"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."

Blacks and the Priesthood

This page contains comments from the following authors:

Joseph Fielding McConkie | D. Charles Pyle

Why were blacks denied the priesthood for so long?

by Joseph Fielding McConkie

A meaningful response to this question rests on an understanding of what the priesthood is. That understanding is generally not had by those asking the question. A typical dictionary definition is "the office and vocation of a priest." For a Latter-day Saint, the priesthood is appreciably more than that. The priesthood embraces the power and authority to act in the name of God. It is the authority to represent Deity in teaching the gospel and in performing the ordinances of salvation. Independent of the Spirit of revelation there can be no priesthood. One can hardly profess to speak for a God who will not speak to him. In legal terms, priesthood can be likened to the power of attorney, which is the legal authority by which one person acts in the name of another.

If one accepts the Latter-day Saint claim to priesthood--that is, that only within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can the authority be found to speak for God--one must at the same time accept what God has said through that priesthood. This was the principle that Christ taught when he told the meridian Twelve, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you" (John 15:16). Thus if one believes that Peter, James, and John did in fact confer the authority they received from the Savior upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, one must also believe that the priesthood is to function as those to whom the apostles entrusted it direct. On the other hand, if a person does not believe that Latter-day Saints have this authority, then he cannot be asking the question out of concern for those denied this priesthood. Such a person should be relieved rather than offended that the Latter-day Saints have not given to others a priesthood in which he does not believe.

Answers to questions about why the Lord, in his wisdom, chooses to withhold certain privileges or blessings from certain people for a period of time are generally not known to us. At the time of Moses, the Melchizedek Priesthood was taken from the children of Israel. In its stead they were given the Aaronic, or Lesser, Priesthood. This priesthood was restricted to worthy males of the tribe of Levi. We are told in a revelation on the priesthood that the higher priesthood was taken because the children of Israel failed to sanctify themselves that they might stand in the presence of God (see D&C 84:19-25). This statement, however, leaves unanswered the question about why unborn generations were denied the priesthood because of the failure of their progenitors. Many similar situations exist. Why, for instance, are some nations required to wait so much longer than others to receive the blessings of the gospel? Or why are some couples who want children so badly unable to have them? Or why are some who desire to find a companion to whom they can be sealed in the temple unable to do so?

Our response to such questions must be one of faith. We simply trust the wisdom of God and accept his timetable. We know that he loves all his children and that the withholding of certain blessings for a time and season will not go unrewarded.


Blacks and the Priesthood

by D. Charles Pyle


For several years, the author has been using the following information to help members, as well as missionaries, to come to a better understanding of this sensitive and difficult issue, and to demonstrate (contrary to what the critics might say) the consistency of the Church in its former policy of restricting the privilege of ordination to the Holy Priesthood, from members of Black African descent, and its subsequent rescinding of the same.

It is at the request of several leaders of the Church, members (including an institute director) and missionaries that the author has committed the information which follows to writing, so that it might be of even greater service to the Church, to its members, and to all those who seek light and understanding in this matter.

It is the hope of the author that this information may fill the apparent need. The author wishes it to be fully understood that he, alone, is responsible for what he has written, and that he is in no way or capacity, an official spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The Author


Virtually since its very beginning, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has had more than its fair share of critics, apostates and malcontents. Anything that could be used in a negative way, has been brought against the Church in a monumental effort to discredit it, regardless of the currency of any particular issue, or lack thereof.

One such issue is the issue of the Church's pre-1978 policy of denying ordination to the Holy Priesthood to members of the Church who were of Hamitic or Black African descent.

Numerous theories were developed in an attempt to either justify the policy, or give some semblance of an explanation as to why. Some individuals (who will remain unnamed), had even attempted to shift responsibility for the formation of the policy away from the Lord, and from His servant, Joseph Smith, while at the same time claiming that the priesthood ban to those of African descent was only a gradual development during the administration of Brigham Young. Indeed, many of these theories did much more harm than good, and it is unfortunate that they were even formulated at all. There are still those who, to this day, hold a grudge over this now-dead issue, and who continue to raise objections to the Church, because they deny that God could possibly have been behind a policy that would restrict certain blessings from certain individuals, because of genealogical lineage. It is not the purpose of the author to deal with any of these various theories, nor is it in his best interest to further add to the list of theoretical explanations as to why the ban took place. His purpose is only to present the facts and to determine whether or not the Lord could have been the revelatory source for the doctrine, as the LDS Church has long maintained.

The Lord is the Same Yesterday, Today and Forever

Our living prophets provide us with the perfect example of how the Lord deals with His servants, giving us the exciting opportunity to see firsthand (though somewhat modernized) what it must have been like to hear the messages of the Lord, to His people in ancient times. The Bible also contains a comparative wealth of information from which one may glean examples of the Lord's dealings with His servants, the prophets.

The Scriptures are replete with references which state to the effect that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever, that He does not change from age to age, and that with Him there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (see Hebrews 13:8; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17, et al).

Although the Lord uses many diverse ways and means to communicate His truths and to deal with His servants, each of these methods follow patterns which, upon examination, are found to be quite consistent. This consistency--if there are other examples of the same patterns--may be as identifiable as a fingerprint. Therefore, if we find that the Church's former policy of "priesthood ban" is consistent with one or more of these patterns, we then, logically, have strong grounds for the belief that this policy both began and ended by direct revelation from God, as the LDS Church has constantly and consistently testified for well over a century.

Thus, if it is found that the Lord indeed, at various times during both the Old and New Testament periods, did restrict blessings from, or delay blessings to, certain individuals or nations for any reason, whether known or unknown, it can be demonstrated that this policy and its subsequent abolishment could have had as its basis direct revelation from God.

The Curse of Cain and Canaan

This curse, according to LDS theology based upon statements by Joseph Smith, Orson Pratt, John Taylor and others, was the beginning of the restriction of the priesthood from descendants of Ham, who were claimed to be descendants, in turn, of Cain through Egyptus, wife of Ham. A scripture often quoted by LDS writers was the enigmatic passage at Genesis 9:20-27, which reads, in part:

"And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: and he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; .... And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.

And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant."

From this we learn that there was a curse which was pronounced upon Canaan, incorporating the specific prophecy that Canaan (and his descendants) would become slaves to the other nations. This was fulfilled to the letter when Israel occupied Palestine, and again when the slave trade was practiced in many nations, in later generations.

Latter-day revelation, in the Book of Abraham, is more specific as to what the curse was. Abraham 1:21-27 reads:

"Now this king of Egypt was a descendent from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth .... and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land. Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham,... Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the priesthood. Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham"--Thus, the curse consisted of a denial of the right to the holy priesthood because of lineage. Many have felt that God could not possibly have been the source of any doctrine that a group of people could be restricted from receiving any blessing, but we shall soon see that this view is untenable in light of the evidence which shall be presented in the following paragraphs. (For clarification on the identity of the Canaanites, see Appendix C).

The Priesthood and Israel

We find, in the pages of the Bible, an example of priesthood restriction. During the time of Moses, there were a number of unspecified individuals who were priests with the duty of sanctifying the people (Exodus 19:22, 24). These priests were in existence before the concept of Aaronic Priesthood was even mentioned. Indeed, it had even been promised that all of Israel was to become a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6).

While it is not clear from our present Old Testament text, as to the circumstances which resulted in the right of priesthood being taken [1] from Israel and another priesthood being conferred upon the sons of Levi (the offices of Priest and High Priest to be strictly limited to Aaron and his sons [Exodus 28:1-4; 40:12-15; Numbers 3:5-10]), latter-day revelation supplies further information in regard to this matter. From the Joseph Smith Translation of Exodus 34:1, we read: "And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two other tables of stone, Like unto the first, and I will write upon them also, the words of the law...but it shall not be according to the first, for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them .... "Further testimony is found at Doctrine and Covenants 84:18, 24-26, "And the Lord confirmed a priesthood also upon Aaron and his seed, ...But they [the children of Israel] hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath,...took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also: and the lesser priesthood continued [with them]" (brackets mine).

In the history of Israel, during the period which followed the captivity and subsequent return of Israel to their own land, it was found, after having searched the genealogies, that a considerable number of the children of Israel were descendants of intermarriages with the descendants of the Canaanites, Hivites (both peoples being descended from Ham), as well as a number of other nations, with whom the Lord had expressly commanded them not to mix their lineage by such intermarriages (Deuteronomy 7:1-3; Leviticus 21:14). In an effort to cleanse the Israelite people from this error of their ways, both Ezra and Nehemiah became involved in an effort to require that the Israelites who were not of mixed lineage to divorce their wives and children (Ezra 9:1-15, 10:1-44). Others, because they were the mixed offspring of the nations of Moab and Ammon, were expelled from the congregation of the LORD (Nehemiah 13:1-3, 23-30). There had, in addition, been a group of priests who had married into the family line of Barzillai the Gileadite and adopted that family name as their own (according to the Hebrew text of Ezra 2:61), thus excluding their entire family line from the genealogical records of the priestly line. Because their genealogy was not found among those records, they were "as polluted, put from the priesthood" (Ezra 2:61-63).

The Restriction of Church Membership from Two Lighter-Skinned Semitic Nations and Others

Little known to most of the Christian world, is the fact that the LORD, at one time, had even forbidden certain classes of individuals from entrance into the congregation (or church) of the LORD! These classes of individuals were:

  1. those who had been castrated (Deuteronomy 23:1);
  2. those born illegitimately, including their descendants to the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:2); and,
  3. those who were descended through Moab and Ammon (Deuteronomy 23:3). The reason for the ban on Moab and Ammon? Because they refused to give Israel food or drink, and because they had hired a prophet to curse Israel (Deuteronomy 23:4)!

To some, this may seem a foolish reason to bar generations of people from membership in the congregation but, to be sure, it was reason enough for the Lord to do what he did that this author will not question His infinite wisdom in this matter.

Later Exceptions to the Rules

Although the Lord and His prophets were very rigid in the enforcement of these rules, there are a few instances recorded in the Biblical record which seem to indicate that the Lord did, at some times, make exceptions to them according to his own purposes and desires.

One example of this is king David. (It must be remembered that those who were of Moabite or Ammonite descent (regardless of whether they were of either direct or mixed lineage), were to be denied entrance into the congregation (or church) of the Lord).

King David had, as part of his ancestry, a Moabite bloodline, through his great-grandmother Ruth (see Ruth 1:4, 22; 2:2, 5-6, 21; 4:5, 10, 13-17). What makes this interesting is that, from the scriptural record, we find David performing priestly functions- organizing the priests into their courses, organizing the congregation of the Lord, and praising the name of the Lord in the congregation (see Psalm 22:22; 1 Chronicles 29:10, 20; 1 Chronicles 23:1-6; 24:1-3; 25:1-6, et al).

Of further interest is the fact that Solomon, son of David, burned incense before the Lord and offered some of the various required sacrifices of the Law of Moses (see 1 Kings 9:25; 2 Chronicles 8:12-13) --all duties reserved for the sons of Aaron (Exodus 30:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:18), and for which, Uzziah, in his attempt to offer incense upon the altar, was struck with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:16-21)! In addition, Solomon was, obviously, also of mixed Moabite/Israelite lineage!

It is necessary to remember that persons who were castrated were not permitted to enter the congregation of the LORD. However, Isaiah the Prophet later prophesied that in a future time eunuchs (the Hebrew text of this passage definitely identifies these as castrated men) and the sons of the stranger (foreign nations) would be able to enter the temple precincts (Isaiah 56:3-7) and be numbered among the people of the LORD!

The Delayal of Blessings in the New Testament

The New Testament contains several excellent examples of the delayal of the blessings of the Gospel to the various nations and peoples who lived in Palestine and its environs.

During His Galilean ministry, Jesus instructed His twelve disciples that they were not to go to any of the Gentile nations or to the Samaritans to preach the Gospel, and that they were to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6), even though He had earlier spoken to the Samaritan people as a result of a conversation which He had had with a Samaritan woman by Jacob's well (see John 4:1-42). He stressed again His exclusive calling to the lost sheep of the house of Israel during His dialogue with the Canaanite woman, when He said, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" [2] (See Matthew 15:24).

At the beginning of His postmortal ministry, He then declared, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations...." (Matthew 28:19). However, while they were in the course of obeying this solemn counsel, the Apostle Paul and Silas, his companion, were forbidden by the Holy Ghost to go into Asia (a province in what is now known as Turkey), or to Bithynia (another province in the same region), to preach the word (Acts 16:6-7, the reason being apparent that the Gospel needed to be preached to the people of Macedonia first (see verses 9-10)). We know that, eventually, the Gospel was taken to this region, for we find John the Revelator addressing seven cities in this area in the book of Revelation, first chapter, fourth and eleventh verses.

The Meaning of the Evidence

From the foregoing evidence, as presented from both the Old and New Testaments, we have thus far demonstrated that the Lord has indeed denied or delayed blessings to various peoples and individuals (with a few exceptions) on the basis of lineage and according to His own divine purpose and timetable, for various reasons--some of which are unknown. How many thousands of people were not permitted the opportunity to hear the message of the Gospel and receive its blessings, who died while under this period of "delayal," we can only conjecture. However, faith dictates that the purposes of the merciful God, in all things are just, and that He will provide for them before that great and last day when all mankind shall stand before Him to be judged according to their deeds (Revelation 20:12-13; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, et al).

Comparison of the Patterns

A comparison of LDS history, in this matter, reveals patterns that are consistent with the patterns that are found in the biblical record.

It is known that since 1833, there were a handful of Black members of the Church, which was remarkable considering a fairly general idea among many, at that time, that Blacks did not have souls. Joseph Smith, while discoursing on this very subject, said, "...they came into the world slaves, mentally and physically. Change their situation with the whites, and they would be like them. They have souls, and are subjects of salvation" (History of the Church, Vol. 5, page 217). The fact that there were Black members of the Church, and that the beliefs of the Latter-Day Saints were so radically different, in this regard, from others (especially during the Missouri period), made it very difficult to find favor with the inhabitants of the slave states.

The saints were accused of being abolitionists and a threat to the status of the state of Missouri, then a slave state. Even from the 1900s to the 1940s, when there was a general segregation of Blacks from so-called white churches, there was no Church policy of racial segregation of blacks and whites in THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints.

Although there were Blacks who were part of the Church, it was nevertheless a doctrinal policy that the members of the Church who were of African descent could not hold the priesthood. This position was clearly stated in a letter written by the First Presidency on July 17, 1947: "From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel." (Letter from the First Presidency to Dr. Lowry Nelson, as cited in Mormonism and the Negro, by John J. Stewart and William E. Berrett, pp. 46-47).

On December 15, 1969, the First Presidency declared: "From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding Presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes...were not yet to receive the priesthood..." (Letter of the First Presidency, as published in the Improvement Era, February 1970).

Said Brigham Young, concerning Blacks, on 18 FEB 1855: "It is their privilege to live so as to enjoy many of the blessings which attend obedience to the first principles of the Gospel, though they are not entitled to the Priesthood" (Journal of Discourses 2:184).

George A. Smith stated, on 23 SEP 1855: "The Lord conferred portions of the Priesthood upon certain races of men, and through promises made to their fathers they were entitled to the rights, and blessings, and privileges of that Priesthood. Other races, in consequence of their corruptions, their murders, their wickedness, or the wickedness of their fathers, had the Priesthood taken from them, and the curse that was upon them was decreed should descend upon their posterity after them, it was decreed that they should not bear rule" (Journal of Discourses 3:29).

Evidence that the policy originated by (apparently unwritten) revelation to Joseph Smith is found in the testimonials of two very credible men in Church history, who were both personally aquainted with Joseph Smith. According to two accounts in the Journal History of the Church, dated Saturday, 31 MAY 1879, we find Zebedee Coltrin stating: "Brother Joseph...said, '...the spirit of the Lord saith the Negro has no right nor cannot hold the Priesthood'",and Abram O. Smoot testifying: "D. W. Patten, Warren Parrish, and Thomas B. Marsh were laboring in the Southern States in 1835 and 1836. There were Negroes who had made application for baptism. And the question arose with them whether Negroes were entitled to hold the Priesthood. And by those brethren it was decided they would not confer the Priesthood until they had consulted the Prophet Joseph, and consequently they communicated with him. His decision, as I understood was, they were not entitled to the Priesthood. ... In after years when I became acquainted with Joseph myself in the Far West, about the year 1838, I received from Brother Joseph substantially the same instructions. ... He said I could baptize them by consent of their masters, but not to confer the priesthood upon them."

Thus came the doctrinal policy that the Blacks should not hold the Priesthood. This policy was restated time and again by leaders of the Church, and was stated officially [3] by the First Presidency in 1949, and again in 1969 (published in the Feb. 1970 issue of the Improvement Era). This policy continued until the missionary work had taken the Church into nations where there were many people who were of mixed lineage that were being baptized into the Church, and had begun work on a temple in Brazil. In addition, there began to be some confusion in the Church as to how to determine lineage among these people.

President Spencer W. Kimball and the other General Authorities began to consider options as to what might be done. After much deliberation it was decided that they would seek a revelation on the matter. The late LDS Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie described these events of 1978 thus:

"We were all fasting and had just concluded a meeting of some three hours' duration that was attended by nearly all of the General Authorities. That meeting also was held in the room of the First Presidency and the Twelve in the holy temple .... After this meeting, which was one of great spiritual uplift and enlightenment, all of the brethren except those in the Presidency and the Twelve were excused.

"When we were alone by ourselves in that sacred place where we meet weekly to wait upon the Lord, to seek guidance from his Spirit, and to transact the affairs of his earthly kingdom, President Kimball brought up the matter of the possible conferral of the priesthood upon those of all races. This was a subject that the group of us had discussed at length on numerous occasions in the preceding weeks and months. The President restated the problem involved, reminded us of our discussions, and said he had spent many days in this upper room pleading with the Lord for an answer to our prayers. He said that if the answer was to continue our present course of denying the priesthood to the seed of Cain, as the Lord had theretofore directed, he was prepared to defend that decision to the death. But, he said, if the long sought day had come in which the curse of the past was to be removed, he thought we might prevail upon the Lord so to indicate. He expressed the hope that we might receive a clear answer one way or the other so the matter might be laid to rest.

"At this point President Kimball asked the brethren if any of them desired to express their feelings and views as to the matter in hand. We all did so, freely and fluently and at considerable length, each person stating his views and manifesting the feelings of his heart .... This session continued for somewhat more than two hours. Then President Kimball suggested that we unite in formal prayer ....

"It was during this prayer that the revelation came. The Spirit of the Lord rested upon us all; we felt something akin to what happened on the day of Pentecost and at the Kirtland Temple. From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of the Spirit, spoke to his prophet. The message was that the time had now come to offer the fulness of the everlasting gospel, including celestial marriage, and the priesthood, and the blessings of the temple, to all men, without reference to race or color, solely on the basis of personal worthiness. 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.

"President Kimball's prayer was answered and our prayers were answered. He heard the voice and we heard the same voice. All doubt and uncertainty fled. He knew the answer and we knew the answer ....

"In the days that followed the receipt of the new revelation, President Kimball and President Ezra Taft Benson-the senior and most spiritually experienced ones among us-both said, expressing the feelings of us all, that neither of them 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. And of it I say: It is true; I was there; I heard the voice; and the Lord be praised that it has come to pass in our day. "(Priesthood, pp. 127-128, Deseret Book Co., 1981 ).

Thus ended the centuries old curse, on the first day of June, 1978. Immediately after the receipt of this new revelation, an official announcement [4] of the revelation was prepared, and sent out to all of the various leaders of the Church. It was shortly thereafter read to, approved by and accepted as the word and will of the Lord, by a General Conference of the Church. Succeeding editions of the Doctrine and Covenants were printed with this announcement canonized and entitled as Official Declaration 2.

Some Apparent Earlier Exceptions to the Priesthood Ban

Some critics have maintained that the Church had been inconsistent in its dealings with this policy, because of the discovery that there have been certain individuals of African descent that have been ordained to the Holy Priesthood. One individual was Walker Lewis, who was ordained in Lowell, Massachusetts, sometime before Joseph Smith's death. Said Brigham Young concerning him: "...we av [sic] one of the best Elders an African in Lowell. "(minutes 26 MAR 1847, Brigham Young Papers, LDS Church Archives). Several leading members (some of whom included Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff) made passing reference to "a black Elder" in the Lowell area during the years of 1844 and 1845.

Another, was a man by the name of Elijah Abel (or Able, as some documents spell it). He had been ordained to the priesthood office of Elder on March 3, 1836, and to the office of Seventy later that year, because of his faithfulness and because he had helped to build the Kirtland Temple. Although there is some confusion in the historical records as to whether he was able to retain his ordination, it is clear from membership records that he received certification as a Seventy on April 4, 1841, and again in Salt Lake City. It is also clear from membership records that he was a member of the Third Quorum of Seventy in 1883, when he left on a mission to Canada. Further, it is clear from his patriarchal blessing that he was to be made (in the words of his Patriarchal Blessing) "equal to thy brethren." Apparently, also, Joseph Smith had told him that he was "entitled to the priesthood," according to Abel's recollection of the event. His Priesthood status is also verified by his Patriarchal Blessing, given by Joseph Smith, Sr., in 1836 (Joseph Smith's Patriarchal Blessing Record, p. 88, as cited in Council Meeting Minutes, 4 June 1879, Adam S. Bennion Papers, BYU, Provo, Utah).

From membership records, it is also confirmed that some of Elijah Abel's descendants were later ordained to offices of the priesthood. (For example, Enoch Abel, son of Elijah Abel, was ordained to the office of Elder on 10 NOV 1900 by John Q. Adams, in the Logan 5th Ward, Utah. Enoch's son, Elijah, was ordained a Priest on 5 JUL 1934 by J. C. Hogenson, and to the office of Elder on 29 SEP 1935 by Reuben S. Hill, in the Logan 10th Ward, Utah).

As the following visual shows, there was not any inconsistency in these exceptions.

The Patterns Visually Compared

The Biblical Patterns

The LDS Policy Patterns

Blessings, including the priesthood, being either delayed or restricted from individuals on the basis of lineage The blessings of the priesthood restricted from individuals on the basis of lineage
Some exceptions made to the rules Some few exceptions to the general rule


Since the civil rights movement during the late 1950s to the early 1970s, many have felt that the Church was racist because of the fact that Blacks were denied the priesthood until 1978. Many could not understand or believe that the Lord could restrict blessings from individuals or collective groups. As the evidence has shown, it was not only possible but has been done by the Lord in antiquity. If the Lord is truly the same yesterday, today and forever as He has so pointedly declared time and again, and He denied blessings to some of His children in the past on the basis of lineage, why could He not have done so in our day?

Additionally, what is interesting to note, is the fact that the priesthood was never really lost to those of African descent; only delayed! Those of that lineage can go to the temples and, therein, receive ordination to the priesthood in proxy for those who have passed away, receiving, in their behalf, all of the blessings necessary for their salvation and exaltation in the world to come!

Indeed, let it be now stated, that we do not know the reasons why the priesthood ban took place, as the Lord has not at any time revealed fully these reasons. All that we do know is that, anciently, the Lord did restrict blessings on the basis of lineage and, being the same yesterday, today and forever, did so in our day. Therefore, until the Lord makes known His reasons for the restriction, let us be content to leave this matter in the hands of Him whose ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).


Authoritative Statements of the First Presidency

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."

President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: "The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have."

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege of is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

The First Presidency

December 15, 1969

To General Authorities, Regional Representatives of the Twelve, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, and Bishops

Dear Brethren:

In view of the confusion that has arisen, it was decided at a meeting of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to restate the position of the Church with regard to the Negro both in society and in the Church.

First, may we say that we know something of the sufferings of those who are discriminated against in a denial of their civil rights and Constitutional privileges. Our early history as a Church is a tragic story of persecution and oppression. Our people repeatedly were denied the protection of the law. They were driven and plundered, robbed and murdered by mobs, who were in many instances aided and abetted by those sworn to uphold the law. We as a people have experienced the bitter fruits of civil discrimination and mob violence.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States was divinely inspired, that it produced by "wise men" whom God raised up for this "very purpose," and that the principles embodied in the Constitution are so fundamental and important that, if possible, they should be extended "for the rights and protection" of all mankind.

In revelations received by the first prophet of the Church in this dispensation, Joseph Smith made it clear that it is "not right that any man should be in bondage one to another." These words were spoken prior to the civil war.

From these and other revelations have sprung the Church's deep and historic concern with man's free agency and our commitment to the sacred principles of the Constitution.

It follows, therefore, that we believe the Negro, as well as those of other races, should have his constitutional privileges as a member of society, and we hope members of the Church everywhere will do their part as citizens to see that these rights are held inviolate. Each citizen must have equal opportunities and protection under the law with reference to civil rights.

However, matters of faith, conscience, and theology are not within the purview of the civil law. The first amendment to the Constitution specifically provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affecting those of the Negro race who choose to join the Church falls wholly within the category of religion. It has no bearing upon matters of civil rights. In no case or degree does it deny to the Negro his full privileges as a citizen of the nation.

This position has no relevancy whatever to those who do not wish to join the Church. Those individuals, we suppose, do not believe in the divine origin and nature of the Church, nor that we have the priesthood of God. Therefore, if they feel we have no priesthood, they should have no concern with any aspect of our theology on priesthood so long as that theology does not deny any man his constitutional privileges.

A word of explanation concerning the position of the Church:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes its origin, its existence, and its hope for the future to the principle of continuous revelation. "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God."

From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding Presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which he has not made fully known to man.

Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, "The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God ....

"Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man's mortal existence, extending back to man's preexistent state. President McKay has also said,

"Sometime in God's eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the priesthood."

Until God reveals his will in this matter, to him whom we sustain as a prophet, we are bound by that same will. Priesthood, when conferred on any man comes as a blessing from God, not of men.

We feel nothing but love, compassion, and the deepest appreciation for the rich talents, endowments, and the earnest strivings of our Negro brothers and sisters. We are eager to share with men of all races the blessings of the gospel. We have no racially segregated congregations.

Were we the leaders of an enterprise created by ourselves and operated only according to our own earthly wisdom, it would be a simple thing to act according to popular will. But we believe that this work is directed by God and that the conferring of the priesthood must await his revelation. To do otherwise would be to deny the very premise on which the Church is established.

We recognize that those who do not accept the principle of modern revelation may oppose our point of view. We repeat that such would not wish for membership in the Church, and therefore the question of priesthood should hold no interest for them. Without prejudice they should grant us the privilege afforded under the Constitution to exercise our chosen form of religion, just as we must grant all others a similar privilege. They must recognize that the question of bestowing or withholding priesthood in the Church is a matter of religion and not a matter of constitutional right.

We extend the hand of friendship to men everywhere and the hand of fellowship to all who wish to join the Church and partake of the many rewarding opportunities to be found therein.

We join with those throughout the world who pray that all of the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ may in the due time of the Lord become available to men of faith everywhere. Until that time comes we must trust in God, in his wisdom, and in his tender mercy.

Meanwhile we must strive harder to emulate his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose new commandment it was that we should love one another. In developing that love and concern for one another, while awaiting revelations yet to come, let us hope that with respect to these religious differences, we may gain reinforcement for understanding and appreciation for such differences. They challenge our common similarities, as children of one Father, to enlarge the outreachings of our divine souls.

Faithfully your brethren,


/SS/ Hugh B. Brown

/SS/ N. Eldon Tanner


June 8,1978

To all general and local priesthood officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world:

Dear Brethren:

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 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 future 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 words of 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.

Sincerely yours,

Spencer W. Kimball

N. Eldon Tanner

Marion G. Romney

The First Presidency


Q. Who were partakers of the blood of the Canaanites?

A. There has been much dispute over this question. However, in recent years there has been a virtual flood of information which gives us a glimpse of the understanding and the thought patterns of the ancients.

It is known that Egypt has had a number of invasions by foreign peoples (the Hyksos, or Shepherd Kings as they were also known, being the most notable). Yet, these people were still known as Egyptians, notwithstanding the fact that this nation was not descended from Mizraim (Egypt, in Hebrew).

Some evidence shows that the original inhabitants of the land of Egypt were invaders from a region of Asia (some Egyptian traditions seem to imply that the land of Egypt was originally settled by a woman). From the evidence that is available, it appears that it did not always matter that a person was not of the same lineage as the people among whom that person dwelt. For example, if a person lived among the Canaanites, that person might be identified as a Canaanite, even if such was not the case (separatist nations excepted).

In addition, Ham, who was one of the sons of Noah, had a son by the name of Canaan. All of his descendants were known as Canaanites (Genesis 10:18). Some have felt that this has posed a problem for the Book of Abraham because of its statement that Pharaoh was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth (Abraham 1:21-22). More problematic (as some "scholars" felt) to both LDS scripture and theology was the fact that it could be demonstrated that because the curse was specifically addressed to Canaan, and that the majority of those who were of African descent were not of the lineage of Canaan, the curse could only have referred to Canaan, and not to any others. It was further said, by these "scholars," that the curse, as recorded in the Book of Abraham, only could have referred to Pharaoh, and not to others of Ham's descendants.

This could be answered by stating that any person who was descended from Ham was a partaker of the same blood that the children of Canaan partook of, because they were all descended from Ham.

Even better is recent evidence from textual studies of the Old Testament. Genesis 9:20-27 has long been an enigma for readers of the Bible, as the text presently reads, for, in this text, it is Canaan, the (yet unborn) fourth son of Ham, who is cursed; and not Ham for what had been done to Noah. Scholars now believe that the words "and Ham is the father of Canaan," and, "Ham, the father of," were editorial insertions (see Moffett's Translation of the Bible, pp. xxi, 9). From footnote 'f' in the New Jerusalem Bible, scholars edition, we read:

"Ham is not mentioned again and Canaan is the one to be cursed in vv. 25-27, so he was evidently the guilty party. His name stood alone in the original narrative set down by the Yahwist, as being the youngest of Noah's three sons, the order of whom, according to this tradition, was therefore Shem, Japheth, Canaan."

While the evidence just cited is only preliminary (and further research is yet to be done), we may, if what the scholars say is true, conclude that Ham was also known as Canaan, anciently. Therefore, any person who was a descendent of Ham may also have been designated as a Canaanite!

Q. If the priesthood was restricted from the Canaanites, why was Simon the Canaanite (Matthew 10:4) ordained an apostle?

A. While this could have been answered by simply stating that this is another example of an exception to the rule, we learn by a study of the Greek New Testament, that the designation of Canaanite is a mistranslation! The Greek text indicates that this Simon was, rather, a Cananean. The Cananeans were a political party. His membership in this party seems to be confirmed by Luke's designation of him as Zelotes (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13), which means "a Zealot."

Says Smith's Bible Dictionary, under Canaanite, The,:

The designation of the apostle Simon, otherwise known as "Simon Zelotes." It...is derived from a Chaldee or Syriac word by which the Jewish sect or faction of the "Zealots" was designated-a turbulent and seditious sect, especially conspicuous at the seige of Jerusalem. They taught that all foreign rule over Jews was unscriptural, and opposed that rule in every way."

Additionally, the spellings of the Greek words for "Canaanite" (a designation of lineage), "Cananite" (meaning "a person who is from Cana [of Galilee]"), and "Cananean" (the name of one who associates with a political party) are all different and in no case is the spelling, which would designate Simon as one of Canaanite descent, ever used!

Q. If there was really a revelation given in 1978, why wasn't it written and published in the Doctrine and Covenants?

A. Not all revelations must be written in order to be considered revelations. There have been a number of instances in Church history where this was the case. Indeed, the same type of thing occurs in the New Testament. During a time when the members of the Church in Palestine and in other cities were disputing over whether Gentiles should be forced to be circumcised, it was decided that a council would be held (Acts 15:1-31). After much argumentation, the Apostles moved that circumcision should not be a requirement for the Gentile membership of the Church. When they wrote the letter which announced this decision, they stated that it "seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to them," that circumcision should not be required of the Gentile members. No record of any revelation was written as had previously been the case (see for example Acts 13:2), nor was there any quotation from the revelation in the letter. Thus again, the LDS Church follows the ancient pattern of the reception of revelation.

Q. Is it true that the revelation came because of external social pressure?

  1. No. The pressure against the Church had mostly ceased by 1974, and this is why the announcement was such a surprise to many. Evidence of this surprise was found both within and from without the Church. For example, a class at BYU conducted a random telephone survey of Utah County residents. Of those interviewed, it was found that at least 79% did not expect a change at that time. Mario S. DePillis, writing in the New York Times, June 11, 1978, reflected: "For Mormonism's anti-black policy, a revelation was the only way out, and many students of Mormonism were puzzled only at the lateness of the hour."


1 Apparently, this priesthood ban was the primary cause of a rebellion in which Korah (a Levite), Dathan, Abiram (both Reubenites), and two hundred fifty others of other tribes sought to obtain that priesthood which they had previously been promised, but subsequently lost (Numbers 16:1-10). [BACK]

2 Indeed, the very feeling of this text in its entirety (see Matthew 15:21-28, especially verses 24-27) seems to indicate that, were it not for the great faith and persistence of this Canaanite woman, Jesus might well have denied her her request for the healing of her daughter until the time came for the Gospel to be preached to every nation! [BACK]

3 For the text of these official statements, see Appendix A. [BACK]

4 For the text of this announcement, see Appendix B. [BACK]


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Copyright © 1993 D. Charles Pyle


Answers, p. 29-30
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