This meeting at the Tabernacle commemorated the 30th anniversary of the revelation on priesthood, which extended the blessings thereof to all worthy males.
Elder Earl C. Tingey presided at this commemoration. Elder Sheldon Child was seated with him, also Elder LeGrand Curtis, an area authority.
Elder Tingey spoke briefly by way of introduction. He said, “We look forward to the day when all men & women of the earth are seen only as God’s children.”
After a hymn, Pres. Fred. A. Parker III, Stake President of the Atlanta Stake spoke. His was a fairly traditional talk about the priesthood. He emphasized the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood and following the prophet, stating generally that many lives had been changed since the June 8, 1978 revelation. He also made reference to Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-46 and the righteous use of priesthood.
He began to speak about how he had been asked many times why blacks had not been able to receive the priesthood. He said, paraphrasing, that Heavenly Father knows best and that we should be content to know that even though he may not give us a satisfying answer, that, in the words of King Benjamin, we should believe in God and believe that he has all wisdom and all power. [Paraphrasing] I don’t feel it necessary to know all God’s dealings, to know all God’s doings. It’s not necessary to understand all his thoughts. I don’t limit my faith by what I don’t understand. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. How foolish to say that because I don’t understand some things, that the workings of the Spirit are any less real. The doctrines are real, the BoM, D&C, & P of GP are true. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ. Today we have a living prophet, even Thomas S. Monson who councils us in divine wisdom. I know my redeemer lives. He is my exemplar, teacher, savior, my God & my King. I pray we will take literally his invitation. To everything there is a season. Brethren of the priesthood, our season is now, our Heavenly Father knows best.
Then there was an awesome solo rendition of “How Great Thou Art” by Alex Boye’. This number alone was worth the 45 minute drive.
Then Sister Catherine Stokes spoke. She spoke of the “long awaited day” of the revelation and quoted Bruce R. McConkie’s talk at BYU after the revelation was given which says, in effect, forget what I and what others have said about why blacks could not receive the priesthood, we spoke with a limited knowledge back then. In preparing her remarks, she had asked some friends what impact the revelation had had on them. She recounted that one of her friends who worked with inner city youth had noticed extraordinary progress with personal bridges being built between the races and how the Church provided many opportunities for interracial relations. The second friend, she noted, told her that she used to get angry when someone would dwell on the “debunked” less valiant theory or the Lamanite curse. Then she moved to a place where the Mormons were not as given to these beliefs.
She went on, “As I observe what the Church does, I know I’m in the right place. Indeed, this is the place.” As when the revelation was first announced, some rejected it. Some prefer to hold on to the statements of the past. Quoting Elder McConkie again, “It’s time…to forget what I said…” We need to help others who lack understanding in this matter and help them to come unto Christ. Quoted 3rd Nephi, “Love your enemies…” Since coming to this land in chains, the blessing of forgiving allowed us to survive. There are approximately 1 million black members of the Church.
She ended by quoting the words to the song, “Faith in Every Footstep”.
Ahmad Corbitt, President of the New Jersey Cherry Hill Stake then spoke. He read a portion of the Official Declaration. His remarks focused on how the youth should be raised. That they should be taught that God loves them unquestionably. We are followers of a living Prophet. His remarks then focused on the concept of unity. He spoke about how his patriarchal blessing told him he would be a teacher in the church among “your people”. He thought he’d be sent on a mission to the inner city. His call? Latin America-Spanish Speaking! He thought his teaching among his people would be put on hold. However, when he left Latin America, in tears, his heart was with the Latins. “Latinos are my people.”
He has served 15 years in stake callings in a mostly white stake. “Whites, I came to learn, are my people.” There were a number of Polynesians in his stake. Polynesians are his people, Asians are his people. “As we seek unity we are truly one in the Lord.”
Another stirring solo was sung by Boye': “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.”
Then a short video played with interviews from, amongst others, Darius Gray. The vignettes focused on how lives had been personally affected by the revelation.
Elder Tingey introduced Elder Child.
Elder Child recounted very briefly the history of the Genesis group. He quoted Nephi’s prophecy that the Gospel would go to all nations and kindreds and how we had seen the fulfillment of the promise. He recounted his feelings and tears upon learning of the revelation on the radio. He then spoke of his experience presiding over the New York, New York mission and the diversity evident there. He told the story of one Lorenzo Davis, a black man who was a branch president on Staten Island. He had a vision of missionary work, and with the branch members, would stand outside the church building and invite passers by to come in and worship with them. Soon the little branch grew strong. He then recounted some experiences of some of the pioneering members of the church in Africa where he also presided for a time. “There are no more strangers and foreigners…”
Going into this, I was interested in how the “folklore” would be treated. If it would be repudiated at least as strongly as it had been by Elder Holland in the PBS documentary. Except for Sister Stokes quoting a friend talking about “the debunked” less valiant theory, and a possible reference in the video citing “old stereotypes”, there was no further mentioning of that “folklore”. Going into it, I didn’t have any expectations about how the program would deal with the “Why” of the ban [my word, “ban” was not used in the program]. The answer by the second speaker was an unmistakable, We don’t know, that’s in the past, God knows best, let’s get on with it. Another thing I found interesting was the emphasis on the revelation as a fulfillment of the prophecies about the gospel going to every nation, black and white, bond and free. Some may say that those prophecies might have been fulfilled without the ban and its lifting. By emphasizing fulfillment, however, the implication is that though we don’t know why it was in place, the ban was of God. It was a program rich in personal feeling and passion for the shared principles of the Gospel.