Last week Deseret News reported on a new film in the works: “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons.” Three Latter-day Saints have teamed up to produce this documentary. They hope to present a theatrical release next June to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the LDS Church’s announcement lifting the ban on blacks holding the priesthood. Deseret News reported,
“Before June 1978, the LDS Church had a policy in place that denied the faith’s priesthood to black males. That year, then-church President Spencer W. Kimball announced that he had received a revelation from God lifting the ban, and today the church actively proselytizes to African-Americans. But the history remains a sore spot for many potential converts and some church members.
“Folklore about the reasons for the ban persists in some quarters, and is something the producers — both active Latter-day Saints — are anxious to dispel.
“‘The official answer (from the church) is, “we don’t know why”‘ the ban was in place, [producer Darius] Gray said. ‘And that’s important. It does away with the rationale that Cain killed Abel, or that blacks were less valiant (in a pre-Earth life), or that Noah’s son, Ham, was cursed’ with black skin that marked his descendants as unworthy.
“‘The brethren (top LDS leaders) have disavowed that.'”
Nevertheless, Deseret News reported that according to Mr. Gray, LDS Church leaders have given him permission to publicly “share” his own belief that
“the ban ‘was not imposed by God but was allowed by God’ as a test for Latter-day Saints of all ethnic backgrounds.
“He [Gray] believes it was ‘not a curse but a calling.’
“‘It was a test to see how we would treat one another,’ he said, adding the challenge for all ‘was the same: to maintain the love of the Savior in our hearts for one another. And when that restriction became too much of an impediment for (God’s) work to go forward, there was a revelation.'”
Clearly, this is Mr. Gray’s opinion, not official doctrine. Apparently there is no “official” teaching on why blacks were denied the priesthood. But there are “opinions” which have been expressed by LDS prophets and apostles speaking or writing as Church leaders. One would think the opinions of LDS prophets, seers and revelators might carry a bit more weight than the opinion of an LDS filmmaker. Here are a few “opinions” that may be worthy of consideration.
“Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin … The present status of the negro rests purely and simply on the foundation of pre-existence” (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 527, 1966 ed.).
“President Brigham Young … said that Joseph Smith had declared that the Negroes were not neutral in heaven, for all the spirits took sides, but ‘the posterity of Cain are black because he (Cain) committed murder. He killed Abel and God set a mark upon his posterity'” (Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, 105).
“…there is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient; more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:61).
“When He [God] placed the mark on Cain, He engaged in segregation. When he told Enoch not to preach the gospel to the descendants of Cain who were black, the Lord engaged in segregation. When He cursed the descendants of Cain as to the Priesthood, He engaged in segregation” (Mark E. Peterson, Race Problems–As They Affect the Church, p.15).
“The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said, ‘Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their father’s rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God'” (Official statement of the First Presidency, August 17, 1951, quoted in John Lewis Lund, The Church and the Negro, 89).
“I know of no scriptural basis for denying the Priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the Book of Abraham (1:26); however, I believe, as you suggest that the real reason dates back to our pre-existent life” (David O. McKay, November 3, 1947, quoted in William E. Berrett, The Church and the Negroid People, 19).
Addendum: The following excerpt from an interview given by Gordon B. Hinckley may also be of interest. This interview originally aired in Australia on November 9, 1997.
David Ransom: Now up until 1978 I understand Blacks were not allowed to be priests in your Church?
Gordon B. Hinckley: That is correct. Although we have Black members of the Church. They felt that they would gain more in this Church than any other with which they were acquainted and they were members of the Church. In 1978 we (the president of the Church) received a revelation under which all worthy men would receive all the blessings of the Church available to them as well as to any others. So across the world now we are teaching the Gospel to Blacks, Whites, everyone else who will listen.
David Ransom: So in retrospect was the Church wrong in that?
Gordon B. Hinckley: No I don’t think it was wrong. It things, various things happened in different periods. There’s a reason for them.
David Ransom: What was the reason for that?
Gordon B. Hinckley: I don’t know what the reason was. But I know that we’ve rectified whatever may have appeared to be wrong at that time.