During the 20th century, missionary work spread throughout the earth. Church leaders prayed for guidance concerning restrictions on priesthood ordination and temple ordinances for Church members of African descent. A definitive revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to his counselors in the First Presidency and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. In a letter dated June 8, 1978, they announced the revelation.
Invite the class to imagine they have a friend who is a Latter-day Saint and is struggling with some questions about the Church.
What would you encourage your friend to do?
After students respond, read aloud the following statement by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency:
“My dear young friends, we are a question-asking people because we know that inquiry leads to truth. …
“… Inquiry is the birthplace of testimony. Some might feel embarrassed or unworthy because they have searching questions regarding the gospel, but they needn’t feel that way. Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a precursor of growth.
“God commands us to seek answers to our questions (see James 1:5–6) and asks only that we seek ‘with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ’ (Moroni 10:4). When we do so, the truth of all things can be manifested to us ‘by the power of the Holy Ghost’ (Moroni 10:5).
“Fear not; ask questions. Be curious, but doubt not! Always hold fast to faith and to the light you have already received” (“The Reflection in the Water” [Church Educational System devotional, Nov. 1, 2009], LDS.org).
What did President Uchtdorf teach that could help someone who has questions about the Church?
Ask a student to read aloud the following account of two individuals, Helvécio and Rudá Martins, who sought to receive and understand truth by asking questions:
“On a clear April night in 1972 … Helvécio Martins contemplated his family’s search for truth. He and his wife, Rudá, had investigated many religions, but none seemed to fill their spiritual void. ‘I conversed with God that night, asking for help,’ he says” (“Elder Helvécio Martins of the Seventy,” Ensign, May 1990, 106).
A few days later missionaries came to their home in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Elder Martins recalled, “The moment those two young men stepped into our apartment, all of my gloom and spiritual discomfort immediately disappeared and was replaced by a calm and serenity which I now know came from the influence of the Holy Spirit” (with Mark Grover, The Autobiography of Elder Helvécio Martins , 43).
As Helvécio and Rudá, who are of African descent, conversed with the missionaries, Helvécio asked about the role of black people in the Church. The Martins learned that at that time, Church policy restricted black males of African descent from being ordained to the priesthood. This led them to ask the missionaries further questions.
If you had been in the position of the Martins family, what questions might you have had as you learned of the priesthood restriction?
Display the following statement, which is a portion of the introduction to Official Declaration 2. (You may want to make copies of this introduction for students if they do not have the 2013 edition of the scriptures.) Invite a student to read the statement aloud, and ask the class to look for answers to questions individuals may have about the priesthood restriction.
“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.”
What questions about the priesthood restriction can be answered through this statement?
Point out the line that states, “Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.” Ensure that students understand that while some people may suggest reasons why males of African descent were not ordained to the priesthood for a time, those reasons may not be accurate. The statement just read represents the official position of the Church.
Invite another student to read the following paragraph describing what the Martins family did after they learned about the restored gospel:
The Martins family was baptized on July 2, 1972, and served faithfully in the Church. When their oldest son, Marcus, received his patriarchal blessing, it promised that he would preach the gospel. Although the priesthood restriction at that time prevented Marcus from serving a full-time mission, his parents opened a missionary savings account. In 1975 the Church announced that a temple would be built in São Paulo, Brazil. To help with the fundraising, Sister Martins sold her jewelry. Brother Martins faithfully served as a member of the publicity committee for the temple. The Martins family made these sacrifices even though they believed they would not have the opportunity to receive priesthood ordinances in the temple.
Why do you think the Martins family was willing to be baptized and serve faithfully in the Church, even though they were affected by the priesthood restriction at that time?
After students discuss this question, read aloud Brother Martins’s response:
“‘We had found the truth, and nothing would stop us from living it.’ … ‘When the Spirit tells you the gospel is true, how can you deny it?’” (in “Elder Helvécio Martins of the Seventy,” 106).
Point out that because the Martins family had received a testimony through the Holy Ghost, they were able to move forward, trusting in the Lord, in spite of things they did not understand.
How can the Martins family serve as an example for you when you have questions? (We can hold fast to what we already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.)
Explain that in addition to the Martins family, thousands of people of African descent in various nations had come to know of the truthfulness of the restored gospel in the decades preceding the 1978 revelation. Church leaders in Salt Lake City received a flood of letters from unbaptized converts in Nigeria and Ghana requesting that missionaries be sent to Africa. For years, Church leaders prayerfully considered the matter but felt the time had not yet come to send missionaries to Africa, where local members would not be able to preside or perform ordinances.
Inform students that Official Declaration 2 contains the official announcement of a revelation President Spencer W. Kimball received on June 1, 1978. Invite a student to read aloud the first paragraph under the phrase “Dear Brethren.” Invite the class to follow along, looking for what Church leaders said they had witnessed.
What had Church leaders witnessed throughout the earth?
What were Church leaders inspired with as they witnessed the expansion of the Lord’s work? (A desire to extend all of the blessings of the gospel to all worthy members.)
Invite a student to read aloud the next paragraph (beginning “Aware of the promises”). Invite the class to look for how Church leaders acted on the desires they were inspired with.
How did President Spencer W. Kimball and other Church leaders act on their inspired desires?
What does this teach us about prophets? (After students respond, you may want to write the following truth on the board: Prophets seek the Lord’s guidance in directing the Church.)
Point out the phrase “Aware of the promises made by the prophets.”
What does this phrase and the sentence it introduces teach us about what Church leaders knew regarding the restriction of the priesthood? (They knew that at some time, all worthy men would have the opportunity to receive the priesthood.)
Explain that for many years before 1978, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had discussed and prayed about the priesthood restriction. Church leaders felt that revelation was needed in order to change the restriction, which had been established for well over a century. For some time the question weighed heavily on President Kimball’s mind, and he often went to the temple alone to pray about it.
Invite a student to read aloud the next two paragraphs, beginning with “He has heard our prayers.” Ask the class to follow along, looking for the Lord’s response to the prayers of President Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
What was the Lord’s response to the prayers of His prophets?
What does this teach us about how the Lord directs His Church? (After students respond, write the following doctrine on the board: The Lord directs His Church through revelation to His prophets.)
Explain that this revelation had a profound impact on people throughout the world. Invite a student to read about how Helvécio Martins and his wife, Rudá, responded when they learned about it:
“I could not contain my emotions. Rudá and I went into our bedroom, knelt down, and prayed. We wept as we thanked our Father in Heaven for an event we had only dreamed about. The day had actually arrived, and in our mortal lives” (Autobiography, 69–70). The Martins family was sealed in the temple. Their son Marcus was the first Church member of African descent to serve a mission after the revelation to end the priesthood restriction. Helvécio Martins became a local priesthood leader and eventually was called to serve as a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy.
Explain that soon after the revelation ending the priesthood restriction was received, missionaries were sent to Africa. Temples have since been built on that continent, and hundreds of thousands of people there have received the ordinances of the gospel for themselves and for their deceased ancestors.
Point out that students may be asked why the Church did not ordain men of African descent to the priesthood for a time. Invite them to consider how they might answer this question.
Affirm that it is appropriate to explain to others that we do not know why the priesthood restriction began. In addition, we can share and testify of the truths we do know. (You may want to refer to the truths written on the board.) Conclude by inviting students to share their feelings and testimonies. You may also want to share your testimony.