So I noticed that various LDS-related forums have threads on this topic, so I thought, why not?
As some may know, the LDS Church had what is referred to as a “priesthood restriction”, not ordaining black males to the priesthood until a revelation was received in 1978 ending that practice (a few were ordained during Joseph Smith’s time). Prior to 1978, blacks were also not allowed to go to the temple and receive the ordinances therein (i.e. Endowment and Sealing/Eternal Marriage), all of which are believed to be required ordinances to receive the highest blessings in the afterlife (i.e. exaltation).
Recently, the LDS Church put out an article in the Gospel Topics section of its site, “Race and the Priesthood”. In it, among other things, the LDS Church “disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” It also seems to point to the prior prophets and apostles being influenced by their times, though it doesn’t ever state where the actual ban came from (nor does it apologize for said ban).
As an African American, this was an issue that always bothered me, though, like other things, I put it up on the mental shelf. I simply couldn’t imagine being a member of the LDS Church during those times, especially when the various leaders said the things that they said. I couldn’t imagine wondering whether I did something wrong in the pre-mortal existence that led me to be denied the priesthood, as some LDS leaders taught. Now, when I was LDS and was asked about this, one thing I would always bring up, as the apologetic goes, is that in the past, God restricted His priesthood to a specific lineage, and all others were restricted from the priesthood, so there is a precedent (though it doesn’t address why black women were denied the ordinances of the temple). However, what I could never understand is why such a thing would happen after Jesus Christ, His ministry and atonement, Him commanding the disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations (it should be noted that the LDS Church during the priesthood/temple restriction did not send missionaries to Africa, and had an especially difficult time sorting things out in Brazil, which has a very ethnically mixed population), Him establishing His Kingdom for all, etc. If these ordinances (priesthood, endowment, sealing) are required for eternal life, then why would the Lord’s Church say that actually, sorry, you can’t receive them? When we think of the priesthood/temple restriction in the context of having the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in the Church established by Jesus Christ, and Christ wanting us to make disciples of all nations, bringing all unto Him, it makes absolutely no sense, at least to me.
For me, really thinking about the priesthood/temple restriction made me really think about whether the LDS prophets are really the oracles of the Lord. Today, it is frequently said that the reason for the restriction is not known. However, it seems that earlier LDS leaders did know the reason. For example, one quote that will always stick in my head is this one, from a 1949 First Presidency statement:
"The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time." (The First Presidency on the Negro Question, 17 Aug. 1949)
Apparently, the First Presidency had taught that the ban was due to a direct commandment from the Lord. Now, we don’t know where it came from. It was issues such as this that led me to ponder on whether the leaders really are who they are sustained to be.