The Church recently put up a very fascinating article about the history of the restriction on African Americans holding the priesthood and participating in temple worship. This is a very well written and fascinating article and the most through piece I have seen on LDS.org on the topic.
The bloggernacle has been filled with various posts wondering whether or not Brigham Young and other church leaders were wrong about the priesthood restriction. Some argue that if Brigham Young was wrong, then we can not trust the modern day Prophet and Apostles when they speak out on moral matters such as sexual purity or the sanctity of marriage. I think such an argument misses the mark completely.
The truth is that God works in mysterious ways and we rarely can understand the full purpose of what he does. The scriptures are replete with examples of the unintended consequences of actions…
For instance, in the Book of Mormon we read of the wicked people of King Noah. Noah kills Abinadi a righteous prophet and sorely persecutes those who follow Alma and are Baptized in the Water’s of Mormon. Moreover, the wicked priests of Noah spread among the Lamanites and incite them to persecute the believers. Years of persecution followed. This persecution was burdensome and grevious and the false teachings of the Priest of Noah turned the hearts of many away from God.
Nevertheless, the Lord’s purpose was achieved not merely in spite of these events, but because of them. The Priests of Noah spread the language of the Nephites among the Lamanites and opened up the door for the missionary effort and the grand conversion of the Lamanites. The Wickedness of the Priests of Noah opened up the way for a flowering of missionary work that had been I hoped for without success by the righteous men of generations past. Even though the priests of Noah acted with the worst intentions, God used their actions to bring to pass great righteousness and to lead to the salvation of countless souls.
Likewise, Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt led to the saving of his brethren from starvation, Israel being put into bondage for generations, and their eventual redemption and exodus. Israel’s rejection of the Higher priesthood led to many lost blessings, but also to the first and second temples and ultimately the birth and redemption of the Savior. Israel’s lack of faith led to 40 years of wandering in the desert but also forged the faith of many of those that eventually took over the Holy Land with Joshua. Zion’s Camp likewise seemed like a fruitless journey, but also helped to test and strengthen the leadership of the Church. Countless other examples follow…
My point here is that the arm of history is long and god’s vision is far greater than ours. We cannot know how history would have been changed had Blacks been given the priesthood consistently following Joseph Smith. Perhaps many would have flocked to the Church in droves, or perhaps conversely the work of the Lord would have been hampered dramatically.
I don’t know exactly what motivated the initiation of the priesthood ban. As often happens, efforts to explain the will of God, including by those who were Apostles or Prophets, were short sighted. Nevertheless, I do know that God’s will was and continues to be manifest through his Church. I know that the Work of God continues to spread across the world. I see the savior’s hand in the direction and leadership of his Church. That matters far more to me than knowing exactly what motivated Brigham Young, George Albert Smith, or David O. McKay. Instead, I have a witness that these individuals ar and weree sincerely seeking to do God’s will. Despite and at times because of their imperfections, I see God working through them.
Moreover, I have an abounding testimony that even though the arc of history is not always straight that it is being guided by the Lord. There are no accidents in the Lord’s plan. Everything that happens ultimately is used to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. Even the fall itself, which Satan believed would destroy and frustrate God’s Plan of Salvation was ultimately an essential part of the plan. Most importantly, I know that eternally not one single blessed will be withheld from each of Heavenly Father’s Children. The 130 or so years where Blacks lacked the priesthood will be a blip in the eternities just as the thousands of years when the gentiles and most of the house of Israel were denied the priesthood, and thousands of years during Great Apostasy when the priesthood was completely absent from the earth. Not a single blessing will be lost or denied… No one who is worthy will be denied the priesthood.