June 8th, 1978 saw what is arguably the biggest development in 20th century Church history. By announcing that the priesthood could now be received by every worthy male, regardless of race, President Kimball opened a door that has allowed the full blessings of the gospel to be implemented among all people in every nation. The impact of the announcement is still being felt in the Church today.
This much we all know and are thankful for.
My point here is not to discuss the priesthood announcement itself, significant as it was. Rather, it is to point out an implication arising from that event that I believe is timely as we head ever deeper into the Last Days of this dispensation of the Gospel.
That the priesthood restriction would eventually end was never in question. It was always a question of timing. Those few who ventured to speak about when it might happen usually talked in terms of it happening at the end of the Millennial reign of Christ, a distant period still over a thousand years hence. Others supposed it would happen during the Millennium itself. No-one saw it happening in our day, in the time preceding the Second Coming of Christ.
The timing was not predicted in scripture, nor in any of the revelations given by God to the Church since 1820. Nor was it talked about by the latter-day Prophets. While many expressed their hope for the policy to change, I am unaware of any LDS writer who articulated how it could happen sooner than the Millennium. Even when speculating about its history and possible reasons for the policy, not one predicted it would happen in our day.
When it did happen in June 1978, those living leaders who had spoken about this topic of course accepted the change. Their previous opinions and ideas on the subject were immediately superseded by the new and expanded understanding revealed through President Kimball.
Keeping in mind the undoubted significance of the 1978 event, what then should we make of the fact that no-one foretold it?
For me the lesson is simply this:
Not everything that will happen in these latter days has been predicted.
Not just minutiae, but whole topics unforeseen by anyone
may be in our near future.
With regard to the last days and the events associated with the ushering in of the Millennial reign of Christ, I believe there is an unspoken tendency for Latter-day Saints to assume that we have a fairly good overall idea of what lies ahead. What happened in 1978 calls that idea somewhat into question, a point I hope to address in future articles. 1978 suggests some caution.
How Revelation Comes.
We sustain the President of the Church as Prophet (he prophesies of things to come), Seer (he sees the will of the Lord) and Revelator (he reveals), but of course that does not mean that all revelation flows down from above automatically. It comes in response to prayer, questioning, seeking.
1978 itself is an excellent example of this principle. For over a century the policy remained in force. It was not until new circumstances in the missionary program of the Church arose that the need to re-examine it became evident. The preamble to Official Declaration 2 in the Doctrine and Covenants describes how President Kimball received the revelation “after extended meditation and prayer in the sacred rooms of the holy temple…” and the document itself refers to long and earnest supplication of the Lord for “divine guidance” on the matter. Only then did the revelation come.
This follows the same pattern evident in the Restoration. The Aaronic Priesthood, for example, was not restored until the issue of authority to baptize was made a subject of prayer. Only then did John the Baptist step forward from behind the veil and lay his hands upon the heads of Joseph and Oliver. But, for several more years many men in the Church continued to chew their plugs of tobacco and spit as they sat in meetings. Only when answers were sought did the Word of Wisdom revelation come in response. That pattern – that revelation almost always comes only after we have exercised our own abilities and then asked the Lord – is what we find all through sacred history from the days of Adam and Eve onward.
Where does this leave us?
Is it time, therefore, to abandon all of our beloved LDS commentaries about the last days and the second coming? Should any of them now be regarded as more authoritative than others? When we accept that something as significant as the 1978 event was not predicted by anyone, these and other questions are valid concerns. I have only tentative thoughts in answer, but it seems to me that what is most needed is simply a heightened awareness that we know only in part. Once we accept that not everything of importance has been foreseen we are more likely to accept commentary as being, at best, an incomplete guide. We are much less likely to be led astray by speculation. Dogmatism, where it exists, will be replaced by a new openness for what the future holds.
The words of the living Prophet, combined with scripture and the spiritual confirmation available to the worthy, provide us the general outlines and the governing principles for us to move into the future without fear. Section 88, a revelation of such great value that the Prophet Joseph likened it to “an olive leaf…plucked from the Tree of Paradise,” tells us that we must learn of:
“…things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been,
things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad…” (verse 79).
As issues and situations unfold in our society our challenge is to not merely be aware of them but to add our voice in defense of truth, to weigh and question (and we must not only look outwards but inwards also, as we work to avoid the fulfillment of Nephi’s unpopular prediction that all is not well in Zion (2 Nephi 28:21, 24), where the love of things has too much of a grasp). Meantime, all around us alliances are changing and new empires are rising in fast-moving events that seem to be setting the stage for scenes predicted long ago.
Surely, we all have much to do. One day we may look back on this time, the early 21st century, as the literal calm before the storm. Now is the space given by a loving God for each of us to prepare ourselves and our families for days such as we have never known. Even as the 1978 revelation reminds us that we walk with an imperfect view of the future, other revelations assure us of spiritual safety if we prepare well.