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On Being a Latter-day Saint and a Black American - Being the Novelty

Updated on October 27, 2019
Rodric29 profile image

Rodric's opinion of the Restored Gospel's doctrines change as more revelation comes. In the meantime, reasoning and perception rule the day.

Faith to Endure

Faith crises happen. They happen to the most faithful people in any faith. The key is to understand what it is that motivates us to espouse religion. If the faith exists because of the love of God, it does not matter what was or was not said and when in the past or what will happen in the future. With God as the focus of faith, the imperfection of human beings pales in comparison to the peace from having a sure spiritual identity and heritage.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are referred to, though incorrectly, as Mormons. In the United States of America, being a Saint is not common and navigating the two worlds can be a trial of faith in itself. We are here, however. We are here with testimonies of the Restored Gospel of Christ.

Famous "Mormon" and Black American Musician

Gladys Maria Knight

Source

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 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 singaled out due to color differences. Some people have no problem with anything.

As a member of the Black Latter-day Saints group on FaceBook, 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 the 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 family 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.

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.

Missionaries outside the South Africa Johannesburg Temple

Source

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 America. Black Church members in the US 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 Mormons, Black Americans in general either become accustomed to the treatment or leave because of it. Many Black members of the Church may NOT leave due to opposing doctrinal concerns, but cultural concerns. It is a natural desire to want to worship with people who look like we do. 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

Left to Right, Dallin H. Oaks, Russell M. Nelson, and Henry B. Eyring
Left to Right, Dallin H. Oaks, Russell M. Nelson, and Henry B. Eyring

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 happens 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 remember 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 who are composed of people of my generation and are familiar with people of color. I have not received the novelty treatment and can attend church as a member. I am not the Black brother or the Black Latter-day Saint. I am Brother Johnson. It feels good when that happens.

Seeing another Black Member in Church

You and Me, Us never part...
You and Me, Us never part... | Source

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. From that movie, there is a scene where sisters Nettie and Celie meet each other after spending several decades in forced separation finally to see each other at the closing of the movie, climatic meeting!. See that Spielberg masterpiece.

One sister saw me in the Gilbert Temple (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, that I would introduce myself without feeling embarrassed that it excited me to see someone who looks like me.

Being One

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 as ourselves 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. It is a part of being one. I am boldly enough to say that the only way to unite the races is through the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Everything else will not have 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 theres to welcome them.

After all, as Saints, we, Black Saints 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.

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