Campus reacts as Church clarifies history of race and priesthood

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a new statement discussing the previous ban on blacks holding the priesthood and participating in temple ordinances on Dec. 7, 2013.

Black Student Union members and others gather at the Bell Tower to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Black Student Union members and others gather at the Bell Tower to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The statement gives a brief history of the Church and clarifies the Church’s current position on black members. This statement comes as part of a larger series of doctrinal clarifications released by the Church.

“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 pre-mortal life,” the statement reads. “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.”

The Church’s new statement affects black students as well as the rest of the student body at Brigham Young University. Over 30,000 students attend BYU; approximately 14 percent of the student body are minorities and 265 of that 14 percent are black. This new statement has brought much excitement as students feel able to discuss the subject more freely that has been tabooed in the past.

Anthony Bates, Black Student Union advisor at BYU, said this has been a liberating experience for many of his students. Students feel more comfortable with expressing thoughts and ideas that have been in their hearts all along but had the fear of expressing them until now. “I think it is liberating for non-African Americans as well to be able to acknowledge it and be able to have it out on the table and be able to discuss it,” Bates said.

“I’ve chosen many times not to be offended by what people say, but it’s nice that there’s a statement directly from The First Presidency that clears up any questions or any other misgivings,” said Chase Phillips, an African-American student at BYU. “The Church acknowledged it and we’ve moved forward, which is great rather than not talking about it. There’s clarity and I think that’s the greatest thing.”

Women have also been heavily influenced by the new statement because the 1978 announcement allowed them to gain the opportunity to have the priesthood in their homes if it previously wasn’t.

“This is reaffirming how important it is to God that worthy men hold the priesthood,” said Gisselle Aguilar, a student at BYU. “It is important that they have the authority and they act on God’s power that he gives them.”

Historical content contained in the new statement begins with the Church’s establishment in 1830 when a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black members under the direction of President Brigham Young several years later. No official record was given as to why this practice began; however, that did not stop Church leaders from making continuous efforts in trying to understand what should be done. Finally in 1978, The First Presidency received revelation that rescinded the restriction on priesthood ordination to men of African descent. A statement was given regarding the revelation that the Church refers to as Official Declaration 2.

Three decades have passed since the declaration was given and members of the Church can now turn to a new, expanded introduction to the declaration that was given last month by Church officials. Composed of nearly 2,000 words, the new statement has been posted to the Church’s website for all to view.

“These declarations really honor the sacrifices and the faith and the persistence of those who kept faithfully living the gospel,” Bates said. “They knew it to be true and hoped for the time they would get to fully participate.”

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