We must stop trying to justify the ban by citing justifications that existed and were used prior to the ban being lifted in 1978. There are too many statements by prophets and apostles since that date that have told us that all previous justifications were incorrect for us to continue to use them. (If anyone who reads this wants to see some of those statements, search under the label "Race" near the bottom right of this blog.)
As to the claim, the following is my response:
1) EVERY instance in our canonized scripture of such a restriction, if it existed, occurred prior to the ministry of Jesus Christ. Look it up: Every reference is from before he ministered among the Jews. I believe that simple fact is critical to understand as the foundation of the discussion. Thus, if someone posits that there were “bans” based on lineage or race prior to the modern one, they have to admit that those bans appear to have stopped with Jesus’ ministry – according to our scriptural canon.
2) There are NO recorded revelations justifying the modern Priesthood ban. ALL of them used the Old Testament time period justifications that were common within “apostate” Christianity at the time. Think about that aspect of the discussion – that the justifications were borrowed from denominations that we classified as “apostate” at the time. It’s instructive, I think.
2) Jesus’ statement in Matthew 15:24 about being sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel says absolutely nothing about the Priesthood. It refers only to his ministry – his preaching, healing and blessing. The woman in question wasn’t asking for the Priesthood; she was asking that He perform a miracle on behalf of her daughter. Thus, that passage is completely irrelevant to the modern Priesthood ban and any other similar ban.
3) The last message Jesus gave his disciples in Matthew before his ascension is recorded in Matthew 28:19-20, which reads (emphasis mine):
“Go ye therefore, and teach ALL nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”
Notice, they were commanded to teach and baptize ALL nations (which doesn’t address a Priesthood ban, since even under the modern ban, all people could be taught and baptized), but notice that once ALL were baptized they, without exception, were to “observe ALL things whatsoever I have commanded you”. In other words, there is NO restriction of ANY kind on what ANYONE who was baptized was required to observe – and all members at that time couldn’t have followed that commandment without the Priesthood being given to them. Thus, by default (not reading into the passage what isn’t there), there was no Priesthood ban in the early Christian Church that was based on nationality or race.
4) Nephi (a prophet from the Old Testament time period) passed along the idea of a curse in his writings, but the Book of Mormon also has NO mention of it after the visitation of Jesus in 3rd Nephi. It ended, if there was one, with the ministry of Jesus among them. Furthermore, Nephi undercuts the idea that the curse he mentioned was skin- or lineage-related when he said in 2 Nephi 26:33 (again, emphasis mine):
“For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and 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; and he remembereth the heathen; and ALL are ALIKE unto God, both Jew AND Gentile.”
Nephi says in that verse, explicitly, that black and white are “alike unto God” – and that God invites ALL to “come unto him and partake of his goodness”. People who are partaking of the same goodness and who are alike unto God eliminates, obviously and unequivocally, the idea that one group held the Priesthood and could attend the temple while the other group didn’t and couldn’t. The ban makes NO sense whatsoever when read according to that verse – and it was written before Christ’s ministry. If that verse is interpreted literally, and if there actually was a race-based Priesthood ban at some point in history, it had ended by around 600 BC – or, if read to coincide with the ministry of Jesus, it ended at that time, at the very latest.
5) The issue with the Gentiles in the early Christian Church wasn’t about Priesthood or the temple in any way. At least, there is NO mention whatsoever of the Priesthood in any passage dealing with the issue. It was about baptism, and once the Genitles were baptized, there is no reference to any of them not receiving the Priesthood based on race.
6) To add something that I almost never hear discussed or even recognized, there's a HUGE conceptual difference between the following: 1) giving one group in a "multi-tribal" population the right to perform rituals; 2) giving everyone except one specific group in a "multi-racial" population that right. In very real, practical terms, the modern ban was the exact opposite of the ancient Levitical structure.
7) Joseph Smith ordained multiple black men to the Priesthood, so it’s patently absurd to argue that he believed a ban was necessary – regardless of how he felt about any other bans that might have existed in the past.
Based on our actual scriptural canon, even if some bans actually did occur in the Old Testament times, there is NO evidence that any ban continued after the ministry of Jesus Christ – in either the Bible or the Book of Mormon. In fact, there are multiple sources that imply or state explicitly that a ban from that point onward was not the will of God – that ALL people everywhere now were considered “alike unto him”.
Finally, the LDS Church has published a statement entitled, "Race and the Priesthood" that can be found on lds.org in the Gospel Topics section that states more clearly than ever before how the ban originated and how the leadership views it now. The link is:
"Race and the Priesthood"
So, if even our modern prophets and apostles say the former justifications were incorrect (“spectacularly wrong”, in one quote) – and if even they say they don’t know exactly why the ban was implemented (with which I can’t argue strongly, since I think it’s obvious but am willing to admit that I can’t see 100% into Pres. Young’s mind and know with total certainty why he did what he did) – and if they are saying forcefully that we should not perpetuate the former justifications – and if even they now have said that the Church condemns ALL racism of any kind, including that of our own LDS members, past and present – and if ALL the written evidence since the time of Jesus’ mortal ministry points to the incorrectness of a Priesthood ban (especially based on one drop of blood from a long-ago ancestor – who, by the way, is a common ancestor to ALL of us, if the “one drop” standard is used) — how can someone possibly argue that the modern Priesthood ban was justifiable based on the beliefs of those who lived and recorded their beliefs before Jesus was born, even if previous bans existed and were justifiable back then?
Such a position simply is not tenable, and, just as importantly, it is in direct opposition to our current leadership and their requests of us. That, perhaps, is the ultimate irony in the justification being used today by someone who believes in "following the prophet".