who followed the matter closely, including Mormon scholars, call this acknowledgement a milestone.
67-year-old president of a black Mormon support group, Don Harwell, expressed his thoughts:
“History and changes all happen due to time. This is way past due. These are the statements they should have made in 1978, but better late than never.”
According to Margaret Blair Young, adjunct professor at Brigham Young University and creator of documentary Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, the new article is a miracle. She plans to distribute print outs on this matter and also plans to talk to missionaries in Africa who frequently inquire about reasons behind the old ban.
“I’m thrilled,” Young said. “It went so much further than anything before has done.”
Mormon Church officials remained tight-lipped about the article.
Retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University, Armand Mauss, said the article is the most complete explanation that has ever been given about the restriction on priesthood, and also marks the first time the church has openly disavowed its earlier teachings on the subject.
Mauss noted that Mormon scholars have written about what was in the statement but it is important that the same also comes from church headquarters in Salt Lake City. When he and other scholars were interviewed by LDS Public Affairs staff as research for the statement, Mauss said it shows “new Church commitment to greater transparency about its history, doctrines, and policies.”
According to Harwell, there have been a lot of changes in LDS church since the Genesis Group was founded in 1971. When giving his personal opinion on the matter, Harwell said he trusts that the next development is getting more black Mormons into Church Leadership positions. He currently holds the position of counselor to the bishop in his local church and has firsthand experience about how that change is helping youths in the church to change their opinions and views.
“Maybe the Lord just determined this is the time for it to happen,” Harwell said, “that this is when people are going to be able to accept it for what it is.”