Prior to June 9, 1978, black members of the LDS Church were denied access to LDS temple ordinances and black men were denied the right to be ordained to the LDS priesthood. On that date, the Church publicly announced a policy change reversing those practices. In 2014, almost forty years later, the Church published “Race and the Priesthood” at the LDS.org site, finally giving a clear and public disavowal of all the racist folklore that circulated (and continues to circulate) as doctrine among LDS members and leadership attempting to explain the priesthood and temple ban. From the current version of that essay:
Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.
On June 1, 2018, Pres. Dallin Oaks of the First Presidency said the following as part of his remarks at the “Be One” LDS celebration of the 1978 policy change (emphasis added; full transcript at the Church News):
Institutionally, the Church reacted swiftly to the revelation on the priesthood. Ordinations and temple recommends came immediately. The reasons that had been given to try to explain the prior restrictions on members of African ancestry — even those previously voiced by revered Church leaders — were promptly and publicly disavowed.
Promptly and publicly disavowed? This seems to be another example of the almost standard practice of LDS leaders to be rather free with the facts when discussing events in LDS history. It’s possible that Pres. Oaks had statements by Elder Bruce R. McConkie in mind. On August 18, 1978, Elder McConkie gave a speech at BYU (at the CES Religious Educators Symposium) titled “All Are Alike unto God.” Elder McConkie was present with other apostles at the Salt Lake Temple on June 1, 1978, when Pres. Kimball announced his decision to change the policy and the assembled apostles (individually and collectively) had a very moving spiritual experience. In his BYU talk, Elder McConkie said:
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.
But this clearly was not intended or understood at the time as a clear, public disavowal of what had previously been taught by LDS leaders on the subject. In 1998, as the twentieth anniversary of the policy change approached, there was discussion among some of the mid-level LDS leadership about explicitly how to go about disavowing the doctrine/speculation/folklore which circulated and continued to circulate in the Church to explain or defend or justify the pre-1978 Ban. The story broke in the press (“Mormons May Disavow Old View on Blacks,” Los Angeles Times, May 18, 1998); it was a really big deal and went viral in the media. The next day, Pres. Hinckley publicly repudiated the entire project. As related in a Salt Lake Tribune article the next day (“LDS Leaders Haven’t Discussed Racial Disavowal,” Salt Lake Tribune, May 19, 1998), “the LDS Church’s governing First Presidency, led by President Gordon B. Hinckley, quashed the suggestion [that LDS leaders were discussing a disavowal] later Monday, saying ‘the matter … has not been discussed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.'”
You see what the problem is. If there had been a prior disavowal, the 1998 response to the story would have been, “No need, we already made a clear public disavowal of those now-discredited explanations,” and cited the earlier disavowal. There would have been no need for concerned Mormons or leaders even to discuss a disavowal or how to go about making it if such a disavowal had already been made. It hadn’t. [For a fuller discussion of this entire 1998 episode, see Armand Mauss, “Casting Off the ‘Curse of Cain,'” in Black and Mormon, Newell G. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith, eds., U. of Illinois Press, 2004).
An even clearer indication that no such clear and public disavowal was made until the Race and Priesthood essay in 2014 was the Bott Affair. In February 2012, Randy Bott, a BYU religion teacher, was interviewed by a Washington Post reporter and quoted in that paper as providing standard but questionable Mormon justifications for the Ban. Again, a media frenzy ensued. The Church immediately released a statement at the Mormon Newsroom repudiating anything Bott said, and basically repudiating anything that anyone ever said about the Ban (“Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine.”). But this statement was never highlighted at LDS.org or in General Conference. It was not directed to the membership of the Church, most of whom were never aware of the statement. Only with the Race and the Priesthood essay, itself very quietly inserted into the LDS.org site, was a statement by the Church made that could be regarded as a clear and public disavowal directed to the members of the Church. In 2014, 36 years after the 1978 policy change.