Mormons Approve Ordination of Black Men of African Descent Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

During the presidency of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, several blacks were ordained to the priesthood, but Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, later prohibited further ordinations. Although later presidents of the church relaxed this policy somewhat, black men of African descent could not be ordained until the twelfth president, Spencer W. Kimball, announced a revelation that all worthy men of any race could be ordained.

Significance

Most Mormons greeted the revelation with joy, but to those who did not, or who might be confused, McConkie said, “There are statements in our literature by the early Brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. . . . Forget everything I have said, or what President Brigham Young . . . or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” Religious groups;Mormons

Joseph Freeman Freeman, Joseph of Granger, Utah (just outside Salt Lake City), may have been the first black ordained to the priesthood after the revelation. He entered the Salt Lake City temple with his family to receive the sealing and other temple ordinances on June 26, 1978. Missionaries were sent to Africa, and twenty-seven years later there were an estimated six hundred blacks in Africa who were bishops (shepherds of local congregations) or stake presidents (shepherds over about ten congregations).

While tremendous progress was made, some prejudice remained. Church president Gordon B. Hinckley, Hinckley, Gordon B. in the April, 2006, General Conference of the Church, said that he received reports that some church members were making racial slurs and remarked: “I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the . . . Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?” Religious groups;Mormons Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Mormons

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bringhurst, Newell G., and Darron T. Smith, eds. Black and Mormon. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Eight scholars discuss history of the ban, residual racism, and the place of blacks in the Church of Jesus Christ.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bush, Lester E., Jr. “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8, no. 1 (1973): 11-68. Seminal article on the subject may have helped bring about the change.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bush, Lester E., Jr., and Armand L. Mauss, eds. Neither White Nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church. Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1984. Collection of seven essays plus a chronology and authoritative quotes. Excellent resource on breadth of the topic.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mauss, Armand L. All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003. Mormon sociologist’s major work on beliefs and treatment of minorities in the Church of Jesus Christ. He found that the Mormon groups he tested were less racist than comparable non-Mormon groups. The racism he did find correlated more with lack of education than with church activity.

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