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What Is the Priesthood Ban? Why Did It Start? And When Did It End?

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

Updated June 5th 2024

The Priesthood ban refers to a former policy in the Church that denied men of Black African descent from being ordained to the priesthood. It also prevented women and men of this ancestry from participating in the endowment and sealing ordinances in Mormon temples.

The ban was first publicly articulated in 1852 by then president of the church, Brigham Young during “two speeches delivered before the Utah territorial legislature”[1] in which he argued that the Utah Territory be made into a slave territory. Young used the curse of Cain rationale, saying that since black people couldn’t bear priesthood, they quote, “ought to dwell in servitude.” He stated that men of Black African descent could not be ordained to the priesthood but that at a future date, “black Church members would ‘have [all] the privilege and more’ enjoyed by other members.”[2] Some historical records show that Brigham Young worried about the intermarriage and race-mixing of Latter-day Saints–a prevalent fear among White Americans.

This wasn’t an official policy of the Mormon Church until 1908. Under the leadership of Joseph F. Smith, (who was the nephew of Mormon Church Founder, Joseph Smith) an official ban was instituted in the church. Under Joseph F. Smith’s leadership, the church desired to systematize church doctrines and practices. They examined the status of the blacks and the priesthood. Joseph F instituted an examination of the historical record, to determine if the ban should be institutionalized as policy. A misinterpretation of the historical record determined the ban was appropriate and was therefore codified as policy. They misinterpreted the historical record as showing the priesthood was revoked for one particular black member of the church (Elijah Able), and therefore it must have been a mistake to allow blacks to have the priesthood to begin with. 

The Priesthood ban officially ended on June 8th, 1978, when the Mormon church First Presidency, under the leadership of President Spencer W. Kimball announced that they had received a revelation. It rescinded the ban and offered the blessings of priesthood ordination to all worthy males and temple ordinances to all worthy members of the Church, no matter their race or ancestry.

In summary, when the Mormon Church began, it invited people of all races to receive priesthood and temple blessings. In 1852, Brigham Young changed his previously held views on race and voiced his opinion that Black men shouldn’t be allowed to receive the priesthood nor should Black men and women be allowed to receive temple blessings. This wasn’t an official policy until 1908 when Joseph F. Smith codified a priesthood ban. A return to the initial policy of the church, allowing all regardless of race, to receive priesthood and temple blessings began in 1978.

  • References
    1. Edward L. Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on the Priesthood,” BYU Studies 47, no. 2 (2008): 4 – 78.