Here is Part Three of our 12 Questions with Marvin Perkins, comprised of Brother Perkins’ responses to our next five questions. See Parts One, Two, and Four for our introduction of Brother Perkins and his responses to our other questions.
(6) Do you feel like the Church at some point will need to publicly disavow old folklore regarding blacks and the priesthood? Or do you think efforts like this DVD and podcast will ultimately be successful in putting this mythology to rest? Is there a need for some kind of “affirmative action” program in the Church to quicken the pace at which old prejudices are eroded and replaced by a new more inclusive Church community?
You know what’s really funny about this is that it seems like the only people in the world who need the priesthood restriction clarified are the members of the Church. Everyone else seems to be really clear on it, and they’re just waiting for us to admit what is already known. Our refusal to do so only makes us look bad. Yes, we may have some members leave. Yes, some of our critics would cry false prophets, but none of that will ever change the fact that the Church is true. We’d deal with both of those problems in productive ways. A root canal hurts, but after a few days, you’re better off without the decay in your mouth. We’d have stronger Saints, and we’d drastically increase our convert baptisms. There is no doubt that if the Church came out and disavowed all the folklore and clarified the truths, it would help accelerate the effort. In my 20 years in the Church, I’ve never heard a talk in General Conference, sacrament, gospel doctrine or priesthood on the Blacks & the priesthood issue. If the Church chose to speak, it would be a great help. But until that time, do the Saints need to be commanded in all things?
D&C 58: 26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.
This issue could be the weighted question on the final exam for Latter-day Saints. We all see the problem, but most pass by on the other side, again, thinking someone else will take care of it.
Luke 10: 31-32 And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.
In reality, the scriptures tell us that it is the Saints that have the most to lose by not reaching out to Blacks and others who are alienated from the gospel because of our teaching incorrect doctrines.
D&C 137:7 Thus came the voice of the Lord unto me, saying: All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God…
The Lord has asked us to feed His sheep, and if we believe the scriptures, we learn the fate of those who do not:
D&C 1:10 Unto the day when the Lord shall come to recompense unto every man according to his work, and measure to every man according to the measure which he has measured to his fellow man.
D&C 104: 18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.
So I don’t know if our efforts with Blacks in the Scriptures and the African American Outreach Program will be successful in doing away with the folklore amongst all of the members of the Church world wide, but I do know that we are being successful in keeping the covenants we’ve entered into by actively reaching out to all of God’s children that we have alienated from His Church. We invite every Saint to learn of these scriptural truths and have the faith to greatly increase the fold of the Lamb. We’ve done the hard work and now each can simply watch, study and pray about what they’ve seen, join us in our efforts and watch the Church grow in ways they’ve never imagined.
There have been times where the Church has not grown because they – collectively – were not doing all that they’d been commanded to do. One of the key elements in the principle of repentance is restitution. So when we live all of the principles of the gospel, restitution eliminates the need for affirmative action.
(7) Do you mind sharing with us how you felt upon hearing of the call of Elder Joseph W. Sitati as the first black African to the First Quorum of the Seventy?
I actually didn’t realize during General Conference that a Black General Authority had been called. The day after, I received an email from Africa, from a friend in Elder Sitati’s hometown announcing his joy of this news. So my first thought was to share in the joy of my friend. My second thought was that I felt sorry for Elder Sitati. Because of the Church’s silence on the Blacks issues, I feared that many would unfairly look to Elder Sitati to take on this matter that General Authorities before him have not. We’ve already received a number of contacts from all over the world on the Blacks in the Scriptures website inquiring about this very thing. The feeling that followed was one of excitement for Black, White and all in between, who’ve prayed and waited for this day to come.
(8) Do you think having a person of color in the highest circles of Church leadership will make any difference in our outreach efforts to African-Americans?
In a small way yes, but you must know that this is a problem throughout the world, not just amongst African Americans. We are working with Saints and investigators in France, England, Jamaica, Brazil and other parts of the world. Many are joining in Africa, but many are leaving as well or will not join because we are seen as the White church teaching that Blacks are cursed.
Just having a Black man in this high position has generated conversation, like your questions, which allow exchanges of information that lead to understanding the issues that keep Blacks out of the Church. However, it has been demonstrated over and over again, whatever the Church focuses on it accomplishes. I’m speaking of from the top levels or from the local leader levels, to the individual members. When the Church at any of these levels decides collectively that they’re going to address this problem, the problem will be eradicated. We already have the tools to fix it, the scriptures, and the Blacks in the Scriptures DVD series simply helps us to better understand them. We just need the Saints to pick it up and get to the work of repairing. So it’s up to us. To borrow words and sentiment from Declaration 2, when we are inspired with a desire to extend all the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords to Blacks, then the solution is simple. Until then, the reality is that the priesthood is now again available to Blacks, but in many ways, the restriction is still in place.
(9) The Church is increasingly diverse in its overall membership, with nearly a third of its membership being Hispanic. Even in Utah, wards and stakes reflect these changes. How can we avoid the damage that competing loyalties to the ethnic, national, gender, racial, political, and class elements of our identity can cause to our larger identities as brothers and sister in the Gospel?
Matt. 11: 28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
1 John. 3:17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
The invitation is for all to come and lay their burdens at the feet of the Lord. This is His Church and so this is what we, His servants welcome and dedicate our lives to. The Church organizes so incredibly well, that we can easily accommodate all that labor and are heavy laden. When we begin deciding who we help and who we do not, then we’ve established a class system which has no place in the Lord’s Church. It seems that too often we are so concerned with protecting what we have that we lose sight of the fact that when we have charity for all, we gain more than we give, which brings a couple of scriptures to mind:
Matt. 16: 25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
Mosiah 2: 17 And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.
If we simply focus on the covenants we’ve made, remember whose Church this is, and recognize our original identity as sons and daughters of God who kept their first estate and are now experiencing the test, we will do whatever it takes to be of one heart and one mind.
(10) On the other hand, how can we draw on the richness of our different backgrounds to increase our understanding of God’s plan and better carry out our mission to preach the “Good News” and meet or tend to the needs, both spiritual and material, of those who suffer?
Some of the greatest blessings of the Church are the abundance of gifts, talents and blessings that flow from each culture that makes up the body of Saints. One of the areas we could afford to dedicate a considerable amount of time to would be in reversing the underlying, and in some cases, overt attempts to have all that come into the Church assimilate to what I call the pioneer culture. The children of the pioneers were indeed here first. Their way of doing things, their culture, their style of worship and music became the standard. We would do well to teach the Saints that there are other ways to reverence the Lord and administer in His kingdom. There are other styles of music that are sufficiently reverent for our sacred meetings. We would be wise to discontinue attempts to make sure everyone does things the way they’ve always been done and seek to be more inclusive within the bounds of eternal principles. Each culture brings to the Church value and richness, and when tradition impedes inclusion, we unfortunately rob the Lord’s Church, ourselves and our own posterity of a multitude of blessings.