In 1973, five years before the Mormon Church lifted its ban on Blacks holding the LDS priesthood and participating in Mormon temple ordinances, Wendell J. Ashton, the Mormon Church’s director of Public Affairs, appeared on “1973 Special News Report: When the Latter-day Saints Go Marching In.”
Using an official statement on the matter issued by the First Presidency of the Church in 1969, Mr. Ashton explained that only God knew why the priesthood was denied to people of African descent at that time. The First Presidency Statement of which Mr. Ashton quoted a small part also says,
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes its origin, its existence, and its hope for the future to the principle of continuous revelation…
Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, “The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God…Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man’s mortal existence, extending back to man’s pre-existent state.”
And, according to Mr. Ashton, revelation “from the Lord” would be required for any change to “the seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro.”
Pre-dating the 1969 First Presidency Statement was a similar statement issued twenty years earlier. But the 1949 First Presidency Statement took a stronger stance on the reason for the priesthood ban. In addition to being in agreement with the 1969 statement regarding the fact that the ban was a consequence of revelation (“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…”), the 1949 First Presidency explained,
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 fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”
President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.”
The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.
Somehow, “the attitude of the Church…as it has always been” changed by December 2013. Though not as authoritative as a First Presidency Statement, the Mormon Church published an essay that was meant to explain and clear up misconceptions surrounding this aspect of Mormon history.
The essay says,
“There is no reliable evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.”
But if the priesthood ban “goes back into the beginning with God,” “antedates man’s mortal existence,” and was a “direct commandment from the Lord,” did Joseph Smith disobey God if he did not deny the priesthood to black men?
The essay says,
“Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.”
Since the Church’s First Presidency issued an official statement explaining the priesthood and temple restrictions were “in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God” and somehow a result of “the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence,” does the Mormon Church now reject the official First Presidency Statement?
The essay says,
“…the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life;…”
So does this mean that the Church today demotes an earlier official First Presidency Statement to the level of a “theory,” and washes its hands of the official proclamations of early Church prophets, seers and revelators?
What are we to make of this? Current LDS doctrine, as outlined in the Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual, Religion 333, is this:
“What the First Presidency Says Is Scripture
“President Marion G. Romney (1897-1988) of the First Presidency taught that the First Presidency speaks the words Jesus Christ would declare if He were here in person:
“ ‘…what the presidency say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here, and it is scripture. It should be studied, understood, and followed, even as the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants and other scriptures. Those who follow this course will not interpret what they say as being inspired by political bias or selfishness; neither will they say that the brethren are uninformed as to the circumstances of those affected by their counsel; or that their counsels cannot be accepted because they are not prefaced by the quotation, “Thus saith the Lord.”’” (Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual, Religion 333, 2010, 52-53)
Sadly, Mormons don’t seem to be troubled by their leaders’ contradictory teachings. In fact, Mormons have been fond of misappropriating and quoting 1 Corinthians 14:33 in an effort to disparage Christianity: “For God is not a God of confusion.” Yet Mormonism is so confusing and contradictory that Latter-day Saints can’t know who or what they are supposed to believe. Do prophets speak for God – or not? Is what the First Presidency say Scripture – or not? Is the Church safe from being led astray – or not?
I implore everyone everywhere: do not listen to false prophets who claim to speak for God, yet who demonstrate through their contradictions and confusing messages that they “follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!” (Ezekiel 13:1-4). Instead, look to God Himself – “the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). His written Word — available to all — His Word is truth (John 17:17).