Why did the LDS Church withhold the Priesthood from black men until 1978?
By Appreciable Goodfaithpoet
(This is not an offical message from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.)
I was sitting in church last Sunday next to one of my Black brothers. He mentioned that he had a discussion recently with some of our Friends of other Faiths about the blacks not being able to receive the priesthood until 1978. He asked for my thoughts (Which I offer here in an expanded version) on this subject and so I explained to him my belief that it was the Lord, Jesus Christ who directed that the priesthood not be given to black men up until 1978. It was also the Lord who, in 1978 directed the Church, through his Prophet, to allow every worthy Male to hold the priesthood. The reason I believe that the Lord directed the Church to withhold the priesthood from black men until 1978 is the very same reason that the whole world did not have the priesthood for around 1,200 years (From somewhere around 500 AD to the early 1800s, - as Mormons believe). The wickedness of the world was the reason that the priesthood has been withheld at any time during the history of this world. I believe that it was not the wickedness or righteousness of black men, but the wickedness of the world in which they lived that caused the need to withhold the priesthood for a time.
Our Father in Heaven wants all of his children to know the fullness of his gospel, for all worthy males to hold the priesthood, and for all of his children to have access to temples. Our Father in Heaven does not change, he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The followers of God, however, change in their commitment level and willingness to follow Gods commandments. For this reason God must change the way that he interacts with his children. In the hopeless situation at the time of Noah the way our Heavenly Father chose to act was to Save only Noah and his extended family and destroy all of the other wicked people by the flood. After the death of Jesus and his Apostles the Authority to act in the name of God was taken from the earth because of wickedness.
The Book of Mormon contains an Allegory from a prophet named Zenos in which the restoration of the Gospel in the Latter days is described in the following terms, "And as they begin to grow ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof; and ye shall not clear away the bad thereof all at once, lest the roots thereof should be too strong for the graft, and the graft thereof shall perish, and I lose the trees of my vineyard." As I contemplate the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it seems to me that those who led the church always wanted to give the priesthood to our black brothers sooner than the "strength of the good" would have justified it. As I understand it, the prophet Joseph Smith authorized a sealing to be performed for a black man in the early days of the Church. When he was the mayor of Nauvoo Joseph Smith gave one of his own horses to a Black man who had recieve a fine from the city. This black mand was a "freeman" who was trying to purchase the freedom of his son and without the gift of the prophet's horse he would not have been able to afford both the fine and the price of his son.
The sympathies of the prophets from Joseph Smith to Spencer W. Kimball seem to have been with their black brothers as when Spencer W. Kimball said, "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."
In the history of Israel we see that when Moses came down from the top of Mount Sinai the children of Israel had made bad choices and turned to Idolatry. Because of the wickedness of the people, the Lord only allowed the people to have only the lesser priesthood (Withholding the higher priesthood) and only allowed a small portion of the people (Those in the tribe of Levi) to hold the priesthood. In a similar way the United States of America allowed Slavery at the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith. This Christian Nation may have felt justified to some degree in holding slaves because of the words of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament regarding the Slavery that occurred in his day, "Whoever is a slave must make the best of it, giving respect to his master so that outsiders don't blame God and our teaching for his behavior. Slaves with Christian masters all the more so - Their masters are really their beloved brothers."
It is interesting to note that there were two slaves who came (as slaves) to the west with the Mormon Pioneers. These two slaves, a Brother and Sister, had been presented as wedding gifts to one of the families who came west. These slaves were treated like a beloved Brother and Sister by their Mormon Christian masters. One of these slaves was driving the wagon of Brigham Young when Brigham Young said to him, "This is the right place, drive on." These two Slaves were amoung a very small number of Black People in Utah for a long time. These two slaves eventually gained their freedom and were members of the LDS Church all of their lives and died firm in the faith of the restored gospel. In Paul's day and in the days of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young “the good” did not yet have enough strength to abolish the evil of slavery. Even after Abraham Lincoln had signed the emancipation proclamation there were still virtual slave situations and only after the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. and others did Slavery truly begin to end without the violence and murder that accompanied earlier efforts to stop it completely.
Once the world had conquered the evil and wickedness that existed in the form of Slavery, the “good” was sufficiently strong to overcome the “bad” and our Heavenly Father was able to reveal through the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball that the time had come for all Worthy Males to be able to receive the priesthood. In the early days of the Church the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Saints were persecuted very badly and if they had come out and pushed at that time to abolish slavery and emancipate every slave in the United States of America, the persecution would have multiplied tenfold. In my opinion, the Lord had to wait, to "clear away" the evil of slavery, only then did his church have sufficient strength to provided the "good" of the priesthood to every worthy male. Through the wisdom of the Lord the tree has been preserved and now the priesthood is available to every worthy man who has ever lived upon this earth. The ordinances of the temple are also available for all of the children of God in any age, through the work that is done in the temples, for and in behalf of those who have passed on. God's wisdom is truly over all the earth and his purposes will roll on until all his words are fulfilled.