Question: What circumstances preceded the 1978 revelation which ended the priesthood ban?

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Question: What circumstances preceded the 1978 revelation which ended the priesthood ban?

In 1954, after visiting the struggling South African mission, David O. McKay began to consider lifting the ban

In a conversation with Sterling McMurrin, President McKay said, "It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice will some day be changed."[1] This was a departure from a 1949 First Presidency statement defending the ban as doctrinal, indicating a shift in his opinion. Leonard Arrington reported that President McKay formed a special committee of the Twelve that "concluded there was no sound scriptural basis for the policy but that church membership was not prepared for its reversal."[2] However, David O. McKay felt that only a revelation could end the ban. Sometime between 1968 and his death in 1970 he confided his prayerful attempts to church architect, Richard Jackson, "I’ve inquired of the Lord repeatedly. The last time I did it was late last night. I was told, with no discussion, not to bring the subject up with the Lord again; that the time will come, but it will not be my time, and to leave the subject alone."[3]

As McKay's health declined, his counselor, Hugh B. Brown, attempted to lift the ban as an administrative decision

However, it became even clearer that a century of precedent was difficult to reverse without a revelation, especially when some members and leaders—echoing George Q. Cannon—felt there might be a revelatory basis for the policy.

President McKay reportedly told Elder Marion D. Hanks that "he had pleaded and pleaded with the Lord, but had not had the answer he sought."[4]

Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban

Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban [5]:204-205 though Church Historian Leonard Arrington

...asserts that President Lee, shortly before his death, sought the Lord's will on the question of blacks and the priesthood during'three days and nights [of] fasting in the upper room of the temple,...but the only answer he received was "not yet." Arrington relied on an unidentified person close to President Lee, but President Lee's son-in-law and biographer found no record of such an incident and thought it doubtful.[6]

Following Joseph Fielding Smith's death, President Lee did say, "For those who don't believe in modern revelation there is no adequate explanation. Those who do understand revelation stand by and wait until the Lord speaks....It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."[7]

Lester Bush authors an important piece in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought

The late 1960's gave, as Latter-day Saint Historian Russell Stevenson has expressed, "a groundswell of scholarly interest in the history of the priesthood ban...and it won the attention of top-level Church leaders."[8] In 1973, Dr. Lester Bush, an army physician stationed in saigon, wrote the first schlolarly analysis of the Church's racial restriction based in primary source documentation. As Stevenson has written concerning bush:

Elijah Abels was not the exception, Bush argued; indeed, Ables had been the rule. Joseph Smith had not implemented the priesthood ban, contrary to accepted wisdom. That distinction belonged to Brigham Young. Perhaps the Church could start asking new questions, he hoped, about why it was following the course it was when Church leaders apparently did not fully understand why they were doing it.[48] [Grant Shreeve's] fear-based wailing had fallen on deaf ears, but Bush's arguments received widespread attention at [Church headquarters in Salt Lake City].[49] Marion D. Hanks, then Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, later observed that Bush's article "had far more influence than the Bretheren would ever acknowledge and that it 'started to foment the pot.'" Edward Ashment, then employed by the Church Translation Department and a scholar of the Book of Abraham, observed Bruce R. McConkie reading the article. [Spencer W. Kimball] himself also highlighted several sections of the piece.[50][9]

The Church continued to run into problems of black ancestry preventing the building of local leadership in certain areas, such as Brazil

As the church expanded its missionary outreach and temple building programs, leaders continued to run into problems of black ancestry preventing the building of local leadership in certain areas, most notably Brazil. The prayerful attempts to obtain the will of God intensified. Finally in June 1978, a revelation that "every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood" was received and later canonized as Official Declaration 2.

Notes

  1. Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005),79–80. ISBN 0874808227.
  2. Leonard J. Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998), 183.
  3. Edward L. Kimball, "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood," BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (Spring 2008): 21-22; Gregory Prince and Wm. Robert Wright, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), 104; Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism 1830-2013 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014), 120; W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 259: "In contrast, McKay, as president, believed divine intervention necessary regardless of the restriction's origins, something he reportedly sought but did not receive."
  4. Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), chapter 20 working draft, 13. ISBN 1590384571 (CD version).
  5. Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005). ISBN 1590384571 (CD version)
  6. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22, footnote 105; citing for the affirmative Arrington, Adventures of a Church Historian and Arrington to author, February 10 and June 15, 1998; for the negative, L. Brent Goates, interview by author, February 9, 1998.
  7. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.
  8. Russell W. Stevenson, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism 1830-2013 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014), 136.
  9. Ibid., 137. Stevenson cites in order: 48 - Lester E. Bush, "Mormonism's Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8, no. 1 (Spring 1973): 11-68; "New LDS Office Building Nearly Finished," [Provo] Daily Herald, June 18, 1972, 32; 50 - Lester E. Bush, "'Writing Mormonism's Negro Doctrine': An Historical Overview (1973): Context and Reflections," Journal of Mormon History 25, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 266-67. Edward L. Kimball, "Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on the Priesthood," BYU Studies 47, no. 2. (2008): 5–78.