The 1978 revelation granting the priesthood to worthy black male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was essential to help the church grow worldwide among all people, a church apostle said Wednesday.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Council of the Twelve told Brigham Young University's Afro-American Symposium that the revelation "was followed almost immediately by enlarged missionary activity among our black brothers and sisters."The symposium was held during the 10th anniversary of the revelation, which was announced by then-LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball on June 9, 1978.
Because the church does not keep track of the racial backgrounds of its members, Elder Oaks said that estimating the exact impact of the revelation in attracting new black members is difficult. But one can get an idea of it by looking at church growth in predominantly black areas.
"On the continent of Africa, apart from South Africa (here our membership thus far is predominantly white), our membership grew from 136 in 1977 to 14,347," Elder Oaks said. He added that a stake of the church was formed in Nigeria last month - the first in the church where all members and leaders are black.
"In the Caribbean islands other than Puerto Rico, our membership grew from 836 in 1977 to 18,614 at the end of 1987," he said.
In Brazil, where 6 percent of the population is black and 38 percent is racially mixed, church membership grew from 51,000 in 1977 to 250,000 at the end of 1987.
Elder Oaks said the 1978 revelation was to help fulfill a command the Lord gave early church apostles to spread the gospel to "all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples."
He said, "The revelation on the priesthood was essential to the fulfillment of this responsibility, in which all members of the church are involved." He noted that overall membership in the church grew 62 percent in the decade since the revelation, from 3.97 million to 6.44 million.
Besides helping in the missionary work of the church, Elder Oaks said, the revelation brought many blessings to black members of the church and even affected the church's doctrine.
For most black members, "the significance of the revelation was that it opened a door long closed," he said. "Soon, black priesthood leaders began to appear in the ranks of bishops, stake presidents and mission presidents. With their faithful wives, they became workers in the temples."
He added, "The revelation on the priesthood also had an immediate effect on the doctrine of the church." For an example, he quoted the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve who addressed complaints from some church members that some leaders - including himself - had predicted that blacks would never receive the priesthood in this life.
"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," he quoted Elder McConkie.
Elder Oaks concluded, "The doors of more and more nations are being opened to the preaching of the gospel," and said it will spread until it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country and sounded in every ear.