My wife and I were rereading the Pearl of Great Price last night. The verses are found in the Book of Abraham, Chapter 1:25-27. Specifically in verse 25 it states that Pharaoh was the eldest son of Egyptus who was the daughter of Ham. In the following verse we read that “Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days.” And then in the following verse we read that Pharaoh could not have the priesthood due to his lineage. We are interested in this as our adopted son is African American and we want to have answers when he asks about why those of his race were denied the priesthood until President Spencer W. Kimball changed that when I was a small boy. Since one cannot receive the temple endowment without receiving the priesthood, does this mean that those denied this in life can now have this done by way of proxy?
Latter day prophets have known, from Brigham Young’s time and onward, that the priesthood ban on those of African descent was temporary. As for the purpose behind the ban, it hasn’t been revealed. In the silence that ensued, many rationales crept forward seeking (as you are) to find a just and merciful Heavenly Father in all this. Some proposed that those prohibited from ordination had voluntarily chosen such a route pre-mortally, or that they were not as valiant in the testimony of Jesus in the pre-earth life (similar to the way the less valiant in this life will receive fewer privileges hereafter). Others unified the verses you cited about Canaan’s priesthood curse with Cain’s curse (the traditional forefather of Ham’s wife), even going so far as to say that Cain’s descendants (including Ham’s) would not receive the priesthood until righteous Abel could finally raise up children of his own. These and other variations were taught right up until the revelation came.In June of 1978, President Kimball received that fateful revelation in the presence of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, whereby “every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood” (Official Declaration 2). Compare that with other times in the world’s history. In Pharaoh’s day the descendants of Ham were denied the priesthood. In Israel’s day only Levites could hold the priesthood (if you are of the tribe of Ephraim, for instance, you would have been denied this blessing). And in our own latter day history, blacks of African descent could not hold the priesthood. We truly live in a blessed day!
Immediately upon receipt of the revelation, the Church distanced itself from the old theories. One month later, Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated:
”Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whosoever 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” (“All Are Alike unto God”, CES Religious Educators Symposium, 18 August 1978).
The Church has even reaffirmed this teaching in a recent statement about race and the priesthood. I highly recommend you make that link a source for your studies. Take advantage of the right side of the page and the footnotes. You’ll learn a little bit about the history of priesthood in the modern Church (including a few black men who were legitimately ordained to the priesthood before 1978), about the Church’s stance on racism, about the Church’s spontaneous growth in Africa, about the Genesis group, among others. I find the linked articles to commendably have a faith-based outlook on our prophets.Unfortunately, still not knowing the ultimate reason behind the ban, some theorists prefer to cast aspersions on former prophets and former saints. I find this wholly unwarranted. Like many of the revelations given in this dispensation, the Lord has not revealed “why”. The Word of Wisdom, as an example, says that it is given “in consequence of the evils and designs of conspiring men” (D&C 89:4). Well-meaning latter-day saints have filled in the blanks with tobacco companies, nicotine, tannic acid, and even caffeine. None of these theories, however, has been endorsed by the Lord. And so we continue abstaining from the revealed vices, regardless of any touted health benefits in coffee and completely ignorant of any conspiring tea schemes.I encourage you to study this out yourself. The idea is not so much to arrive at the absolute truth, as I greatly doubt that we’ll ever come across a record that will remove all doubt. The idea is to find a place where you and your son can be comfortable with what we know, and what we don’t know. You might find out worthwhile learn the stories of individuals throughout this history. Learn about Elijah Abel and his descendants. Learn about some of the founders of Genesis. Read the words of apostles who were there when the revelation was received. You may want to ask some of your older family members what they felt when they heard about the revelation.
And finally, just as ordination and temple work has been opened up for the living, it is also available to the dead – regardless of color.