The topic of race and the priesthood has tried the faith of Latter-day Saints and others. To understand this issue, discover the historical context.
An article titled “Race and the Priesthood” in the Gospel Topics section of lds.org provides rich historical details and spiritual insight.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established in the United States amidst racial turmoil. In 1830, slave labor was legal, racial discrimination was widespread in the North as well as the South, and many states had laws banning interracial marriage.
“In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that blacks possessed ‘no rights which the white man was bound to respect.'” Even after the Civil War ended in 1865, the Supreme Court would not repeal “separate but equal” laws until 1954, and they did not repeal interracial marriage bans until 1967.
Meanwhile, although a few black men had been ordained to the priesthood, President Brigham Young announced shortly after Utah was declared a territory by the US Congress in 1852 that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood. In the same announcement, “President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would ‘have [all] the privilege and more’ enjoyed by other members.”
For years, black men and women were baptized into the Church and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, waiting for the restriction to be lifted. However from 1852 until 1978, men of black African descent were not allowed to be ordained to the priesthood. And black men and women were not allowed to receive the temple endowment or sealing ordinances.
Then in 1978, after much prayer and supplication for divine guidance, the First Presidency announced that “the long-promised day has come. . . . All of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood” (see Doctrine and Covenants, Official Declaration 2). Since 1978, Church membership has grown rapidly among Africans and others of African heritage.
The Gospel Topics article indicates that “the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
Source: Gospel Topics
—Amber Dalton, Mormon Insights
Priests Blessing Sacrament photo courtesy of LDS Media Library