Blacks in Mormonism: The 1978 Revelation of Reversion and Repair (Part 4)

Todd Noall

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 Kevin Prince

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There’s two apostles that aren’t present and President Kimball has gone so out of his way to sort of ensure unanimity among the 12 on this issue of blacks and the priesthood. A little detail that Ed Kimball adds: Mark E. Petersen was in South America. Delbert Stapley was in the hospital. President Kimball contacts both of them. So he calls Elder Petersen, who’s in Quito, Ecuador, and informed him what had happened, and has Francis Gibbons read the announcement. It says, “Elder Petersen later said, ‘I was delighted to know that a new revelation had come from the Lord. I felt the fact of the revelations coming was more striking than a decision itself. On the telephone, I told President Kimball that I fully sustained both the revelation and him 100 percent.” Then all three members of the First Presidency visit Elder Stapley in the hospital and inform him of the revelation as well. So they go out of their way to make sure that there’s total, absolute unanimity among the Twelve including the two that weren’t able to be there when the meeting was held.

And he doesn’t stop with the Twelve. He then, before this is announced to the world, he wants to make sure that all general authorities are on board, and so at that point, he calls a meeting for all general authorities to come to the temple—that he would like to talk with them about something. Nobody knew what it was about. There was lots of speculation. And so into the temple they went. Elder Maxwell, at the time he was a Seventy, he said, “I had no inkling what was going on. And as we knelt down to pray,” Elder Maxwell said, “the Spirit told me what it was going to be, and after that prayer, President Kimball began the description, and I began to weep. There were many general authorities there that started to pick up on where he was going with this. As he starts to talk about the ban and how he had always heard all of his life that the ban would be lifted, ‘My father told me that one day it would be lifted. When I was a stake president, an apostle told me it would be lifted,’ keeps quoting prophets who keep saying it. ‘One day it will be lifted,’ and the feeling in the room starts to build and grow. And then he announces to that group, he says, ‘Now the Lord has answered me, and the time has come for all worthy men to receive the priesthood. I shared with my counselors, I’ve shared with the Twelve, and I’ve gotten their response, and now after having their response, I want to turn it over to you. I want your response. How do you feel about it? I won’t—” He says this: “I won’t announce it to the world without first counseling with you. We’re not in a hurry. I want to hear from you.” 

And so he listens to anybody who has any objections or just wants to know their feeling about the Mormon priesthood ban. There were no objections. One general authority said, “I would’ve voted against such a proposal, until I experienced the feeling that I did in this room this morning.” He had stood up and said that. Another had just said, “I changed my position 180 degrees. I’m not just a supporter of this decision. I’m an advocate.” So once it was clear there was unanimity among the general authorities, one of my favorite lines is he then turns to his counselor N. Eldon Tanner, and he says, “Eldon, go tell the world.” So he slips out and tells the press about this and then—ooh. So awesome. Just that dogged determination to make sure there’s unanimity before this goes out to the world. We can have no schisms on this. The Lord loves unity, that’s for sure.

And that announcement is now canon. It’s Official Declaration 2 in the Doctrine and Covenants. I’d love to read the whole thing, but here’s the most important part: “He has heard our prayers.” This is in Official Declaration 2. “By revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the church may receive the holy priesthood with power to exercise his divine authority and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple.” There’s the priesthood and temple mention right there. “Sincerely yours, the First Presidency.” And if I can, we’ve been bouncing between the periphery of the church and the headquarters of the church. Let’s bounce back to the periphery and go to Helvécio Martins. You can find this material on Doctrine and Covenants Central, under Official Declaration 2, but Helvécio was in Brazil when the announcement came. His wife, Ruda, was with him. This is what he says when he heard the announcement: I could not contain my emotions. Ruda and I went into our bedroom, knelt down, and prayed. We wept as we thanked our Father in heaven for an event we had only dreamed about. The day had actually arrived in our mortal lives. So he might not have been expecting it to happen in his lifetime, though he thought it was going to happen.

Two weeks after that, with the ban lifted for blacks in Mormonism, Helvécio Martins is ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood with his son, Marcus, who we’ve met. A week later he receives the Melchizedek Priesthood, and then he ordains his son, and he later said, “I felt I would explode with joy, happiness, and contentment. What an incredible experience for me and for Marcus.” And then flash forward a couple years, Helvécio Martins is the first general authority Seventy who’s a person of black African descent. He’s made a general authority.

And his son’s the very first black missionary. So here’s a wild backstory I just heard about that is that he had received in his patriarchal blessing—this is the son. This is Marcus. Marcus had received a patriarchal blessing that said that he would serve a full-time mission, which you have to be an elder to do. This was before the revelation. His parents, fully understanding the implications of that, cautiously but, like, optimistically began a mission savings fund for him, which is such a cool expression of faith in that patriarchal blessing. And then Marcus had actually gotten engaged to get married, and then when the revelation came, he postponed his marriage so he could go fulfill his mission. And yeah, he’s the very first black missionary since Elijah Abel. Super cool story. The Martins family’s awesome.

And I want to share an excerpt from when Helvécio Martins became a general authority. He’s passed away now. But he spoke in general conference, and in his talk he said, “I was not called by the Lord to represent any specific race, nationality, or ethnic group of his children. I was called by prophecy, revelation, and the laying on of hands to represent God’s children, be they white, black, or any other color, wherever they live on earth. Less than 13 years earlier I had been given the priesthood. Now I stand at the pulpit [that] some of the greatest men of all time had occupied, with the living prophets and apostles seated directly behind me.” So that’s the power of the revelation, right? This humble church member, less than 13 years later, is now in the leading councils of the church, directing the work and receiving revelation, just as the prophets and apostles before him.

Wow. I think I can be open here and say this is the hardest topic that we’ve tackled. It’s tough, and we have had a lot of back and forth behind the scenes about the right way to approach this, the right way to talk about it. I have to admit that part of my anxiety comes from the fact that I’m a white male. And I feel like I’m tiptoeing into someone else’s sacred history here, but I’m also a believing Latter-day Saint, and so it’s my story on that level as well. It’s tough. It can be tough to confront imperfections in men and women that I love dearly, and I still love them all, you know? I still think Brigham Young’s a prophet, and Joseph F. Smith and Eliza R. Snow—but I think this is maybe the ultimate story problem for a Latter-day Saint as to do we believe in infallibility in our leaders, or do we think that they’re humans that can make mistakes?This is a tough one, and then the length of time is tough for us to manage, too, but in the grand scheme of things, I still think that this situation of blacks and the priesthood is an uplifting story that shows how the Lord can reach down and help people overcome their prejudices and their environments that they’re born into.

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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