Forty-five years after the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, Carol shares how her path to baptism started with seeing the Osmonds on TV, but nearly ended when she learned of the priesthood and temple restriction.
On May 22, 1972, my family gathered around the TV to watch the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium—a yearly tradition for many households in England. We were always curious to see who would perform for our beloved queen. That year, the guests were the Osmond Brothers. I remember being mesmerized by the wholesome, energetic young men from America with long dark hair and huge smiles that exposed big white teeth. My friends and I bought every magazine and newspaper article we could find. The more we read about the family, the more we wanted to know about them.
We were a group of impressionable preteen girls who, once we learned about the Osmonds’ religion, latched on to the Word of Wisdom and began living it. We stopped drinking tea, and we vowed not to smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs, or engage in anything that would cause harm to our bodies. We also agreed to live by the strict moral standards of the Osmonds’ church—including no intimate relationships until marriage. As we committed to living their religion, we scoured England to see if such a church existed in our area, and we found a ward in Croydon, Surrey.
My friend Vanessa spearheaded reaching out to the Church in Salt Lake, requesting that the missionaries come and teach us. In the meantime, we visited the local ward. They met in a social hall which was often used for events that featured alcoholic beverages and cigarette smoking. Preparing for Sabbath-day worship was a chore. Still, despite those inconveniences, the atmosphere created by the speakers and the congregation, coupled with the presence of the Spirit, transformed the old meeting hall into a sanctuary. I remember attending what was termed a “fireside.” I don’t recall who spoke, but I remember what I felt. The only word I could use at the time to describe this experience was feeling love. The friendliness of those in attendance made me feel welcomed—like family. It was as though I were at home with long-lost friends. It all felt so familiar.
It was as though I were at home with long-lost friends. It all felt so familiar.
We finally heard back from Salt Lake that the missionaries were coming. Vanessa’s nana was one of the few parents who embraced our enthusiasm for the Church, and she opened her flat and played hostess for the missionary event. Several of our friends came. There must have been at least 15 girls and a couple of youth members from the Croydon Ward. We almost screamed with excitement when we heard the knock at the door. Two wide-eyed missionaries walked into that cozy home to find a room full of mostly girls wanting to know more about the Church. Now I understand how the sight of us might have overwhelmed them.
I spent the next four years as an investigator, attending church weekly and participating in activities. But my association with the Church was not always smooth sailing. One day while at school, one of my teachers pulled me aside to let me know that my newly found religion was not to be trusted, and she told me that the members were racist. It was so confusing because that had been far from my experience. She told me stories about hatred, discrimination, and priesthood bans that seemed so far-fetched in my 12-year-old mind. It was curious because the ward I attended had several Black families, and they were members. I challenged her beliefs and let her know she had it all wrong. No one had ever discussed these issues, so I let it go. I loved my new ward family. My teacher shook her head and shrugged her shoulders, disappointed in my refusal to believe what she was sharing. She never addressed the issue again.
Finding My Place
In 1975, the missionaries challenged my sister and me to get baptized. First, we had to get both of our parents’ permission. My father lived and worked in the United States at the time, and his written permission had to come through the mail. It took about three months to get everything in order, but at last, the date of May 30, 1975, was selected for our baptisms. We were so excited! Finally, I would be an official member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As was customary at the time, young women who pursued the Church due to the Osmonds were often interviewed to ensure that they were joining for the right reasons. It wasn’t unusual to have two sets of missionaries present. On the night before our baptisms, there were more than that.
In hindsight, I realize the extra missionaries were there for reinforcement as they delivered the devastating news about the priesthood ban. By this time, the missionaries had visited our home for over three years, had eaten dinner with us, and yet had never addressed the issue of the priesthood. I was devastated. Suddenly, all the faces of my fellow Black Saints in the ward came to mind. How could they be in a church that banned them from the priesthood? With mounting confusion and hurt, I felt I couldn’t do it—I could not join such a church. I had foolishly spent years arguing with my teachers, telling them that they had their facts wrong. I would tell them, “There is no prejudice. None.” I had never experienced even a hint of discrimination or mistreatment from anyone. Many members were from different countries, several were Black, and everyone worked well together. Each week I basked in the feeling of love and unity. Why now?
The room fell silent, and I clarified that this news was a game-changer. I couldn’t do it. I could not be baptized. Not now, not ever! My sister Jacqui’s exclamation that she would be baptized broke a tension that had filled the room. While her comment broke the tension, my heart continued to hurt. The news made me feel disregarded as a person. Did God see me differently? Was I included in and considered a viable part of the great gospel plan? Uncertain of my place, I struggled with the new and disappointing knowledge. It yanked the promise of an eternal family out of my reach. So, I would have no temple marriage or a husband with the priesthood to guide my family? What was the point if I could not access these tremendous blessings I had learned about over the years?
The room fell silent, and I clarified that this news was a game changer. I couldn’t do it. I could not be baptized.
Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw the shyest of all the missionaries rise to his feet and bear a testimony that left all in the room quiet. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Carol, I promise you that by the time you are ready to be married, every worthy male member will have the priesthood.” You could have heard a pin drop. That night I hung on to Elder Williamson’s promise and agreed to be baptized. I had no idea that this young man had provided me with a revelatory experience. I was engulfed by a feeling of peace that I could not ignore. His promise made me feel that all would be well.
Crosses to Bear
Fast forward three years. My family had moved to the United States. I was graduating from high school and heading off to Brigham Young University for the summer semester. The date was June 9, 1978. I was chatting on the phone with my dear friend, Dee, in England. Suddenly, my mother appeared in the kitchen with her arms flailing. “Carol, come quick! Your prophet is on the television. He is making a big announcement.”
I asked Dee to hold, dropped the phone to the floor, rolled my eyes as teenagers often do, and hurriedly followed Mum into the living room. Then I heard it—President Spencer W. Kimball said that the priesthood would be extended to all worthy male members of the Church, without regard to race or color. It was almost unbelievable! But I knew it to be true because I felt it that night in 1975. Elder Williamson was right. I was 18, heading off to BYU, moving into adulthood, and approaching marrying age. Screams of joy erupted as the news sank in, and I shared it with Dee.
A deep sense of gratitude came over me for the efforts of President Kimball, who took the time to wrestle with the matter of the priesthood and bring it forth to the rest of the Brethren. Though initially wounded by the ban, my heart began to heal as I felt my Father in Heaven’s love for me. I felt known and vital to the work. I could now enjoy the blessings of the temple just like everyone else. Fully invested, I rededicated my efforts to being a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
I naively believed that extending the priesthood to every male in the Church would erase or abolish racism among members. I did not understand that the early pronouncements by prominent leaders were deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of some Church members. As I lived through my college years, I experienced the painful impact of these lingering beliefs. Throughout my life, I recall combing through the pages of the Ensign, looking for images of members who were brown. They did not even have to be Black—just someone from a minority group—and it would make me smile and feel more connected as a member. Why was it so essential for me to see different faces—faces that were like mine? Why? Knowing where you come from is key, and knowing my own identity as a child of God was a journey. I had felt healing with the lift of the priesthood ban, but I still wanted more, and now my children do too. It has been sad for me to see that they, too, have longed for a feeling of belonging.
All of us have hills to climb, hardships to face, questions that go unanswered, periods of uncertainty, and mundane moments interwoven with joy throughout our journeys to become disciples of Christ. Surrounding us is a village of people whose love and compassion lift us when our hands hang down. From my first introduction to the Church, I have always loved the connections we enjoy as brothers and sisters in our Church family. The feeling of belonging was key to my conversion, and it is now vital to my children as they continue their journeys. Within our Church community, we can be lifted up when we are down, receive service to fill a need, share when we have a surplus, and care for others whose hearts are failing. Also important is our need to feel safe, to have our concerns validated, and to be fully accepted.
For the last four and a half years, I have had the privilege of working with a group of amazing sisters of the Young Women General Presidency and their council members. These sisters have opened a window into a world of what it means to embrace our differences, to love, to serve, and to reach out to give support, comfort, and healing. All of these things helped to validate my feelings in such profound and meaningful ways. One of my favorite videos produced by the Relief Society, entitled “Just Like You,” depicted the presidency and the council members sharing their crosses and conveying how alike we all are. The brief clip highlighted some of the common issues we face and attested to our unique journeys. I love when we are seen and heard. I truly believe that the more open we are when it comes to addressing hard topics for our members, the greater the healing. The priesthood ban was one of my crosses, and today I appreciate those open and willing to hear about and respect my journey, allowing me the space to share without discounting my experiences simply because they do not mirror their own journeys.
I truly believe that the more open we are when it comes to addressing hard topics for our members, the greater the healing.
We are seeing progress within the Church. Our magazines, art, members, and leadership are beginning to reflect the diversity of our membership. The actions of leaders affirm the Church’s position on the value of diversity and the infinite worth of all God’s children. Providing an environment where all can realize their worth and relationship to God will help deepen the spiritual foundation we strive to create.
The Savior loves everyone; His invitation is inclusive. Unity in the gospel springs from the understanding that we are brothers and sisters in a genuine sense. As we strive to become like Christ, we will see all as He sees them and love as He loves them, and that love will fill us with a desire to see that no one is left out. Unity does not mean that we lose our individuality; it means that we respect and learn from our differences. When Paul spoke of unity, he compared the Church to a human body. Each part had different features and functions, but all were necessary—all components must work together for optimal functioning (see 1 Corinthians 12). There is power in a common purpose. With openness and honesty, we can better grow from our history and archaic ideas. As we unite to sustain our leaders, deepen our commitment to living the gospel, and keep shared covenants, our love for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ will unify us.