Black Mormons gather to discuss race issues within faith

Joseph W. Sitati, of Kenya, one of the highest-ranking black Mormon leaders, looks on after speaking at a conference at University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah. Sitati says Latter-day Saints in Africa are at peace with the religion's past ban on the lay priesthood. Sitati, of a second-tier Mormon governing body called the Quorum of the Seventy, said the number of Mormons in Africa has increased to nearly 449,000 in 2014, up from 7,600 in 1978, Salt Lake City, Utah, Oct. 9, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — African-American Mormons discussed the ongoing challenges of belonging to a predominantly white religion Friday during a university conference designed to address the status of blacks in the faith.

Darius Gray, a pioneering black Mormon, commended church leaders for publishing an essay in 2013 that disavowed a previous ban on blacks in the lay priesthood. The essay offered the most comprehensive explanation ever from church headquarters about the ban that was in place until 1978. Still, Gray noted, only two in 10 Mormons have read the essay, limiting its impact.

The common theme at the conference at the University of Utah: Discussions about race in the Mormon religion don’t happen enough at congregational levels.

“There is a level of fear in exposing the truth behind the racist history of the church,” said Paulette Payne, a Mormon TV personality in Atlanta who moderated a panel on race and Mormon women. “When you fear something, you don’t necessarily want to expose it for what it is because it then becomes a reflection of you.”

Panels filled with academics and Mormons bookended a lunch speech from Joseph W. Sitati of Kenya, a member of a second-tier Mormon governing body called the Quorum of the Seventy.

Sitati, 63, said he came to peace with the past ban when he joined the faith in 1986 by studying past scripture and teachings. He said African Mormons aren’t preoccupied with the ban, either. He said the increase in Mormon membership in Africa, to 449,000 in 2014 from 7,600 in 1978, is evidence of that.

Issues of race and diversity within the Mormon faith bubbled up after the church selected three white men last weekend to fill vacancies on a high-level governing body, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

The top 15 leaders of the religion — including the president, his two counselors and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — are all white men. Only one, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, is from outside the U.S. He was born in Czechoslovakia and raised in Germany.

There aren’t any blacks on the next-level leadership group, the seven-member presidency of the Quorum of the Seventy. But there are two minorities: Ulisess Soares of Brazil and Gerrit W. Gong, an Asian-American.

In the body of the first Quorum of the Seventy, two men are black: Sitati and Edward Dube of Zimbabwe. There are no black leaders from the U.S.

Though most Mormons respect the fact that top leaders are chosen through divine intervention by the church president, considered the prophet, there’s still concern over the lack of black leaders.

It’s important for us black people to see ourselves in this church in leadership capacities,” said Payne, who was drawn to the church in part by hearing the conversion story of singer Gladys Knight.

The Utah-based religion doesn’t provide ethnic or racial breakdowns of its members, but scholars say blacks make up a small portion of the 15-million member global faith. The church also works to convert faithful around the globe, adding diversity to its rank-and-file.

About 3 percent of Mormons in the United States are African-American, the Pew Research Center estimated in 2009. About 5 percent of all worldwide members are of African descent, estimates Matt Martinich, a member of the LDS church who analyzes membership numbers with the nonprofit Cumorah Foundation.

Maybelline McCoy, an Afro-Latina originally from Panama, expressed dismay at how few students at Mormon-owned BYU are black: 288 out of 30,000 in 2014. McCoy said she doesn’t want her three small children to feel like outsiders when they grow up, as she often did during her time at BYU when she came to Utah from Texas.

I refuse for them to walk through what my husband and I had to at BYU,” said McCoy, a photojournalist who lives in Washington, D.C.

Story by BRADY McCOMBS, Associated Press

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Related posts

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

 

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

44 Comments

  • 42214 October 9, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    This meeting could have been held in a phone booth.

  • fun bag October 9, 2015 at 9:58 pm

    Joseph Smith would be turning in his grave if he even knew that non-whites are allowed membership, and so would ol’ Brigham.

  • .... October 9, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    Hey we can do without the phone booth jokes…. That’s uncalled for… LOL.! BITE ME.!

  • Ladyk October 10, 2015 at 12:50 am

    I think it is sad when people have to separate themselves out from others when you are in the same group. I don’t look at a black person and say “oh they are different then me so the have to be treated differently” I see another child of God. I do not care what color your skin is. For those to say they want to “see themselves in the church leadership” totally diminishes why we are in the church to begin with. We are all the same. Was the church wrong in the past? I don’t know, I wasn’t the one who was making the decisions or asking God the questions. All I know is that we should not have sub sets of our population. That is what’s dividing us to begin with. God told us to love one another as we love him. I just don’t see it as a race issue and think it is sad when others do.

    • Andy October 10, 2015 at 7:38 am

      “Was the church wrong in the past?”

      Yes, church leaders were wrong about race. The LDS gospel topics essay on race goes into greater detail. I agree that we are all the same. The issue I have with religion is that has and continues to separate communities, friends, and families rather than bring them together.

      • Ladyk October 10, 2015 at 7:55 pm

        Andy non of us knows the real reason things happened in the order they did. However I think if you were to look back at the full church history you would find that there were several black members of the church very early on. I find it so funny that you think the church is racist when from the very beginning the church has done missionary work all over the world. That doesn’t sound like a church who only wants white people sitting in the pews. If these people don’t have a problem with the way things happened why should you? Unless you just want something to fight about. But in the end who are you really arguing with? It’s not anyone in the church. Try getting on your knees and asking God with a true heart wanting to know. Listen to what the spirit says. I can guarantee it won’t be finger pointing to try to find fault now.

        • radioviking October 11, 2015 at 8:10 am

          Have you even read the teachings of the “Prophet” Brigham Young? It’s all there in the Journal of Discussions! He told the early saints that what he said as prophet is from God and in fallible. Look up his teachings from the Salt Lake tabernacle about how the devil is an old black man, blacks were cursed with black skin for their disobedience in the premortal existence, if whites have sex with blacks they should have their heads cut off, etc. etc. ( see the Journal of Discourses volume 5, page 332 and volume 7, page 290 – near the end of each sermon! It’s there! Can you imagine your prophet saying that today!?! Wow. You guys have selective memory!!!

          .
          The problem I see today is that most Mormons don’t care enough to do a little research into their own history to see that there is a major problem here! Is the Mormon God always changing His mind about things ? OR are the Mormon prophets not really speaking for God? Hmmmm.

          .
          And before you say “Well times were different!”
          Well, why is God so subject to social norms? If your prophets have direct revelation from God, why were they basically reflecting the ideas of their day?

          .
          Mormons need to learn their history and what their leaders have taught. Before you preach, do some research!

          .
          PS, you can’t say, “Well the journal of discourses aren’t considered scripture…blah blah blah. NO, sorry, but the prophet Brigham Young taught the saints their words ARE scripture! Oops! I guess you guys will have to do more ‘cherry picking’.

          .
          How about being honest? How about doing what’s right, “let the consequence follow “? Live what you guys preach. Own up to all the contradictions of your church teachings and apologize for all the pain caused over centuries!

          .
          Blacks were forbidden to receive blessings of the temple, hold the priesthood…etc. cursed? Really? C’mon. You really think God would do that to good people based on skin color from 1800s to 1978??? Good luck on explaining all that away.

        • Andy October 11, 2015 at 6:42 pm

          Ladyk, I have quite a few issues with what you have written, here are a few:

          You say the church isn’t racist because it did missionary work all over the world. But for decades, missionaries wouldn’t baptize black men.

          Who am I arguing with? No one, I simply stated the fact that the church now officially renounces all racist statements that church leaders made in the past. Hence, church leaders made a mistake (see LDS gospel topics essay).

          Try praying. To whom? I’m sure you and I do not believe in the same God. We probably used to, before I studied LDS church history intently and my search for truth led me in a different direction. I wish you peace in your individual faith journey.

    • native born new mexican October 10, 2015 at 9:05 am

      Ladyk I am happy to see your comment about how you don’t see the race or culture of a person when you see them as a member of the church. I believe that leadership in the church does and should come by inspiration from God and in no other way. That being said I have experienced membership in the church as a person with a family name from south of the border and I am aware of the issues we “others” deal with in trying to be part of the church. Some “majority group” church members are very kind and have made great efforts to be missionaries and Christians towards us “others” but many are not that way. I thought about whether I wanted to respond to this article or not and I decided it might be worth saying for the good it might do that there are some problems with charity, respect and acceptance by the majority group towards other groups. I have experienced the problem and I have seen others experience it. It should not be so but people are not perfect. We are all working to be better. This issue of accepting and loving others different than ourselves could use a little work. I don’t approve of being vocal and divisive as it appears some in this black group are being but I do think some problems exist. It is easy not to see them or think they don’t exist when you are in the majority group and you don’t experience them. Being the bilingual, culturally mixed person that I am I try to help the Spanish speakers and I try to point out the problem to the English speakers because I have a foot in both camps. I could “play” like I am part of the majority (most of the time) and get away with it but I don’t think that is an honest thing to do so I say who I am plainly and I ask people to respect and accept that. It is interesting to watch and see who is a big enough person to really do that.

      • Ladyk October 10, 2015 at 7:45 pm

        Brother, be who you are. Only God can judge your heart. On those days that others are unkind to you, please know that it is because of a hole in their heart and not yours. I am so grateful for you and for what you bring to the church and I know that the Lord will put those who need to be blessed by you in your path. That’s all you need to be concerned about. Forgiveness can sometimes be hard to give when it has not been asked for. So until they ask you I will. Please forgive us for those things that we do that offends you. I can guarantee to you that you do not see all the ways that you influence those around you. Be a positive force for those people and know that they to have much to learn. Several years ago I was having to learn a very difficult lesson. As I sat in church loosing my eyesight minute by minute I wondered what the Lord had in store for me this time. It took awhile and though I was insulted over and over again by someone who was learning their own lesson I found myself learning the lesson of praying for those who spitfully use you. It wasn’t until my spiritual vision cleared that my physical vision began to improve. Neither of which came easily. I learned that for us mear mortals it is one day at a time no matter what you are trying to over come. I think you are probably light years ahead of me. I hope you can come to know how valuable you truly are to us, your heart and spirit is what matters most not the color of your skin or mine. Until then you are in my prayers.

    • Chris October 10, 2015 at 12:12 pm

      You are obviously white and have never experienced any discrimination. The people referenced in the article obviously do not feel part of the “same group” that you claim membership in. They did not create the “race issue”, but they certainly feel the effects of it.

      • native born new mexican October 10, 2015 at 6:46 pm

        When you assume things you make a dirty donkey’s back end out of your self. You know nothing about me, my experiences and my life. If you were not so ignorant and narrow you might have more credibility. You can not see past your own biased ideas. Don’t insult who I am and where I come from. That is what you are complaining about isn’t it? Why are you doing what you claim to dislike?

      • Ladyk October 10, 2015 at 7:17 pm

        Chris, yes I am white, but I have lived in areas where that was not in my favor. As long as someone says “I am black I deserve special attention or I demand more people who look like me are put in position of power” we are going to have problems. Bad things happened to good people in the past. I don’t know all the reasons why but we are where we are now. We all matter the same no matter what color you are. As long as races keep trying to segregate themselves we are going to continue to divide the church, the country, the world. It is going to take everyone coming together and stop saying that we are all different therefor we should be treated differently. Take for example “black lawyer association”. Why in the world is that necessary and why is a “white lawyers association so bad? If we all are mankind then just treat everyone the same. Maybe I am to nieav but one day I hope we can all just love one another the same. Until then non of us are behaving as Christians.

        • Rainbow Dash October 11, 2015 at 7:26 pm

          Yea because asking to be treated equally is asking for special attention. Right.

  • beentheredonethat October 10, 2015 at 7:30 am

    So blacks are just as gullible as whites. So what? As long as they keep up on tithing. Right?

  • fun bag October 10, 2015 at 10:26 am

    I don’t know why any black people would even want to attend. The times I’ve gone to an LDS church it all looked like one big social competition like every was competing with each other for who had the biggest, newest car, who was wearing the most expensive designer clothes, who had the most or best looking set of kids etc etc. Maybe all the wards aren’t like that but the whole charade just seemed like a ridiculous waste of time and energy. Basically it’s a church of prosperity–if u aint got it u don’t belong. Really, why bother? I bet it especially sucks if you’re a racial minority…

    • native born new mexican October 10, 2015 at 11:56 am

      You are adding nothing intelligent to this discussion fun bag. We all know your mind is not open enough to comment fairly on this subject. This is just one more opportunity for you to express your dislike and disrespect for the church and it’s members. You never pass up the chance. No charity or respect for your neighbors in you! You need to clean up your own unkind heart first.

    • aviatormh October 10, 2015 at 1:08 pm

      The reason that you see what you do is because your looking through the eyes of a bigot. You have to look through better eyes than that. I’m betting their isn’t anything that Mormons could do that would lead to you accepting them. Am I right?

      • 42214 October 10, 2015 at 8:28 pm

        Hate to say this Aviator but the dictionary isn’t helping much. It’s you’re, not your. It’s there, not their. Keep trying, you must have gone to BYU.

        • aviatormh October 11, 2015 at 12:14 am

          422 since the only problem you seem to have with what I said is my grammar I will assume that you find my point to be valid. Good for you, the meds must be helping.

          • radioviking October 11, 2015 at 8:15 am

            Have you even read the teachings of the “Prophet” Brigham Young? It’s all there in the Journal of Discourses! He told the early saints that what he said as prophet is from God and in fallible. Look up his teachings from the Salt Lake tabernacle about how the devil is an old black man, blacks were cursed with black skin for their disobedience in the premortal existence, if whites have sex with blacks they should have their heads cut off, etc. etc. ( see the Journal of Discourses volume 5, page 332 and volume 7, page 290 – near the end of each sermon! It’s there! Can you imagine your prophet saying that today!?! Wow. You guys have selective memory!!!
            .
            The problem I see today is that most Mormons don’t care enough to do a little research into their own history to see that there is a major problem here! Is the Mormon God always changing His mind about things ? OR are the Mormon prophets not really speaking for God? Hmmmm.
            .
            And before you say “Well times were different!”
            Well, why is God so subject to social norms? If your prophets have direct revelation from God, why were they basically reflecting the ideas of their day?
            .
            Mormons need to learn their history and what their leaders have taught. Before you preach, do some research!
            .
            PS, you can’t say, “Well the journal of discourses aren’t considered scripture…blah blah blah. NO, sorry, but the prophet Brigham Young taught the saints their words ARE scripture! Oops! I guess you guys will have to do more ‘cherry picking’.
            .
            How about being honest? How about doing what’s right, “let the consequence follow “? Live what you guys preach. Own up to all the contradictions of your church teachings and apologize for all the pain caused over centuries!
            .
            Blacks were forbidden to receive blessings of the temple, hold the priesthood…etc. cursed? Really? C’mon. You really think God would do that to good people based on skin color from 1800s to 1978??? Good luck on explaining all that away.

          • 42214 October 11, 2015 at 7:00 pm

            Nice sarcastic aside. What meds and what does that have to do with the conversation? Keep working on your grammar skills because poor skills will give the impression to many that you’re an uneducated dipstick.

          • 42214 October 11, 2015 at 8:13 pm

            You care to make an intelligent comment on my last remark about Spencer Kimball or just make inane wisecracks about meds? Your choice, substance or meaningless wisecracks.

    • fun bag October 10, 2015 at 6:24 pm

      Oh and I didn’t even mention how boring the whole thing is. The whining kids and loooong droning “sermons” or “testimonies” or whatever they’re called. ridiculously idiotic sunday school class and then an even more boring meeting after that. 3 hours of time you can never get back and a bunch of ppl that don’t even want to be there but feel obligated

    • Ladyk October 10, 2015 at 7:02 pm

      Fun bag, the more I read your posts the more sad I feel for you. You truly seem to be filled with such hatred or anger towards…well almost everything and every one. If you went to church and noticed designer clothes and expensive cars on some and not others then you were spending WAY to much time on things that just do not matter instead of the things that do. I hope someday you will try again and enter with an open heart to what God has to show you instead of what others look like or don’t drive. Christ paid thr price for us all, not just those who wear suits or jeans. For those that walk to church or those that drive expensive cars. The gospel is not about money it is about the love God the Father has for us all. When we first moved to St.George we were in one of thr wealthiest wards in the county. We were not wealthy yet we were treated with the most amazing love and respect. Even though our ward had changed we still see many from that first ward. They were the embodiment of Christ love. When my brother passed away leaving his pregnant wife and several small children behind his ward went into immediate action doing all they could to support his family. Offering free Dr visits and orthodontic care. People came from all over to donate money, new clothing the kids would need and food for every meal. That is what the gospel is about not the brand of suit you have on or not. One day I hope you are able to experience that kind of love turned in your direction.

      • fun bag October 11, 2015 at 1:02 am

        that sucks about your bro and all but i actually thing you’re a religious nutcase. What are your thoughts on Joseph Smith’s hoards of “wives” and his pedophilia? was the man a pervert or what?

  • 42214 October 10, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    It’s been 37 years since Spencer Kimball had a “revelation” about blacks and the priesthood and they still don’t feel welcome. Of course, his revelation had nothing to do with pending litigation and intervention from the feds for discriminatory practices. (Tongue in cheek). Just like statehood in 1896 and palygamy. Seems every time the LDS church does the right thing they have a gun to their head. Real admirable track record I’d say. Now because of the availability of information through the internet the church is being forced to be more “open” and admit to previously covered up maleficence by founding fathers and church leadership. This is like Nixon saying he was not a crook during Watergate. Hypocrisy was invented by earlier religions and taken to a true art form by the LDS. Prove me wrong with something other than the Book of Mormon.

    • fun bag October 11, 2015 at 1:02 am

      amen

    • radioviking October 12, 2015 at 6:59 am

      Great points! Seems like the Mormons are so determined to have faith in their leadership that they’re blind to these series of cause and effect. When their last “prophet” Gordon Hinckley was asked by 60 Minutes’ Mike Wallace about polygamy ending due to the fact that the US government made it illegal, he said God commanded it regardless of government. Really? In their scripture commanding Joseph Smith to live polygamy (D&C 132), Joseph Smith claims that God said polygamy is an “everlasting ” commandment. Hmmmmm.

      .
      Mormons do a lot of mental gymnastics trying to make sense of all the contradictions and inconsistencies of their “prophets”. Isn’t that called dishonesty? Sad.

  • 42214 October 12, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    As expected, Aviator MIA

    • aviatormh October 13, 2015 at 12:33 pm

      Inane wisecracks about grammar, spelling and punctuation aside how could I ever be able to tell you why the church does what it does. I’m not present in thoes meetings And neither are you so to try and justify what they do is an excersize in complete arrogance. Unless I was there it’s impossible to explane it to you. Besides I’m way to busy trying to keep myself pointed in the right direction to have the time, energy or desire to judge someone else.

  • 42214 October 13, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    I don’t think you know what inane means. My points about your grammar skills are factual, not inane.

    • aviatormh October 13, 2015 at 3:37 pm

      Your the one who chose the word and yes on of the synonyms is of inane is: childish, which fits, does it not?

      • 42214 October 13, 2015 at 4:35 pm

        You didn’t spell one correctly. As for the points I made re: 1896 statehood, and 1978 priesthood for blacks are based on historical facts. You don’t have to be an eye witness to history to comment about it or have knowledge of it. I’ll just take your lame explanation as an excuse not to comment. Was that childish?

  • aviatormh October 13, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    ” As for the points I made re: 1896 statehood, and 1978 priesthood for blacks are based on historical facts. You don’t have to be an eye witness to history to comment about it or have knowledge of it.” This is absolutely true however you go on to say “Now because of the availability of information through the internet the church is being forced to be more “open” and admit to previously covered up maleficence by founding fathers and church leadership.” There is absolutely no way that you can know that is the reason for the church being more open yet you state this as fact. People complain because the church won’t talk yet when the do people complain because they are.

    • 42214 October 14, 2015 at 3:05 pm

      If you recall the story of the “stones” a couple weeks ago the story specifically stated that the internet was forcing the church to be more open about the past. Check with the editor if you don’t recall.

    • Rainbow Dash October 14, 2015 at 4:56 pm

      The aeticle 42214 talks about is here In it “…Richard Bushman, a Mormon historian and emeritus professor at Columbia University” says ““Their faithful members would stumble on information on the Internet. Not having heard about them, they were shocked and disillusioned,” Bushman said. “They felt they had been lied to and got pretty angry” and “Today the church is taking a new approach, by saying, “We can face up to the facts. We don’t have to make the picture prettier than it is,” Bushman said”. A prominent question in my mind is ” Why is the “church” suddenly want to be so open? (could it be because its members are taking their money elsewhere? hm) Why haven’t they ALWAYS been this open? If the golden plates exist, where are they? Why is the “Seer Stone” still in the vault instead of, oh I don’t know, a publically displayed secure glass case similar to the one that preserves the constitution in D.C? These are just a few questions. I’ll not even begin on the “history” in the BOM. As for the statement “They probably won’t persuade non-believers who don’t buy the story…” Richard is right, it didn’t persuade me. you know why? Lack of evidence and a history omitting truth in favor of whatever story would make the church leaders the most money.

      • 42214 October 14, 2015 at 7:16 pm

        Thanks for your help Rainbow, some people just don’t want to accept the truth.

    • 42214 October 14, 2015 at 6:43 pm

      Waiting for apology that won’t come I bet.

  • 42214 October 14, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    The story was titled “LDS Curch unveils 1st published photos of ‘seer stone’ greater transparency efforts. Published 8-4-15 42 comments. Story specifically says the church did this because of the internet and availability of information forcing them to be forthright. I wasn’t in the meeting but I trust the new article. You good with that now?

    • aviatormh October 14, 2015 at 8:58 pm

      I owe you an apology. I should have asked how you could know instead of being arrogant and saying you couldn’t know. Like I said I need to worry about myself and not judge others.

      • 42214 October 14, 2015 at 10:15 pm

        Thank you. I respect you for that.

  • 42214 October 14, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    “There is absolutely no way that you can know that is the reason for the church being more open yet you state this as fact” Really Aviator? You make bold assertions you can’t back up. You’re the one playing fast and loose with the facts.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.