Stay Thou Nearby: A Review

The 1852–1978 priesthood and temple ban on Blacks in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for those affected most directly by it. I have been grateful, however, for efforts in the Church to address the issue more openly in recent years, including several publications from Deseret Book relating to the subject. These include both My Lord, He Calls Me and Let’s Talk About Race and Priesthood, with the most recent contribution to the subject from Deseret Book being Stay Thou Nearby: Reflections on the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood

Stay Thou Nearby is a collection of four essays written by leading Black Latter-day Saints. Carol Lawrence-Costley (Young Women General Advisory Council), Ahmad S. Corbitt (General Authority Seventy), Edward Dube (Africa South Area President) and Tracy Y. Browning (Second Counselor in the Primary General Presidency) each contributed one essay to the book. In those essays, they reflect on their experiences with and thoughts on the revelation that ended the priesthood and temple ban. It’s a pretty fast read, with each essay clocking in around 25 pages in a small book. 

The tone of the book is devotional in nature. Most of what is stated follows what Dallin H. Oaks advised members to do at the 40th anniversary celebration of the priesthood revelation

Most in the Church, including its senior leadership, have concentrated on the opportunities of the future rather than the disappointments of the past. We have trusted the wisdom and timing of the Lord and accepted the directions of His prophet. …

To concern ourselves with what has not been revealed or with past explanations by those who were operating with limited understanding can only result in speculation and frustration. To all who have such concerns, we extend our love and this special invitation. Let us all look forward in the unity of our faith and trust in the Lord’s promise that “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female” (2 Nephi 26:33; emphasis added). (Dallin H. Oaks, “President Oaks Remarks at Worldwide Priesthood Celebration.”)

In each essay, the author spoke about the anguish they (and others they know) experienced as they learned about the temple and priesthood ban. They talked about the disbelief and pain they experienced as a result, but then went on to talk about how they reconciled their belief in the Church with historical reality of the priesthood and temple ban. As an active member of the Church with liberal leanings, I found these experiences helpful as a way to navigate my own frustration and pain with the history of the priesthood ban.

Again, Stay Thou Nearby is devotional in focus rather than a scholarly historical analysis of the priesthood and temple ban or the revelation that ended it. The focus of the book is modeling how Latter-day Saints who find the priesthood and temple ban to be painful can accept the historical realities of the ban while remaining faithful, believing members. That being said, I believe that the book will still be valuable for scholars of the intersection of religion and race as a study on how some Black Latter-day Saints have navigated their intersectional identity as members who were told in times past by Church leaders and members that they were innately less worthy because of their ancestry. In any case, learning about the experiences and thoughts of these individuals is something for which it is worth taking the time to read Stay Thou Nearby: Reflections on the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood.