A quarter-century ago roughly a generation a seminal event occurred in the history of the Church when President Spencer W. Kimball announced the revelation that the "long-promised day" had come when all worthy men could receive the holy priesthood without regard for race or color. (See Doctrine and Covenants Official Declaration 2.)
A letter announcing the revelation to priesthood leaders was dated June 8, 1978. A public announcement was made June 9, 1978, immediately causing a worldwide media sensation. But the revelation itself had been received precisely one week earlier, on June 1, at the regular Thursday gathering of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in the Salt Lake Temple.
Much has transpired in the Church since that momentous occasion.
Comparing the 2002 year-end Church membership total of 11.72 million with the figure of 3.62 million in June 1978, one readily observes that some 8.1 million members or 69 percent have come into the Church since the revelation was received. To put it another way, only three out of 10 currently living Latter-day Saints were members of the Church back then.
Even more significantly, a generation of children and youth of African heritage born at that time have now had time to be reared and nurtured in Latter-day Saint households where the priesthood has had full expression.
Moreover, the revelation concomitantly made the blessings of temple ordinances and worship available to all worthy people. Thus, for 25 years, temple-worthy members of African descent have had the opportunity to provide the same ordinances and blessings to their ancestors, many of whom patiently waited upon the Lord for those blessings during their time in mortality. (See Isaiah 40:31.) For African Americans, the recent advent by the Church of the Freedman's Bank records in computerized form has facilitated this work. (See Church News, March 3, 2001, p. 4.)
The influence of the 1978 revelation on Church members worldwide is highlighted in separate articles in this issue of the Church News.
On the African continent, for example, where in 1978 a few fledgling congregations were meeting unofficially in the Church's name, Church membership in the past 2 1/2 decades has grown to more than 200,000.
In the Caribbean nation of the Dominican Republic are now 11 stakes comprising 80,000 members, a dramatic rise from the 7,000 in 1983.
And in Brazil, where the frequency of convert baptisms among people of African descent who could not hold the priesthood was an issue facing Church leaders in 1978, Church membership has climbed from 55,000 tonearly 800,000.
The relatively recent occurrence of the revelation on the priesthood gave many people the opportunity to observe within their lifetimes something they otherwise would not: the divine bestowal of canonized doctrine. The announcement was of such transcendent significance that on Sept. 30 of that year it was presented at the 148th Semiannual General Conference of the Church for sustaining vote as "the word and will of the Lord" and subsequently included in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 2.
Later, President Kimball and some of those who had been with him when the revelation was received recounted their experience that day.
"We held a meeting of the Council of the Twelve in the temple on the regular day [June 1, 1978]," President Kimball said in a Deseret News and Church News interview the following December. "We considered this very seriously and thoughtfully and prayerfully.
"I asked the Twelve not to go home when the time came. I said, 'Now would you be willing to remain in the temple with us?' And they were. I offered the final prayer, and I told the Lord if this wasn't right, if He didn't want this change to come in the Church, that I would be true to it all the rest of my life, and I'd fight the world against it if that's what He wanted.
"We had this special prayer circle, then I knew that the time had come. . . . This revelation and assurance came to me so clearly that there was no question about it." (Church News, Jan. 6, 1979.)
President Gordon B. Hinckley was there on that occasion as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Some 10 years later, on May 15, 1988, at a Churchwide fireside commemorating the restoration of the priesthood, he reminisced concerning that Thursday meeting in the temple:
"We heard testimonies from some of the Brethren, and we partook of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
"It was a wonderfully spiritual meeting, as are all such meetings in these holy precincts and under these circumstances. Then the members of the First Quorum of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric were excused, while there remained the president of the Church, his two counselors and 10 members of the Council of the Twelve two being absent, one in South America and the other in the hospital.
"The question of extending the blessings of the priesthood to blacks had been on the minds of many of the Brethren over a period of years. It had repeatedly been brought up by presidents of the Church. It had become a matter of particular concern to President Spencer W. Kimball.
". . . On this occasion he raised the question before his Brethren his counselors and the apostles. Following this discussion we joined in prayer in the most sacred of circumstances. President Kimball himself was voice in that prayer. I do not recall the exact words that he spoke. But I do recall my own feelings and the nature of the expressions of my Brethren. There was a hallowed and sanctified atmosphere in the room. For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren. The Spirit of God was there. And by the power of the Holy Ghost there came to that prophet an assurance that the thing for which he prayed was right, that the time had come, and that now the wondrous blessings of the priesthood should be extended to worthy men everywhere regardless of lineage.
"Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing.
"It was a quiet and sublime occasion.
"There was not the sound 'as of a rushing mighty wind,' there were not 'cloven tongues like as of fire' (Acts 2:2-3) as there had been on the Day of Pentecost. But there was a Pentecostal spirit, for the Holy Ghost was there.
"No voice audible to our physical ears was heard. But the voice of the Spirit whispered with certainty into our minds and our very souls.
". . . We left that meeting subdued and reverent and joyful. Not one of us who was present on that occasion was ever quite the same after that. Nor has the Church been quite the same."
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