For the Seed of Cain Were Black

By Loyal to the Word

“It mattereth not whether a principle is popular or unpopular, I will always maintain a true principle, even if I stand alone in it.”

– Joseph Smith 

Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 332

         This politically correct world has caused many liberal or socially sensitive members in the Church to backpedal on many different types of issues. One of the most sensitive and politically charged subjects is the issue of race. Emotions run high and hypersensitivity abounds when it comes to anything that may be perceived as a slight against another race. Therefore, let this author be clear: within this article, no slight or offense is intended against any ethnic group of any kind. If any person takes offense, it can only be because they will choose to take offense, for this author desires to give none on the matter of racial status.

         The purpose of this article is to examine the truth of the origin of the black race, as ascertained from the scriptures, as well as discuss the priesthood ban. The reason that this will be undertaken is due to the many well-intending members of the Church who are embarrassed by the scriptures, and horrified by any transgression against the popular sensitivities of political correctness. Some of these so-called Latter-day Saints have actively denigrated the priesthood ban formerly in place against blacks as something that was not the will of God, not doctrinally correct, and/or that it was morally wrong for the Church to uphold it. Some have even denied that the Blacks are descended from Cain at all. They do this because they obey political correctness rather than believe the scriptures. The truth of the scriptures is being maligned by some of the very ones who profess to believe them. They trade the truth for the praise of the world. They reason in this manner: Such an idea might hurt someone’s feelings. Therefore it is wrong. 

         Surely this article will bring cries of condemnation from the politically correct. They will either deliberately or unwittingly misconstrue it, and call its author a racist because he believes that blacks are descended from Cain. Let me assure you I am not. This article seeks only to proclaim the truth as it is given to us in the scriptures, and thereby fight against the tide of misinformation that popular opinion has raised up against Holy Writ.

A Note About Terms

         First, it is necessary to say that this writer will not kowtow to politically correct terms like “African American.” The terms “white” and “black” work just fine. There is nothing in them that is offensive, they are sufficiently descriptive, and also conform to scriptural language. Therefore, they will be used without apology throughout this article.

         Why do many tiptoe around the usage of terms like “blacks”? Why would a black person ever be offended by the use of the term? What a needless sensitivity, born of a misguided self-consciousness. I’m not ashamed to be called a white guy, and no one should be ashamed to be called a black guy, either. Love who you are and embrace it.


God Loveth His Children

         When Nephi was asked by an angel a question about the plan of salvation, he replied, “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Ne. 11:17). There are many things that will remain mysterious to us in the Gospel, including many matters surrounding the priesthood restriction, but one thing is beyond dispute: “[God] loveth his children” (1 Ne. 11:17). Furthermore, this doctrinal verity applies no matter the race, creed, or level of righteousness of the individual.

         Nephi further declared, “the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one,” and then added to the statement: “he that is righteous is favored of God” (1 Ne. 17:35). Therefore, while the righteous receive God’s blessings and favor, all the children of men are loved and have equal power to approach the Lord, their common Father. 

         Since God loves all of his children, so should we; people of every race, culture, and background – all these must be subjects of our Godly love. Jesus taught, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12). The Lord also counseled, “Let thy bowels also be full of charity [which is Christ’s pure love] towards all men” (D&C 121:45). Moroni assured us, “except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God” (Moro. 10:21). 

         The Prophet Joseph Smith assured us that, “Love is one of the chief characteristics of Deity, and ought to be manifested by those who aspire to be the sons of God. A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 174). John the Beloved taught, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

God loves all his children of every race and creed, and we should, too. 

The Stigma of Cain

         Why are so many trying to erase the scriptural verity of the origin of the black race? The whole problem stems from the fact that it is not politically correct to suggest that the blacks could be descended from someone as notorious as Cain. Add in the idea of a “curse,” and many take offense, interpreting the entire thing as a shame.

Having Cain in one’s lineage should be no more shameful than having Benedict Arnold in your family tree.

         Having Cain in one’s heritage should not be a source of shame. It’s really no different than having another notorious character, like Benedict Arnold, in one’s family tree – rather than a source of shame, it should be an item of curiosity, amusement, interest, and even a source of pride because of the unique distinction. 

         Having Cain in a person’s family tree says nothing about the person’s personal character. For instance, there are many who are descendants of righteous Joseph of Egypt who happen to be of very low character, even though this is the chosen lineage. Ultimately, the most important determining factor is personal character and decision-making.

What Was the Nature of the “Mark” Placed Upon Cain?

         The scriptures say that “the Lord set a mark upon Cain” (Moses 5:40). Traditionally this “mark” has been interpreted as black skin. In our modern times of political correctness, however, there are those who have argued that we don’t know what the nature of the “mark” was that was passed upon Cain. ‘The mark could have been male pattern baldness for all we know,’ one was said to quip. But this is inaccurate. We do know the nature of the mark placed upon Cain, for the scriptures themselves give us the answer.

         The “mark” was a change in skin color. The scriptures indicate that after the Lord “set a mark upon Cain” (Moses 5:40) that “the seed of Cain were black” (Moses 7:22). Additionally, the Book of Mormon uses the same wording when speaking about the change in skin color for the Lamanites: “the Lord God set a mark upon them” (Alma 3:7). And finally, Brigham Young certified that “the Lord put a mark upon [Cain], which is the flat nose and black skin” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 7:290).

What Was the Nature of the “Curse” Placed Upon Cain’s Descendants? 

         The scriptures also indicate that a “curse” was placed upon the descendants of Cain. What was the nature of the curse passed upon Cain’s children? The scriptures are clear that the nature of the curse was simply that the descendants of Cain would not have right to the priesthood, and not that their black skin somehow made them filthy, unworthy, or bad (only behavior can make a person such, not skin color). As the scriptures indicate, the descendants of Ham “preserved the curse [of Cain] in the land” (Abr. 1:24), which was that they were “cursed as pertaining to the priesthood” (Abr. 1:26) and that they were “of that lineage by which [they] could not have the right of Priesthood” (Abr. 1:27).

         Nowhere in the scriptures are we justified in understanding that the black skin was itself the reason for the ban on priesthood. The black skin was not the curse, but the priesthood restriction. The great Gospel scholar Joseph Fielding Smith wrote, “‘Was Cain cursed with a black skin?’ Technically, the black skin was not the curse, but the mark of the curse” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, 2:175). Hence, the black skin served only as a marker, an identifier, indicating the lineage which bore the curse of priesthood restriction. 

Black Skin – An Identifier

         That black skin was used by the Lord as an identifier is given to us in the scriptures. When Cain complained to God that he would slain for the murder of his brother, the scriptures indicate, “I the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him” (Moses 5:40, emphasis added). Therefore, the mark (i.e. dark skin) would identify Cain as someone upon whom righteous vengeance shall not be taken, for: “Whosoever slayeth [Cain], vengeance shall be taken on [the slayer] sevenfold” (Moses 5:40). Why was it that the Lord was so eager to preserve Cain’s life, when other instances of murder in the scriptures have merited capital punishment? Evidently, God had a unique plan for those who would be born through Cain’s lineage.

         Later in the Old Testament, the Joseph Smith Translation adds a detail to the episode in which Canaan (the son of Ham and therefore a descendent of Cain) is cursed: “…and a veil of darkness shall cover him [Canaan and his posterity], that he shall be known among all men” (JST Gen. 9:26, emphasis added). This is another clear reference to dark skin as an identifier.

         Another instance of skin as an identifier is found among the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon. Nephi tells us, “that they [the Lamanites] might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” (2 Nephi 5:21). What was the purpose for this? The Book of Mormon explains, “And this was done that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions which would prove their destruction” (Alma 3:8).

The Wise Purpose By Which God Segregated the Human Family Into Races

         In the eternal perspective, segregating people into races was a wise strategy of the Lord’s. It allowed a people who had incorrect traditions to not pollute the true worship of God’s covenant people, because they were distinct from each other, and not inclined to mix. In the meantime, those unfortunate spirits who were believing in incorrect traditions could not be held too accountable for their state, and would at some future time have the door to salvation opened to them in the spirit world.

“Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets [in relative ignorance]. 

“These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, 

“And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.”

(D&C 138:32-34).

Tracing the Lineage of the Blacks through the Scriptures

         As has been stated already, there are many liberal Mormons who wish to deny that blacks are descended from Cain. But is there any credence to such a thought? What do the scriptures have to say? Unfortunately for liberal Mormons who worship at the feet of political correctness, the scriptures are very clear about the lineage of the blacks, and their lineage is easily traced back to Cain in Holy Writ. We will now use the scriptures to show that without a doubt the seed of Cain are the blacks:

  • In Moses 7:6-8, the pre-Flood Canaanites had “a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan,” meaning no doubt their skin, and they were separated from the rest of humanity for, “they were despised among all people” (Moses 7:8).
  • In Moses 7:22, the seed of Cain were black, and like the Canaanites, had not place among the rest of the people. The seed of Cain and the Canaanites were both 1) a people of black skin, and 2) separate from the rest of mankind. Therefore, it is clear that the Canaanites were the seed of Cain. These groups are identical.
  • In Abr. 1:21-22, the blood of the Canaanites survived the Flood, or “thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land” (Abr. 1:22) as a result of Ham marrying Egyptus, a member of “that race which preserved the curse in the land” (Abr. 1:24). “Egyptus,” of course, means “forbidden” as Abraham takes care to tell us (Abr. 1:23), no doubt because Egyptus belonged to 1) the race that carried a curse of priesthood prohibition, 2) was one of the Canaanites, who we already established, were the seed of Cain.
  • The scriptures therefore designate the children of Ham, like the children of Cain, as the black race. Further evidence of this is found in Biblical references to Africa as “the land of Ham” (Psalms 105:23; 106:21-22). Ham had a son named Cush (Gen. 10:6), which means “black” in Hebrew, and Ham’s children Cush, Mizraim, Phut, and Canaan were the fathers of the Ethiopians, Egyptians, Libyans, and Canaanites, respectively (see footnote b). There is also an instance in scripture where the posterity of Ham’s son Canaan were cursed by Noah to be “a servant of servants” to the posterity of Shem and Japheth (Gen. 9:25) as a result of Ham’s disrespectful action. Apparently, Ham attempted to view the priesthood garments of Noah, or “saw the nakedness” of Noah (Gen. 9: 22-27). But Ham’s descendents were to be denied the priesthood, even though they would seek to imitate it (Abr. 1:25-26). Ham’s actions seemed to be a foreshadow of how his descendents would seek to imitate the priesthood but be unable to access it. This seems to indicate that Noah was renewing or reiterating the curse of priesthood restriction upon Ham’s seed by cursing his most prominent son, Canaan. In reference to this story, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “Noah was a righteous man, and yet he drank wine and became intoxicated; the Lord did not forsake him in consequence thereof, for he retained all the power of his priesthood, and when he was accused by Canaan, he cursed him by the priesthood which he held, and the Lord had respect to his word, and the priesthood which he held, notwithstanding he was drunk, and the curse remains upon the posterity of Canaan until the present day.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:445-446, emphasis added).
  • Again in reference to the cursing of Canaan, the Joseph Smith Translation adds this commentary: “…and a veil of darkness shall cover him [i.e. Canaan and his posterity], that he shall be known among all men” (JST Gen. 9:26, emphasis added). This addition strongly suggests a dark skin color, especially when considered in the light of other evidence.

         A comparison of the striking commonalities between the descendants of Cain/Ham and modern blacks also reveals the truth of the matter. Consider these undeniable commonalities between the two groups:

  • Both groups have dark/black skin
  • Both groups were cursed by being denied the priesthood
  • Both groups settled in Africa

         By the logical process of induction, the descendants of Cain/Ham and modern blacks must be the same, identical group of people. The conclusion is so obvious from this, in fact, that any other opinion is quite ludicrous. 

         Despite the clear scriptural evidence, there are still many who will deny these plain truths. Why? Because it is not politically correct, and horrifying to their sensibilities, to suggest that blacks are actually descended from such a notorious character as Cain. And so they will dance around these scriptural passages, and make such interpretive gymnastics that the scriptures soon lose all their meaning. They will radically reinterpret scripture to avoid offending anyone’s feelings. But the truth is that other well-accepted matters of doctrine can be established on less scriptural explanation than this. If we can’t accept this doctrine of the scriptures, we would be hard pressed to prove anything by them.

         Still, many will reject the truth because it is too uncomfortable for them. Indeed, if the Canaanites and the seed of Cain are not the identical race with modern blacks, this might soothe some sensibilities. But it would nonetheless still leave this ancient dark-skinned people of Canaan/Cain with all the marks and curses pronounced in the scriptures. I ask the hypocritical politically correct Mormon reader: How is it not okay to say such a thing about modern blacks, but just fine to accept it for an ancient dark-skinned race from long ago?

Blacks as Descendants of Cain – Adoption of a Protestant Idea?

         There are some who discount the true lineage of the blacks because the idea that they descended from Cain was common in the nineteenth century. While it is true that the idea was common in that era, I ask: so what? Does that fact falsify the teaching? It doesn’t.

         The Latter-day Saint reader must bear in mind that it was also commonly believed in the early nineteenth century that the Indians may have been descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes. Of course, this is the very premise of the Book of Mormon. Does the fact that an Israelite origin of the Indians was a popular theory in the nineteenth century undermine the claims of the Book of Mormon? No, it does not. And so in neither case is the argument a deciding factor.

Further Indication from Prophets that the Blacks are the Seed of Cain

         We have already seen that the scriptures indicate clearly the lineage of the blacks. It is also significant, however, that the prophets have also given teachings regarding this genealogical fact. The Prophet Joseph Smith himself stated unequivocally that the “negroes” are the “sons of Cain” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:501). 

         If anyone would know, it would have been the Prophet. Really, for the faithful, this one statement ought to be enough to settle the question of the origin of the black race. Shall we discard it then, for no other reason than political correctness? Because its not a popular view nowadays? (Never mind whether or not it may be factually correct and scripturally sound). The reader would do well to think carefully about such a course. Especially when many other LDS doctrines are based on similar utterances from the Prophet Joseph Smith. We must be less concerned with political correctness and more concerned with scriptural correctness.

         It should be noted, however, that Joseph Smith did not harbor ill feelings towards the blacks. A black girl named Jane Manning James lived in the Smith home (the Mansion House in Nauvoo) for a time months previous to the Prophet’s death, and was welcomed as part of his family. Further, Joseph Smith once donated a horse to a black man named Anthony so that he could purchase his family’s freedom from slavery.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught unequivocally that the “negroes” are “the sons of Cain.” 

         There were also several other statements from prophets who were contemporaries of Joseph Smith, which confirm that the blacks are the seed of Cain. What follows are several examples: 

“The seed of Ham, which is the seed of Cain descending through Ham, will, according to the curse put upon him, serve his brethren, and be a ‘servant of servants’ to his fellow creatures, until God removes the curse; and no power can hinder it.”

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 2:184).

“Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race—that they should be the ‘servant of servants;’ and they will be, until that curse is removed.”
(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 7:290).

“Ham will continue to be the servant of servants, as the Lord has decreed, until the curse is removed. Will the present struggle free the slave? No; but they are now wasting away the black race by thousands. Many of the blacks are treated worse than we treat our dumb brutes; and men will be called to judgment for the way they have treated the negro, and they will receive the condemnation of a guilty conscience, by the just Judge whose attributes are justice and truth.

“Treat the slaves kindly and let them live, for Ham must be the servant of servants until the curse is removed.”

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 10:250).

“Abraham came through Shem, and the Savior came through this lineage; and through this blessing of Noah upon Shem, the Priesthood continued through his seed; while the offspring of Ham inherited a curse, and it was because, as a revelation teaches, some of the blood of Cain became mingled with that of Ham’s family, and hence they inherited that curse.”

(John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 21:370).

“And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham’s wife, as he had married a wife of that seed.”

(John Taylor, Journal of Discourses, 22:304).

“[God] loves all that dwell on the face of the earth—the dark sons of Cain that dwell in Africa and in America, in Asia and throughout the islands of the sea, as well as those who live in Europe and America who are of the white race.”

(George Q. Cannon, Journal of Discourses, 15:295).


         Furthermore, it is noteworthy that after the extension of the priesthood to Blacks, Bruce R. McConkie, a contemporary apostle who was present when the revelation was given, still identified the Blacks as descended from Cain:

“But what we can see causes us to rejoice ….

“We see the seed of Cain—long denied that priestly power which makes men rulers over many kingdoms—rise up and bless Abraham as their father.”

(Bruce R. McConkie, “The Coming Tests and Trials and Glory,” General Conference, Apr. 1980).

         Another case of an indisputable statement from prophets about the lineage of Cain is an official statement on the matter by the First Presidency, which quoted with approval a statement of Brigham Young identifying blacks as “the seed of Cain” (George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark, David O. McKay, First Presidency statement, August 17, 1949). From the foregoing it is undeniable, therefore, that the blacks are indeed descendants of Cain through Ham.  

Scriptural Praise for the Blacks

         The blacks are the seed of Cain, without any doubt. So what? Does this work to their discredit?

         Far from disparaging the seed of Cain, the scriptures have many references to their righteousness and talents. Revelation given to the Church was already very favorable to the black race, praising their talented accomplishments (Moses 5:45-46), praising their virtue (Abr. 1:11), praising their good works and government (Abr. 1:26), and proclaiming their right to freedom (D&C 101:79). It doesn’t seem likely that a prejudiced outlook of blacks could be gleaned from those revelations. But by that same token there are portions that clearly indicate a restriction on the priesthood by lineage, which predates the Flood.

Were the Jaredites Black?

         As has been demonstrated, there is actually significant praise for blacks in the scriptures. Another facet to add to this is the interesting possibility entertained by some that the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon were actually blacks. Consider the following:

  • The Jaredites had oaths “handed down even from Cain” (Ether 8:15-16), suggesting the possibility of a lineal descent of these secrets.
  • The Jaredites came from around the valley of Nimrod (Ether 2:1). Nimrod was a descendant of Ham, and therefore Cain (Gen. 10:6-8).
  • In a private letter, Parley P. Pratt wrote on the subject of the Kinderhook Plates his thoughts that they “contain a genealogy of one of the Jaredites back to Ham the son of Noah.” (Letter of Parley P. Pratt to Van Cott, May 7, 1843, emphasis added).
  • Carlos de Siguenza y Gongorra (1645-1700), reported that some Aztec records claimed that the original settlers of Mexico were descended from Mizraim, the son of Ham, and that they arrived in Mexico “shortly after the confusion of tongues” (The Jaredites Were Black, pamphlet by David Grant Stewart, 1978, p.22).
  • The Jaredite civilization is usually equated with the Olmec people, an ancient race of Mesoamerica. The Olmecs built large monoliths, which were heads that were in the likeness of their people. An interesting thing about them is that the features on these heads are very Negroid or African-looking.

Some examples of Olmec Monoliths, which are giant heads that show what appear to be very Negroid racial features. 

         If this was actually the case, that the Jaredites were blacks descended from Ham and Cain, this would be a very flattering credit to the black race, as the Jaredites have a proud history and were a mighty civilization in the Book of Mormon, with prophets and communication from the Lord. Indeed, the Lord himself confirmed that in its day, of all the civilizations of the world, none rivaled the glory of the Jaredite civilization (see Ether 1:43). 



The Priesthood Restriction: Doctrine, or a “Policy” Only?

         Many declare that the priesthood ban was mere policy, and not actually founded in doctrine. The intention behind the ‘doctrine or policy’ question is to establish whether the prophets were mistaken or not in their institution of the priesthood restriction; if it were merely administrative policy then the entire priesthood ban episode can be written off as unfortunate misguided, racist views. This saves the liberal Mormon from the uncomfortable position of having to believe that there actually was some fundamental reason why blacks could not legitimately hold the priesthood – an affront to their political correctness. But the First Presidency has declared that the restriction was doctrine and not merely policy:

“The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time.”

(George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark, David O. McKay, First Presidency statement, August 17, 1949, emphasis added). 

         Twenty years later, a different First Presidency, at the behest of senior apostle Harold B. Lee, gave another statement to the effect that the priesthood restriction was put in place by divine decree. It reads: 

“From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.”

(Hugh B. Brown & N. Eldon Tanner, First Presidency Statement, December 15, 1969, emphasis added).


         Likewise at an earlier time President Brigham Young invoked his authority as a prophet to declare in no uncertain terms that it was the will of the Lord that the blacks should not have the priesthood (at the present time). He said, 

“. . . any man having one drop of the seed of [Cain] . . . in him cannot hold the priesthood and if no other Prophet ever spake it before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ I know it is true and others know it . . . .”

(Brigham Young as quoted in Lester E. Bush, Jr., “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring 1973, p. 26, emphasis added). 

         There we have it. It was based on doctrine.

         While it is true that in 1954 President David O. McKay privately referred to the priesthood restriction as a “policy” and not “doctrine,” what he meant by this was that the restriction was something that was alterable (but by revelation only), and not that it would have been a simple administrative change in order to change the practice. President McKay always maintained that the priesthood ban was the will of the Lord, which could only be altered by revelation (See Gregory A. Prince, “David O. McKay and Blacks: Building the Foundation for the 1978 Revelation,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 35, Spring 2002, p. 150). 

David O. McKay is often thought to have considered the priesthood ban as administrative policy only, but this is not actually correct.

         In this light then, the ‘doctrine or policy’ controversy can be seen largely as a battle of semantics. The priesthood ban was very clearly based upon the doctrine in the scriptures, yet at the same time it was indeed a policy practiced by the Church. So the answer is that both are correct. But the problem is that those who insist that the priesthood ban was merely policy mean to imply that there is no doctrinal basis to it, that it was instituted in error by racist leaders, and that it was incorrect. This is why it becomes an important issue that must be settled. It’s a good thing, then, that the it has already been settled by the First Presidency and the President of the Church. 

Did the Priesthood Ban Originate with Brigham Young?

         There is some controversy – principally from liberal Mormons who wish to discount the priesthood ban – that the restriction began with Brigham Young, and not with Joseph Smith. The idea here is that if it wasn’t Joseph Smith’s idea, then it must have been in incorrect innovation by his successor, Brigham Young. Of course, there were a few blacks ordained to the priesthood in the days of Joseph Smith. Among these were Elijah Abel, Walker Lewis, and Joseph T. Ball. And it was only later in 1852 when Brigham Young announced officially that blacks could not hold the priesthood.

         The question then arises: Why is it that Joseph Smith ordained some black men to the priesthood? And since he did, can we then claim that the priesthood ban was begun by the Prophet himself?

         We have some testimonies from brethren who knew the Prophet Joseph Smith that a priesthood ban had been instituted during his lifetime. One of these comes from the Prophet’s friend Zebedee Coltrin, who had also once shared a vision of Adam and Eve with the Prophet Joseph Smith (see Dahl & Cannon, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, 2000, p. 18). Coltrin was also ordained as a president of the seventy, and later a patriarch. Upon returning from a journey southward in 1834, Zebedee Coltrin had been engaged in a debate with his travelling companion, J.P. Green, about whether the blacks should be ordained to the priesthood. (Green argued that blacks had a right to the priesthood, while Coltrin argued that they did not). They brought their controversy before the Prophet Joseph Smith who, according to Coltrin, “Kind of dropt [sic] his head and rested it on his hand for a minute. And then said Bro Zebedee is right, for the Spirit of the Lord saith the Negro has no right nor cannot hold the Priesthood” (W. Kesler Jackson, Elijah Abel: The Life and Times of a Black Priesthood Holder, p. 20). 

Zebedee Coltrin 

Elijah Abel 

         Many take issue with Zebedee Coltrin’s story because he made errors in his recollection about black man Elijah Abel’s standing as a seventy, as well as the fact that Coltrin was the one who personally ordained Elijah Abel to the office of a seventy two years later in 1836, suggesting an apparent anachronism (ibid., 21). Also, his recollection was given in 1879, many years later. But details are easy to confuse in recollections. Joseph Smith himself made an error in his age in one of the First Vision accounts. Shall we disbelieve the First Vision then? Of course not. And it is hard to believe that such a conversation would be forgotten by Zebedee Coltrin, especially as his debate with J. P. Green was heated (Green threatened to “report” Coltrin) and Coltrin had the satisfaction of his viewpoint being confirmed by the Prophet. Also, it is even less likely that the story was fabricated by a worthy man such as Zebedee Coltrin. 

         Next we have the experience of Abraham O. Smoot, who later became the second mayor of Salt Lake City and the father of apostle and senator Reed Smoot. Also in the year 1879, Abraham O. Smoot related his experience with reference to Joseph Smith’s instruction on blacks and the priesthood. In the years 1835 and 1836, Smoot was a missionary in the Southern states, where he saw the situation of blacks and slavery firsthand. Some blacks had requested baptism, and the question of priesthood ordination also arose, which was presented to Joseph Smith.  Smoot asked Joseph Smith, “what should be done with the Negro in the South?” Joseph Smith told him that he “could baptize them by consent of their masters, but not to confer the Priesthood upon them” (Bringhurst & Smith, ed. Black and Mormon, p. 15). 

Abraham O. Smoot 

         In addition to these rather reliable testimonies, we also have the report of an apostle who related having the discussion on the matter of blacks and the priesthood with Joseph Smith. This apostle was George Q. Cannon, who later became a member of the First Presidency.

         Of George Q. Cannon’s recollection, Joseph Fielding Smith has written:

“This doctrine [i.e. the priesthood ban] did not originate with President Brigham Young but was taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith. At a meeting of the general authorities of the Church, held August 22, 1895, the question of the status of the Negro in relation to the Priesthood was asked and the minutes of that meeting say:

“‘President George Q. Cannon remarked that the Prophet taught this doctrine: That the seed of Cain could not receive the Priesthood until the seed of Abel should come forward and take precedence over Cain’s offspring.’”

(Joseph Fielding Smith, The Way to Perfection, p. 110). 

         Of course, it is a little vague as far as Joseph Smith’s meaning behind the “seed of Abel” coming forward and “[taking] precedence over Cain’s offspring.” It could not have meant that all white people had to receive the priesthood before any blacks, because in 1978 the priesthood was extended to them. Also, we have no record of Abel having any children. He is not mentioned in the lineage of the patriarchs (the lineage is instead traced through Adam’s son Seth, who was born later – see Gen. 5:1-8). Did this have some meaning that stretched beyond the veil of mortality? Brigham Young often repeated this same thought as well, without much clarification. Suffice it to say that the meaning of this phrase is along the lines that the white race would receive precedence over the seed of Cain in respect to receiving the priesthood.

         It is also noteworthy to mention that during the presidency of John Taylor, in 1879, he commissioned a study into the origin of the priesthood ban, to determine whether it had begun with the Prophet Joseph Smith or later with Brigham Young. In fact, it was this probing into the question that prompted the 1879 testimonies of both Zebedee Coltrin and Abraham O. Smoot. The conclusion of that committees findings were that the priesthood ban had originated with the Prophet Joseph Smith.

         And likewise in 1969 the First Presidency has made a statement that indicated that Joseph Smith meant for blacks to be barred from the priesthood:

“From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.”

(Hugh B. Brown & N. Eldon Tanner, First Presidency Statement, December 15, 1969, emphasis added).

         But what of the fact that some black men were ordained to the priesthood in the days of Joseph Smith? Some possible reasons for this include:

  • These cases represent special exceptions, wherein while the generality of the blacks were denied the priesthood, for some reason which is not revealed, exceptions were made for these special men.
  • Joseph Smith was not fully aware of the implications of the priesthood restriction until after he made these ordinations, and upon realizing, he let them stand. This was the opinion of John Taylor, who said, “probably it was so in Brother Abel's case; that he, having been ordained before the word of the Lord was fully understood, it was allowed to remain” (John Taylor as quoted in Lester E. Bush, Jr., “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol. 8, No. 1, Spring 1973, p. 32). This would be similar to the Old Testament story of blind, old Isaac allowing Esau's blessing to pass to his brother Jacob, as found in Genesis 27. It is possible that the understanding about priesthood relative to blacks spread rather slowly among the Latter-day Saint community, leading to the ordination of William McCary, a black man, in 1846 (McCary soon apostatized and was excommunicated as a result). 

         While there is conflicting historical information, it seems that there is a strong case for the priesthood ban originating with the Prophet Joseph Smith. The reader should consider, however: Even if the doctrine did arise in the days of Brigham Young, this is not evidence of its falsehood. Brigham Young was a prophet too, and had full authority to decree such a thing. The argument that Brigham Young started the ban and not Joseph Smith, therefore, is a moot point for the faithful member of the Church. 

Probably the priesthood ban began with Joseph Smith. But even if it was actually initiated by Brigham Young, this does not make it illegitimate. Brigham Young was a prophet, too.

Scriptural Precedents for Extension of the Priesthood

         Many have criticized the Church for withholding the priesthood and its accompanying blessings and ordinances from people of a specific race. But in their misguided zeal for political correctness, they quickly forget that this has been standard procedure for the Lord from long ago. During the time when ancient Israel was laboring under the law of Moses, only the Levites were permitted to hold the priesthood, and only a lesser priesthood at that. While the prophets were ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, for the vast majority of all humanity, the Holy Priesthood was taken “out of their midst” and only “the lesser priesthood continued” (D&C 84:25). This situation was not rectified until the coming of Jesus Christ, who gave His disciples the Melchizedek Priesthood to administer His Church.

When Israel sinned with the golden calf incident, they lost the rights to the higher priesthood. They lived for centuries under a priesthood restriction, with only the lower priesthood available to them. 

During the time of Jesus, the Gospel was preached only to the House of Israel. It wasn't until later that the Lord revealed his will to Peter, by a special vision, that the Gospel should be extended to the Gentiles. 

         In Acts chapter 10 there is a story about a Gentile named Cornelius who had received visions and was converted to the Gospel. The problem was that, up to this point, the Church was exclusively an organization for the House of Israel (see Matt. 15:24). It took a special vision from God to his prophet Peter to change Church procedure and extend the blessings of the Gospel to the Gentiles. 

         Elder Bruce R. McConkie put the principle into these words:

“The gospel goes to various peoples and nations on a priority basis. We were commanded in the early days of this dispensation to preach the gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. Our revelations talk about its going to every creature. There was, of course, no possible way for us to do all of this in the beginning days of our dispensation, nor can we now, in the full sense.”


“Not only is the gospel to go, on a priority basis and harmonious to a divine timetable, to one nation after another, but the whole history of God’s dealings with men on earth indicates that such has been the case in the past; it has been restricted and limited where many people are concerned. For instance, in the days between Moses and Christ, the gospel went to the house of Israel, almost exclusively. By the time of Jesus, the legal administrators and prophetic associates that he had were so fully indoctrinated with the concept of having the gospel go only to the house of Israel, that they were totally unable to envision the true significance of his proclamation that after the Resurrection they should then go to all the world. They did not go to the gentile nations initially. In his own ministration, Jesus preached only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and had so commanded the Apostles (see Matthew 10:6).”

(Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike Unto God,” CES Religious Educators Symposium address, August 18, 1978). 

Prophecies Regarding the Extension of the Priesthood

         It is important to note that the prophets who lived within the time of the priesthood ban taught quite emphatically that the time would come for the restriction to come to an end. Promises such as these were given repeatedly since the days of Brigham Young. It seems that some confusion existed as to the precise time of when the restriction would be lifted, but the fact that it would be was never in question. The following are several statements indicating the extension of the priesthood and its blessings to the seed of Cain.

“How long is that race to endure the dreadful curse that is upon them? That curse will remain upon them, and they never can hold the Priesthood or share in it until all the other descendants of Adam have received the promises and enjoyed the blessings of the Priesthood and the keys thereof. Until the last ones of the residue of Adam’s children are brought up to that favorable position, the children of Cain cannot receive the first ordinances of the Priesthood. They were the first that were cursed, and they will be the last from whom the curse will be removed. When the residue of the family of Adam come up and receive their blessings, then the curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will receive blessings in like proportion.”

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 7:290-291, emphasis added).

“The Lamanites or Indians are just as much the children of our Father and God as we are. So also are the Africans. But we are also the children of adoption through obedience to the Gospel of his Son. Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a sin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the Holy Priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the Holy Priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 11:272, emphasis added).

“[Cain] killed his brother. The Lord put a mark on him; and there are some of his children in this room. When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity. He deprived his brother of the privilege of pursuing his journey through life, and of extending his kingdom by multiplying upon the earth; and because he did this, he is the last to share the joys of the kingdom of God.”

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 2:143, emphasis added). 

“When the Savior comes, a thousand years will be devoted to this work of redemption; and Temples will appear all over this land of Joseph—North and South America—and also in Europe and elsewhere; and all the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth who received not the Gospel in the flesh, must be officiated for in the Temples of God, before the Savior can present the kingdom to the Father, saying, ‘It is finished.’”

(Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 19:230, emphasis added). 

“President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: ‘The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.’”

(As quoted in George Albert Smith, J. Reuben Clark, David O. McKay, First Presidency statement, August 17, 1949).

“President McKay has also said, ‘Sometime in God’s eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the priesthood.’”

(Hugh B. Brown & N. Eldon Tanner, First Presidency Statement, December 15, 1969).

         After becoming President of the Church, Harold B. Lee stated the following to a news organization:

“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.”

(Harold B. Lee on November 16, 1972, as quoted in L. Brent Goates, Harold B. Lee: Prophet & Seer, p. 506).

         President Lee also stressed that such a change must come by revelation, and the news article reported that “any change in the policy of the church toward the black must come in the form of revelation, or divine communication from God to the President of the Church” (ibid.).

         A question for the liberal Mormons: If the priesthood restriction was a policy borne of racism and predjudice, then why were the prophets emphatic that the blacks would indeed one day be endowed with the full blessings of the priesthood? If the prophets were simply racists, it is not likely that they would have taught that the blacks would ever inherit the kingdom. More likely, they would have proclaimed that blacks have no interest in the kingdom of God. But they didn’t. 

Was the Priesthood Ban “Wrong”?

         Liberal Mormons, like the critics of the Church, claim that the priesthood ban was wrong. It was unfortunate, racist, immoral, mistaken – morally wrong. It is important to note that the Church has never claimed that it was wrong to institute the priesthood ban. The Church has always maintained that the ban, though little understood, was the will of God, as Elder Dallin H. Oaks articulated:

“...It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that.... The lesson I’ve drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.”

(Dallin H. Oaks, Interview with Associated Press, in Daily Herald, Provo, Utah, 5 June 1988, emphasis added.).

         Only politically correct members and enemies of the Church have ever claimed that the ban was simply an ill-devised racist policy, and that it was morally wrong. The Church itself has never claimed that. Recent statements regarding the priesthood ban must be specially interpreted by such liberal Members and enemies of the Church as an admission of wrong-doing. Thats not what the Church has actually said itself, however. Therefore, if one claims to believe in the Church, then they must believe that the priesthood ban was the will of God. Otherwise they are a heretic. 

Why Is It Critical To Maintain That the Priesthood Ban Was the Will of God?

         Some readers may be questioning why all this time is spent belaboring the point that the priesthood ban was legitimately God’s will. Why not simply reject the ban as a mistake, an error, an embarrassing oversight by the Church in the past? The answer is this: To claim that the ban was a result of racist leaders, or was a goof, strikes at the very foundation of our confidence in the prophets. If they are true prophets, how could they make such an astonishing oversight for such an extended period of time, with such ill effects? If they let popular opinion guide their policies, then they are not led by God but by men. This notion is blasphemous when offered by members of the Church.

         Author Glenn L. Pearson phrased the situation in this way with a razor-sharp analysis:

“When a man raises the Negro issue, he really means that he does not believe we have prophets and are guided by God through divine communication. If he were truly convinced that Joseph Smith and his successors were and are prophets, he would have to agree that they are following the right program and teaching the right way of life, or else he would have to be guilty of pitting his own wisdom against that of God. He may believe that the future might bring a change of policy; but, whatever the reason, God has not seen fit to tell his chief stewards to change their husbandmanship of the vineyard at present. Whether the issue is doctrinal or administrative, the same principle applies: the only objection is that the objector does not believe God has revealed His will to the Church through the prophets. The same is true of objections that arise from dissident members of the Church. They, too, have failed to learn the doctrine of divine leadership of the Church through apostles and prophets.”

(Glenn L. Pearson, The Book of Mormon: Key to Conversion, 1967, p. 6).

         If one rejects that the priesthood ban was valid, this creates a very hazardous situation relative to trusting the prophets. Do the prophets create sweeping Church policies to suit the fancies of popular thinking – or bigoted thinking – or are they led by revelation? Many who are liberal Mormons accept the former in their rejection of the Cainite origin of blacks. If we accept the premise that the prophets were succumbing to their own prejudices with the priesthood restriction, then it is only a very minor extension to say that the present-day prophets are doing the same with their stand against homosexuality. One who holds this view will not trust the prophets, but consider that they know better, and become “a prophet unto themselves” on any or all matters of doctrine or policy (see 2 Ne. 9:28).

         It will be helpful to consider a New Testament parallel to the situation of blacks and the priesthood. Note Jesus’ emphatic instruction that the Twelve avoid the Gentiles but go only to the House of Israel:

“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 10:5-7).

         Was this divine instruction? Or was it a mere short-sighted policy – a mistake borne of bigotry and prejudice? The answer to that question likewise provides the answer to the priesthood restriction for blacks.

Right: Jesus Christ instituted ethnic restrictions as to whom his apostles should preach to. Was he a bigot, or was there a divine purpose to his methods?


         There have been many unofficial statements about the blacks and the priesthood dating from the time of Brigham Young. Not as common have been official statements on the matter, but there have been some. At the time of this writing there have basically been three important, official statements on the matter of blacks and the priesthood: A First Presidency Statement from 1949, a First Presidency Statement from 1969, and an article called “Race and the Priesthood” on posted in 2014.

         The 1949 statement was made when George Albert Smith was President of the Church (his counselors were J. Reuben Clark and David O. McKay). The 1969 statement was given in the twilight of President McKay’s life and tenure as President of the Church, while he was in ill health, and consequently his name did not appear on the document.  It was written at the behest of Elder Harold B. Lee, then a senior apostle and likely future President of the Church (due to his relatively young age and position as third in line for the Presidency). The “Race and the Priesthood” article was a recent appearance along with other articles on that cover controversial topics. The 1949 statement and the 1969 statement will be quoted below in their entirety and analyzed. The “Race and the Priesthood” article, due to length, will not be quoted in full, but it will be discussed in turn under the heading “Analyzing Recent Statements by the Church.”

The 1949 First Presidency Statement


August 17, 1949

         The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”

         President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.”

         The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

The First Presidency 

         Things that we learn from the 1949 First Presidency statement are:

  1. The priesthood restriction was doctrine, and not simply administrative policy.
  2. This priesthood restriction was in effect since the early days of the Church’s organization.
  3. The blacks are the seed of Cain.
  4. The blacks were expressly promised the priesthood from the early days of the Church.
  5. The doctrine of the preexistence helps explain the priesthood restriction. 

The 1969 First Presidency Statement 

         The circumstances surrounding the 1969 First Presidency statement are very interesting and deserve some comment. During the 1960s, the Church had been experiencing significant social pressure and persecution due to its policy on abstaining from the ordination of blacks. The situation was also becoming very complex as a practical matter, as it was becoming increasingly difficult to avoid ordination of blacks in ethnically diverse Brazil, where membership was growing. It was during this time that the Brethren were taking a serious look at the matter to determine if it was something that might be changed. Some suggested at least ordain blacks to the Aaronic priesthood, particularly as there were leadership needs arising in black Africa. Notably Hugh B. Brown made moves throughout the 60’s to propose doing away with the ban. His efforts increased in 1969 (and it may have been that his nephew and colleague in the First Presidency, N. Eldon Tanner, shared his views.). However, as it happened, by that time President McKay was well-stricken in years and not able to function at his former capacity. Additionally, three extra counselors had been added to the First Presidency: Joseph Fielding Smith, Alvin R. Dyer, and Thorpe B. Isaacson, all three of which did not share President Browns enthusiasm for changing the practice. (Sources: Gregory A. Prince, “David O. McKay and Blacks: Building the Foundation for the 1978 Revelation,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 35, Spring 2002, p. 149-153; Armand L. Mauss, The Fading of Pharaohs Curse: The Decline and Fall of the Priesthood Ban Against Blacks in the Mormon Church,Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thoughtvol. 14, Autumn 1981, p. 15-17).

         In order to ensure that the practice was not changed without divine guidance through such innovations as President Brown was suggesting, Harold B. Lee, then the Acting President of the Council of the Twelve, asserted his authority to formulate a document which would reaffirm the Church’s position on the priesthood ban. The First Presidency letter which follows, therefore, was drafted by the Quorum of the Twelve, and sent to the First Presidency for signature. It was also distributed to other Church leaders by Harold B. Lee, rather than the First Presidency itself. It was under this influence that President Brown and President Tanner were obliged to sign the document on behalf of the First Presidency, and it is with some irony that theirs are the only signatures to appear on the document. (Gregory A. Prince, “David O. McKay and Blacks: Building the Foundation for the 1978 Revelation,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 35, Spring 2002, p. 151-152). 

December 15, 1969

To General Authorities, Regional Representatives of the Twelve, Stake Presidents, Mission Presidents, and Bishops.

Dear Brethren:

         In view of confusion that has arisen, it was decided at a meeting of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to restate the position of the Church with regard to the Negro both in society and in the Church.

         First, may we say that we know something of the sufferings of those who are discriminated against in a denial of their civil rights and Constitutional privileges. Our early history as a church is a tragic story of persecution and oppression. Our people repeatedly were denied the protection of the law. They were driven and plundered, robbed and murdered by mobs, who in many instances were aided and abetted by those sworn to uphold the law. We as a people have experienced the bitter fruits of civil discrimination and mob violence.

         We believe that the Constitution of the United States was divinely inspired, that it was produced by “wise men” whom God raised up for this “very purpose,” and that the principles embodied in the Constitution are so fundamental and important that, if possible, they should be extended “for the rights and protection” of all mankind.

         In revelations received by the first prophet of the Church in this dispensation, Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the Lord made it clear that it is “not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.” These words were spoken prior to the Civil War. From these and other revelations have sprung the Church’s deep and historic concern with man’s free agency and our commitment to the sacred principles of the Constitution.

         It follows, therefore, that we believe the Negro, as well as those of other races, should have his full Constitutional privileges as a member of society, and we hope that members of the Church everywhere will do their part as citizens to see that these rights are held inviolate. Each citizen must have equal opportunities and protection under the law with reference to civil rights.

         However, matters of faith, conscience, and theology are not within the purview of the civil law. The first amendment to the Constitution specifically provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

         The position of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints affecting those of the Negro race who choose to join the Church falls wholly within the category of religion. It has no bearing upon matters of civil rights. In no case or degree does it deny to the Negro his full privileges as a citizen of the nation.

         This position has no relevancy whatever to those who do not wish to join the Church. Those individuals, we suppose, do not believe in the divine origin and nature of the church, nor that we have the priesthood of God. Therefore, if they feel we have no priesthood, they should have no concern with any aspect of our theology on priesthood so long as that theology does not deny any man his Constitutional privileges.

         A word of explanation concerning the position of the Church.

         The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes its origin, its existence, and its hope for the future to the principle of continuous revelation. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”

         From the beginning of this dispensation, Joseph Smith and all succeeding presidents of the Church have taught that Negroes, while spirit children of a common Father, and the progeny of our earthly parents Adam and Eve, were not yet to receive the priesthood, for reasons which we believe are known to God, but which He has not made fully known to man.

         Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, “The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God….

         “Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man’s mortal existence, extending back to man’s pre-existent state.”

         President McKay has also said, “Sometime in God’s eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the priesthood.”

         Until God reveals His will in this matter, to him whom we sustain as a prophet, we are bound by that same will. Priesthood, when it is conferred on any man comes as a blessing from God, not of men.

         We feel nothing but love, compassion, and the deepest appreciation for the rich talents, endowments, and the earnest strivings of our Negro brothers and sisters. We are eager to share with men of all races the blessings of the Gospel. We have no racially-segregated congregations.

         Were we the leaders of an enterprise created by ourselves and operated only according to our own earthly wisdom, it would be a simple thing to act according to popular will. But we believe that this work is directed by God and that the conferring of the priesthood must await His revelation. To do otherwise would be to deny the very premise on which the Church is established.

         We recognize that those who do not accept the principle of modern revelation may oppose our point of view. We repeat that such would not wish for membership in the Church, and therefore the question of priesthood should hold no interest for them. Without prejudice they should grant us the privilege afforded under the Constitution to exercise our chosen form of religion just as we must grant all others a similar privilege. They must recognize that the question of bestowing or withholding priesthood in the Church is a matter of religion and not a matter of Constitutional right.

         We extend the hand of friendship to men everywhere and the hand of fellowship to all who wish to join the Church and partake of the many rewarding opportunities to be found therein.

         We join with those throughout the world who pray that all of the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ may in due time of the Lord become available to men of faith everywhere. Until that time comes we must trust in God, in His wisdom and in His tender mercy.

         Meanwhile we must strive harder to emulate His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose new commandment it was that we should love one another. In developing that love and concern for one another, while awaiting revelations yet to come, let us hope that with respect to these religious differences, we may gain reinforcement for understanding and appreciation for such differences. They challenge our common similarities, as children of one Father, to enlarge the out-reachings of our divine souls.

Faithfully your brethren,

The First Presidency

By Hugh B. Brown

N. Eldon Tanner 


         Things that we learn from the 1969 First Presidency statement are:

  1. The Church is unequivocal that the blacks should be afforded every Constitutional right guaranteed them by the Constitution. 
  2. The Church’s priesthood ban is of a religious and not a civil nature and does not fall under the category of Constitutional rights.
  3. The Church has always taught that blacks are not to have the priesthood at present (i.e. up until 1969 when this statement was made).
  4. One day the blacks will indeed receive the priesthood.
  5. The Church is bound to honor the priesthood ban until revelation from God to the President of the Church overturns it. Revelation is required to change the practice.
  6. Blacks are talented, appreciated, and loved in the Church. 

Analyzing Recent Statements by the Church

         Recently there have been some significant statements from the Church on the matter of the priesthood ban. These are important to consider and members of the Church should take care how they interpret them. Many, notably theological liberals, have latched onto them to fuel their hopes that the priesthood ban was merely a policy, or some error. 

         During an interview with PBS in 2006, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland made the following statement relative to the doctrine surrounding blacks and the priesthood ban:


Elder Holland organized the Church’s 3000th Stake in Sierra Leone on December 2, 2012.

“One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. ... I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. ... They, I’m sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the priesthood ban], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. ...

It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don’t know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. ... At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger [apostles] to come along, ... we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.”

(Jeffrey R. Holland, PBS Interview, March 4, 2006). 

         Note that Elder Holland referred to the priesthood ban a “practice,” “policy,” and “doctrine.” Of course, his major point here stresses that we don’t have well-defined specific answers about the whys and wherefores of the priesthood ban. It’s best to admit that rather than speculate too much. He also pleads for respect for those in generations past who advanced that idea that the priesthood ban was a result of unworthiness in the preexistence. 

         Let us next look at the 2013 scripture edition’s Introduction to Official Declaration 2 in the Doctrine & Covenants. It states:

“The Book of Mormon teaches that ‘all are alike unto God,’ including ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female’ (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. 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. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.”

(Introduction to Official Declaration 2, 2013 Edition). 

         Some liberals have taken the phrase, “Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice,” as meaning that its practice was illegitimate somehow. The honest reader cannot make this conclusion, however. All this phrase truly indicates is that the beginnings of the priesthood ban are not well understood. It does not concede that the ban itself was an error.

         After the 2013 edition of the scriptures, the Church published an article on called “Race and the Priesthood.” The article is a moderate-sized introduction to the issue, and provides useful contextual information as well as interesting historical parallels. It is an excellent article to which explains the issue very well (readers of this article are encouraged to refer to it). Finally near the end of the article, the most important doctrinal statement was made: 

“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 unrighteous 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.”

(“Race and the Priesthood,”

         Here we learn that: 
  1. We are not justified in believing that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor.
  2. We should not consider blacks as cursed. This is especially since they can now bear the priesthood. As discussed above (under the heading “What Was the Nature of the ‘Curse’ Placed Upon Cain’s Descendants?”), the curse the seed of Cain were under was that they could not hold the priesthood.
  3. We cannot ascribe the priesthood ban to “unrighteous actions in a premortal life.” 
  4. We are not justified in supposing that blacks are inferior because of their race.


Why the Priesthood Ban?

         The question as to why the spirits born through that lineage were chosen to be restricted from having the priesthood remains a matter of speculation. Was it due to transgression or lack of worthiness in the premortal world, as was almost universally thought prior to 1978? Or is there some other aspect at play in God's eternal plan? These are hard questions to answer, and I think these are the questions not settled by any revealed answer: i.e. why such spirits were born under the restriction, and why the restriction applied to virtually all of Cain's descendants. But as to the source of the priesthood restriction, there cannot be any question as to its origin with Cain: this would accord both with scripture and with early statements of Church Brethren.

         There seem to be seven possibilities as to the reason for the priesthood ban:

    1. It was a policy based entirely on the bigotry and prejudice of early Church leaders. Of course, this explanation will not do. We must believe that the ban was the will of God, otherwise we are heretics and our ideas undermine the authority of God’s prophets.
    2. It was a policy put in place by Church leaders because the general membership was not ready to share the priesthood with blacks. In other words, the members of the Church were too racist in the early days of the Church to consent to including the blacks in the priesthood fold. Similar to theory 1), this suggests that God is not in charge of his Church, and that the prophets are blown about by every wind of doctrine, adopting popular views rather than declaring the truth.
    3. Blacks were not valiant in the pre-existence. The rationale here is that since blacks were denied the privilege of the priesthood in mortality, it could only be due to the fact that their behavior in the preexistence did not merit it. Interestingly, this idea does have some doctrinal foundation: all would agree that the House of Israel were valiant in the preexistence prior to coming to earth, hence their assignment to their station in life on earth. The corollary then is that there must be an opposite side of the spectrum which receives cursing instead of blessings. This opinion used to be almost universally held and very widely taught, but it is now very unpopular, and more importantly, has since been officially repudiated by the Church (See “Race and the Priesthood” on 
    4. As a variation of #3, through the history of the world the spirits being sent to the black lineage were not valiant in the pre-existence, until recently when God started to send spirits of higher grade through the lineage of blacks, hence the ability to raise the priesthood ban in 1978. This view may also fall under the repudiation of the Church, however.
    5. The priesthood ban has no relation to circumstances in the preexistence, but blacks were denied the priesthood based solely on the fact that their father, Cain, was cursed because of his transgression. This theory is weak, however, because the First Presidency has declared in its 1949 statement that the doctrine of the preexistence helps explain the situation of the blacks. Also, it meets with some difficulty with the principle that man is punished for his own sins, and not the sins of the fathers.
    6. God’s children require a variety of experiences for their growth and development, and for some the priesthood restriction would best serve their needs and enable them to grow through the special nature of that trial. This may be a reasonable explanation for the priesthood ban, considering the issues with the other theories.
    7. An Abrahamic test of faith. It may be that the main (or only) reason for the priesthood ban was simply to test the faith of God’s people (and those seeking to join them). Would they be faithful in the face of a seeming injustice? Would they still trust in God and the prophets, accepting things in all humility, or would they fight the Lord on the issue? This is another possible alternative, and if not the only reason for the ban, is at least in combination with whatever the actual reason may be.

         All of the various theories seem to have their problems, and of course there is little certainty on the issue, except that some alternatives are certainly less acceptable than others. Numbers 1,2, and now 3 are unacceptable views for true and faithful Latter-day Saints to harbor. Especially those who would claim number 1 or 2, are heretics. Numbers 4 and 5 are acceptable, though may be viewed as marginally acceptable (particularly 5). Probably the safest route to take on this issue is 6 or 7, in the absence of greater understanding. Perhaps too much speculation on the reason for the priesthood restriction ought to be avoided, however. It is quite useless to trouble too much over the why of the priesthood restriction. 


What of Those Who Lived In Ages Past under the Exercise of the Priesthood Ban?

         Since the days of Cain, circa 3900 B.C., until June 1, 1978, millions upon millions of blacks have lived under the priesthood restriction. It was only relatively recently that this situation has been changed. The blacks of today are fortunate to have full access to the priesthood and its saving ordinances. But the vast majority of blacks throughout time have been subject to the ban. What will become of them?

         Wilford Woodruff explained this. He said:

“When the Savior comes, a thousand years will be devoted to this work of redemption; and Temples will appear all over this land of Joseph, North and South America and also in Europe and elsewhere; and all the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth who received not the Gospel in the flesh, must be officiated for in the Temples of God, before the Savior can present the Kingdom to the Father, saying, ‘It is finished.’”

(Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 19:230, emphasis added).

         This quote shows an understanding that the blessings of priesthood would eventually be extended to the blacks, since it includes the descendants of Ham in those who would receive temple blessings.
         Likewise, after the priesthood was extended to blacks in 1978, Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated,

“This [revelation to extend the priesthood] affects our missionary work and all of our preaching to the world. This affects our genealogical research and all of our temple ordinances. This affects what is going on in the spirit world, because the gospel is preached in the spirit world preparatory to men’s receiving the vicarious ordinances which make them heirs to salvation and exaltation. This is a revelation of tremendous significance.”

(Bruce R. McConkie, “All Are Alike Unto God,” CES Religious Educators Symposium address, August 18, 1978).

What Does the Extension of the Priesthood to Blacks Teach Us About Changes in Church Practice?

         Certainly the priesthood extension was a monumental change for the Church. It represented a major shift in the way things were done. Unfortunately, because of this, some use this as a precedent to base hopes on the extension of the priesthood to women, or the acceptance of gay marriage. Should the 1978 priesthood extension give hope to such causes?

         The reader should keep in mind that there are crucial differences between the 1978 revelation and the agendas of ordaining women and gay marriage. They are:

  1. Withholding and then extending the priesthood to blacks made sense according to what was written in the scriptures,
  2. Promises were given by prophets about the future extension of the priesthood to the blacks. No such promise was given to women to receive the priesthood, or for homosexuals to be justified in their sin.
  3. The extension of the priesthood to the blacks was merely a fulfillment of a missing piece to the Gospel plan, before it was to march forward in worldwide strength. The giving of priesthood to women or acceptance of homosexuality, however, would consist of a marked and dramatic shift in fundamental doctrines of the Church – a fundamental re-design of the Gospel plan – rather than simply an expansion of its existing efforts.

         Those who place such vain and evil hopes on the 1978 revelation are mistaken and gravely misunderstand the Gospel plan. They “do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29).


         In conclusion to the lengthy discussion of this article, the blacks are most definitely the seed of Cain. This is overwhelmingly demonstrated from the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets. As well, the priesthood restriction was God’s will and was doctrinally-based, and not merely a matter of administrative policy or the result of racist attitudes. Those who would argue otherwise have placed themselves in a difficult doctrinal position, wherein they cannot trust the prophets. They then disregard any and every teaching from the prophets that they find personally distasteful, and thereby set themselves up as prophets over and above the true ones.

         Of course, we cannot be too dogmatic about the specific reasons behind the priesthood ban. It is a great unknown in our religion. However, we do know, as the First Presidency stated in 1949, that the reason was rooted somehow in the preexistence. However, this does not mean that blacks were less valiant in the preexistence, as the Church has since formally disavowed such a theory in its “Race and the Priesthood” article. Some other factor stemming from the preexistent life is likely responsible, therefore.

         We know that God loves all his children, of every race and creed. This is indisputable. No one who correctly understands the character of God could ever think otherwise. And so we know that the priesthood restriction was not the result of God’s lack of tender feelings towards his black children. Also, since God loves his children and communicates his will to them through prophets, it is unthinkable that he would let such a thing as the priesthood ban persist if it were a “mistake” or simple “bigotry.” God is closer than that to his prophets, and more concerned for the human race, than for that blasphemous theory to hold any weight. 

         The lineage of the blacks and the priesthood ban were all parts of God’s eternal plan for his children. We don’t know all of the details or reasons behind the way things are done, but we know that God’s plan is designed for the ultimate good of his children. In God’s own time, all of his worthy children can receive the blessings for which they are entitled. 


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