Some significant quotes by past leaders denouncing the priesthood ban as doctrine.
“There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this Church that the Negroes are under a divine curse. There is no doctrine in the Church of any kind pertaining to the Negro. ‘We believe’ that we have a scriptural precedent for withholding the priesthood from the Negro. It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice someday will be changed. And that’s all there is to it.”
– President David O. McKay, 1954 (Sterling M. McMurrin affidavit, March 6, 1979. See David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism by Greg Prince and William Robert Wright.)
“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. I have said the same things, and people write me letters and say, “You said such and such, and how is it now that we do such and such?” And all I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. 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.”
“It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year.”
– Bruce R. McConkie, 1978 (All Are Alike Unto God, A SYMPOSIUM ON THE BOOK OF MORMON, The Second Annual Church Educational System Religious Educator’s Symposium, August 17-19, 1978)
I’ve heard several faithful members of the LDS Church reject the notion that LDS leaders (i.e. Prophet and Apostles) should apologize to blacks for the priesthood ban that was enforced until 1978. The contention is that members have accepted blacks into the church; they have been given the priesthood and therefore the issue is dead. But what do you do about all the excuses leaders gave for the ban that are still floating around out there among LDS members?
This last Sunday in Gospel Doctrine the class was discussing why Christ did not preach to the gentiles. Somehow the blacks and the priesthood came up. This person compared the denial of priesthood to blacks to Christ not preaching to the gentiles. Implying that God instituted the ban against blacks having the priesthood. I was not there so my account is second hand from my wife. Unfortunately, I just happened to decide to go to Gospel Principles class last week instead of Gospel Doctrine class. My wife thinks there was a bit of divine intervention because she knows this is an issue in Mormon history I struggle to understand.
The Church has asked that EVERYTHING taught on this subject in the past should be discarded (Paraphrasing Bruce R. McConkie). However, members still hold on to the old ways of thinking even to this day. I understand why they do it. It is easier than admitting that a few leaders in your church said racist things time and time again. Perhaps that would destroy their testimonies.
Does the LDS prophet need to apologize for the Church? Well, I think he at least needs to make it clear that it was not doctrine from God. The members need to know in no uncertain terms that this policy was of man and that God allowed it to happen to test His church. This is the absolute best spin you can put on the situation.
It is obvious that denying black the priesthood was never doctrine of the Church. Joseph Smith himself ordained Elijah Abel to the priesthood (see drawing above), which he held until the day he died. He served as a Seventy and served three missions for the Church. I don’t think you could ever find a more faithful member, but Brigham Young, John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff refused to allow him to go through the temple.
Several more blacks were also ordained to the priesthood after Brigham Young put the ban in place. David O. McKay during his presidency stated that it was a practice not doctrine and because it was just a practice it could change in the future. There was also much debate among the Apostles in both the 19th and 20th century as to if the ban was legitimate or not. So blacks not receiving the priesthood because they are the decedents of Ham or Cain was never doctrine of the Church. There has been debate about it ever since the late 1800’s among Church leaders. It is not supportable by scripture and is the remnant of 18th century racist ideology.
The fact that members of the LDS Church are still confused about this means that Church leaders still have a lot of work to do. I think the underlining problem is that it is not in the average members ability to reconcile leaders of Christ’s church perpetuating racist ideas. Therefore, they lean on the old excuses for the ban as justification and ignore the statement given by Bruce R. McConkie to discard past statements on the subject and the recent statement of Gordon B. Hinckley in the priesthood session of general conference. I guess these statements are too arcane for the general membership of the Church. They need to be directly told what is being referred to before they will stop repeating offensive false doctrine.
I wonder if the member that brought the issue up as an example would have done so if the black members of our ward had been there. I highly doubt it. However, since the room was fully white they felt perfectly comfortable expounding on things that the Church had rejected 29 years ago. I don’t think you can come to any other conclusion than that the ban was wrong, motivated by racist feelings, and definitely not initiated by God.