Answers to Challenging Questions on Latter-day-Saint beliefs and practices

How to Respond to Accusations of Racism in The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon illustrated stories for children -- the page where the Lamanites become a dark-skinned people.I recently heard of a confrontation a man had with two missionaries where he accused them and their church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of being racist. As evidence, the man pointed to a verse in The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 5:21, which reads:

“And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.”

The man felt that this verse is proof that The Book of Mormon and its followers are racist against people with black skin. One of the missionaries told the man that he was taking the verse out of context and reiterated that the Church is not racist, that their message, Christ’s message, is one of love for all people, regardless of race. It was clear, however, that the young missionaries did not know how to respond to the particulars of race and skin color in The Book of Mormon. Of course, this is not an easy topic to discuss, and I think this would have been a difficult situation even for the most prepared missionary. The story made me realize that this is a topic many missionaries may face and one that certainly should be discussed on a mission preparation website so missionaries can be as prepared as possible to respond.

How to Respond? Always with the Spirit of God

How you choose to respond to the accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon will depend on a lot of factors, the most important of which should be the promptings of the Holy Ghost to you in the moment. The Spirit of God is the true teacher and testifier, so for a missionary to be effective he or she must have the Spirit. There are several things you need to do to have the Holy Spirit with you as a missionary:

  • Study the Scriptures: Studying the words of God found in the holy scriptures regularly and thoroughly will bring the Spirit of God into your life more fully and help prepare you for the discussions you will have with those learning about the Church. D&C 84:85 says, “Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.”
  • Obey the Mission Rules: The First Presidency states in the Missionary Handbook that living those rules will help missionaries have the Spirit of God with them. “Follow these standards. They will help you magnify your calling and protect you physically and spiritually. Use this handbook regularly. Strive to understand and live the principles and standards taught in it. Learn and live the higher law as taught by Jesus Christ (see Matthew 5; 3 Nephi 12). Strive to enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and follow His direction in living these principles and standards.”
  • Don’t Argue: Verbal battles and Bible bashing are not effective teaching methods. Such behavior is unbecoming of a missionary because anger and contention drive away the Spirit of God. 3 Nephi 11:29 says, “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”

When you do all within your power to have the companionship of the Holy Spirit, you will be in the best position to respond to this question about The Book of Mormon, and all other questions you’ll need to respond to on your mission. But beyond having done your spiritual preparation, I recommend that you study the issue of race in The Book of Mormon specifically in order to be able to speak intelligently on the subject, should it come up. One of the primary drivers of how you will respond to an accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon could hinge on whether you interpret the dark or black skin of the Lamanites as literal or figurative, physical or spiritual.

Is the Lamanite Dark / Black Skin Literal or Figurative?

A large number, perhaps the majority, of Latter-day Saints take the black or dark skin of the Lamanites mentioned in The Book of Mormon to be literally the physical skin pigmentation. It should be noted, however, that there is a growing body of Saints, myself included, who feel the dark or black skin is a spiritual metaphor not to be taken literally. The purpose of this article isn’t to convince you one way or the other regarding that topic, but in responding to the question of racism in The Book of Mormon, it is important to know that those two perspectives present two alternative ways of addressing the issue. If you want more detail on why I think the Lamanite dark or black skin is figurative and spiritual, then read this article on my personal website.

Literalists: The Skin is a Sign and Not the Curse Itself

Many Church leaders and manuals teach that the dark skin of the Lamanites was the sign of the curse and not the curse itself. The following quote is from Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1970 to 1972. It is quoted in the Book of Mormon Student Manual for Institute.

“The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing. The dark skin was the sign of the curse [not the curse itself]. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord. …The dark skin of those who have come into the Church is no longer to be considered a sign of the curse. … These converts are delightsome and have the Spirit of the Lord” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 3:122–23).

After establishing that the changed skin color is not the curse, the Institute Manual chapter goes on to explain what the curse is–being “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (2 Nephi 5:20). The curse is caused, according to verse 21, “because of their iniquity” and “hardened … hearts.” Throughout the history of the earth, the wicked choices of men and women has always resulted in this curse of being cut off from the presence of the God.

Literalists: The Book of Mormon Teaches Racial Harmony

Ahmad Corbitt was serving as president of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a few years ago when he wrote an article titled Revelations in the Summer of 1978 — A Personal Essay on Race and the Priesthood. Brother Corbitt appears to take the skin color references about the Lamanites literal in his four part essay and points out that The Book of Mormon contains an excellent example of a biracial nation living together in harmony.

“My friends were surprised when I told them that the Book of Mormon is, in my view, the most racially and ethnically unifying book on the earth. In response to their surprise, I shared the following overview of the Book of Mormon as it relates to the unity and harmony of the human family, irrespective of race and ethnicity. …It is miraculous that a book published in 19th-century America could include a record of a ‘fair’-skinned nation and a nation with a ‘skin of blackness’ reaching pure equality and unity. That it could rise in ever-increasing relevance to become, in my view, the most racially unifying book of scripture in the world compels both mind and soul to recognize the hand of God in its emergence.”

As evidence that The Book of Mormon is racially unifying, Brother Corbitt cites these scripture verses from it:

  • “He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” 2 Nephi 26:33
  • Throughout The Book of Mormon, converted Nephites referred to Lamanites as their “brethren,” and converted Lamanites used the same term when they spoke of the Nephites. See, for example, Jacob 2:35; Jarom 1:2; Mosiah 22:3; Helaman 15:1, 3–4.
  • “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God. And how blessed were they!” 4 Nephi 1:15–18.
  • Mormon said on the title page that the book was written and compiled for “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” The reference to “Jew and Gentile” encompasses the entire world, including all races and ethnic groups.

For those of you who interpret the dark skin of the Lamanites to be literal, these quotes by President Smith and Brother Corbitt make excellent responses to the accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon and clearly show that that is not the case.

Figurativists: It’s A Spiritual Metaphor

For those who believe that the references to dark or black skin are figurative, the response to the accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon is simpler in some ways and more difficult in other ways. Simply put, it’s not racism because The Book of Mormon is not talking about literal skin pigmentation but rather it is speaking of spiritual darkness. This explanation, however, can be a difficult thing for many people to accept.

As far as I can tell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official position on whether or not the dark skin of the Lamanites is to be understood as literal or if it is a spiritual metaphor. I have searched LDS.org long and hard and there is almost no discussion of the subject. In fact, all I could find on LDS.org on this topic is one web page, the lesson in Institute manual with the quote from President Smith as referenced above, and even that doesn’t come out and state a position. Rather it appears to be simply going on the assumption that the dark skin is literal.

Again, my purpose here isn’t to convince anyone one way or the other about the literalness or figurativeness of dark skin. I think both are valid points of view. And if the Church ever publishes an official interpretation, I’ll be happy to get behind it. Until then, given that the figurative interpretation is more rare, I do want to provide a couple of pieces of evidence so people don’t think I’ve gone rogue.

Dark and Black Mean Gloomy, Impure, and Wicked

If you go look at the scriptures, in the Bible and The Book of Mormon, at the use of the adjectives dark, black, and white and the noun skin, you will see that a vast majority of the time when these words are used in reference to people, they are metaphorical and spiritual in nature.

  • Black means gloomy, dark, impure, and hidden. See Lamentations 4:8, 5:10, Job 30:30, Jeremiah 8:21, Nahum 2:10, and Joel 2:6.
  • Dark means filthy, wicked, impure, and the absence of light. See Matt 6:23, 1 John 1:5, 1 Nephi 12:23, 2 Nephi 30:6, Jacob 3:9, Mosiah 27:29, Alma 19:6 “the dark veil of unbelief”, Alma 26:3 “the Lamanites were in darkness”, and Mormon 5:15.
  • White means clean, pure, true, and righteous. See 1 Ne 13:15, 2 Nephi 30:6 (the word “pure” was “white”prior to 1981, see footnote b), Jacob 3:8, 3 Nephi 19:25 (“white as the countenance … of Jesus”), and Mormon 9:6.
  • Skin means the outward appearance and countenance. See Job 30:30, Lamentations 5:10, Jacob 3:8, Alma 3:6, and 3 Nephi 2:15.

For more detail on the meaning of these words in the scriptures, may I point you to an excellent video by Marvin Perkins. Brother Perkins’ video, titled Skin Color & Curses, outlines his research and explains that “the words black and white do not refer to literal skin color in the scriptures.” He points out that “every scripture in The Book of Mormon that made you believe that the Lamanites had a darker skin than the Nephites, every last one of them, have a new footnote on it” in the post 1981 edition of the scriptures leading readers to the Topical Guide entry on Spiritual Darkness.

The Heart Metaphor

For those hesitant to accept that the word “skin” is being used as a metaphor, may I draw your attention to metaphor often used in the scriptures that references another part of the body–the heart. A quick search on the scriptures section of LDS.org shows 1,475 occurrences of the word “heart” in the scriptures. The vast majority of those instances are clearly metaphorical and not a literal reference to the bodily organ that physical pumps blood.

  • as a man “thinketh in his heart” (Proverbs 23:7)
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8)
  • “Harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:8)
  • the “intents of his heart” (Alma 12:7)
  • the “poor in heart” (Alma 32:3)
  • “bringeth a change of heart” (Helaman 15:7)

In the scriptures, the “heart” is a reference to our inner most feelings–our metaphorical core–just like skin is a scriptural metaphor for our outward appearance. Both, of course, are metaphors we still use in society today.

Figurative Interpretation Supported by Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley is one of my favorite LDS authors. He was a scholar, a professor at BYU, and highly regarded within the LDS community. On the topic of Lamanite dark skin, he made the following statement:

“The Book of Mormon always mentions the curse of the dark skin in connection with and as part of a larger picture: “After they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people,” etc. … We are told (Alma 3:13, 14, 18) that while the fallen people “set the mark upon themselves,” it was none the less God who was marking them: “I will set a mark upon them,” etc. So natural and human was the process that it suggested nothing miraculous to the ordinary observer. …The mark was not a racial thing but was acquired by “whosoever suffered himself to be led away by the Lamanites” (Alma 3:10); Alma moreover defines a Nephite as anyone observing “the tradition of their fathers” (Alma 3:11). Which makes the difference between Nephite and Lamanite a cultural, not a racial, one. Does this also apply to the dark skin? Note that the dark skin is never mentioned alone but always as attending a generally depraved way of life, which also is described as the direct result of the curse. When the Lamanites become “white” again, it is by living among the Nephites as Nephites, i.e., adopting the Nephite way of life (3 Nephi 2:15—16).” (Lehi in the Desert; The World of the Jaredites; There Were Jaredites  >  Desert Ways and Places)

Conclusion

Hopefully, the material in the article will help you better understand the issue of race in The Book of Mormon and thus equip you to better respond if the topic comes up on your mission. My purpose here isn’t to tell you how to respond so much as it is to prepare you with knowledge and the perspective of prominent authors. Most importantly, as I stated in the beginning, my purpose is to encourage you to avoid contentious arguments, testify of the truths you know, and let the Holy Spirit guide all that you say and do as a missionary. Good luck, and God bless.

Answering Gender Identity Questions on Your Mission

Summary: Mormon missionaries should be prepared to answer some basic questions about gender identity. This post discusses what the scriptures and LDS Church doctrine teaches about gender and gender roles, and gives some basic knowledge and advice to missionaries regarding how to answer questions on this topic.

Statue of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden

I was recently listening to a political debate about whether there are only two genders or if there are more. On one side was a person advocating two and only two genders, on the other side was a person putting forth the position that there are infinite genders. I realized, as I listened, that I need to be teaching my children what the gospel of Jesus Christ says about gender and gender roles to combat what they are certain to hear at school and elsewhere in the public discourse. My wife suggested that this is also a topic that missionaries need to understand and be prepared to answer, and I agreed.

The Definition of Gender

Merriam-Webster’s first definition of gender is one word, “sex” as in the biological sex, male or female, of a person or animal. Wikipedia, on the other hand, has a different, and much more complicated definition of gender, which is reflective of modern times and the direction the world is heading. Says Wikipedia, “Gender is the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, masculinity and femininity. Depending on the context, these characteristics may include biological sex (i.e., the state of being male, female, or an intersex variation), sex-based social structures (i.e., gender roles), or gender identity.” I should note that Webster also provides a secondary definition of gender along the same lines of that described Wikipedia.

Webster's Definition of Gender

Historically, gender has been the equivalent of biological sex, male and female, but in a relatively new phenomena gender is now considered by some to be a social construct or how an individual identifies, regardless of biology. I believe this changing and complicating of the definition of gender is another example of the world losing “plain and precious” truths as described in 1 Nephi Chapter 13.

From the LDS Church’s perspective, gender is straight forward—male and female, as defined in the first book of Bible and in the Family Proclamation. Genesis Chapter 1 talks about how God created the earth and on the sixth day “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Gen 1:27) In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, our modern prophets have said: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”

gender is an essential characteristic

Since followers of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the world may have different definitions of the word gender, missionaries need to be aware of these differing opinions and be prepared to respectfully answer questions that could arise. Missionaries should not argue with people about this topic, but as the opportunity arises and as prompted by the Holy Ghost, they should simply state that the Church maintains the traditional definition of gender—biological sex, male and female.

Intersex, Gender Dysphoria, and Transgender

I won’t devote much time on intersex (people born characteristics of both biological sexes), transgender (a person whose personal identity does not correspond with their birth sex/gender), gender dysphoria (feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity to be opposite to one’s biological sex), or other disorders of sex development. This is because I am not a medical doctor or psychiatrist, nor do I have authority to give the Church’s official perspective on these subjects. Still, missionaries should be aware of these terms and know that these conditions exist.

There are a wide variety of intersex conditions cause by numerous circumstances such as genetic, chromosomal, and biochemical factors, and enzyme deficiencies and no one seems to know exactly how frequently they happen. These intersex conditions are rare, though, with estimates ranging anywhere from 0.01% to 1% of the population being affected. But the vast majority of people will carry either XX or XY chromosome pairs, women being XX and men being XY.

Missionaries should know that intersex and other sexual development conditions are legitimate physical, mental, and emotional issues that some people deal with, and they should treat the subject seriously. It is important to treat people who have questions about these subjects with love and respect, though generally missionaries should not allow themselves to get bogged down in discussing these topics with others. The missionary’s time should be devoted to fulfilling their unique purpose, to preach the gospel and invite others to come unto Christ through faith, repentance, and baptism.

Missionaries should treat people with kindness and understanding who bring up this topic. If pressured to provide more answers, missionaries should direct people who have serious questions about the Church’s stance on these gender identity issues to Church bishops, stake presidents, or mission presidents. Missionaries may also want to point them to the Mormons and Gay website. While the Church doesn’t say much on these subjects publicly, on that website they do say: “Many of the general principles shared on this website (for example, the importance of inclusion and kindness) apply to Latter-day Saints who experience gender dysphoria or identify as transgender.”

Gender Roles and Marriage between Men and Women are Essential to LDS Doctrine

People may wonder why the LDS Church is so firm in their stance of gender and the reason is that our roles as men and women deeply rooted in our doctrine. We believe gender is an important part of our eternal identity and it plays a major part in our duties and mission on earth. We believe that men and women are different, each with unique talents and characteristics that together complement each other and make each other whole. Genesis 2:24 says “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” 1 Corinthians 11:11 teaches that “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”

Modern revelation received by the prophet Joseph Smith confirms that husbands and wives need each other to be saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God. “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it” (D&C 131:1-3).

Referring again to the Family Proclamation, we see that men and women have different God-given roles and responsibilities.

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

“Two compelling doctrinal reasons help us to understand why eternal marriage is essential to the Father’s plan. Reason 1: The natures of male and female spirits complete and perfect each other, and therefore men and women are intended to progress together toward exaltation.”

“…Gender …in large measure defines who we are, why we are here upon the earth, and what we are to do and become. For divine purposes, male and female spirits are different, distinctive, and complementary. … The unique combination of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional capacities of both males and females were needed to implement the plan of happiness. Alone, neither the man nor the woman could fulfill the purposes of his or her creation” (Marriage Is Essential to His Eternal Plan, Liahona, June 2006).

FHE Lesson PowerPoint Slides

As I mentioned in the beginning, one impetus for this blog post was because I wanted to prepare my own children for the arguments they will hear win the world and arm them with the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ on the subject of gender. Therefore, I created the following PowerPoint slide deck which I am gladly sharing with all the visitors to this website. May you have joy and success in raising your children to know their divine purpose and God-given missions on this earth.


Timeline and History of Blacks Receiving the Priesthood in the LDS Church

The subject of blacks receiving the priesthood in the LDS Church is somewhat of a weighty matter, but one that most missionaries will have to deal with. The following is a timeline of major events leading up to the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood granting black Africans who are worthy the ability to be ordained to the priesthood and receive temple ordinances. This is largely a summary of a BYU Studies article called Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood by his son Edward L. Kimball.

As I read and re-read Brother Kimball’s article, I was fascinated by the process in which this revelation was sought and received. I have a testimony that the revelation came forth in the manner and according to the timing of the Lord. I know we have living prophets on the earth today and that they lead and guide this Church in a manner pleasing unto the Lord. I know the 1978 revelation granting priesthood and temple privileges to all people, regardless of race or color or ancestry, came from God and was His will. Here is some history and events leading up to that revelation:

PDF: Timeline and History of Blacks Receiving the Priesthood in the LDS Church

Elijah Abel baptism certificate 18321836: “Elijah Abel, an early black convert, pioneer, and missionary, was ordained an elder on March 3, 1836.”

“African-Americans in small numbers had been members of the Church from its days in Nauvoo. At least two black men, Walker Lewis, an elder, and Elijah Abel, a seventy, were ordained to the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime. …Elijah Abel continued his activity in the Church in Utah, even though ordination of other blacks ceased.”

1849: “The first known direct statement by a Church President that blacks were denied the priesthood came from Brigham Young in February 1849 when he said of “the Africans”: ‘The curse remained upon them because Cain cut off the lives of Abel. . . . The Lord had cursed Cain’s seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood.’”

1852: “Wilford Woodruff reported that Brigham Young, speaking to the Utah territorial legislature, took personal responsibility for articulating the restriction: “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane [sic] in him Cannot hold the priesthood & if no other Prophet ever spake it Before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ. I know it is true & they know it.”

1854: “Brigham Young said the curse would be removed from the posterity of Cain after all others had been redeemed and resurrected.”

1879: “Joseph F. Smith noted that Elijah Abel had two certificates identifying him as a seventy, one of them issued in Utah.”

1908: “Joseph F. Smith stated his understanding that Joseph Smith himself declared Abel’s ordination null and void. …President Smith offered no basis for that assertion. Abel did not believe that his ordination had ever been nullified.”

1931: “[Joseph Fielding Smith] said that the Bible cannot answer the question about why Negro men cannot have the priesthood, but that the Pearl of Great Price and the teachings of early Church leaders offer some information.”

1947: The First Presidency wrote: “From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.” Further, summarizes Edward Kimball, “Its explanation, they said, was to be found in the premortal existence.”

1948: “During the George Albert Smith administration, priesthood leaders in the Philippines were authorized by the First Presidency to ordain Negrito men to the priesthood. These were native men with black skin who had no known African ancestry. Descent from black Africans only—not skin color or other racial characteristics—became the disqualifying factor.”

1949: “For Church leaders, the issue was not whether, but when. A First Presidency statement in 1949 quoted Wilford Woodruff as having made the following statement: ‘The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.’”

“George Albert Smith’s administration began sending out a consistent statement in response to inquiries: ‘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 . . . are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time [based on] some eternal law with which man is yet unfamiliar.”

1954: “President McKay is said to have appointed a special committee of the Twelve to study the issue. They concluded that the priesthood ban had no clear basis in scripture but that Church members were not prepared for change.” Further, “President McKay had prayed for change ‘without result and finally concluded the time was not yet ripe.'”

1958: “[President McKay] authorized Church leaders to ordain Fijian men to the priesthood based on his understanding that, despite their blackness, they were not related to Africans.

1960: “Glen G. Fisher, newly released president of the South African Mission, stopped in Nigeria to visit groups that were using the Church’s name. He reported to the First Presidency that their faith was genuine. He urged sending missionaries to baptize believers and to organize branches.”

1961: “LaMar Williams, who as secretary to the Church Missionary Committee answered letters that came from Africa, was sent to Nigeria in 1961. He was met at the airport by ten pastors he had been corresponding with and discovered that they were unaware of one another. Williams returned with the names of fifteen thousand unbaptized converts who were waiting for the Church to come to them.”

1962: “Protest against the Church policy took many forms—rejection of missionaries, public demonstrations, even sabotage. In 1962, a small bomb damaged the east doors of the Salt Lake Temple and blew out some windows.”

1963: Elder [Joseph Fielding] Smith said, “you do not have to believe that Negroes are denied the priesthood because of the pre-existence. I have always assumed that because it was what I was taught, and it made sense, but you don’t have to believe it to be in good standing, because it is not definitely stated in the scriptures. And I have received no revelation on the matter.”

“The First Presidency felt keenly that they could not deny the Restoration message to those openly yearning for it. In early 1963, President McKay called LaMar and Nyal B. Williams and four other couples to serve missions in Nigeria. He set Williams apart as presiding elder of Nigeria with tentative plans to establish Sunday Schools headed by Nigerians but supervised by white missionaries who would teach and administer ordinances.”

1965: The “principle of assuming a male convert qualified to receive the priesthood unless there was evidence to the contrary was applied specifically in Brazil and soon afterward applied generally. Candidates were no longer required to provide pedigrees.”

1968: “Between 1968 and 1970 at least a dozen demonstrations or violent acts occurred when BYU athletic teams played other schools. Opposing players refused to participate or wore black armbands. One spectator threw acid, and another threw a Molotov cocktail that failed to ignite. Stanford severed athletic relations with BYU.”

1970: “The full First Presidency and Twelve jointly signed the statement and released it publicly on January 10, 1970, just a week before President McKay’s death. Like the 1949 statement, it attributed the policy to Joseph Smith and explained that the reason for the exclusion ‘antedates man’s mortal existence.’ Both statements also asserted that the ban would someday be terminated. But while the 1949 statement said that blacks would receive the priesthood “when all the rest of the children [of God] have received their blessings in the holy priesthood,” the 1969 statement omitted this idea and pointed out that the Church is founded in “the principle of continuous revelation” that could change the policy. The 1949 statement referred to a “curse on the seed of Cain,” while the 1969 statement said only that the restriction was “for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.”

1971: “Three black Mormons in Salt Lake City, Ruffin Bridgeforth, Darius Gray (featured in the video below), and Eugene Orr, petitioned the Church for help in keeping and reactivating the relatively small number of black members in the city. A committee of three Apostles, Elders Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, and Boyd K. Packer, met with them a number of times. They suggested organizing an auxiliary unit, assigned to the Salt Lake Liberty Stake. In October, Bridgeforth, a member for eighteen years, was set apart as the president of the Genesis Group, with Gray and Orr as his counselors. Genesis members attended sacrament meeting in their geographical wards but met together monthly to hear speakers and bear testimony and weekly for Relief Society, Primary, and youth meetings.”

1972: Harold B. Lee, soon after becoming the 11th President of the Church, said: “For those who don’t believe in modern revelation there is no adequate explanation. Those who do understand revelation stand by and wait until the Lord speaks.” A few months later he said: “It’s only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we’re just waiting for that time.”

1974: “In his first press conference, held immediately after his ordination, President Kimball faced a number of predictable questions. In response to the restriction on priesthood for blacks, he answered straightforwardly:

[I have given it] a great deal of thought, a great deal of prayer. The day might come when they would be given the priesthood, but that day has not come yet. Should the day come it will be a matter of revelation. Before changing any important policy, it has to be through a revelation from the Lord. But we believe in revelation. We believe there are yet many more things to be revealed from the Lord. . . . We are open to the Father on every suggestion that he gives us, to every direction he gives us, to every revelation of desire for change.

12 apostles revelation blacks priesthood1975: “President Kimball referred to his counselors various statements by early Church leaders about blacks and the priesthood and asked for their reactions. Wary of ways in which the question had been divisive during the McKay administration, he asked the Apostles to join him as colleagues in extended study and supplication.”

1977: “[President] Spencer [W. Kimball] invited at least three General Authorities to give him memos on the implications of the subject. Elder McConkie wrote a long memorandum concluding that there was no scriptural barrier to a change in policy that would give priesthood to black men.”

1978: “Dallin H. Oaks, president of BYU in 1978, recalled this time of inquiry: “[President Kimball] asked me what I thought were the reasons. He talked to dozens of people, maybe hundreds of people . . . about why, why do we have this.”

“Elder James E. Faust, head of the International Mission, which included nearly all of Africa, conferred with President Kimball a number of times in early 1978 about the priesthood issue. At one meeting, Elder Faust displayed a stack of letters received from Africa during just the previous month.”

“During the months leading up to June 1978, President Kimball spoke with the Twelve repeatedly about the question, asking them to speak freely. He invited associates who had not expressed themselves in the group setting to talk with him in private. He seemed so intent on solving the problem that others worried about him. A neighbor of the Kimballs, Richard Vernon, had noticed that Spencer seemed somewhat withdrawn. Normally relaxed and comfortable with friends in his ward, Spencer responded to one inquiry that he was not feeling well and changed the topic. Many in the ward had noticed the difference and felt concerned. Many also noticed that Camilla was anxious and worried about Spencer. Elder Packer, concerned at President Kimball’s inability to let the matter rest, said, “Why don’t you forget this?” Then Elder Packer answered his own question, “Because you can’t. The Lord won’t let you.”

Feb 1978: “On returning from the airport in February 1978 after one of his trips, Spencer asked the driver to let him off at the temple and sent Camilla home alone. “I want to go to the temple for a while,” he said. “I’ll get a way home.” Some days he went more than once, often alone. Sometimes he changed into temple clothing; he always took off his shoes. He obtained a key that gave him access to the temple night or day without having to involve anyone else. Few knew, except the security men who watched over him. One of them mentioned it to President Kimball’s neighbor, who told Camilla. So she knew that much, but she had no idea what problem so occupied Spencer.”

March 9, 1978: “As the First Presidency and Twelve met in the temple, the Apostles unanimously expressed their feeling that if the policy were to change, any change must be based on revelation received and announced by the prophet. President Kimball then urged a concerted effort from all of them to learn the will of the Lord. He suggested they engage in concerted individual fasting and prayer. …In spite of his preconceptions and his allegiance to the past, a swelling certainty grew that a change in policy was what the Lord wanted. “There grew slowly a deep, abiding impression to go forward with the change.”

March 23, 1978: “Spencer reported to his counselors that he had spent much of the night in reflection and his impression then was to lift the restriction on blacks. His counselors said they were prepared to sustain him if that were his decision. They went on to discuss the impact of such a change in policy on the members and decided there was no need for prompt action; they would discuss it again with the Twelve before a final decision.”

April 20, 1978: “President Kimball asked the Twelve to join the Presidency in praying that God would give them an answer. Thereafter he talked with the Twelve individually and continued to spend many hours alone in prayer and meditation in the Holy of Holies, often after hours when the temple was still.”

May 30, 1978: “Spencer read his counselors a tentative statement in longhand removing racial restrictions on priesthood and said he had a “good, warm feeling” about it. They reviewed past statements and decided to ask G. Homer Durham, a Seventy supervising the Historical Department, to research the matter further. They also concluded to alter the pattern of their next Thursday morning meeting with the Twelve by canceling the traditional luncheon in the temple and asking the council members to continue their fasting.”

Spencer W Kimball walking in snowJune 1, 1978: “On this first Thursday of the month, the First Presidency, Twelve, and Seventies met in their regularly scheduled monthly temple meeting at 9:00 a.m., fasting. There they bore testimony, partook of the sacrament, and participated in a prayer circle. The meeting lasted the usual three and a half hours and was not notably different from other such meetings until the conclusion, when President Kimball asked the Twelve to remain.

“…He outlined to them the direction his thoughts had carried him—the fading of his reluctance, the disappearance of objections, the growing assurance he had received, the tentative decision he had reached, and his desire for a clear answer. Once more he asked the Twelve to speak. …Eight of the ten [present Apostles] volunteered their views, all favorable. President Kimball called on the other two, and they also spoke in favor. Discussion continued for two hours. …The decision process bonded them in unity.

“They then sought divine confirmation. President Kimball asked, “Do you mind if I lead you in prayer?” There were things he wanted to say to the Lord. He had reached a decision after great struggle, and he wanted the Lord’s confirmation, if it would come. They surrounded the altar in a prayer circle. President Kimball told the Lord at length that if extending the priesthood was not right, if the Lord did not want this change to come in the Church, he would fight the world’s opposition.”

“Elder McConkie later recounted, ‘The Lord took over and President Kimball was inspired in his prayer, asking the right questions, and he asked for a manifestation.’ During that prayer, those present felt something powerful, unifying, ineffable. Those who tried to describe it struggled to find words.”

Elder McConkie said: “All of the Brethren at once knew and felt in their souls what the answer to the importuning petition of President Kimball was. . . . Some of the Brethren were weeping. All were sober and somewhat overcome. When President Kimball stood up, several of the Brethren, in turn, threw their arms around him.”

Elder L. Tom Perry recalled: “While he was praying we had a marvelous experience. We had just a unity of feeling. The nearest I can describe it is that it was much like what has been recounted as happening at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. I felt something like the rushing of wind. There was a feeling that came over the whole group. When President Kimball got up he was visibly relieved and overjoyed.”

President Kimball also later said, “I felt an overwhelming spirit there, a rushing flood of unity such as we had never had before.” And he knew that the fully sufficient answer had come.

June 7, 1978: “President Kimball advised his counselors in their meeting that he had decided the time had come to announce the removal of priesthood restrictions on black male members and that he had asked three of the Twelve to propose drafts of an announcement. Francis Gibbons had constructed from the three memoranda a composite draft. The First Presidency revised this draft, spending a good deal of time on the exact wording.”

June 8, 1978: “The Presidency presented to the Twelve the proposed announcement. All of the Twelve present had a chance to comment, and minor editorial changes were made. They discussed timing. Some thought it best to wait for October general conference. Others suggested making the announcement at the mission presidents’ seminar the next week. But Elder McConkie urged immediate release: “It will leak, and we have to beat Satan. He’ll do something between now and then to make it appear that we’re being forced into it.” Despite tight security, employees at the Church Office Building sensed that something important was afoot, though no one knew exactly what. Rumors had already begun to spread.”

“On the afternoon of June 8, the First Quorum of the Seventy held its regular monthly meeting. President Kimball sent a message that the First Presidency wanted to meet with all available General Authorities the next morning in the Salt Lake Temple’s fourth-floor council room, and all were to come fasting.”

June 9, 1978: “A vote [of the Seventies] approved the decision unanimously. Spencer put his hand on President Tanner’s knee and said, “Eldon, go tell the world.” President Tanner left to deliver the announcement to Heber Wolsey, managing director of Public Communications, who was standing by. President Tanner returned in a few moments and reported: “It’s done.”

“Without addressing questions of history or justification, the announcement said simply God had revealed that the day had come for granting priesthood and temple blessings to all who are worthy. The final text [was] canonized as Official Declaration–2 in the Doctrine and Covenants.”


Here is a video by Darius Gray in which he presents similar information as I have above outlining the history of blacks and the LDS Priesthood. It’s well worth a watch.

The Role of Women in the LDS Church

With the role of women in the Church and in the priesthood being an ongoing issue in the news, it is likely that missionaries will get asked difficult questions on this topic. Therefore, I thought it wise to prepare future Mormon missionaries for the questions they might get on the subject.

Women and Men Alike are Invited to Come Unto Christ

First, let’s review a couple of statements from the scriptures. The ancient American prophet Nephi said that the Lord invites all people alike, men and women, to come unto Him. Nephi said “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).

Women and Men Need Each Other for Salvation

The great New Testament missionary Paul taught the Corinthians of the mutual need women and men have for each other, not just in this life, but in the eternities. He said, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (Corinthians 11:11).

The prophet Joseph Smith further taught this principal when he explained that Celestial marriage in the temple is essential in order for both men and women to receive exaltation in the highest degree of heaven. He taught: “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase” (D&C 131: 1-4).

Equal Partners with Different Responsibilities

smith family with quote from proclamationMen and women have different but equally important roles and responsibilities in the home and as members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church or Mormon Church). In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the Church has stated:

“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

“…By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

Understanding Women’s Unique Role

Julie B. Beck, former General President of the Relief Society, the oldest and largest women’s organization in the world, has said:

“Knowing and defending the divine roles of women is so important in a world where women are bombarded with false messages about their identity. …The only place Latter-day Saint women will learn the whole and complete truth about their indispensable role in the plan of happiness is in this Church and its doctrine. We know that in the great premortal conflict we sided with our Savior, Jesus Christ, to preserve our potential to belong to eternal families. We know we are daughters of God, and we know what we are to do. Women find true happiness when they understand and delight in their unique role within the plan of salvation. The things women can and should do very best are championed and taught without apology here. We believe in the formation of eternal families. That means we believe in getting married. We know that the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. That means we believe in having children. We have faith that with the Lord’s help we can be successful in rearing and teaching children. These are vital responsibilities in the plan of happiness, and when women embrace those roles with all their hearts, they are happy! Knowing and defending the truth about families is the privilege of every sister in this Church” (What Latter-day Saint Women Do Best: Stand Strong and Immovable).

Women Play a Vital Part in Establishing Zion

women church missionary workIn addition to responsibilities in the family, LDS women serve in some of the highest councils of the Church. They serve as full-time missionaries, presidents of organizations, and as members of committees at nearly every level of the Church. “They serve the Church faithfully and ably. They teach in the organizations. They stand as officers” (The Women in Our Lives, President Gordon B. Hinckley).

“Through serving in the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary organizations—not to mention their private acts of love and service—women have always played and will always play an important part in helping “bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” (D&C 6:6). They care for the poor and the sick; serve proselytizing, welfare, humanitarian, and other missions; teach children, youth, and adults; and contribute to the temporal and spiritual welfare of the Saints in many other ways” (The Influence of Righteous Women, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf).

It Takes Men and Women to Carry out the Work of the Lord

M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, gave a seminal address on the topic of LDS womens’ role in the Church in which he said:

“Men and women have different gifts, different strengths, and different points of view and inclinations. That is one of the fundamental reasons why we need each other. It takes a man and a woman to create a family, and it takes men and women to carry out the work of the Lord in the Church. A husband and wife righteously working together complete each other. Let us be careful that we do not attempt to tamper with our Heavenly Father’s plan and purposes in our lives.”

“…I acknowledge that there are some men, including some priesthood leaders, who have not yet seen the light and who still do not include our sister leaders in full partnership in ward and stake councils. I also acknowledge that there are some men who oppress women and in some rare circumstances are guilty of abusing women. This is abhorrent in the eyes of God. I feel certain that men who in any way demean women will answer to God for their actions. And let me add that any priesthood leader who does not involve his sister leaders with full respect and inclusion is not honoring and magnifying the keys he has been given. His power and influence will be diminished until he learns the ways of the Lord” (Let Us Think Straight, 20 August 2013, BYU Campus Education Week Devotional).

One of Women’s Most Sacred Roles: Creation of Life

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, another member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has also spoken on what he called one of the most sacred roles of women:

“Most sacred is a woman’s role in the creation of life. We know that our physical bodies have a divine origin and that we must experience both a physical birth and a spiritual rebirth to reach the highest realms in God’s celestial kingdom. Thus, women play an integral part (sometimes at the risk of their own lives) in God’s work and glory “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

“…A pernicious philosophy that undermines women’s moral influence is the devaluation of marriage and of motherhood and homemaking as a career. Some view homemaking with outright contempt, arguing it demeans women and that the relentless demands of raising children are a form of exploitation. They ridicule what they call “the mommy track” as a career. This is not fair or right. We do not diminish the value of what women or men achieve in any worthy endeavor or career—we all benefit from those achievements—but we still recognize there is not a higher good than motherhood and fatherhood in marriage. There is no superior career, and no amount of money, authority, or public acclaim can exceed the ultimate rewards of family. Whatever else a woman may accomplish, her moral influence is no more optimally employed than here” (The Moral Force of Women, General Conference October 2013).

Equally Glorious Women and Men Comprise the Noble and Great Ones

In conclusion, I’ll quote from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, a former apostle and noted scriptorian, who used words of great strength and power to describe mother Eve and by extension the potential of all women. “There is no language that can do credit to our glorious mother, Eve,” he says. “Eve—a daughter of God, one of the spirit offspring of the Almighty Elohim—was among the noble and great in [premortal] existence. She ranked in spiritual stature, in faith and devotion, in conformity to eternal law with Michael”. In fact, added McConkie, “Christ and Mary, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and a host of mighty men and equally glorious women comprised that group of “the noble and great ones,” to whom the Lord Jesus said: “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell.”( Bruce R McConkie, “Eve and the Fall,” Woman, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979, p. 68.)

1978 Revelation on the Priesthood

This Sunday marks the 36th anniversary of Official Declaration 2 of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known by many as the LDS Church’s 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood which allowed all black people to receive the priesthood. In future posts, I plan to go into more detail of the history of the Church’s restriction prohibiting priesthood ordinations of blacks. For today, though, I’d like to simply discuss the substance of the 1978 revelation and some of the contemporary reactions to it.

Preface to the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood

Official Declaration 2, on the internet version, is prefaced with this comment: “During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance.”

Revelation on Blacks and the Priesthood

Spencer W Kimball walking in snowOn June 1, 1978, that revelation came to the prophet and Church president, Spencer W. Kimball. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race and granted the priesthood to all men solely on the basis of personal worthiness. A week later, on June 8, 1978, the First Presidency sent a letter to all Church leaders throughout the world which stated:

As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords.

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.

We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known his will for the blessing of all his children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of his authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.

Witness to the Revelation

Bruce R. McConkie of the Twelve was present when the priesthood revelation was received and spoke of that moment:

“The Spirit of the Lord rested upon us all; we felt something akin to what happened on the day of Pentecost and at the Kirtland Temple. From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of the Spirit, spoke to his prophet. The message was that the time had now come to offer the fullness of the everlasting gospel, including celestial marriage, and the priesthood, and the blessings of the temple, to all men, without reference to race or color, solely on the basis of personal worthiness. And we all heard the same voice, received the same message, and became personal witnesses that the word received was the mind and will and voice of the Lord.” (Kimball, Spencer W.; et al. (1981), Priesthood, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, pp. 127–128, ISBN 0877478597, OCLC 7572974)

Reaction to the Revelation

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, current member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and President of the LDS Church owned Brigham Young University at the time in 1978, had this reaction to the revelation.

I had many times that my heart ached for that, and it ached for my Church, which I knew to be true and yet blessings of that Church were not available to a significant segment of our Heavenly Father’s children. …Nobody was more relieved or more pleased when the word came. I remember where I was when I learned that the priesthood would be available to all worthy males, whatever their ancestry. I was at a mountain home that our family had purchased to have a place of refuge. I had my sons up there, and we were digging. …The phone rang in the house. I went inside, and it was Elder Boyd K. Packer. He said: “I have been appointed to advise you as a representative of the academic people, many of whom have been troubled by the ban on the priesthood, professors, and students, and so on. As president of Brigham Young University and as their representative, I’ve been appointed to advise you that the revelation has been received that all worthy male members will be eligible to receive the priesthood, whatever their ancestry.” I thanked him, and I went outside and I told my boys, and I sat down on that pile of dirt and cried. And I still feel emotion for that moment. I cried for joy and relief that the Lord had spoken through His prophet, that His blessings were now available to all: the blessings of the priesthood, the blessings of the temple, and the blessings of eternity. That’s what we desired. I praise God for it.” (See Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ Reaction to Priesthood Revelation on MormonNewsroom.org)

The Church in Africa Prior to the Revelation

Prior to the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, there were a few black African converts. These people had learned 0f the gospel through various means, and some were even baptized. But Church leaders were reluctant to formally establish the Church or missionary work in these “areas of the world where the full blessings of the gospel could not be conferred upon worthy Church members” (Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Chapter 10).

“In 1960, Glen G. Fisher returned from South Africa after serving as mission president there. The First Presidency asked him to stop in Nigeria and investigate groups which had organized themselves into church units and had taken the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. …Unbaptized converts in Africa received Church literature and inspired direction through the years until 1978. Often these devoted people went to great lengths to communicate with Church headquarters.”

One such pioneer was Joseph W. B. Johnson of Ghana. “Brother Johnson was converted after prayerfully reading the Book of Mormon in 1964.” Said he, “from that day onward, I was constrained by the Spirit to go from street to street to deliver the message that we had read from the Book of Mormon.” “When the missionaries arrived fourteen years later, there were already many unbaptized congregations that Brother Johnson had organized, calling themselves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (see Gospel Pioneers in Africa by E. Dale LeBaron)

Nigeria Mormon Baptisms 1978

Response in Africa After the Priesthood Revelation

“After the Proclamation on the Priesthood on June 9, International Mission President James E. Faust assigned Ted Cannon and Merrill Bateman to visit Africa and try to locate the various groups and their members. Ted and Merrill Bateman departed for Accra, Ghana on August 12, 1978. One of the first groups they visited was in Cape Coast, Ghana.” In Calabar, Nigeria, “Ted and Brother Bateman were miraculously led to Ime Eduok who introduced them to many of the leaders they were seeking. After two weeks in West Africa, Ted and Brother Bateman agreed that their recommendation to the First Presidency would be to send missionaries.”

“After many baptisms in Nigeria, the Cannons and Mabeys made their way to Ghana where they met with leaders of congregations that had already been preaching from the Book of Mormon and meeting in organized congregations for over a decade. The Cannons and Mabeys taught lessons to groups organized by Dr. R.A.F. Mensah, Clement Osekre, and Joseph Billy Johnson.”

“The first official baptisms in Ghana took place on December 9, 1978 at a beach just east of Cape Coast. This historic baptism of 89 people took place on a beach …[and] confirmations took place at water’s edge. The confirmations continued into the night, under the glow of the moon.”

“Back in Nigeria, …they interviewed and baptized 182 people, confirmed them, and organized them into four branches, all in one day. By the time they left Africa, the Cannons and Mabeys had baptized 1,725 people, and organized 35 branches and 5 districts.” (See Cannon Ties to West Africa go back to 1790 on africawest.lds.org)

The Church among Blacks and Africans Today

The Church does not keep statistics on the race or ethnicity of its members, so exact figures on the number of black Mormons is not possible to obtain. Some estimate there to be between 350,000 and 500,000 members of the Church with black African heritage.  If so, that would represent about 3% of Church membership world wide.

The organization of the Church encourages complete racial integration. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present (see the Church’s statement on Race and the Priesthood). Where there are Mormons of various racial backgrounds in a community, they attend church and worship together. A black bishop may lead a mostly white ward or stake, or vice versa; there are no racially segregated congregations.

The Church has said that “Africa is one of the fastest growing areas of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with some 320,000 members” as of February 2011, with “more than 900 congregations across the continent” (see Mormons in Africa: A Bright Land of Hope). There are three operating LDS temples on the African continent–Aba Nigeria, Accra Ghana, and Johannesburg South Africa–with two more planned for Durban South Africa and Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo (see ldschurchtemples.com/maps).

Archaeological Evidence of The Book of Mormon

This is another in my series of article on challenging questions that missionaries will likely face. Today we will talk about some common criticisms of The Book of Mormon around archaeological evidence that some say proves or disproves the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon. As always, I invite you to study the issues, evaluate what we know and what we don’t know, and pray for the guidance of the Lord on how to incorporate these things into your testimony of The Book of Mormon and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Missionaries who do this will not only be conversant on these subjects, but will have their testimonies fortified and be more powerful instruments in the Lord’s hands.

Steel in the Book of Mormon

Nephi gets the Sword of LabanMany people will criticize the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon and other may point our apparent anachronisms, errors in chronology. One common such attack, for years, was regarding Nephi’s mentioning that the sword of Laban was made of “precious steel” (1 Nephi 4:9) and that his hunting bow was made of “fine steel” (1 Nephi 16:18).  In 1884, one critic wrote that, “Laban’s sword was steel, when it is a notorious fact that the Israelites knew nothing of steel for hundreds of years afterwards. Who but as ignorant a person as Rigdon would have perpetuated all these blunders.” And Thomas O’Dea in 1957 stated that, “Every commentator on the Book of Mormon has pointed out the many cultural and historical anachronisms, such as the steel sword of Laban in 600 B.C.”

In a September 2013 talk at BYU-Idaho, Elder D. Todd Christofferson discussed these issues, and many more, related the historical study of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. He said:

We had no answer to these critics at the time, but as often happens in these matters, new discoveries in later years shed new light. Roper reports, “It is increasingly apparent that the practice of hardening iron through deliberate carburization, quenching and tempering was well known to the ancient world from which Nephi came. ‘It seems evident,’ notes one recent authority, ‘that by the beginning of the tenth century B.C. blacksmiths were intentionally steeling iron.’” In 1987, the Ensign reported that archeologists had unearthed a long steel sword near Jericho dating back to the late seventh century B.C., probably to the reign of King Josiah who died shortly before Lehi began to prophesy. This sword is now on display at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. The museum’s explanatory sign reads in part, “The sword is made of iron hardened into steel, attesting to substantial metallurgical know-how.” Where answers are incomplete or lacking altogether, patient study and patient waiting for new information and discoveries to unfold will often be rewarded with understanding.

For these reasons, Elder Christofferson urged the students to “be patient, don’t be superficial, and don’t ignore the Spirit.” Continuing, he said: “In counseling patience, I simply mean that while some answers come quickly or with little effort, others are simply not available for the moment because information or evidence is lacking. Don’t suppose, however, that a lack of evidence about something today means that evidence doesn’t exist or that it will not be forthcoming in the future.”(See footnote 1)

DNA and Origins of Native Americans

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture containing a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the America continents. We believe that many of the descendants of the people of the Book of Mormon are on the earth today, indeed, the Introduction to the Book of Mormon says that the people of the Book of Mormon “are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”

For decades, many Church members, including many prominent leaders, thought that the Book of Mormon Lamanites were not just among but the principal ancestors of the American Indians. In fact, “principal” is what the introduction used to say. The wording change reflects a more accurate understanding of the Book of Mormon, and is also more inline with modern DNA findings. Critics of the Church argue that since the DNA of Native Americans is primarily Asian rather than Middle Eastern, the Book of Mormon is fictional and not truly a history of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas.

Brigham Young University researcher Ugo A. Perego points out, “the Church advocates no official position on the subjects of Book of Mormon geography and the origins of Amerindian populations.” He also reminds us that in the April 1929 general conference President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency commented that The Book of Mormon “does not tell us that there was no one here before” the Book of Mormon people and “it does not tell us that people did not come after.” Brother Perego goes on to give these insights:

It is implausible that ancient record keepers would have had a comprehensive knowledge of all the goings-on of the entire vast landmass of the Americas, considering that the distance from northern Canada to southern Patagonia is about 8,700 miles, a greater distance than that from Portugal to Japan!

…The Book of Mormon is not a volume about the history and origins of all American Indians. A careful reading of the text clearly indicates that the people described in the Book of Mormon were limited in the recording of their history to events that had religious relevance and that occurred in relatively close proximity to the keepers of the annals.

The fact that the DNA of Lehi and his party has not been detected in modern Native American populations does not demonstrate that this group of people never existed or that the Book of Mormon cannot be historical in nature. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.[76] Further, the very idea of locating the genetic signature of Lehi’s family in modern populations constitutes a truly untestable hypothesis since it is not possible to know the nature of their genetic profiles. Without our knowing the genetic signature to be located, any attempt at researching it will unavoidably result in further assumptions and untestable hypotheses.

…Anyone using DNA to ascertain the accuracy of historical events of a religious nature—which require instead a component of faith—will be sorely disappointed. DNA studies will continue to assist in reconstructing the history of Native American and other populations, but it is through faith that we are asked to search for truth in holy writings (Moroni 10:3–5). (See footnote 2)

Horses in The Book of Mormon

Horse and Bluebonnets by TexasEagleOne last topic on the subject of archaeological evidence for The Book of Mormon that I want to talk about is horses. The Book of Mormon makes a handful of references to horses existing on the American continents in these ancient times. Yet as Robert R. Bennett, a scholar with BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute, has pointed out, “these animals seem not to have been known to Native Americans who greeted the Spaniards upon their arrival, [and] …archaeological evidence for the presence of the horse in the pre-Columbian Americas is presently scant and inconclusive.”

How can this apparent discrepancy be explained? Brother Bennett offers these insights:

  • What the Book of Mormon says and does not say about horses. “Horses are mentioned only once in the land northward during the Jaredite period…Since horses are not mentioned again in the Jaredite record, it is possible that they became extinct in the region north of the narrow neck of land following that time. …There is no indication in the text that horses were indigenous to that region (the land of Zarahemla). …In the Book of Mormon, horses are never mentioned after the time of Christ. In short, the Book of Mormon claims only that horses were known to some New World peoples before the time of Christ in certain limited regions of the New World. Thus we need not conclude from the text that horses were universally known in the Americas throughout pre-Columbian history.”
  • Animals sometimes leave no archaeological remains. “The horse was the basis of the wealth and military power of the Huns of central Asia (fourth and fifth centuries A.D.). Nonetheless…we know very little of the Huns’ horses. It is interesting that not a single usable horse bone has been found in the territory of the whole empire of the Huns. …The lack of archaeological evidence for the Hunnic horse is rather significant in terms of references to horses in the Book of Mormon. …If Hunnic horse bones are so rare, notwithstanding the abundance of horses during the Hunnic empire, how can we expect abundant archaeological evidence for pre-Columbian horses in the New World, especially given the scant and comparatively conservative references to horses by Book of Mormon writers?”
  • Naming by Analogy. “It is also possible that some Book of Mormon peoples coming from the Old World may have decided to call some New World animal species a “horse” or an “ass.” This practice, known as “loanshift” or “loan-extension,” is well known to historians and anthropologists who study cross-cultural contact. For example, when the Greeks first visited the Nile in Egypt, they encountered a large animal they had never seen before and gave it the name hippopotamus, meaning “horse of the river.” …Similarly, members of Lehi’s family may have applied loanwords to certain animal species that they encountered for the first time in the New World, such as the Mesoamerican tapir. …Many zoologists and anthropologists have compared the tapir’s features to those of a horse or a donkey.” (See footnote 3)

Conclusion

While we now have good information atesting to the accuracy of statements about steel in Book of Mormon times, there are still many legitimate questions about the DNA of Native Americans and horses in ancient America. While I don’t have all the answers, I have yet to see archaeological evidence, or any other evidence, to shake my belief in The Book of Mormon as the word of the Lord and revealed scripture that will guide us back to God. What I have learned through my study and prayer on the subject is further assurance the The Book of Mormon is true. More important than the scientific evidence, one way or the other, is the knowledge I have gained through the Spirit of the Lord. I have read The Book of Mormon many times. I have experienced powerful outpourings of the Spirit where pure knowledge from God had been poured from Heaven into my mind and heart. I know that, as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, The Book of Mormon will draw a person nearer to God than by any other book.

Sources and Resources

  1. The Prophet Joseph Smith, Devotional at BYU Idaho by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, September 24, 2013. Transcript: http://www2.byui.edu/Presentations/Transcripts/Devotionals/2013_9_24_Christofferson.htm Video:   https://video.byui.edu/media/D.+Todd+Christofferson+%22The+Prophet+Joseph+Smith%22/0_gxm7f8l5
  2. The Book of Mormon and the Origin of Native Americans from a Maternally Inherited DNA Standpoint. Ugo A. Perego, BYU Religious Studies, https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/no-weapon-shall-prosper/book-mormon-and-origin-native-americans-maternally-inherited-dna
  3. Horses in the Book of Mormon by Robert R. BennettNeal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (formerly FARMS), Aug 2000. http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1055&index=1

The Church’s Statement on Race and the Priesthood

Black men giving priesthood blessingSince The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a new statement on Race and the Priesthood in December 2013, there has been a lot of discussion on the subject. Many people have rightly praised the statement for setting straight some false concepts that had crept into the Church. Many, in my view, have also jumped to some conclusions that may or may not be well founded.

Below is a summary of the Chursh’s statement on Blacks and the Priesthood, and as a bonus, some of my thoughts and analysis on the subject. Most important is that future missionaries read the statement, do some follow up study of the scriptures and other sources cited, and be prepared to discuss the subject when and if it comes up during their missions.

Download a PDF copy of the Church’s
statement on Blacks and the Priesthood

Highlights from the Church’s Statement on Blacks and the Priesthood

The statement from the Church on Blacks and the Priesthood is 4 pages (6 with footnotes). I encourage you to read the statement in its entirety, but here are some of the quotes that stood out to me most:

  • “For much of its history—from the mid-1800s until 1978—the Church did not ordain men of black African descent to its priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple …ordinances.”
  • “During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. One of these men, Elijah Abel, also participated in temple ceremonies. …There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.”
  • “In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood. …subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple [ordinances]. …Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.”
  • “President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would ‘have [all] the privilege and more’ enjoyed by other members.”
  • “The justifications for this restriction echoed the widespread ideas about racial inferiority that had been used to argue for the legalization of black ‘servitude’ in the Territory of Utah. According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel. Those who accepted this view believed that God’s ‘curse’ on Cain was the mark of a dark skin.”
  • “The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.”
  • In the 1950s, “Church President David O. McKay emphasized that the restriction extended only to men of black African descent. The Church had always allowed Pacific Islanders to hold the priesthood, and President McKay clarified that black Fijians and Australian Aborigines could also be ordained to the priesthood.”
  • “Given the long history of withholding the priesthood from men of black African descent, Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter the policy… After praying for guidance, President McKay did not feel impressed to lift the ban.”
  • “While there were no limits on whom the Lord invited to ‘partake of his goodness’ through baptism, the priesthood and temple restrictions created significant barriers, a point made increasingly evident as the Church spread in international locations with diverse and mixed racial heritages.”
  • “Church leaders pondered promises made by prophets such as Brigham Young that black members would one day receive priesthood and temple blessings. In June 1978, after ‘spending many hours in the Upper Room of the [Salt Lake] Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance,’ Church President Spencer W. Kimball …received a revelation. …The revelation rescinded the restriction on priesthood ordination. It also extended the blessings of the temple to all worthy Latter-day Saints, men and women.”
  • “The Church began priesthood ordinations for men of African descent immediately, and black men and women entered temples throughout the world. Soon after the revelation, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle, spoke of new ‘light and knowledge’ that had erased previously ‘limited understanding.'”
  • “Today, the 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.”
  • “The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is ‘no respecter of persons’ and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him.”

What the Church’s Statement Says and Does Not Say

The statement is clear on where the Church stands on this issue today. Race and national descent is not a factor in receiving the priesthood or receiving temple ordinances. The whole human family are children of God, he loves them all equally and invites all people, regardless of race or national origin, to come unto Christ, receive the ordinances of salvation, and partake of the blessings of the gospel here on earth and in Heaven.

The statement is sufficiently vague, though, on the history of the practice and particularly the reason for the priesthood and temple restrictions. While it is easy to jump to other conclusions, the Church gives no official reason of why the priesthood restriction was in place. While it denounces previous explanations put forth by Church members and leaders, such as racial inferiority, lack of premortal valiance, and a curse as manifested by dark skin, no official explanation for the former policy is given.

The discussion of the reason for the restriction is sufficiently vague as to allow multiple interpretations. It would be easy for readers to interpret the statement as saying that the Church today believes that Brigham Young was wrong in putting the priesthood restriction in place. Yet the article never comes out and says that the priesthood restriction was improper or racist. In fact, it goes to great length to point out that the restriction was not based solely on race, but on a combination of race and nationality (Africa descent).  Therefore, one could also interpret the statement as saying there is no reason to believe the policy was not a result of divine inspiration to Brigham Young and the subsequent prophets and presidents of the Church.

The full reason for the restriction may never be known while we live on this earth. Each one of you will have to decide for yourself, if knowing the reason is important to you. What’s important to me is that we have the light and knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the scriptures, living prophets, and inspiration from the Holy Spirit. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and he is certainly doing a marvelous work and a wonder on the earth today. The blessings of the gospel are infinite and they can be enjoyed on earth and last throughout eternity. And missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the wonderful opportunity to bring these blessings to all the peoples of the earth. 

Answers to Challenging Questions

Missionaries frequently get asked challenging questions about beliefs and practices (current and past) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Questions like:

  • Do Mormons believe in polygamy?
  • What is the LDS view on gay marriage?
  • What is the Church’s position on blacks and the priesthood?
  • Why can’t women be ordained to the priesthood?
  • And many more

In an effort to help prepare missionaries to answer these sometime difficult questions, I am setting up a new section of the website where we will explore some of these topics. The purpose will be to educator missionaries on these subjects by providing them with good and trustworthy sources of information. I have touched a little on some of these difficult subjects in the past, like my post on Mormon Polygamy and my discussion of the four accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision, but with this new section I will do so even more.

Searching for answers to these challenging questions can be a source of building faith and testimony. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “a question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others” (“Come, Join with Us,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 23). If missionaries are better prepared to answer these challenging questions, their faith and testimony will grow, and they’ll be able to better help investigators who may have similar questions.

It is natural, for both missionaries and investigators of the Church, to have questions about the Church’s doctrine, history, and position on social issues. It is my hope that the articles in this section will help us all increase our understanding of how God conducts his work and deepen our faith in the Savior Jesus Christ.

Never Mind the Rain by Alicia Lynn

“Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish” (Austin Farrer, Light on C. S. Lewis, p. 26.).

How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon

By the Gift and Power of God

Joseph Smith Translating the Book of Mormon

Painting by Del Parson courtesy of Flickr user: More Good Foundation

The title page of The Book of Mormon said it would be interpreted and “come forth by the gift and power of God.” Joseph Smith said, in the now-famous letter to John Wentworth, that he translated the Book of Mormon “through the medium of the Urim and Thummim . . . by the gift and power of God.” The three witnesses also testified that they knew the plates “have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.” In D&C 17:6, the Lord himself says that Joseph “has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.”

Joseph’s Seer Stone

While these statements are faithful and true, they do not explain exactly how Joseph Smith translated The Book of Mormon. Elder Russell M. Nelson said at a seminar for new mission presidents, 25 June 1992 that “the details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights.” (See A Treasured Testament by Elder Russell M. Nelson, Ensign July 1993.) Then he quoted David Whitmer who wrote:

“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)

The seer stone referred to above was found when Joseph and his brother Alvin were digging a well in 1822. It was “about the size of a small hen’s egg, in the shape of a high instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps from being carried in the pocket” (see Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Book of Mormon by Stephen D. Ricks).

The Urim and Thummim

During the translation of the Book of Mormon, multiple processes and different instruments were employed. Another way Joseph translated, which is more commonly known to the Latter-day Saints, is that he used the Urim and Thummim, also referred to as “spectacles” or the “Nephite interpreters.” Joseph explains the following in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History 1:34-35, when he tells of the Angel Moroni’s visit to his bedroom on the night of September 21, 1823:

He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.

There is also ample evidence that at times Joseph dictated the translation of The Book of Mormon without use of the seer stone, or the Urim and Thummim, or even the plates themselves. The question, then, naturally arises as to why Joseph Smith needed these instruments at all in the translation process. Orson Pratt reported that the Prophet Joseph told him that the Lord had given him the Urim and Thummim “when he was inexperienced in the spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operation of that spirit and did not need the assistance of that instrument.”

Similarly, Zebedee Coltrin, an early acquaintance of the prophet, said in 1880 that he had asked Joseph what happened to the Urim and Thummim and that “Joseph said that he had no further need of it and he had given it to the angel Moroni. He had the Melchizedek Priesthood and with that Priesthood he had the key to all knowledge and intelligence” (see Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Book of Mormon by Stephen D. Ricks).

Testimony of Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon

These sources give us much additional light and knowledge concerning how Joseph Smith translated The Book of Mormon. Yet these facts and historical quotes alone are insufficient in developing a testimony that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and that he translated The Book of Mormon correctly, and that it is indeed new scripture given to us by God. That knowledge can only come from the Spirit of the Lord, and it will come through sincere study, pondering, and prayer. Elder Quentin L. Cook, in the April 2012 General Conference, said,

“The essential doctrine of agency requires that a testimony of the restored gospel be based on faith rather than just external or scientific proof. Obsessive focus on things not yet fully revealed, such as how the virgin birth or the Resurrection of the Savior could have occurred or exactly how Joseph Smith translated our scriptures, will not be efficacious or yield spiritual progress. These are matters of faith. Ultimately, Moroni’s counsel to read and ponder and then ask God in all sincerity of heart, with real intent, to confirm scriptural truths by the witness of the Spirit is the answer.”

Moroni’s counsel referred to above is found in Moroni chapter 10. In verse 4 he exhorts us to read, ponder, and pray in sincerity and faith about the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon. Then he says in verse 5 that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth.” I have taken this challenge and I know The Book of Mormon to be true. I have received a witness from the Holy Ghost of this and also that Joseph Smith was an inspired seer and true prophet of God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established by God through Joseph Smith and President Thomas S. Monson is his authoritative successor and possesses all the priesthood keys on the earth. Our missionaries bring this message and the accompanying blessings to the world, and we are blessed to be part of this great and marvelous work.

Mormon Polygamy

Today’s post is in response to a question received on the Web site.  A young man who is preparing for his mission asked me how I would respond to his non-member friend who asked why Joseph Smith practiced polygamy.  The polygamy question is one I got only a time or two on my mission, but one that missionaries should be prepared to answer. wilford_woodruff

First, I would answer that polygamy is part of our past, but not part of the present Mormon Church.  Joseph Smith began publicly teaching the principle of plural marriage (polygamy) in the 1840s, but by the year 1890 (119 years ago), polygamy was officially discontinued by the Church.  The book of the Doctrine and Covenants contains the official declaration from Church President Wilford Woodruff ending polygamy. Also, last year, the Church created a site with a lot of good resources for people seeking the truth about Mormon polygamy. Bottom line, today there are over 15 million Mormons around the world, and none of them practice polygamy.

Now, having established Mormons do not now practice polygamy, it still doesn’t address the question of why Joseph Smith instituted the practice in the early days of the Church.  To answer the why question, I’d like to quote the Church’s official statement on polygamy. It reads:

“At certain times and for His specific purposes, God, through His prophets, has directed the practice of plural marriage (sometimes called polygamy), which means one man having more than one living wife at the same time. In obedience to direction from God, Latter-day Saints followed this practice for about 50 years during the 1800s but officially ceased the practice of such marriages after the Manifesto was issued by President Woodruff in 1890. Since that time, plural marriage has not been approved by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and any member adopting this practice is subject to losing his or her membership in the Church.” (emphasis added)

Jacob Blessing His SonsThe statement from the Church goes on to cite instance in the Bible where Abraham, Jacob, and others of the Lord’s servants had plural wives (see Genesis 16:1–3; 29:23–30; 30:4, 9; Judges 8:30; 1 Samuel 1:1–2).

Joseph Smith also asked God why he had been commanded to restore the practice of plural marriage and was told simply that the Lord has His reasons.  One of those reasons given by the Lord is mentioned in the Book of Mormon: “If I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall [have only one wife]” (Jacob 2:30; see also v. 27).  In other words, it was to bring more children into the world who would be raised up faithful to the Lord.  (sourced, again, from the Church’s official declaration on polygamy)

The polygamy question is a tough one to answer, and missionaries should know it’s okay to say they don’t know all the reasons why.  We know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and we know it came as a commandment from God. As a missionary, the conversation should then turn to helping the investigator gain their own testimony of Joseph Smith which can be gained by reading the Book of Mormon and praying to know its truthfulness. (see my previous post on The Power of the Book of Mormon)

Finally, I’ll leave you with two video clips.  The first is from President Hinckley’s October 1998 General Conference talk where he reiterated the Church’s position against polygamy.  The second video is from Truman Madsen where he explains more of the history of Mormon polygamy and the doctrinal reason’s why Joseph Smith was commanded to do it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmhjgaB2Hi8