A new edition of the scriptures was released on March 1 now mentions that Mormon prophet Joseph Smith ordained black ministers in his time, redacting years of anti-black and pro-slavery messages supported by the church.
After Smith’s death, The Mormon Church implemented a ban preventing black men from entering into priesthood and black women from worshiping at temples. That ban lasted from the mid-1800s to 1978, when the church announced that a “spiritual revelation” called for its reversal.
Now, 35 years removed from the ban, the church seems ready to accept that the original reasons behind the ban were not driven by spirituality, and instead were tied to American politics and racism. The introduction to the portion of the scripture regarding the 1978 revelation no longer attempts to justify the ban. While the statement is far from an admission of wrongdoing, or an apology, it is a step towards greater acceptance of blacks in the church.
“Early in its history, church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice,” the passage reads. “Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance.”
Another revised introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants book of the Mormon scriptures reads “monogamy is God’s standard for marriage unless he declares otherwise,” countering the long-standing practice of polygamy in some Mormon communities. Mormon scholar Terryl Givens explained the significance of the changes to NPR, noting the importance of historical record in the Mormon scriptures.
“In many ways, what we’re seeing with these changes is the privileging of history over theology in some ways,” Givens said. “It’s a kind of acknowledgement that the Mormon Church is rooted in a past that is replete with historical claims. And it’s a magnificent thing for a church to allow professional historians to have a lead role in the way that scripture is presented and its story is told.”