Faith Matters Letters are responses to personal inquiries received by Mormon thought leaders, published here in the hope that others may benefit as well.
Question summary: The Church’s past ban on black men receiving the Priesthood is troubling — if it wasn’t God’s will, how could a prophet have had it wrong for so long? Do you think the Church will ever change other similarly strong stances, like those on LGBT issues or gay marriage?
And rather than get into the details, I will simply point to a moment in church history that is instructive for me. In 1894, President Woodruff announced in General Conference that the practice of sealing children only to prophetic lines or “dynasties,” felt wrong to him. So he sought further revelation, “and the world of the Lord came to [him] saying, ‘Let every son be sealed to his father and every father to his son.'” In other words, for the past 50 years, people were sealed to prophet figures, not to parents and children as we do now. He sensed the practice was not consistent with true doctrine, and the Lord confirmed that. The moral I derive comes from the members’ reaction. They didn’t leave in droves. They didn’t ask, how could a prophet get it wrong for so many years? Or, “why did God not straighten it out earlier.” Instead, in the responses I have found, members said, “I knew that if I was patient and faithful, I would live to see the Lord’s will more perfectly implemented.” We are told that the church, in the last days, is first temporal, and then spiritual. I take that to mean we have the organization in place, but it takes time to get all the doctrines and principles and practices right. I don’t know if the policy on gays will change or not. But I have confidence that every generation we get closer and closer to God’s ideal for the church’s organization and teachings.
The brethren have officially declared that past rationales for the priesthood ban were based on faulty speculation. The gospel topics page on the subject suggests, though it does not say explicitly, that cultural prejudices may have influenced BY’s thinking, and there is absolutely no revelation or scripture that indicates any inferiority, now or in the preexistence, on the part of the black race.
What we do know for sure is that we are enjoined to treat each and every single individual with love and respect. And in my personal experience, when I live the gospel I am happier and a better person. I hope you find the faith to keep enduring.