I entered the Old Mission Home across from the SLC temple in 1975. I had been called to be an LDS missionary in the Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Mission. After two months in the LTM in Provo (the Language Training Mission) my group was sent to Texas to work while we awaited our visas. Ten months after entering the Mission Home in SLC we finally arrived in Brazil in November, just before Thanksgiving back in the US.
I worked in Rio and in its suburbs for a few months before being called as the Financial Secretary (the Contador) for the Mission. (As a result of this experience I majored in accounting on my return and I’m a CPA today.) In those days we were a “real” mission, providing support to branches from Rio to Manaus. There were only two Stakes, one in Rio and one on the other side of the bay in Niteroi.
I worked as the Financial Secretary in the Mission Home for seven months, paying the bills for the Mission, exchanging US dollars for Cruzeiros at a travel agency (where we got a better rate than that given by the banks), and receiving the tithes and offerings from the branches including donations for the new temple being built in San Paulo.
One day my Mission President, Helio da Rocha Camargo, who later served as a General Authority in the Quorum of the Seventy, came racing into my office with a piece of newspaper folded in such a way that I could only see a picture of a man. The president asked me several very direct questions. I thought I was being tested. He first asked, “Elder, would you teach the gospel to this man?” I looked at the man and he appeared to be Black. We weren’t supposed to teach the gospel to Blacks but only pray with them and invite them to attend the church of their choice. We followed this same policy while I was a missionary in the Texas/Dallas Mission. I looked up at the president and explained in carefully chosen words that since this man appeared to be Black that I wouldn’t teach him the gospel but would invite him to pray and to attend the church of his choice.
President Camargo pressed on. “Elder, say this man wants to come to our church and to learn more about it, what would you do then?” I told him just as I’d had been instructed to do, that I would welcome him at church and teach him but would not encourage him to be baptized.
"Elder, what would you do if this man asked you to be baptized; would you baptize him?" I responded that I would first have to teach the special lesson that the Church had written concerning those who were of the lineage of Cain. This was a special lesson that anyone with the marks of the lineage of Cain had to hear and had to accept without reservation before being baptized. These marks amounted to what we would call “racial profiling” in our current time. In northern Brazil, interracial unions were very common and socially acceptable. These unions over the years had produced a very beautiful people that were not obviously Black called Mulattos. We were taught to looked for the marks of the lineage of Cain. I was taught to look at the difference in color between the top of a person’s hand and the palm. A lighter palm or a distinct transition of dark to light skin, looking at the skin between the forefinger and the thumb, was a sign of “the lineage” as we called it. We also looked for wide and flat noses and kinky, tightly curled hair. At that time if you had Black ancestry from Africa (“Injo Africano”) while you could be baptized, you and your children would never be allowed to hold the priesthood. This meant that people with “the lineage” were not eligible to go to the new temple that was being built in San Paulo. We had to explain this to these people before they could be baptized. Not yet knowing where my mission president was going with his line of questioning, I told him that I would baptize this man if he accepted the “lineage lesson”.
Next, President Camargo, obviously sensing that he was backing me into a corner, asked me if this man could receive the Priesthood? I had to say that from the picture it didn’t appear like this man would ever receive the Priesthood because he was clearly of Black ancestry, no doubt about it, no need to see his palms or analyze his nose or his hair. “No”, I told my president.
With that final answer, the trap that he had carefully led me into fell shut. He had me. I had said exactly what he had been looking for me to say, which was the official Church position at the time concerning Blacks, those with the lineage of Cain. He opened the folded newspaper and to my great surprise revealed the current issue of the Church News that I had not seen nor read. On the front page was the picture of a new Bishop from the one of the Pacific Islands. (The Church News is an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
President Camargo in an almost frantic voice at this point asks me how is it possible that this man, blacker than most people in Rio with “the lineage” can receive the Priesthood and become a Bishop! You see my president didn’t believe the church’s current teaching that some Blacks were from Africa while others were not. He believed all Blacks were of the same race and that if Cain started the race then they were all his descendants. If this Black man from the Pacific could hold the Priesthood and become a Bishop why couldn’t all the people from his country of Brazil be treated in exactly the same way?
Then in a rare moment for any missionary, my president confided in me as to why he was so upset. He held out his hand in front of my eyes and showed me the top of his hand and his palm. He pointed to his nose. He pointed to his hair. He knew he had the marks of “the lineage” and he told me so. He told me that the only reason that he was ordained to the Priesthood was that he didn’t know his ancestry for sure and was not aware of any family ties to Africa. (Perhaps these marks were conveniently overlooked since he had been a Methodist minister who left his church over the practice of infant baptism). He was very upset about the teachings of the Church as contained in the Pearl of Great Price and the derived teachings of various General Authorities concerning the descendants of Cain. He asked me why was the Church building a temple that most of the people from Northern Brazil could not go inside? He made me defend the Church’s position.
We lived with the “lineage lesson” and this doctrine my entire mission. I taught the “lineage lesson” to all of our converts in Brazil. It was never rejected and we baptized many people who believed that God the Father and Jesus Christ had appeared to the boy Joseph Smith.
Shortly after returning from my mission I heard the news reported on the radio that all worthy men could receive the Priesthood and attend the temple with their families. I was very happy for this change in a church doctrine that I had once defended and accepted as being true. I am saddened to learn that the LDS church is today trying to rewrite it’s history by denying that it ever espoused a rational that explained and supported why Blacks could be denied the Priesthood.
Brigham Young taught that in the future eternity, worthy and qualified negroes would receive the priesthood. Bruce R. McConkie reaffirmed as recently as 1975 in his book entitled Mormon Doctrine, second edition, 16th printing, that "Negroes in this life are denied the priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty. (Abraham 1:20-27)"
The only pre-1978 quotes that can be found on this point of doctrine are those supportive of the teaching of Joseph Smith that those of African decent through Ham would not receive the priesthood in this life but in the next if worthy. Apparently this is yet another example of a teaching of Joseph Smith and other LDS prophets that has been shown to be false:
"Joseph Smith has left very little on record in his own words outside of the Pearl of Great Price. During the course of a discussion in Nauvoo in 1842, on the question as to whether the Negroes or the Indians have received the greater ill-treatment from the whites, the Prophet Joseph said: 'The Indians have greater cause to complain of the treatment of the whites, than the Negroes, or sons of Cain.' (D.H.C., 4:501.) But we all know it is due to his teachings that the Negro today is barred from the Priesthood." (Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., The Way to Perfection, p.111)
"Brigham Young did not originate the doctrine that Negroes could not hold the Priesthood in this life but some day some of them may be granted that privilege, but he was taught it by the Prophet Joseph." (Milton R. Hunter, Pearl of Great Price Commentary, p.142)
"The Pearl of Great Price tells us definitely that the Egyptians were denied the priesthood. The Prophet [Joseph Smith] taught his brethren that Cain was denied the priesthood and his posterity also to the latest generations. The promise was given that this curse, or restriction, will be removed, when the time comes in some future sphere, when Abel will have posterity. This evidence is collected and published in The Way to Perfection, chapters 15 and 16." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.2, p.177)
"Kindly see chapters 15 and 16, in The Way to Perfection, for further light in relation to the reason why the Negro cannot receive the priesthood. In brief, it is as follows: Because of transgression in the first estate which deprives him in this second estate. Since Cain slew his brother Abel in order to obtain all the rights of priesthood to descend through his lineage, the Lord decreed that the children of Cain should not have the privilege of bearing the priesthood until Abel had posterity who could have the priesthood and that will have to be in the far distant future. When this is accomplished on some other world, then the restrictions will be removed from the children of Cain who have been true in this 'second' estate." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.2, p.188)
It appears then that Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and subsequent men were false prophets since they taught us that those of African decent through Cain would NOT receive the priesthood in this life and NOT BEFORE the posterity of Able! What was true pre-1978 must be true today or else it must be declared that this LDS doctrine as preached pre-1978 was false. The LDS can't have Truth both ways!
Owen D. West, III (Brazil Rio de Janeiro Mission 1975 – 1977)
Copy of the Lineage Lesson and English translation.