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How Brazil Influenced Official Declaration 2 (Part 2 of 7)

An under-appreciated story in explaining the priesthood and temple ban was President Spencer W. Kimball’s announcement of a new temple in Brazil.  In our next conversation with Dr. Matt Harris, we’ll talk about the significant role the Brazil Temple played in changing attitudes among the apostles.

Matt:  Anyway, so when I met with Ed Kimball one long afternoon, we had dinner. When we talked and I said, “I want to share a thesis with you about your father that you didn’t write about in your book [Lengthen Your Stride.]” This thesis is this.  He’s an academic. So he knows what a thesis is. I said, “Your father wanted to lift the priesthood ban the minute he became the Church President.”

And he looked at me, his eyes got really big. And he said, “You’re right.” He said, “I wasn’t at liberty to write that.” And I said, “Well, I am.”

And anyway, I shared some of my ideas with him, that the Brazil Temple was one of the ways that he would do that. I mean, think about how ironic it is to announce the building of a temple in a nation that’s like 85% biracial. Nobody can go to the temple. Right? How crazy is that? And President Kimball had been to Brazil in the 1950s. He had apostolic, administrative oversight over Brazil. I think President McKay wanted him in Brazil. So anyway, so he’d been to Brazil. He knew the challenges of the priesthood ban there. So he’s very familiar with the people in the country. And so they announced a Temple where no one can worship.

Matt:  And anyway, so President Kimball is a masterful manager of people. In the university setting where I work in or if you study organizational behavior, this is a classic case of organizational behavior, how to deal with people, how to get them over to your position. And so, President Kimball brings him in over a period of several weeks some of the hardliners and consults with them and counsels with them. Kimball says, “We’ve got a problem in Brazil, Elder McConkie. You know that we have a new temple here. What do we do? Now this is the funny part. President Kimball knows what needs to be done. But he can’t do it without getting buy-in from the most vociferous member of the Twelve. And the most vociferous apostle opposing the ban, at least at that time. Right?

Matt:  [McConkie wrote] “Mormon Doctrine” of course where he articulates his views about the ban an African-Americans. or persons of African descent.  So he has to persuade Elder McConkie this is the right thing to do.  Elder McConkie, will be persuaded if the saints are to utilize the Brazil Temple, they have to give black men the priesthood.  That’s the short answer.  If you read Elder McConkie’s son’s memoir, Joseph Fielding McConkie writes a book about his father in 2003.  If you read the chapter on the revelation, Joseph Fielding McConkie gives the credit to his father.  “It was my father’s idea to give blacks the priesthood.”  At least that’s how I read it.  “The Brazil Temple.”  I’m thinking.  I actually chuckled when I read that chapter.  Because President Kimball knew darn well what he was doing. Elder McConkie didn’t know what was going on.

Check out our conversation….

Dr. Matt Harris claims the Brazil Temple was the key to get some apostles to change their mind about the priesthood/temple ban on blacks.

Don’t miss our previous episode with Dr. Harris!

347: Did Nixon & Carter Pressure BYU Over Race?

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How Kimball Persuaded Apostles to Agree on Lifting the Ban

In our next episode with Dr. Matt Harris, we will talk about how President Kimball persuaded the apostles to lift the priesthood and temple ban on black church members.  It turns out the Brazil Temple was a key part of that, as well as Bruce R. McConkie’s change of heart.

Kimball knows the consequences of doing something unilaterally without quorum buy-in.  He sees that in church history, and he experiences it himself during the McKay administration.  So, President Kimball recognizes this is such a delicate task, and that if he is going to make this, arguably, probably the most momentous—not arguably.  In the 20th century, it is the most momentous decision in the church, second maybe only to plural marriage, giving black people the priesthood.

So, he knows he has to have buy-in.  How do you get buy-in from people who have very, very deep-seated racial views?

President Kimball announces the Brazil Temple.  This is a bulwark to help the brethren to come along with this.  He recognizes that you can’t have temple in this heavily bi-racial nation, where the people who sacrificed and do so much to build the temple are shut off from it.  I mean he understands this.

We will also get into more detail on Monroe Fleming’s “almost” ordination in 1969!

Matt:  The “loyal negro” at the Hotel Utah is Monroe Fleming.  He had been working there for years.  Church leaders all knew him.  Of course, it is a church-owned property.  He was a very faithful member.  I think he joins in the early ‘50s, so clearly he is a pioneer in the church.  He comes of age in the church before the priesthood revelation, so he understands the restriction.  But it is not clear if there is going to be an announcement; it’s just that “We are going to ordain this loyal negro man.”  That’s all it is.  I think Hugh B. Brown mentions Monroe Fleming in a different document, but the McKay document that I have, it’s just “a loyal negro member at the Hotel Utah.”

Pres. Kimball Announced a new temple in Brazil to get buy-in to help apostles understand why ban needed to be lifted.
Pres. Kimball Announced a new temple in Brazil to get buy-in to help apostles understand why ban needed to be lifted.

Check out our conversation!  Don’t forget to listen to Matt describe how McKay almost ordained Monroe Fleming in 1969.