Criticism of Mormonism/Books/One Nation Under Gods/Use of sources/Mormon Doctrine and race issues

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Misrepresentation of Bruce R. McConkie's Mormon Doctrine on racial issues

A FAIR Analysis of: One Nation Under Gods, a work by author: Richard Abanes

Author's Claims

One Nation under Gods, page 358, 360 (hardback and paperback)

  • Did Bruce R. McConkie say in his 1966 edition of Mormon Doctrine: "The negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned...[B]ut this inequality is not of man's origin. It is the Lord's doing."
  • Did Joseph Fielding Smith make a similar statement?
  • Were those who "fought on Christ's side" in the pre-existence born as "privileged Mormon whites?"
  • Were those who were "less valiant" born as blacks?

Author's Sources

Endnote 13–15, 23 page 599 (hardback); page 597 (paperback)

  • In each case, the author cites McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (1956, second edition 1966), 527.


It is unfair to use a pre-1978 version of Mormon Doctrine as if it reflected official LDS doctrine, current LDS teaching, or Elder McConkie's final views (it does not).

Detailed Analysis

The author fails to tell us three key facts:

  1. Elder McConkie specifically repudiated some of his pre-1978 remarks.
  2. the 1966 edition was modified by Elder McConkie after the 1978 revelation on the priesthood
  3. other Church leaders have disclaimed previous efforts to 'explain' the pre-1978 priesthood ban.

Elder McConkie on pre-1978 remarks

Said Elder McConkie:

There are statements in our literature by the early brethren which we have interpreted to mean that the Negroes would not receive the priesthood in mortality. I have said the same things.... All I can say to that is that it is time disbelieving people repented and got in line and believed in a living, modern prophet. Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. We get our truth and our light line upon line and precept upon precept. We have now had added a new flood of intelligence and light on this particular subject, and it erases all the darkness, and all the views and all the thoughts of the past. They don't matter any more. It doesn't make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about the Negro matter before the first day of June of this year [1978]. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject. As to any slivers of light or any particles of darkness of the past, we forget about them. We now do what meridian Israel did when the Lord said the gospel should go to the gentiles. We forget all the statements that limited the gospel to the house of Israel, and we start going to the gentiles.[1]

Comparing the two editions

1966 edition (taken from 1969 printing) After 1978

...Those who were less valiant in pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin. (Moses 5:16-41; 7:8, 12, 22)....

Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. (Abra. 1:20-27).) The gospel message of salvation is not carried affirmatively to them (Moses 7:8, 12, 22), although sometimes negroes search out the truth, join the Church, and become by righteous living heirs of the celestial kingdom of heaven. President Brigham Young and others have taught that in the future eternity worthy and qualified negroes will receive the priesthood and every gospel blessing available to any man. (I>Way to Perfection</i>, pp. 97-111).

"The present status of the negro rests purely and simply on the foundation of pre-existence....

"The negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain spiritual blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow therefrom, but this inequality is not of man's origin. it is the Lord's doing, is based on his eternal laws [528] of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate. Certainly the negroes as children of God are entitled to equality before the law and to be treated with all the dignity and respect of any member of the human race. Many of them certainly live according to higher standards of decency and right in this life than do some of their brothers of other races, a situation that will cause judgment ot be laid 'to the line, and righteousness to the plummet' (Isa. 28:17) in the day of judgment."

  • Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd edition (4th printing, 1969) (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1966), 527-528.

As with all men, Negroes are the mortal descendants of Adam and the spirit children of the Eternal Father. They come to earth to gain mortal bodies and be subject to the probationary experiences of this present life.

In the providences of the Lord, the gospel and all its attendant blessings are offered to one nation and people after another. During Jesus' mortal ministry he and his disciples took the gospel to the house of Israel only; after his resurrection the word went forth to the Gentiles also. Those who live when the gospel is not on earth may receive its blessings in the spirit world after death.

In all past ages and until recent times in this dispensation, the Lord did not offer the priesthood to the Negroes. However, on June 1, 1978, in the Salt Lake Temple, in the presence of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve, President Spencer W. Kimball received a revelation from the Lord directing that the gospel and the priesthood should now go to all men without reference to race or color.

This means that worthy males of all races can now receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, perform ordinances, and hold positions of presidency and responsibility. It means that members of all races may now be married in the temple, although interracial marriages are discouraged by the Brethren, and that the full blessings of the gospel may be made available to their ancestors through vicarious temple ordinances. It also means that Negro members of the Church may now perform missionary service and should bear the burdens of the kingdom equally with all other members of the Church.

This new revelation is one of the signs of the times. It opens the door to the spread of the gospel among all people before the Second Coming in fulfilment of many scriptural promises. It has been received with joy and rejoicing throughout the Church and is one of the evidences of the divinity of the Lord's great latter-day work.

The official document announcing the new revelation, signed by the First Presidency (Spencer W. Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner, and Marion G. Romney) and dated June 8, 1978, is as follows:

"As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords.
"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.
"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. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.
"We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known His will for the blessing of all His children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of His authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel."

Few of the claims for which McConkie is cited are contained in the 1978 version of his work.

Other leaders on pre-1978 statements

Avoid speculating without knowledge

Elder Dallin H. Oaks pointed out that some leaders and members had ill-advisedly sought to provide justifications for the ban:

...It's not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do we're on our own. Some people put reasons to [the ban] and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. There is a lesson in that.... The lesson I've drawn from that, I decided a long time ago that I had faith in the command and I had no faith in the reasons that had been suggested for it.
...I'm referring to reasons given by general authorities and reasons elaborated upon [those reasons] by others. The whole set of reasons seemed to me to be unnecessary risk taking.
...Let's [not] make the mistake that's been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent. The revelations are what we sustain as the will of the Lord and that's where safety lies.[2]

Interviewed for a PBS special on the Church, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated. ... I have to concede to my earlier colleagues. ... They, I'm sure, in their own way, were doing the best they knew to give shape to [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or wrong. ...
It probably would have been advantageous to say nothing, to say we just don't know, and, [as] with many religious matters, whatever was being done was done on the basis of faith at that time. But some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years. ... At the very least, there should be no effort to perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer and younger ones to come along, ... we simply do not know why that practice, that policy, that doctrine was in place.[3]

Past leaders are not alive to apologize for statements that unwittingly contributed to difficulties for the faithful and stumbling blocks for those who might have otherwise have been more attracted to the overall goodness of Christ's gospel. Presumably they would join with another voice from the dust to plead for us to have charity towards them (Ether 12꞉35-36

) despite their imperfections. Rather than condemning, we ought to "give thanks unto God...that ye may learn to be more wise than we have been" (Mormon 9꞉31



  1. Bruce R. McConkie, "All Are Alike unto God," an address to a Book of Mormon Symposium for Seminary and Institute teachers, Brigham Young University, 18 August 1978.
  2. Dallin H. Oaks cited in "Apostles Talk about Reasons for Lifting Ban," Daily Herald, Provo, Utah (5 June 1988): 21 (Associated Press); reproduced with commentary in Dallin H. Oaks, Life's Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 2011), 68-69.
  3. Jeffrey R. Holland, Interview, 4 March 2006.

Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims