Personal Reflections
on the 1978 Revelation:
All Are (Really) Alike Unto God
by Marcus Helvécio T. A. Martins, Ph.D.
Excerpted from video transcript
Aired BYU-Television, June 12, 2001

My wife and I have been honored many times with opportunities to address a number of audiences around the country, from coast to coast. In most of those occasions I was invited to speak on the ban that existed in the Church, whereby men of the black race could not be ordained to the priesthood until 1978.

I will refer to the scriptures and to latter-day prophets, with statements made by some of the witnesses of the 1978 revelation that extended the priesthood to all worthy men of the Church. I will also present a few personal insights on the subject. Finally, I will review a few prophetic insights on race relations and then address how to deal with past statements about the ban.

Today we have access to historical research done by a number of scholars. Great stories of faith, stories that will be source of inspirations for generations from now on. Experiences coming from Africa, the United States, Brazil, and I had of course, very close to me, my parents, great people of great faith. People who became members of the Church, even knowing that they would possibly never be allowed to receive the full benefits of their membership. We have the stories of those in Ghana, Nigeria, who begged for the Church to be among them. And when the Church could not be among them, they, some of them, started a Church of their own. They got literature, and they held meetings, they did it themselves. How could anybody say that those individuals were not ready? We can say nothing about who was ready and who was not.

If I may share a personal story with you... When my parents and I were baptized, I was thirteen years old. When I was sixteen my father instructed me to learn how to perform the ordinances that a priest in the Aaronic priesthood would have the right and the authority to do. Learn how to baptize people, learn how to administer the sacrament, learn how to ordain other priests. And of course, I being sixteen years old, told my father, "But why? I'm not going to be ordained a priest. Why should I do that?" And he said, "Well, just because you are sixteen years old, and that's what's expected of sixteen-year-olds in the Church. If you were ordained to the priesthood, you would be a priest now. But because you're not, doesn't mean you're not going to do as much as you can without the priesthood."

So, I undertook the task of learning those ordinances. When I turned eighteen, my father told me the same thing. Learn how to confirm people members of the Church, learn how to administer the ordinances of the Melchizedek priesthood, learn how to administer to the sick. And I did that, and about a year later, when the revelation extending the priesthood came, I was ready. Because of the faith of my father, I was ready.

Why Was There a Priesthood Ban?

Why then, was there a priesthood ban? And for that my friends, I will take you to the official statement of the Church, which has always been the official statement of the Church. In 1969 the First Presidency headed by President David O. McKay clarified: "... [For] reasons which we believe are known to God, but which he has not made fully known to man." (Church News, 15 December 1969)

Why was there a priesthood ban? We don't know. The Lord never explained. I understand that this may be insufficient to some people. However, let me share my testimony on that. There was a time, years ago, when I used to think: "One day, I will be in the presence of the Lord and I will ask him why."

But now, time and experience in the kingdom of God have taught me otherwise. Through the power of the Holy Ghost I have felt his love for me many times. And when I consider that Heavenly Father gave his Only Begotten Son to suffer infinite agony and pain for me ... I don't dare to ask anything other than "Thy will be done, my Lord, my God." That's how I honestly feel about this.

Dealing With Statements from the Past

The next question might be: What should I do when somebody tells me this-or-that about what the Church supposedly believes in regards to races, etc.? Let me preface my response by stressing that because of our belief in continuous revelation, certain statements are time sensitive. Besides, one has to be careful with the problem of misquotations and misinterpretations disguised as official pronouncements by Church leaders.

So, how do we deal with the statements made in the distant past about the priesthood ban? Here's what Elder Bruce R. McConkie suggested in 1978, a few weeks after the revelation was received:
"Forget everything that I have said, or that President Brigham Young or ... whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world."
("All Are Alike Unto God," in Charge to Religious Educators,1982, pp.152-155)
I think this was a tremendously courageous statement. I admired that great man and apostle of the Lord. After I read this statement that he made to an audience of Church educators, I admired him even more. We have a second witness dealing with incorrect ideas of old.

In 1988 Elder Dallin H. Oaks, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, gave an interview to the Associated Press. And this is what he said in the interview:
"... It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we're on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that. ... The lesson I've drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it...

"... I'm referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking. ... "Let's [not] make the mistake that's been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that's where safety lies."
(Interview to the Associated Press, in Daily Herald, Provo, Utah, June 5, 1988)
Let's not try to develop reasons. Yes, there was a priesthood ban, but that's all there was. Let's not try to perpetuate the man-made explanations of the past or attempt explanations, because those cannot explain anything. I would invite those who are even passing around speculation to stop doing that. I would invite authors, to revise their works. I would ask publishers to refuse to publish any work that contains these kind of statements. I know this may be quite difficult, given the number of books that we have around. But isn't it worth it to have the truth instead of speculation? We have a worldwide Church; this is the kingdom of God on the earth. Isn't the salvation and the spiritual welfare of millions of current Church members worth the effort? And think of the generations yet unborn.

Public Witnesses of the Revelation

Let's talk more about this great revelation that was received in 1978. We have two remarkable public statements made by witnesses to the revelation. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said the following:
"... [When] President Kimball finished his prayer, the Lord gave a revelation by the power of the Holy Ghost. ... On this occasion ... the Lord ... poured out the Holy Ghost in a miraculous and marvelous manner, beyond anything any then present had ever experienced. ...

"The revelation came to the President of the Church; it also came to each individual present. There were ten members of the Council of the Twelve and three of the First Presidency there assembled."
("All Are Alike Unto God," in Charge to Religious Educators (1982), pp.152-155)
Very interesting that this revelation that extended the priesthood to all worthy males was received by 13 prophets, seers, and revelators. It was not just President Spencer W. Kimball receiving the revelation and asking his councilors and the Twelve Apostles to concur. Not so. All of them, with the exception of two-one who was out of town and another who was at the hospital. So all 13 prophets, seers, and revelators received the same revelation at the same time. Elder David B. Haight in a General Conference address in 1996 said the following:
"... I was in the temple when President Spencer W. Kimball received the revelation regarding the priesthood. I was the junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve. I was there. ...

"I was there with the outpouring of the Spirit in that room so strong that none of us could speak afterward. We just left quietly to go back to the office. No one could say anything because of the powerful outpouring of the heavenly spiritual experience."
(Conference Report, April 1996; Ensign, May 1996, p.23)
So while we don't know why there was a priesthood ban, we do know that the ban ended when the Lord himself gave a powerful revelation to his living prophets. And notice I told you before that Presidents McKay and Lee leaned towards lifting the ban, but the Lord told them not yet. This was not a decision to be made by mortals. And I believe in the testimony of those men. They were prophets of God; I have no reason to question or doubt them. I do not question their experiences. So whatever the reason for the ban, it remains with the Lord himself. And I have a testimony that this is the Lord's Church.

A Few Personal Insights

A few individuals have asked me: "Was it hard to not hold the priesthood?" or "How could you be a member of this Church without the priesthood?" I answer that in my heart and in my mind I had found the words of eternal life taught by true living prophets and apostles. My parents and I had nowhere else to go.

I began my presentation with the title "All are (Really) Alike unto God." What then can we say about ourselves as a people, as a very diverse people, coming form all corners of the earth? Let's go to the Book of Mormon and the book of Second Nephi. In the first one, Nephi said the following:
"... Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. ... and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; ... and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; ... and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile."
(2 Nephi 26:24,33)
From time to time I have had students come into my offices - and this when I taught at BYU Provo, at Ricks College, and now at BYU-Hawaii - I always have students come to me and ask me the question, "Is it true that people of the black race will not go to the celestial kingdom?" The first time I heard that I was aghast, I said, "Where in the world did you get that idea?" The idea behind this question is simply preposterous, because it denies the blessings of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Once again, remember the words of Nephi: "... He denieth none that come unto him black and white, bond and free, male and female." (2 Nephi 26:33)

I'm giving you another personal insight here, just another personal reflection of my own, and I'm entirely responsible for it. If someone, anyone out there does not feel comfortable with the idea of seeing me in the celestial kingdom, if I ever make it to that place - and I am striving the best that I can - but if somebody doesn't feel comfortable with the idea of being with me in the celestial kingdom, this person may look for another kingdom of glory for him or herself. Because "the keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel and he employeth no servant there." Imperfect mortal hands cannot try to close the heavenly gates without keeping themselves on the outside.

Prophetic Insights

Before we conclude, let's consider additional prophetic insight on the subject from a joint-statement issued by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve:
"It is morally wrong for any person or group to deny anyone his or her inalienable dignity on the tragic and abhorrent theory of racial or cultural superiority."
(Quoted in Conference Report, April 1994, p.93; Originally published in the Church News, 24 October 1992, p.4)
Brothers and sisters, we have living prophets. We have more light and knowledge today than we did in 1900 or in 1920 or in 1950. We have become a little bit wiser as a people, and we are now striving to become a little gentler, a little bit more Christ-like.

There is no reason to put anybody down, there's no reason to reject anyone. We can come together as one people, as one Zion. Let's teach others that it is wrong to put down our brothers and sisters, that no matter what one looks like, what nationality, what language we speak, no matter how much money we make, no matter what walk of life we belong to, we are all children of the same God.

Remember in the Pearl of Great Price, the experience that Enoch had when he saw the Lord shedding tears of divine sorrow over the condition of the world (Moses 7:28-29,33-40), a beautiful passage. I am sure the Lord still weeps when he sees the disparities and the lack of love that exist in the world. All over the world we see conflicts and clashes, and all those issues can be resolved if we all acknowledge that we are children of the same God, that we are all heirs of divine potential, of divine qualities, of divine attributes.

And I believe that as we look at each other and, no matter what we look like, seeing in each other the likeness and image of God, as we do that we will really come unto Christ, coming to a state of being like Christ. That's my personal understanding of the expression "coming unto Christ."

(edited by David Van Alstyne)

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