June, 1978. I was driving to work in a small silver pickup with red interior. I was listening to the radio as I traveled down the highway to Radium Hot Springs where I worked as a lifeguard the summer after I graduated from high school and I heard the news. The prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Spencer W. Kimball, had announced that black men who were members of the Church could be given the priesthood. My heart soared!
It seems like I had always questioned "the ban" that refused black men from being ordained to the priesthood, but when I was about 14 years-old I challenged my dad with my objection (he was a bishop at the time). He didn't have a satisfying answer to all of my questions. He gave me books to read. They must have been written in the 1950's because they used the word 'negro'. I wasn't impressed with the books. My questions remained in my mind, heart and soul. Fortunate or not, I never found myself in a situation where I had to defend the Church's policy; therefore, I'm not quite sure what I would have said. It's highly unlikely I would have defended it. I wasn't one to waste time saying things that I thought people wanted to hear. I sometimes got myself in trouble with my blatant honesty, so I probably would have admitted that I didn't understand why it was the way it was.
I wonder if I would have been able to keep moving forward in the Church had the revelation not come when it came. How much longer could I have lived with the separation of my heart from that particular Church doctrine? How much longer could I have sustained a prophet of the Church who I felt was discriminating against men with dark skin? I don't know. I still have questions about some things in the Church, but my testimony of core beliefs is stronger than my questions. Would I have continued living with what I knew to be true and simply set aside that which I could not reconcile? I don't know.
I remember that day in June, 1978, driving down the road. I remember arriving at work and feeling a spirit of celebration throughout the day. It's a jubilant feeling to have one's heart repaired. Of course I wondered why things had to be the way they had been, but I felt happy that day.
I've read a lot about Church history and there is a trilogy of historical novels about black Mormon pioneers that I enjoyed reading. The trilogy is called, Standing on the Promises, and it is written by Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray. There is documentation of a black man being ordained to the priesthood by the prophet Joseph Smith. (I've also read about women being set apart by J. Smith to give blessings.) I can't help but wonder what some things in the Church would have been like had Joseph Smith lived longer.
I can't help how leaders of the Church personally felt about black people in the 1800's and into the 1900's. Anti-mormons dig up quotes from different Church leaders in the past and throw them around to try and prove racism and hate, but I don't know the context of the quotes or whether or not they were actually said. My life is now, and my Church membership is now, and I could (and would) apologize for how things were if I found myself in a situation where I thought it was necessary. My point is that I can't change the past.
In the Book of Mormon there is a story of a curse being given to a group of people called the Lamanites. Their skin is made darker because of their wickedness - the Lord didn't want the righteous people to become wicked so he gave the Lamanites a curse to distinguish them from the righteous. Later in the Book of Mormon there is a time when the Lamanites become righteous. When I was young I remember reading several passages in the Book of Mormon and thinking that the curse was about wickedness and not about the color of a person's skin. I wondered why other people interpreted the Book so differently from me and called it racist. For many years I have boldly taught my sunday school kids that any "curse" that is given to someone in the scriptures is about wickedness and righteousness, and it is NOT about the color of a person's skin. The good news is that I haven't had a student challenge the point (and I always encourage my students to question things). They seem to "get it".
This is what I do know: The Lord knows our hearts. Today my heart rejoices for the gift of the priesthood to ALL worthy males in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.