Readers may judge for themselves after reviewing the facts. When Latter-day Saint George Romney was a candidate for the United States Presidency, nearly every news magazine carried articles on the then-current policy of the Church regarding the Negroes not holding the priesthood. In 1965, 250 people marched on Church headquarters demanding that the Church make a statement regarding civil rights. Around that same time, newspapers in Arizona, California, and Wyoming reported that sports teams from those states were refusing to compete with BYU teams because of what they alleged were "racist policies" practiced by the Church.
But by July of 1974, nine years later, public controversy regarding
Blacks and the priesthood was almost non-existent. Only two small incidents
were the subject of significant news media comment during the half decade
prior to the Church's receipt of the revelation. A suit was brought against
the Church because a policy in a leadership handbook combined the role
of senior patrol leader in LDS Scout
Troops with the office of the president of the deacon's quorum. This, in effect, would have meant black Scouts participating in LDS troops would not have been able to serve as senior patrol leaders. Realistically, this policy was probably intended to teach the president of the deacon's quorum about leadership, but it was viewed differently by some. The Church made an administrative change in the handbook before the suit went to court.
Two years later, Douglas Wallace was excommunicated from the Church after he "ordained" Larry Lester, a black man. Mr. Wallace's independent act resulted in some immediate publicity; however, the issue soon died out, as did Brother Wallace's church membership.
In June 1978 the First Presidency announced that President Spencer W. Kimball had received a revelation regarding the ordaining of all worthy men to the priesthood.
The above facts show that social pressure was much less in 1978 than in 1965; clearly social pressure had declined significantly.
The 1978 change has been popular with nearly everyone except Anti-Mormon detractors, who incorrectly refer to it as a "revelation of convenience." These are some of the same detractors who previously were insisting that the Church was false because Blacks could not hold the priesthood.
Before leaving the subject, it is appropriate to make a comparison between the practices of the Latter-day Saints and other denominations in their relationships with African-Americans. Throughout the history of the Church, Negroes who were members have been fellowshipped in white congregations and have attended Church services with them. In contrast, African-Americans were not welcome to participate with white congregations in many Protestant churches. They met separately and even formed separate ecclesiastical conventions.
Joseph Smith, in his bid for the presidency of the United States, took a strong stand for freeing the slaves. This was in distinct contrast to the position of other churches, which were pro-slavery.
The past pro-slavery, anti-Negro attitude of such churches is reflected in an event which occurred in June 1995 at the Southern Baptist Convention. A newspaper article summarized the historical situation as follows:
Baptist ministers view apology with skepticism
Some question motive behind Southern group's statement on past racism
The Southern Baptist Convention made religious history last month when it apologized to African-Americans for its racist beginnings. But local black Baptist ministers say the public apology is meaningless without significant deeds. And they say they'll be watching.
"In the 1840s, the Southern Baptist Convention was formed because they wanted the right to own slaves. In the 1950s, they stood in opposition to equal rights. The problem most African-Americans have (with this resolution) is when the SBC had an opportunity to stand in favor of equal rights, they didn't," said the Rev. George Glass Jr., pastor of New Pilgrim Baptist Church. "Now when they're presented with certain situations in the future, where will they stand?"
The historic rift in the Baptist Church occurred in the early to mid-1800s. Fundamentally, the issue was a north vs. south, industrial vs. agrarian one. Slaveholders and slavery were central to the debate.
Southerners, dependent on slave labor for the economic gifts it produced, demanded the right to chattel property. Northerners, with their industrial base, largely opposed slavery as a moral issue. In 1845, the SBC seceded from the American Baptist Association. The southern secession guaranteed slaveholders would continue to serve as missionaries, something the national body wouldn't allow.
At its 150th anniversary meeting June 20-22 in Atlanta, the convention adopted an 18-paragraph resolution repenting past racism. There are 15 million Southern Baptists nationwide, according to Jim Harding, executive director of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention.
"This is recognition of something that had long since needed to be said. We're just saying we recognize this," Harding said from his Sandy office. "This is something we can't go back and change, but we can set something right now and do something appropriate."
Harding, who represents 22,000 members in the two-state area, said the national convention has been working on the resolution for at least the past two years.
But the Rev. Glass, whose 160-member congregation is affiliated with the National Baptist Convention—a predominantly black convention of 8.5 million—wonders if the SBC's indentions are entirely pure.
"The question is, is it true repentance or a strategic plan for future growth? you can only evangelize a certain number of whites, then you have to go into other races," the Rev. Glass said. "I think we'll see the answer in the following months."
Undoubtedly, though, the Rev. Glass thinks the SBC's timing for the resolution is good, especially since he's been recently considering the National Baptist Church's inability to provide the ministries and financial support his congregation needs.
"This has been like a bad shadow hanging over them since the 1850s. They must realize many African-Americans will watch the Southern Baptist Convention closely in the months to come," the Rev. Glass said. "Will African-Americans be appointed to positions of leadership and governing boards? If this is true repentance, we should already see (blacks) rising."
Pastor France Davis, of Calvary Baptist Church, agreed with the Rev. Glass on the timing of the SBC resolution and also promised to watch the convention's deeds.
"It certainly is a good-faith effort. The proof will be whether repentance means reconciliation," Pastor Davis said. "Lots of people are trying to make a move toward amending with minorities: the pope for the way (Catholics) dealt with Muslims and atrocities during the Nazi era, Lutherans for their anti- Semitism.
"Five months ago, Pentecostals formed one umbrella organization to bring white and black congregations together, and there's a proposal by Methodists to do the same thing with AME (African Methodist Episcopal), CME (Christian Methodist Episcopal), AMEZ (African Methodist Episcopal Zion) and ME (Methodist Episcopal, predominantly white) churches."
With 1,900 black Southern Baptist churches in the 39,000- congregations strong Southern Baptist Convention, Pastor Davis says maybe the resolution will help deal with some of the growing hatred in America.
"Maybe it'll help solve some of the festering conflicts. My hope is
it'll lead to practical change," said Pastor Davis, whose church is dually
aligned with the National Baptist and American Baptist conventions. (Harris,
Dion M. [Deseret News staff writer], "Historic Rift: Baptist ministers
view apology with skepticism."
Deseret News, July 29, 1995, pp. B1-B2.)
'We ... unwaveringly denouce racism' Here are excerpts from the text of the Southern Baptist Convention's racial resolution, adopted June 20 in Atlanta:
"Whereas, since its founding in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention has been an effective instrument of God in missions, evangelism and social ministry; and "Whereas, the Scriptures teach that 'Eve is the mother of all living' and that 'God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears him and works righteousness is accepted by him' and that God has 'made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth' and
"Whereas, our relationship to African-Americans has been hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention; and "Whereas, many of our Southern Baptist forebears defended the 'right' to own slaves, and either participated in, supported or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery; and
"Whereas, in later years Southern Baptists failed, in many cases, to support, and in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans, and "Whereas, racism has divided the body of Christ and Southern Baptists in particular, and separated us from our African-American brothers and sisters . . .
"Therefore, be it resolved, that we... unwaveringly denounce racism,
in all its forms, as deplorable sin."