This week he had Darius Gray and Margaret Young over. I've heard interviews with them on some of the Mormon podcasts that I listened to back in the day, and I always found them to be wonderfully engaging. They have been working as a kind of team for some time and have produced lectures, books, and a documentary called Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons. I highly recommend their work to anybody who would want to know more. A great place to start would be their Mormon Stories screencast (back when Mormon Stories was positive towards the church) where they basically give a presentation that they have been delivering at various places around the church for years that covers most of the major points on LDS church history, blacks, and the priesthood and temple ban.
They were in town to screen the Nobody Knows documentary at the Department of Education down in DC, because it had caught someone's eye, but they also gave a presentation at Greg's house which just went over some basic facts about their upcoming movie about an Idaho farmboy paired with a former Congolese revolutionary as LDS mission companions. Here's its trailer:
I look forward to seeing the final version. Their presentation at Greg's also discussed the article from the Washington Post last year that actually had the church later publicly disavowing remarks made by a BYU religion professor. Here was my take on that whole scenario.
I asked if I could come and attend their screening on Tuesday, and Margaret was kind enough to give the Department of Education my name so they would let me and another member of my ward past the security guards. The documentary was really well-done, though I myself didn't learn anything new about African-Americans in the LDS church. In short, we've almost always had members of African descent in the church, the priesthood and temple ban was not universal until much later in church history (certainly not enacted by Joseph Smith), and much silly theological speculation has come as a result of the priesthood and temple ban. It's a great documentary for anybody who wants more details on this portion of the Mormon story.
Darius is African-American, and he joined the church 48 years ago, in 1964, when there were only a few hundred members of African descent in the entire church population. We are now, he estimates, coming up on a million members of the church of African descent. Times have changed, and they are still changing, though sometimes we still have moments that perhaps aren't the best. In the presentation at Greg's house, Margaret pointed out that the September 2012 Ensign's cover was a bit culturally imperialistic.
Sure, we're a global church, but from this picture, who do you really think is running the show? So things are getting better, but we're not all the way there yet. (I don't think the Ensign editors meant any cultural imperialism by the cover, and Margaret didn't either, but it was still interesting for her to point out, and I was still surprised by it myself. These things still slip in despite the best of intentions.)
I liked meeting them both. But meeting Darius was something a little special, because here was a man who had joined the church before the priesthood and temple restriction was lifted, and who has remained faithful through all the ridiculousness that I'm sure he has encountered in the church in his nearly half-century of being a Mormon. (My favorite quip from Margaret was a story she got from a black friend who was told in the temple that she would be unrecognizable in heaven since she would be white then, of course. What the . . . ? I don't even . . . Really?)
The reason I think it was special to meet Darius, was because when I looked at him I wondered if I could have done the same thing. I wonder if a church founded in Africa, run by Africans, and that excluded whites from full fellowship is one that I would join. I don't think I would. Darius found out about the priesthood and temple restriction the day before he was to be baptized, and that night he decided that he wasn't going to go through with it. But he decided to pray about it and received a fairly firm response from the Lord that he should join. Now he is an example to me of following the gospel of Jesus Christ and the true church of Christ, even through very murky waters and trials. I doubt I would have even prayed. I'm more flippant than I should be on such matters, but my response probably would have been "your God is an idiot. Fail." and left it at that. So meeting Darius was, for me, meeting someone who I aspire to be more like. It was a humbling experience. He and Margaret have done great work to help dispel the myths and prejudices that have and still do exist in the church on this issue. I was glad to finally meet them, see their documentary, and get to know them better.