The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Questions #27

Q. You say that Hamites couldn’t hold the Priesthood until 1978; when the ban was lifted. What about Elijah Abel; a black man who was ordained an Elder long before 1978?

A. God makes exceptions to His own decrees (rules) in cases of exceeding faith. We saw this before in the example of Ruth the Moabitess who, because of her exceeding faith, was allowed to enter the Congregation of Israel; even though the LORD, through Moses, forbade Moabites from doing so.

In Genesis we read of Noah cursing Canaan, the son of Ham. The story goes that Noah became drunk on wine, and Ham came into his tent and uncovered his nakedness (exposed his nakedness). Noah awoke, and seeing what had happened, curses Canaan:

“And he said, Cursed by Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” (Genesis 9:25)

The Israelites, and later the Jews (the descendants of Judah, one of the sons of Israel) took this literally, and believed that it justified them making Canaanites their servants. Jews were to be the masters, and Canaanites the servants; at least until the Curse of Canaan was removed.

*The Samaritans and the Canaanite Woman

In the days of Jesus there were a people called the Samaritans. They lived in Samaria; which is a portion of Palestine north of Jerusalem, south of Galilee, and west of the Jordan River. The Samaritans were the descendants of intermarriages between Israelites and Canaanites. The Jews considered them to be under the Curse of Canaan, and to be half-breeds. They called them “dogs”; which means lowly servants.

But the Samaritans did not accept their servant status to the Jews (the remnants of the Israelites living in Palestine). Therefore, they lived separated from them; in the land of Samaria. Jews considered Samaritans ritually unclean, and would try not to talk with them or have any dealings with them whatsoever.

When Jesus came, He instructed His disciples to go and preach, but not to any the cities of the Gentiles nor any Samaritan city:

“These twelve Jesus sent forth and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:

But go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matt. 10:5-6)

Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews, and the Jews were still God’s Covenant People. The Jews would hear the Gospel first, and then the rest.

 Jesus was a Jew. There is every indication that He accepted the Curse of Canaan. He told His disciples not to preach in Samaritan cities (Matt. 10:5-6). Yet, when a Canaanite woman showed Him exceeding faith, He blessed her:

“Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidom.22. And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out to the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grevously vexed with a devil.

23. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.

24. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

25. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

26. But he answered and said, It is not meet [appropriate] to take the children’s [Israelite] bread and cast it to dogs [Canaanites].

27. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

28. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” (Matthew 15:21-28)

The Canaanite women, upon hearing Jesus call Canaanites “dogs” (i.e. a term meaning ‘servant’) could have gotten angry, called Jesus a “racist Jew” and walked off. Yet, she knew that He was the Christ! When He said that it wasn’t appropriate for the Canaanites to receive the Gospel (bread) before the Israelites (children) had, she simply said, “Truth, Lord”, and told him that even dogs eat the crumbs from the table of their masters. This humble acceptance of God’s Will, through her exceeding faith, caused Jesus to grant her petition, and to heal her daughter who was afflicted with a demon.

Because this Canaanite woman recognized Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, without even seeing any of His miracles or hearing His Gospel, she was saved. Most of the other Canaanites perished in their sins; because their own pride prevented them from recognizing Jesus. They could not fathom that God would send His Messiah among the Jews; a racist, bigoted, people. Because of this, they perished in their sins. Their own egos got in the way of the salvation of their souls.

Which would you choose? The salvation of your pride, or the salvation of your soul?

Yet, Jesus did not believe, as other Jews did, that the Canaanites were less worthy than the Jews; even though He accepted that the Curse of Canaan applied to them, and referred to them as dogs (servants).  His Parable of the Good Samaritan showed that He considered Canaanites to be capable of righteousness and exceeding faith; while the Priest and Levite (both holders of the Priesthood of God and workers in His Temple)in His parable were guilty of hypocrisy and unrighteousness. He told this parable to illustrate that a Canaanite can be more acceptable to God than a Levite; if the Canaanite is more righteous. (Acts 10:34-5)

*Elijah Abel: Black Seventy

Elijah Abel was born on July 25th, 1810, in Maryland.   He converted to the LDS Church and was baptized in September 1832; only two years after the Church was organized. He was ordained an Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood on March 3rd, 1836. He was ordained a Seventy (a rank just below an Apostle) on April 4th, 1841.

The Prophet Joseph Smith himself wrote and signed Elijah Abel's Elder's License. It reads:

"To Whom It May Concern:

This certifies that Elijah Abel has been received into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, organized on the sixth of April, in the year of our Lord, one thousand, eight hundred and thirty, and has been ordained an Elder according to the rules and regulations of said Church, and is duly authorized to preach the gospel agreeable to the authority of that office. From the satisfactory evidence which we have of his good moral character, and his zeal for the cause of righteousness, and diligent desire to pursuade men to forsake evil and embrace truth we confidently recommend him to all candid and upright people as a worthy member of society. We therefore, in the name, and by the authority of this Church, grant unto this, our worthy brother in the Lord, this letter of commendation as a proof of our fellowship and esteem, praying for his success and prosperity in our Redeemer's Cause given by the direction of a conference of Elders of said Church. Assembled in Kirkland, Geauga County, Ohio, the third day of March, in the year of our Lord, one thousand, either hundred, and thirty-six.
[signed]Joseph Smith, Jr.
Chairman
F.G. Williams, Clerk"

While in Nauvoo, Illinois, he was a close personal friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and worked professionally as an Undertaker. After Joseph Smith’s martyrdom in 1844, he remained in Nauvoo. When Brigham Young led most of the Saints from Nauvoo to Utah (then the wilds of Alta California, Mexico), he became the manager of the Farnham Hotel in Salt Lake City; as well as working as a carpenter.  In 1883 he went on a mission to Canada as a member of the Third Quorum of Seventy. He returned and died in Salt Lake City on the 25th of December, 1884; at the age of 73.

The Mormon newspaper in Salt Lake City, the Deseret News, printed this obituary of Elijah Abel on Dec. 26, 1884:
"ABEL--In the 13th Ward, [died] Dec. 15th, 1884, of old age and debility, consequently upon exposure while laboring in the ministry [i.e. on a Church mission] in Ohio, Elijah Abel. Deceased was born in Washington County, Maryland, July 25 1810; joined the Church and was orained an Elder as appears by certificate dated April 4, 1841; labored successfully in Canada and also performed a mission to the United States, from which he returned two weeks ago. He died in full faith of the Gospel. Funderal at 16th Ward Assembly Room, Saturday, Dec. 27th, at 10 a.m. Friends invited." (Deseret News, Dec. 26, 1884)
As stated before, the son of Elijah, Enoch Abel, and his grandson, Elijah Abel II, were both ordained Elders. A number of Abels  married white Mormon men and women. Marriages between white Mormons and people of Hamitic lineage was forbidden in all other cases; before the Revelation in June of 1978.

Joseph Smith Sr., the father of the Prophet Joseph Smith, was a Patriarch in the Church. They are charged with telling people their lineage, and with giving them a “Patriarchal Blessing”; which contains prophecies and promises regarding their lives and futures should they remain faithful and worthy. Patriarch Smith gave Elijah Abel his Patriarchal Blessing in 1836, which said (in part):

“Brother Abel, in the name of Jesus, I lay my hands upon thy head to bless thee, and thou shalt be blessed for ever. I seal upon thee a father’s blessing, because thou art an orphan, for thy father hath never done his duty toward thee, but the Lord hath had his eye upon thee, and brought thee through straits, and thou hast come to be reckoned with the Saints of the Most High.

***

Angels shall visit thee, and thou shalt receive comfort.

***

Thou shalt see visions of this world and other worlds, and comprehend the laws of all kingdoms, and confound the wisdom of this generation. Thy life shall be preserved to a good old age.

***

Thou shalt be made equal unto thy brethren, and thy soul be white in eternity and thy robes glittering: thou shalt receive these blessings because of the covenants of thy fathers. Thou shalt save thy thousands, so much good, and receive all the power that thou needest to accomplish thy mission. These and all the blessings which thou canst desire in righteousness, I seal upon thee, in the name of Jesus. Amen. (Joseph Smith Sr.’s Patriarchal Blessing Book, p.88)

Because his mother had died when he was very young, and his father had abandoned him, he was considered an orphan, and Joseph Smith Sr. seems to have given him a “father’s blessing”; that he was, at least spiritually (if not legally) adopted into the Smith family by Joseph Smith, Sr. That would make Elijah Abel the adopted brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Because of his exceeding faith, and certain ancient covenants alluded to by Joseph Smith Sr., Elijah Abel was ordained to the Priesthood, and so were his male descendants. Today, the descendants of Elijah Abel appear completely Anglo-Saxon, and many of them are quite surprised that their great-great grandfather was a Negro.

Another black man ordained an Elder was Walker Lewis of Lowell, Massachusetts. Brigham Young told the Saints in 1847:

“We have one of the best Elders an African in Lowell [Massachusetts].” (12 March 1847, LDS Church Archives)

 Lewis did not follow the Saints to Nauvoo. Nothing more is known of him, or what happened to him.. They may have been others as well.


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