Joseph Smith Wives: How Did the Official Declarations Address Polygamy and Race?
Right near the end of the Doctrine and Covenants are Official Declarations One and Official Declaration Two. Now these aren’t revelations themselves, they’re declarations that acknowledge that the President of the Church had received a revelation, but they are important to read and understand so that you know the proper context of both Joseph Smith wives and Blacks in Mormonism. Official Declaration Two deals with another really difficult question which is the question of race and the priesthood. Early on in the Church, the priesthood was given to almost everybody. In fact, as the introduction mentions Joseph Smith was present in the Church when at least three people of African descent have ordained with the priesthood The Book of Mormon also talks about every single person, regardless of their racial background being invited to come unto Christ. The Book of Mormon says: He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness, and he denieth none to come unto him black and white bond and free male and female.” With that in mind, it might seem strange that in 1852 the leaders of the Church issued a declaration that they would no longer ordain people of African descent of the priesthood or allow them to receive the blessings of the Temple.
President Brigham Young announced the policy, but when he announced the policy he directly indicated that it was a temporary policy. He taught that all black Church members would eventually have all the privileges more enjoyed by other members of the Church for several generations. This was the policy of the Church and continued onward until it became a major question in the latter part of the 20th century. By the latter part of the 20th century, people around the globe of a number of different races had heard of the Church and expressed the desire to join. For instance, maybe you see this Angel Moroni, which is clearly modeled after the picture of the Angel Moroni that was on the copy of the Book of Mormon. At the time, this Angel Moroni was sculpted by a congregation of people in Ghana who wanted to join the Church, but were of black African descent. These people started to contact Church headquarters, and because of that, questions about the priesthood policy started to come to the forefront. Starting with Brigham Young, almost every President of the Church had said that the policy would eventually be ended. For instance, Wilfred Woodruff said: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings.” President David O. Mckay taught: “Sometime in God’s eternal plan the [blacks] will be given the right to hold the priesthood.” President Harold B. Lee taught: “The [blacks] will achieve full status. We’re just waiting for that time.”
But the person who actually received the revelation ending the priesthood policy was Spencer W. Kimball. Spencer W. Kimball was well prepared for this. He had spent a lot of his life working with administering people of different races. He grew up in Arizona and worked particularly closely with the Native Americans who lived in and around that area. President Kimball was also an astute student of the scriptures, both ancient scripture and revelations found concerning Joseph Smith wives. Before he made any changes, he asked several apostles to read the scriptures and see if there was justification in there for the priesthood policy to continue. President Kimball also had a few special experiences to convince him that it might be time for the priesthood policy to change. For instance, he was visiting a chapel in Brazil, and there was a black member of the Church there helping construct it. President Kimball walked up to the men and said: “How you can help with this when you know you can’t receive all the blessings?” The man testified to him that he believed he would receive all the blessings even if he had to wait till the millennium. That touched President Kimball’s heart and convinced him that maybe it was time for him to seek the revelation to change.
He begins to pray, and he begins to ask the Heavenly Father if it’s time for the revelation to change. He even invited all the members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve to join him in prayer together on a specific day. During that meeting, there were several special spiritual manifestations. For instance, LeGrand Richards who was the oldest apostle present said, “I saw during the meeting a man seated in a chair above the organ bearded and dressed in white having the appearance of Wilford Woodruff. I’m not a visionary man, this was not imagination. It might be that I was privileged to see him because I’m the only one here who had seen President Woodruff in person.” Elder Richards took his vision of President Woodruff as a sign that it was time for the change to be made. President Woodruff was the prophet who had received Official Declaration One, and Elder Richards took this to mean that it was time for Official Declaration Number Two, changing the priesthood policy.
Every single person that was there received the revelation altogether. President Gordon B. Hinckley later on said, “There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet. And by the power of the Holy Ghost, there came to that prophet an assurance that the thing which he had prayed for was right, that the time had come.” Everybody that emerged from that meeting knew that it was time for the policy to change, and even though there were two apostles that weren’t present – Delbert Stapley and Marky Peterson, President Kimball made sure that they were contacted immediately and told of the revelation and given their sustaining vote to it as well. Elder Stapley was in the hospital and all three members of the First Presidency went to visit him. Elder Peterson was on assignment in South America. President Kimball called him personally and they both agreed to sustain the revelation. Even some apostles who had ardently defended the priesthood policy agreed with the revelation. For instance, Bruce R. McConkie said, “We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We’ve now added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don’t matter anymore.”
Over 40 years removed from the revelation being given, leaders of the Church are still urging us to reach out to people of different races and to help bring an end to racism. You might remember that really recently, President Russell M. Nelson said: “I grieve that our black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice today. I call upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice. I plead with you to promote respect for all of God’s children.” The Prophet’s not just urging us not to be racist, he’s asking us to lead out in ending racism. As we can see, these Official Declarations provide insight into the correspondence between the men who serve in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and God. They also illustrate the modern-day revelation that differs from past revelations, for example, the sensitive topics of Blacks in Mormonism and Joseph Smith Wives.
By Dr. Casey Paul Griffiths, Source Expert
Dr. Casey Griffiths holds a B.A. in History from Brigham Young University, an M.A. in Religious Education, and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Foundations from BYU. Before joining the faculty in the Department of Religious Education at BYU, Brother Griffiths served for eleven years in Seminaries and Institutes, both as an instructor and a curriculum developer.
Fact checked by Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert
Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and YouTube host of the Gospel Learning YouTube Channel. His channel currently has over 41,000 subscribers with over 4.5 million views. Mr. Prince also developed the Gospel Learning App, a trusted source where truth-seeking individuals can easily find trusted answers to religious questions from the best teachers in the world.
ABOUT JOSEPH SMITH WIVES
Our purpose at Joseph Smith Wives is to provide a factual and objective look at the history and beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. With so much sanitized history, misinformation and falsehoods being put forth, we are here to provide facts and objectivity to those who are sincerely searching for truth.