Blacks in Mormonism: Spencer W. Kimball’s Guiding Revelation to Racial Restrictions in the Priesthood

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: Spencer W. Kimball’s Guiding Revelation

The heading of the 2013 print edition Book of Mormon reads, “The Book of Mormon teaches that all are alike unto God,” and I think it’s important that we know that this is our Book of Mormon doctrine, “all are alike unto God, black and white, bond and free, male and female,” 2nd Nephi 26:33. This blog discusses further information regarding previous Church leader’s revelation regarding Blacks in Mormonism

Blacks in Mormonism: Spencer W. Kimball’s Direction Regarding Blacks in Mormonism 

The heading of the 2013 print edition Book of Mormon reads, “The Book of Mormon teaches that all are alike unto God,” and I think it’s important that we know that this is our Book of Mormon doctrine, “all are alike unto God, black and white, bond and free, male and female,” 2nd Nephi 26:33. This blog discusses further information regarding previous Church leader’s revelation regarding Blacks in Mormonism

Spencer W. Kimball’s Direction 

“Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood,” as we’ve talked about a few of those.  “Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.” So we’ve kind of covered that up to that point. “Church leaders believe that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the  Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race  that once applied to the priesthood.” There’s just some packed lines in there, too. By the way, just off hand, if you read the Edward Kimball article titled, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on the Priesthood.” you’ll read that as  President Kimball is wrestling with this question, one of his counselors said to him, President, it doesn’t appear that there was a revelation that implemented the restriction. I don’t think we need a revelation to remove it. I think we could just do it, make a unanimous decision. And President Kimball said, this is such an important question; I want a revelation from the Lord on the subject. And he’d even tasked many of the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve the year before in 1977 to go and search the scriptures and search any previous revelations they could find to see if there was any reason why this restriction should remain in place. 

It’s fascinating as those reports come back and people like Elder McConkie saying, I can’t find any scriptural foundation reason for why you can’t open up the priesthood for all of God’s children. And it seems from Edward Kimball’s research anyway that Bruce R. McConkie’s essay,  that homework that President Kimball gave him, it was Bruce R. McConkie’s essay that was perhaps the most convincing that this was the right path to follow. This could be  – it was time to remove this.  So I love when I’m personally working through struggles or trying to get answers for me or my family or my Church calling or my students, whatever the setting may be,  I love seeing the pattern here of what President Kimball did. 

You’ll notice this wasn’t a day I think this is a good idea, go and take it to the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve and say,  let’s do this, let’s pray about it, good, let’s be done. This has been going on for years; not just him but previous prophets have been wrestling with this (the priesthood ban on blacks in mormonism. Listen to this quote from President Kimball:  “After everybody had gone out of the temple,  I knelt and prayed. I prayed with much fervency.  I knew that something was before us that was extremely important to many of the children of God. I knew that we could receive the revelations of the Lord only by being worthy  and ready for them and ready to accept them and put them into place.” Sometimes God’s willing to give you revelation decades before they actually come, but it might be because you weren’t ready to receive it, or maybe you were ready to receive it but not ready to implement it, not ready to put it into place. 

Church Leader’s Revelation for Directing the Church 

There’s a reason why the Lord gave Joseph Smith some things in 1830 but not others. The Lord gave him some things in 1835 or ‘40 – in 1842 when he was ready, when the Church was ready when they could be implemented. “Day after day I went alone and with great solemnity and seriousness in the upper rooms of the temple and there I said, Lord, I want only what is right. We want only the thing that thou dost want, and  we want it when you want it, and not until.” 

I don’t know about you, but that is a beautiful pattern for seeking revelation for our lives and that’s the pattern that his prophets are using for the Church. This sentiment that man, why isn’t the Church doing more for this group or for that group, or why aren’t we moving quicker in this direction?  You’ve got to trust that God’s prophets are pleading with Heaven to find out what Heaven wants them to do when Heaven wants them to do it, and perhaps, some of the delays might not be because they’re not asking or because they’re not worthy of getting the answer,  perhaps sometimes delay might be because we, collectively, haven’t changed our heart and turned our lives to the Lord in such a way that we’re ready collectively to receive some of the revelations that are coming.

But with that, I think President Kimball, in Official Declaration 2, lists two reasons why this revelation came in response to blacks in Mormonism. One of them is what Brother Griffin just mentioned, witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld. He sees the faithfulness of whom it had been withheld. And then the second one is “aware of promises made by prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan,  all our brethren who are worthy may receive  the priesthood.” And so he also is calling and hearkening to promises made in scripture and prophets that the global expansion of the Church needs to move forward. 

So now let’s fast forward to June 1, 1978, when we’re missing two of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve who are out on other assignments, so we have the First  Presidency and ten of the Twelve there in their normal meeting that happens every week, and they’ve come in the spirit of fasting.  President Kimball asked them to come fasting. And so President Kimball told the Church News of that day, quote, “We held a meeting of the Council of the Twelve in the temple on the regular day.  We considered this very seriously and thoughtfully and prayerfully. I asked the Twelve not to go home when the time came. I offered the final prayer, and I told the Lord if it wasn’t right, if he didn’t want this change to come to the Church, that I would be true to it all the rest of my life. We had this special prayer circle, and then I knew that the time had come.” Others have said, have reported who were there, that he asked them if they would be willing to join him in a prayer circle there in the temple, and he asked if it would be okay with them if he acted as the voice in that prayer circle. Can you imagine the meekness of God’s prophet Spencer W. Kimball, who had been through so many surgeries and had so many health challenges, and this kneeling, pleading, humble, meek prophet of God, surrounded by the other members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, pouring his heart out to the Lord saying, can we please have your permission, is it the right time, is it the right thing to do, and everyone to a man who was there said that the conduits of heaven opened – it’s like a conduit opened to heaven, they called it Pentecostal.

Spencer W. Kimball’s Summary 

This is President  Kimball’s own summary from it (the revelation about blacks in Mormonism), “We had a glorious experience of having the Lord indicate  clearly that the time had come when all worthy men and women everywhere can be fellow heirs and partakers of the full blessings of the gospel.” Again, it might even tie a little bit into what we just talked about with Official Declaration 1,  that the focus is always on covenant commitment to the Lord and receiving the ordinances of exaltation. 

That’s motivating what’s happening here. “So I want you to know, as a special witness of the Savior, how close I  have felt to him and to our Heavenly Father as I have made numerous visits to the upper rooms of the Temple, going on some days several times by myself. The Lord made it very  clear to me what was to be done.” End of quote. 

Now did you notice, this is God’s prophet? He holds all of the keys to administer the ordinances of the gospel on earth.  He’s the only one authorized to do that.  And he had to go many days, many weeks,  months, years, doing lots of homework, studying it out, asking others to help him study it out, and it’s years in the making, and yet when I have a serious question, how easily and how quickly I get frustrated with God and disturbed that he won’t answer my question. I’m fasting, for goodness sake, and I’m doing my best to live the gospel, and I need an answer. I love this pattern of Spencer W. Kimball who was, incidentally, the prophet of my youth, that was the voice of the prophet that I was raised with because President Harold B. Lee passed away when I was only twenty days old, so I grew up with President Spencer W. Kimball as the voice of God’s prophet, and I love that man for sticking with this long process, and I want to be more like him in that regard. I don’t want to throw a tantrum when I don’t get the answer when  I first ask. I want to keep working through it.  So if it’s okay, let’s talk about a few other applications, from this, how do we approach statements in the past connected with this policy, how do we look at racism in the Church and the world today, with guidance from our prophet? And third, maybe just some perspectives on the ongoing restoration. 

Additional insights on blacks in Mormonism can be found at blacksinmormonism.com

By Todd Noall, Source Expert

Todd Noall is an author and religious scholar at Mormonism Explained with a focus on the history and theology of religion.

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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