Official Declaration 2
Since the organization of the Church, blacks have been free to join the Church and participate in its activities, but they have not been allowed to receive the priesthood. We do not know the reasons for this restriction. We have neither official statements nor statements from the historical records of Joseph Smith that offer commentary or doctrinal explanations for this denial. The scriptures do teach that blood lineage plays a role in the granting or denying of the priesthood (see Abraham 1:21-27; D&C 86:8-10; 113:1-6). For example, in Moses’s time the Aaronic Priesthood was conferred only upon worthy male descendants of the tribe of Levi, and the firstborn sons of Aaron have rights to certain offices in this priesthood because of their lineage (see Exodus 28:1-3; D&C 68:14-21; 84:26-27; 107:13-17). At times the gospel has gone only to the house of Israel and at other times to the Gentiles (see Acts 10).
Leaders of the Church have always taught that granting the priesthood is a matter of revelation and not a result of political or social thought. It depends upon the timetable of God. He who knows all things and sees the end from the beginning decides, based on what is best for the individual or for groups of people. We know this much: God loves all of his children, “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). We, with our limited knowledge and understanding, might not always know his ways or his timetable. But in faith we can follow his commandments with the assurance that all will turn to our good and the good of our brothers and sisters in this world.
A statement issued by the First Presidency in 1949 stated that the restriction was not a policy but a direct command from God. In 1963 another statement by the First Presidency indicated that the restriction had nothing to do with civil rights but was a directive from the Lord. A similar statement was issued in 1969. This policy has been the object of criticism and attack over the years, particularly during the 1960s when our country saw widespread agitation for civil rights. Pressures were applied to the prophet from both without and within the Church to change this policy. Yet the heavens were silent. No revelation came.
In the mid 1970s the issue began to smolder in the mind of President Spencer W. Kimball. By early 1978 under President Kimball’s direction, the General Authorities began to discuss the possibility of extending the priesthood blessings to the black man. President Kimball also made special visits to the temple, where he could be alone, to pray in that sacred place. He explained:
I remember very vividly that day after day I walked to the temple and ascended to the fourth floor where we have our solemn assemblies, and where we have our meetings of the Twelve and the First Presidency. After everybody had gone out of the temple, I knelt and prayed. I prayed with much fervency. I knew that something was before us that was extremely important to many of the children of God. I knew that we could receive the revelations of the Lord only by being worthy and ready for them and ready to accept them and put them in place. Day after day I went alone and with great solemnity and seriousness to the upper rooms of the temple, and there I offered my soul and offered my efforts to go forward with the program. I wanted to do what he wanted. I talked to him about it and said, “Lord, I want only what is right . . . . We want only the thing thou dost want, and we want it when you want it and not until” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 450-51).
On June 1, 1978, after the regular temple meeting, President Kimball invited his counselors and ten the Twelve to remain while the other General Authorities were excused (One apostle, Elder Mark E. Peterson, was out of town, and another, Elder Delbert L. Stapley, was in the hospital). The matter of extending the blessings of the priesthood was raised.
Elder David B. Haight recalled: “As each responded, we witnessed an outpouring of the Spirit which bonded our souls together in perfect unity—a glorious experience.” He further indicated that President Kimball suggested that they pray at the altar. “Usually he asked one of us to lead in prayer; however, on this day he asked, ‘Would you mind if I be voice at the altar today?’ . . . The prophet of God poured out his heart, pleading eloquently for the Lord to make his mind and will known to his servant, Spencer W. Kimball. The prophet pleaded that he would be given the necessary direction which could expand the Church throughout the world by offering the fulness of the everlasting gospel to all men, based solely upon their personal worthiness without reference to race or color” (Tate, David B. Haight, 279-80).
President Kimball later recalled:
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 . . . if that’s what He wanted . . . . I had a great deal to fight, 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 (Church News, 6 January 1979, 4).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie added his description of the occasion:
It was during this prayer that the revelation came. The Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon us all; we felt something akin to what happened on the day of Pentecost and at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of the Spirit, spoke to his prophet. . . . And we all heard the same voice, received the same message, and became personal witnesses that the word received was the mind and will and voice of the Lord (The New Revelation on Priesthood, 128).
Reflecting later on this experience, President Spencer W. Kimball and President Ezra Taft Benson and others of the Twelve concurred that none “had ever experienced anything of such spiritual magnitude and power as was poured out upon the Presidency and the Twelve that day in the upper room in the house of the Lord” (McConkie, The New Revelation on Priesthood, 128).
President Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, described the experience as follows: “There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. . . . It was a quiet and sublime occasion” (Ensign, October 1988, 70).
One interesting anecdote seems worth telling. In 1836 in Kirtland a black member of the Church, Elijah Abel, was ordained an elder and later a seventy. He received the ordinances of washing and anointing in the Kirtland Temple. After he came west he was refused the opportunity of receiving his endowment in the Salt Lake Temple because he was black. He remained a faithful member of the Church to his death. Anti-Mormons have had a lot to say about the Church’s handling of Brother Abel. Brother Abel’s temple work was completed Thursday, March 27, 1986. Thankfully, he is one of us in the fullest sense of the word.
There is no published account of the text of the revelation. The First Presidency announced to the Church in a letter to all general authorities and local priesthood authorities and, in a press release, to the world that the Lord “has now made known his will” that all worthy male members of the Church could be ordained to the priesthood. At the following general conference, on September 30, 1978, the letter that had been sent to all church leaders was read, and a proposal was made by President N. Eldon Tanner, first counselor in the First Presidency, that the revelation received by the prophet be accepted as the word and will of God. This motion was sustained unanimously by the congregation. The statement that was read by President Tanner to the conference was added to the 1981 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration–2.
Official Declaration 2 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood
To Whom It May Concern:
On September 30, 1978, at the 148th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the following was presented by President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church:
In early June of this year, the First Presidency announced that a revelation had been received by President Spencer W. Kimball extending priesthood and temple blessings to all worthy male members of the Church. President Kimball has asked that I advise the conference that after he had received this revelation, which came to him after extended meditation and prayer in the sacred rooms of the holy temple, he presented it to his counselors, who accepted it and approved it. It was then presented to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who unanimously approved it, and was subsequently presented to all other General Authorities, who likewise approved it unanimously.
President Kimball has asked that I now read this letter:
June 8, 1978 To all general and local priesthood officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world:
As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords.
Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.
He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.
We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known his will for the blessing of all his children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of his authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.
SPENCER W. KIMBALL
N. ELDON TANNER
MARION G. ROMNEY
The First Presidency
Recognizing Spencer W. Kimball as the prophet, seer, and revelator, and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is proposed that we as a constituent assembly accept this revelation as the word and will of the Lord. All in favor please signify by raising your right hand. Any opposed by the same sign.
The vote to sustain the foregoing motion was unanimous in the affirmative.
Salt Lake City, Utah, September 30, 1978.
The revelation granting the priesthood to all worthy male members of the Church has a profound effect on both sides of the veil. It allows the full teaching of the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and for the building of temples in all the lands of the earth. Within those temples all worthy members can receive the full ordinances of the gospel and do the necessary work for their kindred dead. In the dispensation of the fulness of times, all the promises made to the children of our Father in Heaven will become a reality.
- Michael J. Preece