Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Official explanation of Race and the Priesthood

Included in the post are:
  • Excerpts of Race and the Priesthood, from the Gospel Topics section of, the 3rd in a  series of explanatory articles by the church addressing difficult issues in Mormon History
  • A few brief observations about the article
  • Two speeches by Brigham Young referenced in the article. Because they are not readily available on the Internet in their entirety, they are included here.
    • Brigham Young Address, January 23, 1852
    • Brigham Young Address, February (January?) 5, 1852
Latter-day Saint scripture and teachings affirm that God loves all of His children and makes salvation available to all. God created the many diverse races and ethnicities and esteems them all equally. As the Book of Mormon puts it, "all are alike unto God."
From the mid-1800s until 1978—the Church did not ordain men of black African descent to its priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple endowment or sealing ordinances.

There has never been a Churchwide policy of segregated congregations. [footnote: "At some periods of time, reflecting local customs and laws, there were instances of segregated congregations in areas such as South Africa and the U.S. South."]

There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith's lifetime.

In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.

         In 1850, the U.S. Congress created Utah Territory, and the U.S. president appointed Brigham Young to the position of territorial governor. Southerners who had converted to the Church and migrated to Utah with their slaves raised the question of slavery's legal status in the territory. In two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination. At the same time, President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would "have [all] the privilege and more" enjoyed by othermembers. [Footnote: Brigham Young, Speeches Before the Utah Territorial Legislature, Jan. 23 and Feb. 5, 1852, George D. Watt Papers, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, transcribed from Pitman shorthand by LaJean Purcell Carruth; "To the Saints," Deseret News, April 3, 1852, 42.]

         The justifications for this restriction echoed the widespread ideas about racial inferiority that had been used to argue for the legalization of black "servitude" in the Territory of Utah.

Even after 1852, at least two black Mormons continued to hold the priesthood. When one of these men, Elijah Abel, petitioned to receive his temple endowment in 1879, his request was denied. Jane Manning James, a faithful black member who crossed the plains and lived in Salt Lake City until her death in 1908, similarly asked to enter the temple; she was allowed to perform baptisms for the dead for her ancestors but was not allowed to participate in other ordinances.The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings. [Footnote: Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, for example, wrote in 1907 that the belief was "quite general" among Mormons that "the Negro race has been cursed for taking a neutral position in that great contest." Yet this belief, he admitted, "is not the official position of the Church, [and is] merely the opinion of men." Joseph Fielding Smith to Alfred M. Nelson, Jan. 31, 1907, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.]

By the late 1940s and 1950s, racial integration was becoming more common in American life. Church President David O. McKay emphasized that the restriction extended only to men of black African descent. The Church had always allowed Pacific Islanders to hold the priesthood, and President McKay clarified that black Fijians and Australian Aborigines could also be ordained to the priesthood and instituted missionary work among them. In South Africa, President McKay reversed a prior policy that required prospective priesthood holders to trace their lineage out of Africa.

Nevertheless, given the long history of withholding the priesthood from men of black African descent, Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter the policy, and they made ongoing efforts to understand what should be done. After praying for guidance, President McKay did not feel impressed to lift the ban.

Church authorities encountered faithful black and mixed-ancestry Mormons who had contributed financially and in other ways to the building of the São Paulo temple, a sanctuary they realized they would not be allowed to enter once it was completed. Their sacrifices, as well as the conversions of thousands of Nigerians and Ghanaians in the 1960s and early 1970s, moved Church leaders.

Church leaders pondered promises made by prophets such as Brigham Young that black members would one day receive priesthood and temple blessings. In June 1978, Church President Spencer W. Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received a revelation.The First Presidency stated that they were "aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us" that "all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood." [Footnote:Official Declaration 2.]

Reaction worldwide was overwhelmingly positive among Church members of all races. Many Latter-day Saints wept for joy at the news. Some reported feeling a collective weight lifted from their shoulders.  Soon after the revelation, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle, spoke of new "light and knowledge" that had erased previously "limited understanding."

Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.

Notes about the article:
  • References in the Book of Mormon regarding dark skin as a curse or sign of unrighteousness are not addressed, nor are racial aspects in the Book of Abraham.
  • Brigham Young was the first to bring slaves to Utah in 1847, not later southern settlers as could be implied in the article.
  • The article states that Young said 'at some future day, black Church members would "have [all] the privilege and more" enjoyed by other members.' In the two speeches referenced, Young states that the condition for Cain's descendants receiving priesthood was that Abel's descendants first receive the priesthood (see speeches below).
  • The article notes that Jane Manning was allowed to do baptisms for the dead, but not participate in other temple ordinances. Not mentioned was a temple ordinance done in her behalf by proxy. Manning was "attached as a Servitor for eternity to the prophet Joseph Smith and in this capacity be connected with his family and be obedient to him in all things in the Lord as a faithful Servitor". Joseph F. Smith and Bathsheba Smith stood as proxies for Joseph Smith and Jane Manning (who was not allowed in the temple for the ordinance).
  • A footnote indicates that in a private correspondence, Joseph Fielding Smith thought the idea that black people were less valiant in the pre-mortal world was only opinion. Smith later taught this concept authoritatively in a number of publications including The Way to Perfection, Doctrines of Salvation and Answers to Gospel Questions.
  • These notes are not intended to diminish the intent of this article.

Brigham Young, January 23, 1852

[Sermons and Writings of the Restoration, Volume 2, 1851 - mid-1852, compiled and published by Ogden Kraut, Salt Lake, April 1994]

                              Remarks on Slavery
                                Brigham Young
                               January 23, 1852

   I have this section in my hand, headed "An Act in Relation to African Slavery."  I have read it over and made a few alterations.  I will remark with regard to slavery, inasmuch as we believe in the Bible, inasmuch as we believe in the ordinances of God, in the Priesthood and order and decrees of God, we must believe in slavery.  This colored race have been subjected to severe curses, which they have in their families and their classes and in their various capacities brought upon themselves.  And until the curse is removed by Him who placed it upon them, they must suffer under its consequences; I am not authorized to remove it.  I am a firm believer in slavery.

   Now to the case before us with regard to slavery, with regard [to] slaves that [are] Africans, or that are English, or that [are] Dutch, or ourselves--I go in for making just such laws as we want upon that matter, independent of any other nation under the heavens; let us do that [which will bring about what] we want to be done regardless of the abuses of despotic governments.  Whether they deem it to be right or wrong is no matter to me, but to do the thing we ought to do, to secure those blessings we are in pursuit of, ought to be the first and most weighty consideration with us; that is my mind upon this matter.  This case comes up and causes feelings of not a pleasing character in the minds of some.

   The African enjoys the right of receiving the first principles of the Gospel; this liberty is held out to all these servants.  They enjoy the liberty of being baptized for the remission of sins and of receiving the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; they enjoy the privilege of living [145] humbly before the Lord their great Master, so as to enjoy the spirit of the Lord continually.  In short, as far as the common comforts of life, salvation, light, truth, enjoyment, and understanding are concerned, the Black African has precisely the same privilege as the white man.  But they cannot share in the Priesthood; they cannot bear rule; they cannot bear rule in any place until the curse is removed from them; they are a "servant of servants."  We are servants, as Counselor George Smith has stated; he says he is a slave; he has been driven from his home and his rights--we are all servants.  Now suppose that we should have a servant, and he should be a Negro; it is all right; it is perfectly reasonable and strictly according to the Holy Priesthood.  I loathe the abuses to which the slave in a great many instances is exposed, although as a general thing that part of the Negro race that are in servile bondage, are much more comfortable and better provided for than the lower classes of the nations of Europe.

  Though the enlightened nation, England, has abolished slavery in her colonies, yet the most damnable slavery exists at the very heart of the nation.  I am bold to say that you cannot find a Black man or woman in the United States that has traveled through the period of his life in hunger in the midst of plenty.  Yet there are millions upon millions in the cities of Europe who have lived amidst the choicest luxuries of life and died at last in starvation; thousands died of starvation in England the year that I was in that country.  That is meaner slavery than to set them to work in growing cotton and sugar, etc.  I would not wish to go to the enlightened nation of England to know what slavery is because they are so far sunken in iniquity and so deeply degraded.  People contend about it to know what it is; we know it exists, and such a thing shall and will exist until the Lord God shall remove it; until then it will and ought to exist. There are many brethren in the South, a great amount of whose means is vested in slaves.  Those servants want to come here with their masters; when they come here, the Devil is raised.  This one is talking, and that one is wondering.  A strong abolitionist feeling has power over them, and they commence to whisper round their views upon the subject, saying, "Do you think it's [146] right?  I am afraid it is not right."  I know it is right, and there should be a law made to have the slaves serve their masters, because they are not capable of ruling themselves.

  When the Lord God cursed old Cain, He said, "Until the last drop of Abel's blood receives the Priesthood, and enjoys the blessings of the same, Cain shall bear the curse;" then Cain is calculated to have his share next and not until then; consequently, I am firm in the belief that they ought to dwell in servitude.

  The caption of this bill I don't like, I have therefore taken the liberty to alter it.  I have said, "An Act in Relation to Manual Service," instead of "African Slavery."  I have also altered the latter part of it.  I am willing the bill should be thrown back to be remodeled.

   I would like masters to behave well to their servants, and to see that every person in this territory is well used.  When a master has a Negro and uses him well, he is much better off than if he was free.  As for masters knocking them down and whipping them and breaking the limbs of their servants, I have as little opinion of that as any person can have; but good wholesome servitude, I know there is nothing better than that.

  Suppose I am in England and bring over 100 persons, males and females, and they pledge themselves to pay me in labour, but as soon as they arrive here they refuse to abide by their contract and turn around and abuse their benefactors.  See the abuse that Dan Jones has received, who prevailed upon Sister Lewis to spend almost every dime she possessed to help individuals to this place; they curse both her and him and this they will continue to do, waxing worse and worse until they go down to hell (I say they ought to be her servants).  Many more such cases could be brought to bear.  There should be a law to govern this, that those who have made contracts to labour, may [be induced to] perform their labours according to said contracts. (Manuscript History of Brigham Young, Church Archives microfilm)

Brigham Young, February 5 1852 (Janurary 5, 1852)
[Brigham Young Addresses: 1836 - 1849: A chronological compilation of known addresses of the prophet Brigham Young (Volume 1) Prepared by Elden J. Watson February 1979, p.77]
5 January 1852      Salt Lake City     HDC, MS d 1234, Box 48, fd. 3
[Note: the manuscript copy gives a date of February 5th 1852, which is incorrect.]

   I rise to make a few remarks. The items before the house I do not understand.

   The principle of slavery I understand, at least I have self-confidence enough and confidence enough in God to believe I do. I believe still further that a great many others understand it as I do. A great portion of this community have been instructed and have applied their minds to it, and as far as they have, they agree precisely in the principles of slavery. My remarks in the first place will be upon the cause of the introduction of slavery. Long ago mama Eve, our good old mother Eve, partook of the forbidden fruit and this made a slave of her. Adam hated very much to have her taken out of the garden of Eden, and now our old daddy says, I believe I will eat of the fruit and become a slave, too. This was the first introduction of slavery upon this earth; and there has not been a son or daughter of Adam from that day to this but what were slaves in the true sense of the word.

   That slavery will continue until there is a people raised up upon the face of the earth who will contend for righteous principles, who will not only believe in but operate with every power and faculty given to them to help to establish the Kingdom of God, to overcome the devil, and drive him from the earth; then will this curse be removed. This was the starting point of slavery. Again, after Adam and Eve had partook of the curse, we find they had two sons, Cain and Abel, but which was the oldest I cannot positively say; but this I know: Cain was given more to evil practices than Abel, but whether he was the oldest or not matters not to me. Adam was commanded to sacrifice and offer up his offerings to God that placed him into the garden of Eden. Through the faith and obedience of Abel to his Heavenly Father, Cain become jealous of him, and he laid a plan to obtain all his flocks; for through his perfect obedience to Father he obtained more blessings than Cain; consequently he took it into his heart to put Abel [out] of his mortal existence. After the deed was done, the Lord inquired for Abel and made Cain own what he had done with him. Now, says the grandfather, I will not destroy the seed of Michael and his wife, and Cain, I will not kill you nor suffer anyone else to kill you, but I will put a mark upon you. What is that mark? You will see it on the countenance of every African you ever did see upon the face of the earth or ever will see. Now I tell you what I know: when the mark was put upon Cain, Abel's children were in all probability young; the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the Priesthood, nor his seed, until the last of the posterity of Abel had received the Priesthood, until the redemption of the earth. If there never was a prophet or apostle of Jesus Christ [that] spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called Negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are; I know that they cannot bear rule in the Priesthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them until the residue of the posterity of Michael and his wife receive the blessings the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed, and hold the keys of the Priesthood until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the earth and from Michael's seed. Then Cain's seed will be had in remembrance and the time come when the curse should be wiped off.

Now, then, in the Kingdom of God on the earth, a man who has the African blood in him cannot hold one jot nor tittle of Priesthood. Why? Because they are the true eternal principles the Lord Almighty has ordained, and who can help it? Men cannot, the angels cannot, and all the powers of earth and hell cannot take it off; but thus saith the Eternal I am, what I am, I take it off at my pleasure, and not one particle of power can that posterity of Cain have until the time comes that says he will have it taken away. That time will come when they will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of and more. In the Kingdom of God on the earth the Africans cannot hold one particle of power in government. The subjects, the rightful servants of the residue of the children of Adam, and the residue of the children through the benign influence of the spirit of the Lord have the privilege of seeing to the posterity of Cain; inasmuch as it is the Lord's will they should receive the spirit of God by baptism, and that is the end of their privilege; and there is not power on earth to give them any more power.
   You talk of the dark skin. I never saw a white man on earth. I have seen persons whose hair came pretty nigh being white, but to talk about white skins, it is something entirely unknown, though some skins are fairer than others. Look at the black eye and the jet black hair we often see upon men and women who are called white; there is no such things as white folks. We are the children of Adam, who receive the blessings, and that is enough for us if we are not quite white.
   But let me tell you further, let my seed mingle with the seed of Cain, and that brings the curse upon me and upon my generations; we will reap the same rewards with Cain.
   In the Priesthood I will tell you what it will do. Were the children of God to mingle their seed with the seed of Cain it would not only bring the curse of being deprived of the power of the priesthood upon themselves but they entail it upon their children after them, and they cannot get rid of it. If a man in an unguarded moment should commit such a transgression, if he would walk up and say cut off my head, and kill man, woman and child it would do a great deal towards atoning for the sin. Would this be to curse them? No, it would be a blessing to them; it would do them good that they might be saved with their brethren. A man would shudder should they hear us talk about killing folk, but it is one of the greatest blessings to some to kill them, although the true principles of it are not understood.
   I will add one thing more. It is not in the power of a man on the face of the earth to take more life than he can give; that is a proper son of Adam. How many times I have heard it said and how many times has it been reiterated in my ears, and in yours, that to take a life, is to take what you cannot give. This is perfect nonsense. What do I do by taking as man's head off after he is condemned by the law? I put an end to the existence of the mortal tabernacle, but the life still remains. The body and the spirit are only separated; this is all that can be done by any mortal man upon the face of the earth.
   Can I give that life? I can! I can make as good tabernacles as any other man, and if you do not believe it, go and look at my children; therefore, that saying is nonsense. We form the tabernacle for the eternal spirit of life that comes from God. We can only put an end to the existence of that tabernacle, and this is the principle of sacrifice.
What was the cause of the ancients drawing up hundreds and thousands of bullocks, and heifers, and lambs, and doves, and almost every other creature around them, of which they took the best and the fattest, and offered them up as sacrifices unto the Lord. Was it not for the remission of the sins of the people? We read also in the New Testament that a man was sacrificed for the sins of the people. If he had not shed that blood which was given to him in the organization of his body or tabernacle, you and I could have had no remission of sins. It is the greatest blessing that could come to some men to shed their blood on the ground, and let it come up before the Lord as an atonement. You nor I cannot take any more life than we can give.
   Again to the subject before us, as to the men bearing rule--not one of the children of old Cain have one particle of right to bear rule in government affairs from first to last; they have no business there. This privilege was taken from them by their own transgressions, and I cannot help it; and should you or I bear rule, we ought to do it with dignity and honor before God.
   I am as much opposed to the principle of slavery as any man. In the present acceptation or usage of the term, it is abused. I am opposed to abusing that which God has decreed, to take a blessing, and make a curse of it. It is a great blessing to the seed of Adam to have the seed of Cain for servants, but those they serve should use them with all the heart and feeling, as they would use their own children, and their compassion should reach over them and round about them, and treat them as kindly, and with that humane feeling necessary to be shown to mortal beings of the human species. Under these circumstances their blessings in life are greater in proportion to those who have to provide the bread and dinner for them.
   We know there is a portion of inhabitants of the earth who dwell in Asia that are Negroes and said to be Jews. The blood of Judah has not only mingled almost with all nations, but also with the blood of Cain, and they have mingled their seeds together. These Negro Jews may keep up all the outer ordinances of the Jewish religion, they may have their sacrifices, and they may perform all the religious ceremonies any people on earth could perform, but let me tell you, that the day they consented to mingle their seed with Canaan, the Priesthood was taken away from Judah, and that portion of Judah's seed will never get any rule or blessings of the Priesthood until Cain gets it. Let this church which is called the Kingdom of God on the earth: we will summons the First Presidency, the Twelve, the High Counsel, the Bishopric, and all the Elders of Israel, suppose we summons them to appear here, and here declare that it is right to mingle our seed with the Black race of Cain, that they shall come in with us and be partakers with us of all the blessings God has given to us. On that very day, and hour we should do so, the priesthood is taken from this church and kingdom and God leaves us to our fate. The moment we consent to mingle with the seed of Cain, the Church must go to destruction; we should receive the curse which has been placed upon the seed of Cain, and never more be numbered with the children of Adam who are heirs to the priesthood until that curse be removed.
   Therefore, I will not consent for one moment to have an African dictate me or any brethren with regard to church or state government. I may vary in my view from others, and they may think I am foolish in the things I have spoken and think that they know more than I do, but I know [that] I know more than [80] they do. If the Africans cannot bear rule in the church of God, what business have they to bear rule in the state and government affairs of this territory or any others?
   In the government affairs of states and territories and kingdoms, by right God should govern. He should rule over nations and control kings. If we suffer the Devil to rule over us, we shall not accomplish any good. I want the Lord to rule and be our governor and dictator, and we are the boys to execute [it]. I shall not consent for a moment to give way to a gentile spirit of contention, which is the cause of angry ________ difference to the alienation of every good feeling. It is for you and I to take a course to bind our feelings together in an everlasting bond of union inasmuch as we love the Lord, which we ought to do more than selves. Consequently, I will not consent for a moment to have the children of Cain rule me nor my brethren. No, it is not right.
   But, say some, is there anything of this kind in the Constitution the U.S. has given us? If you will allow me the privilege [of] telling right out, it is none of their damned business what we do or say here. What we do it is for them to sanction, and then for us to say what we like about it. It is written right out in the Constitution, "that every free white male inhabitant above the age of twenty-one years", etc. My mind is the same today as when we were pouring over that constitution; any light upon the subject is the same, my judgment is the same, only a little more so. Perhaps I have said enough upon this subject. I have given you the true principles and doctrine. No man can vote for me or my brethren in this territory who has not the privilege of acting in church affairs. Every man and woman and child in this territory are citizens; to say the contrary is all nonsense to me. The Indians are citizens, the Africans are citizens, and the Jews that come from Asia, that are almost entirely of the blood of Cain. It is our duty to take care of them and administer to them in all the acts of humanity and kindness. They shall have the right of citizenship, but shall not have the right to dictate in church and state matters. The abolitionists of the East have caressed them and their whole argument is calculated to darken counsel as it was here yesterday. As for our bills passing here, we may lay the foundation for what? For men to come here from Africa or elsewhere by hundreds of thousands. When these men come here from the islands, are they going to hold offices in government? No. It is for men who understand the knowledge of government affairs to hold such offices, and on the other make provisions for them to plow and to reap and enjoy all that human beings can enjoy, and we protect them in it. Do we know how to ameliorate the condition of these people? We do. Suppose that five thousands of them come from the Pacific Islands and ten or fifteen thousands from Japan or from China. Not one of them would know how to vote for a government officer. They, therefore, ought not in the first thing have anything to do in government affairs.
   What the gentiles are doing, we are consenting to do. What we are trying to do today is to make the Negro equal with us in all our privilege. My voice shall be against [it] all the day long. I shall not consent for one moment. I will call them a counsel. I say I will not consent for one moment for you to lay a plan to bring a curse upon this people. It shall not be while I am here.