Here is the last installment of our 12 Questions with Marvin Perkins, comprised of Brother Perkins’ responses to our last two questions. We’d like to thank Brother Perkins for the time and effort he’s put in to giving us a set of very substantive and thought-provoking responses. You can visit Brother Perkins and Darius Gray’s “Blacks in the Scriptures” website and download their free podcast by the same name on iTunes to continue this discussion (to pose your own questions for the podcast, call (214) 615-6044 ext 9209).
(11) Some people have complained that the Church is being broken down or fragmented by a growing set of grievances, one might even say “grievance groups,” all of which want the Church to yield to their demands. There are secularly oriented intellectuals who feel their voices have not been heard (or even punished); women who claim they have been unjustly relegated to an inferior status; gays who claim that the Church does not understand their issues and has vigorously worked against their efforts to achieve equal rights; African-Americans who do not feel an adequate account has been given for the initial denial of the priesthood to Blacks; and American Indians who feel misunderstood and mistreated. The list could be made much longer. How can we as a Church respond in full faith to these various grievances while remaining positive and committed to the promises and covenants that ties us together?
The fortunate thing about the gospel is that it is made up of imperfect people. The unfortunate thing about the gospel is that it is made up of imperfect people. One can act from his weakness, and because he’s in a leadership position, it is seen as the position of the Church. This has been the case with the persecution of some with grievances.
On the other hand, in my experiences, it appears the Church has adopted a pattern of ignoring some problems instead of dealing with them directly. Yes, they have the power to choose which concerns are heard and dealt with, but this doesn’t make the problems they ignore go away. This reminds me of a story President Hinckley gave in a General Conference session several years ago. He recalled his father noticing a tree was growing at an angle and asked him to go out and secure it so that it would grow straight. The then young Gordon did not follow his father’s counsel and over time the tree grew so large and slanted that it could not be corrected or saved. President Hinckley’s message was that problems left uncorrected only grow into much larger problems.
I have found in my life that groups generally only make demands when their concerns are ignored. In addition I’ve learned that demands most times will produce resistance, not results. Each of these groups you’ve mentioned are worthy of and deserving of having their concerns heard. We, the Church, administer humanitarian aid and compassionate service in impressive amounts all throughout the world, inside and outside of the Church. If we have the pattern of accomplishing this, why would we not extend it to all?
D&C 38: 26 For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?
The women have a valid claim and deserve to have the claims heard and discussed. The end result may not include any changes in the way we administer the ordinances of the gospel, but there are many changes in thought and behavior that can improve their quality of life within the Church.
We could learn a great deal about what gays suffer and how we can help them in their struggles. They deserve to have their concerns heard as we work together with them in search of solutions, without compromising on eternal principles.
In 1847 Brigham Young made the first statements that the Church would stop giving priesthood to Blacks, despite that fact that the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to give priesthood to all who would embrace the gospel. From that time, Blacks have been maligned, from our contribution in the pre-existence, our reasons for being on earth, our skin color, character, lineage, noses etc. Then in 1978, when the Latter-day Saints were sufficiently believing all that they’d been taught over the 131 year span, the restriction is removed, yet none of the of the false teachings have ever been addressed. It’s the equivalent of tearing down the Berlin Wall, but never cleaning up the debris, allowing it to become a stumbling block for millions trying to come into or remain in the Church.
There is such an obvious need for clarification on the Blacks issues that many may not be able to see that there has already been a statement issued. That statement is silence. Why would the Church not speak about this, the most significant development in the Church in the past 100 years? We don’t speak about things we’re not proud of, but this one has much more at stake. Most of the Saints are deeply grateful when they see Blacks in the Scriptures or one of the firesides. They join the Church or come back into the Church or just move forward with a great fire now armed with truth. However, there are others that are shaken by it. Even though our work is positive, scripturally based and delivered with a great spirit, some unfortunately see it, and all they hear is that which they and their parents were taught by leaders of the Church that is contrary to what the scriptures actually say. This is a direct attack on their testimonies and they feel if the leaders were wrong, then the Church can’t be true. Our critics shout the exact same thing saying “If Brigham Young was wrong, then he couldn’t have been a true prophet.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The scriptures show us in all of the standard works, the errors of prophets and the acknowledgment of God that they would and do err. Let’s go back to D&C 1:24-28 …
24 Behold, I am God and have spoken it; these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.
25 And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known;
26 And inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed;
27 And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent;
28 And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.
Out of this grows our most common question “what do the brethren say about the scriptures you’ve compiled?” So we have one group, the Saints, who are looking to the brethren to speak before they act to help their brother. Then you have another group, the Church, who has committed to remain silent on the issue. Until one of these two groups realizes the stalemate and is moved to action to help build God’s kingdom, millions outside of the Church will remain outside, and millions inside the Church will be as salt that has lost its savor.
(12) A number of studies and sources dealing with race issues (particularly vis-a-vis Blacks) and the Church have appeared in the past several years, including Armand Mauss’s sociological work; important historical research by a number of researchers including Jessie Embry, Newell Bringhurst and Darron Smith; historical fiction from Darius Gray and Margaret Young; the recent documentary Nobody Knows; and of course, your own work with Brother Gray on scriptural interpretation. What areas in the race-and-the-Church umbrella remain to be explored?
First I have to make a clarification, the Blacks in the Scriptures DVD series does not deal with scriptural interpretation. It’s critically important to make that distinction and understand the purpose for doing so. Scriptural interpretation implies that we are giving our opinions on what certain scriptures mean or could mean, which is not the case at all. What we’ve done is pointed out a wealth of scripture in all of the standard works as they relate to 5 key areas that make up the foundation of the misunderstandings. With over 2 ½ hours of scriptural evidence, there is very little, if any interpretation needed, just the ability to read, common sense and a very basic understanding of the nature of God.
There are a wealth of areas yet to be explored, though I think President Gray and I have unmasked the keystone. All concerned about this issue, in or out of the Church, want to know how Mormons believe God views His children of African descent, what role did Blacks play in Biblical history, is dark skin a curse and was the restriction on priesthood of God or man. These are the issues that keep Blacks out of the Church. We’ve seen that true doctrine understood brings them into the Church.
I recall the story of the building of the Salt Lake Temple when workers found that there were cracks in the foundation blocks. They were forced to take them out and start over, using new stones that were cut to fit together without mortar. So with obvious cracks in the foundation of the teachings regarding Blacks, it is also obvious that with over 162 years of these teachings, we now have a forest of incorrect doctrine being spread and taught. The entire forest needs to be removed with seeds of truths planted in their stead. Many Saints and leaders still incorrectly teach that interracial marriage is not of God, that the Lamanites had a darker skin than the Nephites, and that dark skin is a curse. Church manuals, children’s books, artist’s renderings are just some of the trees of this forest that need to be cut down and replaced with seeds of truth. One of our greatest areas of responsibility would be to the missionaries. They dedicate 18-24 months of their lives to go out and warn our neighbors, delivering the good news. For this labor of love, we have a responsibility to send them out prepared.
Church leaders and auxillaries are in desperate need of training. We still have parents taking their children out of nursery or primary because they don’t want them in with Black kids. We recently had a Bishop refuse baptism to several Blacks families saying that we don’t want to add so many Black families to the ward all at once. We recently had a Stake President say that he doesn’t call Black Bishops because he knows they’ll try to address the Blacks issues. We have an incredible amount of Black single sisters, but very few Black men for them to marry because the folklore and the lack of understanding of these issues has a greater effect of keeping Black men out of the Church. So these faithful sisters tarry alone waiting for their blessings. Black children struggle with self esteem because they don’t have anyone that looks like them in the circles where they spend most of their lives.
So once you get involved and actually go to the forest with your ax or chainsaw, ready to help fix the problem, then you’ll have a better view of the enormous amount of issues yet to be addressed, or trees that need to be hewn down. When a problem is ignored for as long as we have, the work of restitution could take decades. So we really should get to work on it.
D&C 123: 13 Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—