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Mormon church explains past ban on black priests

– More than three decades after reversing its prohibition of black priests, the Mormon church has disavowed the ban, saying it was put into place during an era of great racial divide that influenced early teachings of the church.

The nearly 2,000-word statement posted on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ website was the church’s most comprehensive explanation of why it previously had barred men of African descent from the lay clergy.

In the article, the church pinned the ban on an announcement from church leader Brigham Young in 1852.

The ban ended in 1978, but in the 35 years since then, the church never explained the reasons behind the ban or addressed the once-widely held notion that blacks were spiritually inferior, said Matthew Bowman, an author and assistant professor of religion at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.

In the article, posted Friday, the church addressed what has become a sensitive topic for current leaders and the 15 million members around the world.

“The Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else,” the statement read.

“Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

Mormon church officials said the article is part of a series of online postings to explain or expand on certain gospel topics.

Other topics include “Are Mormons Christian?” and founder Joseph Smith’s first visions.