Every atheist knows that the Church of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) had their tax-exempt status threatened in the 1970s and that’s why they had new “revelation” that black men were indeed allowed to receive “priesthood” or full adult male membership in the church and authority over women members. Or did they?
There is a popular rumor that I just can’t find supporting documents for, that then President Jimmy Carter leaned on the IRS to make such a threat against the Church. If it was true, Carter hasn’t verified it in the decades since. If it was not true, Carter hasn’t denied it in the decades since. We kind of have to guess.
What we know with certainty is that the Church had built a new temple in Brazil, that a lot of new converts were the result, and that the majority of these converts were black. In fact, there were so few white converts that white members alone could not maintain the church and all its functions. Within the Mormon faith, there are both churches and temples. Churches are public houses of worship and anyone may enter. Temples are considered sacred spaces and only someone with a “temple recommend” (a recommendation from their clergy as a Mormon in good standing with the Church) may enter.
Temples are a source of money. “When a temple is built, they have an identifiable increase in all revenue from the area, and specifically tithing.” (Ostling – Mormon America) A temple that cannot attract sufficient priesthood leadership to remain open turns from a source of revenue to a sunk cost.
What’s more, the first attempt at extending priesthood to black members came about in 1969 and was agreed upon by the majority of voting clergy. However, then-president of the Church, Harold Bringham Lee, was not present for the vote and rejected it upon his return. By the next time the church considered the “Negro question” (as internal church documents referred to it), Lee had deceased and been replaced by Spencer W. Kimball.
Kimball, by all available records, appears to have been open to the idea of extending priesthood at least as early as 1977, when he told a black Brazilian member to prepare himself for priesthood as a change would be coming soon. From March, 1978 on until the official change in October of that year, Kimball took steps toward this goal, encouraging clergy to “pray and fast” over the issue. By October, the “new revelation” was made public.