The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted an official statement on Friday denouncing its previous theories that black skin color is a sign of a divine curse, or that black people are descended from the biblical figure Cain, and said that its past ban on black priests stemmed from an announcement from former church president Brigham Young in 1852.
"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 2,000 word statement on the official church website read. "Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form."
While the ban on black priests was lifted in 1978, The Associated Press and other sources have pointed out that there had never been much in the way of explanation from the church for its past stance.
The Mormon Church, which has over 15 million members worldwide according to its own statistics, moved under the spotlight in the U.S. during Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign for president.
It has been criticized for its history dealing with black people, and an October 2012 billboard by the American Atheists organization sought to put "shame on Mormonism" by pointing out that black people were not allowed to serve as priests until 1978, and that the ban today extends to gay people.
John Lynch, managing director of Mormon Voices, explained to The Christian Post at the time that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints never had segregated congregations, and ordained numerous black priests in its earliest days, but "has not been perfect in its treatment of blacks."
"Mormon Voices condemns divisive political grandstanding, as is evidenced by these mobile billboards, which serve only to prevent progress in the Church's relationships with African Americans and members of the gay community," Lynch said about the billboards.
The new statement on the Mormon Church's website attributed the official ban on black priests to former president Young in 1852, who declared that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood – though black people continued joining the church.
The practice continued following Young's death, and although church leaders and members have suggested different theories about the ban, today no such explanations are accepted by the church's official doctrine.
"According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel," the statement offered.
"Those who accepted this view believed that God's 'curse' on Cain was the mark of a dark skin. Black servitude was sometimes viewed as a second curse placed upon Noah's grandson Canaan as a result of Ham's indiscretion toward his father."
The statement concluded by reminding readers that redemption through Jesus Christ "is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed."
"It affirms that God is 'no respecter of persons' and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous – regardless of race – is favored of Him," the church added.
Don Harwell, a 67-year-old president of a black Mormon support group in Utah, said that the statement was "way past due" and should have been made in 1978 when the ban was lifted, but it was "better late than never."
"I'm thrilled," added Margaret Blair Young, an adjunct professor at Brigham Young University. "It went so much further than anything before has done."