In our Sunday School class this week, we covered Isaiah 50-53. As I looked at the chapters covered, I was sure that our focus would be on the Saviors life and atoning sacrifice as described in Isaiah 53:3-5. These are scripture mastery verses (or at least, they were when I was in seminary and it was still referred to as scripture mastery), and they are frequently referenced in church classes.
I was surprised, however, when the discussion began by referencing the second Official Declaration, included at the back of the Doctrine and Covenants. The teacher, my husband, and I were the only three in the class (of about 12-15) who were not alive at the time the declaration was released, and so the teacher asked anyone who could remember to share what their reactions were at the time the announcement was made.
Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance. (Official Declaration 2)
Most said that they were not surprised by it, or that they knew it would be happening eventually. One, who was a recent convert at the time and who had been assured/warned that it would happen at some point, thought “well, that happened quickly!” (I’m sure others who had been in the church for some time felt differently, of course).
Some of the key points that stood out to me from our subsequent discussion:
- The Priesthood was withheld not because these members weren’t worthy or faithful enough. It was withheld because the church, generally, was not faithful enough to accept it. The law of consecration was given to the saints in the early days of the church, and then rescinded because they proved unable to live it. We know that consecration will be restored again at some future day, but for the present time, we continue to live the law of the tithe. The law of the tithe does not make consecration any less inevitable. Nor does the existence of an impending law of consecration make our faithful adherence to the law of the tithe somehow lesser or invalid. We live the commandments in place for us in our time, without prohibiting newer commandments that may supersede them in the future.
- God’s plans and promises are eternal, and no one who seeks them will be denied the blessings of the gospel. Faithful members who were denied ordinances or priesthood ordinations in this life will assuredly receive those blessings in eternity. It is not up to us to comment on anyone’s divine inheritance, nor can we presume to understand the kingdoms of glory and their makeup. There is not just one right way to live the gospel, and we will each be rewarded according to our own individual circumstances.
- Blacks and other members who had been denied the priesthood were still integrated, active members of the church. It was due to their faithfulness, despite restrictions imposed on them, that the brethren felt so strongly the need to plead with the Lord. These brethren were certainly not the first to plead with the Lord on this matter, but it was never the right time. “It was time” in 1978 because the membership of the church had already taken the steps to welcome and incorporate these minority members into the ward family. If we have hope for the Lord to change the policies of the church, we must show him that we are ready for it. We can begin living a higher law before it is defined and required of us.
We spent some time discussing this last point, that leaders of the church had been prayerfully considering the situation for many years, and they had been continuously told it was not the right time. They continued to pray and plead with the Lord concerning the matter.
The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings. (“Prayer,” Bible Dictionary)
Asking the Lord for change does not mean a lack of faith or rebellion against current policy. It merely represents hope for progress, so long as that prayer is accompanied by humility and willingness to accept the Lord’s will if the answer comes back “no” or “not yet.” The most sinful or slothful thing we can do is refuse to ask. If we are “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:26-28) the worst that can happen is that we will be blessed with inspiration as we learn more about the Lord’s ways.
Despite the ultra-conservative culture that permeates most everything else in our branch, this discussion filled me with so much hope and love and optimism for the future of the Church. We lovingly discussed the correlation between Official Declaration 2 and faithful members of color, and faithful LGBTQ+ members today. Zero homophobia was expressed, and instead the conversation was laced with Christlike love and what verged on…understanding?
All in all, it strengthened my testimony of the truthfulness and reality of this Gospel. Christ lives! His Gospel, His love is FOR EVERYONE, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, political opinion, economic standing or anything else that may seek to divide us.