“Unit 32: Day 2, Official Declaration 2,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2017)
“Unit 32: Day 2,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide
During the 20th century, missionary work spread throughout the earth. Church leaders prayed for guidance concerning restrictions on priesthood ordination and temple ordinances for Church members of African descent. A definitive revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to his counselors in the First Presidency and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. In a letter dated June 8, 1978, they announced the revelation.
Imagine you have a friend who is a Latter-day Saint and is struggling with some questions about the doctrines, policies, or practices of the Church.
- Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: What would you encourage your friend to do?
In the following statement by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency, mark the portions that are especially helpful to you:
“What about doubts and questions? How do you find out that the gospel is true? Is it all right to have questions about the Church or its doctrine? My dear young friends, we are a question-asking people because we know that inquiry leads to truth. That is the way the Church got its start—from a young man who had questions. In fact, I’m not sure how one can discover truth without asking questions. In the scriptures you will rarely discover a revelation that didn’t come in response to a question. Whenever a question arose and Joseph Smith wasn’t sure of the answer, he approached the Lord, and the results are the wonderful revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. Often the knowledge Joseph received extended far beyond the original question. That is because not only can the Lord answer the questions we ask but, even more importantly, He can give us answers to questions we should have asked. Let us listen to those answers.
“The missionary effort of the Church is founded upon honest investigators asking heartfelt questions. Inquiry is the birthplace of testimony. Some might feel embarrassed or unworthy because they have searching questions regarding the gospel, but they needn’t feel that way. Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a precursor of growth.
“God commands us to seek answers to our questions (see James 1:5–6) and asks only that we seek ‘with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ’ (Moroni 10:4). When we do so, the truth of all things can be manifested to us ‘by the power of the Holy Ghost’ (Moroni 10:5).
“Fear not; ask questions. Be curious, but doubt not! Always hold fast to faith and to the light you have already received. Because we see imperfectly in mortality, not everything is going to make sense right now. …
“… Searching for answers to your questions can bring you closer to God, strengthening your testimony instead of shaking it. It’s true that ‘faith is not … a perfect knowledge’ (Alma 32:21), but as you exercise your faith, applying gospel principles every day under any circumstances, you will taste the sweet fruits of the gospel, and by this fruit you will know of its truth (see Matthew 7:16–20; John 7:17; Alma 32:41–43)” (“The Reflection in the Water” [Church Educational System fireside address, Nov. 1, 2009], LDS.org).
The following account illustrates how two individuals, Helvécio and Rudá Martins, sought to receive and understand truth by asking questions:
“On a clear April night in 1972 … Helvécio Martins contemplated his family’s search for truth. He and his wife, Rudá, had investigated many religions, but none seemed to fill their spiritual void. ‘I conversed with God that night, asking for help’ he says” (“Elder Helvécio Martins Of the Seventy,” Ensign, May 1990, 106).
A few days later, missionaries came to their home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Elder Martins recalled, “The moment those two young men stepped into our apartment, all of my gloom and spiritual discomfort immediately disappeared and was replaced by a calm and serenity which I now know came from the influence of the Holy Spirit” (with Mark Grover, The Autobiography of Elder Helvécio Martins , 43).
As Helvécio and Rudá, who are of African descent, conversed with the missionaries, Helvécio asked about the role of black people in the Church. The Martins learned that at that time, Church policy restricted black males of African descent from being ordained to the priesthood. This led them to ask the missionaries further questions.
If you had been in the position of the Martins family, what questions might you have had as you learned of the priesthood restriction?
The following statement is the introduction to Official Declaration 2 in the 2013 edition of the scriptures. As you read the statement, look for answers to questions individuals may have had about the priesthood restriction.
“The Book of Mormon teaches that ‘all are alike unto God,’ including ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.”
- Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: What questions about the priesthood restriction can be answered through this statement?
Notice the following line in the statement above: “Church records offer no clear insights into the origin of this practice.” Although some people may suggest reasons why males of African descent were not ordained to the priesthood for a time, those reasons are likely not accurate. The statement in the introduction to Official Declaration 2 represents the official position of the Church.
As you read the following paragraph, look for what the Martins family did after they learned about the restored gospel:
The Martins family was baptized on July 2, 1972, and served faithfully in the Church. When their oldest son, Marcus, received his patriarchal blessing, it promised that he would preach the gospel. Although the priesthood restriction at that time prevented Marcus from serving a full-time mission, his parents opened a missionary savings account. In 1975 the Church announced that a temple would be built in São Paulo, Brazil. To help with the fundraising, Sister Martins sold her jewelry. Brother Martins faithfully served as a member of the publicity committee for the temple. The Martins family made these sacrifices even though they believed they would not have the opportunity to receive priesthood ordinances in the temple.
- Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: Why do you think the Martins family was willing to be baptized and serve faithfully in the Church, even though they were affected by the priesthood restriction at that time?
Compare your answer with the following statement Elder Martins gave: “We had found the truth, and nothing would stop us from living it. … When the Spirit tells you the gospel is true, … how can you deny it?” (in “Elder Helvécio Martins of the Seventy,” 106).
Because the Martins family had received a testimony through the Holy Ghost, they were able to move forward, trusting in the Lord, in spite of things they did not understand.
In addition to the Martins family, thousands of people of African descent in various nations had come to know of the truthfulness of the restored gospel in the decades preceding the 1978 revelation. Church leaders in Salt Lake City received a flood of letters from unbaptized converts in Nigeria and Ghana requesting that missionaries be sent to Africa. For years, Church leaders prayerfully considered the matter but felt the time had not yet come to send missionaries to Africa, where local members would not be able to preside or perform ordinances.
Official Declaration 2 contains the official announcement of a revelation President Spencer W. Kimball received on June 1, 1978. Read the first paragraph under the phrase “Dear Brethren,” looking for what Church leaders said they had witnessed.
What were Church leaders inspired with as they witnessed the expansion of the Lord’s work?
Read the paragraph beginning “Aware of the promises.” Look for how Church leaders acted on the desires they were inspired with.
How did President Kimball and other Church leaders act on their inspired desires?
This paragraph helps us understand that prophets seek the Lord’s guidance in directing the Church. You may want to write this principle in your scriptures.
Notice that the beginning of that second paragraph begins with the phrase, “Aware of the promises made by the prophets.” This phrase teaches us that Church leaders knew that at some time all worthy men would have the opportunity to receive the priesthood. For many years before 1978, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had discussed and prayed about the priesthood restriction. Church leaders felt that revelation was needed in order to change the restriction, which had been established for more than a century. For some time the question weighed heavily on President Kimball’s mind, and he often went to the temple alone to pray about it.
Read the paragraphs in Official Declaration 2 that begin with “He has heard our prayers” and “We declare,” looking for the Lord’s response to the prayers of President Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. You may want to mark what you find.
These paragraphs help us understand that the Lord directs His Church through revelation to His prophets. You may wish to write this doctrine in your scriptures.
This revelation had a profound impact on people throughout the world. Read the reaction of Helvécio Martins and his wife, Rudá, when they learned about the revelation: “I could not contain my emotions. Rudá and I went into our bedroom, knelt down, and prayed. We wept as we thanked our Father in Heaven for an event we had only dreamed about. The day had actually arrived, and in our mortal lives” (Autobiography, 69–70).
The Martins family was sealed in the temple. Their son Marcus was the first Church member of African descent to serve a mission after the revelation to end the priesthood restriction. Helvécio Martins became a local priesthood leader and eventually was called to serve as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.
Soon after the revelation ending the priesthood restriction was received, missionaries were sent to Africa. Temples have since been built on that continent, and hundreds of thousands of people there have received the ordinances of the gospel for themselves and for their deceased ancestors.
You may be asked why the Church did not ordain men of African descent to the priesthood for a time. Consider how you might answer this question. For more information, go to LDS.org, select Gospel Topics, and search for race and the priesthood.
- It is appropriate to explain to others that we do not know why the priesthood restriction began. In addition, you can share and testify of the truths we do know, such as those you have learned in this lesson. In your scripture study journal, write how you might answer questions about why the Church did not ordain men of African descent to the priesthood for a time. As you form your answer, you might want to use the Martins family’s example as well as the introduction to Official Declaration 2 in the 2013 edition of the scriptures.
- Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied Official Declaration 2 and completed this lesson on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: