On Being a Mormon and a Black American #2

Updated on June 1, 2018
Rodric29 profile image

Rodric has been a Mormon Christian since he was 15 years old. He has a lot to say about his religion.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the priesthood being extended to all worthy men of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On June 1, 2018, the Be One Celebration put on by the First Presidency of the Church characterizes what the Church wants for its members of all races and differences.

The racial history of the Church is one of inclusion even with the specific segregation of its Black members from priesthood service and temple sacraments before 1978. With the announcement of the Be One celebration, a number of things come to light that Black Latter-day Saint Christians feel intensely aware of; though, these feelings are largely kept at bay.

Two questions come to my mind as I ponder what it might take for some of us to feel "one" in the church: Should the Church apologize for the priesthood ban and the racist teachings used to support it? If the church apologizes or not, how does that affect the faith of the members--particularly the Black American saints?

Perspective is what I want to offer in this article of On Being a Mormon and a Black American.

Black Mormon Family Picture 2010

After he listened for a few hours of us share and cry about our intense experiences as Black members of the church, he asked, "Should the church apologize?"

To Apologize or Not to Apologize

The NAACP and the First Presidency of the Church met to announce a joint statement of civility May 17, 2018. Before the announcement could occur, a former member of the Church released an announcement attributed to President Nelson of the First Presidency of the Church, which states,

I offer a full unqualified apology for the error of racism which was taught from this office and in the tabernacle and over the pulpits of our churches the world over...

This fake announcement started a series of celebrations in the Black American Mormon community, as small as it is, that were short-lived when news surfaced that it was a hoax perpetrated by a well-intentioned former member of the church who thought he could at least ignite discussion on the issue.

The emotional trauma to many Black Church members after the event caused one sister to post a tearful video expressing her hurt and dismay, which lasted for over an hour! Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes, the authors of Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons and Sistas in Zion creators both posted videos reacting to the poor judgment of the people involved in the fake news about the Mormon Prophet. The reaction to the aftermath of finding out the apology was not real is in the video below and sums up what many have felt.

To be Black and Mormon 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.

There are many Black LDS Christians who want an apology from the Church. Not all of us agree on what we want an apology about. Some want an apology for the racist ideas taught by leaders in the Church and other members who still teach it. Some of us want an apology for the priesthood ban itself. Others of us do not care if the Church apologizes for anything one way or the other. A few of us do not want the Church to apologize because we may feel it is not necessary to do so.

Years ago, I was invited to the mission presidents home in the Atlanta area along with a number of Black members of the Church. We sat around and expressed our feelings to the mission president about the priesthood ban and the racist teachings allowed in the church.

After he listened for a few hours of us share and cry about our intense experiences as Black members of the church, he asked, "Should the church apologize?"

After thinking about it for a period, we all said NO! Why apologize for the priesthood ban? God allowed it. Let Him apologize to us individually if we need it. God allowed the ban to happen for over 100 years. He then fixed it with a revelation. That, we concluded, was apology enough for it.

Over a decade later, I believe that the only thing to apologize about is the racist teachings about Blacks sitting the fence before mortal life. Maybe an acknowledgment of the hurt and pain so many of us endure when members bring the topic up and still teach falsehoods about Blacks and the reason for the Priesthood Ban. Maybe no apologies are needed. Just acknowledgment that people are injuriously affected by the subject of the ban by leaders of the church is a step in a consoling direction.

Faith to Endure

In the following video after the picture of the Empress of Soul, you can see and hear what the Sistas in Zion say about their faith aside from the emotional outcry when the fake apology crashed down around on us.

Gladys Maria Knight - Famous Mormon and Black American Musician


No matter the status or background, some form of racism obscures the lives of Black members--sometimes snuffing out the whelpling faith of some struggling soul.

To be Black and Mormon in the US is to have things of this nature shadow the backs of our minds each time the topic comes up or a person says something offputting. To be Black and Mormon 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.

As a member of the BLDS group on FaceBook, I have read the points of view of many Black members of the Church from differing parts of the world and from 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 the Black American cultures. No matter the status or background, some form of racism obscures the lives of Black members--sometimes snuffing out the whelpling faith of some struggling soul.

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 Mormons 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 American 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.

Americans focus on race to such a degree that it permeates every culture in America. Black Mormons in the US cannot get away from that aspect of American culture. It is to the point where being a Black Mormon is a novelty and becomes the point of interaction for many other members of the church. Members, White members, may, out of curiosity, befriend Black members for no other reason than because of the color of our 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. It just is.

Black Mormons (Black Americans period!) either become accustomed to the treatment or leave because of it. Many of us 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 Mormons feel that God directed us to be within the Church and that it is God's Church; however, it takes more than that witness for many of us.

Seeing another Black Member in Church


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 serval years ago. This friend is 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 Mormon, 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.

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 Mormon. I am Brother Johnson.

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 where sisters Nettie and Celie meet each other after spending several decades in forced separation--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.

Until next time

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 because we are not yet able to come home from the trip to separation that our cultures have nurtured in us. That is not unique to being a Black LDS Christian. It is a part of being one, though.

© 2018 Rodric Johnson


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    • Rodric29 profile image

      Rodric Johnson 2 weeks ago from Peoria, Arizona

      Thanks, Brad. That is an old picture, but it is my favorite. My little girl is in itl She passed away in 2010. It is neat to know who has a Mormon connection. My condolences for your loss.

    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 weeks ago from Orange County California


      Great looking family.

      BTW, my wife's aunt was a Mormon until the day she died, and went through the Mormon ceremony.

    • Rodric29 profile image

      Rodric Johnson 2 weeks ago from Peoria, Arizona

      Thanks Bill. I am going to do it.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I think it's important that you do write about it, Rodric, and I hope you do.

    • Rodric29 profile image

      Rodric Johnson 2 weeks ago from Peoria, Arizona

      Bill, thanks for posting and reading here. I am glad that you recognize your heritage and the blessings it has inherently in America. So few good White people will talk about loving to be who they are for fear of some retribution from the minorities. Being White has its own challenges that are not apparent to minorities. We all have our crosses to bear. Some of those crosses are dealing with racism. Other crosses could be health related, emotional concerns, relationship problems, what article to write next, etc.

      Some of us will deal with a number of problems at a time while others of us deal with one. Now, I do not mean to minimalize anyone's experiences. I only submit that our experience are challenges to each of us differently but equally. I want to write an article about it. White privilege only goes so far before it wraps around and slaps some White people in the face. There is a dark side to White privilege. I do not know if I am qualified to write about it. I have seen the dark side. Just like there is a benefit for being a Black American. I experience it daily. I can write about that.

    • Rodric29 profile image

      Rodric Johnson 2 weeks ago from Peoria, Arizona

      Eric, thanks for reading and commenting. It would be interesting to read about your experiences in those churches. If you have written something I want to read it. I am sorry that some people were disrespectful. I do not agree with that in any setting. There is no excuse for ill-treatment of others in my book.

      When I lived in South Africa as a missionary, the White missionaries would be the only Whites in the church. They would feel like they did not fit in or that they stood out. It took a psychological toll on some of them that helped them have more compassion for other minorities. Sometimes the Black member would say harmless things that were insulting because they had never dealt with White people so intimately as sharing a church. I know that when White people showed up these missionaries were happy to see someone who looked like them as I was happy to be surrounded by a congregation of people who looked like me and were of my faith. I do not think it is wrong to want to be with people who look like us and share our faith. I do think it is wrong to make those who look differently feel like they do not belong for that reason.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I applaud you for your strong faith. I am also left with this thought, and in no way do I mean for this to be disparaging: I'm sure glad I was born white in this country.

      Have a great weekend, Rodric!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well I will be thinking of this today. I am trying to wrap my pea brain around it. But as I think of it sometimes I am the only white guy at a Southern Baptist church I attend. And I am the only white guy at the Vietnamese Missionary church. I just have never been excluded although not respected maybe.


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