In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to contribute a small piece on the reaction to the LDS revelation on race and priesthood, Official Declaration 2 (ODII). ODII was released by President Spencer W. Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner, and Marion G. Romney, and reads in part:
“The long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.”
The press release clearly addresses the impact it would have on worthy men in the LDS Church; they could now hold the Priesthood. The revelation only makes a small reference to the lasting impact of the revelation for women and children;they now could participate in the ordinances and covenants associated with the temple (the endowment and sealing ordinances require a Melchizedek priesthood bearer). The impact on women and children is often forgot in modern Mormon discourse (Edward Kimball’s article excepted–those who haven’t read it should read it TODAY), and they are not specifically addressed in the canonized Official Declaration.
I have personally found the lack of conversation around women, children and ODII to be exceptionally frustrating. The impact on hundreds, if not thousands, of lives has largely been underrepresented in Mormon discourse for the past 35 years. My frustration at the lack of coverage on reactions to ODII led me to BYU’s student newspaper (The Daily Universe). Following ODII’s release, I was thrilled to find reactions to the ordinances of the temple being extended to all.
The power of these reactions is difficult to convey without a sense for the importance that Mormonism places on marriage and family, particularly families that have been married or “sealed” in the temple. In short, Mormonism’s belief that families can live with God forever with their families, can only be realized if families have been sealed to one another in an LDS temple. With that in mind, here are the reactions of African Americans who were interviewed by Daily Universe reporters in a special edition of the paper. Only reactions concerning temple ordinances are included here:
Debbie Hall, an elementary education staff member from Seattle, Wash., said a good friend of hers, who is black, is a member of the church and married a white girl. “It’s going to be neat to see them go through the temple,” she said. “I think it will bring more Caucasians into the church who have had problems with the policy,” she added.
Robert L. Stevenson, an African American member of the LDS Church said “he was excited about the opportunity” he will have to “do proxy endowment work in have temple” as this makes his “genealogy work even more exciting.” He made sure to express his convictions about the truth of the LDS Church before the revelation had been announced. Interestingly he casually mentions that President Boyd K. Packer called him personally to tell him the news.
Marilyn Y. Smith, who is identified as a “Negro” by the Daily Universe, was the sole woman interviewed about ODII. She reported having “a good cry” after the revelation. Interestingly, she also said, “My first thought was for my child. When he is 12 years old, he can hold the priesthood and be ordained a deacon. Now he won’t have to live through the ridicule and downgrading that others of us have.” Having her family sealed in the temple “was uppermost in her mind.” She promised the Daily Universe reporter that, as soon “as she could get ahold of her bishop,” she and her family would go to the temple. She also noted that Howard W. Hunter approved of her interracial marriage.
Mrs. Shirley Frazier, a black woman married to a white priesthood holder, said that she “has long yearned for” temple marriage and the chance to see her children be able to pass the sacrament. She did not think that this would happen for her or her family in her lifetime.
These few reactions, on the specific topic of being sealed as families in LDS temples, is hard to ignore. There is surely much more work to be done on the impact of families who could participate in temple ordinances and priesthood responsibilities. When historians of Mormonism forget the families impacted by the release Official Declaration 2, it cheapens the difficulties and struggles faced by hundreds, perhaps thousands who “yearned” for the chance to be sealed in LDS temples. Those who teach Mormon History, or Mormonism, would do well to remember their stories–and the joy they felt when they received the news that temple sealings would be available to them.
In that spirit, I open this up to JI’s readers: what stories have you heard about families reacting to the release of Official Declaration 2? What stories can be shared when teaching the history of Mormons and race?
 Official Declaration 2, LDS Doctrine and Covenants, https://www.lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/od/2.