The following is an extract from the interview Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — the second-highest governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — gave for the PBS documentary The Mormons. The full interview transcript can be viewed here.
SALT LAKE CITY 20 July 2007
Helen Whitney: Another subject. Take me back to the time just before the ban on the priesthood was lifted.
Dallin H. Oaks: I can’t remember any time in my life when I felt greater joy and relief than when I learned that the priesthood was going to be available to all worthy males, whatever their ancestry. I had been troubled by this subject through college and my graduate school, at the University of Chicago where I went to law school. I had many black acquaintances when I lived in Chicago, the years ’54 through ’71. I had many times that my heart ached for that, and it ached for my Church, which I knew to be true and yet blessings of that Church were not available to a significant segment of our Heavenly Father’s children. And I didn’t understand why; I couldn’t identify with any of the explanations that were given. Yet I sustained the action; I was confident that in the time of the Lord I would know more about it, so I went along on faith.
Nobody was more relieved or more pleased when the word came. I remember where I was when I learned that the priesthood would be available to all worthy males, whatever their ancestry. I was at a mountain home that our family had purchased to have a place of refuge. I had my sons up there, and we were digging something. We had a big pile of dirt there. I’ve forgotten what it was now, but the phone rang in the house. I went inside, and it was Elder Boyd K. Packer. He said: “I have been appointed to advise you as a representative of the academic people, many of whom have been troubled by the ban on the priesthood, professors, and students, and so on. As president of Brigham Young University and as their representative [Elder Oaks was president of BYU at this time], I’ve been appointed to advise you that the revelation has been received that all worthy male members will be eligible to receive the priesthood, whatever their ancestry.” I thanked him, and I went outside and I told my boys, and I sat down [voice cracks with emotion] on that pile of dirt and cried. And I still feel emotion for that moment. I cried for joy and relief that the Lord had spoken through His prophet, that His blessings were now available to all: the blessings of the priesthood, the blessings of the temple, and the blessings of eternity. That’s what we desired. I praise God for it.
Helen Whitney: I know you weren’t there, but you’ve obviously talked to people who were there. Is there anything that you could vivify for us?
Dallin H. Oaks: What I heard about the revelation on the priesthood can’t add anything to the eyewitnesses that were there. But I would like to speak of that in terms of what I know about revelation. Revelation comes in a lot of different ways. God speaks to His children in many ways. A face-to-face vision of God is very rare. That was the First Vision of God to Joseph Smith. Another way that revelation comes is by the appearance of an angel. The Apostle Paul had that kind of experience. Revelation can also come in a dream or a vision. None of those were the experience in the revelation on the priesthood. Other ways that revelation comes are in comfort (feeling of comfort), information, communicating restraint, or impelling one to do something, or to give a feeling.
I think in the context of the descriptions that I have heard from my Brethren in the Quorum of the Twelve about the revelation on the priesthood that was revelation that confirmed what they desired and gave them a feeling of rightness about the time. The prophet of the Lord, President Spencer W. Kimball, had pleaded with the Lord for guidance on this problem the Church faced as it became a worldwide church. It came in contact with more and more good and worthy and wonderful people who desired the blessings of the restored gospel and were blocked by the Church’s position that they could not receive the priesthood. And I think everyone in that room desired and wished and hoped that the Lord would say, “This is the time.”
So they went to the Lord, I think with a semi-proposal, that this be done. But I was not there. I didn’t hear the words spoken. But I have the feeling that everyone felt the need, everyone felt the rightness of it. I say a “semi-proposal” because often when we pray for guidance we say, “I’m inclined to do this, is this right?” We look for confirmation. I’ve had that experience many times of confirming an action. Sometimes I’ll feel a restraint. I propose to do something and the feeling is profound: “Don’t do it!” And I think that as I’ve heard the explanations that this was a profound feeling to confirm the rightness and the timing of what was being asked, and the feeling was sufficiently profound and sufficiently individual that people have described it in different ways. But it fits for me within many revelatory experiences I’ve had in my life.