Here is Part Two of our 12 Questions with Marvin Perkins, comprised of Brother Perkins’ responses to our next four questions. See Parts One, Three and Four for our introduction of Brother Perkins and his responses to our other questions.
(2) At an event featuring Darius Gray last fall, Gregory Prince mentioned that the DVD was shown to the missionaries in his son’s California mission. To your knowledge, has the DVD frequently been used to train missionaries and/or leadership in this way?
It most certainly has. Many mission presidents around the world have embraced Blacks in the Scriptures. One of the statements we’ve grown accustomed to hearing is “we get these questions all the time and because we don’t know how to answer them, we’re losing Black families who would otherwise get baptized”. One of the Presidents shared something that really stuck with me. He said “not only does this give us the answers we need to be successful, but we don’t have to be experts on the subject to teach it. Because they’re on DVD it allows us to just show the DVDs, and the investigators receive a consistent message each time, while we learn as well.” I’ve even been invited in to a number of missions to teach all of the missionaries there. This format gives them an opportunity to ask questions specific to what they’re encountering.
(3) In your personal study and in developing these DVD presentations, how has your research regarding these issues influenced your approach to scripture in general, not merely scripture regarding blacks, because it’s obviously no simple thing to undo centuries or generations of assumptions about certain passages?
The passages “seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you” and “unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” have been verified to me as truths from on high. I know that there are answers to every gospel related question that I may have, in the scriptures.
The Blacks issue almost kept me from joining the Church, seeing that not one member, missionary, mission president, seminary or institute teacher, Bishop, Stake President or Area Seventy could explain Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price scriptures that appeared to me, an investigator, to be prejudiced. This only confirmed in my mind that the Church was one big racist organization, which is a natural reaction to any who are being honest with themselves.
Shortly after I joined, I remember being in a priesthood leadership meeting in the Irvine, CA stake. Elder Robert D. Hales was teaching us and he said something along the lines of “there is an answer to every one of your questions, in the scriptures”.
I positively question and test everything, no matter who it comes from, the prophet or any neighbor. The Lord has given each of us a gift by which we can know all truths, and by questioning and testing, I always know for myself. So this was a defining moment for me to test that counsel of the Apostle which I’ve found to be true. One of the ways I put that counsel to the test was on this Blacks doctrine. Facing the priesthood, skin color and curses issue has been one of the most trying, humbling, and defining experiences of my Christianity. I knew that I was not cursed, but I went to the Lord, telling Him that if I am cursed and He tells me that I am, I can handle it. So I was willing to accept whatever was true, I just needed to hear it from Him. He confirmed to me that I was not cursed and showed me in His scriptures where man has misunderstood and misused what is written, to the point where He had to chastise them.
D&C 3:6 And behold, how oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men.
So it was the scriptures that freed me from the bonds of my own ignorance and that of others. I now see the scriptures as an incredible treasure chest, with many layers that will reveal to me the mysteries of God if I demonstrate to Him that I’m willing to diligently seek, act upon what He gives me, and act responsibly with what He reveals, as I move about my brothers in sisters seeking to build His kingdom. I also see the scriptures as a divide that determines one’s ability to maximize his or her effectiveness in administering the things of God. We all can obtain a pretty good snapshot of eternal truths by reading a passage or two of scripture, but in order to truly understand the things of God, the deeper mysteries and complete pictures are revealed to me when I know what all of the books of scripture say, from Old Testament to Pearl of Great Price. This truly gives me the bigger picture. So after this project, I realized that to truly understand any gospel principle I must study the voice of the Lord and of all of the prophets, from Adam to President Monson. Out of these collective voices will arise all truths.
4) In the past, scripture has been used by some to push back against the claims of various minorities, including women, various racial, ethnic and religious groups, and those advocating for alternative sexual and marital practices. Today, we often like to give a liberal reading to the scriptures, focusing on all of the tolerant verses while ignoring the seemingly intolerant ones. In your reading of the scriptures, how have you sought to deal with this? Has your research led you to insights concerning any other groups that feel aggrieved?
In my research I’ve only sought to deal with truth, find out what is true and embrace it. I have three agendas; serve the Lord, seek truth and help others. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve learned that the key to understanding the will of the Lord is through hearing all that He’s said, and all that His prophets have said. This is why we have scriptural accounts dating back from the first man up until present day. There were times when I’d take a passage or two that fit what I wanted to believe, and was afraid to read more fearing that if I did, I might run into something that brought an entirely different meaning to the topic than I wanted to hear. I could never get comfortable with this approach which lacked integrity. I could hide from or deny the truth, but that wouldn’t change the truth. My purpose has always been to be able to go back and live with God when this life is through. Using scripture irresponsibly to suit worldly comforts, victories and pursuits is simply choosing the treasures of the world over treasures in heaven. So I only seek after truth, whatever it may be.
It’s likewise easy for some groups to find scriptural passages to support their causes, whatever they may be. However, if you listen to the voice of the Lord and all of the prophets, past and present, and all scripture, on any given subject, out of these voices will arise a consistency of eternal principals that leave no doubt as to what the Lord would have us do. Invite any of the groups you’ve mentioned to the table with the purpose of searching all of the scriptures in quest of a solution for each grievance, and you’d leave the table with more solutions for those who have valid arguments, and fewer grievances from those who realize their desires are contrary to the commandments of God.
My research has led me to insights of some of the grievances of other groups. Some of them have valid arguments and deserve a seat at the table to find resolution. Some of them are so obviously not in keeping with the commandments of God, that the fact that they’ve been given so much support or attention is a great indicator that we are truly in the last days.
(5) How have you seen attitudes among African Americans toward the Church change in the more than twenty years since you first joined? How do you think the Church and its membership is doing in the effort to reach out to the African American community?
African Americans are more convinced now that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a discriminatory Church than they were twenty years ago. There are a couple of reasons for this. One reason is because of the great ease of sharing information via the media, internet, email, YouTube etc. Our critics have a wealth of documented information flowing through these channels to justify their claims. Another reason is because the Church has chosen not to talk about this subject after 1978. The African American community has been waiting for over 30 years for the Church to clarify over 162 years of incorrect teaching regarding our race, but the Church remains silent. This position has also created a body of Saints and missionaries, teachers and leaders who are completely unaware of how to answer the “Blacks” questions, arguably the biggest thorn in the side of the Church. This means not only are they unaware of the truths, but they’re still teaching error, tarnishing the reputation of the Lord’s Church every single day. It’s amazing when you think that we, ourselves, are giving the most sacred organization on earth, a racist reputation. I just can’t imagine how the Lord can be pleased with this.
Let’s look at the impact of ignoring this issue. As reported in April 2009 General Conference, we have 52,494 missionaries in the field. Let’s be conservative and say half of those are in areas where they run into Blacks on a daily basis, and actively tract five days per week and each have a chance to speak to just one Black individual per day. So that’s 26,247 missionaries or 13,124 companionships. Remember this is extremely conservative, and with these numbers, this would mean that every week, 65,620 Blacks ask missionaries questions they can’t answer regarding the Blacks issues, which in turn confirms in their minds what our critics and history are saying about us being discriminatory, thus turning them away from the Church. So with the missionary program alone, this equates to us convincing over 34,122,240 Blacks every year that we don’t care enough about them or our errors and inequality to learn, speak about and clear up all of the incorrect teachings that keep them from joining the Church. It also sends the message that we don’t practice what we preach when it comes to repentance. Now add in all of the Whites, Latinos, Asians, Polynesians and other cultures who are asking the same questions of the missionaries. Then add the members who receive these questions themselves in the workplace, neighborhood etc, and the numbers of potential eternal families being turned away from the Lord’s true Church by those who’ve covenanted with Him to do just the opposite, become astronomical.
We’re working right now with an investigator in Las Vegas who loves the Church but has been brought an incredible amount of information demonstrating our inequality towards Blacks from her family and friends. This is a typical scenario with nearly all Black investigators in the US and abroad. She’s pleading with the members and missionaries for any information that will help her to understand what is true and is receiving an overwhelming amount of silence, and no answers. Not until she found the BlackLDS.org and BlacksintheScriptures.com websites did she feel any hope that she could ever join the Church, and is feeling her baptism will be soon.
In my experience, the Church in general is content with ignoring the African American community and these issues. They’ve somehow grown comfortable with the deafening silence caused by the non existent Black presence in their wards and stakes. I guess everybody sees it as somebody else’s responsibility, and if a ward happens to have a Black family move in, or baptize one, there seems to be an attitude of “ok, we’ve got one, and this shows that the Church is truly for all.”
There are groups and individuals however that are doing an incredible job to reach out to African Americans. Many areas in the country have tremendous public affairs efforts that are building bridges to the Black community, which efforts include family history conferences. Some of these areas are Los Angeles, the Bay Area in CA, Washington DC, Georgia and St. Louis just to name a few. Other truly inspirational endeavors are coming from Darius Gray and Margaret Young with their trilogy on Black Mormon Pioneers, the new film Nobody Knows – the Untold Story of Black Mormons and consistent national speaking engagements. The Genesis Group, FAIR, the BlackLDS.org board, Armand Mauss, Darron Smith, Dana King, Ellie Awak with her Black Latter-day Saints Facebook community, Amethyst Legree with her Black LDS MySpace community, Genesis-like groups in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, Norfolk and other areas along with Bishop Fred Bethel, myself, the Coordinators of the African American Outreach Program and others are just a few putting forth consistent efforts to reach the Black community at large.
Many Saints across the country are going to their Stake Presidents and arranging “How to Reach African Americans” fireside presentations. Bishop Fred Bethel of Ft. Lauderdale was one of these. He was very concerned that we didn’t have a Church program that provided the continued support needed to ensure success in the Black community. So he, inspired by the success the Kenyan missionaries were experiencing using the Blacks in the Scriptures DVD series, came up with the idea for the African American Outreach Program which we launched in February of 2009. Twice per month, on the odd weeks, outreach coordinators throughout the country invite members to come and view one segment of the Blacks in the Scriptures DVD series and are encouraged to bring just one African American of another faith with them. In this manner, both the member and non-member are learning scriptural truths on the issues. In addition, the members have a chance to see the impact of these truths on non-members and become converted to the inspiration of this member oriented proselyting program as counseled by President Monson and Elder L Tom Perry in the April 2009 General Conference. At the end of each class, there is an opportunity to call in questions to our message line. We answer these questions on our podcast on the Saturday of the even weeks of the same month and archive them on the iTunes music store.
Also, some are quite surprised that participants of the African American Outreach Program will even go out into the Black community making street contacts and knocking on doors. We have generated 61 referrals for the missionaries so far this year, had 21 baptisms and 8 reactivations. We recently taught a set of missionaries how to be successful with African Americans, and they came back after just four days reporting that they are actively teaching 16 families because of their new approach.
Matt. 26: 40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?
So if the Saints would simply “watch with us for one hour” by joining us in addressing this epidemic, we’d be able to easily double if not triple the convert baptisms each year and put this problem behind us once and for all. Problems ignored don’t go away, they only grow larger.