Blacks and the Priesthood
By: Kent Wentzell
The punishment of Cain was, as he told the Lord, more than he could bear, and feared that others would seek to take his life.
And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.(Gen 1:13-14)
So the Lord promised Cain that if any were to kill him or his descendants, vengeance would be taken on them sevenfold, and he put a mark on Cain and his posterity to set them apart so that others finding them would not slay them. That mark was a black skin, and it was given to them as a protection and a blessing, not as a curse. (see Genesis 4:15)
The curse = no priesthood for himself or his posterity
The mark = black skin
The curse and the mark are not the same thing!
Prior to 1835 some blacks were ordained to the priesthood. The concept of withholding the priesthood from blacks of African decent was revealed when Joseph Smith translated the papyrus containing the Book of Abraham. The mummies containing the papyrus were purchased by the Mormon Church in July 1835. In “The History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” by the prophet, this entry for 7 October 1835 is found—
“This afternoon I re-commenced translating the ancient records.”
In this translated volume is the record of how the seed of Cain survived the great flood. The wife of Ham, one of three sons of Noah, was Egyptus, who was from the loins of Cain—
From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land (Abr 1:22).
The curse that the Lord put upon Cain for killing his brother, Abel, was that neither he nor his descendants would have the right to hold the priesthood. Cain, in lamenting this fact, said—
Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me (Gen 4:14).
So to protect Cain from the wrath of others, the Lord gave him the following protection—
And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him (Gen 4:15).
The mark was a black skin, and it was given to Cain as a protection from the evil of others, not as a curse (As mentioned above, the only curse was withholding the priesthood.) Egyptus carried the genetic strain of a black skin through the flood. The daughter of Ham and Egyptus discovered the land of Egypt, and her son, Pharoah, became the first ruler of the land. In Abraham 1:26 we read—
Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.
Prior to 1835 some blacks were ordained to the priesthood, but in accordance with the information revealed in the Book of Abraham that practice was discontinued. However, each of the presidents of the Mormon Church, from Joseph Smith to Spencer W. Kimball, prophesied that the day would come when the Lord would remove the curse of withholding the priesthood from the descendants of Cain. This came about through a revelation given by the Lord to President Spencer W. Kimball, and was published in an Official Declaration to the world on 30 Sept. 1978, which says in part—
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. (The Doctrine and Covenants Official Declaration–2).
To me this revelation is truly one of the signs of the times in this dispensation of the fullness of times when all things shall be restored.
The old notion that blacks were less worthy in the pre-existence and that black skin is a curse is completely false and is based on evil prejudice and bad speculation. It was merely a distinction to protect Cain. I personally would speculate to say that God had foreknowledge that the descendants of Cain would eventually settle in the equatorial regions of the earth and therefore the black skin would eventually become a blessing for there protection against the sun and hence one of the reasons for this particular mark and also a reason to survive the flood through Ham’s wife. The lord does all things in wisdom and with a righteous purpose. The curse of the priesthood was however real but has nothing to do with worthiness or skin color of individuals. Gratefully we have a religion that has revealed that all the same blessings and privileges will be given in due time to all of God’s children no matter what distinction and no matter whether they live in the past present or future.
Why did the Lord wait so long to permit the posterity of Cain to receive the Priesthood? We don’t know! But as Isaiah says:
Isaiah55 “8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
We need not fret over the unknown, He says, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”. Remember to keep in mind all of the promises he has made to us concerning our eternal happiness. We will one day see that all commandments are consistent with that happiness, even if we don’t see and understand it yet.
I think it’s hard to fully comprehend all things and reasons why the lord commands us to do things. But his ways are not our ways. I’ve often asked myself if there was no other way Nephi could have got the brass plates without the necessity of killing laban which is contrary to the lord’s commandments. Nevertheless the lord commanded it by the hand of Nephi, and it was a challenge of great faith by Nephi to be able to follow through, despite how faithful he had been that far in their journey. It goes to show that the lord must prove our faith in all things to be counted worthy.
Joseph Smith once said that if there was any other way the lord could have tried Abraham further than that of offering his son, he would have done it. We too must be tried at some point and somehow like Abraham.
Our faith is tried today as we live by commandments given in these latter days by our prophets. We neither see proof, nor most times have things even explained to us. Yet, it must be so as to try our faith.
Many claim that President Brigham Young and other early church leaders were racist and pro slavery, but the opposite is true. In referring to the ban on the priesthood:
“President Young felt it, however, to be his duty to make plain the attitude of the Mormon people in Utah on the subject. In an address to the legislature he said: “The Lord said I will not kill Cain, but I will put a mark upon him, and that mark will be seen upon the face of every negro upon the face of the earth; and it is the decree of God that that mark shall remain upon the seed of Cain until the seed of Abel shall be redeemed, and Cain shall not receive the priesthood, until the time of that redemption. Any man having one drop of the seed of Cain in him cannot receive the priesthood; but the day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have. I am opposed to the present system of slavery.” (Wilford Woodruff, His Life and Labors, comp. Matthias F. Cowley, p.351)
The church as a whole has never been racists, we have only followed the Lord’s will in faith, praying with hope and love for his blessings upon all of us.
How glorious the blessings of the Lord to live in this dispensation of the fullness of times and to have a prophet on the earth today who can receive revelation.