On June 9, 1978, the world changed for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with African ancestry. The First Presidency announced a revelation that allowed these church members to become equal citizens in the church. They could enter the temple. Black men could be able to hold the priesthood. The stigma of being excluded would be lifted from them.
Granted, since then, the stigma has been erased slowly. There are still members who believe that Blacks were less faithful in the mortal pre-existence and that a curse was placed on them because of that unfaithfulness. Racism has not been eliminated from the church. However, 1978 was the beginning of the end of that racism.
Equality of citizenship in the church did not exist prior to 1978. The few Black members in the church were subject to racist comments, misunderstanding and insensitivity even among more progressive members. Many felt they did not belong. Many went inactive, not because they lost faith but because they found it difficult to remain active under such circumstances.
Had that revelation not occurred, the following never would have happened: Hundreds of thousands of members, all Black, would not have joined the church in Africa, resulting in the creation of a multitude of missions and stakes throughout the continent. Temples would not have been constructed there. Nor would the church have grown in Brazil, a multi-racial society, where sorting out who had Negro blood and therefore was excluded from the priesthood, would have been both fruitless and deeply offensive. Plus, thousands of African Americans would not have joined the church, as missionaries would not have taught them, but would have avoided them as occurred prior to 1978.
The church was at crossroads in 1978. Continue a racist, exclusionary policy that was increasingly offensive to people across the globe or end the policy and welcome Blacks into the church. There is no doubt that the right choice was made — the one the Lord approved of.
Today, the church again is at a crossroads. The members who are discriminated against in this case are not Black; they are gay. Gay members face misunderstanding and insensitivity, if not outright hostility, from other members. They can enter the temple, but they cannot marry there. They are accepted in the church as partial human beings — those parts that conform to heterosexuality.
Not surprisingly, many gay members within the church are doing what many of their Black predecessors did prior to 1978 – they are leaving the church. This time, however, in many cases they are taking friends and family members with them. They may not have lost their testimonies. Rather, they simply feel uncomfortable in a church where they are told they are welcome, but really are second-class citizens.
Elder Neil Anderson remarked that “revelation is scattered among us.” Is that occurring today? Is it possible there are members who already have seen a change occurring that will remove the stigma as well as the restrictions on our LGBT brothers and sisters?
Are there members altering their views about homosexual behavior and accepting that sexuality is as much a part of the life of someone who is gay as someone who is not?
The change that occurred in 1978 paved the way for dramatic growth in the church. Many faithful Black members have joined (or become active again) because they are no longer considered second-class citizens.
A similar change in the attitudes and policies regarding gay members undoubtedly will do the same. It also will mean that many people will remain in the church who would have left, and others will join the church who never would have done so. It will mean that a spirit of acceptance of others will be fostered in the church rather than wariness and misunderstanding.
The 1978 revelation helped build the kingdom. Is it possible this new revelation among us already is doing the same?
Will Paul’s admonition describe our gay members? “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God.”
Richard Davis, Orem, is the author of “The Liberal Soul: Applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Politics.”