We have seen through the racist statements of Brigham Young when he announced banning the priesthood to those of African descent, or blacks that this was considered doctrine of the church. It was taught as doctrine and understood as doctrine. We also see it in the Lowry Nelson exchange with the First Presidency in 1947 where they stated the curse and the ban was doctrine. They even said, “From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders”.
1949 First Presidency Statement
It was presented as doctrine by those in authority positions to state doctrine, namely presidents of the church for over 100 years and sustained prophets, seers, and revelators. If we need any more examples that the priesthood ban and other racist views and practices were declared as the doctrine of the church and not simply a policy, as the church has declared today, we can look at the hidden yet known statement from the first presidency of 1949.
They even state here that “it is not a matter of the declaration of a policy”! Compare that to the statements where today the church calls it a “policy” in the gospel topic essay. They specifically call it a policy and not official doctrine. “in January and February 1852, Brigham Young announced a policy restricting men of black African descent from priesthood ordination.” and “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.” They state that it is not “accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church,” which is true, but they also omit the fact that it was the official doctrine, they changed the doctrine, and call it a policy to deflect that fact.
In 1949 the First Presidency, after discussion with the Council of the Twelve, wrote the following statement, which is not included in many collections and archives as the church would like this racist history to be forgotten, or at least dismissed to the more “ancient” places of church history.
Not a Policy, but Doctrine
August 17, 1949
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 premortal 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.Statement of the First Presidency (George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark & David O. McKay) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, August 17, 1949, Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City.
With some proper formatting, perhaps this letter can be given the weight a message from the First Presidency may summon.
Not Available for Research
According to the church history department, this statement was never issued publicly or officially, but it was used as some “standard language in private communications”. As it is a First Presidency message, it is also apparently “not available for research” purposes.
We can confirm that the following text was used by the First Presidency in responses to inquiries about the priesthood restriction for several years beginning in 1949. The text was never issued publicly but, rather, was used as standard language in private correspondence…
First Presidency correspondence is not available for research…August 2020 LDS Church Historian communication on 1949 First Presidency Statement
What research are they referring to here? We know that Oaks says research is not the answer when we have questions and the church even redefines research as to mean supporting the church. Since we don’t have an official copy of this letter still and it’s hidden in the archives of the church, we will have to make do with the Proclamation version provided by misssedinsunday.com.
The race and priesthood issue is something we can see the church actively hiding the clear paper trail. They are vocally denying any church doctrine was behind the ban, and leaving everyone assuming they are only guessing as to why it was ever in place. But with any academic effort, we can see that those who put the ban in place clearly spelled out why it was in place. They repeatedly referred to it and for over a hundred years declared it as not only doctrine but NOT a policy. This letter from 1949, along with Brigham Young’s announcement of the ban in the first place, and Lowry Nelson’s letter exchange with the same first presidency that created this statement is enough to prove these points and clarify that the church is not being honest. There is even more here, which we’ll have to share another day.
What did the priesthood ban mean to you? How did it factor into your own personal faith transition? Share your story today at wasmormon.org.