Question: What did Church leaders after Brigham Young think of the priesthood ban?

Table of Contents

Question: What did Church leaders after Brigham Young think of the priesthood ban?

John Taylor conducted an investigation and concluded the policy had started under Joseph Smith, rather than Brigham Young

In 1879, John Taylor conducted an investigation and concluded the policy had started under Joseph Smith, rather than Brigham Young, despite receiving mixed information.[1] As part of this investigation Zebedee Coltrin recalled that Joseph Smith said in 1834 that "the Spirit of the Lord saith the Negro had no right nor cannot hold the Priesthood." However, this claim is suspect given Coltrin's errors on the circumstances of Elijah Abel's ordination, participation in Kirtland temple ordinances, and retention in the Seventies quorum all under the supervision of Joseph Smith.[2]

President George Q. Cannon in 1895 asserted that some of Young's teachings about miscegenation and the seed of Cain had first been taught by Joseph Smith.[3]

B.H. Roberts was the first to argue, based on the Book of Abraham, that the curse of Cain had continued to modern blacks through the lineage of Ham

Nearly forty years after the ban started, B.H. Roberts was the first to argue, based on the Book of Abraham, that the curse of Cain had continued to modern blacks through the lineage of Ham.[4]

George Albert Smith, indicated that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord"

President George Albert Smith, indicated that the priesthood ban had been imposed by "direct commandment from the Lord."

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.
—First Presidency statement, August 17, 1949

Joseph Fielding Smith opined that blacks may have been less valiant in the pre-mortal conflict between God and Satan

Joseph Fielding Smith opined that blacks may have been less valiant in the pre-mortal conflict between God and Satan (however, he rejected that they may have been neutral in the war in heaven).[5]

David O. McKay believed that the ban was "not doctrine but...policy"

  • David O. McKay believed that the ban was "not doctrine but...policy," as reported by Sterling McMurrin,[6] his son Llewelyn McKay,[7] and Elder Paul H. Dunn.[8] President McKay told Elder Marion D. Hanks that "he had pleaded and pleaded with the Lord, but had not had the answer he sought."[9]
  • The "Missouri policy theory" attributing the ban to Joseph Smith arising from condition in Missouri was first popularized in 1970 by author Stephen Taggert,[10] and President Hugh B. Brown reportedly embraced it.[11] Other authors found this theory wanting.[12]

Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban

  • Harold B. Lee was inclined to reconfirm the ban,[13] 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.[14]

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."[15]

President Kimball said that the day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but should the day come it will be a matter of revelation

President Kimball began his administration by holding a press conference. When asked about the ban, he said:

[I have given it] "a great deal of thought, a great deal of prayer. The day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but that day has not come yet. Should the day come it will be a matter of revelation. Before changing any important policy, it has to be through a revelation from the Lord."[16]

He had previously written to his son:

"...I have wished the Lord had given us a little more clarity in the matter. But for me, it is enough...I know the Lord could change His policy and release the ban and forgive the possible error (?) which brought about the deprivation. If the time comes, that He will do, I am sure."[17]

In 1976, he mentioned

"his concern for giving the priesthood to all men, and said that he had been praying about it for fifteen years without an answer...but I am going to keep praying about it."[18]


Notes

  1. Neither White nor Black, 77–78.
  2. Neither White nor Black, 60–61, 77–78.
  3. Neither White nor Black, 79–81.
  4. B.H. Roberts, "To the Youth of Israel," The Contributor 6 (May 1885): 296–97.
  5. Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56), 65.
  6. Sterling M. McMurrin and and L. Jackson Newell, Matters of Conscience: Conversations with Sterling M. McMurrin On Philosophy, Education, and Religion (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1996), 199–201; cited in Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), chapter 20, page 5, footnote 17. ISBN 1590384571 (CD version)
  7. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20, page 5, footnote 17.
  8. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20, page 5–, footnote 17.
  9. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, chapter 20 working draft, 13.
  10. Steven Taggert, Mormonism's Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins (Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press, 1970).
  11. Edwin B. Firmage, "Hugh B. Brown in His Final Years," Sunstone 11:6 no. (Issue #67) (November 1987), 7–8. off-site
  12. Newell G. Bringhurst, "The 'Missouri Thesis' Revisited: Early Mormonism, Slavery, and the Status of Black People," in Newel K. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith, eds., Black and Mormon (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 13. ISBN 978-0252073564. ISBN 0252073568.
  13. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, 204–205.
  14. 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.
  15. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 20, page 22; citing Goates, Harold B. Lee, 506, quoting UPI interview published November 16, 1972.
  16. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 1; citing Charles J. Seldin, "Priesthood of LDS Opened to Blacks," Salt Lake City Tribune (10 June 1978), 1A.
  17. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 4; citing letter of 15 June 1963 to Edward Kimball.
  18. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride, working draft chapter 21, page 7; citing F. Burton Howard to author, June 15, 1995; F. Burton Howard, interview by author, July 30, 2002.