Blacks in Mormonism: Reasons Why Black Africans Were Restricted From the Priesthood Blessings

Dr. Anthony Sweat

Dr. Anthony Sweat

Source Expert

Dr. Anthony Sweat, a leading expert on Mormon beliefs, brings diverse experiences to BYU’s religion department. He boasts a BFA in art and MEd/PhD in education, along with 13 years working with religious education programs. Now a prolific author on Latter-day Saint teachings, his research focuses on improving religious education methods. Dr. Sweat and his wife Cindy reside in Springville, Utah, with their seven children.

Fact Checked by Kevin Prince

Blacks in Mormonism: The Official Declaration 2

Declaration 2 announces the end of the restriction on black Africans and priesthood. The Official Declaration 2 is a declaration of a revelation – not the revelation itself – received in responding to problems, questions, concerns, culture, and pain points of God’s people as a whole in dealing with restrictions on Black Africans and Blacks in Mormonism and the priesthood.

This goes back hundreds of years when slaves were first brought over from Africa to the New World and also into parts of Europe and other parts of the world. I also think it’s important  

for people to understand that originally, even though the Declaration is renouncing our restriction on black Africans with priesthood and temple, Paul Reeve, who’s a historian from the University of Utah who studies this subject, wrote this quote: “The history of the race-based priesthood and temple restrictions is best  understood as an evolution away from a racially open priesthood and temples toward a segregated  priesthood and temples and then back again.” 

Sometimes I’m not sure that members of the Church understand that originally, our Church was progressive for its time racially.  We openly baptized people of color,  black members of the  Church worshipped side by side with them, and ordained priesthood upon them, where America was more segregated at the time, so we were progressive. Then we became segregated, and we’ll talk about maybe some reasons why and were in line with America, what America was doing at the time with segregation, and then as American civil rights went on in the 50s,  60s, in particular and 70s, then in 1978  this Declaration, there’s this shift that’s gone on over time. That’s important to see. So as you mentioned, in the earliest days of the Church, there were black members of the Church who not just were baptized but were given the priesthood and officiated in that priesthood. Elijah Abel was in the Kirtland Temple, Q. Walker Lewis who, by the way, was a black convert from Massachusetts, and Brigham Young calls Q. Walker Lewis one of our best elders, is what he says about him. There are obviously members like Jane Manning James, but there’s also important to understand, there are black members of the Church who are slaves as well. Because if you baptize a slaveholder, often their whole household will be baptized with them. We have people like Green Flake who joins the Church in 1844, I believe, in Nauvoo,  and Green Flake will be one of the first people to come into the Utah Valley, into the Salt Lake Valley, and he and there’s three enslaved men will be some of the first to put crops in the ground in the Salt Lake Valley. And so when we come to Utah, proposes – there’s some difficulty, and one of the difficulties is you have free, black Latter-day Saints who come and gather to Utah and you have enslaved, black Latter-day, and there are no laws governing in  Utah Territory. We are out in the West on our own, and the Church has to wrestle with this difficulty of what, kind of what do we do and what are we going to do with slavery in this area as a whole?  And one of the things that they come up with is in 1852, they passed the Utah State Legislature now  – that sounds like an independent, political body,  they’re all members of the Church and leaders of the Church. In the Utah Territory in the 1850s, there is just no separation between church and state. 

They passed a law called the Act in Relation to Service, which legalizes slavery in the territory.  They try to temper it a little bit like you can’t abuse your slaves,  you have to feed, educate, you know.  One of the provisions that they make that’s interesting is kind of a compromise, because they, in essence, say anybody born to slaves are not enslaved themselves, so they’re actually proposing a way to end slavery after one generation which is different, it’s a break from – but it does bring slavery into Utah Territory and into the Church,  and it’s not coincidental. We don’t know why exactly, there’s a restriction on black  Africans and priesthood and temple,  but I also don’t think it’s coincidental that as that Act in Relation to Service is passed, we get our first public announcement from Brigham Young in 1852, acting as Territorial Governor,  at a legislature meeting saying, we are no longer going to confer priesthood on black Africans. So then you get this long history from 1852 all the way through to 1978 with that restriction in place, so a lot of reasons and rationale and arguments have been given as to why and when and how. The reality is, we’re doing guesswork here. And it’s important to say, by the way, that even the Church’s own essay on this subject says that it’s not entirely clear, that’s how it’s phrased there. There is no known revelation to President Brigham Young to implement this restriction. Correct,  and that’s important to keep in mind.  So fast forward in time to the 1970s. President  Kimball is now the president of the Church. He’s not the first to wrestle with this question of,  can we give the priesthood to our black members and can we send missionaries to Africa because there are big groups of people just pleading for missionaries to be brought. David O. McKay wrestled with it. David O. McKay’s going to wrestle with it. 

And then you get stories like Helvécio Martins down in Rio de Janeiro, down in Rio of Brazil, and he’s black and his family’s there, he’s very wealthy in a petroleum company down there, he’ll go to São Paulo in Brazil, he’ll donate time and money to the building of this temple, knowing that when the temple’s dedicated, he and his family won’t be allowed to go inside, that his son won’t be allowed to go on a  mission. When he goes to church in Brazil, they’re talking about the excitement of going and being sealed as families and he has to look down the row at this family and think, it’s not for us. So you get stories like that coming and it just tugs at the heartstrings. And you know it is important, if you want to read, by the way, an article that’s  fascinating because Brother Griffin and I won’t be able to cover the whole history of this in this  short video. Fore more information, read an article called “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on the Priesthood.” It was written by his son Edward Kimball, it was published by BYU Studies. In my opinion, it’s the de facto article on the subject, it’s so informative to understand this history. Further resources about blacks in Mormonism are available online at whatdomormonsbelieve.org.

By Dr. Anthony Sweat, Source Expert

Dr. Anthony Sweat serves as a leading authority on the topic of “Mormonism Explained” He holds a BFA in painting and drawing from the University of Utah and achieved his MEd and PhD in curriculum and instruction at Utah State University. Before assuming his role in the religion faculty at BYU, he accumulated thirteen years of experience working with Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. Dr. Sweat is a prolific author with numerous publications centered on the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His research primarily investigates the factors influencing effective religious education. Anthony and his spouse, Cindy, are proud parents to seven children and make Springville, Utah, their home.

Fact Checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert

Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and host of the Gospel Learning Youtube channel. His channel has garnered over 41,000 subscribers and accumulated over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also created the Gospel Learning App, a reliable platform where individuals seeking truth can access trustworthy answers to religious questions from top educators worldwide.

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