Question: What is the Mormon "priesthood ban" that was lifted in 1978?

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Question: What is the Mormon "priesthood ban" that was lifted in 1978?

Members of the Church who were considered to be of African descent were restricted from holding the LDS Church's lay priesthood prior to 1978

Members of the Church who were considered to be of African descent were restricted from holding the LDS Church's lay priesthood prior to 1978. The reason for the ban is not known. There is no contemporary, first-person account of the ban's implementation. There is no known written revelation instituting the ban. In 1949, the First Presidency, led by 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

The First Presidency went on to state 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." Because of this, understanding the reason for the implementation of the priesthood ban is difficult.

Several 19th and 20th century Church leaders (most notably Brigham Young, Bruce R. McConkie and Mark E. Petersen) expressed strong opinions on what they believed was the purpose of the priesthood ban. Some believed that Church leaders implemented the ban in order to respond to threats and dangers facing the Church by restricting activities among black Americans in the pre-Civil War era, and that these policies and procedures persisted. Upon the lifting of the priesthood ban in 1978, Elder McConkie stated,

Forget everything I have said, or what...Brigham Young...or whomsoever has said...that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.[1]

It is important to understand the history behind the priesthood ban to evaluate whether these criticisms have any merit and to contextualize the quotes with which LDS members are often confronted.

This is complex and sensitive issue, and definitive answers as to why God allowed the ban to happen await further revelation. There are some things we do not know, and we rely on faith that God will one day give us the answers to the questions of our mortal existence. The sub-articles listed below explore various aspects of the priesthood ban in detail.

Past church leaders should be viewed as products of their times, no more racist than most of their American and Christian peers

Past church leaders should be viewed as products of their times, no more racist than most of their American and Christian peers (and often surprisingly enlightened, given the surrounding culture). A proper understanding of the process of revelation creates a more realistic expectations of the Latter-day Saint prophet, instead of assumptions of infallibility foisted on the Saints by their critics.

Previous statements and scriptural interpretations that are no longer in harmony with current revelation should be discarded. We learn "line upon line, precept upon precept," and when modern revelation has shed new light, old assumptions made in the dark can be done away with.

Notes

  1. Bruce R. McConkie, "New Revelation on Priesthood," Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 126-137.