History was made at the April 2009 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During this conference, the LDS Church appointed its first black African as a General Authority. Twenty-three years after joining the LDS Church in Kenya, Joseph Sitati became a member of the LDS Church’s First Quorum of the Seventy. The Salt Lake Tribune reported,
“The appointment is…symbolically important.
“After all, the LDS Church did not allow men of African descent anywhere to be ordained to its all-male priesthood until 1978. Missionary work did not begin among black Africans until after that.”
Tribune journalist Peggy Fletcher Stack continued with a mini history lesson:
“The forgotten continent
Mormon missionaries arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, as early as 1853, but only preached to the British colonists. After all its converts emigrated to Utah, the mission was closed until 1903, when it once again approached only whites. The church slowly grew there and in Johannesburg, until then-President David O. McKay visited several thousand members in 1954.
“Meanwhile, Mormon pamphlets and magazines were circulating through Nigeria and Ghana, causing many people to adopt what they knew of this American faith and create congregations on their own. None of this was approved by church leaders in Salt Lake City. Representatives from Utah had to be sent to Ghana to excommunicate members who were dancing and drumming and, on occasion, being led by a woman prophet while calling themselves Mormon.
“Some stayed, though, and were ready for real baptism after the 1978 revelation opening the LDS priesthood to ‘all worthy men.’”
I’m baffled over the fact reported here that the LDS Church didn’t send missionaries to preach the restored gospel to black Africans until after the 1978 revelation allowing blacks to hold the Mormon priesthood. Why is that? Women can’t hold the LDS priesthood, but Mormon missionaries have always considered it worthwhile to preach the LDS gospel to them.
While the Mormon gospel was not preached to black Africans, it is evident that it was okay for it to be preached to some blacks, for LDS Apostle Mark E. Petersen taught,
In spite of all he did in the pre-existent life, the Lord is willing, if the Negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If that Negro is faithful all his days, he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get a celestial resurrection” (Mark E. Petersen, “Race Problems – as they affect the church,” August 27, 1954, p. 17).
Didn’t Jesus say, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15) and “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)? Christian missionaries have been fulfilling this Great Commission, taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone — black, white, Jew, Greek, slave and free — since Jesus gave the commandment. Not so with the Mormons and their disparate gospel.
On what basis did LDS leaders think it was okay to disregard Jesus’ Great Commission and restrict their pre-1978 preaching in Africa to whites only?