Blacks in Mormonism: The 1978 Revelation of Reversion and Repair (Part 5)

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

To listen to the complete episode, visit

A few years ago, in 2018, was the anniversary of the revelation. They had a big celebration. The entire First Presidency was there. I loved this quote that Dallin H. Oaks shared at that time. President Oaks said this: “Whether we look on the revelation as the end of the beginning of the Restoration or the beginning of the end of what it portends, it is difficult to overstate its importance in the fulfillment of divine command that the gospel must go to every nation, kindred tongue, and people. And I loved that way he phrased it, that maybe we’ve tended to think of the Restoration as something that happened in the past. In fact, I had someone criticize one of my books the other day, saying, “It’s not about the Restoration because they talk about stuff after Joseph Smith.” President Oaks is saying, “Oh, no, no, no. The 1978 revelation is the end of the beginning of the Restoration. Now the really amazing stuff is going to happen.” And seeing temples rise in places like South Africa and Ghana and Nigeria and all over the place just shows us that, yeah, we really have only turned the first page in the story of the Restoration and this beautiful, uplifting revelation marks the end of the beginning. Not the beginning, not the beginning of the end. The story has a long ways to go. And I’m so excited to see what the centuries before us will tell us about new revelations from God and new groups of people that can come to experience God’s love.

You know, as we wrap this all up, my mind goes back to where we began in this series. I mean, we were pretty up front right at the beginning about the fact that studying this history carefully will forcefully require us to confront our comfortable assumptions about prophets and about God. And I trust our listeners know a little more now what we meant by that.

Regarding prophets, for instance, if there was any question in your mind before we began this series that prophets are fallible and can make real mistakes, well, now you know. We trust that point has been settled for you. I mean, as we’ve surveyed this history, we’ve seen several prophets and apostles make unfortunate decisions to exclude blacks in Mormonism from full participation in the church based on false doctrines, bad science, discriminatory social norms, unfounded fears, and false memories, right? And those decisions, however well intentioned—I don’t think any prophet was trying to be malicious—still actually hurt people. So we’ve got to learn to sit with that.

And maybe we’ve learned the important lesson that God’s prophets are not God’s puppets. They are fully independent, and he allows them to make costly mistakes. It’s absolutely stunning to me to consider the Lord’s patience and longsuffering in all of this history. I mean, he’s not intrusive or forceful. Yeah. Like, until there was a prophet and apostles willing to humble themselves and unitedly study this out and seek his will, he never forced the issue. He just didn’t speak directly on the issue. But the very first time the apostles unitedly approached him on this topic, the revelation came with great power.

In the meantime, however, he was content to gently work on what you’ve called the peripheries. You know, pouring out his spirit upon thousands in Africa, in spite of the ban; working through patriarchs to give seemingly impossible blessings; working, no doubt, through the Civil Rights movement; prodding Lester Bush’s scholarship; guiding church leaders to build a temple in Brazil—all things that eventually converge to persuade the apostles to keenly feel a need to draw near unto the Lord on this issue so that he could draw near unto them. So I guess this history helps me understand that prophetic fallibility is always tempered with both the mercy and the wisdom of God. Like, the good news for those who made mistakes is that God is merciful, and he forgives. And the good news for the innocent and faithful who were hurt by those mistakes is that when the Lord is involved, nothing can ever go permanently wrong. Working within the constraints of man’s agency, the Lord eventually got us back on course, right? I love this quote from Paul Reeve in his Let’s Talk About book that we’ve been recommending. He said, “In June 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation that returned the church to its universal roots and restored what was lost, priesthood and temple admission to people of African descent. This did not mark something new as much as it reestablished a commitment to the founding principles of the Restoration.” So this is kind of, like, a mini Restoration, right? It’s a restoration back to what was originally intended. I like that. This June 1, 1978 revelation is God correcting what had come into the church through human error. So we can think of it as a revelation of reversion and repair. 

Now, my final thought is, although I’m a white guy, born in 1980, and so I didn’t experience any of this history directly, I do remember some church members telling me things like blacks suffered from the Curse of Cain, or that they were less valiant in the premortal life, and I’ve seen up close that racism is still a disease in need of eradication in the church. And so we’ve still got work to do.

Now, considering where we’ve come from, I can say we’re better collectively than we have ever been, so that’s good. But there is still work to do, and I hope all of this history inspires us to join church leaders today in unequivocally condemning all racism, past and present, in any form to really lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of racial prejudice. And so my prayer for all of us, for what it’s worth, is that we will never be complicit with the scourge of elitism that has plagued many good men and women of the past and continues to be a problem in some parts of society and even in our church today. So let’s be part of the solution to the love and the healing that is still so desperately needed in the world today. That’s my prayer for all of us.

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.

About Mormonism Explained

Mormonism Explained is a resource that was designed to provide objective and factual information about Mormonism, its history, doctrines, and policies. Our team of researchers consults experts and primary sources to present factual information on a variety of topics relevant to the Mormon Church.