Facts about the LDS Church, Blacks & the Priesthood that Cause Some to Struggle

Supporting Facts Derived 100% from Church-Friendly Sources

by John P. Dehlin of Mormon Stories podcast

The basic facts are as follows:

  • 1830: The Book of Mormon is published. The Book uses a dark skin motif as a sign of sinfulness by the Lamanites: “The Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon [the Lamanites]”, cf. 1 Ne. 5:21.
  •  July 1831: Joseph Smith identifies Negroes as lineage of Ham: “The first Sabbath after our arrival in Jackson county, Brother W. W. Phelps preached to a western audience…wherein were present specimens of all the families of the earth; Shem, Ham and Japheth; … quite a respectable number of negro descendants of Ham …” (History of the Church, 1:190).
  • 1832: Elijah Abel baptized. In early years there is dispute over his exact ethnicity. Some Report him as white, which seems impossible given later actions regarding him.
  • March 1836: Elijah Abel ordained an Elder by Joseph Smith Jr. (Eunice Kinney: “My Testimony of the Latter-day Work”). The certificate of ordination is dated 3 Mar 1836.
  • Dec 1836: Elijah Abel is ordained a Seventy. Ordination is performed by Zebedee Coltrin according to certificate.
  • 1843: Apostles Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt and John Page restrict Elijah Abel’s missionary work to his own people.
  • 1844 or earlier: Walker Lewis, a Black member and barber in Lowell, MA ordained an Elder by William Smith (a younger brother of Joseph Smith Jr.)
  • 1844 : Joseph Smith Jr. campaigns for the presidency of the United States on an anti-slavery platform aimed at ending slavery by 1850.
  • June 1844: Martyrdom of Joseph Smith Jr.
  • 27 Apr 1845 : Orson Hyde refers to Negroes as the cursed lineage of Canaan and says that the curse of servility which they bore was for their actions in the preexistence.
  • Oct 1846: William “Black Pete” McCary baptized and ordained by Apostle Orson Hyde.
  • Fall 1847: Black “prophet,” William McCary seduces a number of Mormon women into his own polygamy rites. McCary is subsequently excommunicated. Brigham Young declares Blacks ineligible for certain temple ordinances, possibly reacting to the William McCary affair. Brigham Young says, “It’s nothing to do with the blood for of one blood has God made all flesh, …we have one of the best Elders, an African [i.e., Walker Lewis] in Lowell.”
  • Feb 1849: Brigham Young declares, “Because Cain cut off the lives [sic] of Abel…the Lord cursed Cain’s seed and prohibited them from the Priesthood.”
  • 1850: Twelve Mormon slave owners possess between 60 and 70 black slaves in Deseret Territory. There is one Apostle, Charles C. Rich, among these slave owners.
  • 1852: “An Act in Relation to Service” gives legal recognition to black slave holding in the Territory of Deseret (Utah).
  • 1852: After listening to a Brigham Young speech in the Tabernacle, Wilford Woodruff records the following Brigham Young quote in his journal: “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him Cannot hold the priesthood … I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ. I know it is true & they know it. The Negro cannot hold one particle of Government … if any man mingles his seed with the seed of Cane the only way he Could get rid of it or have salvation would be to Come forward & have his head Cut off & spill his Blood upon the ground. It would also take the life of his Children.” (Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 4, p. 97)
  • 1853 : Elijah Abel not allowed by Brigham Young to receive his endowment.
  • July 13, 1859: In an interview with Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, Brigham Young was asked: HG: What is the position of your church with respect to slavery?
    BY: We consider it of divine institution and not to be abolished until the curse pronounced on Ham shall have been removed from his descendants.
  • October 9, 1859: Brigham young, during a conference talk in the Tabernacle, as recorded in the Journal of Discourses 7:282, states: “You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race-that they should be the “servant of servants;” and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree. How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam’s children are brought up to that favorable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion.”
  • March 8, 1863: Brigham young, during a conference talk in the Tabernacle, as recorded in the Journal of Discourses 10:109, states: “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”
  • 1879: Zebedee Coltrin claims that in 1834, Joseph Smith received a revelation that Blacks are not to be ordained to the priesthood. Zebedee Coltrin also claims that Abel was dropped from the quorum of Seventy when Joseph Smith Jr. learned that Abel was Black. Apostle Joseph F. Smith Challenges Coltrin’s claim. He shows two certificates of Abel’s re-ordination to the office of Seventy. Brother Coltrin’s memory is shown to be unreliable: His claimed date (1834) for Joseph Smith’s announcing the alleged ban is impossible, since Coltrin himself ordained Abel a Seventy in 1836.
  • Dec. 26, 1884: Elijah Abel dies “of old age and debility, consequent upon exposure while laboring in the ministry in Ohio”, after returning from his 3rd full-time mission for the LDS Church.
  • 1895: Joseph F. Smith again rebuffs claims that Abel had been dropped from the priesthood. On the contrary, he makes two new claim: that Abel’s original ordination was done under the direction of Joseph Smith Jr., and that Abel was ordained a High Priest after being a Seventy.
  • 27 Nov 1900: Enoch Abel, son of Elijah and Mary Abel, ordained an Elder.
  • 1908: Inexplicably, and in total contradiction to his own prior statements, Joseph F. Smith, on unspecified grounds, reverses his former position about Elijah Abel’s status and now claims that Joseph Smith himself declared Abel’s ordination “null and void.”
  • 5 July 1934: Just as inexplicable, Elijah Abel, grandson of Elijah Abel, is ordained a priest. And on 29 Sep 1935, Elijah Abel, grandson of Elijah Abel, is ordained an Elder.
  • August 17, 1949: The LDS First Presidency issues the following statement regarding the church and the Negroes: “The attitude of the Church with reference to 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 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 pre-mortal 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.”
    The First Presidency
  • 1954: Joseph Fielding Smith writes in Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 1, pages 66-67 “There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantage. 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…. There were no neutrals in the war in heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits.”
  • 1954: Apostle Mark E. Peterson remarks during an address given at BYU entitled, “Race Problems – as They Affect The Church”: “Now we are generous with the Negro. We are willing that the Negro have the highest kind of education. I would be willing to let every Negro drive a Cadillac if they could afford it. I would be willing that they have all the advantages they can get out of life in the world. But let them enjoy these things among themselves. I think the Lord segregated the Negro and who is man to change that segregation?”
  • 1958: Bruce R. McConkie writes in Mormon Doctrine, 10th printing, pages 527-528: “Those who were less valiant in the 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…. Noah’s son Ham married Egyptus, a descendant of Cain, thus preserving the negro lineage through the flood….The negroes are not equal with other races when the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow therefrom, but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate.”
  • 1969: President Hugh B. Brown proposes that the Church’s policy be reversed and that Blacks be given the Priesthood. This policy was approved by the Quorum of Twelve and the First Presidency with President McKay and Harold B. Lee absent. (President McKay was disabled due to age and President Lee was traveling on Church business). When President Lee returns, he calls for another vote and the measure is defeated.
  • December 15, 1969: The LDS First Presidency issues another statement on the black issue, excerpts of which are included below: To General Authorities, Regional Representatives of the Twelve, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, and Bishops.
    Dear Brethren:
    “In view of confusion that has arisen, it was decided at a meeting of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to restate the position of the Church with regard to the Negro both in society and in the Church.”
    “A word of explanation concerning the position of the Church.
    From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.”
    “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.” President McKay has also said, “Sometime in God’s eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the priesthood.””
    Faithfully your brethren,
    The First Presidency
    By Hugh B. Brown
    N. Eldon Tanner
  • 1978: Spencer W. Kimball announces that the priesthood ban on persons of color is lifted.
  • 1978: Bruce R. McConkie, in an address to CES employees entitled, “All are alike unto god”, states: “Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon 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. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter any more.”
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