The actual title of the 1978 revelation was Official Declaration 2, and it stated:
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.
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.
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.
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.The Church authorities have made a concerted effort this year to celebrate the lifting of the ban, rolling out the "Be One" campaign which is both a celebration of the lifting of the ban and explores the history of blacks in the Church. The Church authorities have also bent over backward to show that the Church is open and welcoming of black members (see, e.g., this article on "Blacks and the Priesthood"). And President Nelson has instructed us to "build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation."
Some Are Unsatisfied With The Lifting Of The Ban
But building "bridges of cooperation" doesn't seem to be enough for some. Some want the Church to acknowledge that it was "wrong" for all those years that the ban was in effect. (See also here and here). And, as The Salt Lake Tribune reported earlier this year, some black members are unsatisfied by the celebration and want the Church to apologize.
“A lot of members are waiting for the church just to say, ‘We were wrong,’” said Phylicia Norris-Jimenez, a 30-year-old black Mormon and member of the grass-roots Black LDS Legacy Committee, group of women who are organizing a conference Saturday in Utah to honor the legacy of black Mormon pioneers.
Norris-Jimenez said nonblack Latter-day Saints still struggle with how to talk about the ban or understand the pain it causes. She said the anniversary celebration honors something that should have never existed but that it’s a good gesture and hopefully leads to more discussions about race.The same article quotes LaShawn Williams, an assistant professor of social work at the Utah Valley University, as saying she would like an apology.
Mormons probably shouldn’t wait for a rare apology from church leaders, said W. Paul Reeve, a Mormon studies professor at the University of Utah. The church seems to be trying to walk a tight rope by disavowing past beliefs while not apologizing for the ban to avoid members questioning other doctrine they think should be changed, he said.
“What else are they wrong about? Are they wrong about gay marriage? Are they wrong about female ordination?” Reeve said. “If they got race and the priesthood wrong, what else could they be wrong about? I think that’s part of the fear.”Of course, those calling for an "apology" should consider a different possibility. What if the ban was "right"--that is, an actual commandment from God through His earthly prophets? Then a call for an "apology" is actually a call for God to apologize, which is blasphemy!
The Ban Was Not Unprecedented
Those that claim that the ban was "wrong"--i.e., not inspired or commanded of God--base their arguments on the premise that a loving God would not choose to pour out his blessings on all his children. But, in fact, examining the scriptures show that such bans or limitations have actually been the norm. The Lord has often worked only through a certain people or elite group.
We see this as early as Genesis 6, where the "Sons of God" marrying of any they choose of the daughters of men is considered wickedness. (Gen. 6:1-3). Similarly, the Lord also condemned the intermixing when the daughters of Noah married outsiders. (Moses 8:14-15).
At the time of Abraham, the gospel apparently was open to all mankind, so we see Abraham going to give tithes to Melchizedek, the king of Salem who was also a priest for the Lord, and received from him the sacrament of bread and wine. (Gen. 14:18-20). Yet God later chose the descendants of Israel for His special favor. And after the exodus from Egypt, Israel became His chosen people; yet, even among these, service in the temple was restricted to the tribe of Levi, and the priesthood was restricted to the descendants of Aaron. After the return of the Jews from Babylon to rebuild the temple, the Lord prohibited those that were not of pure Levitical descent (either through intermarriage, or that simply couldn't prove their lineage was pure) from participating in rebuilding the temple.
Fast-forwarding to the time of Christ, where Christ expressly indicated that his mission was only unto the Jews. (See Matt. 15:24). In that chapter, we read:
And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.
And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.(Matt. 15:22-28). It was not until some time after Christ's ministry that Peter was finally instructed to take the gospel to the Gentiles. (Acts 10).
The point isn't when we are called to work for the Lord or receive our reward, but that no matter when we are called, if we work with diligence, we will receive our reward. This is clearly set out in the Parable of the Laborers in Chapter 20 of Matthew:
For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.(Matt. 20:1-16). If the Jews were those called in the morning, and Gentiles were those called at noon, and blacks are those called at the eleventh hour, what is the matter? The Lord will reward all his faithful laborers alike.
And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
Church Authorities Have Made Things Worse By Not Forcefully Responding To Critics
Unfortunately, in an effort to appease the easily offended, the Church authorities have attempted to downplay the whole matter, without stating that the ban was "wrong," by acknowledging that "[e]arly in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent," but claiming that "Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice." In his comments at the "Be One" celebration, Elder Oaks similarly related:
I observed the pain and frustration experienced by those who suffered these restrictions and those who criticized them and sought for reasons. I studied the reasons then being given and could not feel confirmation of the truth of any of them. As part of my prayerful study, I learned that, in general, the Lord rarely gives reasons for the commandments and directions He gives to His servants. I determined to be loyal to our prophetic leaders and to pray—as promised from the beginning of these restrictions—that the day would come when all would enjoy the blessings of priesthood and temple.The Church authorities have also stated that "[t]he origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear."
The problem, however, is that the origin of the ban and the reasons therefore are actually fairly well documented, and, therefore, statements suggesting otherwise come across as disingenuous and merely provide fodder for the enemies of the Church. (See also here and here). For instance, on October 9, 1859, Brigham Young taught:
"You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race-that they should be the "servant of servants;" and they will be, until that curse is removed; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree. How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam's children are brought up to that favorable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion."In 1949, the First Presidency issued a statement on blacks and the priesthood:
The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: "Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to."
President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: "The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have."
The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.Another 1969 statement from the First Presidency read:
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."The Lifting Of The Ban Was A Sign Of The Times--A Milestone In The Setting Up Of The Kingdom Of The Lord On The Earth
One of the points to be drawn from these statements is that, just as it was Church doctrine that the ban be put into place, it was also understood that the ban would eventually be lifted when, as Brigham Young stated, "all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to." Thus, as I read it, the lifting of the ban should be taken as one of the signs of times. This is supported by the very text of Official Declaration 2 which reads, in the relevant part: "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 ..." (underlined added). Consequently, the lifting of the ban marked a significant milestone toward the preaching of the gospel around the world. By suggesting that the ban was a "mistake" or "wrong," the critics are missing and submerging an important truth being revealed by the ban and a fulfillment of prophecy regarding the establishment of the Lord's kingdom in these latter-days.
The Ban Was Probably Necessary.
I would suggest that the ban served a useful purpose in the early days of the Church, even without considering the disproportionate crime, sexual promiscuity, and other issues within the African American and Sub-Saharan African communities. There has been considerable research showing that ethnic diversity leads to lower social trust and cooperation. For instance, in 2007, Robert D. Putnam published a paper in which he concluded that:
In the short run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even of one's own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer.James Laurence conducted a longitudinal study and found that people who stay in a community that become more ethnically diverse over time invest less social capital into the community. Another paper found that "all-white [church] congregations become less charitably active as the share of black residents in the local community grows." And yet another paper found that "a small minority group will adopt majority cultural practices and integrate. In contrast, minority groups above a certain critical mass, may retain diverse practices and may also segregate from the majority."
In short, "genetic diversity may have an adverse effect on the prevalence of mutual trust and cooperation, and excessive diversity can therefore depress the level of social capital below a threshold that otherwise subdues the emergence of social, political, and economic grievances and prevents the culmination of such grievances to violent hostilities." In fact, racial integration and social cohesion may be impossible.
Now, look at the situation faced by the young LDS Church. The greater number of the members were located in small, frontier settlements in the Mountain West region, particularly Utah, eastern Idaho, and Arizona. These were small communities that relied on cooperation and unity to survive. The Church, overall, also needed cooperation and unity to survive, particularly in the face of a hostile government. Of course, we cannot know if, without the ban, there would have been a large number of blacks that would seek to join the Church, but it can't be ruled out. So, we have small frontier communities exposed to an influx a new members of a different race, and we know racial diversity decreases trust and social cohesion. It could have destroyed or severely weakened the Church in its younger state.
What If The Church Apologizes?
The Church authorities have indicated in statements that "[t]he origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine."
The more recent statements from the Church authorities come out very strongly against any attempt to understand why the ban was implemented, and, given the trend, I would not be surprised if Church leaders eventually did repudiate the ban in its entirety and declare it a "mistake" or "wrong."
And that would create a serious conundrum for the Church and its members. As pointed out in the Salt Lake Tribune article cited to near the beginning of this post:
“What else are they wrong about? Are they wrong about gay marriage? Are they wrong about female ordination?” Reeve said. “If they got race and the priesthood wrong, what else could they be wrong about? I think that’s part of the fear.”But it goes beyond that. As I've noted above, the difficulty is that some of the statements concerning the reasons for the ban were not "personal," but part of official statements from the First Presidency. So, in the event of an apology, members would be left with the quandary of discerning which official statements are correct. Perhaps a statement apologizing for the priesthood ban would, itself, be mistaken or wrong, or perhaps the lifting of the ban in 1978 was "wrong"? You can see the potential for mischief if the Church issues an apology.
I think that the Church, black members, and detractors are making much ado about nothing. There was a ban, but now there isn't. Such bans or restrictions are not unprecedented, but appear to have been the Lord's modus operandi during the majority of his dealings with the people of the Earth. But now black members are able to participate in the temple ceremonies and ordinances, including doing work for their ancestors--even those ancestors that were prohibited from the temple during the time the ban was in place. At the end of the day, they will be receiving the same wage for their faith. Finally, given the circumstances of the Church during the 19th and much of the 20th Centuries, the ban was necessary to preserve the Church against division and schism.