The Deseret News published a letter on June 9, 1978 declaring that a revelation had been received by Prophet Spencer W Kimball lifting the ban on black men receiving the Priesthood. The BYU newspaper, the Daily Universe also published an article with the headline: BLACKS GET PRIESTHOOD: GOD REVEALS NEW POLICY TO LDS PROPHET. But did God actually reveal this this to President Kimball? How did it really happen?
Recently, a transcript and audio of an interview with LeGrand Richards has been released. It sheds more light on how exactly the policy change/revelation occured. If interested here is a portion of the transcript. The interviewers last name is Walters. (but not to be confused with Barbara Walters)
WALTERS: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: I’ve heard that Christ appeared to the Apostles. I’ve heard that Joseph Smith appeared; and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had had a concern about this for some time and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Now are any of those stories true, or are they all…
RICHARDS: Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it’s hard to get leaders that don’t have Negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It’s going to be dedicated in October. All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising the money to build that temple. And then, if we don’t change, then they can’t even use it. So Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it.
He asked each one of us of the Twelve if we would pray – and we did – that the Lord would give him the inspiration to know what the will of the Lord was. And then he invited each one of us in his office – individually, because you know when you are in a group, you can’t always express everything that’s in your heart. You’re part of the group, you see – so he interviewed each one of us, personally, to see how we felt about it, and he asked us to pray about it. And then he asked each one of us to hand in all the references we had, for, or against that proposal. See, he was thinking favorably toward giving the colored people the priesthood.
Then we had a meeting where we meet every week in the temple, and we discussed it as a group together, and then we prayed about it in our prayer circle, and then we held another prayer circle after the close of that meeting, and he (President Kimball) lead in the prayer; praying that the Lord would give us the inspiration that we needed to do the thing that would be pleasing to Him and for the blessing of His children. And then the next Thursday – we meet every Thursday – the Presidency came with this little document written out to make the announcement – to see how we’d feel about it – and present it in written form. Well, some of the members of the Twelve suggested a few changes in the announcement, and then in our meeting there we all voted in favor of it – the Twelve and the Presidency. One member of the Twelve, Mark Petersen, was down in South America, but Brother Benson, our President, had arranged to know where he could be reached by phone, and right while we were in that meeting in the temple, Brother Kimball talked with Brother Petersen, and read him this article, and he (Petersen) approved of it.
WALTERS: What was the date? Would that have been the first of June, or something?
RICHARDS: That was the first Thursday, I think, in May. [June?] At least that’s about when it was. And then after we all voted in favor of it, we called another meeting for the next morning, Friday morning, at seven o’clock, of all the other General Authorities – that includes the Seventies’ Quorum and the Patriarch and the Presiding Bishopric, and it was presented to them, and they all had an opportunity to express themselves and then there were a few of the brethren that were out presiding in the missions, and so the Twelve were appointed to interview each one of them. I had to interview Brother Rex Reeve and read him the article and asked his feelings. He was thrilled because he labored down there in Brazil and he knew what it would mean for those people. And so every member of the General Authorities, to a man, approved it before the announcement went out.
Now we had a letter from a colored man up in Ogden, read like this; he was a member of the church, and he said “If the Lord is willing to let me have my wife and children in this life, why wouldn’t He be willing to let me have them in the next life?” That makes sense, doesn’t it?
And then, you know, the Lord gave revelation to Prophet Joseph where He said that “There is a law irrevocably decreed in the heavens before the foundation of the Earth was laid upon which all blessings are predicated and no blessing can be obtained except by obedience to the law upon which it is predicated.” Well all that means is that if you want to raise wheat you’ve got to plant wheat, doesn’t it? If you want corn then you’ve got to plant corn. Well if I plant wheat and get a harvest and the colored man plants wheat and takes a good care of it – why isn’t he as much entitled to the harvest as I, you see?
And then, um, [untelligible] and so.
WALTERS: Well I was going to ask you about
RICHARDS: So we figured the same with spiritual blessings. If the colored man lives as good as I do, he can serve the Lord and so forth, why isn’t he as much entitled to the blessings as I am? It’s been a united decision, there’s been no adverse comment by anyone of the General Authorities.
VLACHOS: What about intermarriage? Is it okay?
VLACHOS: Is it okay to marry?
WALTERS: Intermarriage, is that in view too?
RICHARDS: Well, no. Never before this decision was reached we’ve always recommended that people live within their own race – the Japanese ought to marry Japanese, the Chinese ought to marry Chinese, Hawaiians ought to marry Hawaiians and the colored people ought to marry colored.
WALTERS: And that would still be your position?
RICHARDS:: That is still our position. But they are entitled to the temple blessings and the sealing of their wives to them. It’s all conditioned on their living. Now if they live right and they’re devoted and they’re good clean living – why shouldn’t they get the blessings?
WALTERS: Now when President Kimball read this little announcement or paper, was that the same thing that was released to the press?
WALTERS: There wasn’t a special document as a “revelation”, that he had and wrote down?
RICHARDS: We discussed it in our meeting. What else should we say besides that announcement? And we decided that was sufficient; that no more needed to be said.
WALTERS: Was that the letter you sent out to the various wards?
RICHARDS: And to the Church; and to the newspapers, yes.
VLACHOS: Will that become a part of “scripture”?
RICHARDS: Yes, I’ve already thought in my own mind of suggesting we add it to the Pearl of Great Price, just like those last two revelations that we’ve just added.
WALTERS: At that point, is there a special reason why you add it to the Pearl of Great Price rather than to the Doctrine and Covenants? Is it just more convenient to put it in there instead of adding another number or something?
RICHARDS:: I don’t know, we didn’t discuss the reason, which book it should go in, but the Pearl of Great Price was written and assembled later than the Doctrine and Covenants was and my Grandfather was one that organized the Pearl of Great Price. So when we discussed it in our meeting, we didn’t discuss whether it should go in the Doctrine and Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price. We just discussed how to add those two revelations to the Pearl of Great Price.
WALTERS: Will this affect your theological thinking about the Negro as being less valiant in the previous existence? How does this relate? Have you thought that through?
RICHARDS: Some time ago, the Brethren decided that we should never say that. We don’t know just what the reason was. Paul said, “The Lord hath before appointed the bounds of the habitations of all men for to dwell upon the face of the earth,” and so He determined that before we were born. He who knows why they were born with black skin or white and so on and so forth. We’ll just have to wait and find out.
WALTERS: Is there still a tendency to feel that people are born with black skin because of some previous situation, or do we consider that black skin is no sign anymore of anything inferior in any sense of the word?
RICHARDS: Well, we don’t want to get that as a doctrine. Think of it as you will. You know, Paul said “Now we see in part and we know in part; we see through a glass darkly. When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away, then we will see as we are seen, and know as we are known.” Now the Church’s attitude today is to prefer to leave it until we know. The Lord has never indicated that black skin came because of being less faithful. Now, the Indian; we know why he was changed, don’t we? The Book of Mormon tells us that; and he has a dark skin, but he has a promise there that through faithfulness, that shall again become a white and delightsome people. So we haven’t anything like that on the colored thing.
WALTERS: Now, with this new revelation – has it brought any new insights or new ways of looking at the Book of Abraham? Because I think traditionally it is thought of the curse of Cain, coming through Canaanites and on the black-skinned people, and therefore denying the priesthood?
RICHARDS: We considered that with all the “for’s” and the “against’s” and decided that with all of that, if they lived their lives, and did the work, that they were entitled to their blessings.
WALTERS: But you haven’t come up with any new understanding of the Book of Abraham? I just wondered whether there would be a shift in that direction.
VLACHOS: Is the recent revelation in harmony with what the past prophets have taught, of when the Negro would receive the priesthood?
RICHARDS: Well, they have held out the thought that they would ultimately get the priesthood, but they never determined the time for it. And so when this situation that we face down there in Brazil – Brother Kimball worried a lot about it – how the people are so faithful and devoted. The president of the Relief Society of the stake is a colored woman down there in one of the stakes. If they do the work, why it seems like that the justice of the Lord would approve of giving them the blessing. Now it’s all conditional upon the life that they live, isn’t it?
WALTERS: Well, I thank you for clarifying that for me, because you know, out in the streets out there, there must be at least five, ten different stories about the way this happened.
RICHARDS: Well, I’ve told you exactly what happened.
WALTERS: Right. Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it.
RICHARDS: If you quote me why you will be telling the truth.
WALTERS: Ok, well fine. You don’t mind if we quote you then?
WALTERS: Ok, that’s great!
A friend of mine sent me the following thoughtful email regarding racism. I always appreciate hearing new perspectives on important topics. Here it is:
First of all I acknowledge that there is racism in the book of Mormon and that it has been used to justify wrong behavior and to perpetuate racism in modern times. That's wrong. I hope we know that now. I personally think that scripture generally can and unfortunately, often is used more as an authoritative instrument of abuse than as a means to enlightenment.
When Jesus used scripture, he "opened to us the scriptures" (Luke 24:32). He used them to open a discussion, not to close it with an exclamation point or to put an end to a matter. If something truly is holy writ, I don't think it should be used to beat people up, to compel or coerce or get them in line, and certainly not to justify doing things that common sense will tell you is wrong.
I think the Nephites suffered from a form of racism. Even though Nephi had to remove his people from his brothers, these Nephites were not necessarily a good example either. When they were getting preached to by someone who was a witness of God, they are told, "if ye were holy I would speak unto you of holiness; but as ye are not holy, and ye look upon me as a teacher, it must needs be expedient that I teach you the consequences of sin" (2 Nephi 9:48). These people were "not holy" even after they were separated from the Lamanites.
The Nephites may have still had a witness of God among them, but they were unholy and often did not follow what their holy men taught. The Lamanites did not have holy men among them. They were "cut off" from their connection to God (which is more dangerous, recognizing when there is no authentic connection with God, or believing there is one, when there isn't, or having pretenders act as though they are holy when they are not?).
As a separate people the Lamanites began to have a "skin of blackness" come upon them. The only method that is mentioned to transmit this "skin of blackness" was by "mixing with their seed" (2 Nephi 5:23). To assume that this skin change just magically appeared is reading something into the text that isn't stated. The only method that is stated is that this could be transmitted by mixing seed. Later the book of Mormon says that at the same time these people came into this new land, there were other people all ready settled in the land and names the Jaredites and Mulekites specifically. Whether or not there were others is left open but without specifics. It may be implied because even though nothing is said specifically about these groups until much later, shortly after settling into this new land, the Nephites are tempted to take on "many wives" (Jacob 1:15).
The possibility of having "many wives" seems to indicate that they settled near some aboriginal people. Since mixing seed is the only method mentioned about how this skin color could be transmitted, it seems likely that there were at least some aboriginal people, who all ready had this "skin of blackness" and that the Lamanites were "mixing seed" with these aboriginal people such that their seed inherited this darker skin. Much later, a group of Lamanites, the people of Ammon, leave their homeland and move back with the Nephites (Alma 27, 90-77 BC). It takes several generations to pass by, but apparently the darker skin became no longer distinguishable from the Nephites (3 Nephi 2:15, 5-16 AD). To me, this explains how this skin color came about. It's basically just genetics.
When skin color is first mentioned, the Nephites, as an unholy people, were apparently quite turned off by the darker skin. To them it was not "enticing" (2 Nephi 5:21). They suffered from some form of racism even though they were supposed to be the righteous group. Since colors can be used as symbols, where someone using darkness to cover themselves, can imply hiding evil, and someone using light for a covering can imply openness and truth, the Nephites apparently thought that their skin color was evidence that they actually were living the truth and the Lamanites were evil. That's an error. It's racism. Jacob addressed the fallacy of their racism when he said, "the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you" (Jacob 3:5).
Jacob goes on to warn them that if they think skin color is a reflection of personal purity then that wrong-headed idea will eventually be corrected because, "unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God" (Jacob 3:8). Then he tries to shake them from their racism altogether, by giving a direct command, "Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins" (Jacob 3:9). What more could he say to get them to stop judging "because of the darkness of their skins"? To me, this makes it clear that the Nephites really did suffer from some racism. It is also clear that the "word of God" gives a commandment, to not judge or "revile", because of skin color. That didn't mean the Nephites didn't do it. The fact that it had to be addressed this way implies that they did. But they are clearly taught and warned against racism by one among them who who did have an authentic connection with God.
If the book of Mormon really is for our day, then it ought to address real problems that we face in our day. Racism is a real problem we face in our day. It is addressed in the book of Mormon. I think when viewed from those who actually are holy, and not by pretenders or simply a people that is supposed to be religious, it is not condoned, but is given as a command from God to not judge because of skin color. The same Nephi, who first tells us of the darker skin coming upon the Lamanites is also the same person who says of God, "he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God" (2 Nephi 26:33). That is how God feels about it, even if the Nephites acted differently. I think it is terrible that rather than learn from the errors of the religious Nephites, and accept the chastening that their prophets gave them, the church instead has accepted the Nephites as examples and historically has chosen to follow their errors, including on this issue of race. (written by Jared)