Wednesday, May 1, 2013

“Extra” Pre-1978 Missionary Lesson: Blacks & the Priesthood

[This was cross-posted on this morning. And I refer you to this link for some interesting comments there including my responses to some of the comments. A palestra original em português, se acha aqui. For my historical and current views on the removal of the Priesthood ban, see my page to the right.]

This is my translation of the “extra” discussion we taught to prospective members of African ancestry in the Brazil Porto Alegre Mission 1976-1978. It was referred to as the “Eighth Discussion” or “Discussion K,” the Baptismal Challenge, the short Discussion H, not being counted in the numbering system. (The lettering started with “C” for some reason). It was not an official church missionary discussion. And I certainly understood it that way at the time. It was shared around the mission in an informal way - never having any direct instruction from our Mission President to teach it. I seem to recall the copy I had was on a mimeographed sheet.

The principal false doctrines included are the interpretations from Abraham 1 and 3:22-23, and Moses 7:22 about Cain, a priesthood curse, blackness, etc. These scriptures are subject to many interpretations and do not compel the conclusions of this “extra” discussion or a priesthood ban by revelation. The other, and maybe even more troubling false doctrine, is a rather broad extrapolation from Abraham 3:22-23 that we are all born in this life according to what we deserved in the pre-existence. I don’t think the scripture leads to that interpretation at all. The idea does appear in Mormon folklore, but is not official doctrine of the LDS Church. I remember a World Religion class taught by Spencer J. Palmer at BYU in about 1980 where that idea was shot down pretty clearly.

My purpose in presenting this is to face difficult history directly, honestly, and faithfully - and to make restitution in the way I can for teaching this discussion once, and only once, as a Zone Leader concerned that the Brazilian Family of African descent that had requested baptism truly understood the restrictions that they would have in the Church. I accepted this non-critically at the time but with a little embarrassing discomfort. I was so relieved when the Revelation on the Priesthood came the last month of my mission, June 1978. That Revelation is reflected in canonized scripture as Official Declaration 2 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

The “extra” discussion follows:

All of God’s children are active participants in the Plan of Salvation. The rights to the Priesthood are granted in accordance with our progress and diligence in the pre-existence. Every worthy and qualified person will receive the opportunity to enjoy the blessings of the Priesthood, whether in this life or the life to come.

At the end of this lesson the family will be able to:
1.      Recognize that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is founded upon the principle of revelation.
2.      Understand that the Priesthood is the authority and power of God on the earth.
3.      Have a better understanding of the Negro and his relationship to the Priesthood.

Concept 1: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is founded on the principle of revelation.
Concept 2: Through revelation in these latter-days, we learn about the Plan of Salvation.
Concept 3: The Priesthood is the authority of God delegate to man to act in his name.
Concept 4: A man must be called of God, through revelation, to receive the Priesthood.
Concept 5: God revealed that the linage of Cain could not receive the Priesthood.
Concept 6: God revealed that the Negroes still cannot receive the Priesthood.
Concept 7: In the future, when revealed by God, the Negro will be able to receive the Priesthood.


Elder: We are grateful to be able to meet with you (and your family) to share with you these truths about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the visit of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Church of Jesus Christ was once more established on the earth. Jesus Christ is the head of His Church today and He directs it through revelation to His prophets. Revelation is the direct and open communication between God and His prophets here on the earth. Through the prophets the Lord has revealed his will and given us many inspired teachings vital for our salvation. Mr. Brown, in your opinion, why is revelation so important?

Mr. Brown: Response.

Elder: We testify that the Church of Jesus Christ is founded upon the principle of revelation and is directed today by Jesus Christ Himself through a prophet in modern times.


Elder: The Book of Mormon, the Bible, Doctine & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price contain the Lord’s instructions concerning the reestablishment of the Church of Jesus Christ on the earth. These books are known as scriptures, for they are divine truths that God has to His prophets. We testify that these scriptures are revelations of God and contain specific truths with respect to the following points: where we came from, why we are here on the earth, and where we are going after this life.

The revelations of modern times or scriptures teach us that God is a God of love, and He wants that which is best for us. Therefore, He provided a plan known as the Plan of Salvation by which we can become more like Him and return to live with Him. The scriptures tell us that before the world was created, we lived in a pre-existent state in the form of intelligences or spirit children of our Heavenly Father. In this pre-mortal state, the Lord presented us His plan, and we shouted for joy for the opportunities we would have to progress. Among us in the pre-existence, the scriptures say, were many noble and great spirits. Mr. Brown, could you please read in Abraham 3:22-23?

Brown: Reads Abraham 3:22-23.

Elder:  From this revelation we conclude that there were many among these spirits that possessed different degrees of intelligence, understanding, and levels of spiritual progress. Also, there were no distinctions of nationality among these spirits, such as: Americans, Europeans, Brazilians, Australians, etc. Such “limits of habitation” must have been determined when these spirits passed to their earth life. Mr. Brown, could you read in Acts 17:26, please?

Brown: Reads Acts 17:26.

Elder: These spirits were anxious to come to earth and receive bodies. They were desirous to come through whatever linage of which they were worthy. Mr. Brown, how do you feel about the Lord placing us here on the earth according to our worthiness in the pre-existence?

Brown: Response.

Elder: Mr. Brown, we testify to you that this is true. When God said to Abraham and to others, “Of these I will make my rulers”, there could not have any feeling of envy or jealousy among the millions of other spirits, for they who were “noble and great” were only receiving a just recompense, just as the participants in a graduation who have finished their prescribed courses of study. The thousands of other students that have not yet received this honor still have the privilege of obtaining it, or could, if they prefer, remain satisfied with the lower grade of education. According to the Plan of Salvation, spirits come to this world through the lineage to which they are worthy. Some are Indians in the Amazon, others are inhabitants of the isles of the Pacific, some are Europeans, etc., all varied in mental and spiritual degree. And we should be certain of one thing: all were satisfied to come through the lineage for which they were prepared. Mr. Brown, why do you think God was just in preparing such a marvelous plan?

Brown: Response.


Elder: Mr. Brown, we already talked about the principle of revelation in the Church of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation that the Lord revealed to us in these latter-days. Now we would like to talk about an extremely important principle for all of God’s children.

On a certain occasion when Joseph Smith was seeking divine inspiration through prayer, he was visited by Peter, James, and John, three of the original apostles of Christ. These celestial messengers, now resurrected beings, gave important power and authority of God to the Prophet Joseph Smith. This authority was the same priesthood that they had received from Jesus Christ while they lived as mortal beings. This priesthood that Joseph received was the authority and power of God necessary to act in the name of God here on earth that also contained the authority to restore the Church of Jesus Christ. After receiving the priesthood, Joseph could administer the ordinances of the gospel. This is because he had received authority from our Heavenly Father. Now he could organize the Church, baptize, and ordain others to this same priesthood. Mr. Brown, how do you feel knowing that the Priesthood or the authority to act in the name of God is here on the earth?

Brown: Response.

Elder: We bear testimony that the Priesthood is the authority of God delegated to man so that he can act in His name.


Elder: Christ, upon calling his apostles, said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you.” (John 15:16) The scriptures teach that a man must be called of God to receive the Priesthood. The Lord affirmed in a revelation to Abraham (Read Abraham 1:18). In this moment, Abraham was called by revelation from God to receive the Priesthood. Mr. Brown, how do you feel knowing that men are called of God to receive the Priesthood?

Brown: Response.

Elder: Speaking of the Priesthood, the Apostle Paul said, “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” (Hebrews 5:4) Now let us return to the Old Testament and see how Aaron was called. Here it is in Exodus 28:1. The Lord God is speaking with the Prophet Moses:

Brown: Reads Exodus 28:1.

Elder: We testify that a man must be called of God through revelation to receive the Priesthood. Almost all worthy members of the Church who are twelve years or older receive the Priesthood. Mr. Brown, if you were called of God through his servants to receive this Priesthood, how would you feel to accept this responsibility and blessing?

Brown: We testify that the Priesthood of God was restored to the earth that that through revelation, worthy men can be called to receive this blessing.


Elder: Since the time of Joseph Smith, there have always been prophets on the earth, for the Lord said through His prophet Amos, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7) It was revealed through ancient prophets who could receive the Priesthood just as we read about Abraham and Aaron. It was also revealed who could not receive the Priesthood. Would you like to read in the Book of Abraham 1:26-27?

Brown: Reads Abraham 1:26-27.

Elder: This scripture affirms that Pharaoh was of the lineage that could not receive the Priesthood. To discover the origin of this lineage, let’s read the history of Cain and Abel in the Bible: (Gen. 4:8-15).

Brown: Reads Gen. 4:8-15.

Elder: Cain and his descendants received a mark that distinguished them from other persons. For reasons still not fully understood by man, and that date from our pre-mortal life, the descendants of Cain did not have the right to the Priesthood. For example, it was revealed to Abraham that Pharaoh, being of this lineage of Cain, could not receive the Priesthood. Mr. Brown, we have already seen how Abraham, Aaron and others received the Priesthood because they were called of God by revelation. In the same way, how do you feel about the revelation of God that the Prophets could not confer the Priesthood to the lineage of Cain?

Brown: Response.

Elder: Testimony.


Elder: Modern revelation has given us a fuller knowledge and better understanding with respect to this mark that was placed upon Cain. Mr. Brown, could you please read in Moses 7:22?

Brown: Reads Moses 7:22.

Elder: Ancient prophets had a way to distinguish the lineage of Cain because of the mark of black skin that the Lord had placed upon them. To know what God revealed with respect to these people today, we have to go to the modern prophets. Would you like to read the underlined pars of this letter?

Brown: Reads the Letter of the First Presidency, published in the Priesthood Bulletin, Volume 6, No. 1, February 1970.*

Elder: What does the letter say about Blacks and the Priesthood?

Brown: Response.


Elder: That is it, Mr. Brown, the Blacks that honestly search for the truth and desire to affiliate with the Church can be baptized and have the opportunity to enjoy all the blessings of participating in the Kingdom of God. However, because God has revealed it, the Priesthood cannot be conferred upon them. But let us read what God said with respect to the Blacks in the future:

“Sometime in God’s eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the priesthood.”

Brown: Reads the rest of the letter.

Elder: I know that this is true. When the moment arrives, God will reveal it to His Prophets. Mr. Brown, what are you feelings concerning the teaching that God reveals his will with respect to the Priesthood to his servants the Prophets.

Brown: Response.

Elder: I testify to you that God truly guides and directs His Church through revelation. Now, Mr. Brown, how do you feel about the things we have discussed today.

Brown: Response.

Elder: I know, Mr. Brown, that the things that we discussed today are true. I also know that you and your family can be baptized and remain faithful in the Church bless without measure in this life and in eternal life. Mr. Brown, considering all these things do you feel that you could become a faithful and true member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accepting the revelation God had given us concerning the lineage of Cain and the Priesthood?

Brown: Response.

Elders: Testimonies. 

*It appears that this is a copy the letter of the First Presidency published in the February 1970 Priesthood Bulletin:

December 15, 1969

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.

First, may we say that we know something of the sufferings of those who are discriminated against in a denial of their civil rights and Constitutional privileges. Our early history as a church is a tragic story of persecution and oppression. Our people repeatedly were denied the protection of the law. They were driven and plundered, robbed and murdered by mobs, who in many instances were aided and abetted by those sworn to uphold the law. We as a people have experienced the bitter fruits of civil discrimination and mob violence.

We believe that the Constitution of the United States was divinely inspired, that it was produced by “wise men” whom God raised up for this “very purpose,” and that the principles embodied in the Constitution are so fundamental and important that, if possible, they should be extended “for the rights and protection” of all mankind.

In revelations received by the first prophet of the Church in this dispensation, Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the Lord made it clear that it is “not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.” These words were spoken prior to the Civil War. From these and other revelations have sprung the Church’s deep and historic concern with man’s free agency and our commitment to the sacred principles of the Constitution.

It follows, therefore, that we believe the Negro, as well as those of other races, should have his full Constitutional privileges as a member of society, and we hope that members of the Church everywhere will do their part as citizens to see that these rights are held inviolate. Each citizen must have equal opportunities and protection under the law with reference to civil rights.

However, matters of faith, conscience, and theology are not within the purview of the civil law. The first amendment to the Constitution specifically provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

The position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affecting those of the Negro race who choose to join the Church falls wholly within the category of religion. It has no bearing upon matters of civil rights. In no case or degree does it deny to the Negro his full privileges as a citizen of the nation.

This position has no relevancy whatever to those who do not wish to [p.223] join the Church. Those individuals, we suppose, do not believe in the divine origin and nature of the church, nor that we have the priesthood of God. Therefore, if they feel we have no priesthood, they should have no concern with any aspect of our theology on priesthood so long as that theology does not deny any man his Constitutional privileges.

A word of explanation concerning the position of the Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes its origin, its existence, and its hope for the future to the principle of continuous revelation. “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.”

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.”

Until God reveals His will in this matter, to him whom we sustain as a prophet, we are bound by that same will. Priesthood, when it is conferred on any man comes as a blessing from God, not of men.

We feel nothing but love, compassion, and the deepest appreciation for the rich talents, endowments, and the earnest strivings of our Negro brothers and sisters. We are eager to share with men of all races the blessings of the Gospel. We have no racially-segregated congregations.

Were we the leaders of an enterprise created by ourselves and operated only according to our own earthly wisdom, it would be a simple thing to act according to popular will. But we believe that this work is directed by God and that the conferring of the priesthood must await His revelation. To do otherwise would be to deny the very premise on which the Church is established.

We recognize that those who do not accept the principle of modern revelation may oppose our point of view. We repeat that such would not wish for membership in the Church, and therefore the question of priesthood should hold no interest for them. Without prejudice they should grant us the privilege afforded under the Constitution to exercise our [p.224] chosen form of religion just as we must grant all others a similar privilege. They must recognize that the question of bestowing or withholding priesthood in the Church is a matter of religion and not a matter of Constitutional right.

We extend the hand of friendship to men everywhere and the hand of fellowship to all who wish to join the Church and partake of the many rewarding opportunities to be found therein.

We join with those throughout the world who pray that all of the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ may in due time of the Lord become available to men of faith everywhere. Until that time comes we must trust in God, in His wisdom and in His tender mercy.

Meanwhile we must strive harder to emulate His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose new commandment it was that we should love one another. In developing that love and concern for one another, while awaiting revelations yet to come, let us hope that with respect to these religious differences, we may gain reinforcement for understanding and appreciation for such differences. They challenge our common similarities, as children of one Father, to enlarge the out-reachings of our divine souls.

Faithfully your brethren,
The First Presidency
By Hugh B. Brown
N. Eldon Tanner
[President David O. McKay being ill at the time]

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