When David O. McKay became Church president after the death of George A. Smith in 1951, he expanded the missionary efforts of the Church into more areas of the world including the Polynesian islands of the South Pacific. In New Zealand, counselor of the First Presidency Spencer W. Kimball affirmed that the Maori people's origin is recorded in the Book of Mormon, and their spirituality was evidenced by many healings among them, as well as the gift of tongues.
For most of its history, the Church barred blacks of African descent from the priesthood or from taking part in temple rituals essential for returning to the presence of Heavenly Father and becoming gods. Church leaders believed a divine revelation was needed to lift this ban, and so President McKay prayed to God for guidance on the matter. McKay did not feel impressed to lift the ban, but emphasized that worthy blacks of any other descent, such as Australian Aborigines or black Fijians, were welcome to join the priesthood.
When McKay was succeeded as Church president in 1973, Jesus chose Spencer W. Kimball as his next prophet, seer, and revelator. In late 1975, the Church issued a proclamation to the world stating that Jesus commanded all world leaders to repent and join the Church. Jews were directed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple, and it was prophesied that Native Americans were about to be civilized and converted, all in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ.
For years, the difficult and serious question of extending the priesthood to blacks had been of particular concern to President Kimball. On June 1, 1978, he gathered with the Twelve Apostles in prayer inside the Salt Lake City Temple. "I told the Lord if it wasn't right, if He didn't want this change to come in the Church that I would be true to it all the rest of my life," recalled Kimball, "and I’d fight the world against it if that’s what He wanted."
The power of the Holy Ghost came to Kimball in that moment, providing revelation, and assuring him and all others gathered there that the time had come to stop banning blacks of African descent from the priesthood. The eternal consequences for millions of people on earth and billions who had already lived and died were tremendous. No longer were blacks of African descent barred from the eternal presence of Heavenly Father or the possibility of becoming gods.
During his presidency, Kimball spoke out against such sins as homosexuality and the attempts to blur the distinction between masculine and feminine. "We call upon all people to accept normal marriage as a basis for true happiness," he stated, encouraging young Latter-day Saints to marry and have children. He denounced premeditated abortion as an evil and terrible sin, and he counseled against the use of playing cards.
Kimball urged the Saints to have nothing to do with apostate groups, several sects of which were actively proselytizing among members of the Church. These fundamentalist groups claimed the Church went astray with the issuing of the Manifesto in 1890, and they continue to this day to practice plural marriage, sometimes in secret.
In the later 1970s, Church leaders spoke out against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment for fear that it would undermine the unique status of women. "Much is said about the drudgery and confinement of the woman’s role. This is not so," explained Kimball to a conference of female Saints in 1978. A small, but vocal minority of Saints mounted disruptive demonstrations at Church conferences aimed at protecting women's rights, but in the end, thanks to efforts to from groups of Latter-day Saints and others, the ERA was defeated in 1981.
In 1981, Apostle Boyd K. Packer spoke out against the growing trend of couples to live together before marriage. "If you have been tempted to enter such a relationship or if you now live with another without marriage, leave! Withdraw from it! Run away from it!". "That society which puts low value on marriage,” he said, “sows the wind and, in time, will reap the whirlwind—and thereafter, unless they repent, bring upon themselves a holocaust!"
Church membership passed 5 million worldwide in 1982. The early 80s saw the construction of an unprecedented number of new temples across the globe. Some families had to sell off nearly all their material possessions in order to afford a once-in-a-lifetime trip to their nearest temple to receive the necessary rituals to become sealed for eternity to their spouses and children. Some poor families could not afford to bring all their children were faced with the impossible choice of which sons or daughters to become sealed to and which to leave behind.