Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “The Long-Promised Day”
 


“The Long-Promised Day”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 28, 2009

Our ward ran out of lessons from the Sunday School manual with one week left in the year. Since it was my turn in the teaching rotation and because we had focused on other matters in the recent lesson on continuing revelation, I proposed teaching a lesson on Official Declaration–2 and the priesthood revelation of 1978. I don’t think the subject matter turned off the Sunday School president; other considerations caused him to give my week to my co-teacher. In any case, I didn’t know I would be teaching after all until receiving an email from my bishop last Tuesday evening. I spent about 30 hours since then working on the lesson; below is what I came up with, adapting from the drafts and experiences of friends who have taught similar lessons recently.

I wanted class members to feel a personal connection to some of the early black pioneers, with the goal of remembering how important the 1978 revelation was to the lives of real people. I also wanted to help anyone who might be uncomfortable about jettisoning the teachings of beloved church leaders of the past, by stressing that since we believe in continuing revelation, it should not be surprising that we as a church understood less yesterday than we do today. PowerPoint slides of pioneers and church leaders, with pertinent short quotations, helped class members focus.

It went well, judging by the absolute quiet, the close attention, and the look on class members’ faces [with one exception; see comment 1], and a few remarks afterward.

I am generally a good teacher and I enjoy teaching. This lesson scared me, though – not that it was an overwhelmingly difficult subject, but that through pride in my talents I might have proposed this lesson for the wrong reasons. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so much about a lesson, that I could teach what the Lord wanted, that pride would not enter into it, and that class members would feel a love for brothers and sisters of the past, which could translate into love and respect for brothers and sisters today.

The Long-Promised Day

Lesson for 27 December 2009: The Long-Promised Day

Official Declaration–2
Articles of Faith–9
Acts 10:34

Purpose

To help class members appreciate the importance of the priesthood revelation of June 1978 through establishing feelings of brotherhood with early black members of the Church, by discussing efforts of church leaders to understand the precedents of the priesthood restriction, and by reinforcing prophetic calls for an end to lingering folk beliefs and racial strife.

Lesson Development

Introduction

Because this is the last week of our course on church history and the Doctrine and Covenants, we are going to look at the last document in the Doctrine and Covenants: Official Declaration–2, the statement signed by Spencer W. Kimball and his counselors in 1978 announcing the revelation that extended the priesthood to all male members of the church, without regard to race or color or any other consideration beyond worthiness.

It has been 31 years since that revelation was received, so a large part of our ward has grown up in a time when they could take it for granted that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34), and may not completely appreciate what a profound and glorious moment that was. The rest of us grew up hearing teachings that have since been repudiated by Church leaders – but even though we no longer hear them, they may be hard to uproot from our memories and our beliefs.

So today I’m going to try to recreate for us all the feelings that we shared in June 1978, by going back to the time of Joseph Smith and telling brief stories of some extraordinarily faithful Latter-day Saints. Then we’ll come forward in time to 1978, and to a few statements of Church leaders made since that day.

Ordinarily I am less a teacher than I am the leader of our class discussion. Today, however, because I have so very much to get through, I am going to present more of a lecture than a discussion. I will try to save time at the end of the lesson for questions and for personal comments, but please, cooperate with me and understand that I will not be asking for class participation until the end.

Pioneers

“We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” – Ninth Article of Faith

One of our most basic beliefs is that God continues to speak through his prophets, teaching us new truth. With that core doctrine in mind, it should be easy to understand that the way things are done today, the doctrines that are taught today, are not necessarily the way things have always been. If God continues to reveal “great and important things” to us today, then it stands to reason that yesterday we did not know those “great and important things.”

Elijah Abel (1808-1884; Maryland), was born a slave in Maryland, but is believed to have escaped to Canada with the help of the Underground Railroad. He and his wife were members of the Church of Christ before hearing of the Restored Gospel. They were baptized, and Elijah was ordained an elder on March 3, 1836, by Joseph Smith, in Kirtland. He was ordained a Seventy in 1841. He served three missions for the Church, two in New York and Canada during the Nauvoo period, and again in New York briefly at the end of his life; he became ill at the beginning of his third mission, and returned home to Salt Lake City where he died.

In 1891, a woman named Eunice Kinney recorded her memories of hearing the Gospel from Elijah Abel during his mission to New York and Canada. Even though it had been more than 50 years, and although Mrs. Kinney had long since left the Church, she could still remember Elijah’s powerful spirit:

In the spring of 1838 I heard the first Gospel sermon by a Latter-day Saint. His name was Elijah Abel; he was ordained by Joseph, the martyred prophet. I was then living in the town of Madrid, Lawrence County, New York. We had never heard of the Latter-day Saints until Elder Abel came into the place. I, with my husband, went and heard him preach. Abel was a man without education; it was difficult for him to read his text but when he commenced to preach, the Spirit rested upon him and he preached a most powerful sermon. It was such a Gospel sermon as I had never heard before, and I felt in my heart that he was one of God’s chosen ministers. …

“While he was preaching, a great and marvelous change came over me. All the doubts and fears and unbelief and the powerful darkness that had so distressed me fled before the light of God’s truth like the dew before the Sun. The Holy Spirit came upon me and I was in a glorious vision. It was then and there made known to me by the power of God that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God, and the Book of Mormon was a sacred record of divine origin, and Elijah Abel was a servant of the most high God. I’ve never had a doubt of these things from that day to this, and when I think of that glorious event it fills my heart with joy and gratitude to my Heavenly Father for such an expression of his goodness.”

Elijah was well known to Joseph Smith and to the other leaders of the Church, all of whom recognized that he was an African-American. He served as Nauvoo’s undertaker. He helped to build both the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples. He was absent from Nauvoo as a missionary, however, when that temple was completed and so he and Mary Ann did not receive their endowments at that time. Elijah and Mary Ann Abel and their children emigrated to Utah in 1853.

We do not know if Elijah sought his endowment during the lifetime of Brigham Young; had he done so, he no doubt would have been turned down the same as other African-Americans were denied that privilege. We do know that in 1879, he asked John Taylor for a recommend to the temple. President Taylor was uncertain what to do – he knew that Joseph Smith had ordained Elijah to the priesthood, he knew that Brigham Young had not. He called a conference of Church leaders, seeking testimony from men who might have heard Joseph discuss the matter. Abraham O. Smoot, who was from Tennessee and had taught in the South, testified that Joseph Smith had instructed him not to ordain slaves – but he knew nothing about doctrine concerning free blacks. Zebedee Coltrin claimed that Joseph had taught that “the Negro had no right nor cannot hold the priesthood,” and that Elijah Abel, a light-skinned man, had been dropped from his priesthood quorum as soon as anyone realized that he was black. Joseph F. Smith challenged Coltrin’s memory; he produced Elijah Abel’s ordination certificates, including the one for Elijah’s 1841 ordination as a Seventy, signed by Coltrin himself. Coltrin’s memory was shown to be inaccurate on a number of other details, yet, for reasons he did not record, President Taylor decided on a sort of compromise: Elijah Abel retained his priesthood, but was denied the privilege of going to the temple.

Five years later, on Christmas Day, 1884, Elijah Abel died. We do not know who wrote his obituary for the Deseret News, but it was clearly someone who valued both Elijah’s priesthood and his missionary service.

Died, Elijah Abel: In the Thirteenth Ward, December 25th, 1884, of old age and debility, consequent upon exposure while laboring in the ministry in Ohio. Deceased was born in Washington County, Maryland, July 23rd, 1810. He joined the Church and was ordained an Elder as appears by certificate dated March 3rd, 1836. He was subsequently ordained a Seventy, as appears by certificate dated April 4, 1841. He labored successfully in Canada and also performed a mission in the United States, from which he returned about two weeks ago. He died in full faith of the Gospel.

Incidentally, despite the denial of temple attendance, and despite the hardening of the restriction against blacks holding the priesthood, Elijah Abel’s son was ordained in 1900; his grandson was ordained in 1935.

One more important story, then we’ll move ahead.

If you’ve seen the Joseph Smith movie, you’ll remember the scene where Joseph Smith welcomes a black family to Nauvoo. That is the Manning family of Connecticut. Jane Manning and her parents and siblings heard the gospel and were baptized in 1841. As a woman past 80, she recalled her travels to Nauvoo:

We started from Wilton, Connecticut, and traveled by canal to Buffalo, New York. We were to go to Columbus, Ohio before our fares were to be collected, but they insisted on having the money at Buffalo and would not take us farther. So we left the boat and started on foot to travel a distance of over eight hundred miles. We walked until our shoes were worn out, and our feet became sore and cracked open and bled until you could see the whole print of our feet with blood on the ground. We stopped and united in prayer to the Lord; we asked God the Eternal Father to heal our feet. Our prayers were answered and our feet were healed forthwith.

That faith was manifested in Jane’s actions throughout her long life. She lived in the family of Joseph and Emma Smith. She married Isaac James just before the exodus, and came to Utah as a pioneer of 1847. You’ll see in this picture of the 1897 Jubilee, where survivors of the 1847 companies gathered on Temple Square, that if we enlarge this section [indicating a spot near the center], we can see Jane standing with all the others.

Beginning in 1869, Jane began petitioning the First Presidency for permission to go to the temple. Time after time, she was denied. Late in 1884, she approached John Taylor with, I think, one of the most poignant pleas I have ever heard:

Inasmuch as this is the fulness of times and through Abraham’s seed all mankind may be blessed is there no blessing for me?

All through the 1890s she asks regularly, one church president after another, for the privileges of endowment and sealing. She is granted permission to do baptisms, and said in her old age:

I have had the privilege of going into the temple and being baptized for some of my dead. I am now over eighty years old and am nearly blind, which is a great trial to me. It is the greatest trial I have ever been called upon to bear, but I hope my eyesight will be spared to me–poor as it is–that I may be able to go to meeting, and to the temple to do more work for my dead.

But she died in 1908, still without her blessings. Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral, and quoted part of her dictated testimony:

My faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints is as strong today–nay it is if possible stronger–than it was the day I was first baptized. I pay my tithes and offerings, keep the Word of Wisdom. I go to bed early and arise early. I try in my feeble way to set a good example to all.

Jane received her blessings, by proxy, in 1979.

Elijah Abel and Jane Manning James are the best known of the black Latter-day Saint pioneers, but they are not the only ones:

In 1847, when Brigham Young raised up from his sick bed in the wagon, looked over the Salt Lake Valley, and said, “This is the right place; drive on,” the man who drove his wagon was 19-year-old Green Flake, still a slave, although he would be freed a few years later, a man who remained a faithful Latter-day Saint his entire life, as did generations of his descendants – pictured here are his granddaughter Lucinda and two of her own daughters.

.

The large Bankhead family, including blacksmith Daniel Bankhead Freeman, whose parents gave him a new surname to commemorate his being born a free man here in the Salt Lake Valley.

.

Mary Ann Perkins, who settled in Bountiful.

.

Amanda and Samuel Chambers. Samuel had been baptized when he was 13 years old. As a slave, he had no further contact with the Church for 30 years, but he remained true to the testimony he had received as a child. After the Civil War, he made his way to Utah, where he became a successful farmer in the Fort Union part of this Valley. When Cottonwood decided to build a new chapel, Samuel Chambers offered $1,000 to the building fund.

.

There were many, many other such pioneers.

And then there were Len and Mary Hope. Len was baptized in Alabama, in secret, after returning from service during World War I. Despite the secrecy of his baptism, a few nights later his sharecropper’s cabin was surrounded by members of the Ku Klux Klan, on horseback. They told him he must immediately withdraw his name from “that white church,” or they would return and hang him. Len went to the missionaries, who assured him that his name was recorded both on the official rolls in Salt Lake City and in the books in heaven, no matter whether it appeared on the local records. Len married, converted his wife, and they moved to Cincinnati, eager to be able to worship with the Saints in the branch there. But on their first Sunday in the branch, they were told that they were not welcome among the white worshipers. So Len and Mary did not try to attend church again. But once each month, the branch president and the missionaries visited the Hope home. They blessed the sacrament, collected the tithes that the Hopes insisted on paying, and held a testimony meeting. This photograph shows the Hopes with one of their missionaries – Marion D. Hanks. They came to Utah at the end of World War II and became members of the Millcreek Ward, where Mary was active in Relief Society and Len met with the High Priests Group, although he could not hold the priesthood before his death in 1954. One of his fellow high priests remembered his statement that “I’d be willing to be stripped of my skin if only I could hold that priesthood.”

Evaluation

Every president of the Church upheld the precedent of withholding the priesthood from African-American men, but there is some evidence that some or even many church leaders were uneasy with the reasons for the restriction. Several leaders studied the history of the restriction. For David O. McKay, who commissioned perhaps the widest and deepest study, his uneasiness lay in the fact that there was no recorded revelation, no known statement by Joseph Smith, no line in a diary or a letter or a minute book, that explained the origin of the restriction. There were many statements, many purported doctrines, taught by church leaders that justified the restriction, but no one knew how or when it began.

The study conducted at the request of President McKay disclosed that Elijah Abel was not the only black man who was ordained to the priesthood. Another such man was Walker Lewis, a Nauvoo-era convert who had lived and preached in Lowell, Massachusetts. There is no question that he was known by Church leaders, both as a black man and as a worthy priesthood holder – Brigham Young himself had written approvingly of Walker Lewis as a black priesthood holder in an 1847 letter. Because Walker spent only one season in Utah, though, before returning East, we don’t have many records of him or know what his life might have been had he lived longer here.

Research disclosed another black priesthood holder – William McCary (abt 1811-aft 1854; Mississippi), who had been baptized, ordained, and lived briefly at Winter Quarters before he apostatized in a rather spectacular way. He was both a magician and a ventriloquist, and when he announced that he was the embodiment of several figures from the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and that he could manipulate a staff the same as Aaron and the priests of Pharoah had, he had the skills to impress and fool many gullible Saints. He was excommunicated after announcing himself as a prophet, and he set up a rival church near Winter Quarters, which included his plural marriages to a group of white women.

Interestingly, it is only in the summer of 1847 that the first anti-black sermons are given by Mormon leaders. Those sermons linking unworthiness to race may have been targeting McCary personally, and not the entire black race.

The matter of the priesthood restriction seems to have been at least a low-key concern of David O. McKay throughout his administration. He believed that one day the situation would change.

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.

He also took steps to “limit the limitation,” if you will – he reversed the policy of local leaders in South Africa, and in Brazil, who had required converts to trace their ancestry to prove that they had no black forebears before they could receive the priesthood. He clarified that the limitation applied only to African blacks: dark skinned people from elsewhere – Fijians, Australian Aboriginals, the “Negritos” of the Philippines – were to be ordained to the priesthood without consideration for skin color. He agonized over the increasing pleas from Africans who had become converted to the gospel and who pled to have missionaries sent and branches organized there.

Revelation

As had church presidents before him, Spencer W. Kimball made the question a matter of thought and prayer. He reviewed the findings of previous presidents who had investigated the origin of the priesthood restriction. And we have statements from President Kimball that by early 1978, the question was on his mind constantly. He wrote,

Day after day I went alone and with great solemnity and seriousness in the upper rooms of the temple, and there I offered my soul … I wanted to do what he wanted. I talked about it to him and said, ‘Lord, I want only what is right. … We want only the thing that thou dost want, and we want it when you want it, and not until.

Late that spring, he asked the other members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles to make it a matter of prayer, and to come to their June 1st meeting prepared to state their feelings and the results of their prayers.

Several of the apostles have spoken about what happened that day. After each had spoken his mind, the First Presidency and ten of the Twelve (one was out of the country and another was hospitalized) gathered around the altar to pray.

From David B. Haight:

We witnessed an outpouring of the Spirit which bonded our souls together in perfect unity – a glorious experience. In that bond of unity we felt our total dependence upon heavenly direction.

From Bruce R. McConkie:

The Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon us all; we felt something akin to what happened on the day of Pentecost and at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of the Spirit, spoke to his prophet … And we all heard the same voice, received the same message, and became personal witnesses that the word received was the mind and will and voice of the Lord.

From Gordon B. Hinckley:

It was a quiet and sublime occasion. There was not the sound ‘as of a rushing mighty wind,” … No voice audible to our physical ears was heard. But the voice of the Spirit whispered with a certainty into our minds and our very souls.

From these quotations and others, we understand that the revelation came to these priesthood leaders through an overpowering experience of the Spirit, but not in words that could be written. It may be for this reason that rather than a written revelation, as Joseph Smith was wont to receive, the document that marks this revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants is a statement signed by the First Presidency, announcing to the world the import of their spiritual experience.

Official Declaration–2:

6 As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords.

7 Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.

8 He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.

9 We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known his will for the blessing of all his children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of his authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.

I was 19, and working for the fire department on June 8, 1978. The music playing on the station radio broke for a regular newscast, and I heard a local Las Vegas announcer read an announcement that the Mormon priesthood would now be extended to all worthy male members of the Church. That was hardly an official source, and I had no particular reason to believe it. Nor, I admit, had I been particularly concerned about whether blacks could hold the priesthood or not, so this was not an answer to prayer. But as I heard that announcement, I knew instantly that the newscaster was right, that this was an accurate report, and that it was right that all worthy men should hold the priesthood. I looked around for someone to share the news with, but there wasn’t anyone there who would have appreciated it. An hour later, a Latter-day Saint fire inspector came in. He looked at me, realized that I had heard, and picked me up in a bear hug and swung me around – at the time it was the only way to express our feelings.

Sometime later, I heard about a talk given by Bruce R. McConkie in August 1978, to seminary and institute teachers meeting in a symposium at BYU. People had asked him how this revelation meshed with all the teachings that had theretofore been taught by the Church. He said,

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.

Since then, other apostles have voiced similar sentiments:

From Jeffrey R. Holland, in answer to a question posed two years ago during the PBS documentary on The Mormons:

The folklore must never be perpetuated. … They [early church leaders] were doing the best they knew … All I can say is, however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong.

I’ve debated whether to go through what Elder Holland calls “folklore” – if you want someone to forget something, is it helpful to tell them what they should forget? In this case, I think it is, because if you’re from my generation or older, you grew up hearing the folklore taught from the pulpit and in the classroom over and over again, and it may be helpful to be reminded that these things are NOT true:

  • We do not believe that Africans are the descendants of Cain. There is no scripture or revelation to that effect, and in fact it is a folk belief that was prevalent in general Christianity before the Restoration, and did not come by way of revelation within the Restoration..
  • We do not believe that dark skin is a curse.
  • We do not believe that Africans were neutral in the war in heaven, or that they were less valiant in that war.

These are the ideas that I grew up with that have since been repudiated; there may be more. If identifying these things as “folklore” makes you uneasy at all, because they are so deeply ingrained in your memory or because of the authorities you heard teach them, I would urge you to spend some time looking through Conference talks and reading materials published by the Church since 1978 – you will not find those ideas taught any more. Anything along those lines comes either from the days before 1978, or from someone who does not have authority to speak for the Church.

Continuing Racism

Finally, I would like to remind us all of some statements made by President Hinckley in the April 2006 priesthood session of General Conference.

Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. …

Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. 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 Melchizedek 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?

Conclusion

As we said in the beginning, “we believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of heaven.” This is a blessing, of course, but it can also be unsettling if we are unwilling to relinquish old beliefs, or to acknowledge that the way things were in the past isn’t necessarily the way the Lord wants them to be in the future. [bear testimony]

[If there is time, ask for memories of hearing of the 1978 revelation, and for testimonies of continuing revelation.]

UPDATED 29 December 2009: I have posted the slides used with this lesson, and a link to download the actual PowerPoint presentation, here. Feel free to use or adapt this lesson and those slides, should you wish. Also, if you have copied this prior to the afternoon of 30 December 2009, note Margaret’s correction in comment 29 (I’ve removed the incorrect line and photo.)



51 Comments »

  1. The one harsh note should be acknowledged, I suppose, but I did not want to make it part of the post: We had 4 or 5 minutes at the end where I asked for memories of hearing the news in June 1978. One man’s contribution was to remind us that as an immigrant from Europe of 29 years standing, he had no white guilt — and besides, blacks could be just as prejudiced against whites as whites could be against blacks. Then after the lesson he wanted to make sure that I knew that African blacks sold other African blacks into slavery, “and that never gets told in the history.”

    So all is not quite well in Zion.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 28, 2009 @ 12:04 am

  2. I remember being thrilled to learn of the ’78 Revelation. You did a wonderful job with this subject.

    Comment by John Tippets — December 28, 2009 @ 6:45 am

  3. Thanks for sharing this Ardis. This post will be a great resource.

    Comment by Chris H. — December 28, 2009 @ 8:19 am

  4. Ardis, the lesson was absolutely outstanding, as I knew it would be. Your prayers were heard. The spirit was there. I know you put so much work into all your lessons, which are always excellent. This lesson was inspired. Don’t let that one comment put a dampner on anything. I’ve lived here all my life and I have no white guilt. That wasn’t the point at all. The spirit teaches the truth and I believe most people in the classroom truly understood the point of the lesson which is continuing revelation. Official Declaration-2 was a perfect example of that. Thank you so much for posting your lesson on this site. Your hard work benefits so many.

    Comment by Lynne L. — December 28, 2009 @ 9:08 am

  5. I wish I could have been in the class to hear this lesson. I know we could really use such a lesson in all the Gospel Doctrine classes, just so we can get all the members on the same/right track. I think the Church fears such issues too much, and tries to forget or downplay them.

    I turned 19 just a couple months after OD-2, and left on my mission to Bolivia in 1978. We had Elders McConkie and Haight dedicate stakes while I was on my mission. In missionary meetings, they both discussed the Revelation. Elder Haight described it as the most profound experience he’d ever had. Elder McConkie said it was stronger than the witness of the Son.

    Elder Haight frequently referenced the Revelation in his General Conference talks afterward – moreso than any of the other apostles present, I’d dare say. It truly was a bedrock of his testimony as one of the then junior apostles.

    Comment by Rameumptom — December 28, 2009 @ 9:17 am

  6. Ardis, I loved reading this. Thank you. I would love to know how you responded to this European immigrant (from Czechoslovakia maybe?)

    Comment by Diana — December 28, 2009 @ 10:10 am

  7. This was the best lesson on the subject that I have heard. Hearing again the comments by the apostles after the event was all the testimony anyone should need. Elder McConkie’s remarks were so humble when he said “Forget everything I have said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation” Continuing revelation is one of our greatest blessings and one of the best reasons for having a living prophet on the earth. I felt great joy (and relief) in 1978 when I first heard the revelation.

    Comment by Arleigh Heagany — December 28, 2009 @ 10:15 am

  8. I can remember hearing the news, and jumping on my bike (I was a teenager at the time). I rode to tell my sister the news. She was helping a friend with a yard sale. She and I were both thrilled.

    Now, it’s interesting to hear all of the Apostles, etc, talking about all of the speculation that went on for years.

    I can remember my Deacon’s Quorum advisor saying, “We simply don’t know why…”

    Comment by Mark Hansen — December 28, 2009 @ 10:15 am

  9. Cool lesson.

    The declaration meant nothing to me at the time because my association with the church was limited to an LDS girlfriend and drives past the Washington D.C. temple. I imagine the ban would have been a barrier to my acceptance of the Gospel a few years later had it not been repudiated. I recall some echoes of it in the attitudes of some of the members I met as an investigator and later as a member.

    I ponder important questions that remain:

    One apparent implication of O.D. 2 was a reduced emphasis on the importance of lineage as in the past the blessings of Ephraim seem to have been frequently contrasted with the curse of Canaan. (That Ephraim as half Egyptian was undoubtedly a descendent of black Africans was at best poorly understood, at the worst hidden away in confusion.) Is lineage still important? I think so, but I am not sure how.

    The understated language of the declaration I think was designed to make it forgettable. It reads like an ordinary policy change letter such as might be read in sacrament meeting on any Sunday to announce a mundane change. It doesn’t mention race, nor make apology. I know that we find that problematic in this day where an apology is expected for every historical wrong. How will we feel about that in a couple of generations? Ultimately it will probably prove to have been the best way to go, but in the interim some will feel that it was an attempt to sweep controversy under the rug at the expense of the tender feelings of the victims of the discrimination.

    We may be able to erase racial distinctions today, but the scriptures do show a pattern of racist attitudes on the part of the ancient cultures highlighted in them. Changing “white” to “pure” was one way to address a specific instance in the Book of Mormon where it did not really change the meaning, but the change will be a footnote forever, and the original language will not be forgotten. There are more overt examples that would entail major deletions to eradicate. Can we accept the racism of ancient cultures and of our own early leaders and recognize them as true saints if “no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ?” Somehow we must.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — December 28, 2009 @ 10:20 am

  10. Why aren’t you my Sunday School teacher?!

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — December 28, 2009 @ 10:49 am

  11. Awesome, Ardis. Thanks for sharing your notes. One question. I haven’t seen the quote about defining exactly what the folklore is. “We do not believe that Africans are the descendants of Cain. . .” Is that your gloss, or is that in the Holland interview and I missed it? Just to be clear, I ask because think it’s great; not because I’m challenging you or anything.

    Comment by David G. — December 28, 2009 @ 10:49 am

  12. That’s my list, David, not a quotation — I’ll change the formatting from blockquote to bullet points so as not to mislead anyone there.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 28, 2009 @ 10:57 am

  13. My memory of the time is of hearing about the announcement on a Sunday morning, in those days before information of such import flew around the world in seconds. I recall speaking with someone between meetings on the stand in the chapel, and really feeling that the Second Coming must be just around the corner, so momentous and wonderful was the news.

    Comment by Alison — December 28, 2009 @ 11:23 am

  14. Ardis, outstanding lesson plan. Sounds like it would have been great to have been there. The recent BYU Studies article that has been mentioned elsewhere is a good resource on this topic, essentially an expansion of the chapter in Edward Kimball’s biography of Spencer W. Kimball. Pres. Kimball, from that account, almost ruined his health due to his tireless efforts to receive an answer to his prayers. His wife did not know what the problem was, and was very concerned about how tired he was in those months leading up to May and June of 1978.

    My wife called me at work that day to tell me about it. I remember it very well.

    Comment by kevinf — December 28, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  15. Ardis, this is a tremendous lesson. I commend you for your hard work. I remember the joy my husband and I felt when we heard the announcement. I am impressed with the way you handled the lesson and gave good examples.

    Comment by Maurine — December 28, 2009 @ 3:50 pm

  16. I would love to be in your Sunday School class. I’ve often wondered about how the church seems to have simplified (dumbed down, even) so much of the official information, so as to make much of its history a surprise to people like me who have grown up in the church. I was born in 1980, and so missed this particular issue, although my parents spoke to me about how excited they were to hear of the revelation. I wish there were a better official venue for faithful Church members to learn precisely this kind of lesson, rather than relying on Internet Mormonism, which can be wonderful like Keepa or a bit crazy or downright evil.

    Comment by Amy — December 28, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

  17. The stories of those early black saints are truly stirring. Thank you.

    The whole lesson plan is very well done. I share your preference for leading discussions, rather than lecturing, but, hey, this was a grace week, and you are uniquely qualified to teach that history.

    Comment by Clair — December 28, 2009 @ 9:04 pm

  18. You have put together a wonderful lesson! Several years ago, I taught a Sunday School lesson on this subject to the youth (it didn’t come from a manual). I found most knew nothing of it and one had heard vague references to it. They had concluded that latter-day prophetic revelations consisted of reminders to live righteously and declarations on where to build the next new temple. They were excited to hear this piece of history. And now I’m excited that here is a great lesson plan! Thank you for sharing your wonderful gift with us, Ardis.

    Comment by mfb — December 28, 2009 @ 10:33 pm

  19. Superior lesson, Ardis. There is NO PLACE for racism in the gospel. The gospel applies to all, equally. Period.

    On June 8, 1978 I was a graduate student at BYU. I was walking on a sidewalk beside Cougar Stadium. A fellow student (a stranger) told me the news. I jumped up in the air and clicked my heals. (I have not been able to perform that maneuver ever since).

    Comment by S.Faux — December 29, 2009 @ 7:20 am

  20. I’ll answer your question, Vort, although I will not post your comment because it is as out of place as the statements you ask about in comment #1. No, “Brother European’s” comments were not false — I didn’t say they were — but as you yourself acknowledge they “have little [I would say nothing] to do with the lesson.”

    That’s pretty much the point, Vort, and is the reason why they demonstrate that “all is not well in Zion.” That anyone could spend 40 minutes hearing the stories and looking into the eyes of faithful Latter-day Saints who endured much more than I — or probably you — have endured in order to keep the faith, and hear the words of prophets and apostles rejoicing in recalling their experience of revelation, and hear other class members bear their testimonies to the joy they felt on learning the news … and in the face of all that fall back into an irrelevancy, a politicization, a set of comments seemingly with the purpose of saying, “Well, some blacks are not good people” (so, what –? because some are not good, none should go to the temple?) or “It was their own fault; they did it to themselves” (so, Green Flake deserved to be a slave because a white man bought Green’s ancestor from an African? Jane Manning should have been barred from the temple for the same reason?)

    Those comments demonstrate that “all is not well in Zion,” Vort, because when the call went out for testimonies as to God’s mercy and the reality of continuing revelation, what came back was an attempted justification for all the evil that has been done in the name of race.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 29, 2009 @ 8:30 am

  21. I was eating breakfast at a Dennys in Tucson when I looked up to see the headline trumpeting this revelation, on a newspaper that was being read in the booth next to me. Because of a great black family I had met that week, I prayed for understanding concerning this only two days before. This news touched me in such as way, that even today I tear up to think of it. Many years later and after he had been called as a GA, I had the honor of shaking hands with Elder Helvecio Martins on Temple Square at conference. There is no doubt in my heart and soul of the profound truthfulness of this revelation. I have read much on this subject and this blog is the best presentation ever.

    Comment by Rick in Nashville — December 29, 2009 @ 8:48 am

  22. As a side note, there was a large group of LDS Institute directors and their wives on a tour of the Middle East in 1978 (including my director, brother Perritt). They spent a day in Egypt speaking with several LDS that lived in the area. One of the things discussed was the issue of the Church not being in Egypt, though many people there were interested. It wasn’t there, simply because of the priesthood ban, and the hope was expressed that someday the ban would be lifted.

    They flew out that evening to Israel. Upon landing, they heard the news that the ban had been lifted.

    Comment by Rameumptom — December 29, 2009 @ 10:00 am

  23. This was more than excellent. I just wish the pictures where able to be enlarged so I could appropriate the whole thing.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 29, 2009 @ 11:25 am

  24. This is a moving lesson, Ardis. I wish I were there for it.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 29, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

  25. Wonderful lesson. Your ward members are very fortunate. I was in the LTM preparing to go to Belgium. It was a great place to be on that day especially. Never to be forgotten. The missionaries going to South Africa were in our branch and lived on our floor. They were on cloud nine for days.

    Comment by JimQ — December 29, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

  26. Thank you all for your kind comments, and especially for sharing memories of June 1978.

    Because of Matt W.’s comment (#23) I have posted the slides I used to illustrate this lesson, along with a link to download the actual PowerPoint presentation, here. Please don’t repost or republish it, but feel free to use or adapt for your own teaching, if you wish.

    I should have acknowledged much earlier that Paul Reeve taught this lesson in his ward, creating a PowerPoint presentation that I used as the basis of my own, although I adapted it heavily to suit my own teaching style — don’t blame him if I’ve mangled anything in the translation. It was his idea to have class members see the faces and hear the words of some of the early black pioneers, and his idea to follow through with Elder McConkie’s “forget everything I have said that is contrary,” Elder Holland’s “folklore must never be perpetuated,” and President Hinckley’s 2006 conference talk as essential aftermath of the 1978 revelation. Some of Jared T.’s notes on a similar lesson were also a great help, as has been other discussion around the ‘nacle.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 29, 2009 @ 4:11 pm

  27. I was living in Massachusetts and heard the news while driving home from work. I told my wife, and we rejoiced because a ward member who was black could now go to the Temple. My wife’s family was happy, because her uncle was President of the Brazil Temple and would not have to make the final decision about the lineage of members who came to the Temple.

    I grew up with the teaching that Blacks could not hold the priesthood, and I heard statements about the curse of Cain, but I was never convinced that the mark of Cain being described as black meant the negroid race. The BoM called the curse on the Lamonites as a black skin, and they certainly were not negroid. Most of all, I believed in continuing revelation and was glad the Lord had finally allowed the practice of blacks and the priesthood to be changed.

    Comment by Allen — December 30, 2009 @ 8:45 am

  28. To Vort and others similarly situated (that old legalese creeps back into memory at the weirdest times):

    Your reading of Keepa is entirely voluntary. Read it or not, as you please.

    Your reading of Keepa does not obligate me to engage in one-on-one debate of any point, publicly or privately.

    Ardis E. Parshall

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 30, 2009 @ 11:14 am

  29. Looks like a fine lesson.
    One tiny correction: Paul Cephus Howell was not LDS, though his son, Abner, did convert. Abner’s second wife was the granddaughter of Green Flake, Martha Ann Jane Stevens Perkins Howell.

    Comment by Margaret Blair Young — December 30, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

  30. Thank you, Margaret. I’ve made that correction in this post and in the linked PowerPoint download page, and hope that anybody who might re-use this lesson in some form will note the correction.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 30, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  31. An outstanding job on a delicate and, for many, a troubling subject, Ardis. Your lesson was both illuminating and, because of the clarity and certitude it provides about where we stand NOW and how we got here, it was inspiring. Stashed safely in my library, it will be a valuable reference in the future. Many thanks.

    Comment by Tristan Baier — January 1, 2010 @ 11:10 am

  32. A reader, whose comment cannot be posted because it perpetuates old misunderstandings and falsehoods, raises questions about one of the scriptural passages that was traditionally used to support the priesthood restriction, but which we now understand differently.

    “Cain” is not synonymous with “Canaan.” That has been well established by Biblical scholars who leave me in their distant dust.

    “Right of the priesthood” is not synonymous with “bearing the priesthood.” “Right of the priesthood” means the authority to lead the priesthood, to hold the keys, to direct the labors of those who hold the priesthood. See D&C 68:21. Pharaoh attempted to usurp the presidency of the priesthood, when his line did not have that right. The “right of the priesthood” had passed from Noah down through other channels and was held by Abraham, to be later passed down through a specific line of his own descendants. Condemning Pharaoh for claiming the presidency, when his lineage was not entitled to that presidency, is not evidence that Pharaoh and his lineage were not eligible to bear the priesthood as ordinary members.

    “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.” That the misunderstanding comes from a misreading of scripture rather than through the obvious speculations of men in our recent past makes no difference — a false teaching is a false teaching, and this is one.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 1, 2010 @ 11:22 am

  33. But shouldn’t we start [sic]-ing that “whomsoever”?

    I’ve been trying for 30 years to forget that blasted “whomsoever” but it keeps rearing its ugly head!

    Comment by Mark B. — January 1, 2010 @ 11:56 am

  34. Yeah, I like that idea, Mark. I make enough errors of my own without needing anybody to think that one is mine.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 1, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

  35. Ardis, what a fabulous lesson and what a wonderful service you have provided in posting it for use by others. Thank you.

    Comment by E — January 1, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

  36. Hey Ardis, I just got around to reading this. Great lesson. Where did you find the information about John Taylor’s uncertainty when Elijah Abel asked for the priviledge of attending the temple as well as the subsequent discussions by church leaders on the subject? I’d love to see your sources for that so I can read more.

    Comment by Meghan — January 5, 2010 @ 9:56 pm

  37. Meghan, the L. John Nuttal diary (he was present at the meeting) is the usual source for the events of 1879, supplemented with minutes that are not available to rank-and-file researchers in the original but which are quoted/transcribed in the Adam S. Bennion papers. Bush and Mauss, in Neither Black Nor White (Signature, 1984), round up the available sources in the most easily accessible way. I think some of their evidence is wrenched out of context (e.g., they rely on the “house rules” of the Kirtland Temple as evidence that Joseph Smith intended that temple to be open to blacks, but I think the context of the “house rules” makes the statement rhetorical, especially since their interpretation has to allow for the participation of unbelievers as well as blacks; not that the Kirtland temple was not open to blacks, just that Lester/Mauss’s evidence is hardly persuasive there), but they do lay out all the sources for you to consider.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 5, 2010 @ 10:38 pm

  38. Thanks! I’ll try to get a hold of some of these.

    Comment by Meghan — January 6, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

  39. […] should have noticed her name previously, as Ardis Parshall mentioned her in the great Sunday School lesson that she delivered late last year (don’t you wish that all Sunday School lessons could be […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Elijah Abel and his family in census records — February 26, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

  40. That was beautiful. Period.

    Comment by Of-The-Sea — February 26, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

  41. Ardis,

    Thank you for your comment numbered 32. The discussion in Abraham regarding Pharaoh has always made me wonder. Your conclusion has cleared up a question for me.

    Comment by Ugly Mahana — February 27, 2010 @ 7:45 am

  42. Thank you for these later comments.

    With the current three-week Gospel Doctrine focus on Abraham, I wonder how many people are thoughtlessly repeating the old conclusions about Abraham 1, without realizing that the scriptures *do*not*say* what we have used them to show, that our old interpretation came from the need to find scriptural support for a practice we did not understand.

    It came up in my ward last week where a very knowledgeable woman indicated that “we know” Esau couldn’t pass on the birthright because his wife was of “ineligible lineage.” Trying not to embarrass her, I cut her off a little abruptly and said that we would be talking about that again (next week), and that there were new understandings of those verses since 1978 when we realized just how strongly we were wresting those verses. I don’t know yet how that discussion is going to go.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 27, 2010 @ 1:38 pm

  43. I thought Esau’s wives were not favored by his parents due to their culture’s idolatry, not their lineage. Of course Rachel seems to have leaned a little in that direction herself. . .

    Comment by Eric Boysen — February 28, 2010 @ 2:28 am

  44. That’s how I understand it, too, Eric.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 28, 2010 @ 5:36 am

  45. Re #32. Glad this came up again. It is so easy to assume we understand something when there may exist a larger context of which we are unaware.

    I expect this is true of most things we are sure we fully understand.

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — March 1, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

  46. I have read everything I could find about “blacks and the priesthood” because throughout my life race issues abounded in my hometown of Saginaw, Michigan, a city of 100,000 ninety miles north of Detroit. Encircled by 13 automobile factories and foundries and bisected by the Saginaw River the city was a miniature Detroit with its de facto segregation in school and neighborhoods. In 1967 Saginaw erupted into a race riot one day after the deadly Detroit race riot of July 23rd.

    My father served in several local government positions for years and was deeply involved in improving race relations and ensuring equal rights for all Saginaw and Saginaw county’s citizens. Around our dinner table he often talked of the inequalities that existed between the whites and the blacks. He took me to several of his various civic meetings. I attended the county civil rights commission meetings, the city council committee on equality, and board of education meetings.

    Before the ninth grade I was aware of life-destroying discrimination. A few days before my fourteenth birthday, late at night on June 12, 1963, my father called me to the television set and we watched the news of Medgar Evans murder. Four years later to the day I was baptized a member of the LDS Church, having read The Book of Mormon and gaining a testimony by the time I was 16.

    My father never asked me about the Church’s position on blacks and the priesthood, though he knew of the issue. Prominent Mormon George Romney ran for and was elected twice Michigan’s governor and each time the Democratic challenger brought up the Church and its denial of the priesthood to blacks. George’s rejoinder was always to examine his record. As the CEO of American Motors, the citizen leader of Michigan’s recent constitutional convention, and as a private citizen, his respect for and defense of the constitutional rights and Christian treatments of blacks as brothers and sisters was apparent. I believe my father allowed Gov. Romney’s example to answer any questions he had about the Church and the blacks.

    Before I went on my mission I spent a lot of time (even worked at) an anti-establishment bookstore. There I became friends with Jimmy Letherer, the one-legged white man who marched with Rev. Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery. He told me story after story of terrible things done–even lawful, terrible things done–to blacks in the South, the North, and everywhere.

    Then I was called to serve a mission in California, Nevada, and Arizona during the turbulent times of 1969-1971. Kent State, Viet Nam, Angela Davis, and the Black Panthers. In my first area, Las Vegas, there were several days of the threat of race riots and noisy motorcycle cops revving their engines all night long at the gas station next to our apartment.

    From all these experiences I suppose for a Midwestern white kid, I was pretty sensitized to the race situation.

    Midway through my mission my companion and I, serving in California, received a referral to teach the Gospel to a young black man, about 21 years old, L.T. Harper. He was sweet on a young woman, still in high school, in the ward and her parents had welcomed him into their home, and though concerned about a budding romance between the two, learned enough about L.T. to know he was sincerely interested in the Gospel.

    During the several weeks of our teaching, he and the young lady decided to remain friends but not pursue a romantic relationship. L.T. continued the lessons. When he gained a testimony, he asked to be baptized. I did not realize this was a special case. My companion from a small, Idaho farm town, was as enthusiastic as I was to baptize a convert, but was a bit concerned about things and said we had to contact the mission president to receive some guidance.

    Our mission president, Clark M. Wood, listened to our description of our teaching, of L.T.’s testimony, and of his desire to be baptized. He then said we could baptize him as long as we were convinced L.T. understood thoroughly the fact that at this time he could not be given the priesthood.

    I remember how sad I was when we sat down with L.T. to discuss this. He listened and said to us that he knew the Gospel was true and that knowledge coupled with the knowledge that “someday” he would be able to hold the priesthood–whether in this life or the next–was sufficient for him. He wanted nothing to get in the way of his baptism because he knew the Church was true.

    I have always felt grateful that in this mortal life I have evidence that I tried to overcome whatever racism I possess because of culture, upbringing, situation, ignorance, or selfishness. That is what L.T. Harper’s baptism does for my past. But what it does for my future, it has been doing every day since I heard his rationale for accepting a mortally incomprehensible limitation based on race. He said that because the Gospel was true, he wanted to be part of it, regardless of being denied the priesthood. A promise of “Someday” was enough for him.

    I do try, often remembering L.T. specifically, to reduce the frequent and seemingly powerful challenges to my faithful obedience to the doctrine of Christ by saying, “someday,” and accepting that promise as enough.

    Comment by Joseph Heagany — March 10, 2012 @ 7:42 pm

  47. My wife and I were stunned to hear many of the old explanations repeated by members of our Gospel Doctrine class a couple of years ago when we discussed the the priesthood’s restriction.

    We haven’t heard any more of them since I b-blasted this review:

    Comment by manaen — March 10, 2012 @ 8:09 pm

  48. We just used this for today’s family gospel study. Then we told our own memories. My husband told about a black man he knew in Salt Lake City named Ruffin Bridgeforth. All this made a very good discussion. Thanks again, Ardis.

    Comment by Carol — March 18, 2012 @ 8:34 pm

  49. Thanks for your report, Carol. I suppose every age has its highlights and your kids wouldn’t want to trade those of their own generation, but for me nothing will ever replace being a young adult when new scripture was canonized (first by inclusion in the PofGP and then in the D&C), and especially the experience with this revelation. We need to remember those days and pass on our memories.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 18, 2012 @ 8:39 pm

  50. Thanks Ardis! I’ve borrowed liberally from some of your included items in order to structure a new lesson based around the church’s recent official newsroom press releases. Hope it goes well.

    Comment by BHodges — April 13, 2012 @ 3:44 pm

  51. Thanks Ardis for this post from years ago. I do most of my research in my personal scripture studies on the Abrahamic Covenant. I was fascinated by your reading you gave in comment 32, and it’s going to send me on weeks and weeks of studying I’m sure. It fits well with what I’ve studied elsewhere and I’m excited to have another tangent to study out. Thank you for sharing it and all of your research in the original post.

    Comment by Karen Spencer — September 18, 2013 @ 6:33 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI