The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints explained their reasoning for restricting men of black African decent from receiving the Priesthood until 1978 as a result of "a highly contentious racial culture," in a newly published page on a website with resources for church members.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was restored amidst a highly contentious racial culture in which whites were afforded great privilege," the statement reads. "Those realities, though unfamiliar and disturbing today, influenced all aspects of people's lives, including their religion."
The statement echos many Latter-day Saints' belief on the topic, but is significant in that it is a thorough explanation for the practice officially published by the church.
Until 1978, men who were black were barred from receiving the Priesthood, and both men and women who were black were denied entrance to the church's temples.
Founder Joseph Smith openly opposed slavery, and in the 1830s and '40s, several men who were black received the Priesthood, the statement notes. Following the assassination of Smith in 1844, many members of the church followed Brigham Young to what the U.S. Congress later designated Utah Territory in 1850. There, Southerners who were slave owners and converted to the church questioned the status of slavery in the territory.
Young announced a policy in 1852 restricting men of black African decent from receiving the Priesthood. The statement points out Young also said "that at some future day, black Church members would 'have [all] the privilege and more' enjoyed by other members."
In 1978, Church President Spencer W. Kimball announced all male members of the church regardless of race could receive the Priesthood.
"Reaction worldwide was overwhelmingly positive among Church members of all races," the statement reads. "Many Latter-day Saints wept for joy at the news. Some reported feeling a collective weight lifted from their shoulders. The Church began priesthood ordinations for men of African descent immediately, and black men and women entered temples throughout the world."
The statement notes church doctrine "embraces the universal human family."
"Latter-day Saint scripture and teachings affirm that God loves all of His children and makes salvation available to all. God created the many diverse races and ethnicities and esteems them all equally. As the Book of Mormon puts it, 'all are alike unto God.'"
Update: A church spokesperson said the page on race and the Priesthood is part of a larger expansion of online resources for church members' personal and family study. These Gospel Topics pages were announced in November.
"Enhancing Gospel Topics is one part of a longer-term effort to provide visitors with more doctrinal and Church history resources, inspiring media, and practical support tools," Elder Anthony D. Perkins said in a statement.