Today marks the 36th anniversary of the letter signed by President Spencer W. Kimball and his counselors announcing that “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.” Whether or not deserved, I have always felt a personal connection to that long-awaited news, as June 8, 1978 was my seventh birthday.
Prior to this announcement, canonized as Official Declaration 2, members of the Church struggled with the restrictions that kept faithful Saints from being able to hold the priesthood and participate in temple ordinances. In the fledgling Boston Branch, the black members who attended were among the most active of the congregants and the men participated in all Elders Quorum activities as “prospective Elders.”
One of these men was Richard Lowe. He had joined the Church in 1964, knowing that the blessings of the priesthood were not available to him. This restriction was a matter of real concern and he made it a matter of prayer prior to his baptism. In a dream, he saw himself at a podium atop which sat a very old book. Instructed to look at the book, he read clearly the words, “Seek first the truth, and then all things will come to you.”
Richard served as the Sunday School superintendent in the branch, while his wife served as Primary President. Although he did not understand the policy that prevented him from being ordained to the priesthood, Richard expressed faith in his leaders and his willingness to wait for further revelation from the Lord. In the meantime, he expressed gratitude for his brothers within the Church who came to his home and shared the priesthood with his family so that they did not want for anything. Above all, Richard made it a priority to live up to his covenants so he would be ready when and if the blessing finally came to him in mortality.
On Friday, June 9, 1978, Richard was at work when he received a phone call from his wife, who sounded strangely emotional. “Honey,” she said, “I have good news,” before she burst into tears. Just then, a fellow Church member and an investigator who worked for the same company rushed in to tell Richard the news coming out of Salt Lake. The three men embraced and wept together.
The following Sunday, Elder Robert D. Hales, then of the First Quorum of the Seventy, ordained Richard Lowe to the office of an elder.
I have great admiration for the men and women, like Richard and Priscilla Lowe, who, when confronted by a policy that appeared unjust, irrational, and incomprehensible, chose to trust the personal assurances they had received and continue in faith, even when resolution was never assured in this life. When I perceive (rightly or wrongly) conflict between principles and practice, I do best when I too remember to “seek first truth” – for, “he that doeth truth, cometh to the light” (John 3:21).
References: For All the Saints, pages 189-190 and Poulsen, Elissa J. “Honey, I Have Good News!” Ensign, December 1979.