Now that I've posted the article, OOPS -- THERE GOES THE PRIESTHOOD, I thought it should be followed up with this article published in the July 2003 issue of "Mormonism Research Ministry Update," which reviews some of the history behind the racist teaching and how the ban was lifted.
On June 8, 1978 President Spencer Kimball made a significant course correction when he announced that the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthood was to be offered to all worthy male members regardless of race. Until this time the discrimination was aimed primarily at those who are known in the Mormon theology as the "seed of Cain," or those of African descent.
According to an article in the Deseret News (5/25/03), Darius Gray, the president of a group of black LDS known as Genesis, is quoted as saying, "The prohibition was not put in place by God, but it was removed by God." No doubt many Mormons would disagree. Actually, LDS leaders have always placed the blame for this prohibition on God Himself, thus sidestepping charges of racism on the part of the leaders.
For instance, on August 27, 1954, Mormon Apostle Mark E. Petersen gave a speech titled "Race Problems -- As They Affect the Church." In it he said, "When He placed the mark upon Cain, He engaged in segregation. When He told Enoch not to preach to the descendants of Cain who were black, the Lord engaged in segregation. When He cursed the descendants of Cain as to the Priesthood, He engaged in segregation." (p.15)
In a 1967 conference message, Ezra Taft Benson stated, "The arm of flesh may not approve nor understand why God has not bestowed the priesthood on women or the seed of Cain, but God's ways are not man's ways." (Conference Report, October 1967, pp.34-35).
Ninth LDS President David O. McKay said this teaching was found in canonized LDS scripture. "I know of no scriptural basis for denying the Priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the Book of Abraham (1:26)" (The Church and the Negro, p.91).
According to the Book of Abraham, the first government of Egypt was established by a Pharaoh who was the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham.
Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith gives us this reasoning: "We see that the wife of Ham was named Egyptus, which name signifies 'that which is forbidden.'... So it appears very probable that Egyptus was so named because she partook of the curse of her fathers. Moreover, this thought is strengthened in the statement that from Ham sprang the race which preserved the curse in the land" (The Way to Perfection, p.104).
Mormon leaders have argued that this prohibition covers even those who are remotely related to the seed of Cain. In his journal, Wilford Woodruff stated that it was Brigham Young who said, "Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot receive the priesthood. . . ." (History of Wilford Woodruff, page 351.)
On page 168 of Decisions for Successful Living, 11th President Harold B. Lee warned members, "Surely no one of you who is an heir to a body of more favored lineage would knowingly intermarry with a race that would condemn your posterity to penalties that have been placed upon the seed of Cain by the judgments of God."
LDS leaders have also attributed this prohibition to what took place in what Mormons call the "preexistence." Abraham 3:27 tells us that there was what is described as a "Grand Council" in heaven that met to determine who was to be the savior of mankind. Two volunteered for the position, Jesus and Lucifer. When the decision fell to Jesus, Lucifer led one third of God's spirit children in open rebellion against their father Elohim (God). Another third fought valiantly for the cause of God, while another third did not fight valiantly. For their punishment, those in the latter group would not be allowed to hold the priesthood when they finally attained a mortal existence here on earth.
In order to distinguish who was not eligible for the priesthood, God allegedly marked the guilty ones. Brigham Young taught that "the Lord but a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin" (Journal of Discourses 7:290).
Having priesthood authority is essential for Mormon males, for without it, it is impossible to gain exaltation in the kingdom and become a God. Said Petersen, "If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection." (p.17)
According to Declaration 2, the official statement from the LDS Church found at the back of the Doctrine and Covenants, the lifting of the ban was a result of a revelation given to 12th LDS President Spencer W. Kimball. In a statement to all general and local priesthood officers in the church, the decision was a result of "promises and presidents of the Church" that at some time God would eventually open the doors for all worthy male members. The statement, signed by the First President, stated "that the long-promised day had come." The statement fails to quote any specific promises, perhaps because there are none that would have supported such a change in 1978.
The fact is, Mormon leaders had promised that eventually the ban would be lifted, but only after the "seed of Abel" were all redeemed. On page 106 of his book, The Way to Perfection, 10th LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, "President Woodruff, in his journal, records the words of President Young as follows: 'The Lord said, I will not kill Cain, but I will put a mark upon him, and that mark will be seen upon the face of every Negro upon the earth; and it is the decree of God that that mark shall remain upon the seed of Cain until the seed of Abel shall be redeemed, and Cain shall not receive the Priesthood, until the time of that redemption.'"
Smith goes on to cite a statement by Young from the Journal of Discourses 11:272: "Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequences of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy Priesthood, and the laws of God. They will go down to their death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the Priesthood" (The Way to Perfection, p.107)
Brigham Young declared, "When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity." (Journal of Discourses 2:143)
From these statements we see that Declaration 2 is misleading people into thinking that somehow the ban on the seed of Cain could have taken place prior to the resurrection. However, LDS public relations could not wait for such a future event. The Mormon Church was taking significant heat for this teaching, thus making a policy change a matter of urgency. Rather than wait for the resurrection, the church leadership decided to lift the ban, and in doing so, they have also had to misrepresent their history.