For Latter-day Saints who were adults at that time, the 1978 revelation on the priesthood was an event that is etched in memory.
The news reached me on a telephone that seldom rang. My two sons and I were working in the yard of a mountain home we built as a place of retreat from my heavy responsibilities as president of Brigham Young University. The caller was Elder Boyd K. Packer. He told me about the revelation on the priesthood, which was just being announced. We exchanged expressions of joy, and I walked back to my work. I sat down on the pile of dirt we had been moving and beckoned to my sons. As I told them that all worthy male members of the Church could now be ordained to the priesthood, I wept for joy.
Why was the revelation on the priesthood such an occasion of joy? As a young man studying and working in the legal profession, I lived in the Midwestern and Eastern regions of the United States for 17 years. I had observed and shared the pain and frustration experienced by those who suffered these restrictions and those who observed them, criticized them, and sought for reasons. I studied the reasons then being given and could not feel confirmation about the truth of any of them. As part of my prayerful study, I learned that, in general, the Lord seldom gives reasons for the commandments and directions He gives to His servants. I determined to be loyal to our prophetic leaders and to pray—as promised from the beginning of these restrictions—that the day would come when all would enjoy the blessings of priesthood and temple. Now, on June 8, 1978, that day had come, and I wept for joy.
When we consider what has happened and is happening in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and in the lives of its members since 1978, we all have cause for celebration.
Institutionally, the Church reacted swiftly to the revelation on the priesthood. Ordinations and temple recommends came immediately. The reasons that had been given to try to explain the prior restrictions on members of African ancestry—even those previously voiced by revered Church leaders—were promptly and publicly disavowed. The Lord had spoken through His prophet, and His Church obeyed.
In contrast, changes in the hearts and practices of individual members did not come suddenly and universally. Some accepted the effects of the revelation immediately and gracefully, some accepted gradually, and some, in their personal lives, continued the attitudes of racism that have been painful to so many throughout the world, including the past 40 years. Some have wanted to look back, concentrating attention on reexamining the past, including seeking reasons for the now-outdated restrictions. But most in the Church, including its senior leadership, have concentrated on the opportunities of the future rather than the disappointments of the past. Most have trusted the wisdom and timing of the Lord and accepted the directions of His prophet. In doing so, we have realized the eternal significance of His prophetic teaching that “one being is as precious in his sight as the other” (Jacob 2:21). In doing so, we have received new impetus to fulfill the command of the Lord Jesus Christ that we are to teach the everlasting gospel unto all—to “all nations, kindreds, tongues and people” (D&C 42:58).
To concern ourselves with what has not been revealed or with past explanations by those who were operating with limited understanding can only result in speculation and frustration. To all who have such concerns, we extend our love and this special invitation. Let us all look forward in the unity of our faith and trust in the Lord’s promise that “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33).
As we look to the future, one of the most important effects of the revelation on the priesthood is its divine call to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children. Racism is probably the most familiar source of prejudice today, and we are all called to repent of that. But throughout history, many groups of God’s children are or have been persecuted or disadvantaged by prejudices, such as those based on ethnicity or culture or nationality or education or economic circumstances.
As servants of God who have the knowledge and responsibilities of His great plan of salvation, we should hasten to prepare our attitudes and our actions—institutionally and personally—to put all personal prejudices behind us. As President Russell M. Nelson said following our recent meeting with the national officers of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: “Together we invite all people, organizations, and government[s] to work with greater civility, eliminating prejudice of all kinds.”1
Even as we unite to banish attitudes and practices of prejudice, we should remember that it is not prejudice for the Church to insist on certain rules in furtherance of the Lord’s requirement of worthiness to enter a temple. The Lord has declared that obedience to covenants and commandments is an essential requirement to enjoy sacred blessings. Any attempt to erase divine requirements for eternal life and eternal families would be like trying to establish Satan’s plan that “all would be saved.” We mortals already rejected Satan’s plan in our premortal lives. We chose the plan of our Heavenly Father, which provides the freedom to choose and keep the eternal covenants and commandments that apply equally to all. The equality of God is not equal outcomes for all, but equal opportunity for all.
Our determination in this anniversary program is to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the revelation on the priesthood by looking forward. As we do, we express special appreciation for our marvelous members of African descent, especially our African-American members who have persisted in faith and faithfulness through a difficult transition period of fading prejudice. Now we join together in concentrating our attention on the glorious post-1978 effects of that revelation in blessing the children of God all over the world. As our prophetic leaders declared at that time:
“The Lord has now made known his will for the blessing of all his children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of his authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.”2
Now temples are being built in many nations for the blessing of God’s children on both sides of the veil. On earth and in heaven, we rejoice together. This is part of our preparation for the Second Coming of Him who declared through a Book of Mormon prophet that “he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation” (2 Nephi 26:24) and who declared through a modern prophet that “if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27).