“Priesthood and Temple Restriction,” Church History Topics
“Priesthood and Temple Restriction”
In theology and practice, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces the universal human family. Latter-day Saint scripture and teachings affirm that God loves all of His children and makes salvation available to all. God created the many diverse races and ethnicities and esteems them all equally. As the Book of Mormon puts it, “all are alike unto God.”1 The structure and organization of the Church encourage racial integration. Church members of different races and ethnicities regularly minister in one another’s homes and serve alongside one another as teachers, as youth leaders, and in myriad other assignments in their local congregations. Such practices make The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a thoroughly integrated faith.
Despite this modern reality, for much of its history—from the mid-1800s until 1978—the Church did not ordain men of black African descent to its priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple endowment or sealing ordinances.
During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. One of these men, Elijah Able, also participated in temple ceremonies in Kirtland, Ohio, and was later baptized as proxy for deceased relatives in Nauvoo, Illinois. There is no reliable evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.
In 1852 President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood, though thereafter black people continued to join the Church through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Following the death of Brigham Young, subsequent Church Presidents restricted black members from receiving the temple endowment or being married in the temple. Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.
As the Church grew worldwide, its overarching mission to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations”2 seemed increasingly incompatible with the priesthood and temple restrictions. Church leaders pondered promises made by prophets such as Brigham Young that black members would one day receive priesthood and temple blessings. In June 1978, Church President Spencer W. Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received a revelation that rescinded the restriction on priesthood ordination and extended the blessings of the temple to all worthy Latter-day Saints, men and women. The First Presidency statement regarding the revelation was canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 2.
Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that black people or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form. The teachings of the Church in relation to God’s children are epitomized by a verse in the second book of Nephi: “[The Lord] denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”3
For further information on this topic, see “Race and the Priesthood.”