Being a Latter-Day Saint and a Black American the "Novelty" Episode Six
Faith to Endure
Faith crises happen to the most devoted people of any faith. The key is to understand what motivates us to espouse religion. If faith exists because of the love of God, it does not matter what was or was not said, when in the past it was or was not addressed, or what will happen in the future with what was or was not spoken. With God as the focus of faith, the imperfection of human beings pales in comparison to the peace of having a sure spiritual identity and heritage.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, referred to culturally as "Mormons," in the United States of America statistically are not common, and navigating the two worlds can be a trial of faith in itself. We are here and vocal, however. We are here with testimonies of the Restored Gospel of Christ.
Gladys Maria Knight
Famous member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Black American Musician
Bonner Family - Performing Group and Faithful Saints
Just because the rest of the nation has turmoil and strife in the political arena regarding race relations does not translate that all interracial relations in the States mirror the macro-strife. Black Saints enjoy the same blessings that all other Saints enjoy despite the challenges of culture that exist in the predominately White nation of America. Being in the world, in this case, the States, without being as racially divided as the States is the goal of Black Saints and true Christians as a whole. The comedic duo of Sistas in Zion share in the video below their experiences in their faith.
What it means to be Black
Regardless of the situation in the States, if Black Americans participate in an organization that is culturally mainstream but hail from an ethnically Black American culture that is not similar to the mainstream culture, misunderstandings and mental gymnastics occur. Period.
To be Black and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the US is to have the same questions shadow the backs of our minds each time the topic comes up or a person says something off-putting about race.
When a topic arises in class about Church history and Blacks, Black Saints may wonder if everyone in the class thinks of them. When discussion involves race about Black people, each Saint who is a Black American may wonder if the White Saints tread lightly in case something could appear racist and offend the Black Saint.
To be Black and a Latter-day Saint in the US is to learn how to put Christ first and allow the hurt to roll off our spirits like the water from the feathers of a swan. Otherwise, Saints leave the fold to be in more comfortable settings were more of the people look like them. This is not unique to Black Americans, but many Black Saints join the Church, and some drift away because of cultural differences. Others grow up in places where much of the population are Saints, (Utah, Idaho, or Arizona) but still feel singled out due to color differences. Some people have no problem with anything.
As a member of the Black Latter-day Saints groups online, I have read the points of view of many Black members of the Church from differing parts of the world and different cultures. The Church seems to thrive in Africa but grows as slowly as an oak in the US among Black Americans. Racial disparity in America infects every aspect of Black American cultures. No matter the status or background, some form of racism obscures the lives of Black Saints--sometimes snuffing out the whelpling faith of some struggling souls.
Family and friends help to nurture the spirits of those of us struggling with our faith. In South Africa where I served as a missionary for two years, I could see how the communities of faith supported each other. When these South African Blacks joined the Church, they brought along their friends and families if they could. If they couldn't, they immediately made new friends--friends who looked like them. These friends shared their culture and heritage. These friends offered positive examples of Black South African members of the Church, Saints living the gospel--since most of their congregations were Black South Africans. The gospel and the Church were not about race in that setting. Everything was about following Jesus Christ.
Missionaries outside the South Africa Johannesburg Temple
In America, where Blacks make up 12% of the population, when Blacks join or grow up in the Church, we are isolated. Not many Black Americas are members of the Church. Not many congregations exist where there are large populations of Black people. There are not many examples of Black people living the gospel in the US for us to emulate or people who look like us to take the focus off of our differences.
And no. Color should not matter, but for many of the Black Saints, it does.
A Black person? I Want one!
Americans focus on race to such a degree that it permeates every culture in the country. Black Church members cannot get away from that aspect of American culture. Being a Black Latter-day Saint is a novelty and becomes the point of interaction for many other members of the Church in some places.
Members, White members, may, out of curiosity, befriend Black members for no other reason than because of the color of their skin. This does not only happen in the Church but in American society at large. It is not new behavior and will not disappear as long as Blacks make up such a small percentage of the US population. That's just the way it is.
Black Americans. in general. either become accustomed to the treatment or limit interracial socialization where possible. Some simply stop attending in many cases because of it.
Many Black members of the Church may NOT leave due to opposing doctrinal concerns, but for cultural concerns. It is a natural desire to want to worship with people who look similar to them. Most Black people in America have distinguishing physical features easily allowing us to identify each other such as hair texture, skin color, eye color, and prevalent facial structure markers--compared to the White majority. To do so is racial profiling, I suppose, but in an inclusive way. I notice if another person looks similar to me or different. All people do this. It is not wrong. It's just the way it is.
Most people who convert to the Restored Gospel feel that God directed that change to be within the Church and that it is God's Church; however, it takes more than that witness for many of us.
First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Becoming Just a Saint
Some of us want to attend church and worship without thinking about our race or skin color. An incident occurred when I went to visit a friend in Atlanta several years ago. This friend was the president of the Atlanta Stake (a geographical ecclesiastic district of the Church consisting of several smaller units or congregations of the Church) and also happened to be Black. One of his counselors, a White Saint, greeted me as a stranger to my surprise. He did not remember me! I served with him years before as his secretary in another Church assignment, but he did not know me.
Never had that happened to me before because there are so few Black members that every other person I have met always remembered me! I have pretended to remember hundreds of people to avoid hurting their feelings. This man did not pretend. He did not remember me.
It wounded me to be forgotten. Why? I had become used to being the novelty in my congregation. There are enough members in the Atlanta Stake who are Black that I did not stand out in this man's mind. I had become accustomed to being THE Black "Mormon." In the Atlanta Stake, I was another Saint.
Living in Arizona, where there are few Black citizens, funny enough, I have been in congregations composed of people of my generation who are familiar with people of color. I have not received the "novelty" treatment and can attend Church as a member--not the Black brother or the Black Latter-day Saint. I am Brother Rodric Anthony. It feels good when that happens.
Seeing another Black Member in Church
When I do see another Black member of the Church who is not a family member, I envision us acting out the scene from the movie The Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the famed Alice Walker novel of the same name. This movie is a staple cultural experience for many Black Americans.
In that movie, there is a scene where sisters Nettie and Celie, after spending several decades in forced separation, finally to see each other at the closing of the movie, a climactic meeting! See that Spielberg masterpiece.
A Black sister saw me in the Gilbert Temple (a separate building from a meeting house where sacred ceremonies like marriage and vicarious ordinances are performed) and called me over to her simply to make my acquaintance. It was embarrassing but worth the visit. I promised myself that if I see a Black person at Church other than my family, I would introduce myself without feeling embarrassed that it excited me to see someone who looks like me. As I asserted, it's a natural desire to want to worship with people who look similar to us, and not wrong to appreciate it when it happens. We, human beings, notice if another person looks similar or different. It's just the way it is.
Being one, a single unit of unity and faith, is not something that is impossible. It will be a challenge with all of the cultural baggage that so many of us carry around with us but our faith in Jesus Christ teaches us to love each other and forgive each other. Our relationship with Christ must eventually supersede our separation due to race.
Of course, that is not unique to being a Black Saint. I am bold enough to say that the only way to unite the races is through the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything else will not have the power to last to any significant effect. For Black Americans, this generation will be the novelties that prepare for the floodgates of those seeking a better relationship with God. We will be here to give them faces that look like theirs to welcome them.
Saints, Black, and White Saints are commissioned to invite all to come to Christ. That's what being a follower of Christ is about, sharing. Most things about being a Saint are about focusing on serving others. If that focus changes, it's time to evaluate if we follow the teachings of our Master, Jesus Christ.
- Being a Black American and a Latter-day Saint Live Now Not in Past Episode Seven - HubPages
It will be hard to overcome hurt, but the reward is worth the effort. I know God lives and He desires us to overcome our crosses whether they are our own making or the making of others or even an institution. This life is our time to prove to ourselv
- Being a Latter-Day Saint and a Black American: Forgive and Be One Episode Five
The racial history of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints is one of inclusion, despite its specific segregation of its Black members from priesthood service and temple sacraments.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2018 Rodric Anthony Johnson