African Americans and Utah Mormonism
If we are blessed to live long enough, we can go back in the annals of our personal lives and see defining moments that have impacted us enough to help define who we have become. We can choose to either accept or reject these events for both good and bad. It wasn’t until I got out of the Church that I realized I had experienced a few of those moments I now I refer to as my “altar moments”.
I love how God allows those of us on this side of the cross to catch a glimpse of the every day life of His people before the cross. It has always fascinated me that people like Abraham and Moses would wander around on foot for decades with their entire families in tow, especially when I have a hard enough time convincing my kids to just follow me into the grocery store from the parking lot a hundred yards away. God knows how to speak to our hearts by showing us the frailty of our existence and the stubbornness we most certainly can relate to with the people who lived before us.
In Genesis chapters 31-32 God tells us the story of Jacob’s experiences on his way to the land of Canaan. It seems there was always something going on in Jacob’s life that God wanted him to pay close attention to. On his walking tour to Canaan, Jacob left the service of his uncle Laban after a disagreement, he wrestled with the angel of the Lord, had his hip dislocated, had his name changed to Israel and met up with his estranged brother Esau. Then in chapter 33, he finally makes it to Canaan and it is there that Jacob is compelled to stop, take note of all that has transpired and acknowledge the Lord’s provision to him and his family. Gen. 33:19-20;
“And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for an hundred pieces of money. And he erected there an altar, and called it El-elohe-Israel.”
The transliteration from the Hebrew for this altar is “the mighty God of Israel, the title given to a consecrated spot by Jacob”. Matthew Henry said this about the altar Jacob built:
“He dedicated this altar, where we have a house he must have a church in it. He dedicated this altar to the honour of El-elohe-Israel—God, the God of Israel, to the honour of God, in general, the only living and true God, the best of beings and first of causes; and to the honour of the God of Israel, as a God in covenant with him. Note, In our worship of God we must be guided and governed by the joint-discoveries both of natural and revealed religion.”
Jacob knew God had divinely interceded on many occasions during the travels with his family and after taking care of the herds and flocks God had provided him with, it was time to honor the Lord. Indeed, this altar served as a memorial of God’s goodness in so very many ways. Whether the circumstances were engineered by Jacob’s own doing, the Lord’s, or by others, Jacob understood in the deepest recesses of his heart that God was ultimately in control of it all.
When I was a teenager I had one of those defining moments and for me it has become one of my favorite places to go back to and praise God for His mercy. God is always omniscient and the older I get the more comforting this acknowledgement has become for me. When the defining moment took place for me in the summer of 1978 I had a sense of its significance, but could not have imagined the full extent of how God would use that day to change not only my future mortality, but my eternal life as well.
The Lord showed me how He watched over me as a child when I read John 10:4-5;
“And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.”
I can see two more truths about Jesus in these two verses. 1- Jesus knew how I would respond to the 1978 revelation (even as a teenager), and how in my future, it would define my path in life. 2 – It also tells me why this came to be. I heard the voice of the true Shepherd. Now please understand; I do not take any credit for that whatsoever! He intervened and spoke to me in the way that only He knows how. The same is true for every one of His children.
In June 1978 the prophet of the LDS Church claimed he had received a revelation from God. This revelation was so incredibly huge that it redefined one of the foundational beliefs of the Mormon Church. In essence it would also characterize how thousands of people looked at themselves.
From the inception of the Church in 1830 the general rule of thumb was that anyone of color was not allowed to hold the priesthood or have the blessings white people enjoyed as members. There were a handful of non-white members of the Church who held the priesthood, however, these were very rare circumstances.
Now if you were to see me you would wonder why I have such a healthy interest in this subject because I am after all, Caucasian, to those outside the Church. Half of my family’s heritage is from England, but the other half is “black Welsh”. Growing up I tended to view my father’s family at a lower level of humanity because of our coloring, especially while listening to the teachings at Sacrament Meetings. Whether real or imagined I felt everyone’s eyes glued to my curly black hair and olive skin whenever the lesson was on our behavior in the pre-existence.
In my private times I would berate myself for siding with Lucifer in the pre-existence and not siding completely with Jesus. I wondered what I had done to not give my all to Jesus, my elder brother, and why I wouldn’t have loved him there like I did here on earth. I was so ashamed of myself and would beg Heavenly Father to give me straight hair or maybe just lighten up the color of my eyes; it was hard to see where my iris’ and pupils met. And then “it” happened.
Early in June of 1978 on a Saturday afternoon I walked out onto my grandmother’s porch to retrieve the newspaper. The headlines on the front page stared up at me from the lower steps of that porch screaming: “PROPHET HAS REVELATION; BLACKS ACCEPTED INTO PRIESTHOOD”. Most people have the tendency to think that I would have been thrilled. Nothing could be further from the truth – I was devastated.
How could I ever know how to please God now? What if he changed his mind again? What did I do to earn his favor overnight? Why was it suddenly acceptable to be dark? My behavior in the pre-existence hadn’t changed, I still believed I had sinned somehow so why was I suddenly okay? At this age I was still trying to figure out why God had changed his mind about polygamy and here he was changing his mind about something else.
I cannot speak for everyone “of color”. I can only speak for myself and what I experienced living in a culture where the shade of your skin is vitally important. If you were to speak with my mother, you’d hear an entirely different story because after all, she’s “white and delightsome”. We’ve had several conversations about this topic and she claims she doesn’t even remember being taught that dark people had sinned in the pre-existence. Strange how that happens in life…
It is so incredibly painful when those around you breathe contempt upon you because of the color of your skin or eyes. I’ve never found a sufficient way to articulate the humiliating feelings of unworthiness I experienced those years in Utah as a not-so-white Mormon. And what was even more painful at the time was my shame in front of God. I was certain I had caused him a good deal of grief and exasperation over my behavior in the pre-existence and was convinced that I would never be able to look him in the eye.
The older I got, the more I realized I could move away from everyone in Utah who was so white and delightsome and it wouldn’t matter so much that way. But how would I ever be able to face Heavenly Father and could I ever apologize enough for him to know just how sorry I really had become? It was a dismal situation at best.
I wrote another article almost two years ago, believing and trusting that it would spark some interest from people of color, especially those in the Church. Well sure enough, it received attention. A man who represented the “Genesis Group” in the Church e-mailed me and asked to correspond with me about my article. I have unfortunately lost his e-mail so I am praying that if you are reading this or know of the man that fits this description, write me please!
I have spoken to many people since I wrote the article on Blacks in the LDS Church and have heard countless stories such as my own. A beautiful family here in the States contacted me about a year ago.
They had begun questioning the teachings of the Church some time ago, contacted their bishop and other teachers in their ward for clarification on several issues with nothing tangible to calm their nerves. While studying further with their Mormon books in hand, the race issue presented itself. They’re not white so this pretty much did it for them. I won’t give details for privacy reasons; suffice it to say they were temple worthy members. They called the ministry line and asked several questions with the race issue being a predominant issue for them.
We are now thanking Jesus for their salvation and for the new church home they have found! Another couple who adopted a black child (they are white) was told by the bishopric they had done the wrong thing several months ago. They ended up leaving the Church, knowing the God of the Bible would never think such a thing. We praise God for His intervention in these families’ lives and continue to pray that He will lead others to His eternal truth!
The bigotry is so ingrained in the psyche of the life-long LDS member that I don’t know if they really understand how incredibly arrogant they sound. Case in point is when my beloved mother called one day to tell me about an experience she had earlier that week.
She said; “The girls (my nieces) were outside playing with the neighbor children when the Mexicans from across the street picked all the flowers from my garden!” The tone of her voice was dripping with contempt as she enunciated the word “Mexican”, as if they were contagious or something. After prodding her for more information about the incident, I discovered my nieces had told the other kids it was okay if they took a bouquet home for their mom. The question was begging to be asked so I did just that: “And what part of this story has anything to do with the kids being from Mexico?” Being startled by my question she abruptly changed the subject.
It got me to wondering why she wasn’t questioning her Book of Mormon teaching. 2 Nephi 30:6 says; “And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.”
Now this may sound innocuous, but the newest members of the Church probably aren’t aware that the “most perfect book ever written” has been changed. That verse used to say; “…save they shall be a “white and delightsome people”. (1976 editions and earlier). The missionaries or any active member of the Church will tell you that pure does mean white, but let’s take a good look at that theory and see if it really stands up to reason.
If I were to put pure, clean water into a bucket of mud, I’d still be stuck with mud; right? Now if I were to put some of the mud into the bucket of pure, clean water; what would I have then? Muddy water is what I’d have. Adding more water to it isn’t going to “purify” my muddy water, it’s still an unclean bucket of water. So how is changing one verse in the Book of Mormon going to make the Mormon Church an orthodox Christian church? It’s not. It’s still going to be an unholy, unorthodox non-Christian organization.
The Bible says; “Haggai 2:12-14;
“If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No. Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean. Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the LORD; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.”
This is a good example of what the Church has done by changing a few words here and there in the Book of Mormon, or by having a revelation to change a few “aesthetic” doctrines. Not only is the entire system flawed, but the foundation is corrupt. Holiness isn’t communicable, but un-holiness can be transferable. It’s been said that “you can be baptized in holy water until you drown but it still doesn’t make you holy”!
Having a revelation in ’78 was only “white-washing” the real issue and that is this: “Whom do you say that I am” asked Jesus of Peter. (Matthew 16:16). There are also many examples in the gospels where Jesus told the Pharisees, Sadducees and His disciples that it isn’t what goes into the stomach that defiles a man, but what comes out of his heart. Is it in your heart that Jesus is in fact God incarnate? Is it in your heart that Jesus was the only one with God before He created you? Is it in your heart that Jesus died on the cross for your sin? This, my friend, is the heart of Judeo-Christian theology.
What kind of god would create people only to hate them for being a certain color? Being something other than white is not, nor has it ever been a sin. If you read the accounts of what the LDS leadership says though, you’ll hear a different doctrine: Brent L. Top said in his book “Before Life”, pg. 91-92;
“God gave his children their free agency even in the spirit world…of choosing the good and rejecting the evil, or partaking of the evil to suffer the consequences of their sins. Because of this, some even there were more faithful than others in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Some were of greater intelligence than others, as we find it here…
The spirits of men had their free agency, some were greater than others…. The spirits of men were not equal. They may have had an equal start, and we know they were all innocent in the beginning; but the right of free agency which was given to them enabled some to outstrip others, and thus, through the eons of immortal existence, to become more intelligent, more faithful….”
Now members are going to say; “yes, they used to teach that but now they have changed so it doesn’t apply any longer”. I promise you that will be their response! This is not the issue though. The issue is that they even taught it at all and they never did repent; either privately or publicly. The “proof” if you will, is in their doctrines they still carry in their books each day. The belief that African Americans, Indians, Chinese or whatever ethnicity you may be is because of sin is a lie.
To make sure I was being fair to the Church I chose a book (Before Life) that has been published and authorized by the Church after 1978. The copyright for this particular book is 1988. So ten years after the revelation, they are still believing the lies, and still teaching the unthinkable. The only thing that really changed with the revelation of 1978 is the aesthetic appeal to the general public.
And in case there is any misunderstanding about the color issue; the curse is for anyone that has color in their skin. Here’s what Brigham Young had to say about the Lamanites (Indians); “When all the other children of Adam have had the privilege of receiving the priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity… -Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:143, December 3, 1854” Latter-day Prophet Speak: Selections from the Sermons and Writing of Church Presidents, pg. 204-5.
As I’ve mentioned before we will continue to write about this subject as we go along in life because the Church is continuing to carry on the lies about not only me and everyone else of color, but mostly about God Himself. I am so grateful the God of the Bible is alive; that He speaks with His children even today and that He is intimately aware of how to bring each of us to our own “altar” moments in life. Praise to His Name!
If you’ve had similar experiences or know of anyone who has, write and tell us about them so we can share it with our readers! Exposing sin in the light of truth dispels the darkness of shame! The only things “dark and loathsome” are the lies being passed down from one generation to the next.
If you’re a Latter-day Saint I pray that you will spend some serious alone time with the Lord and investigate these things for yourself. Our intent in writing these articles is not to condemn the Mormon people. We truly care for and hurt deeply for the lies you’ve been told throughout your experience as a Mormon and for some of you that’s been all your life. I understand it’s offensive and I truly “get it” that you feel “bashed or picked on”. When someone is injured there sometimes needs to be a “cleansing or lancing” of the wound to allow it to heal. If this doesn’t take place the affected area will never come clean and heal properly, so hurt it must for awhile. God takes care of that hurt too! Give us a call or e-mail for more information on this or other topics related to Mormonism!
With Love in Christ;
1 Cor. 1:18