To use Official Declaration #2 to show class members how the Lord continues to guide his Church through revelation.
On racial equality: D&C 38:25, 2 Ne. 26:33
On the relationship between the righteousness of the people and revelation: Mormon 3:16, Ezekiel 3:26
2. Historical Reading
“Race and the Priesthood” from www.lds.org: http://www.lds.org/topics/race-and-the-priesthood?lang=eng
Have a class member read the new heading from Official Declaration #2: “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 (http://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/od?lang=eng).
1. Joseph Smith supported racial inclusion.
Ask a returned missionary beforehand to prepare a brief recounting of their experience teaching in a mission with an ethnically-diverse population.
Briefly discuss Joseph Smith’s original stance on black men and women receiving priesthood ordinations and/or rituals. The Latter-day Saints had the opportunity to exercise a policy of inclusion. However, Joseph Smith’s associates resisted his efforts and later, rejected them entirely. When the Lord’s people resist the ways of righteousness, he will not coerce them. He is willing to allow the Saints–and be accountable for–bad choices, even when they hurt others. This lesson explains how Official Declaration #2 was the product of a Church-wide repentance process to return to the original vision established by Joseph Smith.
Explain that Joseph Smith envisioned Zion to include all the committed Saints willing to make covenants with God. He told missionaries: “When you meet with an Arab, send him to Arabia, when you find an Italian, send him to Italy. & a french man, to France; or an Indian, that is suitable. send him among the Indians. & this and that man send them. to the different places where they belong.- Send somebody to Central America and to Spanish America & don’t let a single corner of the earth go without a mission” (Joseph Smith Journal, April 19, 1843 in Dean Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard L. Bushman, The Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, vol. 2, 1841-1843 (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012), 369). The Prophet authorized that one black man, Elijah Able[s], be ordained to the priesthood in March 1836. Joseph lauded Elijah for his “good moral character” and “his zeal for the cause of righteousness” (Elijah Able[s] Priesthood Certificate, March 1836).
1) Did Joseph Smith support racial inclusion? How did he show this?
2) How can we take care to extend love and support for minorities in our wards and branches?
2. After Joseph’s death, the Saints gave up Joseph Smith’s original vision
Discussion Item: Ask the class to mention examples of when the Lord has chastised the Saints for taking the Prophet’s counsel lightly (e.g. reading the Book of Mormon, being a “warlike people,” etc.).
In the early Church, white Latter-day Saints came from a variety of places in the United States, ranging from upstate New York to Mississippi. With their diverse backgrounds, they were not likely to agree on several issues, particularly the status of African-Americans in the Church. Many of them had been raised with prejudiced attitudes towards African-Americans and failed to incorporate scriptural teachings about racial equality into their lives. After the Saints left Nauvoo in 1846, they had some negative experiences with an African-American man named William McCary who had joined the Saints in Winter Quarters. He attempted to practice polygamy without authorization from church leaders. As with many Americans, interracial marriage frightened and outraged the Saints; they chased William McCary from the camp and complained to church leaders about his actions. In April 1847, Parley P. Pratt responded to the criticisms by declaring African-Americans to be ineligible to hold the priesthood. The implementation of this ban was inconsistent throughout the Utah territory over following decades. By 1879, the ban was fully in place.
1) Can the Latter-day Saints come under collective condemnation? When have you experienced this during your time in the Church?
2) What reasons do we use to rebel against God’s commandments? Why do we blame others for our own poor decisions?
3. God continued to work with his people to bring about racial equality
Discussion Item: Ask the class to share times when they could feel God working with them, even when they knew that they needed to repent.
For the next century, the Saints accepted the assumption that African-Americans could not receive priesthood ordinations or temple blessings. Following World War II, several African communities came into contact with church literature and began to send correspondence to LDS Church Headquarters in hopes of receiving missionaries in their home countries. One saint in Africa received a vision after reading a church pamphlet: “I heard my name mentioned thrice: ‘Johnson, Johnson, Johnson. If you will take up my work as I will command you, I will bless you and bless your land.’ Trembling and in tears, I replied, ‘Lord, with thy help, I will do whatever you will command me.’ (http://history.lds.org/article/ghana-pioneer-jwb-johnson?lang=eng).
Black Latter-day Saints such as Eugene Orr, Ruffin Bridgeforth, and Darius Gray met with church leaders about how they could retain more of the black membership. When asked about how he could be a member of a church that excluded him from the full blessings of membership, one black member declared that “we’re on the right train. Maybe we’re not the engineer, but it’s better than missing the train” (“Black Mormons keep the faith,” Dallas Morning News, April 27, 1978).
1) Does God continue to work with his children who have gone astray? How has he done so in your lives?
2) Sometimes, God uses several sources to give revelation to his children. How can we learn to be “quick to observe” the ways God is teaching us a gospel principle?
4. Receiving Official Declaration #2
Discussion Item: Ask the class to remember where they were when Official Declaration #2 was announced.
Explain that white Latter-day Saints–both leader and lay–took several decades to be prepared for blacks to hold the priesthood. Spencer W. Kimball himself acknowledged that he “had a great deal to fight…Myself largely, because I had grown up with the belief that Negroes should not have the priesthood.” (Avant, “President Kimball Says Revelation Was Clear,” 15). Elder Gordon B. Hinckley recalled: “Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same. 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” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Priesthood Restoration,” Ensign (October 1988), 70). Discuss how much preparation and humility is required for us to repent and receive revelation.
1) What ideas do we need to fight in order to be ready to receive the revelations of God?
2) What revelations have we resisted? How can we humble ourselves as Spencer W. Kimball did?
Conclusion and Application: When the Saints repent, they receive revelation and blessings.
For generations, the Saints had struggled to overcome the racial attitudes they had inherited from their ancestors. After the revelation was released, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, once a defender of race-based priesthood exclusion, urged the Saints to “forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation.” Revelations are not always a declaration of new truth; sometimes, they’re calling for us to remember what we have long since forgotten.
Additional Teaching Ideas
1) Show Revelation on Priesthood video (https://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2012-06-1930-long-promised-day?lang=eng)
2) Read account from Alan Cherry (From Alan Cherry, “A Negro’s Life Changed,” in No More Strangers, published by Deseret Book). Alan Cherry was an African-American man who joined the Church, in spite of the racial restriction:
If God has spoken to me, who am I to challenge his word just because it may appear as error to other men? I know that most men exist on this earth by the improper use of pride, power, prominence, and position. These things mean as much to them as does the word of God-sometimes more. So they would probably reject this doctrine of priesthood restriction because of their inability to understand it by mental reasoning.” I also thought that a black man’s first reaction usually would be to deny the possibility that this doctrine is true because it seems to take a prejudicial stand against him and to deny him something he should have.
But I knew that I had stepped away from the world and sought God, and that he had spoken to me through the Spirit. So how could I dare come back and say to him: “This doctrine is wrong. I won’t join your church because I can’t have a particular position to which I aspire.” Somehow it didn’t seem that this attitude would be consistent with the doctrine Christ taught-that he who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven should be the servant of all. If the greatest man, the Lord himself, would stoop down and wash his disciples’ feet and show through serving what true greatness was-the power of love-then I did not need position or prominence or pride in order to serve.