‘Mormon Land’: Black priesthood ban didn’t come from God or Joseph Smith

In his new book, Latter-day Saint historian W. Paul Reeve spells out how Brigham Young, in blunt and bigoted language, instituted a racist policy that lasted for more than a century.

In 1833, a leading Latter-day Saint, William W. Phelps, published a column under the headline “Free People of Color,” making it clear that, since its founding three years earlier, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints exercised no racial barriers.

Black members were not only welcome in the fledgling faith but also eligible for all of its rites and privileges.

(Tribune archives) Early Latter-day Saint Black convert Elijah Able, sometimes spelled Abel, was ordained to the priesthood in the faith's early years.

It was a stance that did not sit well with many Missourians at the time and with the racist views scarring much of America in those pre-Civil War days. It’s also a position that did not last inside the church itself.

The faith’s second prophet-president, Brigham Young, eventually departed from the ways of founder Joseph Smith and instituted a ban barring Black Latter-day Saints from priesthood ordinations and temple ordinances.

That prohibition endured for nearly 130 years, a racist stain that the global faith and its members grapple with to this day.

(University of Utah) Historian W. Paul Reeve, author of the newly released book, "Let's Talk About Race and Priesthood."

In his new book, “Let’s Talk About Race and Priesthood,” from church-owned Deseret Book, Latter-day Saint scholar W. Paul Reeve, head of Mormon studies at the University of Utah, relies on historical records and scriptural passages to examine how and why the Utah-based church shifted from an inclusive approach on race to a restricted one and, ultimately, back to its original universalist theology.

In this week’s show, Reeve, who flatly states that he doesn’t believe the former priesthood/temple ban was of “divine origin,” discusses the faith’s evolution on this sensitive topic and the challenges that still lie ahead.

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