What we DO know about the 1978 “Revelation”

Posted: August 19, 2013 in Jim Huston, Mormon Studies
Tags: , ,

The “1978 Revelation on Priesthood” reversed a long-standing policy excluding men of black African descent from the priesthood. The following is the summary overview for that revelation (formally known as  Official Declaration 2 and informally as “OD-2”) as it currently appears in the LDS Scripture known as “Doctrine & Covenants“: 

“The Book of Mormon teaches that “all are alike unto God,” including “black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33). Throughout the history of the Church, people of every race and ethnicity in many countries have been baptized and have lived as faithful members of the Church. During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance. The revelation came to Church President Spencer W. Kimball and was affirmed to other Church leaders in the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race that once applied to the priesthood.”

In 2006 Jim Huston explored the historical context of Official Declaration 2 and offered the following summation and analysis. 

Hugh B. Brown

Hugh B. Brown

by Jim Huston
In 1969 Hugh B. Brown actively lobbied to allow blacks to receive the priesthood. This was supported by a majority of the apostles. They formed a “special committee was to report on the Negro situation”. The change was approved while Harold B. Lee was absent. Upon his return he rejected the decision and persuaded the quorum to rescind the vote. The reaffirmation of the restriction was a collaborative effort of Neal A. Maxwell, Gordon B. Hinckley and G. Homer Durham.
(see Michael D. Quinn – Mormon Hierarchy Extensions of Power p. 14)

Spencer W. Kimball and Official Declaration 2
For decades Spencer W. Kimball had been troubled about this race restriction. (ibid p. 15) . At the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the São Paulo Brazil Brazilian Temple on March 9th, 1977, Kimball privately told Brazilian General Authority Helvécio Martins to prepare himself to receive the priesthood. He pointedly asked if Martins “understood the implications of what President Kimball had said”.(ibid p.16)

On March 23rd, 1978 he began discussing the matter with his counselors. Kimball met privately with individual apostles who expressed their “individual thoughts” about his suggested end to the priesthood ban. (ibid)

After discussing this in several temple meetings and private discussions, Kimball wrote a statement…. And presented it to his counselors on May 30th, 1978. He then asked his counselors and apostles to “fast and pray”……at their temple meeting on 1 June. At the temple council that day “the feeling was unanimous”…. (ibid)

On June 7th, 1978 Kimball informed his counselors that “through inspiration he had decided to lift the restrictions on priesthood.” In the meantime he had asked three apostles (including Boyd K Packer) to prepare “suggested wording for the public announcement of the decision. (ibid)

LeGrand RIchards, left, Thomas S. Monson, center, and David Lawrence McKay, right in 1968

LeGrand RIchards, left, Thomas S. Monson, center, and David Lawrence McKay, right in 1968

A letter written to LeGrand Richards dated September 11th, 1978 corroborates this reason. Chris Vlachos wrote to LeGrand Richards to confirm the content of explanations he had been given in an August 16th, 1978 interview with him concerning the revelation. LeGrand Richards acknowledged the letter and in part said, “It wouldn’t please me if you were using the information I gave you when you were here in my office for public purposes. I gave it to you for your own information, and that is where I would like to see it remain.” (emphasis added)

Here is an excerpt from the letter LeGrand Richards was confirming:
“One of the most interesting items which you mentioned was that the whole situation was basically provoked by the Brazilian temple—that is, the Mormon Church has had a great difficulty obtaining Priesthood leadership among the South American membership; and now with this new temple, a large proportion of those who have contributed money and work to build it would not be able to use it unless the Church changed its stand with regard to giving the Priesthood to Blacks.

I believe that you also mentioned President Kimball as having called each of the Twelve Apostles individually into his office to hear their personal feelings with regard to this issue. While President Kimball was basically in favor of giving the Priesthood to Blacks, didn’t he ask each of you to prepare some references for and against the proposal as found in the scriptures? ”
(quotes taken from photostatic copies of the letters found in Sharon I. Banister’s “For Any Latter-day Saint…”; also see http://www.emfj.net/Interview%20With%20LeGrand%20Richards.pdf )

Spencer W. Kimball

Spencer W. Kimball

Money, politics and temples
The decision was monetary without a doubt. It was also very political. The Mormon Church could easily lose face. The Mormon Church had spent over 50 million dollars on a complex in what was one of the countries producing the most baptisms. It was the new South American distribution center for all materials. It was also the new regional church offices.

The Mormon Church views temples as profit centers. When a temple is built, they have an identifiable increase in all revenue from the area, and specifically tithing.
(see Richard and Joan Ostling,  “Mormon America”; Nook edition, position 1010.6/1200)

There were not enough people with verified ancestry to run the temple, let alone be patrons. Even with the change, missionaries were taken from the field and trained as temple officiators and veil workers to man the temple for the first month it was open.

As far as dates, the revelation was made June 1978 and the temple dedication was October 1978. Initial training of workers was held in September. Very tight time frames by LDS Church standards.

Then there is the issue of the tax exempt status. First you must understand that educational nonprofits are treated differently than religious nonprofits.

Here is an explanation of how religious nonprofits are treated
In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) grants non-profit status to churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and other religious organizations. This is of tremendous financial benefit. Meanwhile, clergy and other employees are guaranteed free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They are free to voice their opinions and beliefs, and advocate changes to legislation. They can attack women’s freedom to obtain an abortion. They can advocate that special rights be reserved for heterosexuals, and not extended to gays and lesbians, including the right to marry. Christian Identity, neo-Nazi groups, and everyone else are free to engage in hate speech against women, racial minorities, sexual minorities, immigrants, and other groups.

A pastor in Texas recently called on the U.S. Army to round up and execute area Wiccans with napalm. The tax exempt status of his church was not threatened. Religious groups can promote a stand on other similar “hot” religious topics, from spanking children to the death penalty and physician assisted suicide. They are even allowed by the IRS to contribute small amounts of money and resources to the fight for changes in legislation. In the words of the IRS regulations: “no substantial part of (church) activities (may consist of) carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation.” Unfortunately, the term “substantial” is not defined precisely in the service’s regulations.
(see http://www.religioustolerance.org/chu_poli.htm )

São Paulo Brazil LDS Temple

São Paulo Brazil LDS Temple

The IRS and racially discriminatory private schools
The IRS was putting pressure on private schools to stop discrimination via the precedents established in the  trials that were ultimately settled in the Bob Jones University vs. United States Supreme Court ruling. These rulings would directly affect Brigham Young University (aka “BYU”), Ricks College (now known as “Brigham Young University – Idaho), Church College of Hawaii (aka, “CCH”, now known as Brigham Young University – Hawaii) and other U.S. Mormon owned schools. These schools are organized under separate nonprofit corporations which are owned by the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As you can see from the following excerpts from case documents the Bob Jones University case was directed at educational nonprofits. This would have affected the LDS Church, but not the core corporation.

On January 12th, 1970, a three-judge District Court for the District of Columbia issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the IRS from according tax-exempt status to private schools in Mississippi that discriminated as to admissions on the basis of race. Green v. Kennedy, 309 F. Supp. 1127, appeal dism’d sub nom. Cannon v. Green, 398 U.S. 956 (1970). Thereafter, in July 1970, the IRS concluded that it could “no longer legally justify allowing tax-exempt status [under 501(c)(3)] to private schools which practice racial discrimination.” IRS News Release, July 7th, 1970, reprinted in App. in No. 81-3, p. A235. At the same time, the IRS announced that it could not “treat gifts to such schools as charitable deductions for income tax purposes [under 170].” (ibid). By letter dated November 30, 1970, the IRS formally notified private schools, including those involved in this litigation, of this change in policy, “applicable to all private schools in the United States at all levels of education. (emphasis added) ” See id., at A232.

BYU, Ricks College and CCH probably received this letter.


Brazilian, Helvécio Martins, the first person of Black African descent to be called as an LDS general authority, with his wife Rudá.

How 1970’s tax law changes effected private schools
On June 30th, 1971, the three-judge District Court issued its opinion on the merits of the Mississippi challenge. Green v. Connally, 330 F. Supp. 1150, summarily aff’d sub nom. Coit v. Green, 404 U.S. 997 (1971). That court approved the IRS’s amended construction of the Tax Code. The court also held that racially discriminatory private schools were not entitled to exemption under 501(c)(3) and that donors were not entitled to deductions for contributions to such schools under 170. The court permanently enjoined the Commissioner of [461 U.S. 574, 579] Internal Revenue from approving tax-exempt status for any school in Mississippi that did not publicly maintain a policy of nondiscrimination.

The IRS’s 1970 interpretation of 501(c)(3) was correct. It would be wholly incompatible with the concepts underlying tax exemption to grant tax-exempt status to racially discriminatory private educational entities. Whatever may be the rationale for such private schools’ policies, racial discrimination in education is contrary to public policy. Racially discriminatory educational institutions cannot be viewed as conferring a public benefit within the above “charitable” concept or within the congressional intent underlying 501(c)(3). (pp. 592-596).

The Government’s fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating racial discrimination in education substantially outweighs whatever burden denial of tax benefits places on petitioners’ exercise of their religious beliefs. Petitioners’ asserted interests cannot be accommodated with that compelling governmental interest, and no less restrictive means are available to achieve the governmental interest (pp. 602-604).
(see http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=461&invol=574 )

It’s interesting to note that the Latter-day Saint Solicitor General of the United States, Rex Lee recused himself from Bob Jones University vs. United States. When asked why he took himself off the case, Mr. Lee explained that previously when representing the Mormon Church in a similar case, he had argued that the Church should retain its tax-exempt status despite its racist policies and felt conflicted in arguing an opposing view in the Bob Jones case. He had also been the dean of the BYU Law School (from 1971-1975) which was one of the schools that would have been affected by the Bob Jones decision. That also would have been a reason to recuse himself.
(see Lincoln Caplan, “The Tenth Justice: The Solicitor General and the Rule of Law”, p. 51, note 2)[1]

Later in 1986-87 Rex Lee did argue for the Mormon Church in the Corporation of Presiding Bishop v. Amos 483 U.S. 327 (1987) case in which he asserted that discrimination based on religious belief should be permissible in certain cases and under certain circumstances. He did so while he was George Sutherland Chair of Law at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School – apparently he did not feel this was a conflict.

The Corporation Sole
Corporate Sole
is the safest legal entity for a racist 501(c)(3) group to organize and register itself under. Here are a couple of groups that are registered Corporate Soles in the state of Washington and receiving federal tax exempt status. The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints is a Corporate Sole.

Harrie A. Schmidt Jr., state chairman of the Populist Party, which is run nationally by Ku Klux Klan leader Kim Badynski.

Glen Stoll, a Populist Party member who also is involved in the Embassy of Heaven, an anti-government religious organization based in Sublimity, Ore. Stoll was the leader of the Liaison Group, which called for militia members across the Northwest to assist Whatcom County constitutionalist Donald Ellwanger in a 1995 standoff with the IRS.

Brigham Young University

Brigham Young University

Doyal Gudgel, also active in the Liaison Group, but best known for organizing events in Seattle for David Irving, a British man who denies the Holocaust happened.

Despite huge holes in the secretary of state’s database, Lunsford was able to spot about 50 corporation soles associated with white supremacists, militiamen, constitutionalists or people who deny the Holocaust. He discovered some supporters of the Christian Identity, anti-government group Posse Comitatus had set up “soles” as early as 1979.
(see http://www.skeptictank.org/corpsoul.htm )

These are nonprofits registered for religious purposes
The Creativity Movement (TCM) is a non-Christian, non-profit, religious organization, with their head office in Illinois. Creativity, based on the eternal laws of nature. Their prime objective is: “The survival, expansion and advancement of the white race.”

They regard themselves as being motivated by a love for the white race. This implies extreme hatred of non-white races. They are overwhelmingly hate-filled towards Jews, African-Americans, and other non-whites. They hate homosexual behavior. However their concern in this area appears to be muted in comparison to other white-supremacist organizations.

The Heritage Preservation Association (HPA) is a nonprofit membership group whose purpose is to “fight political correctness and cultural bigotry against the South.” To that end, the HPA declared “Total War” last January on those who allegedly attack Southern heritage, focusing especially on the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference because of those groups’ opposition to the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina. Over the last three years, the HPA has worked closely with the white supremacist League of the South to stage pro-Confederate flag rallies and similar events, and in 1999 HPA President P. Charles Lunsford joined the League.

The NAAWP, like David Duke, has tried to hide its hate, but its racist and anti-Semitic views, like those of its founder, are evident. NAAWP News, the group’s newsletter, has regularly published articles with titles like “Anti-Semitism is normal for people seeking to control their own destiny”; “Jewish control of the media is the single most dangerous threat to Christianity,” and “Why most Negroes are criminals.”

Misleading half truths
Therefore,  the LDS Church’s insistence that Official Declaration-2 wasn’t due to a threat of losing it’s tax exempt status is true since a group can clearly be racist yet legally remain exempt from paying taxes. However, these denials are also consistent with its history of misleading the public with half truths.

An example of this occurred in March 2001 when Salt Lake City resident Kathy Erickson sent the following letter to The Salt Lake Tribune stating that the U.S. Government threatened to withdraw the Church’s tax-exempt status if it did not give the Priesthood to black males:
“What’s done is done. There no longer is any prejudice against blacks in the Mormon church, the power of money took care of that. Back in 1978 the federal government informed the LDS Church that unless it allowed blacks full membership (including the priesthood) they would have to cease calling themselves a non-profit organization and start paying income taxes. On $16.5 million a day in tithing alone that’s a lot of tax monies that could be better used in building up the Kingdom of God.

The church immediately saw the error of its ways and the brethren appealed to God for a revelation; it came quickly. God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform, and today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has nothing but love for all races of people on Earth.”
(Kathy Erickson, “Gainful Revelation”, Salt Lake Tribune, March 11, 2001, p.AA2, Opinion Section

Brigham Young University - Hawaii

Brigham Young University – Hawaii

The April 5th response by LDS spokesman Bruce L. Olsen addressed the Church as a religious organization yet failed to acknowledge the related issue of how a failure to announce and implement Official Declaration 2 would have affected its church owned schools:
”It’s one thing to distort history, quite another to invent it. Kathy Erickson . . . claims that the federal government threatened the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with its tax-exempt status in 1978 because of the Church’s position regarding Blacks and the priesthood.

We state categorically that the federal government made no such threat in 1978 or at any other time. The decision to extend the blessings of the priesthood to all worthy males had nothing to do with federal tax policy or any other secular law.”
(Bruce L. Olsen, “Distorted History”, Salt Lake Tribuine, April 5, 2001, p.A24, Opinion Section; also see http://LDS-mormon.com/taxes_priesthood.shtml )

Summary and conclusion
Indeed, it’s true that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not directly threatened directly by the changes in tax law during the 1970’s but their wholly owned schools were. The financial ramifications in conjunction with the possible political embarrassment made for an untenable situation – one that I wonder if was engineered in part by Spencer W. Kimball. He was a supporter of the change in 1969. Building the temple in Brazil may have been his way of forcing the issue.

[1] From Lincoln Caplan’s book, “The Tenth Justice: The Solicitor General and the Rule of Law”
”Rex Lee . . . who had been sworn in as Solicitor General seven months before [the Bob Jones brief was filed in 1982, had once represented the Mormon Church when it faced a problem like Bob Jones’s and, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, he had taken himself off the case.”
(p. 50)

“In 1970, the Internal Revenue Service ruled that Bob Jones no longer qualified for tax-exempt status because of [its] segregationist policy, so the school changed it. Blacks could be accepted if they were married to other Blacks, or if they promised not to date or marry outside their race . . .

By the time of the Supreme Court case, a decade later, the number of Blacks attending the school was less than a dozen, making the ratio of Whites to Blacks about 550 to one. From the vantage point of the Solicitor General’s office, the legal issue in the Bob Jones case was routine. It was a tax question.” 
(p. 53)

This article was originally published on the author’s website on April 29, 2006 and has reappeared on the internet and elsewhere in various forms and venues in the ensuing years. This edition of the article has been edited and expanded on by the editors of Beggar’s Bread in order to increase clarity for a broad, general audience.  Beggar’s Bread wishes to express its appreciation to the author for his hard work and generosity in making this important information available for this and all future generations in the interest of a full and complete historical record.

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