Mormon Church Explains Why It Used to Ban Black Priests

More than three decades after disavowing the ban, the church publishes a lengthy explanation and history of race and the priesthood

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In an online report, the Mormon Church opened the books on its history of exclusion, continuing to disavow previous teachings that banned black priests. The 2,000-word statement published on the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints explains the past ban and offers a look into race and the priesthood in the church.

The barring of black priests, it reads, came after an announcement by then church president Brigham Young in 1852. “The Church was established in 1830, during an era of great racial division in the United States,” the statement says. It goes on to explain that late in his life, church founder Joseph Smith openly opposed slavery.

In 1852, Brigham Young “publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood,” the statement says. Over time, church leaders offered many explanations for the ban, but none of the explanations are the official doctrine of the church.

The ban on black priests was lifted in 1978, and while the church says membership records do not record race or ethnicity, Mormons of African descent number “in the hundreds of thousands.”