Till We All Come in the Unity of the Faith

Ahmad Corbitt

A Personal Essay on Race and the Priesthood, Part 4

Ahmad Corbitt

I first learned of living prophets and apostles in 1980, when I was 17 years old.1 My family was receiving lessons from missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The missionaries’ first lesson was about Joseph Smith’s vision of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. The missionaries also shared other aspects of the restored Church and the restored gospel. At one point, they explained that God had called new apostles. Surprised, I asked something like, “So there are apostles today?! Where are they?” The missionaries held up a picture of President Spencer W. Kimball, his counselors in the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve and testified that these men were living apostles and prophets. They informed us that these leaders, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, had similar authority and power to the Savior’s ancient Twelve Apostles. Although I don’t remember verbalizing it at the time, I instantly felt this was true. It made sense intellectually and spiritually that there should be apostles and prophets in modern times. Oddly, the missionaries’ assertion seemed to answer a question I didn’t know I had.2

This experience helped form the basis of my testimony of the restored gospel.3 I studied Paul’s teaching that “[God] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets”4 and built the Church “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”5 Later, as a young missionary, I taught that since God Himself had set apostles in the Church,6 and since there is no record that He ever rescinded this foundational office, He must need them on the earth in our day.7

Prophets and Apostles Unify God’s Children and Guide the Development and Unity of the Church

When I first learned about modern-day apostles and prophets, I didn’t understand right away that they were necessary for God to truly unify His family. Eventually I came to see that living prophets and apostles, like the Book of Mormon,8 are essential in God’s plan to unify His family in Christ. As President Henry B. Eyring taught: “The ministry of the apostles and prophets in [ancient days], as it is today, was to bring the children of Adam and Eve to a unity of the faith in Jesus Christ. The ultimate purpose of what they taught, and of what we teach, is to unite families: husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, ancestors, and finally all of the family of Adam and Eve who will choose it.”9 Through the Book of Mormon and the ministry of apostles and prophets, God has specially empowered The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to play a leading role in uniting the human family.

When I studied the former priesthood ban, over time I came to understand that the Lord had always intended His Church to grow beyond its initial organization. It was equally clear that this could happen only under the direction of living prophets and apostles.10 The Lord commanded Joseph Smith, “a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ,” to “lay the foundation [of the Church], and to build it up unto the most holy faith.”11 Like its members, God’s restored Church, it seemed, was to undergo a process—“line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little”12—before it could become the fully constituted, universally unified, global body of Saints He intended.13

The Lord has declared that as we “give heed unto all [the prophet’s] words and commandments which he shall give unto [us] as he receiveth them . . . the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before [us].”14 I believe the 1978 revelation on the priesthood—“a new flood of intelligence and light”15 received by prophets and apostles—was one of the most powerful beams of heavenly light in the history of the world. I’m convinced it led to a major phase in the Lord’s efforts to build up His Church “unto the most holy faith” and unify His children “in all nations.”

A Revelation Received in Unity That Led to Increased Unity

It’s impressive to me that a revelation of this magnitude, which is one of the most universally known revelations received in the modern era (perhaps better known outside the Church than even Joseph Smith’s First Vision) relates positively to people of African descent and to the ministry of apostles and prophets. How did this historic revelation extending the priesthood to all worthy males come about? What follows is a brief overview of how the revelation itself was received.16

On one occasion, after numerous petitions to God to extend the priesthood to all worthy males, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, led by President Spencer W. Kimball, counseled together about whether to repeat the petition. They stated they were eager for their black brothers and sisters to receive all the blessings of the restored gospel.17 President Kimball invited his counselors in the First Presidency and each member of the Quorum of the Twelve to share their personal opinions on this vital question.18 President Thomas S. Monson, who is now President of the Church, participated in that meeting. He echoed the desire of others when he said that he “favored petitioning the Lord again with the plea to extend the priesthood to all men counted worthy.”19

President Gordon B. Hinckley told of the revelation he and his brethren received in response to their petition. “All of us knew that the time had come for a change and that the decision had come from the heavens,” he said. “The answer was clear. There was perfect unity among us in our experience and in our understanding.”20 President Boyd K. Packer’s biographer wrote, “Those of the Lord’s watchmen who were present at those historic times will recall and have borne witness to the Spirit of revelation that attended them, and each has expressed gratitude for being part of the momentous experience.”21 With love, unity, and devotion to the Lord, these brethren reversed a ban that had already been longstanding by the time each had been born.22

I feel that our loving Eternal Father, mindful of His earthly black children, poured out a powerful spirit of unity from the heavens that would eventually fill the whole earth. Through apostles and prophets, He once again hastened His work in its time,23 summoning the entire human family—all races and ethnicities—to an increased “unity of the faith” and a more complete spiritual brotherhood and sisterhood.

Answering Questions about the Origin and Purpose of the Priesthood Restriction: A Lesson from the Savior on Perspective

Even though more than three decades have passed since the revelation on the priesthood, some continue to have questions about the priesthood ban. In my experience, some who ask these questions sit in our seminary, institute, and Sunday classes and before our full-time missionaries. Their motivation in asking questions is usually sincere and heartfelt, born of spirit-deep feelings of justice, fairness, and love. They are not unlike some of Jesus Christ’s ancient disciples who once asked questions about a man who had been born blind.

“Master, who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus’s disciples queried. Recognizing God to be just, they thought the denial of such a basic blessing as sight must have been a punishment for someone’s sinfulness—either the man’s own, in the premortal world, or his parents’, sometime before he was born.

Jesus’s answer taught a powerful lesson that I believe relates to the priesthood ban: “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”24

I hear the Savior’s answer this way: “You’re not asking the right question or thinking from a godly perspective.25 You’re trying to make sense of a sad situation by assigning blame without knowing all of the facts; but I see this man’s condition as simply an opportunity for me to bless him and show forth the power of God through a miraculous work.”

How does this story relate to the priesthood ban? I believe when we analyze the priesthood ban in a way that seeks to assign blame, either to people of African descent or to early leaders of the Church—and blame has been assigned to both groups—we become distracted. We miss the Lord’s grander, more eternal vision and opportunity. We essentially ask, “Master, who did sin, black people or the early Church leaders, that the priesthood ban was imposed?” I believe if the Savior stood beside us, His answer would be just as forward-looking and glorious as His response to His disciples’ question about the blind man: “Neither have my black children sinned, nor the prophets: but that the power of God should be made manifest through a miraculous work.”26

The Works and Power of God Made Manifest

How are the works and power of God made manifest in relation to the priesthood ban? My experience suggests that because the prior ban is still well known, many people may not expect The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to achieve a worldwide multiracial brotherhood and sisterhood. But this is precisely what the Church has done, is doing, and is destined to do.27 President Henry B. Eyring taught that “a great day of unity is coming,” at a time “in which we will be prepared as a people for our glorious destiny.”28

I believe the Church's present and continuing success in achieving unity across the earth will “attract the gaze of all the world in latter days.”29 The world will be amazed by this accomplishment. Many will come to recognize this achievement not as the mere work of clever men and women but as part of the prophesied “marvellous work and a wonder” and “great day of unity” God Himself is bringing to pass for the salvation of His children in the last days, through the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.30 As President Ezra Taft Benson taught, “Only the gospel will unite men of all races and nationalities in peace. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family.”31 President Dieter F. Uchtdorf affirmed, “This is truly a universal Church, with members spread across the nations of the earth proclaiming the universal message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all, irrespective of language, race, or ethnic roots.”32

I believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will increasingly shine and stand apart in unity, in contrast to the racial and ethnic tensions and clashes throughout the world. Note President Eyring’s further insight: “We see increased conflict between peoples in the world around us. Those divisions and differences could infect us. … The need for that gift [of unity] to be granted to us and the challenge to maintain it will grow greater in the days ahead.”33 He promised that despite challenges, the “prophesied gathering will accelerate.”34

Regardless of how the priesthood ban came about, I’m convinced our Heavenly Father is forwardly focused on using it to show the world His works and His power to unify His earthly children of all colors in peace and love.35 I feel He wants each of us to have this same higher focus.36

Unity and Peace through the Teachings of Latter-Day Apostles and Prophets on the Fatherhood of God

We move toward this higher focus as we learn about the true nature of God and our relationship to Him—truths revealed through latter-day apostles and prophets. Brotherhood and sisterhood through the gospel of Jesus Christ, irrespective of race, ethnicity, and culture, has always been a central message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles state: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. … In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshipped God as their Eternal Father.”37

As Elder Russell M. Nelson has taught, “Only the comprehension of the true Fatherhood of God can bring full appreciation of the true brotherhood of man. That understanding inspires desire to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation.”38

A Special Phone Call

In part 1 of this essay, I said that I felt summoned by the Lord in the summer of 1978. At the time, I knew nothing of the prophets, seers, and revelators who unanimously sought and received the revelation on the priesthood that June. Even when I learned about them and accepted them as living prophets, I never could have anticipated that I would one day receive a telephone call from one of them and actually discuss the revelation with him. But while I was working on this very essay in June 2012—34 years to the month after the revelation—my cell phone rang.

“Brother Corbitt?” the distinguished voice asked.

“Yes, this is Ahmad Corbitt.”

“Elder Perry!” the voice replied.

Not accustomed to receiving such direct phone calls, I responded, “Elder L. Tom Perry?” probably sounding ridiculous.

“That’s right!” he answered, ignoring my clumsiness.

He shared the purpose of his call, which related to my Church assignment in New York at the time. He had no idea I had been asked to write this paper. I thought it remarkable—a true tender mercy—that the only phone call I’ve ever received from one of the apostles who participated in the revelation on the priesthood came at the precise time I was working on this paper, and in the same month of the revelation. The following is an excerpt from my journal entry about that conversation, which I share with Elder Perry’s permission:

“At some point, I told Elder Perry that I was writing about the topic of the priesthood and African peoples. At that moment it occurred to me for the first time (so far as I can recall) that Elder Perry participated in the priesthood revelation…. Elder Perry … shared with me that the priesthood revelation experience was for him the most spiritual and significant experience in the Thursday Temple meetings in his thirty eight years of attending them! He said the same was true for all of the Senior Brethren at the time. His special witness touched me by the power of the Holy Ghost. I began to become emotional and asked him to excuse my emotion. In a subdued voice, he then added, ‘We were not alone.’”

Conclusion and Testimony

Like the Book of Mormon, living apostles and prophets are essential in our Heavenly Father’s efforts to unify His children throughout the world. Through Joseph Smith’s incomparable prophetic ministry, the Lord brought forth the Book of Mormon, which teaches and models multiracial unity. The Lord also restored the priesthood and laid the foundation of the Church, thus restoring the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. The ancient apostolic keys that were angelically bestowed upon Joseph Smith have been transferred in their entirety upon all of the Presidents of the Church, and they rest today upon President Thomas S. Monson. I marvel and wonder at the Father’s work in these last days as He miraculously gathers His sons and daughters of all races and ethnicities into a common covenant family through the restored gospel.

I know the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles received a revelation from the Lord in June of 1978. At the time, I felt it without understanding it. I witness that through those latter-day apostles and prophets, God parted the heavens and opened an effectual door for all His children to receive a fulness of His blessings. In my view, those leaders were instruments in the Lord’s hands to bring about one of the most significant worldwide changes necessary to prepare God’s children for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Many people today use the phrase “change the world.” The priesthood revelation truly has changed the world! Only three of the recipients of that revelation are living as I write this essay: President Monson, President Packer, and Elder Perry. It will be a sad day—hopefully afar off—when, in the Lord’s time, they pass to the next world. When they do, I’m convinced they’ll find that the revelation they received has changed that world too.

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