This Sunday, June 8th, commemorates the 30 year anniversary of the proclamation granting the full blessings of the priesthood to all worthy male members. That day was a time of great rejoicing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to as the Mormons. The official proclamation reads:
Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.
He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness. (Official Declaration 2: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
Many in the world have called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a “white church” or a church of racists. Nothing could be further from the truth. Oh, there are definitely members of the Church who are racist, but the leadership and vast membership of the Church are not, nor have they ever been racist. This day in 1978 was one long awaited by the prophets, apostles and membership of the Church. I was only a teenager, but it was something I prayed for often, that this prophecy would finally come to pass. There was celebration in the Church, while those who vehemently disagreed did what so many had done before, walked away instead of accepting the words of a living prophet.
I remember hearing Thurl Bailey, former NBA star, talk about being baptized a Mormon. Being black, he too had questions as to why blacks were not allowed to hold the priesthood prior to that day in June. After questioning missionaries, studying and praying for himself, he finally asked the Mission President “why.” The answer returned to him was so simple it was beautiful.
“It wasn’t time until then,” he replied to Thurl.
To many who don’t understand the history of the Bible and the world this might seem strange. But until Jesus Christ was born into the world and began His mission at the age of 30, no one was taught the Gospel outside of the Hebrew people. After Jesus Christ’s resurrection and ascension He commanded His apostles to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, it was time.
To each people, throughout the history of the world, it has “become time” until finally the whole world is being taught the Gospel. Instead of focusing on why this blessing and opportunity came in phases, let us focus on the beautiful fact that the priesthood of God is now given to all worthy male members. Even more, I invite you to kneel and ask for yourself “why” it took so long.
Black Mormons still face difficulties when they run across individual pockets of prejudice within the Church. But it is my contention that more accept all worthy members of the Church as rightful heirs to the throne of God than those who see color before they see a child of God.
Do we believe every single human being who has ever lived, currently living or yet to be born on the face of this earth is a child of God? Yes.
Do we believe every person who has ever lived, currently living or yet to be living on the earth will be perfect in all things, in all places and in all times? Nope. Only Jesus Christ accomplished that.
Do the leaders of the Church, including our prophets, teach that every worth member of the Church is equal in the eyes of God? Yes, they do.
Are there still Church members who are prejudice? I’m certain there are. But they are not condoned by other members, the leadership, the Prophet and most certainly not Jesus Christ.
In 2006, Gordon B. Hinckley, the 15th called prophet in these modern times, said:
“I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us,” he said. “I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ.”
Focusing on what used to be instead of the beauty that lies ahead only robs those who look behind of a bright and beautiful future. Many believe that the Church has not done enough to explain policies of the past. Yet others disagree:
“You’d be hard-pressed to find an organization more earnest in its outreach and more inclusive and effective at integrating people of African descent into its membership and leadership,” said Ahmad Corbitt, who is African-American and director of the church’s New York Office of Public and International Affairs. (Black Mormons straddle two worlds on 30th anniversary, Tim Townsend, St. Louis-Post Dispatch, 2 June 2008)
Angela Carson of New York City says:
“I was approached by two younger African-American Mormon missionaries, and it made me think about the church in a different way,” she said. “So many people have asked me why I joined a racist religion, which makes me sad that people would think this faith teaches hate.” (”A new beginning: Blacks giving the Mormon Church a second look,” By John Dorman – Columbia News Service, 30 May 2008)
The article goes on to say,
Ahmad Corbitt, the stake president of Mormon churches in southern New Jersey, is black. The congregations he oversees are predominantly white, and he said there is a lot the church can do to reach out to other blacks. He converted in 1980 and has nine other siblings, all of whom also became members of the Mormon church.
“The church decries racism and teaches equality among all citizens, and the average African-American member in our church wants to be here and feels a bond to what the church stands for,” he said. … “I believe the church will actually be known as a model of diversity for the ability to bring people together, especially people of color, around Jesus Christ,” he said. (Ibid)
For me, this Sunday will be the anniversary of a great and marvelous day and is cause for celebration. It is my fondest hope that people cease to see color and start seeing the faces of the children of God that we really are. Let’s look to the future and make it a very bright one, while we’re at it.