June 8, 1978
To all general and local priesthood officers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout the world:
As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords.
Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.
He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that 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.
We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known his will for the blessing of all his children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of his authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.
SPENCER W. KIMBALL
N. ELDON TANNER
MARION G. ROMNEY
The First Presidency (emphasis added)
One of the most striking aspects of Official Declaration 2 is the repeated emphasis on the Gospel’s universalism. When discussing the origins of the priesthood ban and the revelation that removed it, I think there is a tendency to forget or downplay that this universalism has been present since the church’s founding. During the 1970s, when Newell G. Bringhurst was researching his dissertation on anti-black beliefs within Mormonism from 1830-1880, he initially did not include Mormon universalism within his discussion, but the 1978 revelation forced him to reexamine his approach:
Suddenly and unexpectedly in June 1978, Latter-day Saint officials announced the repeal of their exclusionary practice of black priesthood denial. In the light of this dramatic change, I reexamined some of my previous assumptions revising, somewhat, my study by considering not only the evolution of Mormon antiblack attitudes and practices, which predominated throughout the course of Latter-day Saint history, but also those positive Mormon concepts of Christian universalism, which existed from Mormonism’s earliest days. These universalistic concepts ultimately paved the way for the repeal of black priesthood denial and have been a primary impetus for the current extraordinary appeal of Mormonism in nonwhite parts of the world, including black Africa (xiv).
Bringhurst makes due on his promise, and universalism provides an important subtheme throughout his path-breaking 1981 study, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism. He thereby provides a framework within which to form a counternarrative of sorts, helping readers to understand not only the dark elements of our past, but also the positive streaks that ultimately provided a foundation upon which momentous revelatory change occurred within Mormonism thirty-one years ago today. As we ponder the meaning of the revelation, let us give thanks that the Lord “denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female, and he remembereth the heathen: all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33).