Blacks in Mormonism: Tough Questions & Responses with Paul Reeve (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

The next question is from Justin from Riverton. Justin asks, “God could have easily communicated his will to any of the prophets, right? He could have overruled any of their objections. It didn’t matter what their society or culture told them. God’s supreme authority would’ve trumped anything these prophets erroneously believed.” Here’s his question: “So why didn’t he clearly communicate to any of them that it was his will that all his children would receive the blessings of the priesthood and the temple?”

Yeah, because he did. Joseph Smith claims five revelations telling him that the gospel is to be preached unto every creature. Who does that leave out? It’s in the Doctrine and Covenants five times. He did. But he also gives us our agency to ignore the revelations he gives us. He tells Joseph Smith twice, “I am no respecter of persons,” and he claims all flesh as his own. What color of flesh does Jesus Christ not claim? What color of flesh is excluded from his redemptive power? And yet he gives us the agency to ignore those revelations.

And I think that’s exactly what happens. You know, the historical circumstances and changing circumstances, and we see this take on a life of its own and grow in accumulating precedent, right? Ezra Taft Benson, as an elder, talks about the Samuel principle in a talk he gives. I think it’s 1975 or 1976. He uses the notion that the children of Israel come to Samuel and say, you know, “Give us a king,” and Samuel’s like, “No.” And they continue to insist. And finally God says, “Well, Samuel, they haven’t rejected you. They rejected me. Give them a king, and let them suffer the consequences.” And that’s, like, a 400-year kind of consequence. Like, this is not sort of, like, a on a whim kind of a thing with short-term consequences. You know, they fall into idolatry, and all of those kind of challenges we see play out in the Old Testament. And President Benson calls it the Samuel principle. Sometimes God gives us what we want and lets us suffer the consequences. He did not come down and stop Brigham Young from saying the terrible things that he said on the 5th of February 1852. He let him say those things and let them grow in accumulating precedent.

He doesn’t save us from our own sins. That’s a violation of the plan, right? He lets me sin every single day if I want to sin. That’s agency. If you give human beings agency, things are going to get messy. It’s inevitable. If you study history at all, you understand that it’s messy, and that doesn’t all of a sudden get tidy when I cross over and start studying Latter-day Saint history, especially not regarding blacks in Mormonism.

So I think the key to me is agency, and God is not going to violate our agency. He’s not going to violate the agency of a prophet. So what about in, like, the 20th century after Brigham Young’s day? Like, why didn’t God just come down and correct the error? What about that? The answer in the 20th century is that these explanations become so entrenched that the leadership believes that they were in place from the beginning. They’re not doing historical research. We have Lester Bush, who publishes in 1973 an article that called into question the standing narrative.

He says there is no evidence that the racial restrictions were in place from the beginning. So historians start to unravel the cultural assumptions. But you also have those in the leadership who simply say, “Hey, this is the way it’s always been. We shouldn’t question it. And in the book, I use the quote from President Romney, who says that. He says, “I know President Kimball is praying about this and searching about this and is really investing time and energy in this, and I said, you know, ‘Why are you wasting your time? This is just the way that it’s always been, and we should continue to stick with it.’” That’s a paraphrase. The direct quote is in the book, but nonetheless, I’m saying that’s the inertia that President Kimball is fighting against.

The cultural assumptions is that it’s always been in place and we should just spend our energy defending it. And President Kimball does the opposite and starts to investigate, right? And calls into question the standing narrative. And asks the leadership also, “OK, where are the scriptural justifications?” And they can’t come up with any. And you have other leaders, like Hugh B. Brown, who is saying there’s no revelation that begins it. Let’s get rid of it by policy vote, right? But you have some in the leadership who are resistant to that and suggest that these teachings are so entrenched that it will take a revelation. So there is no consensus. And that helps us to account for why it, you know, drags into the second half of the 20th century.

 So it seems like, our simple response to that has been the Lord never told them because they never asked, certainly not unified. There’s some secondhand accounts that President McKay was maybe asking and the Lord said not yet, or something. I don’t know if you have anything else to say about President McKay, but it seems like this one needed a unified approach. The Lord needed them to ask him humbly and unitedly in order for the revelation to come.

And the accounts in the McKay administration, the only accounts that I could find were always secondhand and in McKay’s own diary. He never claims that he asked the Lord about this directly, but what I see is a lack of unity and a lack of consensus. So I see people like Hugh B. Brown and even President McKay moving towards, I think, racial openness. And Hugh B. Brown simply trying, I think, working behind the scenes in the 1960s, trying to move the church forward on this issue of black Mormons because he’s convinced it’s just a policy. And President McKay comes to that conclusion himself, and Hugh B. Brown simply says, “If it’s a policy, let’s get rid of it by policy vote, right? And yet people like Harold B. Lee are entrenched in the racial policies. They’re ready to defend it, right? As they want to be defenders of the truth. I don’t see them being obstinate for obstinacy’s sake. I’ve thought about, as we’ve been studying Paul recently in Come, Follow Me, that Paul was so determined to, like, stamp out this little movement of Jesus freaks who were trying to do this aberration from the true Judaism, right? Until he met Jesus and then he realized, “Oh, shoot. I’ve been defending the wrong thing.” And that’s what I hear Elder McConkie saying in 1978 in August when he’s like, “Forget everything I’ve said about this. I was trying to defend, yes, I was trying to defend it because I believed it was true, but now I have learned that it wasn’t true.” And so I don’t see Harold B. Lee or Bruce R. McConkie or anyone doing that to be obstinate, but they actually believed it. They actually believed that this began with Joseph Smith, and it was something that deserved defending rather than overturning.

And before we move on to the next question, it seems like that was the key piece in 1978 when President Kimball was able to get the First Presidency and Twelve unified with him in asking the Lord about this, that’s when the magic happened, right? That’s when the revelation came. I think that’s key. I think there’s a lack of consensus during President McKay’s presidency, and I think that President Kimball learns from that and goes about a process wherein he is cultivating for years, cultivating a new understanding and cultivating consensus amongst the leadership, asking them to consider these questions, asking them to study it out, asking them to write some reports: where are the scriptural justifications?

And cultivating kind of a new understanding, asking them to be open about the possibility. So I think he’s laying the groundwork, and I think he understands that principle of consensus and is building consensus so that they have this unifying and what everyone involved expresses as a profound spiritual experience on June 1, 1978 in the temple, and I think he did the work beforehand that opened the door for that to take place.

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.