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Confronting the Past, Embracing the Future: Mormonism’s Struggle with Racial Equality

Mormonism, commonly known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), has a complicated and often contentious history regarding the participation and treatment of blacks within its religious community. Black Mormons have experienced periods of exclusion and discrimination, as well as advances towards more equality and acceptance. In this essay, we will look at the complex history of blacks in Mormonism, including the doctrinal roots, social ramifications, and modern events that have affected their experiences within the LDS Church.

Historical Context:

To comprehend blacks’ status in Mormonism, we must first explore the historical environment in which the LDS Church was created. Mormonism arose in the early nineteenth century, when slavery and racial inequality were profoundly ingrained in American culture. The church’s founder, Joseph Smith, initially opposed slavery as a moral evil, but ultimately took a more ambiguous position, reflecting the difficulties of the time.

During the early years of the LDS Church, there were reports of black people embracing the faith and even occupying leadership roles. However, as the church grew and faced growing societal pressures, its position on race shifted. Brigham Young, the LDS organisation’s second president, implemented a policy in 1852 prohibiting black males from obtaining the priesthood, a position of spiritual authority inside the organisation. This doctrine also barred black people from partaking in certain sacred temple rites, essentially reducing them to second-class status in the Mormon community.

Doctrinal justifications and controversies:

The exclusion of blacks from the priesthood and temple ordinances in Mormonism was largely justified by doctrinal interpretations and teachings. Some Mormon officials ascribed the restriction to the concept that black people were descended from Cain, the biblical character who committed the first murder, and so cursed with dark skin as a form of divine punishment. Others said that blacks were less valiant in their premortal existence, a Mormon doctrinal doctrine that holds that human spirits existed prior to birth and made decisions that affected their earthly fate.

These explanations for Mormonism’s priesthood prohibition on blacks were strongly entrenched in racial beliefs and prejudices at the time. Many scholars and critics have contended that these theological interpretations were not founded on scriptural evidence, but rather reflected cultural biases and discriminatory attitudes in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The exclusion of blacks from full participation in Mormon religious life sparked continual debate and criticism from both within and beyond the LDS Church.

Social Implications and the Civil Rights Movement:

The marginalisation of blacks in Mormonism has far-reaching social consequences, both inside the LDS community and throughout American culture. Black Mormons experienced severe hurdles in their daily lives, including prejudice, ostracism, and few prospects for progression within the church hierarchy. The priesthood restriction deprived black men leadership roles while also limiting their capacity to fully engage in Mormon spiritual and social life.

As the civil rights movement gained traction in the United States throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the LDS Church was under increasing pressure to change its discriminatory policies towards blacks. External activists and progressive voices inside the church advocated for an end to the priesthood restriction and more racial equality. However, the church leadership remained resistant to change, upholding the scriptural arguments for the exclusion of blacks.

Lifting the Priesthood Ban and Ongoing Challenges:

On June 8, 1978, the LDS Church issued a revelation lifting the priesthood and temple prohibition on black people, marking a watershed point in Mormon history. This revelation, known as Official Declaration 2, was issued by then-church president Spencer W. Kimball and represented a fundamental shift in Mormon doctrine and practice. Many black Mormons were overjoyed and relieved by the declaration, since they had long waited to fully participate in the church’s holy life.

While the repeal of the priesthood prohibition was a significant step towards more inclusion and equality for black Mormons, the church has continued to contend with the legacy of previous policies, as well as the ongoing issues of racial diversity and representation. Many black Mormons have recounted their stories of marginalisation, tokenism, and cultural insensitivity in the largely white LDS community. The church has attempted to address these difficulties through programmes such as the “Be One” festival, which marked the 40th anniversary of the priesthood revelation, and the formation of the Genesis Group, a support group for black Mormons.

Current developments and future prospects:

In recent years, the LDS Church has attempted to confront its past and engage in more open discussions on race and inclusivity. Church officials have acknowledged the anguish and suffering caused by the prior priesthood prohibition, emphasising the value of unity, love, and equality among all members, regardless of race or ethnicity. The church has also made steps to improve diversity in its leadership by appointing black people to high-level posts within the church hierarchy.

However, the struggle towards full racial reconciliation and representation for blacks in Mormonism continues. While progress has been achieved, more effort remains to be done to address the long-term impacts of past prejudice, promote more cultural understanding, and create a truly inclusive and inviting environment for black Mormons. The church has the chance to set an example by displaying its commitment to racial equality and social justice both within its own community and around the world.

Scholars, activists, and members of the black Mormon community continue to hold critical discussions and advocate for racial fairness inside the LDS Church. By understanding the complexity of the past, embracing diversity, and striving towards a more inclusive future, Mormonism has the potential to be a powerful force for positive change as well as a model of reconciliation and togetherness.


Black history in Mormonism is a complex tapestry of exclusion, struggle, and ultimate progress towards greater inclusion and equality. From the founding of the LDS Church to the key moment of the 1978 priesthood revelation, black Mormons’ experiences have been affected by theological interpretations, societal prejudices, and the continuous struggle for civil rights and social justice.

As the LDS Church grapples with the legacy of its history and the challenges of the present, it has the chance to pave the road for racial healing, cultural understanding, and full inclusion of blacks in its religious community. Mormonism may become a beacon of hope and a monument to the transformational power of faith and togetherness if it engages in open and honest conversation, embraces diversity, and works towards a more just future.

The journey of blacks in Mormonism is far from over, but with the tireless efforts of dedicated individuals and the guidance of inspired leadership, the church can continue to progress towards a future in which all members, regardless of race, are fully welcomed, valued, and empowered to participate in the richness of Mormon religious life.

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