“Lesson 27 Class Preparation Material: The Revelation on the Priesthood,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material (2019)
“Lesson 27 Class Preparation Material,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material
“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” (introduction to Official Declaration 2).
During this time, black men and women were also restricted from receiving the ordinances of the temple, but they were still permitted to be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Although much is unknown about the origin of the priesthood and temple restrictions, Latter-day prophets, including Brigham Young, David O. McKay, and Harold B. Lee, taught that the time would come when all worthy Church members, regardless of race, would be able to receive all the blessings of the gospel (see “The Long-Promised Day,” Ensign, June 2018, 34).
Over the years, some Church leaders and members suggested reasons for why the priesthood and temple restrictions had been introduced. However, these statements were given as opinions and do not represent Church doctrine.
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency, not yet an Apostle at the time the priesthood and temple restrictions were lifted, spoke of his feelings prior to the revelation that lifted those restrictions:
I observed the pain and frustration experienced by those who suffered these restrictions and those who … sought for reasons [for them]. 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. (“President Oaks Remarks at Worldwide Priesthood Celebration,” Be One—A Celebration of the Revelation on the Priesthood, June 1, 2018, newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org)
In 1964, Joseph William Billy Johnson of Cape Coast, Ghana, gained a testimony of the restored gospel after reading the Book of Mormon and other Church literature that had been given to him. Brother Johnson and others who joined the Church sent letters to President David O. McKay requesting that missionaries be sent to Africa to baptize him and others with whom he had shared the gospel. President McKay responded that missionaries would be sent “in the Lord’s own due time,” but until then, Brother Johnson should continue to study the gospel and help his fellow believers (in E. Dale LeBaron, “Steadfast African Pioneer,” Ensign, Dec. 1999, 45–49).
Although there was no opportunity for Brother Johnson to be baptized at that time, he and a few others diligently spread the message of the gospel in Ghana for many years. Brother Johnson organized a number of congregations of believers and led them in regular fasts in which they pled for missionaries to come to their land and establish the Church among them (see Elizabeth Maki, “‘A People Prepared’: West African Pioneer Preached the Gospel before Missionaries,” history.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
Like the believers in Ghana, thousands of other people of black African descent gained testimonies of the restored gospel as missionary work spread throughout the earth during the 20th century. Leaders of the Church were inspired by the faith of these individuals and desired to extend the blessings of the priesthood and temple to them (see Official Declaration 2).
President Spencer W. Kimball felt an especially strong desire to address the priesthood and temple restrictions during his time as President of the Church. He recalled:
I knew that something was before us that was extremely important to many of the children of God. … 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 and offered my efforts to go forward with the program. 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.” … The Lord made it very clear to me what was to be done. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball , 238–39)
As recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, “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” (introduction to Official Declaration 2).
In their public announcement of the revelation, the First Presidency stated:
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. (Official Declaration 2)
President Gordon B. Hinckley, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the time the revelation was received, testified of what it was like to be in the temple that day:
We joined in prayer in the most sacred of circumstances. President Kimball himself was voice in that prayer. … There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. The Spirit of God was there. And by the power of the Holy Ghost there came to that prophet an assurance that the thing for which he prayed was right. …
All of us knew that the time had come for a change and that the decision had come from the heavens. The answer was clear. There was perfect unity among us in our experience and in our understanding. (“Priesthood Restoration,” Ensign, Oct. 1988, 69–70)
At the end of one difficult day, Brother Billy Johnson felt compelled to turn on his radio at around midnight before going to bed. While listening he heard the news that the priesthood restriction had been lifted. He recalled, “I jumped and started crying and rejoicing in the Lord with tears that now is the time that the Lord will send missionaries to Ghana and to other parts of Africa to receive the priesthood. … I was so happy indeed.” When missionaries arrived in Ghana, they found a group of people who had already embraced the restored gospel. Brother Johnson along with approximately 600 members of his congregation were baptized. “After serving as the Cape Coast branch’s first president, [Brother] Johnson went on to serve as a district president, a full-time missionary, and as patriarch of the Cape Coast Ghana Stake” (see Elizabeth Maki, “‘A People Prepared’: West African Pioneer Preached the Gospel before Missionaries,” history.ChurchofJesusChrist.org).
For more information you can watch the video “Long-Promised Day” (8:40), which depicts the joy that Billy Johnson felt after learning about the revelation that extended the priesthood to all worthy males.
As a result of the revelation ending the priesthood and temple restrictions, missionaries today preach the gospel in many countries in Africa, temples have since been built on that continent, and hundreds of thousands of people of black African descent have received the ordinances of the gospel for themselves and for their deceased ancestors. Today, Church members of black African descent make invaluable contributions to the Church throughout the world as they unite with their fellow Saints and strive to become “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).