Just as the statement from the First Presidency in 1949, there was another statement issued in 1969 regarding the stance of the church on denying the priesthood to any black member of the church.
In 1949, the First Presidency consisted of George Albert Smith, J Reuben Clark & David O McKay. In 1969, the presidency of 1949 had not all passed away (though President Smith and Clark along with many of the quorum of the twelve from 1949 had by now). The new First Presidency, twenty years later was still a holdout of the previous presidency. It consisted of David O McKay, Hugh B Brown, and N Eldon Tanner, who all remained just as committed to the ban and issued a new statement. This was in response to all the civil rights progress that had been made in the 20 years since the first statement.
This statement reaffirmed the commitment of the church to ban blacks from the priesthood. They blamed God and the blacks for the ban, citing their lack of commitment in the pre-existence.
While the 1949 statement is fairly hidden and guarded by the church because and was not published, this statement was sent to all church leaders including local Bishops. It was even published in the church magazine a couple of months following the statement. It was published in the Improvement Era in February 1970.
Here is the statement in full, which was released to general church leadership as well as all local leaders:
December 15, 1969
To General Authorities, Regional Representatives of the Twelve, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, and Bishops.
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 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 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 of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
The First Presidency
Hugh B. Brown
N. Eldon Tanner
First and Second Councilor in the First Presidency
“Letter of First Presidency Clarifies Church’s Position on the Negro”
USU Digital Exhibits
The New Era, February 1970
This statement makes many wild claims compared to what the church states today from the pulpit and from the gospel topic essay. They do state that they made this statement due to the confusion that has arisen regarding civil rights. They are restating and reaffirming the position of the church to deny the priesthood to any blacks, or any of African descent. They claim that this is because of the curse on Cain and his descendants and relate it to the war in heaven. They claim the blacks were “fence-sitters” in that war and neglected to fully support the right side.
Right off, the church leaders want to relate to the black community by stating that they know what they’re going through. The leaders claim that because the church was persecuted, they know what it’s like to have survived slavery and abuse, and racism for over a hundred years. This is insulting! A couple of years of light religious persecution (where many members violently fought back, and even massacred outsiders and natives) does not equate to centuries of slavery and denial of civil liberties due to violent and deep racism. To suggest such is glaringly insensitive and wildly incorrect and ignorant.
The First Presidency here also tried to appeal academically by stating that Joseph Smith himself was against slavery. They include one quote to show this, but omit many other quotes that show Smith wasn’t very adamant about slavery or by any means an abolitionist. They also omit to reference any of the incredibly racist rhetoric from Brigham Young or other leaders. They are trying to paint a picture of church leaders being against slavery, but it was Brigham Young who stated “we must believe in slavery” and that he “firmly believed in slavery”.
They employ some intellectual reasoning to state that those who are bothered by this priesthood ban forget that it’s not at all about civil rights. They set up a logical argument that if you believe in the priesthood, then you will understand that it’s not related to civil rights, but to religion. They claim it’s their own constitutional right to discriminate by race in the priesthood because the priesthood is not a constitutional right.
They state that from the beginning of the church, all presidents taught that blacks could not hold the priesthood, including Joseph Smith. But it was Brigham Young who announced the policy of banning priesthood from blacks, and there is even evidence that Joseph Smith did NOT hold these views because he approved of ordaining black man Elijah Abel to the priesthood! The First Presidency hopes that no members know this fact, or they don’t know it themselves, either way, they are caught here lying in an official statement. This is a main point of opposition referenced by Byron Marchant when he was the first to vote opposed in a General Conference and was shortly after excommunicated from the church in 1977.
The First Presidency is want to dismiss this discrimination and they refer it to as “seeming discrimination”. They claim that it’s not their fault because it didn’t originate with man, but it came directly from God! He hasn’t even told us the reasons for it, but we just have to do what God says. You can’t expect a prophet of God to speak for God.
The appeal to premortal existence is confirmed as doctrine through these statements of the LDS First Presidency in 1949 and as stated here in 1969. They want to point out that they have no “racially-segregated congregations” and don’t mention that denying blacks attendance at the temple is a form of segregation. That they are not segregating at the ward level, but they are on a salvation level and they are literally segregating heaven! This is a twist on words and technically they are not segregating wards (likely because there are barely any black members) though the doctrine is not integrating blacks at all. They are segregating marriages also, though they don’t mention it here, many other instances mention the evils of interracial marriage.
The First Presidency here says that blacks did not have the priesthood “for reasons which we believe are known to God”. When the ban was later lifted in 1978, there was no official explanation for the racist language in Mormon scripture, whether the curse was real or if it had been removed. There were no official statements, but a few church leaders commented. Bruce R McConkie said that the curse had been lifted and the previous statements made by himself and other church leaders on the subject were to be “forgotten” and that the focus of the gospel should be on current revelations. This follows the current church policy that current leaders take precedence over any previous leadership as would be expected in a church that professes ongoing revelation. Gordon Hinckley, as president of the church has said the ban was not wrong, that there was a reason for it, and that the revelation speaks for itself. Apostle Dallin Oaks explained that it is not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons and that the church does not offer apologies.
In 2013, the church published the Race and Priesthood essay giving background on the racist environment in which the ban was formed and stating the ban was based more on racism than revelation. All this evidence clearly shows that the church doctrine was racist and that in order to change the racist doctrine, it was changed into a policy. The church still has much clean-up in order to make this a clean break. The language in the scriptures is still racist and these historical documents are undeniable, though the church does its best to hide them and hopes to bury its racist past and distance itself from past racist leaders with commitments and donations to black organizations like the NAACP and targeting nonsensical awards for current church leaders.
- Authoritative Statement by the LDS Church on the Doctrine of Blacks in 1949
- Byron Marchant, Dissident Excommunicated in 1977 for Opposing Priesthood Ban
- Mormon Church Whitewashes Racist History in Essay
- Brigham Young’s Racist Remarks on Slaves, Seed, and Priesthood Doctrines
- The Lowry Nelson Letters and Racist Mormon Doctrine
- Doublethink and the Mormon Church
- Mormons and the NAACP – Blacks and the Priesthood