During the 20th century, as 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 President Spencer W. Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. As students participate in this lesson they will better understand how to approach gospel questions in a faithful manner and will also learn the circumstances and truths pertaining to this definitive revelation.
Present the following scenario to your class:
After school one day, Scott was approached by another member of the Church who had recently developed some questions about Church doctrine. Scott felt that he was able to provide some help to his friend, but afterward he wondered what he might do differently the next time a Church member in a similar situation approached him.
Ask students what they have done to help Church members who approach them with sincere questions about the Church or its doctrine.
Display and read the following statement from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency:
“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 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 fireside for young adults, Nov. 1, 2009], 7, ldschurchnewsarchive.com).
What did President Uchtdorf teach that could help someone who has questions about doctrinal, historical, or social issues concerning the Church? (Help students understand the following principle: If we will exercise faith in Jesus Christ, then sincere questions can eventually bring answers from our Father in Heaven.)
Explain that one of the historical issues about which some Church members have questions stems from a Church policy that was in place from the mid-1800s through 1978 restricting black males of African descent from being ordained to the priesthood. It also prohibited black women and men from participating in the temple endowment or in sealing ceremonies. Invite a student to read aloud the following statement, which is a portion of the introduction to Official Declaration 2 (found in the Doctrine and Covenants). Ask students to think about how this information might help those who have concerns about this historical issue.
“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” (introduction to Official Declaration 2).
What important truths does this statement contain for those who may struggle with this issue?
Point out the line that states, “Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice.” 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. Invite a student to read the following statement by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“If you read the scriptures with this question in mind, ‘Why did the Lord command this or why did he command that,’ you find that in less than one in a hundred commands was any reason given. It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We [mortals] can put reasons to revelation. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do, we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to the one we’re talking about here [race and the priesthood], and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. …
“… Let’s don’t make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent” (Life’s Lessons Learned , 68–69).
Why is it wise to avoid speculating on reasons why individuals of African descent were not given the priesthood or granted access to temple ordinances prior to 1978? (Man speaks from a limited perspective, and God has not told us the reasons.)
Emphasize that today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past on this issue: black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse; black skin reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; mixed-race marriages are a sin; or 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. (See “Race and the Priesthood,” Gospel Topics, lds.org/topics.)
How can people’s faith in Jesus Christ help them resolve their questions or concerns about the priesthood restriction that existed before 1978?
Explain that before 1978, thousands of people of African descent in various nations had come to know of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. Church leaders in Salt Lake City received many 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. In Brazil, faithful black members helped to build the São Paulo Temple, announced in 1975, even though they knew they would not be able to enter the temple.
Inform students that Official Declaration 2 contains the official announcement of a revelation received by President Spencer W. Kimball, his Counselors in the First Presidency, and ten members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The revelation was received on June 1, 1978. Invite a student to read aloud the first paragraph under the words “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?
Invite a student to read aloud the next paragraph, which begins with the words “Aware of the promises.” Invite the class to look for how Church leaders acted on their inspired desires. Ask:
How did President Spencer W. Kimball and other Church leaders act on their inspired desires?
According to the first three lines of this paragraph, what did Church leaders know about 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, knowing that a revelation was needed in order for change to occur, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had discussed the priesthood restriction and prayed about it. Display the following statement by President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) and ask a student to read it aloud:
“Day after day I went alone and with great solemnity and seriousness in the upper rooms of the temple, and there I offered my soul and offered my efforts to go forward with the program. I wanted to do what he wanted. I talked about it to him and said, ‘Lord, I want only what is right. We are not making any plans to be spectacularly moving. We want only the thing that thou dost want, and we want it when you want it and not until’” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball , 238).
What do President Kimball’s words teach us about the way in which prophets seek revelation? (After students respond, you may want to write the following truth on the board: Prophets seek the Lord’s will in directing the Church.)
Invite a student to read aloud the next two paragraphs in Official Declaration 2, beginning with “He has heard our prayers.” Ask the class to look 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 prophet? (Emphasize the Lord’s message received in this revelation: The blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ are available to all of Heavenly Father’s children.)
To help students understand how the revelation recorded in Official Declaration 2 was received, share the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008), who was present the day the revelation was received in the temple:
“There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. The Spirit of God was there. And by the power of the Holy Ghost there came to that prophet an assurance that the thing for which he prayed was right, that the time had come, and that now the wondrous blessings of the priesthood should be extended to worthy men everywhere regardless of lineage. …
“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 a perfect unity among us in our experience and in our understanding” (“Priesthood Restoration,” Ensign, Oct. 1988, 70).
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, over one hundred stakes have been organized, and hundreds of thousands of people have received the ordinances of the gospel for themselves and for their deceased ancestors. (See, for example, “Mormons in Africa: A Bright Land of Hope,” mormonnewsroom.org; “Emerging with Faith in Africa,” parts 1–3, lds.org/prophets-and-apostles/unto-all-the-world.)
Display the following statement by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and ask a student to read it:
“On every continent and across isles of the sea, the faithful are being gathered into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Differences in cultural background, language, gender, and facial features fade into insignificance as members lose themselves in service to their beloved Savior. Paul’s declaration is being fulfilled: ‘As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
“‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ [Galatians 3:27–28].
“Only the comprehension of the true Fatherhood of God can bring full appreciation of the true brotherhood of man. That understanding inspires desire to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation” (“Teach Us Tolerance and Love,” Ensign, May 1994, 70).
How does the gospel prepare us to become unified with people from different backgrounds?
What examples have you seen of Church members from different backgrounds growing together in unity and cooperation?
In closing, invite students to consider how they might respond if they were asked why the Church did not ordain men of African descent to the priesthood for a time. Affirm that it is appropriate to explain to others that we do not know why the priesthood restriction began and that we should share and testify of the truths we do know.