June 30, 2010

Remembering June 1978 - Margaret Blair Young

This is the final installment of the "Remembering June 1978" series this year. My gratitude is extended to all who participated.

I was born in 1955, a remarkable year for Civil Rights in the United States of America.  It was the year of Rosa Parks and Emmett Till.  And, of course, the LDS Church had its priesthood restriction in place at that time, and maintained it until I was twenty-three.  I heard the news of the lifting of the ban when I was teaching in Mexico, and so heard it in Spanish.

I taught Sunday school a few days after getting the news, and found some young people quite confused over the change.  Hadn’t Brigham Young said that the restriction would be in place until the millennium?  I had no good answer, but simply stated that President Kimball had received revelation in the temple.  That was enough for me.

Since that time, of course, I have become intimately acquainted with the history and issues surrounding the restriction.  I continue to believe that President Kimball and those with him on June 1, 1878 received a revelation instructing them to end the restriction.  I do not, however, believe that the restriction was imposed by God.

My co-author/co-producer, Darius Gray, and I have been writing and speaking on this subject for over a decade now, approaching some difficult questions in a spirit of faith.  When we talk about the restriction, audience members almost always want to say where they were when they got the news that it had been lifted.  During his presidential campaign, Mitt Romney handled the whole issue of racism in his religion by talking about his tearful reaction to that 1978 news.  I appreciate the stories, but have found myself somewhat uncomfortable with the paradigm which hosts them.

For the most part, it’s white folks who tell how wonderful the news was for them—and certainly, Gene England’s perception of the restriction being “The Mormon Cross” predicted the joy white Latter-day Saints would feel when the burden was lifted.  However, we are still talking about what it was like for us whites.  It’s quite a different thing for black Latter-day Saints, many of whom had been faithful for years, but most of whom didn’t join the church until after the restriction was lifted.  I still grieve our tolerance of racist explanations for the restriction which suggest that blacks were cursed or less valiant in the pre-existence.  Sadly, we are yet living with some of those ideas.  Young missionaries often believe them, having received instruction from people of my generation who were raised to justify the ban with these myths.  And I grieve the many black Mormons (including descendants of faithful pioneers) who left the church after being treated badly.  For me, the real “long-promised day” is yet to come.  That day will find us living truly as Latter-day Saints, and one in Christ.  We will mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.  I believe that long-promised day is arriving, and pray for it to come more quickly.   When, during some future General Conference, the announcement comes that we have a new apostle (or two) of African descent, I will remember where I was and write about it with joy.

I love the words of Gordon B. Hinckley, delivered during the priesthood session of General Conference, 2006: “How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible?”

That, for me, says it all.

Margaret Blair Young, a frequent award recipient from the Association for Mormon Letters, is a novelist and playwright best known for her historical fiction series co-written with Darius Gray regarding the African-American Mormon experience, Standing on the Promises.

June 27, 2010

Remembering June 1978 - Greg Prince

Gregory A. Prince is an American pathology researcher, businessman, author, and historian of the Latter Day Saint movement. He is co-author of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005). The following is his personal journal entry from June 9, 1978.

Fri., 9 Jun.: A bombshell exploded this afternoon. Yvonne Bush called me at the lab, and said she had just heard, on good authority, that President Kimball had received a revelation stating that all males could now hold the priesthood. I couldn’t believe it. JaLynn called me soon thereafter from the radio station, not having heard anything yet. I told her to go check the wire service. A few minutes later she called back and read the report which had come over the wire. Unbelievable! I think it’s tremendous, but I just can’t really believe that it has happened.

Spent the evening with the Bushes. Lester was floating. He has had such an intense interest in the Church policy on blacks that the shock and delight of this announcement is nearly overwhelming. He received phone calls all evening, from all over the country. We can’t help but think that his monumental paper on the “black policy” had something to do with the turn of events.


Prince refers to Lester E. Bush, Jr., who wrote "Mormonism's Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8 no. 1 (Spring 1973), 11–68. [.pdf] See also Lester E. Bush, Jr., and Armand L. Mauss, eds., Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church (Midvale: Signature Books, 1984) [html] and Gregory A. Prince, "The Long-Awaited Day," bycommonconsent.com, 8 June 2010.