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Black Mormon defends priesthood ban 33 years after it was lifted

Published June 9, 2011 11:55 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Keith N. Hamilton was not a Mormon 33 years ago today, when the LDS Church announced it was ending its ban on blacks being ordained to the priesthood.But the June 9, 1978, change was still pivotal in Hamilton's life.As a black man who joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in August 1980, Hamilton has wrestled for years with the legacy of the ban and been asked repeatedly how he could be a member of a church that others see as racist.Hamilton describes his answer in a new autobiography, Last Laborer: Thoughts and Reflections of a Black Mormon.Withholding the priesthood from blacks was part of God's unfolding plan, Hamilton writes, to bring Christ's gospel to different groups in a kind of progression — from Jew to Gentile to Americans, then Europeans, then finally to all the peoples of the world.The restriction was "no man-made policy, no quick-fix solution to mob threats, nor a policy instituted because some white LDS Church leader(s) had concerns about black-white relations," writes Hamilton, an attorney and former member of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. "It was done in the wisdom of God, in accordance with his wise purposes."Hamilton discusses the biblical parable in Matthew 20, which tells the story of workers in the field who started at different times, but were paid the same at the end of the day. He sees in it an analogy to black Mormons, whom he describes as coming into the church "at the eleventh hour" to add their efforts to those of other laborers."If blacks answer the Lord's call to labor," Hamilton concludes, "he will bless them in a manner equal to all who answer his call." To celebrate this day, two black Mormon women have posted a homage to Elijah Abel, first black LDS elder and seventy and one of the few black members in the early history of the church to receive the priesthood before the now-abandoned ban was fully implemented.Abel was baptized into the newly established church in September 1832, according to the site, sistasinzion.com, and ordained an elder four years later by Mormon founder Joseph Smith. In 1839, he was made a member of the Nauvoo [Ill.] Seventies Quorum.Abel served LDS missions in New York, Ohio and Canada, the sistas write. He worked as a carpenter in the building of three LDS temples — in Kirtland, Ohio; Nauvoo; and, after journeying to Utah in 1853, Salt Lake City."It has strengthened our testimonies to learn the the history of the pioneers of our faith," they write, "especially those of African decent."Peggy Fletcher Stack