July 21, 2010

The Worthiness of Souls

Imagine being a fly on the wall in a bishop's office in 1977. A warm and friendly bishop sits across from a middle-aged, stereotypical member. The bishop interviews him for a temple recommend renewal (the questions have been abbreviated for space's sake, and modernized for familiarity's sake).

Bishop: "Brother Johnson, do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost?"

J: "Yes sir."

Bishop [after more questions]: "Do you sustain the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the prophet, seer, and revelator; and do you recognize him as the only person on the earth authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?"

J: "Absolutely!"

Bishop: "Do you sustain the other General Authorities and the local authorities of the Church?"

J: "I do."

[answers more questions satisfactorily]

Bishop: "Are you a full-tithe payer? Do you keep the Word of Wisdom? Do you consider yourself worthy in every way to enter the temple and participate in temple ordinances?"

[Brother Johnson answers each question in the affirmative.]

Bishop: "Marvelous. Well everything seems in order." [the bishop begins to sign the recommend and makes some small talk] "So what did you think of Sister Young's talk today?"

J: "On genealogy? I thought it was perfect timing. I had just completed a big chunk of my genealogical record."

Bishop: "Really? That's wonderful. I hope you're finding some interesting things [hands recommend over]."

J: "Yes. As a matter of fact, I was surprised to find that I actually have a great great great great grandfather who was a freed slave! Imagine that!"

Bishop [suddenly serious]: "Wait a moment. You mean he was African?"

J: "Well yeah. He was born on a plantation in Georgia, but was given his freedom after rescuing his master's wife from a wolf! Amazing story really. After that he moved out West where he met my great great great great grandmother, a Swedish immigrant."

Bishop: "I see. Well I'm afraid this changes everything."

J: "I'm sorry?"

Bishop: "Brother Johnson, I'm afraid I'll have to ask for your recommend" [Bishop tears it up and discards it].

J: "I don't understand."

Bishop: "Well, it turns out that you're not temple worthy. In fact, you've never been temple worthy. That African blood flowing through your veins disqualifies you from entering the temple, and I'm afraid that this nullifies your sealing to your wife and children."

J: "But I answered all of the questions honestly! I've done nothing out of accordance with Church teachings!"

Bishop: "I know, and I appreciate your efforts and honesty, but if I'd have known about the grandfather, I never would have let you enter the temple in the first place. In fact, you should probably try to forget everything you learned there. I apologize for the misunderstanding. Oh, but before you go, the Lord would like to extend another calling to you..."

Fictional? Yes. Unrealistic? Not at all;
  • Presidents and other authorities of the LDS church before 1978 stated that even one drop of African blood would make a person cursed concerning the priesthood (source).
  • Jane Manning James, the first documented African American pioneer, repeatedly petitioned the First Presidency to be allowed to enter the temple and have her children sealed to her, but her requests were denied each time even though she was worthy by every other standard. The only reason she was not allowed in the temple was the color of her skin (Embry, 1994).
D&C 18:10-11 states, "Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God; For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore He suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him." It seems, however, that every LDS prophet from Brigham Young up until Spencer W. Kimball (10 presidents of the Church) interpreted that scripture differently. They apparently were told by God that it meant "...He suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him, except for blacks. They cannot repent sufficiently to come as close as a white man unto him." How is it that some still claim this racism was due to "limited understanding" (e.g., McConkie, 1989, p. 165)?
  • Wilford Woodruff said, "I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty” (Official Declaration - 1).
  • Harold B. Lee (1968) said, “God will never permit him [the president of the Church] to lead us astray. As has been said, God would remove us [the leaders] out of our place if we should attempt to do it. You have no concern.”
According to these quotes, there is no validity to the argument that 10 prophets spoke with limited understanding when declaring that Africans were an inferior race. Either they spoke the truth, or they were not called by God. The answer seems clear to me. Why do so many members still offer these men the protection of their faith after such an obvious and grievous violation of Christ's teachings?


Embry, J. L. (1994). Black saints in a white church: Contemporary African American Mormons. Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

McConkie, M. L. (Ed., 1989). Doctrines of the restoration: Sermons & writings of Bruce R. McConkie. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft.

Lee, H. B. (1968, July 8). The place of the living prophet, seer, and revelator. Address delivered to seminary and institute faculty, Brigham Young University, p. 13.

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